Thursday
Jun072018

Fast Five: Bette Lynch Husted

 I've been troubled

all my life

by the story

we don't tell. 
 

— Bette Lynch Husted
author of All Coyote's Children

 

Bette Lynch Husted writes with breadth and depth, carefully crafting poems, memoir and story. Her works include At This Distance (poems)Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land (memoir); Lessons from the Borderlands (memoir essays); and All Coyote’s Children (novel). 

Living in the small, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton, her work is woven with landscape, family and culture. Her latest work, and first novel, All Coyote's Children, has earned accolades from The Oregonian: "Thoughtful, superbly written and redolent with inviting characters and ideas. Husted's first novel deserves attention and prizes."

It's time for Fast Five, in which we ask five questions that open the door to know more — and give away great books!

To enter the drawing to win All Coyote's Children, simply write a comment in the Comment Section below, or send an email to: dcm@drewmyron.com. The drawing will be held on Sunday, June 17, 2018. 

1.
How did you come to writing?

I was eight and my sister was ten when we broke into print on the children’s page of The Idaho Farmer with stories we had written one summer afternoon to entertain each other (both, as I remember, titled “Mystery in the Old Barn”). But though I kept writing, isolation in small rural communities and the demands of teaching made my next publication a long time coming. What made a difference was Fishtrap and later a series of wonderful workshops at The Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops for Women [founded by Judith Barrington and ran for 17 years], where I not only learned from people like Naomi Shihab Nye, Grace Paley, and Lucille Clifton, but also realized that people could hear my voice — and that getting my work out was “important for all of us,” as Alex Kuo wrote to me. I kept that piece of blue stationery above my desk for a long time, and I try to pass on this gift to other writers.

2.
You’ve written poetry, memoir and, most recently, fiction. Your work features a distinct and vivid sense of place. How has place formed you as a writer?   

“The place,” my father called the benchland north-central Idaho homestead where he was born and where his children, too, would grow up. We were all bonded to it — by daily chores, of course, but also by the light “rolling down the mountain” each morning, the red-winged blackbirds’ return in late February just as the barnyard was beginning to thaw. The river sound of wind in the pines on the hill. “Place” showed me what it meant to be conscious, alive. It still does. Maybe it helps that I have spent my life in the rural inland Northwest where we are reminded of our relationship to the earth in ways we might not be if we were surrounded by concrete. But I can’t imagine not feeling this way. 

3.
Your novel, “All Coyote’s Children,” is a powerful story of cultural and generational connections. In it, you write, “It’s not telling stories that gets us in trouble. It’s not telling them.” What prompted you to tell this story?  

I’ve been troubled all my life by the story we don’t tell because, as one of the characters in All Coyote’s Children puts it, “it cancels all our mythologies. No wonder we can’t face it.” How do we face the fact that the indigenous peoples and cultures of North America were dehumanized, seen as savage, inferior, obstacles to be eliminated as we “tamed a continent” (a phrase used by our president in his recent Naval Academy graduation address) and then all but erased from our national consciousness? All of us who are non-Natives, even those brought by force to this continent, continue to live on stolen land. What do we do with this knowledge? And what do Native people do with their erasure from so much of “American history,” not to mention the ongoing pain of that story?

Ten years ago, the spiritual leader who married my son and his Umatilla/Cayuse and White Mountain Apache wife said, “We’re joining not just two people, but two families.” His words felt extraordinarily generous. I knew this wasn’t the complete answer to my question, yet that day healing seemed possible.

But only if we tell our own true stories and listen carefully enough to hear each other’s. In many ways, this is what draws me to writing: trying to stay open, receptive to the stories that connect us. 

4.
A character in your novel says, “Life is hard, and will get harder.” In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going? 

I’ve read that the Cheyenne People have a saying: A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished, not matter how brave its warriors, or how strong their weapons.

The Cheyenne may be acknowledging this truth: it takes a lot to put the hearts of women on the ground. “Survival is hard sometimes,” Leona says in All Coyote’s Children — but though she has stumbled, she’s still upright, and helping the lives of others to go on. My own mother was such a woman — able to lift her eyes to the sunset or blue-black thunderheads or Orion climbing the sky no matter the challenges she faced. (“I’d catch another bubble if I waited,” she copied on the scrap of paper that’s now pinned to my own bulletin board. “The thing was to get now and then elated.”) 

Sometimes, though, the difficulties can be overwhelming. What keeps me going is writing, feeling my way forward one word at a time. 

And I’m fortunate to belong to a wonderful poetry workshop group. We drive from various corners of Oregon to meet once a month, each of us knowing that this sharing of words (and food and wine and friendship) is a lifeline.

5.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

The late Ursula K. Le Guin was a member of that workshop group. We carry her with us always, hearing her voice in the stories she left the world and treasuring our own memories, her careful critiques, the image of her sitting in the wicker chair on Jeannette’s side porch stitching or sketching — but we miss her, we miss her. 

Last month I watched the trailer of Arwen Curry’s forthcoming documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin and heard Ursula say, “To learn to make something well can take your whole life. And it’s worth it.”

