This site is moving

It’s time for a fresh start. As of this afternoon, I’ve transferred the contents of this blog over to allysonwhipple.com. The only change is that my middle initial is no longer part of the URL.

I ended up getting stuck with having to use my middle initial in the URL for… reasons I can no longer remember. But I’d been meaning to upgrade my WordPress site anyway, and when a sale on WordPress plans came along, I thought I’d just see if the URL I’d wanted all along was available… and it was!

So please upgrade your bookmarks and/or your blogreaders. I’ll keep this site up until the end of the year, and then it’s going to vanish into the internet ether.

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Carol Dorf, winner of my inaugural monthly poetry contest! She won a $25 gift card to East Bay Booksellers.

Yes, inaugural winner, because this was so much fun that I’m going to run it again! Details in early November.

For now, please enjoy Carol’s winning poem!

At this Resolution

How do ants avoid drowning,
and how sympathetic to their plight

should I be? I admit I am a monster
when they form lines across the counter.

They (and I) wish I were on a sofa
zoning into the NBA finals, or maybe

attempting to mimic the choreography
that follows the irresistible rise of k-pop.

© Carol Dorf, 2020

Poetry in a Pandemic: My First Year of PoPoFest

The beautiful assortment of cards I received

I first heard about the Poetry Postcard Festival in 2014; I have several friends who participate every year. I never joined, largely because I was afraid to put up money and then not actually follow through with it. But since I didn’t get to attend any poetry festivals or go on vacation this year, when I saw in Submittable that the 2020 registration deadline was closing soon, I decided to give it a shot. This was a chance to connect with other poets, and to maybe get some postcards from places I’d never been.

I didn’t actually struggle to get my poems out in the month of August. In fact, sitting down to write a tiny poem became the highlight of my month. I gave myself prompts by drawing a card from my Emily Dickinson tarot deck. I then had to tie the theme of the tarot card to the theme of the postcard. I knew that the reader on the other end would never actually see the tarot card I used, but my goal was to write each poem so that you wouldn’t need to know what had prompted me to start it. Usually I wrote my first poem of the day before walking Astrid. I would sometimes write three or four in a day if I was feeling especially inspired.

I also developed an affection for vintage postcards. When I started PoPoFest, I had a sizeable stack of postcards, most of which had come from my various travels. Some, though, were vintage postcards I’d found in antique stores. I found that I had the most fun writing poems for the old-fashioned cards, and when my stack ran out halfway through, I ordered two dozen vintage postcards from an Etsy seller to get me through, with enough to spare for next year. I also found myself especially charmed by the vintage postcards I received. One of my favorites is an old postcard of a Tokyo hotel. Since I had to cancel my trip to Japan this year, that card had an air of serendipity to it. In a time when I’ve been unable to see my friends or attend in-person poetry readings, receiving tiny poems in the mail brought a regular sense of joy and gratitude to the long, stifling days of Texas summer.

Some people in my group were ambitious and got their postcards out early, so I started receiving mail in July. Some people didn’t get their postcards out by August 31st (some people in my group had to deal with the fire situation), but I actually loved how the postcards trickled into September. I felt like it extended the celebration of poetry.

I loved being part of PoPoFest, and I am definitely going to sign up again for 2021. Hopefully we’ll have gotten through this pandemic by next August, but I’ll still cherish the sense of connection that this festival brings.

Coming Full Circle: New Workshop Online this Fall!

I’m writing this from my partner’s family farm in rural Illinois. It’s pretty easy to stay socially distant when you’re 40 miles away from the nearest grocery store. Astrid did great on the drive, and I can’t tell you what a joy it is to leave 105-degree heat for 85. I love summer, but I feel like Texas has gotten hotter the past few years. On my first morning here, we saw a mated pair of bald eagles flying over the farm.

Give her a stuffed toy, a cozy bed, and a kolache. She’s a happy dog!

