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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.


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.


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


by Karen Bjork Kubin



  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

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.

December 5, 2017 / jennrudsit

2017 Pushcart announcement

November 29, 2017 / jennrudsit

Environmental Art

by Hannah Cobb

Im sitting with the 4-year-old I nanny at his familys dining room table. I have a piece of printer paper balanced on the illuminated screen of my phone and I am tracing an image of  Tinkerbell that I got from a Google Image search.

You forgot her feet.Benson comments.

I didnt forget them. I just ran out of paper. Its okay that her feet arent in the picture,I try to explain. “Not all pictures have feet in them.

Benson is insistent. But how will she stand on the pirate ship?

I sigh and erase the bottoms of the legs that were leading off the paper, and taper the legs awkwardly into points. Now Tinkerbell doesnt look like she has legs or feet. Benson seems satisfied. This is not the first time I have noticed that he and I have different ideas about art.

I slide the paper off of my phone and begin adding background embellishments in hopes that these will distract from the awkward legs. I write a quote from the movie in cursive along the long side of the paper, and begin to add a swath of stars to wind around the figure. This is good. The picture might still have a hope of looking like those Disney character drawings I see when I wander through Pinterest. Before I can finish the star banner, Benson interrupts me again.

Why are you drawing that?

Its the background. It looks pretty!

She doesnt need a background. Im going to cut her out and put her on my pirate ship!

I pause.

Can I cut her out now?

Reluctantly, I hand my attempt at a masterpiece over to the wrath of Bensons scissors. What else can I do? It seems wrong somehow to fight with a four-year-old over artistic differences.

IMG_0458Ive been doing a lot of babysitting and nannying recently with a number of different families. Invariably, this means Ive been doing a lot of art projects, and most of those projects have been under close scrutiny. Adults seem much more willing than children to just accept the fact that I am not skilled at visual art. Ive noticed, however, that children have definite ideas about what my drawings should look like, and they nearly always ask me to give up control and let them make the decisions. This is invariably frustrating to me, even though I know that no matter what I draw, the picture will just be crumpled up somewhere by the end of the day.

Ive been wondering recently about artists who can give up control in this way, which has led me to think about a 1970s art movement called Environmental Art.Environmental artists created works on an enormous scale, and released their creations to the influence of time and nature. Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake is one that never fails to capture my imagination. Created by Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty is a manmade shore of land that extends into the lake before curling back on itself, becoming a spiral. The water level of the Great Salt Lake is subject to extreme fluctuations because the lake has no natural outlets besides evaporation. Because of this, some time after the jetty was built, the lake level rose, and the jetty was submerged completely.

Theres a unique kind of beauty and loss manifest in pouring your time and energy into a thing and then releasing that thing to the ravages of what you cant control. In the early 2000s, the lake receded again and the jetty re-emerged: intact, but changed by salt deposits from the lake. Smithson had died by the time the jetty surfaced, but I think he would have experienced great joy and wonder at seeing what the lake had wrought on his imagined landscape.

Environmental art can teach us that art always is, to some extent, a willing collaboration between ourselves and the environment that surrounds us. And yes, sometimes that environment includes assertive four-year-olds.

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about a branch of theological inquiry known as Theopoetics. One of the things that Theopoetics does well is to create a space for new articulations of God. While traditional theology can sometimes err on the side of trying to make everything fit neatly into familiar philosophical boxes, Theopoetics aims to look directly into the mystery of God and to leave space for wonder.

One Theopoetic thinker, Richard Kearney, writes about the necessity of what he calls radical hospitalityin creating Theopoetic spaces. In his Theopoetics Primer, Way to Water, L. Callid Keefe-Perry writes, [Kearneys] call is one of invitation to walk in a place of hospitality and welcoming, even when the welcomed guest may prove hostile. Making the choice for faith may indeed be frightening and unpredictable, but hospitality may well call us to that.

