Last Frontier Magazine

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Thanks to editor Anne Sanders at Last Frontier Magazine for publishing an excerpt from my book Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska. It’s always nice to get the words out.

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Pleasure and pain

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George C. Thomas Memorial Library (photo by Nancy Woods)

To me, reading has always meant a mixture of pleasure and pain because the library I visited as a child also was the place where my brother, sister, cousins and I got our immunizations against chicken pox, measles and mumps. There were eight of us kids in all, including my older brother, Roy, my younger sister, Jean, and my cousin, Randy, who was the same age as me.

When yet another booster time rolled around, we kids would pile into my mother’s rattley Ford station wagon and head down to the George C. Thomas Memorial Library on First Avenue in Fairbanks, Alaska.

During the 12-block ride to the library, we older cousins would take pains to explain to the younger ones just how horrible the shot would be. We even provided graphic descriptions of the needle, focusing on its length and diameter. Feeling confident because we’d been through the experience more than once, we went on and on, exaggerating the caliber of the needle and resulting pain until Mom would chastise us from the front seat, saying, “Okay, that’s enough. You’re scaring the little kids.”

By then we would have pulled up outside the log library, a matronly building that wore its wrap-around porch like a skirt. On a normal day, I would have headed to the kid’s section with its selection of books, but today was different. We hadn’t come to the library to read. Instead, we filed into a room back behind the stacks, one that included a white screen and ironing board onto which, one at a time, each of us cousins would be placed rump side up, have our trousers lowered and be poked.

The bravado I’d felt in the car evaporated at the first whiff of alcohol. My stomach lurched, and I was filled with dread. One by one we were led behind the screen where the nurse did her job. The pain was real but short.

It was a much quieter group of children who hobbled back down the library steps and gingerly set their backsides in the car. Everyone, that is, except Randy. Perhaps it was a side effect of the serum, but Randy apparently felt great.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” he kept saying on the ride home. “It didn’t hurt a bit.”

I was surprised he could be so cheerful. I felt humbled by the pain and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. The fact was, the shot hurt. Mom drove us back down Cowles Street, turning right at the bowling alley and left on Kellum Street to Randy and Aunt Helen’s house. Once inside, Mom and Aunt Helen went into the kitchen to prepare lunch while we kids sat quietly on the stuffed furniture in the living room. None of us said anything. Except for Randy, who continued to be talkative and chipper. His brown eyes glistened and his smile deepened as he bragged about his physical courage.

“Hit me hard. Here,” he insisted more than once, slapping his hand on his backside. When we took him up on it, he laughed at our vain attempts to hurt him.

“Harder!” he yelled. “I can’t feel a thing!” He seemed to have been injected with a new source of energy and joy. “Watch me!” he shouted to the rest of us before taking a running leap and sliding on his butt down the hallway, skimming across the smooth, hardwood floor.

I sat there, watching, amazed.

And once was not enough. Randy performed the stunt again and again. Afterwards, he was all smiles, his jeans hot to the touch.

Randy’s imperviousness to pain may have had something to do with the fact that, about that time in his life, his parents split up. In the following years, Randy became the favorite cousin, the one everyone liked best, the one we all wanted to sit next to at dinner. He was the funny one, the understanding one, the cousin who could take his own pain and turn it into entertainment that distracted us from our own.

nancy-woods.com

Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska

 

My Tiny Tribe

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“Belonging,” Nancy Woods, acrylic, 9×12 inches

With this blog post, I honor my students’ anthology, “BeLonging,” because who doesn’t want to fit in?

In my imagination, I belong to a small group of people exactly like me—writers and artists who, according to at least one study, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.* To make my group even more select, I belong to the chapter of right-handed, left-wing writers and artists—solitude-seeking people who long for country roads, blackberry bushes and crumbling fences.

The members of my tiny like-minded tribe—which exists only in my dreams— are known for being complacent. How complacent, you ask? We’re so complacent we don’t even decide which books we’ll read. Instead, when we need some literary input, we walk into the nearest library, grab the first “staff pick” off the shelf and walk out, well, after checking the book out.

This make-believe army of mine and I are psychologically unable to experience the moment. Instead, we must write a poem about it, paint it or take a photo of it. Unwilling or incapable of simply living life, we document every exquisite event. To us, my herd of duplicators, life is so tender and vulnerable, so flimsy and fleeting, so painfully precious that we’re forced to continually capture it with words, on film and on canvas.

Hear that bird? Quick. Write a song about it.

See that forest log smothered with ivy? Snap with your camera.

Fall in love? Turn it into flash fiction.

To us, the members of my clutch, life is so sweet, so fragile and irreplaceable, so diaphanous and dying, that just living it is never enough. We’re compelled to gather it, hold it, harbor it, seize it, save it, so we can savor it over and over again. More than one of us has taken a photo of a painting of a photo of a painting. No distance from reality is too far to be traveled.

Highly excitable as children and proud of it, my people and I were the class clowns, the sit-down comics sent to the principal’s office to calm down and shut up. At family dinners, we laughed at our own jokes while snorting milk out our nose. Equal-opportunity insulters, we find humor in everything, including ourselves.

Diversity-relishing nap takers, my cohorts and I also are death-, dog- and phone-fearing note takers. We’re tree-needy, coffee-slurping, near-sighted, frizzy-haired joke meisters. We’re PC-using, Apple-wary goofballs. We’re road-tripping, list-making, understated-English-drama-binging, out-the-window-staring caretakers of cats.

