Category Archives: books

Missoula: Krakauer’s Book is Talk of the Town

MissoulaBook

The reputation of Jon Krakauer’s Missoula preceded the book’s actual appearance in my hands. I had heard about the UM rape scandal when news outlets outside Missoula picked up the story. I had even heard about the book and hoped to read it. It wasn’t until late May when I received an email from an acquaintance that I started realizing just what a big deal this book was to my many friends and acquaintances in Montana.

The email was pretty innocuous, and it was sent to me in error. My acquaintance had been facilitating a copy of the book around her circle of friends, and she accidentally added me to the recipient list. We exchanged a couple more emails and she informed me that the book was “a big Montana topic right now.”

When I finally got my hands on a copy, another Missoula-area acquaintance expressed interest in knowing my thoughts once finished. Once reading, I started Googling names and uncovering the proliferation of public dialogue that happened over the previous few years.

One thing’s certain: this is an emotional book. Early chapters detail the incidents that set later action into motion, and they’re moving. We walk through each victim’s relationship to the police—deciding whether or not to even report the incident, and what happens if/when they do. We get to see how a community’s perception of a verdict may not reflect a full understanding of how the case was decided. Krakauer details how the academic discipline process is different than our larger criminal justice system, why that’s important and how it led to vastly different outcomes in some rape cases. After a court verdict that provides a climax to the book, further analysis is provided, including commentary from the US Department of Justice.

Intense!

When I started reading, I felt hesitant because I didn’t want to think ill of Missoula. I still have friends there and still feel like it’s a home away from home. Having now read the book, I think I more fully realize the impact of the book on the community.

• It’s not pleasant to have a mirror held up to your community, especially by someone perceived as an outsider. (See also: Portlandia)

• It’s not pleasant to receive national attention for a negative thing. (See also: Mulugeta Seraw)

• It’s not pleasant to accept your hometown heroes are maybe just as human as everyone else. (See also: Portland Jailblazers)

Embarrassment aside, the book is entirely valid—not just for Missoula, but for other college towns, and hell, everywhere in the United States. What other crimes do we, as a society, tend to disbelieve when the victim reports the offense? So much that the majority of rapes, attempted rapes, and sexual assaults are never reported? Of the multiple rape victims I know, one victim chose to report it, and later described her reporting process as “a nightmare.”

Reports suggest that the Missoula Police Department, at least, has been making improvements to their process since the Department of Justice got involved. Negative attention can create positive change, and this speaks to the power of investigatory journalism such as early work by Gwen Florio at The Missoulian. Without her pieces, the story may never have been picked up nationally, and this book may never have been written.

AmigoKittyMissoula

Amigo Kitty still loves you, Missoula, and I do too. But we also love progress, and think that this book may have done Missoula a bigger favor than perhaps the community realizes.

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RIP Atticus Finch Andrews (October 21, 2001-May 29, 2015)

He was seven days away from completing a glorious victory lap around the sun, but sadly Atticus Finch Andrews died Friday, May 29, 2015. You may remember him from Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing.

Atticus was never much of a reader, but books were important in his life. Besides giving him a name, books were ultimately responsible for his living in Canada and many of his outdoors adventures.

Atticus had the kind of life that left no room for regrets at the end. He was a great dog, and he will be missed for years to come!

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Not the Cup of Hemlock You’re Expecting

Beware the Clydes of March!

How many authors can guarantee live music at their book events?

Apparently Clyde Curley can. He appeared on March 12th at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland to promote his latest Detective Toussaint mystery, A Cup of Hemlock. (I wrote about the first novel, Raggedy Man, in 2013.)

Clyde lived in Portland many years ago, and he belonged to a contradance band called Jigsaw. When he moved to Bellingham, Washington, his former colleagues continued playing together…and have now provided music for two of Clyde’s book events in Portland. They don’t need a fancy setup, just a trio of folding chairs will do.

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George Penk is on the left, Heather Pinney is on the right, and is that Dan Compton in the middle?

