Skip to content
August 15, 2018 / jennrudsit

Artist Series: Amusing Ourselves to Death

by Liz Backstrom

“The shape of a man’s body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas when he is addressing a public in writing, on the radio, or for that matter, in smoke signals. But it is quite relevant on television.” – Neil Postman

As a kid growing up in the 1990s, I was one of the only people I knew who didn’t have cable TV or an at-home computer. This wasn’t an aesthetic choice on our part as much as it meant we were poor. I found this to be somewhat of a cramp in my style, especially when I visited the houses of friends with slick PCs and 200 channels. But mostly I read a lot. For better or worse, kids are adaptable.

I didn’t recognize it until later, but this experience instilled in me a lifelong love of books. More important, it gave me the ability to entertain myself for hours without electronics. I couldn’t have imagined then how useful that would be.

Today I have the money to buy a nice TV and computer. I’m writing this essay on one right now. But still, I prefer books, longform essays and newspapers (some in digital format, to be sure) to TV or mediums like Twitter.

That’s nice, you might be thinking, but why should I care?

Because the switch from a culture based on the written word to one based largely on images affects you, in ways you may not have realized. That switch is the subject of Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), by Neil Postman.

Much has been written recently about our current political culture and the divides it creates. Still more has been written about the rise of technology use, the dip in attendance at traditional community institutions like churches and social clubs, and how these changes affect the way we all view each other. Relatively little has been written about how we got here in the first place; that is, to a place where what is valued is speed, looks and attention.

Many of us are unhappy with the way things are. Or at least we feel a vague sense of being in a hurry or on display most of the time, yet we don’t know how to make it stop. We’re not satisfied, yet we have not wondered why this might be. If we have, we blame it on what are arguably symptoms (political candidates, news channels, electronic devices, work hours) rather than root causes.

Neil Postman is the exception to this norm. The author of several books and a professor for more than forty years at New York University, Postman was well-known as a critic of technology’s impact on culture before his death in 2003. He was not afraid to wonder. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a bible for the zeitgeist of today’s fast-moving culture and is worth re-discovering.

His witty and prophetic work is mostly about television, but it could apply word for word to the ways our culture has changed following the adoption of social media, data analytics and other tools.

He argues we have failed to examine the impact of the transition from a largely written-word society to one that is mostly image-based. The invention of the telegraph, and then the television, created ‘news of the day’ (events most of us might read about but will affect few). Attention spans shifted. No longer would audiences sit for events like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which lasted hours. Most of us feel deluged by news events we can do nothing about. The cultural implications, he says, are profound, and have gone largely unnoticed.

Think about the first 15 presidents of the United States. Most of their constituents would be unlikely to recognize them if they passed by on the street. No one knew what they looked like. Can you imagine?

These men were instead known for their speeches, for those who could hear them. For the rest of the country, they were known by newspaper accounts of speeches they gave, letters they wrote and whatever else the public could read about them.

Today nothing could be further from that reality. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, a large part of choosing our leaders has to to with their photogenic qualities. In your recollection, since the advent of television, have any of the presidents (or many governors, state senators, news anchors, celebrity pastors, etc) been bald? How about overweight? In the the fields of journalism and public policy, a good discussion of ideas is not worth as much as a good haircut.

Somehow, in the last half-century or more, we’ve completely switched our paradigm for viewing leaders, and in doing so, have created a culture of celebrity that has changed the way we view the pulpit, politics, journalism and almost every public arena. You might think this doesn’t affect you, but science shows us we’re all affected by bias. And most of that bias starts with what we see.

“Considerable evidence suggests that dividing the world into Us and Them is deeply hard-wired in our brains, with an ancient evolutionary legacy,” wrote Robert Sapolsky in a 2017 essay for Nautilus magazine. “We detect Us/Them differences with stunning speed. Stick someone in a “functional MRI”—a brain scanner that indicates activity in various brain regions under particular circumstances. Flash up pictures of faces for 50 milliseconds—a 20th of a second—barely at the level of detection. And remarkably, with even such minimal exposure, the brain processes faces of Thems differently than Us-es.”

Our human tendency to character by a face already exists. In a culture based on image, that weakness is increasingly exploited in almost every visible medium, and many invisible ones.

Postman’s brilliant critique invites us to closely examine not just the effects of these changes, as many of us have already done, but to look at the tools themselves and how they fundamentally influence our culture and conversation. When we make gains, (which he allows television provided, such as coverage of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights marches in the 1960s) we make choices. We bring something to trade. The error isn’t in making the trade, but in leaving the trade unexamined.

He gives the example of clocks, which completely changed the way we think about time. Minutes, hours, and seconds play a pivotal role in our lives and in the way we measure almost everything. Yet they are, like most measurements, just an invention. Before we had clocks, we had the seasons.

“Moment to moment, as it turns out, is not God’s conception, or nature’s,” Postman says. “It is man conversing with himself about and through a machine he created.”

As an artist, Postman inspires me because he is not afraid to examine the hard questions in our society. He takes almost nothing at face value, asks ‘why’ about everything and forces the reader to rethink almost all their long-held assumptions. He’s funny, for all that, and well worth the time spent on his work. If you want to know how we got to today’s media culture, Postman is an indispensable read.

