Thursday, January 26, 2017

National Novel Writers Month; from a Class to a Story

I happened to see an announcement for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and attended a session given by Wendy Call in North Bend. It was a dynamic session which we all thought went very quickly. As an exercise, I thought I would finally add a new post to my blog and compile some of the resources she gave us.

She made the course dynamic by having us do various exercises. We wrote our name on index cards and added why we came to the course. We wrote down what we want our writing life to look like, and visualized it in ten years, five years and one year.

Using the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented, time bound) we then applied our goals to see if they fit into the SMART system.

She asked us how much time per week we visualized ourselves writing and how much time we were spending now (mine was seven and zero!). We then had to identify what we were going to give up to get to this last goal.

Although it was a course on time management and goal setting I naturally had to ask her an off-topic question: Where do you find these lists and resources she had referred to and where one can submit articles and contest entries?

Here are a few:
Poets and Writers Magazine
The Writers Chronicle
The Writers Chronicle Blog
The Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Writer's Workshoppe in Port Townsend
Port Townsend Writer's Conference at Centrum (One of my favorite writers, Pam Houston, is teaching a class and it is already full)
Hugo House in Seattle
Writers Cottage in Issaquah (I see I just missed the grand opening!)

She also gave us a couple of authors and book titles:
Malcomb Gladwell - Outliers (now a dead link?)
See this instead:

Finally she referred us to an upcoming online course with Amanda Castleman at

I would say the workshop was inspiring and right up my ally...I have so many stories from traveling, guiding and teaching waiting to fit into some kind of format that I've been waiting for the right time and place to get started.

A beginning might be a comment I heard about myself at a wedding. I was standing next to a fellow kayak instructor and he described my work this way: "She works with tourists". It was such a loaded statement. What did he mean? What are tourists to him? What is working with a tourist? Am I reading more into this that I need to?

I imagine that the people who came on the ten-day self supported trips that I led Baja during the late eighties could be considered tourists.

They showed up uninitiated at the airport in Loreto excited to spend ten days sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez (also referred to as Mar de Vermillion for it's rich, deep red color on a glassy morning).

The trip format was based on a course from the National Leadership School. One of the main differences was that we cooked gourmet camping meals using just a two burner coleman stove. I had envisioned myself as a wilderness guide but now found myself spending six hours a day in the "kitchen".

We taught them many applicable skills if they didn't know them ; how to pitch a tent, pack a kayak and paddle effectively. In terms of leadership we moved from telling to selling, delegating and letting go as people got into the rhythm. The ten days would unfold into various stories and sagas.

Naturally the group was mostly tested when the big winds would come up. The Mexicans called them Nortes as they came from the north in the winter and traveled hundreds of miles over the water creating big waves (through a phenomena called fetch). I can still hear some of the fisherman calling out "big winds, big winds" using the Spanish i which sounds like eeeee.

We would say that if we were going to be stuck on a beach, this was a beautiful beach to be stuck on. One guest took a different tack and said "if wind is the element in Baja, we need to be paddling in the wind. I am training to climb Mount Mckinley and can't be sitting around".

But most of the time we had fun. We snorkeled, read books, played games and took nature hikes. Guides were trained in natural history and could talk about the white bark tree and cardon cactus which the locals used to create their shade houses (palapas in Spanish).

I learned all of this from my boss, Trudi Angell, who also told me if I wanted to guide on my own, I had to learn Spanish. I had fun learning what I call "ranch spanish" and loved hanging out with locals talking about the catch of the day or the number of goats they had grazing in the desert.

Learning Spanish also opened the door to world view, a focus of my education at the Jackson School of International Studies. It seemed bring a practical application to one of our required texts by Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude .

So yes, I worked with tourists; people who came to visit a lovely area and view it from a sea kayak for ten days in the wilderness.

In formulating a goal, I might want to weave stories into fiction and model Pamela Houston or keep a nonfiction writing style similar to Terry Tempest Williams.

The first winter I guided in Mexico I lived with a family for four months. The father, Jose, had come from Mexico City for a job at the airport, and had married a local woman in Loreto, Marta. He had built a home that was mostly round; the living room was round and had adjoining children's room, master bedroom, closet (with an extra bed) and bathroom.

When I came back from the ten day sea kayaking trips, they would move from the master bedroom to the closet bedroom. I always told them I would sleep in the extra room as I felt badly having them displaced from their nice bedroom. They were so gracious as to insist.

They also invited me to all of their events and functions. At Christmas the whole family came over and we made tamales. One day I came home from a trip and the house was empty. I wondered what was going on as usually someone was home. In came a cousin who lived next door and I was invited to a bar-b-que. Someone had caught a huge yellowtail and they had cooked it whole on the outdoor grill. Five kinds of fresh salsa were next to the homemade tortillas; it was quite the feast.

They were a little embarrassed about me going inside, but I soon found out why. They had created a delicacy of turtle soup, and knowing I probably wouldn't approve, they were uncomfortable. I know that educating people to possible extinction is difficult due to the standing of long term traditions, and so I was polite.

Jose also taught tennis, and while I had played plenty of tennis growing up, I asked him for a lesson. He had a lot to refine in my posture and stroke; we had a fun afternoon.

When leaving that year for the United States, I said to their oldest daughter and them, I hope you can come and visit me sometime. She said, I don't think that will ever happen, it is too hard to get a visa. It still causes me sadness to think that this would be true, although I did find out eventually that the whole family had been to the states to visit Trudi.


A big thanks to Wendi for the encouragement - now I just have to find the next writing class.