Alumni Update: Dani Douvikas (’14)

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“Not being the maker of what I do,/ but only the one who holds the pencil.” – Mary Oliver

 

Shortly after graduating, I decided to try embracing Eastern medicinal practices. My first thought was yoga. In my first gentle yoga class, I found the one thing that made me feel not only calm, but as if no external thing could interfere with that calm. It was truly amazing.

When I began practicing yoga, I found myself seeking huge sensations and more flexibility. But as the year went on and I kept practicing, I began to notice that the impulse I have had my whole life, to always demand more of myself, was slowly diminishing. I was beginning to relax. I think yoga has really helped my writing seem a whole lot less overwhelming. Through my time at Whitworth, I came to realize that poems sometimes start because we are moved by the words of another person, or an experience that someone chooses to share with us. So through this, you don’t actually have to do anything for the poem to come or happen. In the words of Laurie Lamon, “You don’t have to be brilliant.”

Emily Dickinson once said, “Beauty is not caused. It is.” I like to think of writing not as something I am actually creating myself, but something that comes from a whirlpool of elements. What I see, what I hear, voices I have read: this, to me, makes writing feel a whole lot less scary and intimidating. It also means that everyone is capable of it, which I find wonderful.

Over the past year, I put a few essays of mine aside that I had written in Thom Caraway’s autobiographical writing class. When I came back to these essays I was previously borderline-obsessed with, my ideas, reflections, and connections all began to flow so much more easily than before. I no longer felt like I was pulling teeth. Through this, I have found Thom’s words–to sometimes put writing aside for a few years and come back to it later–to be very good advice.

When I am not writing or practicing yoga, I teach an in-water fitness and stretch class for people with arthritis or arthritis-type ailments. It is truly fantastic to see my participants better themselves in ways similar to how I have learned to better my own self through yoga. I love challenging my participants and acknowledging their hard work and dedication.

And I get so overwhelmed when they come to me enthusiastic about feeling better and enjoying class. It is hard to believe I can actually call this my “job.”

But it can be hard work, just like writing is. Some of my participants hurt every day. It definitely is not always easy.

Although my job is very rewarding, I hesitate to call writing just rewarding. Writing is something different. Something I struggle to even begin to get on the page.

Lately when I pick up something to read, it is by a writer I have met or have gone to see at a reading, or know from taking a class of theirs. It just feels so much more personal that way. This is what I look most forward to as I work on my MFA. One of my favorite things about being a writer is receiving a poem from a student or a professor and wanting so much to expand or look further, or just feel plain happy about the new way they have caused me to look at the world.

Dani lives in the Bay Area where she writes, practices yoga, and teaches an in-water exercise and stretch class for people with arthritis. Her work has appeared in Santa Clara Review. She is pursuing her MFA at Saint Mary’s College where she is a recipient of the Chester Aaron Scholarship. She loves when people share writing with her. You can contact her at danidouvikas@gmail.com.

Check Out “Don’t Dismiss The Humanities”

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Need a humanities pep talk before the school year begins? Check out Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times editorial.

Writes Kristof: “Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them — and us.”

 

Dr. Laura Bloxham’s Tales of Summer 2014 Reading

Those of you who know me know that I recommend reading a fair amount of beach trash during the summer.  I’ve been doing that, mostly in the mystery category.

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This summer I’ve also read two books worthy of writing about.  Both have kick-ass female characters.  The first is by L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books.  I didn’t read these books until I was an adult.  This summer I ran across a reference to some of her other books, the Emily series.  And then a friend recommended The Blue Castle, supposedly the only Montgomery book written for an adult audience.  The main character is a woman a bit like Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  She is past her prime for the marriage market.  She has family members who dominate and take advantage of her.  She is useful in a mousy sort of way.  There’s a huge turn of events that lead to a spunky character who takes charge of her own life.  The ending is less than satisfying, but all in all, a good summer read.

