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July 18, 2018 / jennrudsit

Artist Series: On Becoming Something, Possibly a Novelist

by Lyle Enright

My wife always spoils movies. Not because she’s seen them before but because she can predict what’s coming. At my worst, I discretely check Wikipedia while she runs down her hypotheses. Eight times out of ten, she’s right on the money. I tell her sweetly that we’ll “see what happens,” but there I am, cuddled up to the armrest of the couch and grouchy as hell.

In John Gardner’s Becoming a Novelist, the author names two kinds of writers. One is fascinated by their own inner world, crafting characters as they appear before them. I think of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway — the complex inner-life of a woman receiving the world like she’s casting a net into the sea and is more interested in how the net does its snaring work than in what she hauls in. Gardner says that this sort of writing rings truer to some than others. I have first-hand experience with this, sitting at a table with dedicated Woolf scholars, not getting it and realizing it probably has something to do with my chromosomes.

But I do resonate with Woolf, for the same reasons I resonated with Joyce or Pynchon: the brain-bursting paralysis, the insane conviction that insight ought to give way to action: if I could only think this thing aright, then—!

The other writer Gardner describes, the one with far more promise, is the one who is fascinated by other people. For her, as for Umberto Eco, everything is a possible center of something else. She is the sort of person who watches a terribly-written movie and predicts its outcome, generously invents motivations for characters whose actions otherwise make no sense.

Working in mental health has only honed my wife’s insights. She comes home emotionally spent, not from contempt but from compassion. She understands the complex cages that neurons sometimes build, trapping souls inside of them. She lives those tangles during the day, and at night, in soft pants and with a glass of wine, she can turn on the TV and relax to a period crime drama, its carefully-crafted twists and turns having nothing on someone with schizophrenia.  

I don’t have a cage like that, but I do have something; a propped-up box or mousetrap, something so obvious and so embarrassing to be caught in. But catch me it did, recently, and robbed my wife of some of that normalcy she counts on. I was behind a window, bouncing off it like a fly. She wanted me back in the world with her—in a place where my students don’t have energy to waste hating me and where our lives will not come to a halt if my best isn’t up to my own standards.

I think this was how I learned that just because the sky that’s falling is your own doesn’t mean it won’t still kill someone on the way down.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve since learned, isn’t too different from what Gardner describes as the work of the novelist. Some pain is an obstinate lack of lucidity; you must fight through it and back into the world. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that good fiction does much the same work. I did that work, mostly as a way of coping and preparing for disastrous course evaluations; I would survive the falling sky.

Then I learned that, no, my students did not in fact have time or energy to waste on hating me. In fact, they were pretty happy. My mediocrity had not crippled them for four months, only me—because I was thinking of me, and not them.  

The sky didn’t fall, did not implode. But it split up the middle, reminding me of the sun and space and of how very, very small my world had become.

“Whoever loses his life will find it,” Christ says, and I think I’m only lately getting it. The new self—the attentive, curious, observant self—can never emerge unless self-love dies. It takes profound trust in profound promises to let the anxious self go under, slough off, believing that something good is waiting underneath— Eustace the dragon ripped open, his true self torn out of him by the claws of Aslan.

But somehow this gives me joy. The person emerging from this process is the person who takes pains and can spoil movies. This person is free to notice the boy and girl in the booth beside him: nailed in conversation, neither knowing where to put their hands, his fly everywhere like knives in a kitchen while she keeps hers close and bundled. “Abundant life” means being free to see these things, and it’s encouraging to think that this is the life that God wants for us; that maybe it looks like becoming a novelist.  

Lyle Enright is a writer and doctoral candidate at Loyola University Chicago where he studies late modern literature, philosophy, and theology. He has written widely for both academic and popular venues, and you can find some of his recent work at Christ & Pop-Culture, The Englewood Reviewand Ruminate. You can also follow him on Twitter @ynysdyn.

July 5, 2018 / jennrudsit

Artist Series: When Pigs Fly

by Ann Marie Bausch

In mid-2017, I had my first short story accepted for publication, and almost immediately hit a suffocating stretch of writer’s block.  I was saved by a vegan photographer.

If you’re blinking your eyes in bewilderment, you’re experiencing much the same thing I did.

