Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Fastwrite: Election Night

This month, on the campus where I teach English, we're studying "living sources." Fieldwork, et cetera. Today I asked students to write for 10 minutes in a notebook about something or someone you've overheard in the past 24 hours. "Give your topic a face," Bruce Ballenger urges his curious and not-so-curious researchers. Here's what I got down.
North Portland. November 9, 2016. Corner bakery, big windows. 
The man sitting down the bench from me is on his phone. I can't make out the caller. His mother, maybe. He loves her very much—that much is clear. What's also obvious? This morning, this man is nearing some breaking point.
"You don't understand," says the man. "You're a white, straight person and you can't understand what this means for me. For someone who's gay, I mean. I'm gay, remember?" 
The man has curly brown hair and big headphones wrapped around his Adam's apple. Up-down, up-down. 
He's working, he told his sad friend earlier, for a little paper company off Mississippi. They're trying to convert a Craftsman into office space. Free beer, sans wireless. So he's working from the bakery today.
"You don't understand," the man repeats, his whisper beginning to crack. "I'm fine, I'll be fine. But I have friends in North Carolina. I'm worried sick about them. For their safety, I mean. They don't understand.
"And listen, when I get back, I don't want to hear about this. Nothing. Not at Thanksgiving. Not now. They don't understand, and you don't, and I don't either."
And I don't either. But that's what I heard today, I told the class. Who's next?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Snap Box

RBM has a new short story, "Snap Box," in the current issue of Drunken Boat. An excerpt:
But this too is probably a false picture. This town, like Isabel and maybe Aurelia, shares its name with debutantes—the daughters of Percy, the transcontinental tycoon. In pictures, Percy A. Rockefeller’s thick jowls and small worried eyes remind you of a picture book. Right there on the shelf in the TV room: Percy the Small Engine (1956), about a shape-shifting locomotive who sometimes prefers the look of a green caterpillar with red stripes. ¶ What has become of your daughters? The question ripples in the heat. The caterpillar rears above the wasteland.
For more fiction from DB23, and statistics coinciding with the 2015 VIDA Count, see editor Sybil Baker's introduction to the issue. And don't miss the moving DB23 folio on homelessness.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Fall Readings at #PAMLA2015 and #WesternLit2015

A father-son portrait from "Thanksgiving for Aurelia"

November 8, 2015 -- This fall, RBM brought new chapters of a prose manuscript-in-progress, The Land of Infinite Variety, to the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association's 113th annual conference in Portland, and to the Western Literature Association's 50th annual conference in Reno (PDF).

At Friday's PAMLA session on "brief prose forms," organized and moderated by Megan Spiegel of Western Washington University, RBM read from a lyric essay on motherhood, "Thanksgiving for Aurelia," modeled after Dinty W. Moore's "Son of Mr. Green Jeans: An Essay on Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged." Glimmer Train recently shortlisted (PDF) a related work of fiction as a finalist for the magazine's Short Story Award for New Writers.

Slides from "The Archivist and The Voyager"
At October's WLA session on "intergenerational memoir," moderated by Megan Riley McGilchrist of the American School in London, RBM read from "The Archivist and The Voyager," another alphabetically-arranged essay. This chapter from RBM's forthcoming collection juxtaposes accounts of the American West from two journals of the late 1930s: that of his grandfather, and that of French tourist Antoine de Seynes. The story of the latter "voyager" and two companions was recently documented in a feature-length film, Voyagers Without Trace (2015), which debuted in Portland. (RBM served as a post-production associate producer; there's more on this acclaimed project at FrenchKayakFilm.com.) Below is a brief excerpt from RBM's reading in Reno:
One fragment, from that first westerly passage, stands out from the rest. Some measure of redemption, let’s say, for our collective memory. It’s an image of descent, under the noonday sun of 1930-something, from the high plateau of the Old West into the fruit valleys of the Northwest: peaches, pears, apples, toilets, electricity. Men crawling like so many insects over something called the Grand Coulee. Such wonders, says my great uncle, in his eulogy. The three boys gazing the whole time, I’m told, from the rear window of a 1929 Chevrolet. 
The car rolls to a stop at a big painted lodge in the basin. The youngest boy, the one usually last in line, steps out first, now suddenly a tourist. Just then, something peculiar catches the boy’s eye—a glinting transom at the peak, the very zenith of the roofline. And so the young archivist scurries up the railing to have a look. 
Staring back, through the beveled glass, is the boy’s own reflection—the sight of which sends us both tumbling back to earth.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Island

July 10, 2015 -- From a week of kayaking the Salish Sea with a Sigma zoom lens (100-300 mm), thirteen views of Sucia Island, an early home to the Lummi people. The island's cryptic geology, which alarmed Spanish explorers, owes its designs to intertidal erosion and the sculpting of countless organisms. Stony clams protruding from the walls of Fossil Bay, for example, tell a story 80 million years in the making.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The View from (Another) Long Island

May 25, 2015 -- Pictures from a long weekend exploring Washington's Long Island, where lumber production doubled in the postwar years, and surrounding Willapa Bay, one of North America's most extensive estuaries.

Friday, February 06, 2015

The Agronomist as Hero



February 6, 2015 -- RBM is thrilled to have new nonfiction, "The Agronomist as Hero," featured in the current issue of Quarterly West, a literary journal based at the University of Utah. Here's a brief excerpt:
My father stands at another intersection, inspecting another column of green that did not have permission to materialize. In the photo I take after turning on the recorder, he has this gleeful look about him, all rounded spectacles and crossed arms, because these spreading trunks and star-shaped canopies are now beyond question. They’ve always bordered the elementary school and the playground and the best sledding hill in town. 
For more prose, poetry, and new media from issue 84, visit the journal's dandy-looking website. Or for more on "courage, love of adventure," and "the nature of landscape," you can find a similarly-titled essay on Claude Lévi-Strauss, by Susan Sontag, over here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The View from The Empress


November 10, 2014 -- Over the weekend, RBM attended the Western Literature Association's annual conference, hosted this year by the University of Victoria's Department of English at The Empress hotel on Vancouver Island. Along with panels ranging from indigenous literature to borderlands criticism, the four-day gathering featured a celebration of Washington novelist Jim Lynch's Border Songs (2009).

