Today's run

On today's run, I was not bitten by a deerfly.

On today's run, I was briefly distracted early on by a variable oak leaf caterpillar.

On today's run, I saw a kingfisher and an American goldfinch and  possibly a scarlet tanager--but it was quite a bit ahead of me, so I can't be sure--and a gray catbird. I did not see any of the Canada geese that were raising their goslings in the small buggy lake I run past.

On today's run, dragonflies buzzed me while I ran past the lake, out and back. I like to think they are scaring off the deerflies and that they are curious about me. Usually one or more will fly alongside me for several steps. I also saw a turtle for just a moment before it slipped under the surface of the dark lake. Lake is probably an exaggeration.  

On today's run, three weimeraners barked at me from the end of their driveway on my way out, but they were inside when I came back by.

On today's run, I was again distracted, later, by a dead ruby-throated hummingbird in someone's driveway.

On today's run, I had to run past a house where a loose dog menaced me several months ago. My partner picked me up, two miles from the house because I was so shaken my knees were weak. He let the dog's owner know that the dog needed to be kept locked up. It didn't bite me, but was forcing me off the road, its hackles raised and head down. I didn't realize how much an incident with a dog I had while I still lived in Laramie had impacted me until these barking dogs made my heart race and my stomach knot up.

On today's run, Saturday's deerfly bit itched so bad I could feel it up my arm and into my shoulder. I finally gave in and dragged a fingernail across the welt to open it. 

On today's run, I ran as slow as I could, so that I wouldn't have to stop and walk after the hills during my run intervals, like the last run.

On today's run, I planned ahead for the turn in the road where the heat and humidity both crash into me for a quarter mile. I forgot about the large field that seems to always foster a breeze. 

On today's run, something else bit me on the wrist. It's much smaller than a deerfly bite.

On today's run, the humidity was under 50% and that seems to have made a world of difference. I was able to drink more water while I ran and I wasn't at all dizzy when I got home.

Today's run was the first run of my eleventh week of running. I'm supposed to be able to run 6 miles in 5 more runs. But today I only ran 4 and a half. I'm slow. I'm having a tough time focusing, these last couple of weeks, on any more than one, small thing at a time. Today it was today's run.

Anecdote/Antidote

In which our heroine bangs her head against the wall again and expects it not to hurt, again.

“Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives.” ~ Cheryl Strayed as Dear Sugar

I've been trying to really think hard on this one. What is the consciousness I bring to bear on my life? What story do I write, and to what end?

Of course, all the thinking is just another way of putting off the writing. When I write, I sit curled up upon myself, hunched over a notebook or a computer. I protect the words like they are my belly. When I finish, I'm convinced they are over-wrought or unimportant. I start calling lifelines, in the hopes that someone can read what I've written and tell me the truth. Sometimes, it feels like a kind of ripping when I hit save and close the file. Sometimes it's like the moment between the firecracker being launched and the explosion of sparks. Not always, of course. Sometimes, I'm just writing about walking. Sometimes ceci est un véritable pipe.

But it's hard. And when everything else is hard, too, I often give in to the murky middle distance and don't write.  

Banksy's "This is a pipe."

Banksy's "This is a pipe."

Fear has always been my great motivator. Fear of embarrassment, fear of falling, fear of being last, fear of being wrong or wronged, fear of being ignored or abandoned. Not all of these are fears which serve me, but they have almost all inspired action. My fear of failure, on the other hand keeps me stuck. I'm not unique in this. I have no useful insight.

I have failed a lot in the last two years. I have also succeeded some, but my book isn't written, despite having had a year in which to do it. I don't have a home, or job, or anything with long-term potential, despite being nearly two years out of my degree, despite pursuing long-term options, long-term goals. Even my car needs work before she can carry me wherever I'm headed next. It is hard to get up in the morning under the weight of all that, it is hard to fall asleep in its shadow. It is hard to write. 

There are so many things I want to write. I carry the stories of people, places, and things with me. My dreams feature boxes and bags I am not supposed to lose sight of, creatures and people I need to look after, a clock, always running down. This is one of the many anxieties I live with: that all of these birds and people are counting on me and I am letting them down every day that I don't write. I am so terrified of suffering that ripping in this temporary space that will disappear behind me in just a couple of months like so many other places, whether I'm whole or not. I pace around my notebook like it's a snapping turtle. 

Last spring was more difficult than this summer, for a few reasons. But it wasn't entirely different. And the spring before that. Those last two years I was saved in the eleventh hour and this spring, too, I was granted at least a few months reprieve. I'm still applying for residencies and fellowships, though more than a year has passed since I got anything other than a no (I am trying to keep going in the face of that, too). I want to teach, but I can't afford a move just to adjunct. I've been trying to make online teaching a viable option, but so far, it's still just a maybe. If I get some other job, how do I make myself a more attractive candidate for a tenure track job down the line? There are other ways to teach, am I being too short-sighted? Is going back to school the best answer? Is academia even the best place? Around and around. 

All this when it feels like my writing is on the verge of finding its audience. I tell myself to write now and worry about the rest later. But, come on. The rest isn't just bells and whistles. It's the horse and the buggy and the farm. It's not just me and a backpack; it's me and a 14 foot moving truck packed tight. It's me and 18 boxes of books and two beds (one for guests). It's me and 4 boxes of photos, drawing, notebooks, papers, ticket stubs, love notes, newspaper clippings, magazines. It's me and 4 giant space bags full of yarn. It's me and a horse skull, a turtle shell, rocks from all over the world. It's me and a lemon tree. I would never, ever claim to be without baggage. 

I miss so many things about living somewhere for more than a "stay." I miss learning the ins and outs of a town. I miss the inspiration of commuting by bus and the way a block or a neighborhood slowly changes from a cluster of anonymous houses to the homes of people I know. I miss watching gardens, buildings, and projects start small and then flourish. I miss having ties to the community (too much Law and Order). I miss being someone that people stop by to see. I miss stopping by. I miss planting actual roots. I miss tending to. 

Maybe if I reformat the table of contents once more or remove the epigrams?

Maybe if I reformat the table of contents once more or remove the epigrams?

Still and yet and now, I cannot envision a next step that is anything other than temporary. My boxes have four moves worth of notes on them. They've torn and been taped and torn again. Ceci n'est pas une métaphore. I have too much shit to keep packing packing packing and carrying over so many thresholds—but it's the only home I have, so I can't part with a damn thing. I'm beginning to wonder how much longer I can take it. How many more years of looming homelessness and joblessness? What is this thing I bring to bear that is so much more important than my comfort, my well-being, my mental health? What do I need to do?

It is too simple to say, just write. Or maybe it isn't and I'm just making it all too hard. I make most things harder than they need to be. But more and more I find that I need security and routine to do my best work. Is that a failure of character? How do I manifest those things? Am I supposed to find a way to produce without them? How do I carve a path forward without these answers?