Spiral Jetty demonstrates a kind of implicit hospitality. Rather than trying to keep the environment out of his creative efforts, Smithson invited wind and sun and fluctuating lake levels to be a part of the creative picture. In doing this, he provides a unique opportunity for his viewers: inviting them to become participators, and to look directly into the mysteries that surround us.

I keep discovering that the road to God and the road to art intertwine more than I had ever expected them to. The more I try to pursue a creative life, the more I am discovering the necessity of a kind of hospitality to mystery and uncertainty. If I try to control all the factors of my creative expressions, the thing I create ends up being little more than a portrait of my own insecurities.

Jesus said Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.I wonder if such purity could be evident in simply welcoming the stranger: the foreign idea, the unknown person, the things outside of our control even the child with strong artistic opinions. Perhaps one way of finding God in our own lives is by finding the beauty that arises when we give up our grand artistic visions and allow the intrusions of what is unfamiliar.

Hannah Cobb graduated from Whitworth University with a double major in English and Theology, as well as a minor in computer science. She is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, but it will probably involve poetry in some way. In the meantime, she is working at a thrift store and nannying for two families. You can follow her on Twitter @HannahTheCobb.

November 15, 2017 / jennrudsit

Time, Memory, and the Myth of Progress

by Amanda C. R. Clark

In our post-postmodern culture, text and image are increasingly fractured. Disciplines such as literary studies and art history are segregated and kept at a distance; Starbucks and Apple logos sans text are reduced to little more than semiotic cliché. Let us turn to an old friend and ask the physical book within time: “Are we trapped within our modern understanding of the progression of time, even if we are tethered in time, as we may often believe ourselves to be?”

In Werner Herzog’s 2010 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams we are offered a meditation on the passage of time perceived in a modern context. The filmmaker explores the incredible Paleolithic animal art found in the Chauvet Cave in southern France.[1] Jean-Michel Geneste, Director of the Chauvet Cave Research Project, is quoted in the film, saying: “to inscribe the memory on very specific and odd things like walls…. It’s a way of communication between humans and with the future.” In other words, it’s an intentionally delayed message. The cave waits for us, now, here, thousands of years later, to tell us something.

Beneath the documentary structure of the film is a metanarrative that interrogates the purpose and inescapably time-rooted nature of visual art as it is experienced. Regarding how and why—and when—art should be viewed, this film broaches existential questions: Herzog’s improbable yet tantalizing mystical musings let us ponder if something made in millennia past might have reached an intended purpose for us in our present age. Might time, rather than being linear, be more akin to an accordion-folded book collapsed upon itself? As Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore lobbied in their 1967 work, The Medium is the Massage, Western print culture based on the Roman alphabet is fixed in a linear concept of time, marching one letter after another, indefinitely. Like soldiers, this construction generates and sustains our contemporary concept of progress.[2]  But is it progress?  Are we progressing toward something worth reaching?

Maura Picciau quotes an anonymous author who states that a book as akin to the flow of water: “By changing what flows into what stays still, the book denies the image of time. Its surface is not superficial, its plot is not linear, and its time is not irreversible.”[3] The book waits as the caves at Chauvet wait—what is within remains in darkness and quiet—and anticipates us individually, personally. The physical book may or may not participate in the “flat, neutral surface” of linear alphabet-like progression; the book’s writer is free from such strictures, allowing creativity to flow as creatively as his or her mind allows, unfettered. The power of the physical book is thus not in its linearity but in its conception and flexibility. With the rise of the internet, the Renaissance ideal of one-point perspective—wherein “I” is the source of the gaze upon the world—has been reversed. The “I” is no longer the lookout for viewing a receding vanishing point, but has itself become that point. We self-gaze, trapped in chronology, dreaming of destinations. What emerges is a multiplicity of terminals. A reader of a book may flip through the text, open a book at random in the middle, or explore other variations of use. Have we lost our footing, ostensibly “freed” from the linear worldview once personified by the alphabet?

