What a difference five years makes: the latest news

To get one of these, e-mail nwgsdpdx@gmail.com

And hello again to you too. Such news from here!

I met recently with a group of concerned friends who want to take action after this year’s election. We had a union organizer meet with us to talk about tactics, and it was so helpful.

But I also want to remember the first thing he said to us–even though the larger elections might have felt difficult, we also need to celebrate the gains that have been made in the last eight years and even in this election.

There have been difficult and wonderful things about this year for me professionally, too. But I’m starting to look back and five years after leaving academia, it’s amazing that I can just introduce myself to people as a writer. A freelance writer, arts writer, community journalist. So much gratitude to my family, and to my editors, including Hanna Brooks Olsen , Alan Lau (International Examiner), Omar Willey and Jose Amador (Seattle Star), Yoko Nishimura (Discover Nikkei), Tara Austen Weaver (Edible Seattle), and Jennifer Niesslein (Full Grown People). You have all encouraged me, nudged me out into the community, and made me a better writer.

Since graduation day, I’ve been working on so many projects, an abundance ventolin inhaler no prescription australia really. I’ve learned so much. Here are my recent projects and news:

Stay tuned for more news about these events:

  • My first published interview as an author should be up at The Rumpus in February 2017.
  • I’ll be reading in Seattle with some friends, also in February 2017.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that this is where I would end up. I’m so happy to be here still. Thank you for reading. I’ll keep going.

5(ish) Questions: Tara Austen Weaver’s Own MFA

I started reading blogs around 2007, but I can’t remember when or how I began reading Tea and Cookies, by Tara Austen Weaver. I’m not sure if I found her blog first, or Shauna‘s blog first–and was happy to see that they are friends. (Tea is also friends with Christine Lee Zilka, who also went to Mills College and appeared earlier in this series.) But I was hooked immediately by so many things about Tea’s blog: the sensitivity and sensibility of her prose, her gorgeous photos, her love for the Bay Area, and her expatriate sense of moving from the Bay Area to Seattle. Because she lived in Japan for a few years, I loved how she wrote about Japan, and we even joked later about a shared Japanese sensibility. We had conversations over Twitter, and eventually shared picnic blankets at Gasworks Park and a lunch table at Nettletown.  I am lucky to call her friend and writing mentor, and I’m so happy that she was able to spend some time here.

Visit her blog for more of her writing, but you should also read her memoir, The Butcher and the Vegetarian: a funny and thoughtful and intriguing look at when and how and why we choose to eat meat, or not.

1. Did you go through an MFA program? If so, how was it structured?

I did the MFA in creative writing at Mills College, in the San Francisco Bay Area (Oakland). It was a pretty standard part academic/part studio program. We had workshop classes each semester, along with literature classes. Most people took one workshop, one lit, and one elective class (though there was the semester I took five classes and nearly died). It was a two-year program, with a written thesis of creative work due at the end. The program was divided into poetry and prose, with a mix of fiction and nonfiction in the prose section.

There’s a good amount of controversy over the MFA program. I know people who wish they could do an MFA, and others who wish they hadn’t, mostly for financial reasons (one woman told me, “$40, 000 could have bought me a lot of writing time”). When people ask what I think, I tell them it depends on the person and what they want to get out of it. For me it was the right thing at the right time. I had been working in publishing for five years, editing for more than ten years, and writing on and off since I can remember. But I’d gotten very much into the editor/publishing track. I was spending my days working on other people’s writing. I wanted to carve out the time and space to work on my own. I might have thought about teaching someday, and how the degree would be useful there, but I soon gave up any plan of that (one teaching theory class cured me).