Just before I left, I signed my contract to teach my first workshop with the Loft Literary Center! When I saw the call for course proposals this spring, I decided to jump at the chance. I’m thrilled to announce that Hawks Don’t Circle: Accuracy and Expansiveness in Nature Poetry is now open for registration! And since their offerings are all online this fall, you can take this course no matter where you live. Don’t live in Minnesota? Intent on maintaining social distancing? Wondering how you can connect with the wilderness in your own back yard? I’ve got you covered!

I first encountered the Loft back in 2013. I was exploring the possibility of doing an online MFA, and trying different online writing courses to see if the format would work for me. I was awarded a scholarship to take Bent Forms: Exploring and Exploding Formal Poetry with Paula Cisewski, and that class still resonates with me. It deepened my appreciation of poetic form, and the writing prompts yielded some rich work from all of the students.

In early 2016, I pitched a course to the Loft. It was one I’d taught before, but back then I was a greener teacher with minimal experience pitching courses and workshops. My proposal was declined, and then I got busy with my MFA, and then I spent nearly two years in MFA recovery. But although the pandemic has taken so much from all of us, in a way it’s also brought me back to some things.

When I submitted my application this spring, I knew that even if my workshop proposal didn’t get accepted, I knew I had definitely grown as a teacher and a proposal writer over the past four years. Putting together an application I was satisfied with, knowing I’d done my level best, was its own reward.

Of course, I was still thrilled to get the acceptance email. While I’m not giving up teaching technical writing anytime soon, I am thrilled to be moving back into the world of creative writing again. Wherever you are, I hope you can join me in September.

A List of Quarantine Projects I’ve Undertaken in Somewhat Chronological order

The old power steering pump
  • Replaced my worn-out power steering pump
  • Tilled up 96 square feet of soil by hand
  • Planted 25 different vegetables, plus marigolds to keep the nematodes away
  • Completed an EP of yoga nidra practices for equinox and solstice
  • Built a hanging rack for my pots and pans, and generally reorganized my entire kitchen
  • Took a level 1 mat Pilates teacher training
  • Assembled and started submitting a new poetry chapbook manuscript
  • Started a new blog endeavor, The Best of It, to record the small niceties in my life
  • Took a course on the Matangi, Durga, and Lasksmi archetypes offered by Chanti Tacoronte-Perez and Stephanie Chee Barea
Warp board
  • Took a course on Buddhism called The Whole Path, offered by Sharon Salzberg
  • Made green tea ice cream
  • Made my first quilt, entirely by hand, using tote bags from End of an Ear
  • Began making a quilt for my friend’s baby
  • Created plans for a quilt to give my aunt and uncle for Christmas
  • Built a warp board for my table loom
  • Learned to make baba ganoush, as well as a few variations
  • Started submitting poetry regularly again
  • Helped Borderlands apply for funding for next year
  • Organized my bathroom cabined
  • Cleaned out my bedroom closet

I hope that, wherever you are, you are as safe as possible, and finding ways to stay happy and fulfilled through quarantine.

Notes on Teaching Under Quarantine

My last meal before quarantine: a giant boat of sushi that I shared with my friend Aneesa at Ichiban in Austin, Texas

I wasn’t surprised when ACC announced it would be switching to 100% distance learning for the remainder of the semester. And as someone who has been teaching at least one online class a semester since I started there, I’m pretty comfortable with the distance format. Because of my experience, I had a relatively easy time converting my classroom courses to online ones. Still, this challenge has given me an opportunity to reflect on my current teaching habits, and how I might shape my courses in the future.

Even students whose classes were already 100% online are struggling. Many of them have lost their jobs. Or they are essential workers, pulling lots of overtime and stressed out. Or their kids are suddenly home and also have to be on the computer all day for their K-12 classes, and there isn’t necessarily enough bandwidth or enough devices to go around easily. Some have even gotten sick. Every student needs to be treated with care right now, even if their course format didn’t suddenly change.

