April 18th, 2013food
For the past several months, I’ve been a part of the planning committee for an exciting event, “The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ”: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge Symposium, coming up on May 1-2 at the University of Washington. We’ve been working hard to bring together the participants and registrants, figure out what to feed two hundred people without breaking the bank or going off-mission (no sandwiches!), and planning seating arrangements for the over-capacity crowd. Huge props to my fellow committee members, Charlotte Coté, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Dian Million.
Most of you who read this won’t be joining us for the event, but it’s important for me to announce that it will be taking place. I know that some readers of this blog are members of the ancestral health community, as some of my posts focus on paleo diet or ancestral health topics. In North America, where many members of the paleo community are located, many indigenous peoples continue to employ traditional dietary and medicinal practices, tailored to environment and the human relationship with it, that have served them for thousands of years. This is detailed, living knowledge.
“The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge,” will primarily bring together Northwest Coast and regional Native leaders, elders, and scholars who will share their knowledge and expertise on topics such as tribal food sovereignty initiatives, food justice and security, traditional foods and health, global climate change’s impact on coastal indigenous food systems, treaties and reserved water rights, and treaty fishing rights and habitat protection.
Indigenous peoples in the Northwest have maintained a sustainable way of life through a cultural, spiritual, and reciprocal relationship with their environment. Presently we face serious disruptions to this relationship from policies, environmental threats, and global climate change. Thus, our traditional ecological knowledge is of paramount importance as we strive to sustain our cultural food practices and preserve this healthy relationship to the land, water, and all living things.
This symposium will be the inaugural event to honor UW’s future longhouse-style community building, Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a Lushootseed word meaning Intellectual House), that will open its doors in 2014. This event symbolizes the spirit of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ and embodies the essence of the work we envision doing in this cultural and intellectual space.
Panels include: Sustaining Cultural Food Practices; Indigenous Women in the Sciences; Tribal Food Sovereignty Projects; Treaties, Water Rights, and Environmental Protection; Creating a Safe Space for Indigenous Foods in an Academic Setting; 12 Moons Project, Northwest Indian College; and Tulalip Treaty Rights: Perspectives on Protecting and Applying Traditional Knowledge.
Although I will likely be busy with my duties as one of the co-coordinators of the event, I hope to take as many notes as I can so that I can provide an event recap here. There is a massive body of traditional indigenous knowledge about food, medicine, wellness, and sustainability that this event will tap into. We hope to make this an annual event. If you are interested in learning more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be placed on our mailing list.
Once the symposium is over, we’ll still have plenty of spring quarter left, but we’ll be quickly heading for summer. I love summers at the university. The pace slows, class sizes decrease, courses are open to the public, and instructors are free to test out wacky new course ideas.
This summer at the University of Washington, through the Department of American Indian Studies, I am offering a new course:
AIS 475 – The Twilight Series: Native Image and Myth
Since the publication of the Twilight novels and their film adaptations, audiences worldwide have been thrilled by fictional images of Native American shapeshifters. The total sales of the Twilight empire exceed $5 billion; young girls everywhere have staked out their allegiance to Team Jacob or Team Edward. The series is replete with representations of Native characters, including love interest Jacob, the rest of his Wolf Pack, and the abused fiancée of the alpha male. In this class, we will watch all of the Twilight films and read excerpts from the novels, analyzing the scenes and images as critical viewers and readers. Students will learn about the Quileute culture and the problems related to fictionalizing their cultural knowledge. We will also discuss the impact the Twilight series has had on the public’s conception of Native people. Is it problematic that so many young girls find themselves asked to choose between a Native character who transforms into a savage wolf and an alabaster vampire with endless wealth? Where have we seen similar images before? What are the stereotypes and myths about Native life on which these representations are based?
We will watch the Twilight films, read passages from Stephanie Meyer’s novels, and engage with critical responses to the work. Students will be asked to view the films critically; this class will require substantial reading, writing, participation, and close viewing.
All are welcome, including non-students, during summer quarter. Tuition charges apply; the ACCESS program allows Washington residents 60 years or older to attend class as auditing students for a $5 registration fee.
March 31st, 2013body
Spring is happening in a big way here in Seattle: Oregon grape is blooming everywhere, flower beds are showing their perennial colors, and the deciduous trees are waking up. I spent the winter working hard on my current writing project, a memoir I’m calling Starvation Mode, while working on odds and ends related to my forthcoming memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules.