Musical bookends made for a particularly enjoyable book reading that evening, with Clyde Curley’s talk providing the literary substance in the middle. Clyde talked about how his career as a high school teacher and philosophies about teaching influenced A Cup of Hemlock, read two longer excerpts, and answered questions from readers.

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After that, book signing!

A few former students from Portland and Albany turned out, as well as musician friends. One former student brought a green pen for Clyde to sign his book with, as that was his signature color for grading papers and making corrections.

Okay, I’ll admit it…that student was me! I adopted Clyde’s use of green pen when editing and am always scoping out the best sources for green Precise Pilot pens or green cartridges for Pelikan pens. My reasons for doing so are not exactly the same as his, but it’s just one of the many ways that Clyde positively impacted me as a student in my final year of high school ca. 1995-1996.

I had finished the book a few days before the reading at Annie Bloom’s. A Cup of Hemlock is shorter, but more mysterious than Raggedy Man, as there are multiple plausible murderers until fairly late in the game.

As for the titular cup of hemlock? No spoilers here, but despite the poster of The Death of Socrates on the murder victim’s wall…the cup is not quite what you’ll be expecting.

They’re flying off the shelves! Buy A Cup of Hemlock or Raggedy Man at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland, OR, Village Books in Bellingham, WA, or directly from Clyde Curley.

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A Summer of Food: Thinking About CSAs, SNAP, and Cooking

It started out so innocently.

Steven and I decided to split a CSA farm share from Zenger Farm back in March. We’re both vegetarians and had been interested in trying a CSA but previously didn’t have anyone to split it with, so it seemed like a good opportunity for both of us. There are plenty of CSAs in the Portland area, but Zenger Farm is just a couple of miles from my house and I was well aware of their great work.

Little did I know how much I would be thinking about, obtaining, processing, and consuming food over the next several months!

Zenger Farm’s Farm Share Program

Zenger Farm is located in a part of Portland with many economically disadvantaged neighbors. Often deemed “felony flats,” the neighborhood and its citizens struggle economically. There are many recent immigrant communities and more recently, the people who have been gentrified out of north and northeast Portland have been filtering in.

Zenger staff have found opportunities to help their neighbors—first, they helped start the Lents International Farmers Market in 2007. When the organization obtained more land in Furey Field, they started a CSA program—and that program was one of the first in the state to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps), to pay for shares.

What does this mean? It means that Zenger Farm is helping their neighbors by opening doors to quality food. SNAP benefits generally average about $4 per person per day, which prices many recipients out of being able to afford actual nutritious food, in sufficient quantities. Instead, to stretch those dollars SNAP recipients will buy the cheapest foods, which are frequently high in sugar and fat, and low in nutritive value.

Speaking of money, here’s the economic breakdown of the farm shares. Each regular share costs $650 for the season, and feeds between two and four people. (Steven I split it in half but it is still a LOT of food.) My portion was $325, divided by 23 weeks is $14.13 per week. There are roughly 13 items in each week’s share, meaning each item you receive is averaging out to $1.08. Okay, so that’s a little pricey for, say, a bulb of garlic, but not for many of the other items—say, the Bob’s Red Mill product we get each week(!), the big stalk of Brussels sprouts, or the beautiful squashes currently sitting in my fridge.

SNAP shares cost slightly less and some scholarships are available. The Lents farmers market also matches the first $10 spent at the market each week by SNAP recipients, stretching their dollars even further!

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/day

GoodandCheapCookbook

NPR published an article in August that piqued my interest: “Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How to Eat Well on a Food Stamp Budget.” This article, and the cookbook being covered, made me think more about the SNAP aspect of the farm share program.

Leanne Brown created Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day for her master’s thesis at NYU. Essentially the guide, which is being distributed for free via PDF, is a tool SNAP recipients can use to create healthier meals and still keep within their budget. She also builds flexibility into the recipes so if one thing isn’t in season or on sale, you can experiment with something that is. She indicates price per serving on each recipe, based on average ingredient prices she recorded in neighborhood markets in less prosperous neighborhoods of New York City.

