Alumni Update: Dani Douvikas (’14)

dani douvikas

“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.

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.

blue castle

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.

year_wonders

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.