Converting a classroom course to an online course halfway is not the same as teaching a course that was online all along. My fully online courses are being run the same, though with an adjusted course calendar, because the extended spring break was granted to all students. I am also being as flexible as possible with everyone. But the converted courses are being run differently to maintain consistency where I can. Whereas my fully online courses were set up to be asynchronous, I’m running synchronous video sessions during normal class sessions for my classroom courses. Not everyone can attend (for all of the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph), so I’m making video available after. But trying to maintain some semblance of regular weekly live connection has been helpful. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how to do this.

Even students who attended live video sessions like being able to watch the replay. Many of my students have reported going back and re-watching the videos to clarify and reinforce information. This has been a great source of insight for me. Although my online classes will still be generally asynchronous, I’m exploring with ways to add a synchronous option once a week for those who want to attend. Then the video will be available for anyone who wants it. I haven’t decided how I want to implement that into established distance learning courses, but it will happen in some shape or form. And while I don’t love the idea of recording my in-person classes (once in-person classes can happen again) and posting them, I’m also wondering if that wouldn’t help student outcomes. It’s definitely something to consider.

Sometimes I still expect too much. This is true for both my students and for myself. In having to adjust all of my course calendars due to losing a week of instructional time, I had a great chance to see where I had too many activities, or was trying to cram in too much content. And there have been times in all of this where my perfectionism has caused me a great deal of stress. But I have to give myself the same sense of grace I do for my students and for my colleagues.

I’m glad I trusted my instincts. In the initial weeks of lockdown, there were a lot of articles about what teachers should or should not do, many of them with very black-and-white stances. Ultimately, I took some advice and rejected other advice. Implementation hasn’t been 100% perfect, but these are nowhere near perfect conditions. I’ve done my best, and most of the feedback from students tells me I made the right decisions for my particular courses.

This has truly been the most challenging semester of my teaching life. I already had a double overload before all of this started. I’ve faced a lot of doubt and overwhelm. But in all that, there has been a great deal of opportunity for reflection, and I think I will come out of this a better teacher.

Die Hard is a Christmas Movie, End of Story

Would walk barefoot down a path
of glass to reunite with your estranged beloved?

Add up all the unkind acts you commit
each day. The unfairly maligned spiders
crushed in their quiet corners. The outburst
at a child disproportionate to the infraction.
The yellow light you run too late, delaying
someone’s right of way. Trace the lineage
of your spite, see how easily the trail
goes cold before you reach the source.

Would you walk barefoot down a path
of glass to save an office full of hostages?

You’ll look at me askew when I say: think
of all the microbes you kill when you eat
a spoonful of yogurt. Think of how an apple
screams when you bite into it. Think of the roots
ripped from the earth so tubers can become soup.
Your almond milk is using up all the water
in California, and when the apocalypse comes,
your high horse will be butchered for meat.

Would you walk barefoot down a path
of glass for anything other than your own martyrdom?

You can write off action films for their
translucent plots, gratuitous explosions,
bad science, pro-capitalist agendas,
and glorification of brawn.

But do we need the hero who walks
on water and comes back from the dead—

Or do we need the hero who should have died
four times and didn’t, and walks barefoot
down paths of broken glass because he knows
that to live in a human body means to break it,
and that to live in this world is to commit violence.

This Space: A Reckoning

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted here in over a year. In truth, I almost closed this blog down entirely when it was up for renewal in January. I was aware then that I hadn’t posted in a long time, but I also decided to keep it open just in case. Still, months have gone by, and I haven’t felt an impulse to return. Every now and then I get an impulse to delete the entire thing. Still I can’t quite bring myself to let the site go entirely. It’s my hope that perhaps in writing a post here, I’ll work through some of my thoughts on the matter.

What happened?

The short answer is that I ultimately had a negative experience in my MFA program, and once I graduated, I lost the will to do poetry things. Aside from my weekly haiku exchange with one of my former classmates, I stopped writing poetry (and prose, for that matter) altogether. I stopped attending most poetry events (except for I Scream Social, which is one of the best things Austin has to offer). While I kept reading poetry, I no longer felt any desire to do much in the way of either create my own work, or participate in a poetry community.