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The second book, Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wondersis set in 17th century England during a plague year.  While the plague itself is horrifying, the fascinating parts of the book are the religious struggles of the community and the emergence of two female characters.  The religious struggles made me note the book of Job in the margins quite often.  The two women remind me of the Bechdel test for feminist movies, which has two women characters who talk about something other than a man. These two women talk about herbs, healing, their friendship, and even work a lead mine, which belongs to a young orphan girl.  That scene alone is about as kick-ass as it gets.  If you read this one, you’ll also want to read Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, set in 17th century New England, and also featuring a kick-ass woman.

Laura Bloxham was born in Seattle and raised in the Seattle Public Library.  She loves baseball and reading mysteries.  She will be teaching Holocaust Literature this fall.

Alumni Update: Leah Silvieus (’07) On Poetry and Hospitality

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The sun is just beginning to rise through the spindled sailboat masts and motor yacht Bimini tops in the marina, and I’m enjoying the solitary, quiet room that morning is – before the guests wake and I prepare their state rooms for the day, before I arrange the flowers, before I plan the evening’s cocktail party and pair wine with the four-course dinner that will follow, before I move through all of the other rituals and tasks that comprise my day as Chief Stewardess of a 100-foot megayacht. While my current occupation has no direct connection to what I studied as an English major, I still publish regularly, and the financial foundation I’ve built allows me to teach, read, and lecture around the country. My Whitworth education also prepared me to think about how my dual vocation of writer and hospitality professional inform and enrich each other.

The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil once wrote that academic study trains the mind for paying attention: “that attention which, oriented toward God, is of the same substance as prayer.”[1] The kind of attention I learned through literary studies also energizes the work I now do in the yacht hospitality industry. One of my favorite poets, Jack Gilbert, articulates this power of attention beautifully: “When we slow, / the garden can choose what we notice. Can change / our heart […]”[2] I find that poetry and hospitality both call us to awareness of the world through sense – to make sense of the world through sensing the world in body, mind, and spirit. Another of my favorite writers, Angel F. Méndez Montoya, writes: “[T]here is a relationship between sabor and saber (savoring and knowing). Perhaps the kitchen and the library are in fact united by one and the same splendid desire: the desire to both savor and know.”[3] Both my Whitworth education and experience as a poet in the world suggest that hospitality is about being open to seeing poetry everywhere and being conversant in the many ways that the world communicates to, and connects, us. Likewise, being a poet is learning to see hospitality everywhere, which is to say, learning to listen and welcome those connections (and sometimes the creative tensions and disjunctions) through which others, and perhaps God, speak to us. The life of poetry, like hospitality, allows the world’s garden to change the ways in which we pay attention, and perhaps in the process, allows the power of our renewed attention to transform us.

 

[1] Weil, Simone. Awaiting God, trans. Brad Jersak (Abbotsford: Fresh Wind Press, 2012), loc. 581

[2] Jack Gilbert, “Burning (Andante Non Troppo),” Refusing Heaven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 18.

[3] Angel F. Méndez Montoya, The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 28.

Leah Silvieus (’07) is an interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & Writing, CURA, The Collagist, and diode, among others. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Miami and currently divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her online here.

Alumni Update: A Postcard from Morgan Feddes (’11)

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It’s fascinating to see where life pulls you.

 

For me, it led to a job in Washington, D.C., working as a writer and editor for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities – but that’s not where I had originally planned to go. After graduating in 2011, I headed to Chicago to work at Christianity Today as an editorial resident. As that position wrapped up its yearlong period, I planned next to join the Air Force as an officer.

 

Or so I thought.

Enter medical issues; add government bureaucracy; mix with a stubborn will to try whatever it takes to get into the Air Force. The end result: me, living at home after a year and a half of waiting for the U.S. military to ultimately say no; me, not quite sure what to do next, but somehow just knowing that something would come if I started dusting off my résumé.

 

Little did I know that something would get its start in a short message from former Whitworth president Bill Robinson, but then, God has always worked in amazing ways.

 

So these days, I get to do work I love, serve alongside a wonderful church community (what’s up, National Community Church?), and spend the moments in between drinking in the history of the D.C. area – an area I’d never even visited prior to the interview for this position.