As humans, we can reference only the past; the future recedes infinitely before us. John Lewis Gaddis considered this as both dominating and dominated.[4] Without our past stored and retrievable, we are unequipped to prepare for the unknown future found now, and now, and now, the future being future and the present being future-immediate. Being human is an art. We must apply limited information broadly; we are stargazers on a cloudy evening. The end-goal of this game is the betterment of humanity both on the micro and macro levels, and the game pieces are the records of human lived experience, stored, retrieved, and consulted.

[1] Werner Herzog, Erik Nelson, Adrienne Ciuffo, Peter Zeitlinger, Joe Bini, Maya Hawke, Ernst Reijseger, et al, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, documentary video, 90 minutes (Los Angeles: Creative Differences Productions, Inc, 2011).

[2] See McLuhan and Fiore, The Medium is the Massage. The ironic titular typo, “massage,” was retained by McLuhan deliberately.

[3] Maura Picciau, “Between the Rooms and the Shelves, Disturbing Objects,” in Il Libro Come Opera d’Arte: Avanguardie Italiane del Novecento nel Panorama Internaionale, The Book as a Work of Art: The Italian Avant-Gardes in the Twentieth Century as Part of the International Panorama, by Giorgio Maffei e Maura Picciau (Mantova, Italy, 2008), 21.

[4] See John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

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.

November 1, 2017 / jennrudsit

Pynchon in the Age of Paranoia

by Nick Avery

Whether you lean right or left just admit it. Admit that you’ve taken a kind of pleasure from those push notifications informing you of the next scandal, tweet, or email. Admit that you watched every Sean Spicer press briefing with a bag of popcorn and a cherry soda by your side. Admit that you’ve entertained the idea that Ted Cruz might be the Zodiac Killer. Admission is the first step. The second? Read some Pynchon.

I prescribe the reclusive, enigmatic, and, to be honest, quite exasperating author Thomas Pynchon as a way to calm the nerves. Specifically, I recommend The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon Draught) or Inherent Vice (Pynchon Lite), works I’ve read over the past two summers that have assisted in my own personal navigation of what the nation currently finds itself in: a postmodern romp.

For the term “postmodern” as used here, I refer to the literary movement specifically, which emphasizes—among other narrative techniques—parody, pastiche (an imitation of several forms or genres), and paranoia. Considering our current moment, it would appear there’s no getting around our postmodern predicament at this point. The President is a former reality TV star, the U.S. has theoretically ceded its role as the leader of the free world, and the specter of a foreign power looms over the country. Sounds almost like the lampoon of a Michael Crichton novel (minus the time travel, of course) more than a real, present reality.

This is why I believe Pynchon is so apt for living in the supposed “post-fact” world. Not only is the author the king of paranoia (which may extend to his personal life, considering he hasn’t really been seen since the 60s), but he also utilizes the concept of entropy in many of his works. It would be impossible to fully flesh out the particular nuances and cleverness of utilizing thermodynamic principles to portray predictability within a given narrative system in 500-750 words. So, instead, we could simplify the definition as it pertains to Pynchon and our current political situation as follows: there is always randomness within a structure.

In essence, Pynchon’s fiction—like so many great postmodern writers—bucks the idea that you can truly know the system and all of its parts. This necessarily leads to an overall sense of paranoia (If you don’t know every facet of the government, for example, who’s to say the Illuminate doesn’t run the deep state? The only authority would be the government, whom you necessarily cannot trust because you can’t account for outliers who may, in fact, be part of the Illuminate. As you can see, it spirals pretty quickly.).  Hopefully you’re already seeing the parallels I’m trying to establish between Pynchon and the symbiotic paranoia that attaches itself to uncertainty, a prevalent state at this point in time.

