Gearing Up for the 20th Annual FisherPoets!

We’re less than a week away from Oregon’s annual FisherPoets Gathering, friends! The highlight of our winter, FisherPoets is always special – this one especially so, as we celebrate the 20th year of commercial fishing women and men from across the country (and one from Belgium!) uniting to share stories, poems, and songs celebrating our industry.

I usually try to share something about FisherPoets here, wanting to convey the magic, wanting to lure you to join us. This year, fellow FisherPoet (and gifted writer, mentor, and beloved friend) Pat Dixon has written such a perfect explanation, I’d rather just send you to straight to his words. If you’ve been undecided about making the trip or wonder what this “FisherPoet” business is, anyway, please read Pat’s personal invitation.

What I’ll say is this: those of you able to join us in person in Astoria this Friday – Sunday, February 24 – 26, please do say hi if we’re in the same venue. But if you can’t make the trip? Some of us will come to you! Make a date to enjoy readings from the comfort of your home, thanks to Coast Community Radio’s generous support.

Coast Community Radio will broadcast from the Astoria Events Center on both nights, Friday and Saturday, Feb 24-25, from 6:00-10:00pm PST. Tune in to live-stream the following FisherPoets’ performances:

Astoria Event Center, Friday, February 24
MCs Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman

5 Curt Olson and Abigail Martin, Broadus MT
Danny Keyser, Astoria OR
Annie Howell-Adams, Friday Harbor WA

6 Ryan and Kyle Lutz, Portland OR
Pat Dixon, Olympia WA
Phil Lansing, Boise ID

7 John Palmes, Juneau AK
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Kirk Lombard, San Francisco CA

8 Jon Broderick, Cannon Beach OR and Jay Speakman, Gearhart OR
Wilfred Wilson, Delta BC
RK and Cherry Rice, Long Beach WA

9 The Brownsmead Flats, Astoria OR
Tom Hilton, Astoria OR
Don Pugh, Snohomish WA
Erin Fristad, Port Townsend WA

Astoria Event Center, Saturday, February 25
MCs Rob Seitz and Tele Aadsen

5 Toby Sullivan, Kodiak AK
Mary Jacobs, Ophir OR
Moe Bowstern, Portland OR

6 Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Geno Leech, Chinook WA
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

7 Rob Seitz, Los Osos CA
Vicki Horton, Port Townsend WA
Alana Kansaka-Sarmiento, Portland OR

8 Doug Rhodes, Craig AK
Mary Garvey, Seaview WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK

9 Mariah Warren, Sitka AK
Rich King, Kilauea HI
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
John Haggerty, Seaside OR

 

Hope to see you there, friends.

 

 

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Making Change

 

I was fourteen years old when a man grabbed me by the pussy.

We were in the checkout line of our Pacific Northwest town’s Payless drugstore. It was early evening, one week before Valentine’s Day, and I was buying a cassette tape as a gift for my best friend. (The Thelma & Louise soundtrack. Seriously.) My parents were waiting in the car. I’d stepped up to the cashier when a hand squeezed my ass.

I was not raised to fight for myself or others. My family consisted of three isolated people who neatly sidestepped not only conflict but engagement of any kind. I knew neither fight nor flight; I knew only to cringe into my body like a potato bug. To make myself disappear.

The man circled me. He cupped the front of my jeans, slid his fingers against my vulva, and squeezed. We were alone in the checkout lines – alone with the two women working the cash registers, alone with my frozen feet and pounding heart. No one spoke. I remained paralyzed. He released his hold on his own time, sauntering out of the store on his own terms. Change broke the silence. Coins clattered against the counter as I paid for the tape, never making eye contact with the cashier. I forced numb legs to step through the sliding doors, into the darkness where he might be waiting, and slid silently into the backseat of the Datsun. I didn’t say anything to my parents.

At fourteen, my ugly duckling childhood was barely a year behind me. The transition happened so unexpectedly and without warning, I didn’t yet understand the distinction between attraction and abuse. I didn’t understand unwanted advances weren’t about me, but power and predation – the flexing of rape culture’s muscle. I thought it was my fault that grown men suddenly evaluated me in a way they hadn’t before, openly, as their right. Some I’d known as family friends: the elder fisherman having coffee with my mom on our boat, who, when I described having “worked my ass off,” was quick to correct me, “It’s still there – I noticed!” Others, like the man in the drugstore, were strangers.