New book reviews and an upcoming course on flash nonfiction in July!

I am not reading as much as I wanted to. I am not writing as much as I wanted to. What am I doing as much as I wanted to? Well, loving, running, cooking good food. I'm doing the best I can while I can.

That said, I did finish two books this week. I recommend them both for totally different reasons. More on that below.

I'm also teaching a workshop on flash nonfiction at ApiaryLit in July. I will be focusing on readings, discussions, and prompts that center around lyric, hybrid, and experimental forms of the essay, from numbered lists to webcomics to playable essays to borrowed forms. We will be using an independent press book as an optional text (and the press has offered a discount for students), and I am collecting guest-author prompts from several of the writers whose work we will be reading. These are some of my favorite kinds of essays, and also my favorite kind of generative work, so the class should be a lot of fun. If it sounds like your jam, or if you know someone who might enjoy this course, please send them to the course page for more info and to sign up: Flash Essays on the Edge: lyric, hybrid and experimental forms, July 2015

In other great news, my chapbook, Ologies, has been featured all week on Sundress Publications' blog feature "Best Dressed." You can read selections from the chapbook in the following posts: 

There will be one more post & excerpt tomorrow. If you liked what you read, you can buy the book at Etchings Press or for a little bit longer, from me. Details on the second option can be found here on the "News and About" page.

BOOK REVIEWS

Richard Siken's Crush was recommended to me by Javier Zamora. Javier is an amazing poet and smart as hell, and I tried to buy every book of poetry that he recommended to me. I haven't been sorry yet. Crush came out in 2005, and I am amazed it wasn't just last week. The frantic, desperate narrator of these poems is an intoxicating persona. Reading these poems, one is crushed by infatuation, crushed by disillusionment, crushed by love that is both unattainable and imperfect. These poems are breakneck and also stuck in stasis: like a bloodthirsty mosquito frozen in amber, but still impossibly able to bite. You will fall into a page or several pages and minutes, hours later, look up and the world you know will be slow (and steady)  by comparison. But something unhinged will linger; these lines linger like mosquito bites, itching away at repetitive days and reliable small talk with dreams of manic, frustrated, breathless passion and conviction.

From Crush: "Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out."

VERDICT: How do you not already have this book?

This collection of short stories and essay-like prose pieces served as part of my preparation for September's trip to Chile. I am going to Chile with a man I love and we will admire big heads, drink wine and eat ceviche and octopus, and travel to nearly the tip of the planet together. It is an adventure that shimmers in the middle distance like a star I'm moving toward. I've never traveled with a partner in crime. I'm trying not to have unrealistic expectations for how great it will be, but I have the sneaking suspicion that between the curiosity, wonder, and openness to new experiences that we both share and the curious wonder of Chile, it will be SO AMAZING. (Plus, I will get a chance to talk about Condors in Santiago.) 

But enough about me. I wanted to get to know Chile. We have two guidebooks that have been helpful, but I wanted to get to know more about Chile. Enter this collection. It probably isn't the best representative of the breadth of Chile's literary landscape, and the editors even lament that certain key writers couldn't be included because their works didn't fit the strict requirements they'd designed for the collection, but it's more than Neruda's love poems, which is where I was before. The collection seeks to "[evoke] the diversity of the country's landscape and the complexity of its recent history." The selected pieces speak to geography and politics, though both (often) with beautifully oblique references. I was especially drawn in because much of the writing in the book hadn't been published in English before. 

The ear of the curator is strong throughout the collection. This is good and bad, because it hints at a gigantic iceberg's worth of other works out there. But I am glad for (even) this rigid selection of works. I want to make the most of this trip in a number of ways. I don't want to miss a thing.

VERDICT: If you're going to Chile or if you are interested in Chile, this is a great place to start. But read Pablo Neruda's love letters, too. And (next up), Travels in a Thin Country. And a history book, and more collections. Start here, is what I'm saying, but don't stop here. 

The to-be-read stack, the to-be-lived life

First of all, I have several to-be-read stacks. There are two shelves in the bedroom, both over full (and that doesn't count the poetry books above them, mixed in with the ones I have read, that I need to read, like Richard Siken's Crush and that Mary Ruefle and Natalie Diaz). 

Downstairs, there is a half shelf (to the left of the plant) that I need to read, and a half shelf (to the right of it) that also needs reading. Or in the case of the Patchen, re-reading, always. 

And then I have some new books. Chilean wildlife, two books that I have been wishing for, some studying. And all of the books that I have set aside for my vulture book research. I've read several, but there are around 5 more I need to finish, including the Tibetan and the Egyptian Books of the Dead. Which might be excessive, but who's to say?

These, plus I still have two packed boxes and there are a lot in there, too.

These, plus I still have two packed boxes and there are a lot in there, too.

Most of the non-poetry books in my stacks are non-fiction, but there's plenty of fiction, too. A number of the books I want to read have been written by people I know. Many of the highest priority books are books I got at one of the last four AWPs I've attended. I don't think I'll be able to swing LA, so I'm considering this a catch-up yeartime to make good on all those prior purchases. 

Do you have more books than I do? I would love to see pictures... I'm feeling really self conscious about how many of my own books I haven't yet read and how many I refuse to relinquish, even though I've read them a million times, for example:

(I've been re-reading this book since before I knew how to read the word "watch" (because I remember stumbling over it while reading aloud) and I see these birds among all the birds, whenever I close my eyes and think bird.) I know I don't have too many books, but some days—packing and unpacking days chief among them—it feels like maybe too many. 

I've read six books in the last ten days. I've written effusively about four of them, either here or on Amazon. I can't keep that pace up, as several of the high priority books are lengthy and dense, but I have set a minimum goal of one in each genre per week for the summer. Only once (and this was a few weeks ago) did I start a book and get so annoyed with the author that I didn't finish it. I don't know that author (which is good, because I have no idea how I could ever look them in the eye again, especially since the first two chapters made my own eyes roll right out of their sockets).

I'm still having trouble making myself write all of the things I want to write. I am still on the edge of my life, not in the middle of it, and that is frustrating. All of the koans in the world tell me that I am in fact living my life, whether I like it or not and that to dwell on the future is to miss today... But I don't know where I will be living in five months or a year after that. I don't know what I'll be doing. I don't know who among my closest friends and loved ones will be within a day's drive. I should find some way to be comfortable and breathe, but it is mighty hard to do. Every day, at least once, I think How much further til we're home? I don't know the answer. 

The best I can do for now is love my people, read my books, teach my students, knit my sweaters, and run my miles. I am pretty damned lucky to have all that to do.