One last gift. And the best writing advice any of us could ever receive.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

The words that immediately come to mind are Clearwater and Kooskia (pronounced KOOS-key), words I grew up with, words that mean home. I always thought I was lucky to live near such a beautiful river, and one so beautifully and accurately named. But the place names I usually love most are the ones from Native languages, Kooskia and Umatilla, Wallowa, Walla Walla. So why would “clear water” and “Kooskia” bothspring to mind as my favorite words, I wondered? Wikipedia tells me that “the river got its name from the Niimiipuutímt naming as Koos-Koos-Kai-Kai – ‘clear water.’” That may well be a condensed version of a much deeper language connection—still, it makes me very happy.


Win this book!

Enter the drawing for All Coyote's Children. Write a comment in the Comment Section below. Feeling shy? Zip an email to dcm@drewmyron.com.

The drawing will be held on Sunday, June 17, 2018. 

 

 

 

 

Monday
May282018

Literary Confession: Discarded

Searching for symbolism is mental masturbation. I don't like dissection. I wasn't a good English major. If feeling is first, why hunt for deeper meaning? 

So I didn't lug anthologies. Or read Jane Austen. I still don't like Hemingway.

And I give up, often. Fifty pages, 100 pages. I try to be a good literary citizen. The other day I picked up a "classic" and slogged against heavy lids, inner chatter, and the call of something better. And finally gave up.

I don't want to argue intent, conceit, or what's at stake. I just want out. 

And you, my confessor, reader, friend — are you a quitter too? 

 

Wednesday
May232018

Thankful Thursday: 10!

Happy Anniversary to Us!

You and me.

In 2008 — 10 years ago — I started this blog. Before the world was full of Facebook, iPhone, YouTube and Twitter, Off the Page was born. Tentative and shy, I offered a "quiet place of thoughts and ideas." 

"Let’s go," I wrote. "Not with the thunder of the self-absorbed, but in the same way a single line, when spoken softly, carries great weight."

Through this long decade, we've seen fashions rise and fall: 

Blogs are hot! Social media is king! Blogs are dead! Social is over! Blogs are revived!

The trends go 'round and 'round. Blogs, though, are my bootcut jeans and cashmere sweater — here to stay. 

It's never been a one-sided experience but an exchange. I write alone and share aloud. Like a writing group, or coffee with a friend, this is a quiet place warmed with creative comfort and expression. Thank you for being here with me, for reading, thinking, feeling, responding.

On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for you, dear reader. You show up, and I am heard, encouraged and inspired. In this big world, thank you for finding your way to this small shelter. 

Thank you for letting me in. 

 

It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. The world contracts and expands with our gratitude. What are you thankful for today? 

 

Tuesday
May152018

Try This: 5 Step Cut Up

1.
Sometimes, many times, I don't know what I'm feeling until I write it out. 

2.
Sometimes I stand back from myself, while in myself, wondering who is this person, writing these words, and why? 

3. 
Sometimes my head is so full and fuzzed, I can't find my own words. And so I gather others. I go to books — art books, science books, manuals and guides — and jot down words and phrases.

Some feel poetic: dotted with mist.

Others are fact-full: Later measurements show that these surface currents flow with an average velocity of three knots.

Sometimes I pluck single words:  moss   tidal   index

4.
I cut these lines into strips, spread them out, and make sense again. I go outside myself to get back in, where the real poem is forming.

5.
Yes, it is both forced and fluid. It is an exercise and it is art, the kind that stirs hand and heart —  the best kind of workout. 

 

The myth of currents

 

Before these rolling hills and furrowed fields

there was moss and bark, soggy leaves and mist

dotted with riddle. 

 

How is it I dissolved in place? 

Struggling to understand the dark wet days

I etched patterns across the terrain of veins.

 

Tidal rhythms vary but nothing drowns like despair. 

I explored the pull of sun and moon, the myth of currents

how the flow swirls, restores, carries away, the hours circling.

 

Now, there is no drenching rain or rusting salt, no

saturated gloom, no cursing gray sky. 

 

In this index of renewal, every body has its own

movement. What I’m saying is when the moon

was full and the night wide, I left the ocean

 

to save myself. 

 

— Drew Myron

 


Sunday
May062018

Love this line (passage, book . . )

Arturo hands him a conference packet and looks up at him wearily; violet streaks curve beneath his eyes, and lines are grooved into his still-young brow. Less notices now that what he had taken for gleaming bits of pomade in his hair are streaks of gray.

Arturo says, “There follows, I am sad to say, a very long ride on a very slow road . . . to your final place of rest.” 

He sighs, for he has spoken the truth for all men. 

Less understands: he has been assigned a poet. 


— from Less, a novel by Andrew Greer

 

This book, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, is a delightful surprise of wit and warmth, with sharp teeth and well-placed sighs. A smart understated work, it hits all my marks: mid-life, writing, loving, losing, loathing, tenacity, humor and hope. 

 

What are you reading today?