I’ve tried a few of the recipes and plan to try more. What interested me in trying this collection myself was that they use a lot of basic ingredients, they are vegetarian or can be easily adapted to be, and the photography made all of it look fabulous. I was also curious about the reality of the SNAP figure of $4 per person per day. All the recipes have been great, and so far I’ve only found one to be disappointing in terms of portion size—which I think is due to supermarket eggplants being larger than our farm share eggplants.

Expanding My Horizons

Leading up to our weekly pickups at the Lents farmers market, I scrutinized the previous year’s information on the Zenger Farm Shares blog. The anticipation was killing me! Then June came and we started our weekly visits. The season began with a lot of kale and radishes. After just a few weeks I said I was a little kaled out, but I’ve since grown to look forward to our greens, whether they be kale, chard, collards, or raddichio.

I’ve eaten plenty of new veggies, and I’ve spent oodles of time making new recipes. At the moment my freezer holds homemade tomato sauce, three kinds(!) of pesto, potato leek soup, zucchini, herbed butter, and roasted peppers. This summer I’ve made chiles rellenos, zucchini tots, kale pie (above, for lunch with sugar snap peas and french breakfast radishes), eggplant pizza, beet brownies(!) and so much more. In the kitchen, I improvised a bundt pan for a cake, I deep fried things, learned what parboiling is and why you might want to do it, and learned how to store kale so you don’t have to eat it the same day. And more. It’s amazing, all the new territory I’ve covered in just a few months.

In fact, at the beginning of the season I decided to keep track of all the new vegetables and new recipes I’d be trying. I imagined a sort of Iron Chef scenario: okay, I’ve got onions, carrots, and a rutabega—GO! It wasn’t quite like that, but the “New Things Tried Because of Zenger Farm CSA” list has grown quite a lot. (And as I write this, I have a fridge full of veggies because of back-to-back pickups last week, and still one pickup left before the season is over…so that list will be growing.)

Notice that I haven’t yet mentioned using any of the Bob’s Red Mill products? After seeing a YouTube video where a woman talked about saving her Bob’s products for winter…that’s what I decided to do too, mostly. In addition to having a mighty full freezer and refrigerator, I have very little cabinet space because of all the half-packages of Bob’s items: wheat flour, pinto beans, black beans, quinoa, orzo, popcorn, and more.

Participating in a farm share this summer required adjusting my schedule to accommodate obtaining, planning for, and using my food each week. I learned and thought more about food insecurity in the United States. I strengthened my culinary skills. I ate better food, and more of it, and I have reserves for winter. It may have started out innocently, but participating in the Zenger farm share program this year now threatens to be a life-changing experience.

View more photos of the food obtained, grown, and consumed this summer.

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UPDATE (November 24, 2014): MSN recently published an article highlighting Thanksgiving recipes that cost less than $1 per serving.

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Zine Round-Up: African American Vegetarianism and Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene

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Multnomah County Library is one of the two library systems I currently use the most. Recently I found myself at the Holgate branch, one of the two branches within two miles of my house, and the bins of zines near the front entrance caught my eye. Multnomah County Library is possibly the only major city library with a sizeable zine collection (at least I’m not finding any others…chime in below if you know of others!). The collection is spread across six libraries, and they’re even patrons of mine—the library collection includes Beyond the Gate (which seems to be a fairly popular circulating title!) and another zine I contributed to a few years ago.

Naturally it was difficult to leave the library without something to take home and read, so I quickly snapped up eight titles. Two of them really stood out for me.

Real Talk Vol. 1: African American Communities and Vegetarianism
This zine encourages African Americans to work toward vegetarianism. The author begins by outlining the life expectancy rates of African Americans compared to their caucasian counterparts, and discusses some misconceptions about the history of traditional or “soul food.” She offers up some personal history, but the facts do most of the work, including a price comparison per pound of various sources of protein. The zine is sparsely illustrated, so the author can pack in as much information (and recipes!) as possible.