Two mini-reviews: Oliu and Olimpio

I love reading the writing of people I know. It's not just because I'm stoked to know what they care most about, there's the added dimension of camaraderie and a sense of community, like WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Someone recently suggested, and not directly mind you, that writing positive book reviews all the time impugned the integrity of the reviewer. (I've loved the idea of "impugning someone's integrity" ever since a long-ago employee of mine, angry over being written up, claimed that my co-lead and I were doing just that to him.)

I don't always like all of the writing of people I know, but when I don't, I keep quiet about it. There are arguments for and against writing negative reviews of small press publishing, but I am in the firm camp of "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER & It is hard enough to rise above the din of all those bookfair books without lending sour notes to it. 

Is it easier to find things to like about the writing of people I like? Yeah. No doubt. But all this means is that the reviews I post here are (almost always) both positive AND truthful. And I ain't gonna lose any sleep over it.

/apologia

DAVID OLIMPIO - s/t from Awst Press

I don't actually think this book has a title, but I like the idea of it being "s/t" which is recording industry shorthand for "self titled"—used for albums like Led Zepplin's Led Zepplin and Van Halen's Van Halen.  It's almost always the debut album* (this is Olimpio's debut collection) that is the s/t album, as though as artists, we have to earn the right to a title other than our own names.

Olimpio claims a lot more than just his name in this brief, but powerful collection of three previously unpublished essays and one photo/poem assemblage. He stakes claims against his own super powers, his exigency, and his past. There are ghosts in there, and they drift through sentences that are trying to get at truth, that are trying to understand the why from the what happened. Olimpio asks a lot of questions in these works, and I look forward to reading more and more of the answers as he continues (I hope) to write essays.

I first met David on Twitter, and his sentence-level attention is apparent in these essays. He leaves plenty unsaid, and maybe there's room there, someday, for some longer philosophical/psychological delving, but in this collection, it's all about fast punches making slow arcs.

You can read more of his work here: Awst-press online and here: DavidOlimpio.com and the s/t collection is available in both hard and digital copies. I'm an analog girl, so I like having the hand sewn version. (Even if he didn't sign it. GRRR.)

*But not always, see also Beyoncé and The Beatles for post-success s/t albums.

BRIAN OLIU - Level End from Origami Zoo Press

Look, I am a total Oliu fangirl, so don't expect a lot of objectivity here. I dig the way his prose rambles in and out of a narrative, how it bobs and weaves around what you thought was the story. Whether he's writing Missed Connections or essays about basketball, he's never really just writing about someone in the crowd at a football game or a famous player's bank shot style. He's writing about love and home and family and what we want and need and get out of life. 

In Level End, a collection of essays ostensibly about video games, Oliu writes about longing and regret and the end of things. Each essay starts with the line, "When I arrived, the music changed—" and then it does. At the end of a level in a video game, the player starts out from a place where s/he has been racing and fighting and striving, and so, too, do these essays start out at a place of transition. But walking through the last doorway of a level also signals the beginning of the boss battle, when the worst the level has to offer comes stomping or slithering or looming up at you. It is these boss battles that make up the bulk of the essays in Level End.

Oliu battles a number of demons and ghosts here, quietly and with lyric reverence, from "Boss Battle: The Eye From Which We See Ourselves" to "Boss Battle: The Girl I Was Supposed to Save." Every few battles, he gives the reader a Save Point, which just like in the games, gives you a chance to go back, if you've lost your way, and try again to succeed. 

You can (and should) read more of Brian's work all over the internet. But you can read excerpts from Level End, specifically, at Diagram and Real Poetik

Book review, Megan Stielstra's Once I Was Cool & a reminder about upcoming workshop!

First, the reminder: My generative CNF workshop over at ApiaryLit starts in less than a week! I'd love to fill the last few seats with community-minded, shitty-draft-generating, enthusiastic writers. Is that you? Summer is a fantastic time to sharpen that writing saw, and I would love to read your work.

I don't think I'm the best at self-promoting this course, and it's a shame, because April's participants gave some great positive feedback. I'll keep getting better at it, which hopefully doesn't equate to "getting more annoying about it." Thank you all for your patience and support, is what I mean to say. (OH, and note: if CNF isn't your writing drug of choice, we are also running a workshop on fiction of place, prose poems, and magical realism.)

Now, the review.

Once I Was Cool (Curbside Splendor, 2014). This book came so highly recommended by people I know and admire, and they were all so right on, that I'm sad I hadn't checked it out sooner. 

Megan Stielstra does a lot of live storytelling, which is how many of these essays were first presented to the world--many through Chicago's 2nd Story series. While I've no doubt her performances kick much ass, I love love love reading this work at my own pace. She deftly captures the energy of spoken word and presents it airily on the page in short, punchy doses. 

She writes about seeing bands in the 90s, addiction, motherhood, growing up, friendship, true love and other kinds, loss, pain, and she does so in the voice of your best friend. Stielstra is not perfect, but she's trying her hardest to be a good person.

The whole damn thing is quotable, but here are a few of my favorite places: 

"Can we [women and girls] find a way to tell our stories, weigh our options, get advice and/or back-up and/or support when and if we need it without being told, every month, what we should or should not do, can or cannot say?"

"This is stupid, I decide. Even for me, and I've done some stupid shit; I did acid one time at the opera." 

"Recently, I heard an accountant say, "If you want to know what you value, look at your checkbook." Mine reads like this: Mortgage, property tax, assessments, back assessments, emergency assessments, listing fees, attorney fees. I'd like it to read: Darth Vader costume, size 5T, Princess Leia buns. Plastic Light Saber, blue. Plastic Light Saber, red."

"... and I'm like, Tipper, let's get real, okay? I did not learn how to masturbate from Cyndi Lauper. I learned to masturbate from a female stagehand in a community player's production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

"And you scream and you scream 'cause there's so much inside that needs to get out--anger and longing and no sleep and time moving too fast and sorrow and fear... And by the time the last [train] car passes, it's all been drained, like you're sponges squeezed dry. You sit on the ground, exhausted by the energy it takes to let go, and lay backwards in the grass. The sun shines on your faces. The backs of your eyelids glow red." [The rest of this passage is so great that the images and ideas have stuck with me for days. Get the book for just this essay, if you must: "How to Say the Right Thing".]

"This healing of the body begins with words."

So anyway. Highly recommended. Some books impart knowledge, and I love those books. But this book did something else entirely. This book made me feel less nuts for feeling so nuts lately. For wanting so much, and at such high cost to my own comfort. I felt like I was listening to a good friend, and she knew just what to say, even if I didn't always like hearing the truth of it. This is what I want my writing to do, someday for someone else.

Flash prose review: A Pocket Guide to North American Ghosts by Joe Kapitan

TL; DR verdict: RECOMMENDED

I will admit that it took me forever to read this book for very petty reasons. See also: Reading the winning poem of a contest I lost.