During winter quarter, I audited a class through the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, the department for which I’m an adviser and part-time lecturer. The class, “Northwest Native Peoples and the Flora of the Pacific Northwest,” was incredible in igniting my research. Here is the full description for this dynamic course, taught by Cynthia Updegrave:Using lectures, case studies,and field trips, the course focuses on native plants, and their ethnobotanical uses, in the context of developing familiarity with the ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, Winter is traditionally the time for being in the longhouse,story, and the making and repair of important items in this region. In addition, the course will investigate how Native People have managed ecosystems for plant resources, and the profound disruption in indigenous management regimes post-settlement, including the health implications of the loss of indigenous food resources and the resulting loss of biodiversity for ecosystems. We will connect our learning to wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ, (Intellectual House) on campus, the region’s annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, and a canoe carving project to explore the many ways cultural renewal is contributing to well-being.
We did all that and much more. I now have a very solid base for further research into the indigenous food system of my Columbia River Indian ancestors. Much of my focus recently has been on research into the ethnobotanical, medical, and historical literature, but I have also been writing. On February 15, I read the prologue of Starvation Mode at the Made at Hugo House midyear reading. Watch if you want to hear me talk about my love-hate relationship with pierogies, show my limited understanding of epigenetics, nitpick at Michael Pollan, and sing the first verse of “In Heaven There Is No Beer.”
(I give a preamble; the reading begins at 2:35.)
Check out the Richard Hugo House YouTube channel for more videos from the Made at Hugo reading.Tags: beer, Native foods, Seattle, Starvation Mode, traditional foods, writing
January 27th, 2013body
I was tagged by Peter Mountford, author of A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism and the forthcoming The Dismal Science, to respond to ten questions about what I’m working on. Peter is a Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence and teacher, and my writing has benefited tremendously from his excellent advice and instruction over the past few years. Below, I’ve tagged two other writers to answer the call and describe their projects.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
I’m working on two big things right now. For the past few months, I have been working on the research for a memoir I’m calling Starvation Mode, and I’m also wrapping up my first book, a memoir called My Body Is a Book of Rules.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I began working on pieces of My Body Is a Book of Rulesin late 2007, when I started the MFA program at the University of Washington and was taking a nonfiction class with David Shields. I hadn’t really written nonfiction before and considered myself a short story writer. The next quarter, I enrolled in David’s book-writing class without knowing what kind of book I wanted to write. On the first day, while listening to my classmates describe their projects, my own suddenly became clear: I wanted to write a book about the intersection of my body and brain and pop culture using formally playful chapters. I had been trying to use fiction to write about anything other than myself, because I thought (at age twenty-three) my life couldn’t possibly be interesting enough to write about. I decided to challenge that notion and use everything in my arsenal to make the material compelling, because I knew I had something I needed to say.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
When I was in high school, everyone said I looked like Rachael Leigh Cook, because I was pretty much the dorky “before” version of her character in the 1999 film She’s All That (see left for a still from the film). Rachael Leigh Cook is now too old to play the college-aged Elissa, and I can’t think of any actresses under the age of thirty. I would like to have Jason Schwartzman play a love interest, not because he’s age-appropriate or similar in appearance to anyone in the book. I just like the way he looks.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
This ferociously honest and inventive memoir about a young bipolar woman deftly interweaves pop culture with neurobiology and memories of trauma.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am so happy to say that my book will be among those published by Red Hen Press in 2014. I am self-represented.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s hard to say when I had a solid first draft. I started with an MFA thesis that took a little under two years to write, and then took some more time to add chapters. I began submitting to agents a year after finishing the MFA program. I have been working on this book since autumn 2007, so it’s been a five-year project.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater feels closest to what I was working toward, in that it is about illness, brain, and body, and is concerned with both the story and the architecture of it. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn and The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso have some of the fragmentation that I also share.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When I entered graduate school, I was trying to write stories about any experience but mine. But I realized that my experience with the horror of bipolar disorder, the never-ending whack-a-mole game of trying to conquer psych med side effects, personal violation, and Indian identity questions was both unique and universal; I had stories others could relate to and a particular language that could make the trauma felt deeply. I was interested in the idea of playing with form and pulling in pop culture to make old subjects new.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You’ll find such gems as: advice from the pages of Cosmopolitan; “Top 10 reasons to date a fencer!”; drug prescribing information sheets as I would write them; analysis of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; ample evidence of my obsession with Britney Spears.
Thank you for reading. Next up:
Paullette Gaudet is a writer and licensed barber. She received a 2011 GAP Award to aid in the completion of her debut novel, Biloxi Suite Trapeze, a sweet, thrilling, and sexy manuscript I’ve been lucky enough to take a look at. Paullette was one of my MFA-mates at the University of Washington (class of 2009), and she has remained one of my dearest writing buddies.
Isla McKetta is a novelist, book reviewer, and blogger. She received her MFA from Goddard College and serves on the board of Richard Hugo House. We became acquainted through Artist Trust’s EDGE program. Isla’s book reviews are fantastic, and her love of reading is infectious. Every time I talk to her, I get really excited about books.Tags: My Body Is a Book of Rules, writing