What has been incredibly useful to me is developing a language around writing. I might have known instinctively what worked and what didn’t in a piece, but the MFA taught me how to talk about writing–how to analyze and convey this to another person. This has made me a much better editor–a more educated eye–which has also helped me in editing my own work. We’re fairly blind when it comes to our own writing, but I’ve become better at seeing the bones.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s practice in writing and also reading that makes you stronger. My writing really improved when I started a blog (a year and a half after my MFA). Writing on such a regular basis–I posted three to four times a week in the early days–really steepened the learning curve. My writing has grown so much from working on the blog and writing for the web (more concise, ruthless editing). Regular and set practice is invaluable.

That said, I do think having feedback and assignments pushes you out from the comfortable places. During my MFA I was asked to write things I never would have otherwise, required to read and analyze in a way I wouldn’t have on my own, and told truths about my writing that I didn’t particularly want to hear, but which pushed me to a higher level. I’m not saying you couldn’t get that through a lot of personal work and a good butt-kicking writing group or mentor, but it would be a harder thing to orchestrate. I think a lot of workshopping also helps you be less precious about your writing, which is good if you have plans or hopes of being published. It’s the first step towards developing some perspective and a thicker skin about your work.

2. If you were to design your own private MFA for yourself—either before or after going through your own MFA program—what would it look like, and why? What would be your goals? How would you challenge yourself, solicit feedback, create a writing community?

My ideal program would have a big mentorship component. I’d love a strong mentor whose work resonated with my own and would ventolin inhaler 100 give me feedback on my writing. Good mentors are hard to find, but can be invaluable. I’d also have a lot of reading involved. I sometimes got frustrated with my own program, because it seemed like I was spending as much, if not more, time writing academic papers on literature as I was on my own creative work, but I do think the reading part is important (I might skip the analysis essays, however, and opt or group discussion instead).

My first thought was that I’d skip the workshops, where you critique each other’s writing. Not everyone is going to give you good feedback, and you pretty much know in the first few months who your good readers are. But if this is my ideal MFA, I’d pick a small writing group of people whose feedback I valued and keep that. I might also add in a book group–an opportunity to discuss the books I’d been reading (without having to write papers on them). And I’d have lots of writing time. The program I did had less of a studio component than I would have liked. The benefit, however, is that I learned how to talk about writing and dissect it, which has been very valuable to me as a writer and even more so as an editor.

3. Do you teach creative writing, or do you teach in an MFA program now? How do you measure student progress, or grading?

I don’t teach in a traditional sense, though I did take classes in teaching theory as part of my program. I do work one-on-one with writers, however, as an editor, and much of what I know is passed down in that way. Because my work is project based, I’m focused more on the writing than the writer. That said, I’ve had wonderful experiences with writers who were eager to learn and took advantage of having the dedicated attention of an editor to soak up the feedback I gave them and apply it to their future writing, becoming much stronger writers in the process. Some of them managed to break chronic bad writing habits (one former client says she’s haunted by all the semi-colons she wrongly used over the years). One of my clients, who I walked through a major overhaul on her novel, later went back to an old editor of hers (she still had credit for hours she had already paid for). The woman couldn’t believe how much stronger her writing had become and wanted to know what she had done! That made me pretty happy.

4. What have you read lately that’s just blown you away?

I haven’t been blown away by much lately, I’m afraid to say. I’m working on a new book and during that time I find I don’t read a lot of full-length books. Shorter pieces work better, and fit into the spaces in my schedule and in my brain that are not devoted to the new book. I’ve been reading some pieces by MFK Fisher—I’ve been inspired by the recent biography of her that I read, An Extravagant Hunger by Anne Zimmerman, and wanted to read her stuff again with the new lens of knowledge I now have. I’ve also been really enjoying the advice column written by the anonymous “Sugar” on The Rumpus. She is writing about real life in honest and often heartbreaking ways, with a lot of compassion. She has a great post about writing. I look forward to Thursdays, to see what she has come up with this week. Another new-to-me read was Toast, by Nigel Slater, which I could barely put down. He tells the story of his very difficult childhood through the food he ate, and manages to capture the mind of his child self. It’s an unusual book, but sad and lovely. I’m also reading A Wrinkle in Time, which I never read as a child. It’s made me think about reading or rereading more kid lit.