However, just as not reading that winning poem would be childish and wrong and a missed opportunity, so was not reading Joe Kapitan's A Pocket Guide to North American Ghosts (which actually won the year before I entered anyway, so double-reedick).

I write a lot of short essays, and it has so far proven difficult to get too many folks to seriously consider them for a collection. This summer I have committed to making some real and serious progress on my to-be-read pile, and I'm starting with the numerous prose chapbooks I've been collecting at previous AWPs and elsewhere. Hopefully, this scholarship will make my next round of chappy subs stronger.

So, back to the review: Kapitan's book is ostensibly fiction, autobiographically-shaped themes notwithstanding, but the attention to small details has an almost researched quality that I love. This collection also does one of the things that I like good nonfiction to do: it forges a connection between the reader and the writer.  

In these ghostly tales (which include ghosts of lost and stolen love, children, jobs and more), Kapitan is a deft editor: the reader is given exactly what she requires to paint the full picture, and nothing more. There seems to be an epidemic of overuse of the sentence fragment in a lot of flash prose (including a lot of my own, I'll freely admit), and Kapitan refreshingly bucks this trend with long, gamboling sentences rich in clauses. 

For example, in the opening piece, in which the sleepless narrator imagines all of his ex-girlfriends living together in a cabin in the woods, we learn so much about the narrator's text and subtext in his stream of conscious riff: "... they grow their own baconless food, and tend a sprawling flower garden, full of the varieties I never bought them occasionally, but mostly they are just "there for each other", "emotionally", which was always the point at which I jammed their signals and drifted down the dial to booze or strippers or coke, and that happens to be exactly what they're all talking about right now, around their campfire..."

Or in the piece titled, "What I'd Say to Your Tiny Miscarried Self" which consists of an imagined monologue that includes this: "my God, look at you, I'd marvel, you've got your mother's something and my something else, the details aren't important, which reminds me, we saved that black and white image of you, the glossy grainy one that shows a white lump, with a larger white lump they said was your head, although we would have believed the opposite, too, so ripe to trust whomever, whatever." If your heart is not yet broken, give it approximately ten more lines. 

The sting from a couple of these stories promises to linger much longer than the silly sting of losing a contest. 

Kapitan's short pieces have appeared in all of the usual best-short fiction suspect journals, including Wigleaf, decomP, PANK, elimae, SmokeLong and others. You can buy the book and read an excerpt here at Eastern Point Lit House Press: A Pocket Guide to North American Ghosts by Joe Kapitan.

Storyteller

It is nearly impossible to get through a conversation with me without hearing a number of tangential stories about people I (have) know(n), places I've been, things I've read or learned, or experiences I've had. Sometimes, I get back to the original story I was telling and sometimes I don't. Sometimes, the tangent becomes the thing. These people, places, moments--and their significance to me--have made me what I am. They inform what I care about and why. They explain how I love and the kind of friend I am. They are teletype dispatches from a frenetic mind. And while I edit and revise here, with my loved ones (I'm afraid) I don't.  

The first time a lover told me that my stories were not interesting to him, I defaulted to an apology. I was trying very hard to impress him after a whirlwind online romance that had lasted a few months. When we finally met in person, all that imagined infatuation was let loose in a fury, and we spent a couple of crazy-wild weekends together on our different corners of the country. Then, abruptly, he said he didn't want to be tied down. For a little while he was the kind of minor celebrity that gets photographed a lot for a small self-selecting fan base, and as I was, for a time, one of those fans, so I got to see what the alternative to "tied down" looked like. Here's something I know for sure: the kind of women who make a career of dating rich men will never have to worry about me as competition. I figured I could accept his main shortcoming as one of shallowness and move on.  

But then he came back. And back. I thought it was because he valued substance over glittering spray tans. I thought it signaled that I was more important than the nameless ring-girls. I knew some of it was that his minor celebrity had ended, but I also thought he valued me. But the on again off again was a drag. I asked him what his hang up was. He tried to explain, clearly frustrated, that back when we were just texting, I hadn't "bothered" him with all this talk of people and stuff that he didn't care about, but in person, I was different. He liked it better, he said, when I didn't tell him things about my life so much (and instead just responded to things he'd said to me).  

And you know what I did? I apologized! I said sorry for being "different" than I had been. I said sorry for being boring.

I tried, for a little while, to be more interesting to him. But, friends, it didn't work out. Luckily.

The second* time it happened, I thought it was the least of my worries. I thought I'd learned to value my voice and to gather strength from my own storytelling superpower, imperfect though its aim sometimes is. But I heard myself starting to talk and then... and then I stopped, because the dangerous, volatile man I'd made the terrible mistake of moving in with didn't like it when I "monopolized the conversation." I shut up and shut down.

I left not long after, so maybe that's a kind of improvement. But even then, I told myself that I valued my writing too much to stay in such a place (he hated my writing, too). There were a ton of reasons to get out of there, but it as my writing I wanted to protect, not my actual voice. Even then, even still!

Now as a grown ass adult, I carry many past hurts. I wish that I didn't, that I could let them go. I imagine them like a flock of noisy crows that will one day leave me like a tree at dusk, all at once and in a flurry, if I can just find the magic word to say.  Like: I remember so many ways that I've been silenced (I was once teased for swallowing too loud--swallowing? Can you believe that? I tried to swallow more quietly and still think about it whenever I imagine a lover can hear me drinking something). Why you're nothing but a flock of crows, I'd like to insist. But I digress.

I'm trying to write an essay right now about voice. How we get ours. How we learn what to say and what not to. And I realized while I was writing it that I still do this. I still apologize when someone else doesn't like what I've said or how I've said it. I apologize for my mind's relentlessness. I am so sorry to bother. I make it my problem to solve when someone finds me uninteresting. When I write, when I talk, when I take up any kind of space in the world at all, I still worry whether or not I am making good enough use of it. I still worry that someone will come and tell me that no, no I am not. 

*Both of these guys also demanded that I never write about them. Well, it's like they always said: NO.

AWP Saturday

It's all over but the long lines at hotel checkout, the cab stands, and the airport. 

On Saturday, I went to three panels. I rounded out the last of my (always) excessive book fair purchases. I said hello and tried to talk meaningfully with a few people I hadn't yet seen. That is so hard to do on Saturday. We are all hungover on Saturday. We are over-stimulated. We are full of AWP-love or AWP-sadness or AWP-apathy by Saturday.

First, I heard Dinty W. Moore, Sue Williams Silverman, Elena Passarello, and Michael Martone discuss the hows and whys of including famous people in one's nonfiction (and sometimes even fiction). It was a funny and informative panel, and at the end some guy shouted across the auditorium that he needed his question answered immediately about someone I'd never heard of soliciting him for sex a million years ago. I might have those details wrong. 