I’m not African American, but I have been vegetarian since 1994, and this zine seemed like an earnest effort by the author. (Unfortunately, the author did not include his or her name on the work.)

Green Blooded: An Introduction to Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene
Discovering the invention of menstrual cups in 2005 was an important turning point in my life—embarrassingly so. Riding a bike while wearing a pad wasn’t the most comfortable thing, so I’d just consider my bike off limits for a few days each month. Before late 2010, I believed that people just didn’t know about menstrual cups, or just didn’t talk about them. Imagine then, how amazed I was when Mooncups were a frequent conversation topic among my MPub classmates in BC! (Sadness: since moving back to the US, I find that it’s still a semi-taboo topic here…)

In Green Blooded, Cathy Leamy has written a short but entertaining piece about the variety of feminine hygiene products that you probably don’t know about. They’re far more eco-friendly than the things you can get at the grocery store, and way more pocketbook friendly. The illustrations are educational, fun, and at least once, a little gross. But the publication has great potential to reach people that may be otherwise missed…and for that reason, I’m quite excited about having discovered this zine.
(Order Green Blooded here!)

Speaking of Mooncups, it turns out that the best menstrual cup company is virtually unheard of in my country, because another company holds the registration to that name in the US (and with it, they make an inferior product and have abysmal customer service). Now I am a happier user of a Mooncup, ordered and delivered for a reasonable price from the UK. Here’s a great rap battle video they released last year:

Have you read any good zines lately? Let us know what they are in the comments!

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Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing

About a month ago, my dog Atticus was diagnosed with cancer.

Tom, one of the vet clinic staff who adores Atticus, asked me about our visit when we left the examination room. I told him the bad news. Tom expressed his sorrow and asked, “are you totally about to burst into tears?”

Of course not, I said. I talked about how we all have to die sometime, about how great of a life Atticus has had, about how my anxiety about his health would have to be right at some point.

In other words I was completely denying any feelings I had in the moment. (In hindsight, I think I was just still in serious shock about the news.)

Over the next two days I was more or less a non-functioning mess.

What if I had continued the same nonchalant approach after leaving the vet’s office? Perhaps I might have said some of the following:
He’s just a dog, not my child.
We’ve all gotta die sometime.
No big deal.
When in fact this is a huge deal. Atticus has lived with me in two countries, two states, and accompanied me on countless adventures. Friends who know me, know my dog. I have essentially structured my life around him for the last 12 1/2 years—health issues and personality quirks and all. Raising my first dog was no small feat.

A month before Atticus’ diagnosis was confirmed, Tina Gilbertson released her first book, called Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

In the book, Tina talks about the detrimental effects of emotional constipation—not allowing yourself to have feelings. Tina’s discoveries began when she was an aspiring actor in Los Angeles:

I was thinking about a young woman in my [acting] class who was not only a talented actress, but also smart, funny, utterly charming, and easily twice as pretty as me. She was seriously cramping my style; I wanted to be the best actress, the “phenom,” in that class…

As I drove home from class that day, I was aware of vaguely ‘icky’ emotions trying to rise up inside me. I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling, I just knew it was bad. I didn’t want to feel bothered by the situation in acting class. But I was bothered…

Spontaneously, I decided to speak my feelings aloud.

Tina then discovered that the act of speaking and acknowledging her feelings helped her feel better. When she wasn’t struggling against the feelings, they didn’t have a secret control over her. She eventually detoured from her Hollywood aspirations and ended up becoming a counselor.

Tina’s book walks readers through various obstacles that might keep them from the process of acknowledging their feelings. Perhaps you’re your own worst critic, telling yourself that other people have it way worse (#firstworldproblems!) or that whatever you might be feeling is stupid or selfish. Using insightful analogies, she walks the reader through each obstacle with kindness, and even some wit thrown in.

And anyone who may be thinking that acknowledging your own feelings will turn you into a scenery-chewing Hamlet, it turns out that acknowledging your feelings is not the same thing as choosing your behavior. If your boss has taken credit for your work, it is enough that you understand how you feel about that—this book is not advocating that you tell your boss or coworkers how you feel, or retaliate by putting rat poison in his coffee.

