Creative Writing Sampler: “Too Old To Sleep” by Maggie Montague (’15)

Maggie Montague (’15), above, lounges at a park in Costa Rica, where she spent Jan term ’12. Maggie is an EL major (writing track) with a minor in Art History. She’s from San Diego, CA, where she’s spending the summer “working as a barista, writing, and hosting my brother’s indie folk band.” Of her writing projects, Maggie reports,  “I finished the first book of the trilogy and am now working on the second while scheming for the third.”  Her novel, A Terrible Blessing, is available on Amazon.com. There’s also a page for her novel on the Facebooks.

Maggie wrote this creative nonfiction piece, “Too Old To Sleep,” in EL 245. She also submitted the photos, including one of her with her grandmothers (and one grandpa in the background) and a shot of the remains of the blanket.

The sheets rustle as I roll back and forth, right and left. I reach for sleep, but each direction I go, sleep evades me. Behind my tightly shut eyes, the darkness seems to dance, taunting my restless mind. So I reach for something else, the ghost of a blanket from my childhood. It is nowhere to be found. At some point, I outgrew it. I have been told that getting older and more mature is the natural progression of life, but something in me is not easily convinced. There is something unnatural about letting go of home, of blankets.

I have grown, stretched, changed and changed back, but I am not alone in this. My blanket has matured, stretched, and shrunk as well. In its original state, my childhood blanket was blue and pink, but now the colors are faded beyond recognition. In the beginning, it was a good-sized blanket, you could even have called it respectable, but now it resembles more of a pillow than a blanket. It had to be folded and sewn to cover up the tears and gaping holes, which were left as evidence of the restless nights and days when I would hold it tightly against me. It used to feel soft and cool against my skin, but now it is fragile, ready to rip only to be sewn again. How did this blanket fall so far from its original state?

My hands still reach for it, though it is a million miles away.

It was my brother’s before it was mine, but it truly was always mine.

It was dubbed Nigh-Night, because I could hardly pronounce anything else.

It was with me when I was too young to crawl, and all I could do was lay there gazing at the squares of pink and blue.

It was a witness when I chewed my first piece of gum without swallowing it.

It was the only thing that could lull me to sleep on the hundreds of road trips my family took.

It was the soft comfort between my head and the hard glass of the car window.

It was left in multiple states, several preschools, a few churches, and numerous friends’ homes, but it always found its way back.

It was there when I awoke in the middle of the night too afraid of my dreams to shut my eyes again.

It was with me the night I became a grandchild without any grandparents.

It was my companion on my late night sleepwalking adventures to the refrigerator and back again.

It was there well past midnight when I refused to shut the covers of a book, clinging to the adventure, the mystery, the freedom, always assuring myself I would put it down after one more chapter, always lying.

It was there to soak up the tears cried over life and over death, the tighter I clung to the soft fabric, the less the heartache seemed.

It smelt like home, like family, like a deep sleep, like Pantene.

But now, it is millions of miles away, and I am too old to sleep.

Katie Carmella Dolan (’11) and Prof. Katie Creyts Featured In Spokane-Based Podcast

Q: Wait. Is Nicole using the EL Department blog as a platform for her own creative projects?

A: Well, it certainly seems that way.

Q: But this is still for the greater good and stuff?

A: Yes. Yes, I’m sure it is.

Rambunctious Vernacular is a Spokane-based podcast series in the vein of This American Life. I lifted (with permission) the name Rambunctious Vernacular from the homework of one of our talented undergrads, Josie Camarillo (’14).

Episode one (about 10:30) includes an interview with Katie Creyts, Associate Professor of 3-D art and sculpture at Whitworth, and EL and Theater alum, Katie Carmella Dolan (’11).

Have a listen! And if you’ve got story ideas, hit me: nsheets@whitworth.edu

(Sketch above from speartoons.)

Creative Writing Sampler: Ana Quiring (’14) Presents “Beyond The Back 40”

Ana Quiring (’14, above right, with fellow EL major jaQ DeJong, ’12, left) hails from Fresno, CA. Her study abroad blog from Fall 2011’s British Isles Study Program (which who knows, maybe she’ll start up again) is http://allswankandstuff.tumblr.com/

Ana submitted the photos, including this “lamely poserly Instagramed photo of the back 40” and the creative nonfiction below, her response to a group event in EL 245 Creative Writing.