Several weeks later, my mom reeled back when I came downstairs one morning. “What happened to you?” she gasped, grabbing my chin and forcing my face up. “Who did this to you?”

I didn’t want to tell her. To acknowledge the long red wounds where I’d dug my fingernails into flesh and pulled, as if in opening skin I could open a door to step back in time, back to a time when I hadn’t felt men’s roaming eyes and hands… That was an exchange too intimate for our family. But she persisted. Finally I confessed, “I didn’t want to be pretty anymore.”

Twenty-five years later, I still see her face crumpling, falling under the weight of grief she didn’t have words for, outrage she’d never been allowed to express.

 

 

My mom.

My mom and I exist at arm’s length. We subsist on three-minute phone calls and occasional visits where stilted conversation clings to such banal topics as the weather and her friends’ health woes. Avoidance of anything more substantial is by mutual, unspoken agreement. I broke that agreement only once, when, exasperated, I named the tension between us, saying the time we spent together couldn’t be fun for her.

“This is fun for me,” she insisted. She just wanted to show me her gardens and have tea together, she said. “I’m not going to talk to you about politics or sex or religion! You don’t have any idea who I am.”

She wasn’t wrong. But she wasn’t entirely right, either. I know pieces of my mom, pieces I carry like coins in my pocket.

Born in 1942, she was her parents’ first child. When her brother was born four years later, her mother told her how relieved she was to have had a son. Boys were better than girls, she explained.

While all boys were better than any girl, my mom learned over the course of her childhood that individual girls merited varying degrees of value. She learned that she, a studious, quiet type, was the wrong kind of girl. Her mother told her so, wondering aloud why she couldn’t be more like the pretty, vivacious girl next door.

My mom didn’t pass that cruel measuring stick on to her only child. Instead my inheritance consists of stories and observations jangling against each other. She was one of three women in her veterinary program at Cornell University. One of few female skippers in Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon fishery, and the only one with a teenaged daughter as her crew. She spent her sixties as the only woman on her team at an oil refinery. Though she refused to apply a feminist frame to her achievements, that was how I viewed her. My pockets sag with gold, a coin for every powerful memory.

They aren’t all gold. Other memories are pennies, pitted and green with corrosion.

One. We stand side-by-side, inspecting make-up in a drugstore. It’s the same Payless that will soon teach me the dangers of my femaleness, but today’s only lesson is a 50-year old woman turning to her 13-year old daughter, asking if a particular shade of eye shadow will help her look pretty.

Two. I am working at a truck shop across from her house. I am the only female on the shop floor, other than those spread-eagled across the walls. When I come home broken from a particularly hard day – when the n-word is used to describe Dr. King; when a staff meeting includes blasting a left-leaning local woman as an anti-war cunt; when my boss gestures to one of the posters and says he’d like to see me in that little black number – she waves a hand in discomfiture. “Oh, well…” She changes the subject.

Three. I perch on the edge of a chair at her dining room table. She’s urged me to come for dinner – “Won’t that be fun?” I’m watching her offer to cut a man’s steak. He’s had a seat at her table for the past twenty years, whenever the mood suits him, and is accustomed to being the center of her attention. Tonight he makes loud observations about the slice of cake on her plate and which parts of her body the calories will settle upon. I counter that she’s an adult and can eat whatever she chooses, but the defense is lost beneath the sound of my mom laughing at his “joke,” the sound of my mom agreeing, “I know, Bud, you’re right.”

Four, five, six. I watch my first and most defining female role model, the most capable and strongest woman I’ve known, bow to men unworthy of her, unavailable and withholding. I watch her opinions take on the shape of those of the men around her. I watch her make pieces of herself disappear.

 

 

This September, I returned from five months at sea. My mom was eager for me to visit, to see the improvements she’d made around her place. “I think you’ll be really pleased!” She yearns for my approval. In this way, I have been no better than the men she’s surrounded herself with: unable or unwilling to give what she seeks.

Driving into her rural neighborhood, I wasn’t surprised to see my old employer had erected a Trump sign in front of the truck shop, just rolled my eyes. But the mirror image reflected across the street stunned me. I’d never known my mom to reveal her political preferences; she avoids at all cost conversation that might be controversial.

Staring at the sign jabbed in my mom’s yard, I felt the way I imagine she once did, seeing her fourteen-year old daughter’s self-hate etched into her skin. Horrified, helpless. Heartbroken. Both of us so far beyond each other’s reach.

What happened to you? Who did this to you?