What have I been up to?

Since April 2018, I started focusing more on my yoga practice. I started my own business for my teaching practice: Luna Nidra. I started recording meditations and hosting workshops.

I’ve also kept busy in my teaching life at ACC, helping to grow our department. We’ve started hosting more events, and I led the relaunch of our social media presence.

Finally, I’ve been having some amazing adventures, including travel to Mexico City (my favorite), a road trip through New Mexico, and a glorious adventure in Peru this past July.

After my trip to Peru, I started feeling called to write again. I finished an essay that’s out for submission. I revised my manuscript and started sending it out again. And I’ve even written a few poems.

Still, I wonder whether I really want to continue keeping this space. On some level, it’s so deeply connected to a past life: my marriage that ended five years ago, old jobs, old friends, old adventures that are distant memories. I needed that hard break after my MFA, and I am starting to re-emerge as a writer. And yet I don’t necessarily want to return here. When I think about this site, and how much of the past it contains, I’m just not sure I want to keep it.

I’m not making any decisions just yet. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if there were any readers left to see this after such a long silence. Perhaps I just need a total fresh start with my digital life. I’ll always be writing, but maybe this isn’t the place for it anymore. We’ll see.

Winter Adventures: New Mexico

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John and I had an ambitious winter camping trip planned. Six parks in ten days. But then after Christmas travel, we were a little burned out. John was also just getting over a double-whammy of flu and pneumonia. So, aside from our plans to visit our friends in Albuquerque, we scrapped our entire plan.

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Instead, we spent seven days driving around New Mexico. Instead of racing through Albuquerque, we spent an entire day wandering around Petroglyph National Monument, taking in ancient art. We also had some amazing food at Sadie’s and Flying Star Cafe. And we got to spend much more quality time with friends than originally anticipated.

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After some time in Albuquerque, armed only with the recommendations of friends and a print copy of the Lonely Planet guide to the Western USA (well, plus cell phones with decent data plans), we took off toward Santa Fe. We continued to eat exceptionally well, especially at the Shed. Instead of camping, we got a great off-season rate at the Old Santa Fe Inn. This was also my first experience staying in a hotel with a fireplace.

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I found myself moved to tears in the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. I loved wandering around the historic center of town. I also loved the Wheelwright Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

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The highlight of the trip, though, was hiking in Bandelier National Monument. In many ways, that was a difficult hike. It’s actually not especially tough, but I was struggling with altitude sickness. But at the end of it all, just before sunset, we came across a herd of mule deer as we were leaving the park. Unfortunately, because I’m not the greatest low-light photographer, not all of my pictures turned out well. That doesn’t detract from the incredible experience of being so close to so many deer.

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After some time in Santa Fe, we went up to Taos for the night, in hopes of getting to see the Taos Pueblo. We took our time, visiting Holy Chimayo for a few hours. Even if you are not religious, there’s something arresting about the site. I absolutely recommend visiting.

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We also went out to Ghost Ranch, which is a gorgeous space. Just a few minutes there, and you can see how it influenced O’Keeffe’s work. I hope I get the chance to spend more time out there in the future.

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Sadly, we were unable to see Taos Pueblo, because it was closed. But since we were close by, we went out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. I found this one of the most startling and emotionally volatile parts of the trip, not just because of the incredible view and my fear of heights, but also because of the suicide hotline phones, and the inspirational messages and tokens left by an artist hoping to prevent jumpers from taking their lives. I had not expected to see those.

We got a third hike in at Tent Rocks National Monument. This site had been closed for a tribal event the first time we tried to go, so I’m glad we had the opportunity to double back and visit. I’m also glad I got to take that hike after I’d gotten over the altitude sickness! I’d never heard of Tent Rocks before, but it’s otherworldly. While it can be tough to access, I encourage you to go if you’re in the Albuquerque area.

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While we didn’t have the adventure we planned, we had one just as good, if not better. I’m absolutely smitten with New Mexico, and hope to visit again soon.