Here’s Ana: For our nonliterary event, we decided to venture “beyond the Back 40,” exploring areas of and beyond Whitworth that we’d never seen before. Because we viewed the simple walk as an adventure to be constructed in postproduction, as it were, even familiar landmarks took on a new perspective. We posed by backhoes, slipped through a narrow fence, and wandered in the neighborhood behind the Back 40. This was a rather unorthodox approach to breaching the Pinecone Curtain—not traveling far away, outside our comfort zones and into totally new regions, but barely pushing the edges, seeing what is directly outside our stiff borders. The experiment was rather like a slow beginning to understanding the world outside of Whitworth, starting not a square mile outside.

The Back 40, a stretch of fairly uninhabited forty acres behind our school, is not our refuge, but our refuse. Just as the scent of pine starts to waft, we’ve reached a service road, tattered by construction rigs. Just as the sound of dorm life disappears, we reach the wan and close-clipped grass of an abandoned soccer field. Even that grass is strewn with garbage—the chaff of endless mowing, dry and soft like gerbil bedding.

The woodsy bits of the hillside behind our school are dark with needles, scattered with decomposing pinecones, but tan lines of path are carved into the dirt. We can look across a sunny patch and see the white shorn ankles of a thousand trees, where they used to be, slender and underfed.

The trees aren’t underfed by their environment, because a mile, two miles away, the pines bloom into deep prickly mazes. They’re malnourished in the Back 40 by lack of silence. They never have to wonder about “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody there to hear it”—East Hall, two hundred yards away, will hear.

The Back 40 is not a forest.

We’re bleeding it dry because it has to be so many things to us. First thing in the morning, it cracks its back, rubs its dusty eyebrows, and gets trampled immediately with the training montages of a hundred different sports. It lets in legions of soccer players, linear troops of track runners, faces slack and hot. Lone girls with demanding jeans in their drawers sprint up the flattened trails. A black silhouette stands at one side of the field, crosses it in pumping violent strides, hop-skip-pivots, comes back.

But the Back 40 can’t be only a training montage. It is a reclining nude for haphazard photographers, a wind-swept moor for gloomy writers, a spiritual thin place, a spiritual wasteland. It is a study break, a scavenger hunt, orientation games, prayer zone, escape, battleground, backlot, hideout.

We’ve worn it out, using it for so many different things. Those pinecones aren’t a gentle flood of shedding seasons, they’re a thousand virgin-catching failures. Sometimes we wonder if the spiritual fabric of the place has been ripped right out the bottom. How many earnest nineteen-year-old prayers can it bear until it cries out to us, “I am only forty acres! There’s major streets on both sides of me. My forest is cut by asphalt roads, and I see more people in a day than does a national park. You want me to bear your break-ups, your psalms, your team-building and your quad-building. You want to worship in me and smoke cigarettes and pipes and other things in me; you want to dig out my roots and make forts with my leftovers. You want to climb my trees, make my dark corners into twisted metaphors, hide from your roommate in me, dig in me to China. I have been molded like Silly Putty into the form of your hand, Whitworth University, but I am only forty acres and I can’t be your refuge and your strength. I am only a dusty handful of trees.”

And what do we say back? We pick up a pinecone, fresh and buoyant, that bounced when it fell, and pick it apart, slowly, scarring our fingertips. We absently braid brown strips of pine needle. We breathe hard and deep up the steepest hill and say in the quiet places, “We know you are dusty trees. Do we not know who you are? We have cried on your shoulder, we have kissed under your shade, we have rolled down your gentle slopes, we have sprinted up your highest mountains. We know we have depleted you, needed you, violated you. We can see it; we see how your hair and your trees grow thin, how every neighborhood around bleeds into your borders. We have done it. But you are molded into the shape of our hand. You rest, silent and dirty, behind the vast hysteria of being nineteen, of college, and we are too young to be so old.

Creative Writing Sampler: Shane Polley (’12) Shares “The Courage of the Rain”

Shane Polley (’12) was born at a young age, close to his mother. He is an English/Spanish double major who enjoys watermelon, science fiction, and the steeplechase. He spent last January in Valencia, Spain, studying la lengua de amor amidst la grandeza de España. He spends most of his time asleep in bed when he is not reading, writing, running cross country and track, playing the drums, at church or working with junior highers. His room is a mess, but he seeks to find an area of controlled chaos that he can channel into some semblance of something sweet. All that is to say, Shane enjoys life and looks forward to what it may bring.