 

 

If I could, this is what I would do. I would pull out my pockets, gather those gold coins and melt them down. One woman’s value: absolute, unmistakable. I’d draw back a fist to hurl the corroded pennies away – down a wishing well, maybe, drowning those images of subjugation – but would stay my hand at the last second, understanding just in time that pain is its own kind of protection. Into the flames the pennies would go.

After the smoke cleared, I’d place a breathtaking swirl of metal, a shield of unique sturdiness and heft, into my mom’s hands. No one would ever reduce it to “pretty.” With that shield I would give her anger and grief, the certainty to refute anyone’s assessments of her body, her mind, her self-worth. I’d give her emotions we have never known how to exchange – confidence, joy. Trust. I would pass on to her every survival tool she wasn’t able to give me. I’d give her everything she never received herself.

But that’s a kind of change I don’t know how to make.

So I draw upon what I have: my vote. I vote as if my ballot might take back every time we laughed at our own expense, held ourselves responsible for a man’s behavior, blamed our bodies as the offender, changed the subject rather than the narrative. Every time we made ourselves small. My mom and I may never learn how to be whole and visible to each other. Still, even if we just cancel each other out, I vote as if we might yet share a safer, more equitable world.

 

 

[Gratitude to Dawn Quyle Landau for originally publishing this essay as a guest post on her blog, Tales From the Motherland, on November 6, 2016. It bears re-posting here, today, as an oath to refuse to normalize what is decidedly not. I’ll see you in the streets tomorrow, dear ones, and over the days to follow. May we resist and rise together.)

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“What’s Happening With Your Book?” About that…

Twelve years ago I went fishing to save my life. I begged a six-week sabbatical from the non-profit where I ran a dinner program and trolled alleys for young people in crisis, asking for a week at sea for every year I’d spent on land. My childhood best friend, Marlin, needed a deckhand. I needed to know if I still existed outside city shadows.

 

Fishing’s familiar demands soothed me. The physicality of the work pulled me back into my body, while the monotony forced introspection I’d long avoided. The six weeks washed by. Each revealed a new layer of how burned-out, broken, and outright fucked-up I’d become. When the realization that I couldn’t go back to my job outweighed my shame and fear of letting people down, I sent a mass email to my colleagues, rather than honoring my employer with private notice. I didn’t even see the impropriety. That’s how far gone I was.

 

I’m recalling that group email today as I write to share some news. The kind of news that should be shared in person, individually, with eye contact obscured only by steam rising from a cradled cup. Instead, we are here, communicating across screens and time. Once again, it’s the best I can do.

 

Join Me for a Cup of Coffee

 

 

 

The Nerka spent most of last May trolling off the Washington coast. We leased a permit and charged out to fishing grounds known as the Prairie, 35 miles offshore. With weekly catch limits of forty king salmon, it didn’t take long before we’d be back at the dock in Neah Bay, guests of the Makah Indian Nation.

 

During one of those times in port, I scheduled a call with my literary agent, Pamela, to see if there was any news about my book. We hadn’t heard anything from my editor since I submitted the fourth revision in late February. I’d reminded myself everyone’s lives are chaotic and complex; her silence didn’t have to be about me or my book.

 

Standing on the deck, I laughingly warned Pamela about the background noise, a pride of sea lions lounging on a neighboring pier. Even over their bellowing, I could hear her take a deep breath.

 

“I have some very hard news. Your editor has decided not to accept your latest revision. They’re retracting your contract.”

 

We each have our own walk through grief. Automatically, I always first turn to the path my parents cleared: don’t wallow, problem-solve, get shit done. Even as my stomach dropped to my toes, my brain focused on getting shit done. Okay. Okay. If she doesn’t want it, who else will? Do I have to rewrite the original proposal, or can we submit the book as is? What do you need from me first? I fumbled for a pen to take notes.

 

Pamela’s gentle words were extended palms, urging me to stop rushing to the next task. Stop trying to outrun my feelings. And those feelings did indeed catch right up with me, steamrolling over me. I don’t understand; she responded so well to the third revision in December; she named the problem areas, I thought I addressed them. What changed? How did we go from “We’re so close!” to “Never mind”?

 

This confusion was what broke me. I puddled to the deck, struggling to mask a thickening voice. Pamela wasn’t fooled. Being the bearer of hard news takes a special kind of strength and compassion. Then and now, I’m grateful to have heard this from her, steadfast support audible as she spoke. After confirming Joel was with me, that I wasn’t alone, her voice steeled. “This is not your book. This is a terrible, shitty, shitty experience, but it’s not your book.”