Next, four women writers on non-narrative nonfiction read from their work: Joni Tevis, Brenda Miller, Julie Patterson, and Kimberley Myers. The writing was personal and lyrical and the panel ran long, which is really something that should never happen, especially not at 4 on Saturday.

Finally, Sean Prentiss, Robin Hemley, and Nancer Ballard on speculation in nonfiction. Nancer handed out a list of 21 scenarios (several of which came with examples) wherein speculation was acceptable, and could be used without crossing into deception, deceit, or other criminal nonfiction acts. Sean read a Judith Kitchen essay on writing what you don't know. And I am sorry, but I forgot what Robin said, because by then, I was almost deliriously exhausted and my brain was too full for anymore information. Luckily, he read from his essay in Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, so when I get home, I can re-read it. 

I was so tired last night that I did not go out. I went to a quiet dinner alone, then, back in my room, I stacked up all of my book fair purchases and marveled at them. I thought on all the hard work and dedication and magic and sweat and tears each book represented, I thought of all of the amazing people I was fortunate enough to meet, or spend time with (again), or even just grin and hug in recognition/admiration as we passed like book-buying ships in the book fair aisles. I thought about how we are all trying so hard, about how grateful I am to be here, both figuratively and specifically. 

This weekend is such a drain, financially, emotionally, and physically. It is too much for some, and I completely understand that. But man, what an injection of writerly energy, community, and super human empathy. We are all trying so hard. How great is that? 

AWP Friday

Eight, eight... I forget what eight was for.

Today started off slowly with a mad dash through the bookfair, where I managed to still somehow spend $100 (and other ways the bookfair is exactly like Vegas AND Target), but I now own signed books by all the best people, like Sean H. Doyle and Myfawny Collins and Sandra Marchetti and Brandi Wells and even a pre-order for Wendy C. Ortiz' next.

THEN I went to an entertaining and informative panel on revision that included so lovely zingers such as: "It's boring to be accurate about a fact when you can be hesitant about a fact." (Sven Birkirts) On the subject of using multiple physical forms of a piece of writing, "Everyone go find a fax machine..." (Sarah Einstein via Sven) "You can't just drop in a reference to throwing sausages of a high rise like a scofflaw." (Alexis Paige) Penny Guisinger said to look for the bad verbs or the good verbs in stupid tenses, but then corrected herself with "There are no stupid tenses." And she also cautioned, toward the end of revision, "A little rabbit-holing, but not too much. Write that down. It's helpful." And Sven again, described drafting as sexy and revision as custodial, but then made scrubbing our epistolary toilets seem noble.

Then I went to lunch with some amazing folks and then I guess I wandered around the bookfair a bit more. I tried to network at a press party that was WAY too crowded, so I sat out on the sidewalk with some new and old friends and told jokes about Yacht Rock for a while before heading to a reading in a brick factory. After that a couple of us peeled off in search of burgers and some rock and roll history... and by then it was nearly midnight. Just like Vegas, man.

Yesterday was about finding my people all over again, but today I spent a bit of time getting to (re) know a few folks, spent a bit of time apart from the madness and fray talking about important and unimportant things. I also had a sandwich that was just a slab of Guiness soaked roast beef with spicy horseradish and now I'm ruined on hot roast beef sands for life. If you have an amazing early panel tomorrow, I'd like to apologize in advance for missing it.

AWP Thursday

All the people. All the hugging. All the books. All the walking in high heels. 

The thing about this weekend is that it reminds so many of us that though we might labor behind closed office doors, or headphoned away from the world for hours or days or weeks or months at a time, though we sit bent over our peculiar obsession until "the rope is cut or knotted," we do not labor alone. I saw so many people today who have changed my life for the better at one time or another. People who change my life daily. Teachers, mentors, editors, friends. 

OKAY. That is enough of the beer and exhaustion talking. The panel I was on seemed to be well-received—I really dug the other presentations, and would pretty much follow Colin Rafferty off a cliff if he wrote a rousing speech about why it was important to do so. The reading I did was lovely, such gratitude to Sheila Squillante for publishing me (first) and inviting me to read. And then there was an AWP dance party with such a density of internet friends dancing in a circle, I had to stand back and marvel at the crazy techmology of all the world.

I haven't had a Jucy Lucy yet. Do they serve them anywhere for breakfast? ONWARDS.

AWP Wednesday

So, first, my luggage was lost. Then I saw Sofi T (which was a BALM), It's still lost (the luggage), far as I can tell. My cute (new) shoes are in it—which is a whole 'nother story—plus my makeup and clothes and brush. Then I rapped with Alison Hawthorne Deming as we tried to find our hotels via the amazing/overwhelming sky bridge maze. So, makeup trauma, but then, Queen Katie Oh! rescued me with her fabulous lipsticks, I ran into Daniel Nester and got a good pep talk, and I made it in time (despite delays, detours, and the longest tarmack taxi, ever) for my first ever AWP reading.

Things that happened at the reading: I got the crowd to sing some Violent Femmes lyrics, I talked to Benjamin Percy like a boss, I creeped up on J Robert Lennon, Melissa Febos, and Justin L. Daughtery. I got to hang (briefly) with Oliu and Tasha, Sal Pane, and (for a second) Mr. Rafferty. I bet no one who left early realized the drummer was an editor for Graywolf—but The Complexes were good. Huge thanks to Daniel Hoyt for inviting me. Whoa. Day one: I like you. 

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Michael Mlekoday was the best emcee, not least because he said my last name correctly!  

 

  

Dreaming of spring and a mini poetry review of Carrie Fountain

I want it to be spring. Spring in the north is like fall in the desert: a cause for celebration.

#TBT I remember those first cool days... like I am salivating for the first warm ones, now.

#TBT I remember those first cool days... like I am salivating for the first warm ones, now.

There are only a couple of seats left in my ApiaryLit generative CNF workshop in April. If you're stuck (believe me, I know how that feels), or looking for new prompts and ideas, or just someone to give honest, pointed, and thoughtful feedback on some new writing, I'd love to work with you!

Carrie Fountain's Burn Lake

I'm so in love with Carrie Fountain, even though it is very much unrequited. Burn Lake is not a new book, nor is it new to me. But I re-read it last weekend and was just as enamored with it as I was when I first got it a few years ago. 

So, the book won the National Poetry Series back in 2009, judged by Natasha Trethewey. It is about New Mexico and New World histories of conquest and apathy, but also about sexuality and mothers and industry and ex-urban spaces and fire. 

When she writes, " "We are all alone," / they cry. And the sky answers back / by not moving an inch" I get a sense of the cruel sublime that operates against and upon the pent-up teenagers and construction workers and locals waiting in line at the first McDonald's in Fountain's Las Cruces. And then there are amazing moments like this:

Because this is what the dog
was made to do.
Because for some lucky animals

the space between the body
and what it wants
is all there is.
— from "Late Summer" by Carrie Fountain

I was very fortunate to take a class from Fountain in 2009, at Austin Community College. She was a generous reader of what were surely terrible poems of mine. The course was taught online and we only ever met face-to-face once, in an awkward and disappointing exchange.  But I don't hold that moment against this book. It is intelligent and the poet's hand here is sure and deft. I highly recommend it.