That summer, the viciousness of our national politics nearly did me in.  The inferno that was the health care standoff affected my family personally, and my emotional health plummeted.  And the tap from which my creative energy flowed seemed to run completely dry. I decided to ban myself from Facebook and Twitter for a stretch, and instead turned to Instagram, which I could curate to only show me things that made me feel happy and peaceful—travel photos, animals, and the like.  I followed Goats of Anarchy, which led me to other animal sanctuaries such as Rancho Relaxo and Twist of Fate Farm and Sanctuary. After all, what could be more antithetical to shouting on the floor of the Senate than saving a lamb from slaughter? The folks who run these rescues changed my life.

2019

Sammantha Fisher Photography

Through following their work, I was inspired to go vegan.  That’s a story unto itself. My spirit and my health began to recover and even thrive.  But my writing? The one thing I’ve ever felt I was put on this earth to do? All I had was an empty, taunting silence.

As I learned more about the rescues and began to follow their posts daily, I noticed that some of the pictures jumped out as being of professional quality, and the same photo credit kept showing up: @sfisherx. Sammantha Fisher. There are a lot of talented photographers out there, but some seem to have an eye that goes beyond basic creativity or artistic composition. They see with more of themselves than just their cameras.  Ms. Fisher is one of those. In photos of cows and pigs, I began to see sentient souls looking back at me. I would lose my breath at the beauty I had never known to look for in “livestock.” I felt myself peering into the eyes of a goat and searching for a language other than English in which to communicate, a language that has nothing to do with words.  Based on others’ comments on the photos, this perception seemed to be universal. Such is the depth of Sammantha Fisher’s talent.

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Sammantha Fisher Photography

I went to her Instagram page and her website and began to learn more about her work.  The gist is this: she travels the world photographing animals, and donates half her profits back to the sanctuaries that rescued them. In essence, she uses her creativity to do good. To feed compassion and gentleness to this world starving for any glimmer of hope.  And she is a young woman doing all of this with limited resources.

It’s time to get back to the keyboard, I told myself.  Writers and artists will always, always struggle with doubt, drought, lack of inspiration.  But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the work. If Sammantha could keep going, I thought, finding beautiful moments even while witnessing overwhelming cruelty—she travels to auctions and slaughterhouses too—I could do an hour’s work on a short story.  It was time to stop squandering my potential.

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Sammantha Fisher Photography

I don’t know how far out into the world the pieces I write will ever go, and I don’t know if they will ever reach someone the way Sammantha’s stirring images do.  And this was certainly not the last creative roadblock I will face. But none of this is an excuse not to try. These are times when just reading the paper or opening a news website can fill us with dread—getting through the day, much less creating art, can feel nearly impossible. Perhaps that is why I needed such an unconventional source to get myself moving again. If you’re feeling similarly paralyzed, whether you’re trying to compose music or greet customers or just compose yourself, you’re not alone. Perhaps try looking somewhere new for healing. I had no idea that farm animals could have anything to do with the writing of fiction.  But surprises are everywhere. When I found Sammantha Fisher’s work, I learned that pigs don’t just fly. They soar.

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Sammantha Fisher Photography

 

Ann Marie Bausch is a writer and dog mom from Norfolk, Virginia. In addition to Rock & Sling, her nonfiction has appeared on The Mighty, and her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine. Find her at seekingandspeaking.wordpress.com, on Twitter at @anniebausch, or on Instagram at @anniemb4.

June 14, 2018 / jennrudsit

Artist Series: Vinyl Melancholy

by Amanda C. R. Clark

As I move through different seasons of my life I find that different things delight the senses and tease the brain.  These days a cat’s paws move effortlessly across the wood floor while the mantle clock ticks rhythmically. Breezes pass silently outside my urban arched windows and within our small abode you might hear the crackly sound of a vinyl record turning lazily on the turntable. In these recent months I have delighted in listening to the depth and raw quality of records that date from the mid-twentieth century. People who know about such things tell me that vinyl records provide a greater range of sound, but if they in fact do I’m not sure I perceive it.  What I revel in is the ritual of the listening.