 

This isn’t where I thought I’d be three years after Whitworth, but I’m thankful for it every day.

 

Morgan C. Feddes, ’11, hails from Montana and now lives in Washington, D.C. She’s the staff writer and editorial director for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Before that, she spent a year helping some of her extended family get a café off the ground outside Belgrade, Montana, where she learned some of the best ways to make a sandwich and tried not to eat all of the cookies (she was only moderately successful). Before that, she spent a year working for Christianity Today outside Chicago. Morgan blogs over at The Isle Full of Noises.

Dr. Fred Johnson Lauded By NerdScholar

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NerdScholar recently named Dr. Fred Johnson as one of their 40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire. Dr. Johnson receives the award for his masterful teaching and for his dedication to “[carving] out time on the side to guide students through their college and post-college careers.”

It’s an honor well deserved. Congratulations!

Internship Spotlight: Jennifer Rudsit (’16) at She’s Charming

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Earlier this semester, Jennifer Rudsit (’16) gave us a snapshot of her internship. Here she is again, looking back on her spring semester as a blogger for She’s Charming:

Hello, again! I’m back, having finished my internship. She’s Charming, a blog centered on holistic living for women, was created by Katie Palmer and Dani Erickson, two Whitworth English department grads. Working with Katie and Dani was a unique and beneficial experience, because as recent grads, they understand the Whitworth experience and could give me a lot of advice about classes, internships, and post-college life.

While I’ve always known how influential other people’s writing is in my own life, it never occurred to me that words I write could possibly reach out to someone in the same way. Having my words published online was terrifying, but hearing how people connected with Katie and Dani’s posts, and even mine, reminded me how powerful words can be, and how cool it is that we have the ability to connect with people through writing.

Being a part of the She’s Charming team has also made me appreciate Spokane a lot more. Their Explore section on the blog features local coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, and exploring their recommendations has helped my displaced Western Washington heart enjoy this city in new ways. They emphasize community and investing in where you live, as opposed to passively living day to day in your city. You can’t love something until you give it a chance, and She’s Charming has laid great groundwork for anyone wanting to explore and fall in love with the major cities in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks for reading – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at She’s Charming, and I hope you’ll check out the blog.

Jennifer is a sophomore English writing and literature major, and theatre dance minor. In her free time she enjoys working at the HUB Info Desk, journaling, having nerdy conversations, and, of course, reading a lot of books.

EL Faculty Summer Reading Picks, Part II

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As summer inches closer, here are Professor Vic Bobb’s  and Professor LuElla D’Amico’s summer reading recommendations. Enjoy!

Professor Vic Bobb: Lazy Days…and Energetic Page Turning

So what are you going to read this summer?  There are a lot of books out there.  Not all of them feature characters with skin that sparkles in the sunlight.  In fact, most of them don’t.  And all of the best and most worthy among them…um…don’t.

Reading during the summer being a sacramental act, I’m suggesting books in accord with the sacrament of marriage.  What to read?  Here are Vic’s suggestions for the Marriage of True Minds:

Something Old:  I know, I know; some of you think that “Old” would refer to some character’s third year at Hogwarts.  I’m thinking of an older old.  Howsabout Tristram Shandy, published in chunks during the 1760s and, as far as I know, taught not even once at Whitworth in the past 28 years.  A person who wanted to proclaim Tristram Shandy the funniest book ever published was in a defensible position for more than a century and a half…but with the publication of Right-ho, Jeeves, in 1934, the question of the most truly pantswettingly funny book of all time was abruptly and finally settled, and partisans of the Reverend Mister Laurence Sterne were pleased to acknowledge that, because of P.G. Wodehouse, their idol was forever to be known as the second funniest writer in the history of the English language.  (Peace, Terry Pratchett fans…)

Your alternative (or additional) “something old” for this or any other summer: something by Dickens that you haven’t read recently.  And if you don’t have any Dickens in your past, go ahead and dive right in to Bleak House, simply one of the greatest novels ever written.  Read some Dickens; you’ll be glad you did.