Let's write some words together!

I may have been struggling to write my science book, and suffering a bit from imposter syndrome there, but that is not what I want to share today. Regardless of how the last couple of months of bird writing has gone, I have really loved teaching my nonfiction workshop at Colgate these last two semesters. I am sad and a little freaked out now that the semester's almost over, because it means I will lose all of the inspiration and focus that my students impart to my own writing practice.

But! I have a plan.

Next month, I'll be teaching a virtual workshop over at apiarylit.org and I hope to make it a regular thing. I have so many ideas for workshops and lecture-series I'd like to give (how to find and write great applications for fellowships and residencies, new nature writing, incorporating research without sounding like an asshole (working title) and about a million more), and this is a way for me to keep teaching whether or not there's a brick and mortar job for me in Central New York.

My generative workshop will be focused on helping writers produce nearly 5k words in the month of April. I will give guidance and prompts, and then a ton of specific feedback on that work each week. Writers in the same workshop can optionally share and learn from one another as well. Apiary's platform is flexible enough to allow me to provide readings, feedback, and forum space for my workshop in an integrated and easily navigated space.

I'm still writing. I'd like to keep teaching, too. If you or someone you know could benefit from an Apiary workshop, I'd love to hear from you. I can answer questions here in the comments or over at chelsea@apiarylit.org

(PS, there are also still a few seats in the poetry workshop, if poetry is more of your bag. Kenzie Allen will be teaching that one and she is phenomenal. Meredith Luby's fiction workshop is already full, but Apiary hopes to offer more courses over the summer.)

Thoughts on the allure of giving up. Or, Maybe it's all the snow?

I'm still having a hard time writing this book. I wish most days that it weren't "this book," that I could just write without the obligation of "this book" hanging over my head. So many people have supported this book, have supported me in the writing of it. So many people have said encouraging words about how they can't wait for the book and the book will be so important. I feel a little bit like I've been trying to get pregnant for three years and there's still no plus on the stick. 

My inability to write the book I want (I'm writing, I'm just not writing enough to get past the writing I hate), is making me doubt my ability to write with any lengthiness at all. I think of all of the things that I have given up these past three, four, five years—like job (or really, any kind of long term) security, like reading or road trips for fun and exploration, not weighted down with the need to do double-duty, to be "productive" first, fun second. I can't justify visiting friends (unless they live near vultures), because every piece of spare change goes to funding these research trips that... I mean, I don't know what I'm doing, some days. You know?

Part of this frustration has come about because I'm having a hard time fact checking some of my earlier writing. I have become crippled by the fear that I'm going to write something and some expert (who never answered my emails; who I never found; who wouldn't let me record our conversation and now wants to clarify my "misunderstandings"; who won't give me the name of the person who knows because that means admitting not knowing) is going to say, "That's wrong. How could you write that?"

Right now, I'm working off a bunch of newspaper articles for this one piece, and no scientist or reliable source will confirm that the news is correct. But they won't tell me what IS correct, either.

When I asked a Forest Officer how many leopard attacks have happened in and around Mumbai since 2011, he replied, "SGNP Borivali have density at least one leopard per each 2 and half square kilometer. Means here is huge population of  leopards. As before discuss   encroachment  made by surrounding  population as well as increase in population of leopards is the main reason of clashes between leopard and human."

When I asked a biologist who studies leopards in India about the increase in attacks since 2011: "there was no "increase" in 2011, earlier there were about 30 attacks each year and 2011- 2012 had about 4-5 attacks and likely to be caused by one animal as it was very localised." But another expert said there were no attacks between 2009-2011. So what's up with "30 attacks each year"? Then, a Guardian article from November 2014 that quoted that same expert reported: "Yet, since November 2011 there have been six fatalities; the last three deaths were all reported in Aarey Milk Colony, to the south of the SGNP." Not all attacks are fatal. How many attacks? How may deaths?

I understand that it is risky (and at present, not especially scientifically rigorous) to tie the near extinction of one species (vulture) to the increase of another threatened creature (leopards), and it is especially unwelcomed to correlate the increase of a threatened species with an increase in human conflicts with that species (see also: wolves in the US). 

BUT FUCK. If it's true? How can more leopards not mean more attacks? How can more dogs not mean more leopards (when the leopards' bellies are more full of dog than any other animal)? The link between dogs and the vulture decline has been noted in several peer reviewed papers, but another leopard biologist wrote to me: "I think the link between vultures and increased dog numbers is total speculation and I do not believe in it at all. I think it is a really bad idea to emulate guardian or Indian papers which are absurdly sensationlizing the issue. I hope you will not join the bandwagon."

I don't want to be sensational. I don't want to be a part of the terrible group of "people who talk about science badly." I don't want to do leopards or vultures a disservice. But I believe they are connected, and I don't think it's a conspiracy-theory type belief. But if no one tells me the same story, what the hell am I supposed to do? Not tell any story? Risk discrediting all of my other experts by believing the wrong one? 

And this is just one little story in "this book." Most of my time in Europe was spent with experts who refused to speak on tape. They have sent me their papers and the papers of others to quote. How easy it is to create a rich, sympathetic character from the scholarly papers of others! These folks would say, "But I'm not the character! The birds are!" Because they don't understand that readers fall in love with people who love animals, not the animals themselves. We love our reflection in animal eyes. We love how they make us feel. 

(Which is where the risk is, right? I'm scared about writing a book about me. I'm scared that it will be full of doubt and fear and anxiety instead of vultures and beauty and wonder and the sublime. I thought I was writing a conservation book about vultures, and then I thought I was writing about death and scavengers and maybe myself a little, and then a travel memoir about caring enough about a type of bird and its place in the world to go to half a dozen countries trying to learn more about it, and now I don't even know. I have no clue how to make these last three years into an interesting story. Why me and why now? I have no clue.)

Anyway. I am trying, you guys. I am trying to find the story. But I just feel like I am failing at every step.

Now, I've written and re-written to a half dozen people trying to find an expert in Peru on vultures, and no one is responding. The kid in me who wasn't invited to the parties everyone went to, and who was picked last for every team ever (except in-class trivia games, heyyyy), is convinced that it's me. That I've asked the wrong questions of the wrong people and now everyone else knows not to answer, that not everyone wants a general book about vultures written by me, because it means writing about people as much as it does the birds.