 

Joel was waiting in the cabin. I crumpled into his arms. Mouth stretched in silent keening, I couldn’t answer his questions, join in his outrage or accept his consolation; couldn’t hear anything but my own insecurities, affirmed. I’d held the golden egg writers dream of – and I’d lost it. How am I going to tell everyone who’s been so supportive of Hooked?

 

Sometimes, in times of deepest wounding, even the gentlest touch is too much. Maybe especially the gentlest touch, when we believe ourselves unworthy of such kindness. I shrank from Joel’s hand stroking my back as I bent over the galley sink; his insistence, firm as water’s downstream promises, that this wasn’t the end. I pulled away from it all, went down to the fo’c’sle, crawled into the bunk fully dressed and drew the blanket over my head.

 

I dreamed I was going fishing with Marlin. Marlin: my chosen brother, the captain who provided a refuge from social work, the friend who urges reflection. I dreamed we were in a mad scramble to throw everything on board and charge out to the fishing grounds, no time to consider the chaos or tend to the details, now we had to go, go now! I dreamed my nerves vibrating from the urgency, the recklessness, the absolute absence of control.

 

Only as I cut the dock lines did I get a look at the boat taking us to sea. Below the spray-painted name and littered deck, the rusted steel hull was visibly thin at the waterline. It was a derelict I’d noted in my waking life. I’d cringed walking by. That doesn’t look like a boat that’s ready to leave the dock.

 

There is nothing subtle about my subconscious.

 

I woke from that dream knowing my book and I were going to be okay. Not only okay: knowing this was for the best.

 

Yes, this was a shitty experience. It hurt. But my natural tendency is – as author Heather Lende urges – to “find the good,” and it didn’t take too long a look to recognize this hurt was one of ego. Rejection lands so personally: fear of what it says about me, my work; fear of what people will think. Pamela’s firm assurance (“This is not your book”) pulled me through this initial response of ego, through the fear and pain. The friends who’ve accompanied me on this journey – you, reading this – have always embodied love and encouragement. How could I imagine you’d receive this news with anything other than compassion?

 

So I find the good:

 

Hooked sold on proposal, as an idea and a few sample chapters. After conversations with a handful of interested editors, I chose the one who most responded to Hooked’s feminist themes. That she was with a remarkable publisher, home to countless authors and books I admire, was a serious confidence booster for this first-time author.

 

Midway through our work together, my editor took a job with another publishing house. I didn’t think much of it, assured that her new employer would allow her to see pre-existing contracts through. Maybe that didn’t end up being the case; I don’t know and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What I know is that I came into this partnership with little more than a dream of a book and now, thanks to her initial enthusiasm for and belief in the story, that book exists. As those 319 carefully crafted pages and I move forward on our own, I’ll never forget the impact Hooked’s first editor had on both.

 

I can’t find the good without seeing you. You gave me the courage to pursue this work. You give me the conviction to continue.

 

If you’ve asked me about my book recently, I’ve lied to you. The contract had to be formally revoked, our divorce finalized, before I could talk about it or make public this post. So I’ve spent the past six months lying – to the barista at my favorite coffee shop, to the beloved teacher who is Hooked’s godmother, to my stepmom who opined that no news must be good news. To every loving friend who’s championed Hooked. Over and over again, I answered with a shrug and a smile, forcing a casual tone, I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything, I’m just going fishin’… That, dear ones, has been the hardest part of this experience. Writing memoir is about truth-telling – valuing, believing in, committing to the truth as I know it. Whether by direct falsehood or omission, I have hated lying to you.

 

Of the few friends I told in person, some questioned my need to publicize this news. Posting this was important to me. Despite my silence over the past year, we made this blog an honest place, a safe place, through years of intimate public conversations. I wanted this to be a space of online vulnerability and trust. Your willingness to reply in kind made that possible. How could I not share this with you, in this way?

 

I wish I could have come out to you sooner. I’m glad to be here now.

 

 

Fairweathers in Fog

 

 

History repeated itself. As the North Pacific received a social service refugee all those years ago, she took me back in this summer of need. I went fishing. I again lost myself to the work and the mountains, to long days and maritime meditations. I practiced being present with Joel and friends in a way that I haven’t been for the past three years. I made a plan for Hooked’s next steps, determined to make sure this paper ship is seaworthy, and allowed periodic waves of sadness, garnering strength for the work ahead. Preparing – once again – to get shit done.

 

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