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.

August 1, 2018 / jennrudsit

Artist Series: Days with Frog and Toad

by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

Over the last ten years or so I’ve fallen in love with the drawings, stories, insights, and humor of an artist I took for granted as a kid and have rediscovered as an adult.  I turn to him on rainy or sunny days, quiet days on the couch with a toddler, days when my boys are sick and need comfort, nights when they need good company before bed, for good dreams and the promise of happy, simple times ahead.  Most of all I turn to this artist to teach my boys not only a love of stories but the ability to piece words together and read, and in reading to love the world. This artist is Arnold Lobel.

In case you don’t know him by name, Arnold Lobel is the creator of the Frog and Toad series that made its appearance in 1970 and is still in print.  You might know those books by the gold and green colors of their covers, where a frog and toad are reading together or riding a tandem bicycle or flying kites or making a snow frog.  Inside each book are 5-6 stories about the adventures in the friendship of these two amphibians who dress in slacks and corduroy jackets most of the year and serve each other tea in their little homes that look like English cottages.  But, as a grown-up who longs for simple, funny times, it’s the themes of the stories that satisfy me most. The joys of friendship, home, the seasons, and the delicious fulfillment of being alone and completely oneself are all truths these little stories offer up.  Some are wildly funny, others poetic and quiet.

A good part of the humor comes from the way Frog and Toad play off each other.  Toad is grumpy, likes his sleep, doesn’t take risks, is impatient with nature and time and self-conscious in his bathing suit. It’s easy to relate to Toad, frankly. All of those make sense to me. And then there’s Frog, a kind of Taoist counterpart who remains calm and thoughtful, who savors each snowfall and spring flower, who is patient and wise, who, in a beautiful story called “Alone,” travels out to an island by himself to sit and ponder how happy he is to have the life he does and to be a frog.  Toad is like most of us: awkward and worried and often very silly. If we’re lucky, we have a friend or parent or spouse like Frog who can see the bigger picture in life and who loves us despite our quirks.

One story in particular gives my toddler a fit of giggles each time.  It’s called “Christmas Eve.” In it, Toad waits for Frog to come to his house so they can celebrate Christmas Eve together, but as the evening gets late and no Frog appears, Toad begins to panic that something terrible has happened to him.  He gathers tools around his house to help him save Frog from the awful fate he’s sure has befallen him on the path to Toad’s house. One of these tools is a frying pan with which Toad plans to beat the big animal that might be eating Frog. “I will hit that big animal with this,” he says heroically.  “All of his teeth will fall out.” At that moment, on cue every time, my son is seized by a wild and artless laughter. How fun to imagine a scary beast dazed and toothless, and how comforting to think a small creature can defend his friend with a frying pan. We know, of course, that Frog is just fine, he’s just been wrapping Toad’s gift, but watching Toad overreact deepens both the humor and our love for him.  

Another story my sons know as “mom’s favorite,” but that’s only because of this revelatory moment in it that stung me one day, and I’ve never been able to read it the same since.  In “The Corner” it’s a rainy day and Toad is despairing of all being ruined when Frog tells Toad that spring is coming soon and that, when he was a tadpole, his father once said spring was “just around the corner.”  He then relates to Toad how, as a youth, he took this literally and left home looking for spring. At each corner of the wide world the young Frog encountered, he found something new and interesting, but never Spring.  Eventually, Frog tells a listening Toad, he’d begun to feel tired and sad. The picture next to this shows Frog walking home slowly, shoulders slumped and rain pouring down on him. His disappointment is palpable. Finally, Frog says, he arrived home again.  When he turned the corner of his house, he found his parents working happily in their garden, the sunlight shining over them, birds singing in the trees. The picture on this page is full of a simple warmth as young Frog and his parents wave happily to each other across the garden.  “You found it!” Toad cries out happily at the end of the story. It turned out that home was the corner that led Frog to Spring.

I read this one day to my oldest son when he was very young and I was a tired mother wondering if I’d ever publish my book of poems, if the daily domestic grind would really add up to something, if I’d ever make a difference in the world.  Here was an answer. In a few pages and a handful of sketches, two trousered amphibians reminded me that what I was looking for was already here, at home. I just had to wait. I remember choking up, barely able to finish the story, marveling that Arnold Lobel had touched on one of life’s greatest questions in a 12 page children’s story.  

Through two gentle, affectionate, and often silly animal friends, Arnold Lobel has taught me wisdom that feels ancient and yet never gets old. Some of the best times in my life have been spent sitting on our front room couch, sunlight filtering through the windows, a toddler on my lap and a pile of Frog and Toad books beside us.  The afternoon is quiet and wonderfully long and we are in no hurry to be done.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, BODY, Sugar House Review, Cimarron Review, Southern Indiana Review among other journals and has been nominated for two Pushcarts.  Her debut poetry collection, The Marriage of the Moon and the Field, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2019.  She earned an MFA from Eastern Washington University, teaches at Weber State University, and lives in Ogden, Utah with her husband and three young sons.

 

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.

6312

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.

9454

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.

3261

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.