Crouching on the floor my fingers sift through the slender record sleeves, judging the selection on a mix of graphics, composer’s name, performers’ names, and attempting to let this information wash over me and then meld into a direction tailored for an ephemeral mood. Delicately the record is loosed and slipped from the sleeve and gingerly framed by my flat palms. I lay it gently on the turntable, relishing this methodical, deliberate process that heightens the anticipation of the music that will soon fill the room. I move the arm and let it hover over the record in a suspended moment in tension with imminent possibilities. The needle touches down releasing the first faint crackles and pops to reverberate out of the speakers.  Then, the music. To my twenty-first-century ears these may sound tinny or pale, but soon my ears adjust to this new set of expectations and I allow myself to fall under the spell. The record spins as my cats watch hypnotically, enjoying the whole, bizarre process.

Why does this bring joy?  Is it some harkening for a past?  Perhaps. Poignantly aware that the past is a foreign country and that the passage of time creates a reverse mirage of romanticism, these reasons fail to persuade. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.  Here the media—the outmoded form of vinyl on turntable—allows me to step out of the relentless grind of my daily life. The record will finish playing one side in a remarkably short period of time and beg me to return to flip it over or replace the record with a new one. It calls me away from whatever has absorbed me since the needle made contact, whether that be making dinner, reading a book, or in all honestly, scanning Facebook for an unattainable pleasure—what is it I am looking for? News?  Inspiration? Or more likely, comparisons to my own life, seeking the “better” in others that I secretly wish for myself, and then coming away feeling vacuous and empty, dissatisfied and lonely. I return to the turntable, an intimate object that needs me, and I it. Together, we make music. I find a new record and repeat the pattern. The crackle and then the notes emanate. For a fleeting moment, at the sound of those first few moments, all is right in the world. And then I return to my tasks and soon my perceptive and present ears stop hearing the lingering notes, but somewhere in my subconscious I continue to hear and hold onto the dream and promise of a past that has intercepted my present. My world becomes a little more simple, a little more tangible in those moments. I am present to something in the immediate moment that is tactile and impermanent. This nourishes me.

Amanda C. R. Clark is Library Director at Whitworth University. She has published in areas of architecture, biography, book arts, and the significance of books. Clark holds a PhD in library and information sciences from the University of Alabama.

May 29, 2018 / jennrudsit

Applauding Forever

by Courtney Murphy

In each issue of Rock & Sling that I’ve worked on, it seems there are at least one or two great poems that experiment with form in an interesting way, contain found text, or otherwise differ from most of the accepted poems in their appearance or structure. In Rock & Sling’s issue 12.2, the poem “Applauding Forever” was one of those poems. “Applauding Forever” is structured as a prose poem, with many forward slashes functioning as a type of internal line break to separate certain words, short phrases, and concepts from each other. Each of the long lines break at the end of the page, but the word choices at the end of each line seem not to be incidental. Each word or phrase followed by a forward slash is carefully selected to set up the string of images in the following line.

Throughout “Applauding Forever,” each section relates to both the preceding and succeeding sections. Each phrase usually complicates the meaning of the phrases it is following. From one long line to the next, lines do not always read as a coherent sentence. The first line — “like a symphony/ of bees exiting/ a shotgunned/ piñata/ stick up/ your arms/ ‘cuz I’m here/ to rob” — is especially full of physical action and reaction. This line, especially the first half, juxtaposes sound and motion, creating dynamic images and juxtapositions that shift in meaning depending on where you connect them within the line. The “symphony” gives sound and volume to the image of the bees, the seeming subject of this line. Then, “shotgunned” describes their mode of movement and “piñata” describes how they can be seen in reference to their direction and trajectory. In the second part of the line, the subject is reoriented to an assumed person who is instructed to “stick up” their arms in reaction to a threatening speaker, and the several phrases that seem to be describing the movement of bees are transferred to be a more holistic description of the arms’ movement. These shifts of the perceived subject happen frequently throughout the poem, and cause me as a reader to reread previous lines differently due to the knowledge gained from later lines.