Something New: How new is “new”?  Howsabout “this century”?  Penelope Lively’s The Photograph (2003) is a very fine (and sad) novel (and if it’s your introduction to Lively, next you can read all her novels except Heat Wave, which is thoroughly unworthy of her enormous talents); Ian McEwan started the century [2001-2007] with a pretty swell triad (Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach); Pat Barker’s Another World is cheating because it’s 1998, but she’s worth reading in whatever century; Never Let Me Go continues the excellence that Kazuo Ishiguro began back in the 20th; and from this side of the Atlantic—not for the fainthearted—is Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, about which I said in my reading journal, “Wow.  For action-suspense, McCarthy can make Mickey Spillane look like Jane Austen, and The Terminator look like a Teletubbies episode.  And Bell’s reflections on the state of our culture…gulp.”  Be warned.

Something Borrowed:  (These books needed an intermediary, someone to borrow the original language and transform it into eloquent English.)

Michel Quint, In Our Strange Gardens  (France, French, translated by Barbara Bray)

Cristina Peri Rossi, The Museum of Useless Efforts  (Uruguay / Spain, Spanish, translated by Tobias Hecht)

Slavenka Drakulić, The Balkan Express (Croatia, language-is-part-of-the-question, translated by Maja Soljan)

Victor Pelevin, The Yellow Arrow  (Russia, Russian, translated by Andrew Bromfield)

Pär Lagerkvist, Barabbas  (Sweden, Swedish, translated by Alan Blair)

Something Blue  Not blue as in the sitcom star’s stand-up routine that you’re really sorry you took your grandmother to for her birthday; not blue as in blue states, blue laws, blue-sky regulations, or blueberry pie, but blue as in These Are The Books Vic Listed Under “Blue” in order to round out the rather pointless and clunky theme of this list….

Florence King, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady  (Actually, this one is pretty blue as to language; herewith a Serious Vulgarity Alert.  But a very funny, and touching, memoir.)

Fanny Flagg, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man  A sheerly delightful book.

Ron Hansen, Atticus  The final sentence.  Now you have to read the whole book again.

Bob Dylan, Chronicles (Volume One)  Only for people who are already favorably inclined toward Bob Dylan.  For those folks…a) you’ve never read anything like this in your life; b) maybe this is something like what it’s like to be inside Bob Dylan’s head; c) you won’t put it down, and you’ll wish it were twice as long as it is.

Philip Larkin, Selected Letters 1941-1985.  Hilarious, heartbreaking, insightful, utterly fascinating.  The correspondence with Kingsley Amis is, itself, worth whatever the book costs.  In fact, once you’re a quarter of the way into this collection, get Betterworld.com to send you the immense volume of Amis’s correspondence: that book is also an enormous pleasure to read.

Don’t forget sunblock.

I now pronounce you Reader and Book.

Professor LuElla D’Amico: First, of course I have to suggest one of my favorite nineteenth-century women writers, E.D.E.N. Southworth.  If you haven’t read the “gothic comedy,” The Hidden Hand, you should–and do so as soon as possible.  Bandits, thieves, madwomen, and lots of cross-dressing…what could be more fun?  And if you find you like Southworth, you should also check out Love’s Labour Lost, the book by her that I most recently read.  In fact, Love’s Labour Won, the sequel, is already on my personal summer reading list.  Warning:  Southworth like most nineteenth-century authors specializes in long, long books, but they’re quick and juicy reads, perfect for rainy Spokane summer days especially.

In terms of newer fiction, which I suppose you must delve into every once in a while, I suggest Paulo Coehlo’s Veronika Decides to Die.  It’s one of those books that made me remember why I love what I love (and perhaps will remind you why you love what you love as well).  Quite simply, Coehlo helps readers appreciate what I like to think of as the ever present, but often obscured, music of life.  And speaking of the music of life and remembering how to enjoy summer days fully, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is another perfect summer reading pick.  This book is especially good if you’re planning on traveling and need a good read for the plane or long car ride.  I promise it’ll make your trip all the better.  Happy break!

Image from here.