Saturday, October 5, 2019

Kersten Christianson : Writing in the House of Fall

This early morning hour is the poet’s hour.  My house is shrouded in blue black darkness.  I note that my house is the only one in the neighborhood whose lights are illuminated at this hour, in this storm on a Sunday morning.

The sudden descent into autumn offers me the false promise that I suddenly have more time to write.  Such fallacy!  By trade, I am a 25-year public high school English teacher.  Not too many weeks ago, another school year commenced.  Summer is a wildly abundant time to write:  No meetings, alarm clocks, schedules to speak of.  But weekends throughout the school year are especially poignant, focused. The weather, more extreme; their use and planning, more intentional and paced.

My writing room is a sacred, functional, creative space.  It overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  My neighbors are gracious and allowed me to have the tall Sitka spruce and yellow cedar limbed to open the view. In this room, my late husband and I put down a blue pine floor together and stained it with Minwax, Mosaic Blue.  Like me, it has become scuffed, distressed, worn and ragged around the edges.  The room houses my art supplies, rubber and ink, the poetry books consumed during and since my MFA years.  It is filled with raven art, family photos of our three before we became two, 20 years of We’Moon datebooks.  The windows are filled with hanging crystals, bells, windchimes.  Prisms catch and dance on sunny days and pattern the floor much like the rain does the windows now.  There are non-twinkling twinkle lights hanging from the edges of shelving adorned with broken bits of bright and colorful glass, some of the bulbs are extinguished.  The stout oak desk is covered with ephemera:  washi tape, oracle cards, stones, beaded doodads, a writing muse of part-raven, part-woman sculpted and fired of clay, correspondence from friends near and far, the $41 summer Petro fuel bill, my favorite pens.  It is here I wrote my first collection of poetry, Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017), followed shortly thereafter by a chapbook, What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018).  It is here, second summer in the making, that a new collection begins to emerge.

This morning, the offshore gale settles in, rattles the roof, sneaks in through the gaps around the door.  I pussyfoot down the stairs so as to not wake my sleeping teen daughter, sidestep the dogs and the cats to French press the coffee.  Candles flickering, National Public Radio chattering softly against the wind, I mentally assess the writing to-do’s of the day:  Daily writing (a poem, some journaling), a letter or two, a blurb for a long-distance poet friend on the cusp of publishing two collections whose titles chase the colors of red and yellow, a flip and read through the latest issue of Orion, of Slipstream, advancement in Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the consideration of a blog update, the cover reveal of the fall issue of Alaska Women Speak on various social media platforms.

All I know is that when I write, I can slip away from one moment’s reality into the reality of another, the writing craft.  My MacBook Pro is my go-to tool of choice, be it at this desk or what I call the “thinking chair” in the living room.  Next to the Mac, a softcover, paperbound journal, this one sporting a moon face.  It is a makeshift collector of writing ideas in which are gathered one-liners, interesting words, informal research, lines overheard, an occasional phone number or message.  In weather nicer than this, I’ll write using the Notes function on my iPhone while on the go.  Sometimes, the app Voice Record Pro as I walk coastline or trails busting out haiku and tanka that I count out on the fingers of one hand while recording onto the phone held by the other hand.  But those walks won’t happen today, not in this weather.  No, this foul-weathered day will offer breaks of a different sort:  refill the water bottle, warm up a bowl of chili, play Chuck-It down the driveway with the dogs for a leg-stretcher, take time to view the patterns and colors of leaves newly dropped from their trees, load the dishwasher, clean the bathrooms.  These are the bursts of busy that allow for the breathing space and even inspiration to write beyond without boundary.

Recently, I reread a chapter from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer Within.  The chapter, “Writing as a Practice” offers insight into Goldberg’s own writing habits, including her personal goal to finish a notebook a month.  She enters this writing space without regard for margins, expectations or even traditional form. In turn, this practice offers her  a “psychological freedom and permission” to simply write.  In an earlier chapter, she suggests using inexpensive notebooks, which further allow her greater room to fill the void with written word, ideas and language traveling the spark of mind to hand to pen to paper.  I eyeball the stack of my own unfilled journals that reside on the shelf, await their day of scratch and use.  Why not now?  Why not give them the chance to join those already filled stashed away in a storage cubby for a longtime-from-now read, or a someday bonfire?

As I mentally checkmark each item off my list for the day, I relish again that it is the weekend; that in autumn the darkness lingers late into the morning, but returns again in short hours by late afternoon.  I celebrate my writing space that is one-part eclectic, another magic, and that even I am learning again how to push life back into the leeway.

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. Kersten is the author of two books of poetry:  What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) and Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017).   She is the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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