5. What are you working on now? Do you have anything coming out? Can you say a little bit more about it here?

I have a new book in progress. It’s early days still, but it deals with a garden, growing food and family and community. It will be called Orchard House. I also have a short collection of pieces about living in Japan (with recipes for Japanese food dishes I love) that I’m releasing electronically as a fundraiser for Japan earthquake aid. That will be out soon and is called Tales from High Mountain. I’m also working on some magazine articles, and always writing for my blog. I’ve been covering more writing-related topics there recently, and it’s been fun to write about the process.

Thank you, Tea! I really appreciate your insights here–I have done some editing myself, and I never (strangely) thought about how the MFA could help a full-time working editor. I especially like the insight about “developing a language about writing,” or “what we talk about when we talk about writing.” I’m looking forward to both novel and memoir.

Tsunami: What the Waves Leave Behind

When I am dreaming, it’s usually my body’s emotional response that wakes me up. Dreams have shaken me awake out of joy, out of fear, out of desire.

But last night an image woke me up: Hokusai’s “Great Wave at Kanagawa.”

You probably know Hokusai’s “Great Wave,” or have seen a version of it, somewhere. It’s one of the most famous Japanese woodblock prints in the world, and it’s nearly two hundred years old. I think there’s even a copy of it in my favorite local Japanese restaurant. I loved this painting for a long time, just being attracted to the vibrant blues, the serene curve of Mount Fuji in the distance, the perfect arc of the wave.

But for an embarrassingly long time, I never saw the boats—perhaps because I only saw reproductions of the print from far off, or in small-scale reproductions. A lifelong reader, I’m used to seeing things so clearly in my mind’s eye, but I’m appalled at how often I must train my physical eyes over and over again. How could I overlook the fishing boats, the rows of bodies straining in unison against that wave?

Once I saw the boats—and there are three of them!— the entire painting changed. The wave, like Stevens’s jar, “took dominion everywhere.” The foam at the crest of the waves started to reach like claws, or thorns, or teeth. Terrifying.

It’s been hard not to think about this image lately. As far as I know, none of my family members have been directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, or their aftereffects. Yet I have been stunned and overwhelmed, like so many others, since Friday. After seeing this footage, or this footage, it is hard to write anything or even read very much. A picture of a mother carrying her toddler on her back can undo me. It feels disrespectful to write about anything else, and even for me (but not for the Japanese) to want to return to anything ventolin inhaler like normality.

And yet, as a literary critic, I have to admire the narrative tension of the woodblock print itself.  Literary critics call this “in media res,” beginning in the middle of the action. A wave itself is narrative: with calmer waters moving into larger waves, then breaking, and receding. The boats and the humans in Hokusai’s painting add a patina of fear to the entire scene, and become story: what will happen to the people? Adding all three elements together, the wave, the mountain, and the boats, we wonder: when will the waves break, and where, and how? When the waves recede, what will they leave behind?

There are two steps in my usual response to tragedy and grief: first, to picture the worst-case scenario; and second, to detach. I don’t say this with pride. Recently, because I’ve been writing this book, and because I want to be more available for people in my life who might need help, I have tried to deal with grief differently. I have tried to stay available for them.

None of it is easy. But at the center of this impulse, I hope, is my urge to connect humanity: the reason why I read, the reason why I write. What will happen to us? When will the waves break, and where, and how?

Perhaps most importantly, Hokusai’s Great Wave forces us to ask: what should we do with the nearly unbearable tension of such a terrible moment? While our impulse might be to resolve that tension, Hokusai instead asks us to stay there for as long as we can bear it. As the Japanese people know, and as my Issei and Nisei ancestors knew, grace and knowledge and strength can arise from that space.

Please consider making a donation to Japan earthquake relief efforts, if you have not already done so.