But perhaps what is most important about Pynchon in the age of paranoia is that his works don’t drown the reader in apathy or nihilism when confronting systemic uncertainty. Instead, Pynchon presents a playful fiction, one that continues on despite the waves of unknowable variables that ripple throughout his works. Indeed, whether in Oedipa Maas’ quest to uncover the plotting of a mail distribution conspiracy in The Crying of Lot 49 or the dazed and confused work of P.I. Doc Sportello in the soft-boiled Inherent Vice, Pynchon’s writing is saturated in characters and plot complexities that are silly, absurd, and—if you can wade through the puns and references to erudite subject matter—profoundly amusing.

What, then, separates this type of fiction from the entertainment experience aforementioned in P1? Well, for one, there is a type of literary nourishment that comes from highly acclaimed writing that simply cannot be found in a 24-hour news cycle. More importantly, however, there is something (call it a release, catharsis, or whatever is most comfortable for you) about embracing narrative absurdity while facing an absurd reality that is quite freeing. I don’t mean to say that you should search for escapism. Quite the contrary, literature allows us to build empathic connection with a literary subject which, if not providing a narrative strategy for survival, allows us to at least say, “They got through it and so can I.”

So, yes, get your fix of sensationalism before nuclear war. Or you could dive into some Pynchon and get some sort of grasp on what John Barth called the Literature of Replenishment. Or you could go back to reading about how Kid Rock fooled the GOP into thinking that he was running for Senate. You are autonomous, after all.

Nick Avery is a graduate of Whitworth University, a former editor for Rock & Sling, and a “seven” on a good day. Originally from California, Nick now resides in Spokane, Washington, currently working on applications for graduate school. His personal possessions include: three Norton critical theory books, most of the Friends series on Blu-ray, and a cat named Winston.

October 18, 2017 / jennrudsit

Summer Reading: Why Fantasy Novels Should be on Your Reading List

by Nicolas White and Sara Whitestone

“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton

Tucked away in a corner of my local coffee shop, there is a framed picture of Frodo, the hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. Each customer that sees the image smiles and laughs. But when the barista is asked why a fantasy hero is displayed on a coffee counter, his answer is always: “Because Frodo gives hope to us all.”

Frodo didn’t start out as a hero, but when faced with the monumental task of destroying The One Ring, he never backed down and never lost hope. This tale of Frodo’s perseverance and sacrifice has inspired multiple generations of readers to be strong, brave, and true.

This is the power of fantasy. As we read, we experience the struggles and triumphs of our other-world friends. Then when our minds return home from adventuring, we bring back the lessons we have learned. And our moral courage is strengthened in our own reality.

But why does that twinkle in Frodo’s eye catch my attention every time I’m in line for my coffee? Why does his story raise my spirits? Fantasy is both inspiring and evocative in large part because of its separation from our world (and all its normalcy). Wizards and trolls and epic quests give us adventures so different from our daily lives that we are able to forget our troubles and lose ourselves in acts and scenes of grandeur. These outlets of imagination free us to be heroes and heroines saving the day, and not for a paycheck or social status, but simply because it is the right thing to do.

When I first read The Lord of the Rings as a child (and again six more times over the next three years), Frodo became one of my most important role models. Although he was just an average hobbit and didn’t even desire to be a hero, when the quest was set before him, Frodo took it on willingly. No matter how difficult his journey was or the sacrifices he had to accept along the way, Frodo was willing to make hard decisions when he knew they were right. His unwavering hope, despite what seemed certain failure, is something I cannot forget. And I have been trying to replicate it ever since.

But real life doesn’t always give us the The Lord of the Rings’ clear differentiation between good and evil. While Frodo had the support of many brave companions, we are often faced with people who, though they may be bosses, friends, or even family, might contradict what we know is right. But here, too, fantasy can provide relatable heroes who teach us and encourage us to stand up for justice, no matter what those around us say.

In The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, the main character Hari faces disrespect and prejudice at every turn. But she never quavers in her moral fiber. In one climactic moment of tension, Hari even directly defies the king, because she knows that she must do the right thing, even without his blessing. Fantasy reminds us that a principled decision is not often an easy one. But it is always the correct one.