In the next line, a collection of images — a lion jaw, an ancient telephone, even the ocean — are taken and engulfed, but then it seems the ocean is the thing that’s been engulfed. The subject is instructed to follow the speaker, and be engulfed as well. In the following few lines, the speaker and reader are disoriented by a collection of images that do not seem like they should fit together, evoking feelings of loneliness and desperation. The images are difficult to grasp, and seem to move and shift throughout the poem, mimicking the confusion and disorientation the speaker is putting the subject through.

At the end, the subject is supported and encouraged by the blind, those unable to actually see them for what they are, and is then stuck in place despite being “made of rain,” unable to be grasped. The ending of the poem offers little explanation or solace, but the form works in such a way that this intense sense of disorientation is justified. More of an attempt at grammatical accuracy or clarity of imagery in this poem would reduce its meaning and the disorienting movement created by the structure.

Courtney Murphy graduates this month with a bachelor’s in English Writing & Literature from Whitworth University. She’s from Olympia, Washington and is excited to be near the ocean again after graduation.

May 4, 2018 / jennrudsit

12.2 Contributor Notes

by Kyle Anderson

Faith is an unspoken truth in our daily lives. It is based both on our past experiences and the societal contract we believe we’ve all agreed to. When we’re drinking coffee in the morning, we have faith that it will help us begin the day. When we’re driving to work, we have faith that the roads will be flat and even, that there won’t be gigantic sinkholes swallowing the traffic before us. When we’re speaking to a friend, to a stranger, we have faith that our words will carry their intended meaning as they travel from mouth to ears. The same is true for poetry. With a poem, faith is a hidden constellation, beginning with the still-mysterious act of writing. The blank page, which is simultaneously white and dark, is the abyss each writer stares into until the moment, as Nietzsche said, where the abyss stares back into the writer. That’s when the miracle begins—something, somewhere, without origin or premonition, begins seeping out of us, like a stream that suddenly trickles out of the earth, taking shape right before our eyes. As these ideas from elsewhere become ours and start to align themselves, there is a faith that they are meant to be shared with the world, and there is a faith that their meaning will make sense to another person, that the words might move some feeling in their body, even if it’s only a quiver, a shortened breath, a brief spark inside the ribs. On the other side, the reader believes the author has some purpose driving their work, some intended meaning or message, some symbolic scent their mind’s nose can catch hold of. This dance of faith is what makes not only poetry so complex and beautiful, but the act of human communication at large. It is strange, messy, and always surprising. It is why I write, why I read, and why I hope you enjoy what I’ve made for you.

March 21, 2018 / jennrudsit

Rock & Sling at AWP: Finding Your People

by Bryn Cavin

What happens when you put hundreds of introverted bookworms into a massive Floridian convention center?

Apparently, something really amazing.

This year was my first experience with AWP.  Everyone told me that the conference was going to be huge, but I was still woefully under prepared for just how absurdly enormous it would actually be.  In the pre-conference newsletter, Thom warned us: “Practice self-care. If you’re an introvert, plan breaks in your schedule accordingly, so you can get away.”  He also warned us to have a spiel prepared for people curious about the table flaunting a giant banner of Jesus fighting a bear, adding “Talk to people. You won’t die,” (which seemed somewhat optimistic to my socially anxious self).  I spent the week leading up to the conference preparing myself to be at my maximum people limit for the whole weekend, rehearsing my spiel in my head, complete with all the different ways that I could mess it up and make myself sound foolish.

Walking into the book fair in the Tampa Convention Center, I was immediately astounded by just how immense the whole thing was.  The whole thing felt like a bibliophile’s Disneyland –  mobs of people wearing lanyards covered in buttons, lots of happy chatter, and oodles of bookish souvenirs just waiting to cheerfully empty your bank account.  All that was missing were the mouse ears.

Was the conference as overwhelming as I had anticipated?  For sure. But in the best possible way.

Even being constantly surrounded by people for the majority of the weekend, the whole experience felt rejuvenating rather than draining.  Everyone at the conference was wonderfully friendly and absolutely thrilled to have yet another conversation about books or poetry or the super awesome panel they had just seen.  And the strange thing was, I was excited to have those conversations too. Typically, I do my best to keep from having to initiate conversation with strangers, but these people didn’t feel like strangers, really.  We were all of the same mindset, that books and stories have a crucial role to play in shaping us as human beings, and that we have a role to play in bringing those stories to life. I had the opportunity to hear the stories of people who are using poetry to reach out to their home communities, people who are using their writing to spread the stories of strong women who have been left out of the history books, and oh so many other amazing, inspirational writerly types.