Assignment #2

I just started a new 2-week seminar (as a student!) on the work of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and am finishing grades for the semester. However, I’ll have a draft of something tonight.

In the meantime, the next assignment: write about something you do every buy albuterol inhaler canada single day: waking, breathing, eating, sleeping. See if you can tease out how that activity resonates more broadly in your life: moments, events, and so on.

A preview of my next post: for me, the activity will be reading out loud.


About Tamiko: The Professional Version

Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer and editor, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. As a professor in English and African American Studies, she taught classes in writing, humanities, and multicultural American literature for the last seven years. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kartika Review, the Rafu Shimpo, and Crosscurrents Literary Journal. Last summer, her book proposal reached finalist status in the SheWrites.com “Passion Project” nonfiction contest. She received degrees in English from UC Berkeley (BA) and from the University of Washington (MA, PhD). She has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the University of Iowa, the Asia Pacific Fund, the University of Washington, and the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

She now works on memoir, personal essay, and food writing here.

About Kikugirl: The Backstory

My parents swear that I learned to read when I was 18 months old. That’s about 6 months younger than my youngest daughter, and I can barely picture it. (“I have a tape!” my mom insisted, a couple of years ago.)

Nevertheless, whenever I began to read, however I began to read, I haven’t stopped. The written word is, for me, like breathing, like water, like sunlight: elemental, essential, lifegiving, lifesaving. Even during my busiest and worst moments and years, I have always carved out a few minutes for a few pages of pleasure reading, every day. (I am sad that not many people do this, but that’s for another time.)

Given this love of reading, and my relatively early start, it may have been inevitable that I was my dad’s dinner party trick.

Early one Saturday morning in the 1970s, we were playing with that white magnetic letter board, with the red plastic frame and those kid-party-balloon colored letters. We spelled other words, I’m sure: cat, and maybe paper, and maybe house. But the word he asked me to memorize (how old was I, anyway?!) was a long word. I have no idea if my dad meant to pick a word this long, just for the sheer silly challenge of it all.

(Does this help us to figure out his reasoning?–later, when we traveled to visit family friends, he’d trot out a college textbook, and ask me to read a paragraph out loud, even if I had no idea buy albuterol usa what it meant. I’m sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.)

And yes, this was the word: chrysanthemum.

I learned to say it-spell it quickly, as if it were its own poem: c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m. Except that with the dashes in between, it actually looks even longer, and I always said it out loud very, very quickly: “ceeaitcharaiessayen [breath] teeaitcheeemyoumum.” Amazed laughter, a sonic memory that my cousins still use to tease me.

The chrysanthemum was one of my dad’s favorite flowers. I’ve always known it as a thing of beauty, for the green glass vase at the center of the dinner table. I’ve also known it as an edible flower, since we used the greens in making sukiyaki.

My dad died when I was ten. I don’t know how anyone processes the death of a parent at a young age. And I have come to realize that there are many worse ways to lose a parent–through abuse, for example, or prolonged neglect–but losing my dad is one of the losses that has defined my life. So there will certainly be more about him here. The chrysanthemum has been the flower that I associate most with my dad, and if I ever visit his grave, it is the flower that I will bring to honor his memory.

The Japanese word for chrysanthemum is kiku. When I chose my very first e-mail name, a hotmail account way-back-when (so 90’s!), I chose kikugirl.

I’ll use this blog as I ask my students to use the writing process itself: I’ll be writing to discover, rather than simply writing to record. I’ll be writing about what brings light and color to my life, including my family, the written word, food, friends, and those who work for social justice. I am about to re-enter the writing life. If you asked me what I was going to be when I was little, then a teenager, then even a college student, I would have said “writer.” I haven’t written creatively, even creatively nonfictively, in some years. And sometime this year I am going to re-open the manila envelope with my dad’s book manuscript, which I haven’t read since I was in fifth grade, some twenty-odd years ago. I know that this will be an amazing and difficult year of change and transformation for me.

Thank you for being here.