Even though I try to be like Hari and fight for what is good, I am a real, flesh and blood human, and there are moments when I take the easy way out. Sometimes I don’t make the right decisions, and this causes hurt to myself and others around me. Even in recognition of this shortcoming, the other-world of fantasy is a powerful tool for my growth.

Sitting down in the coffee shop with my mug, I notice another customer reading Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, a recent novel that seems to be flying off the shelves of bookstores. When compared to the moral fortitude of Hari or Frodo, the protagonist of this story pales in his qualifications as a hero. Kvothe is a deeply flawed character. He often creates his own problems because of his arrogance and poor decisions. But for every misdeed, the author makes it a point to show his character dealing with the consequences of his actions—and then learning from those consequences while also growing into a better person.

Fantasy can guide us not only through clear-cut examples of those who are upright, but also through characters who stumble on their way towards truth.

The next time I walk through the door of my local coffee shop and see Frodo smiling in his corner on the counter, I’ll smile back and thank him for reminding me to be joyful during my wait in line for a caffeine fix. And his picture will remind me that I don’t read fantasy to escape my problems, instead, I use those other-worlds to arm myself to live better—to be better—in my own world.

Then I’ll settle into my chair at the coffee shop, reach into my satchel, and pull out the first book in a new fantasy series. And the reading will bring me hope.

Recommended fantasy reading:
L’Engle, M., A Wrinkle in Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Wind in the Door
Brave and true—and human.

LeGuin, U., The Earthsea Trilogy
Dark, deep, and full of hope.

Lewis, C.S., The Chronicles of Narnia
Treat yourself to these again and again . . .

Lewis, C.S., Till We Have Faces
The myth of Psyche, retold—every adult should read this book at least once in their lives.

Lowry, L. The Giver
Don’t let the bad movie based on this book dissuade you. The Giver is one of the best works of fantasy/science fiction ever written.

MacDonald, G., The Princess and the Goblin
A timeless classic for both children and adults.

McKilip, P., Riddle-Master
For when you just want to change your shape for a while.

McKinley, R., The Blue Sword
How Hari reluctantly discovers who she is and then saves the world—because of, or in spite of —it all.

Rothfuss, P., The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear
Great beach reading—long and engrossing.

Stroud, J., Bartimaeus Trilogy
A politician, a demon, and an anarchist unexpectedly star in one of the most biting and poignant tales of corruption and redemption the genre has to offer.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings
Nope, having watched the movies doesn’t count.

Tumer, M.W., The Queen’s Thief Series
Fulfilling your duties to your queen, country, and god doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and excitement along the way.

Nicolas White is Sara Whitestone’s son. He inherited his love of fantasy from his mother, who was reading fairytales to him before he could walk. As an adult Nicolas is creating his own adventure, working both in coffee and as an editor in Brooklyn. Reading fantasy is what helps him stay sane in the city.

Sara Whitestone is a novelist-in-progress, an essayist-in-practice, and an un-tortured-poet-in-process. Her words and artwork have appeared in many print and online magazines and journals, and her current project is a fictional autobiography titled Counting. But who knows? Maybe she’ll write an epic fantasy with her son someday. To learn more about Whitestone’s inner and outer adventures, visit and follow her on Twitter @sarawhitestone.

October 5, 2017 / jennrudsit

Summer Reading: Conversation of a Lifetime

by Karen Bjork Kubin

How do you pick the next book you will read? Do you read for love? For knowledge? Out of duty? I myself am a somewhat undisciplined reader. Life is short. Mostly I follow my heart. Sometimes I buy or borrow books I consider “shoulds:” should own, should read, should be able to speak about intelligently. But what I finally sit down with almost always comes down to something else. Not that I necessarily know what that something else is—the book just calls to me. I answer in hope of a deep conversation.