After the conference, having returned to Spokane, I was chatting with a professor about the whole experience.  He asked me, “So…do you think you’ve found your people?”

Absolutely.  And I can’t wait to go back.

Bryn Cavin is a sophomore at Whitworth University, majoring in English Literature and Writing with a minor in Editing and Publishing, and is a member of the editorial board for Rock & Sling.  She is enthusiastic about dogs, tea, sunsets, and all things bookish.

March 19, 2018 / jennrudsit

A Seattleite’s Survival Guide to AWP in Tampa

by Meghan Foulk

AWP is full of amazing treasures, interesting people, and SO. MANY. BOOKS. But traveling from one corner of the country to another can lead to a cultural shock, so I’m here to help the fellow PNWers cope with these possibly terrifying changes.

1. You’ll be tempted to break out all your summer clothes for the 60° weather.

Perhaps you’ll look like a fool wandering around Florida’s winter with shorts and a tank top. It is a possibility that the windy weather will make wearing a dress inconvenient. Nevertheless, own it. You just came from a place where snow is still lying about, so ignore those Tampa native’s eye rolls at your ridiculous enthusiasm for their “winter” weather. A Pacific Northwester may also be confused by the bright thing in the sky, but through research I have concluded that this is natural. In fact, the sky is blue and not gray! Who would have thought??

2. Need your daily coffee fix? Too bad.

AWP is full of writers, publishers, and literary magazines. What do these all have in common? Usually caffeine addiction. Being a Seattleite myself, I figured that I could get my usual morning cup of joe. Boy, I was wrong. It turns out that having a Starbucks on every other corner isn’t normal, and Tampa was not ready to accommodate the increased need for caffeine. With only one coffee shop in the convention center and a Starbucks in the hotel across the street, I admit that I was willing to wait in a 20-minute line to get my fix along with other book lovers with bloodshot eyes and jittery hands. Writers are a special group, that’s for sure.

3. Yes, those tall things are considered trees.

Unlike the gorgeous pine trees of our homeland, Tampa has tall palm trees that make it always feel like summer. While I am partial, I must admit that the palm trees are pretty and have their own appeal. We probably all looked like idiots, trying to take pictures of the sun and the trees to send back to our friends and family who were left in the cold and snow to rub it in their faces make them feel better.

4. THERE IS NO RECYCLING.

This was quite distressing. Washington residents are familiar with having at least three options for their waste, but in Florida, there was ONLY ONE BIN. How am I supposed to sort my trash from my recycling? Throwing away clean recyclables into the black bins of the landfill killed my soul a little bit. Especially with the number of Styrofoam products. WHY GOD WHY. A small voice in my head was telling me to sneak my trash back to Washington so that I could sort it properly. But alas, I needed that space in my bag for books.IMG_2867

We were quite excited when we found a recycling bin. Of course, it was in the Starbucks, and we just had to take a picture with it while waiting in the ridiculously long line for coffee. That might have been the only recycling bin in all of Florida, and we were lucky enough to find it. Just don’t get me started on how there was no compost.

5. THERE IS NO COMPOST.

What am I supposed to do with my food waste and food solid paper products??

That is all.

6. Learn to laugh every single time someone says, IMG_2826“Wow, you guys came a long way,” like it’s an original joke.

It will be said a lot. Many times a day in fact. But you’re trying to sell the magazine, so just smile and nod, laugh along with them as you recount the same anecdote about your flight that honestly isn’t that interesting but you have to keep them engaged. There isn’t really an appropriate response to this, but try not to awkwardly laugh and say a drawn out, “Yeahhhhhh…”

7. Never forget to wear your flannel.

All the MFA programs will be wearing spiffy button up shirts and the publishers with their suits and ties, but you, oh you PNW soul, will have your [flannel/Birks/Chacos/Patagonia/etc.], looking like you’re ready to go on a mountain hike on one of Florida’s beaches. It may be intimidating, but own the tree-hugging, gourmet coffee loving, microbrewing, hiking hipster and take Tampa by storm. You came a long way, after all.