The Courage of the Rain

 

Picture it. Two twenty-one year old American males

awash on the streets of Spain, umbrellaless,

as rivers course from cloud to earth,

washing the world in wetness.

Foreign words on foreign signs

bring to their minds no hint of dry escape,

so they run.

Soaked slip-on shoes on cobblestones;

each footfall propels them onward,

toward something,

defiance of the rain.

Do you know the feeling of seeping shoes,

jeans soaked through they stick like spandex,

and windbreakers that only serve to keep the water in?

Like a public swimming pool in their clothes,

the only difference: no life guard on duty,

no one to keep them from

washing away

as they float, running toward direction.

In Valor they find hope, not in courage or bravery, but

in chocolate.

Amidst the slosh and slop they find a doorway,

opening on a two-tiered land of chocolate,

a dream, a haven of drip dry.

Thick cups of chocolate sit before them,

surrounded by Valor’s brand of churros,

golden brown and greasy, a doughy stick compliment

to the liquid of the cup.

They eat and drink,

dipping the bread in the chocolate,

a sort of intinction,

bringing together the watery world

with the warmth of courage’s name

in thanks for a way out of weather and

into a tasty discovery.

The rain continues to fall,

but those in Valor are

warm, content, and tolerably dry.

They find solace in the soluble as chocolate and churro

melt in mouth, a reminder that,

in each rain,

courage comes through chocolate.

Bridger Landle (’12) Reflects On Whitworth’s Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Championship

I grew up in the rustic town of Palouse, WA, where vast amounts of assorted grains, legumes, and fertile minds are grown. (I like to think of it as saving America, one carbohydrate at a time.) Last spring, I graduated from Whitworth with a degree in English (Writing) and Philosophy, as well as a minor in Communication.  I plan on spending the next year traveling and preparing for graduate school, for which I’ll be applying this upcoming fall.  I would like to pursue a PhD in philosophy, and will probably specialize in ethical theory and/or aesthetics.

Bowl Info

The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB) is nationwide annual competition in which teams of students are pitted against one another in a series of debates across two major tournaments featuring over 125 public and private institutions. (Think March Madness, but with fewer screaming fans.)  No distinction is made concerning the size, funding, or prestige of individual schools.  That meant that we went up against the big dogs; we were in the same pool as institutions like Dartmouth, Georgetown, Villanova, and Princeton.  Before each bowl, teams are given 10-15 cases to guide their preparation, but the actual questions are not announced until each round formally begins.  So, while there’s an element of improvisation at the Bowls themselves, extensive research and practice are paramount.

The Team

We were coached by Dr. Mike Ingram (professor of communication studies and associate provost for faculty development and scholarship) and Dr. Keith Wyma (associate professor of philosophy).  In addition to being one of the most outstanding public speakers I know, Mike also has over twenty years of experience coaching debate.  He worked with us one-on-one to improve our clarity, diction, and argumentative style, while Keith tended to focus on the integrity of our arguments and research.  Both coaches would team up each practice to tear apart our cases (usually with great glee).  When our arguments were in any way ill-prepared or haphazard, they made sure that we knew it.  Needless to say, we quickly got tired of losing.  Every practice, we came hungry to beat them.  At the beginning of the semester, Mike and Keith were destroying us.  A few weeks in, crushing rebuttals became less frequent.  After a month, we were holding our own.  By the time the National Bowl came around, we were consistently beating them.  And in the end, we tempered our hunger with the confidence that we could face any opponent, and brought that attitude to the Bowl itself.

(Left to Right: Mike Ingram and Keith Wyma.  Not pictured: Keith’s verbal smackdowns.)

The other members of the team were Krister Johnson (’13, Political Science), JaJa Quarless (’12, Philosophy and Political Science), Jesse Javana (’12, Political Science), and Sarah Sauter (’15, Philosophy and Spanish).  Evan Underbrink was also helpful in preparing for, and competing at, the Regional Bowl.  Krister and JaJa each brought a wealth of experience and leadership to the team.  Krister went on to achieve further national success with Whitworth’s debate and speech forensics team, and his aggressive style propelled our team forward.  JaJa was studying abroad during the spring semester and missed the National Bowl, but was nevertheless instrumental in our success at the Regional tournament.  JaJa’s spot was filled by Sarah, whose precocious mind (not to mention her bugging me to do my research) was crucial to our victory.  Max, whom we nicknamed “The Accountant” for seemingly having memorized every statistic in Encyclopedia Britannica, was able to draw from his storehouse of facts on the fly to stop opposing arguments in their tracks.  Finally, Jesse also brought improvisational abilities to the fore.  Combining his experience in public defense with his comedy skills gained from his four years performing with Whitworth’s improvisational troupe Cool Whip, Jesse was quick with a rebuttal that would often contain a hidden song lyric, if not a subtle and witty pun—a style that was so disarming, opponents would forget he had refuted their point in the process.