Sarah Nelson writes about the conversations between one’s life and the books one is reading in her memoir So Many Books, So Little Time: A Passionate Year of Reading. Like her, I find the conversation between life and books fascinating. There is always some kind of rich interplay between why I choose a book (the questions I’ve been asking, the problems I am chewing on, where my longing lies) and how the book speaks back into my life. Sometimes it is a balm, sometimes it offers strength, sometimes it is a disruption. Often it provides insight or encouragement. Certainly the list of books and authors to whom I feel eternally grateful keeps growing.

During the summer, especially, I find this interplay augmented by travel, as place adds a third layer to the mix. The combinations can be potent. Take Sense and Sensibility, which I read for the first time many years ago on a trip north from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula into Canada. Storms followed our car all day but never caught us, culminating in a night lit almost continuously with heat lightning. It was my first Jane Austen, part of an attempt to make up for all the literature classes I missed as a music student in college, and I was expecting something dry. Instead I was struck by the flashes of humor and pure enjoyment of the story. And I had time to enjoy it—my 22 month-old son was at a happy, easy stage and my daughter was two months from being born. Everything seemed new, and I felt an intense awakening of the mind as well as new hopes for my family. I believe my mind was flying as fast as our car. I determined on that trip to share my love of reading with my children as long as possible.

I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake years later on vacation at a family camp in a different part of Michigan’s U.P. My kids were getting older, and as they started to differentiate themselves from the family, I found I also had to see myself in new ways, both connected to and separate from those I loved most. Once in a while I found myself walking through pine trees alone, not constantly needed. At night, while everyone else slept, I read voraciously. The pages illuminated by the light of my cellphone, the sounds of my children’s breathing mingling in the background, I hungered to see how Gogol Ganguli would untangle the ties of family and tradition and self. I had become someone who read from the perspective of both parent and child, and this book was bringing up questions I had not yet thought to ask.

Maybe a Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee, was the first book I read after foot surgery last summer. It is a beautiful, beautiful book about loss and love, that likely hit even harder than it might have because of my weakened physical state—confined to my bed, foot elevated, in pain and on medication. Not traveling in this instance, but still outside of my normal realm. Begun as a read-aloud with my 9 year-old, she found it too painful for reading before bed, and so I finished it alone and felt both the loneliness and the connection to my daughter amplified. One of the authors, Alison McGhee, was a teacher of mine in high school, and someone I now consider a friend and mentor. Recognizing her voice within the pages, even as it mingled with another’s, served as counterpoint to the loneliness of the reading—I truly felt guided-through.

I started Li-Young Lee’s book of poetry, Behind My Eyes, on an overnight flight to meet up with my family after a week at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Glen itself is a heightened experience, and by the end of the week I was exhausted—head and heart so full of words and ideas I hardly knew what to do with them. As with Maybe a Fox, I read in something of a dream state. Poetry, for me, is an experience of understanding and not understanding at the same time. Letting each poem both sink in and flow over. Diving into these particular poems was a deepening of the questions, conversations, and readings I heard and took part in throughout the past week. As I flew through the air away from that sacred space, I read with the hope that what was in my head and heart would not fly away, but stay and grow.

I read Wintering by Peter Geye just recently on another trip north, this time to pick up my son after a year away at an arts boarding school. The book is still fresh, not-yet-settled within me, but as our family was deeply immersed in conversations about the future and adulthood and how-best-to-get-there, I was deeply moved by the bonds of love in this book, and the importance of our stories. I was moved, too, by how it spoke to my own struggle with desperately wanting my children’s transition to adulthood to be smooth and easy, against the knowledge that it is impossible, that strength is not nurtured by ease.

Looking back on these books, and the times, places, and states of mind in which I read them, I am struck less by specific details of the books than by the experience and feel of them. Flashes of delight, searching in the dark, trying to grasp my own thoughts and questions. Together they form something new and move forward with me to the next moment, and to the next book that calls.

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, Off the Coast, How to Pack for Church Camp, and American Suzuki Journal, among other publications, including an upcoming poem in the Main Street Rag Anthology Of Burgers and Barrooms. She blogs occasionally about life, art, and other things at