On Saturday, RBM read from a nonfiction collage, "Once More to Aurelia," which WLA named runner-up for best creative writing submission. Back in March, RBM read from the same manuscript-in-progress at this year's Native American Literature Symposium (PDF). Here's a brief excerpt from "Once More to Aurelia," and this year's full list of WLA award winners. (Thanks to Frederick Manfred, and all the award committee members!)
At the big gravel lot, the office is locked but Judy has left my keys under the mat, with a receipt and sorry we missed you scribbled in blue. Three months of parking out here on the edge of nothing has cost $212, for which I'm grateful, but only after checking the windshield. The cab lost some paint to last month's hailstorm, but at least the glass held out. So has the battery, but just barely. I power down the windows. I give the engine some gas. I whisper a prayer of thanks to Judy, and then something small and yellow begins dive-bombing the windshield, filling the nothingness with a sound I haven't heard in 20 years. It's coming from the driver's side mirror. Giant yellow wasps—streaming from the housing, pouring into the cab, knocking themselves silly against everything that shines in the August heat.
      I paw at the console, forcing one window back up, the other down. The old motors groan, sucking down the last of the juice from the hood. It seems to take a whole minute, but finally there's glass between me and the nest. I can see it more clearly now, wrapped around my reflection on three sides, each muddy cavity pulsing with a tiny angry missile. More or less exactly the picture of the Badlands that I carry in my mind’s eye. Welcome, says the sign on 44.
Congratulations, one and all! See you next year in Reno

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

#AWP14


Join RBM, other creative writers at the University of South Dakota, and friends for a reading tonight at the Festival of Language, now in its sixth year, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Seattle. RBM will open the off-site event at Rock Bottom, 1333 Fifth Avenue, at 5:00 p.m. Also on the roster: Anna March, Jenny Ferguson (also of USD), Leona Sevick, Koon Woon, Steve Halle, Margaret Rozga, Janèe J. Baugher, Wendy Vardaman, Karen Stefano, Midge Raymond, Kevin Allen, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Tom Bligh, Ken McPherson, Meg Tuite, Jane L. Carman (our fearless organizer), Robert Vaughan, Rebecca Goodman, Lily Hoang, Renee D’Aoust, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Holms Troelstrup, David Stevenson, Ewa Chrusciel, Derrick Harriell, Sara Henning (managing editor of SDR), Janice Lee, Martin Nakell, Debra Di Blasi, Len Kuntz, Daniel Nester, Alissa Nutting, Lance Olsen, Jonathan Penton, Lasantha Rodrigo, Michael Mejia, Bill Yarrow, Jen Knox, Su Smallen, Monica Storss, Joani Reese, Teniesha Kessler-Emanuel (also of USD), Holly Baker (also of USD), Kathryn Kysar, Kirk Nesset, Beth Gilstrap-Barnes, Brian W. Hedgepeth, Lee Goodman, and Christopher Allen. There's more information over at FestivalWriter.org and AWPWriter.org.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Photo of the Day



February 8, 2014 -- The view from Portland, Oregon, and Day 3 of the winter storm few in Portlandia, not even William Riker, want to call "Orion."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Short-Short Storyteller



November 30, 2013 -- Before the year is out, a few pictures from this month's biannual John R. Milton Writers' Conference, hosted by the University of South Dakota English Department in Vermillion (above), and the 2013 Western Literature Association Conference held in Berkeley in October (below). RBM presented a critical paper, "The Short-Short Storyteller: Walter Benjamin and the Rise of Brief Prose," at both conferences. He also read from The Land of Infinite Variety, a nonfiction manuscript in progress, at the Milton Conference's panel on the genre: "'Traveling from Here to There': The Empathy of Writing Geography and Self," chaired by Dr. Fred Arroyo. Here's an excerpt from "The Short-Short Storyteller" along with a few slides from Berkeley:
Thus proceeds the magic, the aura, the spellbinding peculiarity of Benjamin’s essay. Its glimpses of the future of narrative prose and enduring proposals about its history continue to prompt vigorous dialogues that circle back upon themselves--testing out agreements, then proposing new theories of artistic production that collapse at odd moments, like an extended metaphor. And running parallel to this discourse is another, even stranger way of thinking about Benjamin: the counterfactual imagination, which has the doomed German critic showing up at a Dairy Queen in West Texas to diagnose Americans with collective memory loss, or moving to Los Angeles with contemporaries Adorno and Horkheimer to help write the history of urban decay. Perilously, we have embarked on yet another such inquiry, one that acknowledges the influence of Benjamin’s last days on literary criticism, but attempts to recover from the industry more valuable aspects of the cultural apprehension that foregrounds “The Storyteller.” My own essay undertakes a demonstration, more specifically, in stories by Etgar Keret, Sherman Alexie, and Brian Doyle, of certain enduring elements of narrative prose: brevity or compactness; accumulation, or the piling up of multiple tellings; practical wisdom derived from experience; and another feature we might call "indeterminacy," a kind of preservative against sudden extinction. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for any expatriate who finds his way of conversing with the world confined to the page: orality, that "told out loud" quality of so many stories and novellas, from Robert Louis Stevenson ("the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island"), to the Russian masters ("each of us in turn had to tell something fantastic from his own life," begins Nikolai Leskov), and beyond.