Meghan Foulk is the Assistant Fiction Editor at Rock & Sling. She enjoys almost all PNW stereotypes, as well as spending way too much money on books and theorizing about the latest Star Wars/Game of Thrones/pop culture in general.

March 15, 2018 / jennrudsit

Rock & Sling at AWP: Mapping Our ‘Little’ World

by Alexis Paperman

If you’ve never been to the book fair at AWP take a moment to imagine more than 800 presses, lit mags, and MFA programs spread throughout a football field sized hall in a convention center.

The image in your head? It doesn’t do it justice.

Last year was my first time attending AWP. I was still new to the world of lit mags and small indie presses. But that began to change about two months after the conference. You see, I decided to make a timeline of little magazines from 1900-1999 as a project of sorts for two of my classes. As happens to us geeky people who love to catalogue and research information, I became unhealthily slightly obsessed. I may have stopped at the turn of the millennium for the original timeline, but now I have a notebook filled with the names and lifespans of hundreds of lit mags.

So, of course, AWP this year was slightly different. This year I not only knew what to expect, but could walk past the tables and mutter to myself, “Ah! It’s that journal, so glad to see them here. Wonder if they are still…” or “I have to find this journal. I saw it while researching and it looks beautiful!” Whatever the utterances, I no longer felt like an uneducated impersonator in the sea of writers, editors, and publishers.

Over the course of the three day conference, I was able to learn more about the personal aspects of lit mags. Researching the history of the magazine and meeting those currently working on it provided a more intimate feel. I was able to see where the magazines got their personalities. (I don’t know if you know this, but writers and editors can be a bit eccentric at times.) Walking through the book fair, I saw how creative the people in this community are. Opossum Lit pairs their magazine with a vinyl record of their authors reading their works for those who want to know what the work is meant to sound like. There are, of course, more traditional ways to see the creativity of the community. It was overwhelming how many great books I found and readings I heard. But, my favorite element to see was the beautiful design work that spanned many of the different journals and publishers.

I bought way too much, as you do when nerding out, but I also got to see what’s going on in our corner of the world. There are new journals and presses springing up regularly while the old keep going or call it quits. But each brings a unique aspect to the community of writers, readers, and creative enthusiasts.

Alexis Paperman is currently the Asst. Managing Editor for Rock & Sling. In the rare moments of free time, she spends her time in the library hoping to discover obscure facts or pop culture references.

February 7, 2018 / jennrudsit

Imprint

by Karen Bjork Kubin

im·print

verb

  1. impress or stamp (a mark or outline) on a surface or body:

“tire marks were imprinted on the snow”

– make an impression or mark on (something)
– fix (an idea) firmly in someone’s mind

  1. (of a young animal) come to recognize (another animal, person, or thing) as a parent or other object of habitual trust.

When I was pregnant with my oldest and reading everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth, I hit somewhere on the idea that it was healthier for the baby if I slept on my left side. Something about blood flow and circulation; the details are lost to me, but it seemed like an easy enough thing to do for my child. Each night I positioned myself on my left side, supremely comforted that it was the best I had to offer in terms of sleeping. I was rarely able to keep my body in compliance, waking during the night on my back or right side, panicking until I felt the baby move. Once I knew he was safe, though, I could fall asleep again in a haze of expectations about motherhood mingled with pleasure that I was already giving my best.

I repeated this pattern with all three children, multiple times a night for many months. And while the haze I fall asleep in now is tinged more with exhaustion and the memories of my own shortcomings, the sweetness I felt in those days has lingered. Before pregnancy I preferred sleeping on my right side. Now my left is my favorite, with a quiet fierceness I never would have imagined. Call it an imprint, maybe. I am glad for it.


A few months ago while helping one of my daughters clear a stack of unwanted clothes from her closet, I accidentally disturbed a nest of baby mice. We had already set traps for the parents, but as I picked up the babies to take outside, my daughters intervened. “Mom, you can’t just leave them out there to die!” I pointed out that we did not want mice loose in the house. That they were getting into our food and generally causing destruction, that the parents were not likely to return, that the babies would not survive without their mother. To no avail. I gave in. For more than a week we offered the tiny creatures Q-tips soaked in soy milk at regular intervals throughout the day.