My miniscule group imposes no dues, performs no rituals. The only requirement for membership is that you must think, feel, act, look, taste and smell exactly like us. You must enjoy food but decline to cook. You must drive a car but wish you didn’t. You must love everyone, if just in the abstract.

If the local chapter of my assemblage ever got together (which is doubtful because we hate meetings), the event could be held in my living room, which seats six. If you want, you can apply to become a member of my group. But I must warn you, we have a reputation for not getting back.

*https://www.arts.gov/news/2011/nea-announces-new-research-note-artists-workforce

What I’m reading: Ochoco Reach

Ochoco Reach: An Ironwood Novel by Jim Stewart

Take one freelance investigator named Mike Ironwood. Add his faithful dog, a Catahoula leopard dog named Bucket. Toss in one strong-willed woman, red-haired Willimina (“Call me Willy”) Hayes, owner of the H-Bar-H ranch, where some items have gone missing. Or were they just moved? Into the tasty mix toss Ironwood’s Nez Perce half-brother, an ex-SEAL.

Simmer the action in Ironwood’s houseboat on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, before moving the soft-boiled story to Central Oregon’s Ochoco Mountains. Stir in several chase scenes across Mexico. Spice things up with a DEA bad guy and the Mexican cartel. Sprinkle in dark nights on the high desert, along with a dash of sexual tension and fun banter between siblings. Read until done.

Born funny

(What follows is an excerpt from Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer.)

Some of us are born funny. Some of us aren’t. I have a relative (Let’s call her Ms. Grim) who once told me she’d lost her sense of humor Where? Along the side of the road? She was wrong. How can you lose something you never had?

My mother didn’t have a sense of humor, either, bless her serious heart. Why? Because she was a genuinely nice person who always had a smile on her face. In contrast, humorists can be just a little bit mean, whether they’re making fun of the government, a friend or themselves. Me, I’m an equal-opportunity insulter. I make fun of myself and everyone else.

When I was a kid, I was always cracking myself up. I’d make silly jokes at the dinner table until I snorted milk out my nose or I’d jump up and perform a silly sketch, then end up rolling on the floor. My mother, a gentile woman who deserved better, would look down at me with a How-did-I-give-birth-to-this person? look on her face.

I don’t know where I got my sense of humor. Like I said, I don’t come from particularly funny folks. My mom’s side of the family is rife with responsible adults — highly paid professionals (accountants, attorneys and airline pilots). Not people you want to be cutting up.

My father’s side of the family is a bit of a mystery, which gives me hope. Other people may dream about being rich and famous. I dream about being Jewish. Some of the best humorists are or were Jewish (Think Dorothy Parker and Jerry Seinfeld), although there are plenty of non-Jewish humorists, too (including Mark Twain and E. B. White).

All I know is that I enjoy being funny, whether I’m telling a ridiculous story or writing a silly rant. It just feels so good to let it all out, like a sneeze, only less wet. To me, being funny is part of being human, and telling jokes is a high art — one that deserves federal support.

Author’s bio: Nancy Woods is an author and writing coach.

https://nancy-woods.com/m

nancy@nancy-woods.com

http://www.amazon.com/Under-Influence-Trees-Nancy-Woods/dp/1312256427

http://www.amazon.com/Hooked-Antifreeze-Nancy-Wilbur-Woods/dp/1304334708

Hooked on Antifreeze front cover only from amazonUnder the Influence front cover only from amazon

 

 

 

Book review: Growing Up Alaska

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In her Far North memoir, Growing Up Alaska: Memories of a Town, a Time, a Place, and a People Planted in a Little Pocket of Wonderful, author Niki Breeser Tschirgi describes everything from getting stuck deep in the woods on a snow machine to being charged by a 1,000-pound “mean mama moose” while canoeing with her family on Moon Lake.

Set in the small, isolated Alaskan town of Tok (pronounced “Toke”) during the 1980s, Tschirgi’s memoir also conveys the beauty of the fireweed-festooned landscape and the strong sense of community that grew out of the Tok residents’ dependence on one another. In her straightforward writing style, Tschirgi takes the reader fishing on the Copper River and tubing down Suicide Hill.

Tschirgi refers to her Alaskan home as “a little pocket of something wonderful,” which explains why although she and her family eventually moved out of Alaska, she knows that “if you’ve ever lived in Alaska, you never really say goodbye.”

Growing Up Alaska: Memories of a Town, a Time, a Place, and a People Planted in a Little Pocket of Wonderful by Niki Breeser Tschirgi

Dog Ear Publishing, 2015

156 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4575-3771-4

Available at www.growingupalaska.net and amazon.com.

 

Under the Influence of Tall Trees available at As You Wish

My book Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales from a Pacific Northwest Writer is now available at As You Wish, a gift shop located at 6063 N.E. Glisan St., Portland, Oregon. I may hold a reading there in 2015, so stay tuned. The store has a Facebook page: AsYouwishpdx. Store phone: (503) 740-0881. A big thank you to store owner Betsy Robinson, for creating the community center.

As You Wish 11-15-14

Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales from a Pacific Northwest Writer

Here are some comments on my book Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer (available at Broadway Books) and amazon.com):

“Reading your book makes me super happy. It’s funny, witty, and poignant and somehow always exactly what I need when I pick it up and read it.” — Jamie Caulley

“I really enjoyed your book. I read the whole thing twice!” — Lou Krohn

“I’m laughing out loud.” — Dani McGinty

Tall Trees cover