So then I think, fine. Maybe I'll just go to Peru and have fun. Maybe I'll just be a tourist. Maybe I'll eat guinea pig and climb Macchu Picchu and take pictures and buy a clay pot and get a tan. And when someone points out a condor in the sky, I will look up like people who don't care about birds look up and just say, "Wow!" And who cares if it means nothing to anyone except me and my lover?  

I can't find the Peru story. It's a huge country, full of vultures, and ... nothing. I don't feel like any of this is any easier or that I have any more idea what I am doing now than I did when I mis-booked my first hotel room in Antwerp and let my first whole week of "research" go unrecorded. Like I'm going to write a book now about what I sort of remember happened, a book about all the stuff I still don't know. About the people who wouldn't answer my questions or who turned out to be racist or sexist jerks even though they have committed their lives to saving endangered species. (And too, the wonderful, kind people who can't get funding, who don't have corporate sponsored vans, who don't have a uniform, who are doing good work that some do and some don't consider "valid" based on whether or not there is a government logo on their front door.)

Which makes some stupid desk job and an essay or two a year maybe, about breakups and the places I've lived, so attractive. It would make many things easier, to just put this down. It wouldn't make me feel better, but if trying to write "this book" won't either, shouldn't life at least be easier? I am tired of scrambling every fall for a spring of defeat. I am tired of trying so hard and failing over and over. I am tired of pitching a story in the hopes of getting some exposure for an amazing project, and then watching the rejections roll in, or worse, the story never go to press. I am tired of not knowing how to work harder so I get it more right. I am letting people all over the world down by even considering this, I know. I know it every day and it is such a weight to hold up. All those people and all those birds. 

I know that the difference between people who succeed and those who fail is this exact moment. But for fuck's sake: it's just so huge. The whole world. All the vultures. I can't find the story that connects them all. I know that this is where everyone who is going to quit, quits. I have persevered and hung in there and done the hard things before. I just don't understand how to make this book the thing I can't give up. What I mean is: Why me and why now?

Poetry: three short reviews

It's spring break, and in addition to other things, I'm reading poetry. I don't really know how to talk about poetry properly, which is to say with a learned vocabulary, so I'm just going to tell you how the following collections made me feel. 

Bendorf's first book will make you hungry for his next. The Spectral Wilderness is about becoming and emerging, and about wildness and ghosts. I folded over the corners of the pages I liked best, and now it sits crooked on the table, all swelled up on one edge, like a board taking on water. 

I love this book. 

Get it, everyone. (Also available from The Kent State University Press)

Sorry, Tree
By Eileen Myles

I bought this book because Wave Books was having an amazing Holiday sale. It is a numbered and signed edition, and I'm kind of a nut for those when I can afford them. (Note: While I include Amazon links in my posts in the hopes of making a few books with which to buy more books, I prefer to buy books closer to the source whenever possible.)

Here's where I admit how uncool I am: It was a little tough to get into these poems at first.

I like rich imagery, and am drawn in by visions and reflection. But Myles is telling stories here, and after a few pages, I began to better hear her voice. There's bravado and performed bravado and love and sex and 9/11 and an amazing essay-like-piece at the end in which barf features heavily. Myles' short lines and long stacks of them conspire to take you, as if by stepping stone path, deep into the mind of the poet's poet. She's called a rockstar for a reason. She has this way of combining small, "trivial" details (like the time -- "Twenty three before 6.") and big things (like love, like sex, like some larger thing that looks like living).

After reading Sorry, Tree I felt like I'd watched a documentary and gone to the MoMA. She'd probably hate hearing that, so don't anyone tell her, but for me it was amazing. 

Verdict: recommended

I have been a fan of Curbside Splendor books ever since I became a fan of Amber Sparks' books. Specifically, some number of AWP's ago, I bought her collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, and then when it came out, her collaboration with Robert Kloss, The Desert Places.

What I love about CS books is that they are each specially designed objects. No detail is forgotten. Kloss' illustrations are printed like works of art, Sparks' collection of stories is as good inside as out, etc.

Kiss as many women as you can is another CS collaboration. This time between poet Franki Elliot and artist Shawn Stuckey. [I'm including the "thumbnail" for this book (which is really more like a ham-fist than a thumbnail, since my blog platform doesn't allow re-sizing), because it includes an example of one of Shawn Stucky's gorgeous collages.]

Elliot writes poetry/stories live, on an old typewriter, and photographs her favorites. This collection features several of them on the front sides of mailable postcards (with perforated edges, because CS gets it). The poem-images alternate with Stuckey's collages, some of which feature Elliot's typewritten lines as textural elements. 

Most of the poems feature the love or lovelorn, and Elliot is adept at concision. If I were to call these poems charming that might not adequately represent the weight they have on the page. Stuckey's surreal collages are a blend of someecard-style woodcuts with Portlandia-style birds on them, but these are not images from the Anthropologie stationery table: heads are cut off, birds fly upside-down—there are mysteries and chaos, simmering just behind the richly textured and vibrant backgrounds. 

There's a quality of performance between these pages. Even more so if you actually detach the postcards and mail them. Which you should do. Unlike me, who will probably horde them like I have the dead bugs

Score: Buy a copy for your favorite romantic artist. And then buy a copy for yourself and start writing to people with an actual pen instead of a keyboard.

On Jessica Bozek's The Tales

I just devoured Jessica Bozek's The Tales. It's available from Les Figues Press

I am not that great at writing off-the-cuff book reviews, so I will be brief (and hopefully galvanizing). The Tales is a slim volume full of prose poems/fragments/stories that speak in a number of voices about violence, victimization, and myth-making. It traces the songs, poems, stories that surround the aftermath of a terrible crime, committed as an act of war, in some dystopian perhaps-future.

The reader gets to hear from the Lone Survivor of the atrocity, but also the tailors, architects, engineers and claims adjusters who must attend to the life of the survivor. The dogs, birds, and a chorus of dead also speak on the before, during, and after. Bozek includes notes at the end of the book to trace some of the scholarship and artistic inspiration that has informed all of the tales that make up The Tales. She borrows from and is moved to create by works as disparate as critical analyses of war memorials, Ojibwa and Odawa tales, and a wide range of 20th century art and poetry. 

As the central narrative of the Lone Survivor becomes revealed through the mouths of various perspectives, Bozek investigates the language that victims and perpetrators alike use to make sense of (and attempt to forget) the aftermath of violence. From ordinary objects–family photographs, sweaters that unravel, old batteries, and lightbulbs–to the remnants of destroyed art and architecture, an annihilated nation is brought into reality, and the Lone Survivor’s story is simultaneously documented and invalidated, becoming “a memorial that will disintegrate over time, gray and fray as most of the dead did not have a chance to.”
— Les Figues Press

I committed a long time ago to working my way through the growing pile of friends' and recommended indie press books that I add to each AWP. This is the first of what I hope will be regular installments. 