You can imagine how this ended. But the babies did eat. They raised impossibly small pink paws tipped with even smaller claws to the Q-tip and nursed. My daughters named them and taught me how to tell them apart when I filled in as nursemaid, differentiating them by size, markings, and personality. We compared notes on how to extricate the cotton fibers of the Q-tip from their miniscule teeth when the babies bit instead of sucking. And at some point during the week, these feeding sessions awakened something in me. I knew this particular tenderness from nursing my own children. The gestures were familiar enough—holding such fragile life, the baby reaching up for its source of milk—and when the mice died I genuinely missed the feeding times. Caring for them left something behind with me. An imprint, I guess. I can only hope my daughters experienced something similar, and that it will reverberate later in their lives.


For months I have been thinking of these imprints. Of sleeping on my left side. Of nursing—the fullness in my breasts, the resting of a child’s hand as she drank, the warmth that filled my arms. I spent years patterning these things into my body, but also into my soul. And for years after they have echoed back, sometimes in familiar ways, sometimes in ways utterly surprising.

It might seem like this is a piece about being a mother, but really it is about what we create in our lives. About how, over the last year especially, I have been struck numb by the patterns of greed and selfishness that I see gaining ground in this country, and the role that professing Christians have had in empowering and strengthening these patterns. The more I see, the less I am able to reconcile it with what I believe to be good and true, and the words, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” are an almost constant refrain in my head.

While I am doing what I can to fight for what I know is right, it never feels like enough. My efforts and the efforts of others do not seem to make a difference—at least not enough of a difference. And yet every cell in my body knows how much it matters.

I have been playing violin for almost 43 years. I started early, at the age of 2 ½. My teacher, who also happens to be my father, was an early practitioner of the Suzuki Method in the U.S., which is based on the philosophy that pretty much anyone, even a very small child, can learn to play an instrument the same way they learn to speak their native tongue: through their environment and in very small steps, with much modeling, repetition, review, and positive reinforcement. The point of this is not simply to create fine musicians, but more importantly to develop fine people: people who through their deep study of music have learned deeply about love, compassion, empathy, joy, and harmony.

The point of this also is that things repeated become a part of you. As a musician I count on this—that careful practice builds new neural pathways that translate into new technique, beautiful music, deeper listening, and a quicker, more intuitive response to what I hear when I am playing with others. I describe this to my students sometimes as a path through the woods—it is created by people traveling the same way over and over, until it becomes the easiest way to get where you are going.

Maybe this really is a piece about being a mother, and about being an artist. Not directly, but in that both of these callings—which have absorbed so much of me for so many years—have taught me a lot about how to live. For example, how one acts matters. Not just in the obvious ways, but in the more abstract, farther-reaching ways as well. Love demands I feed and clothe my children, care for them when they are sick, teach them what is important. Love also demands that I see all other children, regardless of anything else, as equally deserving of these things. I cannot provide these things for my children and at the same time support systems, policies, and lawmakers that deny them to others. Love demands that the public and private sectors both work to ensure for others what I try to ensure for my children. If I take from others to give to my own, I have not let love reach all corners of my heart.

In the same way, if I spend so much energy and effort trying to create music or art or poetry that is meaningful, or beautiful, shot-through with light, grace, insight, and love, how can that not spill over into working for these things in the larger world? In communities, in societies, in systems and laws: beauty, grace, and love are at least as important in these venues as they are in works of art.

As mother, as artist, as Christian, as human being, I am distraught by what I hear in the news every day. The powerlessness I feel to stop it angers me, sometimes to the point of paralysis. But there is much we can choose, much we can cultivate. Embedded in motherhood and artistic discipline is the lesson of how change happens, how beauty comes about: however deeply they may be buried, the things we practice regularly become a part of us, ready to flicker to the surface bidden or unbidden. And it seems to me to be the fight of our lives, to lay down paths of love, of compassion, of empathy, of joy, of harmony. Now more than ever.