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Having feelings is quite natural, she says, and the message is even drawn out in the book design. Natural colors are used in the cover design that incorporates a rainy theme, with a raindrop-on-water motif sprinkled throughout the inside pages. Normally I’m less apt to notice book design, but the design choices in this book seemed to be supporting the overall theme.

As you can imagine, Atticus’ cancer diagnosis certainly gave me an opportunity to review and practice the book’s contents pretty quickly after I was finished reading! In the past I’ve certainly been guilty of holding things to the detriment of my own mental health, but this was one instance when it was almost a non-issue. The feelings just happened. Like Tina, I’ve found that for the most part, knowing how you feel is crucial to resolution.

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Workshopping With and Fangirling Over Kim Stafford

Lewis and Clark College, my alma mater, has a long-standing connection with the family of William Stafford. Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 1975-1990, Stafford wrote poetry about nature, pacifism, and Oregon, and had a long teaching career at Lewis and Clark.

Kim Stafford, William’s son, has had an equally impressive career. He has taught much of his adult life at Lewis and Clark, founded the college’s Northwest Writing Institute, and writes brilliantly. This winter I read his most recent work, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, which was nominated for an Oregon Book Award in creative non-fiction this year.

As an undergraduate student at Lewis and Clark I had the opportunity to listen to Kim close the campus’s Last Lecture series for the year. He brought his guitar and sprinkled songs between thoughts about the importance of being true to yourself—embracing all your interests rather than giving up your guitar playing, say, to become a better mathematician. Do all the things, embrace life wholeheartedly instead of being a specialist. Over a decade later, and I still look back on this evening with great fondness.

You might say I’m a bit of a fan!

That’s why, when I heard about his Introduction to Digital Storytelling workshop, I was compelled to attend. I’m not a complete newbie—after all, I did produce “The Cycling Eight” at Adventure Cycling and have racked up quite a bit of educational media experience. An opportunity to work with Kim Stafford and to glean new storytelling approaches could be rather helpful!

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Journeying to the new Lewis and Clark graduate campus, I arrived early to check things out. I entered the chapel, our workshop space, and before I even sat I had an entire conversation with Kim! He walked right up and asked me about myself. We talked about the Sisters of St. Francis, the order of nuns that the property originally belonged to. We spoke of silent retreats at monasteries,  how we’d like to see more radicals in the church, and I told him about discovering the wonderful Trappist Abbey. Standing next to me, he took a photo of the same dove mural on the ceiling that I was photographing. Like we were already old buddies.

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The workshop, as it turns out, presented a specific way of telling personal stories modeled by the Center for Digital Storytelling.

In this example, Kim tells of the day his father narrowly escaped being hanged:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=366gBWUFo1M

Most of the workshop participants were professional educators with limited media tools, looking to take the idea to their students for classroom teaching. As a hired pen, it was hard to imagine incorporating the workshop content into my work life. And sadly, real life has time constraints that foil many of my creative project ideas. Still though, I was thinking about the class content the rest of the evening and into the next day.

One phrase Kim kept throwing around was “digital haiku.” This is the idea to make one’s digital story as succinct and brief as possible. Let the images communicate some things so you can take another few words away.

It gave me an idea:

As we filled out course evaluations at the end of the three hour workshop, Kim waited just outside the chapel doors. Students formed a receiving line, shaking his hand and I imagine covering him with praise. Eventually I headed up the back of the line, extolling my own praise and asking a question about that latest breathtaking book, a memoir about his brother’s suicide.

It was a real thrill to be Kim Stafford’s student for a few hours. He filled the room with warmth and a joyous smile, admiring so many of the deeply personal stories his students were brave enough to read out loud. He focused on drawing things out of his students rather than intimidating newbies with his own brilliant work.

Where will I go with this? It’s hard to say. Inspiration’s a funny thing—sometimes it shows up in odd places…

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