Two days, sickly-gutly

There are a lot of great things about being in a foreign country. There are the glimpses of other cultures, through food, music, clothes, etc.—and the chance to connect that such glimpses offer. There is the way that foreignness, and one's response to it, can provide insight into the ways and direction one needs to grow. Even just getting around in a new place is a time to learn—about more than just how to read a timetable that's half in Hindi, but about how easily we can accommodate and adapt, if adaptation is the goal.

One thing that is not great, however, is being sick.  

By Friday evening, I had a definite sore throat and headache. But I wasn't sure much of that wasn't from the dust and fumes from the motorcycle.

My view for much of the last two days

My view for much of the last two days

When I woke up Saturday still feeling off, I stayed in bed for most of the day. I left my room only to get a late lunch at the proper restaurant across the street: butter chicken. It was my first non-veg since touch down, but I felt crummy and thought that the luxury of one of my favorite dishes might help.

This morning, I was to hike to the highest point in Sanjay Gandhi Nat'l Park, with staff and members of BNHS. But when I woke up, my cough and headache and aches had reached a point of more than just annoyance. On top of which was some revenge for the chicken. Nothing terrible, but all signs pointed to not spending a hot afternoon in the woods. I called the tour guide, so he wouldn't worry about whether or not Indiana Bridget Jones had gotten lost on the train, and crawled back in bed. 

Once the shops were open, I staggered around the neighborhood looking for a chemist. All of the 'green cross'ed shop fronts were shuttered ... Sunday. One shopkeeper directed me to the nearby hospital, which seemed excessive. I wandered back to the hotel, sweating and a bit woozy, and asked the kid at the desk. 

His boss said, "I am sending you to the hospital, then." To which I objected, weakly but clearly. I don't need a hospital, I said. Just cough syrup and some aspirin. Turns out the hospital has an open-to-the-public chemist's.  Even on Sunday. 

I stumbled back down the block and got a bottle of Ayurvedic cough syrup (which seems to have taken the rattle out of my cough) and, after trying many words related to pain and aspirin, a pain reliever and fever reducer: diclofenac. Of all the NSAIDs in all the gin-joints in the world, amiright? (In case you don't know what I'm talking about: http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2014/03/scientists-call-spain-ban-vulture-killing-drug )

Anyway, I've spent the rest of the day sipping a weird minty, cough syrupy syrup, popping deadly-to-vultures pills, coughing, sneezing, etc.  

And it's no fun. 

I wandered out later for some food and heard the singing in a nearby temple. Saw many men in white robes and ornate tilaka (red marks on the forehead in a U shape or lines). The vegetable sellers were out on their mats. 

But I got tired and overheated so fast. My guts are still unsteady, and I keep busting into sneezing fits. I've been trying to work, but I'm just drowsy as hell. So instead, I've slept off and on all day. 

There were some bright spots. One was the banana lassi, another was a bunch of attentive texts from a friend and the virtual hugs on FB. Thanks, y'all, really.  

So that is all the news today. I'm hoping to see or do something more interesting tomorrow. 

Mumbai to Alibaug

Today I went in search of critically endangered birds. The Asian White-backed vulture was once the most populous raptor in the world. Now less than 1% are left... All because of what amounts to a small aspirin taken for aches and pains. Many of you who know me already know this story, and I hope to tell it live soon, so I won't spoil the punchline here.

Suffice it to say that the birds are now rare. For just the slim chance of seeing one of the closest 19-20 individuals, I took a catamaran for an hour at dawn to Manwa and then a bus for another hour to Alibaug. I was (thankfully!) accompanied by a BNHS staff member and killer guide, Nandkishor. Once in Alibaug, we were met by Nilesh, a forest officer. After a breakfast of dosas, which I ate with my hands (once I could see how it's done), Nilesh put Nandkishor on a bus and me on the back of his Honda motorcycle and we wove through a few towns, over hill and dale, for a little more than another hour, to the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary gates. 

Were we there yet? OH NO, FRIENDS. There was still another hour of leapfrogging Nandkishor and I on the bike to get to the vulture restaurant deep inside the sanctuary. Occasionally, I'd be left somewhere with the instructions, "Watch out for scorpios, they have many nests," or, "If you see a wild boar, climb up onto this rocks, quickly." Here's where I mention that yes, I am still sick. Specifically aches, pains, sore throat, and headache. So. Dusty roads perched on the back of a bouncing bike, through clouds of petrol or midge flies. 

The restaurant was empty. We left Namdkishor behind (because Nilesh had been trying to ditch him for the last hour, which made me equally uncomfortable and resentful and frankly just fucking WEARY, you know? But I digress in a country with very different gender dynamics than what I would consider, say, optimal) and rode another 20 minutes in, disembarked, and clambered 750 feet or so down a steep hillside (full of dramatic parabolic spiderwebs—says Nilesh, "Ah yes, these are poisonous spiders—no, sorry, venomous") to a basalt rock outcropping with a fantastic view of a super steep and majestically wide valley. Nilesh, after lamenting the unsatisfactory matrimonial situation in which he finds himself, pointed out a tree that juts out from the hill, a couple hundred yards away. As if on cue, a white-backed vulture stepped out of the tree's foliage and sat on a branch in plain (though too far for my camera to capture) sight. 

Okay, I am trying to see the good in everyone now, if you catch me, when across the valley, Nilesh points out two more circling above the tree line. 

Three. Of the 19-20 observed individuals within 100 miles of Mumbai. Can you believe it? Yesterday was good too, there were monkeys and barking deer and butterflies—so my luck, as they say, is good. But yesterday has nothing on watching that bird sitting on that branch. 

But, my friends, that is not all. After the bumpiest, dustiest ride back to the gate, we were served a lunch full of many small scoops of various dals and curries by the park's cadre of women, which we ate with chapatis and our hands. I'm getting better at it. Then, Nilesh took Nandkishor back to the bus station before returning for me. My ass objected to getting back on the bike, I don't mind saying. 

Nilesh, the pinkest face in the world, and Nandkishor 

Nilesh, the pinkest face in the world, and Nandkishor 

We took off down the road (faster, trying to catch the last catamaran to Mumbai, spoiler: we failed), when I saw something slink off the road in front of us. I might have shrieked. 

You guys. It slinked its low, pale body and dragged its long FURRED tail across the road and into the trees and was gone. 

The rest of the ride back was a terrible, migraine-inducing sensory overload of two more hours on the back of that bike (how brave am I? let's take a moment to ponder), which meant two more hours of fumes, speed bumps, potholes, flashing headlights, honking horns, and ended with not a one hour catamaran trip, but a three or four (I lost count) hour overland bus ride... I hurt all over and I feel even more sick than when I left.

But who the hell cares, I saw the vultures and a leopard.

Lovely, but for all the venom, poison, fangs, and claws

Lovely, but for all the venom, poison, fangs, and claws