“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

A violinist by training, Karen Bjork Kubin works as a free-lance musician, teacher, and conductor in a small Midwestern city. Her poems and essays have appeared in Rock & Sling, Whale Road Review, the Main Street Rag Anthology Of Burgers and Barrooms, How to Pack for Church Camp, and American Suzuki Journal, among other publications. More of her writing as well as links can be found at www.kbkubin.blogspot.com

January 16, 2018 / jennrudsit

Notes From a Social Media Addict

by Liz Backstrom

It wasn’t until my fifth day offline that I noticed a difference. I was sitting in the mall waiting for a friend and I realized I was one of the only people not using my phone. The others who weren’t were very busy. I saw an older man at another table also not using a phone. We briefly traded glances – it seemed like we were the only two people there. I believe I could have gotten up and danced naked through the mall and no one would have noticed. That’s how intent everyone was on their business.

In the fifteen minutes I sat there, I saw three people stop and watch the piano player, who was making beautiful music in the middle of the plaza. The intricate holiday displays and lights could have been dust for all the notice taken of them.

When I see a beautiful picture or an interesting article, I immediately feel an urge to share it. I love to have discussions about things that matter to me, and hearing other points of view is one of the better things in life. But if I’m being honest, that’s not the reason I do most of my social media sharing.

Leo Babauta, one of my favorite writers who authors the blog Zen Habits and has written several books, has a great post about social sharing that addresses this dilemma. He urges us to question the need to share our photos and thoughts.  Why is this moment not enough, without the need to share? Do I just want to brag, or is there a good-hearted motivation there too? What am I so afraid of, that I can’t refrain from sharing?

The last question gets me the most. What am I so afraid of? What are we afraid of, that we can’t just be? Does everything have to be curated, hashtagged, posed, properly lighted, and funny? What if it doesn’t neatly end? Does it still matter? Do I still matter?

If you ask anyone what their greatest fear or their greatest hope is, they’ll give a lot of different answers. But they’ll likely all be a variation on the following: people don’t want to be forgotten. We want to be loved, respected, and remembered; to be seen. To do something that matters with people who matter. In such a connected world with more ways to talk to each other than we’ve ever had, many of us are deeply lonely.

Social media offers us that connection. Kind of. A crowd of our peers talking to each other in a virtual room is fun, but it isn’t always what we need, because so often, no one is talking with us. Instead, we talk at and over one another.

It offers a legacy of likes, that immediate validation we’re all seeking, if we’re honest with ourselves. That we’re seen, we matter, someone is listening. In the 2 a.m. moments when we’re not sure if we’re enough, we can scroll through a feed and be reassured.

The attention we give to social media, and the creativity, the thoughts and connections we might have made with the downtime we won’t have, the books we won’t read, things we won’t see passing the window of the bus because we’re too busy staring at a phone or a computer – who is to say what the sum of these things are? They can never be numbered, and it’s impossible to try to count them, but they matter.

These sites are tools. They are inherently neither good nor bad. I love sharing pictures and ideas, catching up with friends, discussing social and political issues and hearing new points of view. I cherish the availability to learn, access online courses and find facts about history, to view photos from around the world and talk to people from other countries – the global connectivity the internet provides us is, in my opinion, a good thing.

They are tools, but they are Twinkie tools. They are engineered to be delicious and addictive. What bothers me is that they are often set up specifically to play to our psychological vulnerabilities.

In a recent article in The Guardian, Silicon Valley developers, many who helped make some of the most successful social media sites and products, expressed concern about where they’re headed and how they affect our attention span.

Justin Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention,” severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity, even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All the time.”

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before.”

The idea of likes and social approval – it’s a brilliant use of psychology. We need to be social and perform, and we need approval and validation from our peers. That cocktail keeps us coming back.

All that matters – the distraction, the selling of our data, the psychological manipulation – it’s what we’ve traded to talk to one another in a way that’s fast, fun, and ultimately a bit empty, like junk food.

But that isn’t my biggest takeaway from time spent offline. What I’ve noticed most is how lonely I still feel in a crowd of my peers – more peers than I’ve ever felt before. I talk more, engage more, know more and discuss more with more friends and it means less. I have more, but am never satisfied. Something is wrong with that picture.

Liz Backstrom is a freelance writer for Spokane Faith & Values and works as a grant writer for Second Harvest Inland Northwest. She has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and an MPA from Eastern Washington University.