My Wobbly Bicycle, 139

Posted by on Aug 2, 2017 | 2 comments

download-1I moderated a panel this week at the Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA program where I teach. Five of us prepared our thoughts on what writers can offer in this emergency political situation. Oliver de la Paz listed some practical things. This is from my notes.


  1. Write a love letter to local organizers. Tell them how much you appreciate what they’re doing.
  2. Help fundraise as an artist. Donate your art for some event.
  3. Offer to contribute your writing; read a poem at a local event or rally, for example.
  4. Connect organizers to writers who speak to what they’re trying to do. Send them poems, links to fiction and nonfiction. It might bolster their spirits, to know that others have had the same thoughts.
  5. Work with public organizations to help them craft their statements to read as clearly, coherently, and invitingly as possible.
  6. Write press releases, offer to help with other public writing. This is not about you, but about community. Build relationships, long-term.
  7. Lead writing workshops.


I’m particularly inspired by the concern with community in this list. Of course, language itself is community. It exists only in relation. So—and now I’m thinking out loud—our concern with language, with getting the language right, is a sacred endeavor.



Words have concrete etymologies; they arrive out of the earth. When we say we’re lugging a boulder uphill, we’re harking back to a Swedish word that means “to pull a person’s hair,” to move something heavily or slowly, or, from Scottish, “earflap,” or “handle of a pitcher.” The verb comes from objects we can see and touch.


Words have an attachment to the earth. Meaning, it’s crucial to understand what we’re saying, the implications of our word choices. It’s imperative to own our words, the concrete truth of them. If we want to talk about political truth, that’s where we start, by being clear about what words mean. Belief? Democracy? Socialism? Elite? Not what I kind of guess these might mean, but what is their heritage, where do they get their tone, their muscle?


I haven’t written many blog posts lately. Truth is, I haven’t had anything to say that I felt you’d be interested in hearing. Life has gone on, Jerry has had two surgeries—back and hip—this winter and spring, has been in almost intolerable pain, but is at last slowly mending. My father had his 99th birthday and has had pneumonia twice. It’s been all concrete in my life: tying Jerry’s shoes for him, helping him pull on his socks, cutting my father’s fingernails and toenails.



I was telling the students in my class yesterday that when the poem wants to float into the conceptual stratosphere, it is necessary to pull it down into the gut, find out where its energy comes from. It surely doesn’t come from the clouds—it comes from some maybe almost imperceptible nagging emotion that, when opened up, may turn out to be a volcano.


And it isn’t only a personal volcano. I don’t own my emotions. My name isn’t written on them. They’re simply emotions, the kind we all have. And if I want what I write to matter, I’m going to have to send down a scope to find their molten core.


So, in the interest of keeping community, of offering what I can, I send this post.



  1. Miss the workshop and hanging out with generally like minded people. Enjoy!

    My personal list includes writing stories (possibly a novel) that illustrate some of the consequence of allowing events to continue unchecked, in the vague hope that perhaps one persons will think harder about the long term.

    Since I have always enjoyed speculative fiction and that has always been one of the missions of the genre, it is a natural tendency.

    The nice thing is it allows me to not just rant (albeit I do plenty of that too), but channel energy and save myself.


  2. Thanks, as always, for your good words. They are a real blessing. We are in MN right now, reconnecting with family and some very OLD friends. It is quite wonderful to come “home” but also helpful to be reminded that I don’t live here anymore. On our trip, while in KY, we rescued a kitten with a chewed off tail – looks like we are pet parents again. Enjoy the rest of your workshop. Teaching is another of your real gifts.

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