Notable moments

In preparation for the trip to Cincinnati, I packed along a pea coat. (Why?  Because I wanted to look stylin’, that’s why.) Unfortunately, however, this decision led to all sorts of problems.  First, I wasn’t able to stuff it inside my bag, and removing other clothes to make room for it made us even more late for our plane than we already were. (Spoiler alert: we caught the plane on time.) Second, unbeknownst to me, the Bowl was scheduled at the Hilton—the very hotel in which we were staying—so there was no reason for us to go outside other than to eat or sightsee.  Third, even if we were going to spend time outside, I wouldn’t have needed a pea coat, or any coat at all, because while it was chilly in Spokane, Cincinnati was experiencing a 75 degree heat-wave.  Needless to say, my wonderful teammates and coaches mocked me relentlessly for my unnecessary carry-on.  Eventually, I snapped, told them all to shove it (albeit in terms less appropriate for this blog) and proclaimed that if we made it to the final round, I’d “wear my ******* pea coat” just to spite them all.  Long story short, we did.  And I did.  It was extremely hot, and rather itchy, but dang I looked fly.

In the semi-finals, we faced Wake Forest, an outstanding team and our most challenging opponent overall.  To quote Mike Tyson in the third-person possessive, their style was impetuous, their defense was impregnable, and they were just ferocious.  Jesse and Max, however, stepped up their game and matched every point Wake Forest made.  The round was an hour-long fury of energy.  Finally, however, it was over, and the judges spent several minutes calmly and deliberately preparing their scores.  Finally, they held up the results.  Out of one hundred eighty points possible, we had won by a single point.  One of their team members broke down and cried.  They were a brilliant team, and it was an honor to have competed with them.  I relayed that sentiment to each member as we shook their hands.  Nevertheless, as we moved on to prepare for the final round, and as they walked over to the elevator, Krister overheard them exclaiming “I hope they lose!”

In the final round, we faced Clemson University.  They wore matching orange shirts atop dark trousers.  When they sat down to debate us, however, all we could see were their orange tops.  From our view, they looked like prison inmates.  Coincidentally, the final case was “Prison Break,” which concerned  the recent decision of Mississippi governor Haley Barbour to suspend the sentences of felons Gladys and Jamie Scott, on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie.  After the match was over, we shook hands with Clemson, received the trophy, had our pictures taken, and called friends and family to tell them the news.  After it was all over, we walked to the elevator.  Everyone was exhausted, but happy.  As soon as the door closed, however, Mike Ingram suddenly exclaimed “Prison case, baby.  Beat ‘em at their own game!” before doing a little jig and shrieking in excitement.  Forget the trophy; that alone made the trip.

Closing thoughts:

I knew I had received an outstanding education at Whitworth, but I never had an opportunity to see how it might compare to that of other schools.  This was my first real chance to see, empirically, exactly what I had paid for.  Whitworth has placed within the top five schools at the National Bowl three times in the past four years.  Furthermore, several members of standout teams over the last few years have been English majors.  I do not believe this was a coincidence. Whitworth English department is filled with professors who are committed to producing strong, smart, and capable students.  Several of these professors, including Thom Caraway, Vic Bobb, and Fred Johnson, were exceptionally helpful in providing direct assistance on particular cases.  All of these professors, however, were indirectly involved through the time, energy, and skill that they brought to the classroom, and by being incorrigibly devoted to producing not just better debaters, or better students—but better people.  That goes for all departments, and all people involved.  Any courage or tenacity we showed was tempered by the professors, family, and friends we had around us.  It’s unsurprising to me, then, that my most vivid memory of the Bowl is that of being a part of something much, much larger than myself.

(Left to right: Sarah, Krister, Mike, Max, Jesse, myself.  Not pictured: Keith Wyma.)