Introducing BALA: After a wave of poetry activity in our town (much of it tied to a grant from the Pulitzer Foundation), my friend Anna Paige and I found ourselves talking about the need for more writing activities and events in Billings, MT. With a little bit of serendipity and some good old fashioned networking, we met one of the founders of the Helena Area Literary Arts. Realizing that what they do is AMAZING we decided to create a version of their organization here in Billings.
And so we would like to introduce Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA), a new organization dedicated to building and enhancing literary arts in and around Billings, Montana.
BALA will be offering a variety of events dedicated to writing, starting with a series of Write-Ins.
Write-In: to occupy a place as a form of creation.
On the first and third Monday of every month, Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA) will host an hour of dedicated time and space to write. Participants are invited to come to MoAV Coffee to write, edit, revise, or share as part of the writing process. Moderators Anna Paige and Ashley Warren will be available to give feedback on short pieces or excerpts from longer works as well.
Join us for our first Write-In!
Monday, November 7th
2501 Montana Ave.
*Please bring whatever writing tools you like to use. (Paper, pens, laptop, tablet etc.)
In addition to these Write-Ins, we’ll be scheduling more events in the near future. Here’s a sneak peek:
Flight of Writers: In collaboration with Harper and Madison and Lilac, BALA will host a night of writing, food, wine, and art. Guests will enjoy pairings of literary, culinary, and artistic courses, a true feast for the senses.
A Reading of Her Own: These readings will be dedicated to showcasing female-identified writers who will share short, 800 word or 8-minute long memoirs at an open-mic night.
If you would like to be added to the BALA mailing list, please send an email to billingsliteraryarts at gmail dot com.
Another cool thing I’m doing: I am honored to have been selected as an Artist-in-Residence with the Billings Public Library, specifically in the TECH Lab, an education and creation hub reserved for teens.
Poet-ing: I competed in my first Slam Poetry Competition. An absolutely fabulous night. I think I’m more of a poet-for-the-page, but the experience was well worth it. The poem I recited for Round 1, “Modern Witchcraft: A Business Meeting” was published back in April by Easy Street. Check it out.
MOMIX: Had my mind blown by the dance-illusion experience “Opus Cactus.” Truly have never seen anything like it. Video doesn’t even do it justice, but:
Reading the Season: The Witches: Salem,1692 by Stacy Schiff. I didn’t realize that the period of time surrounding the Salem witch trials was so short. I’m having the sneaking suspicion I fell asleep in American History on the day this was covered.
(Actual) Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: I’m taking up Tai Chi. I’ve started with YouTube and resources from my local library, but my next step will be to join a class locally. Discoveries so far:
practicing Tai Chi will be as much about developing patience for me as about anything else
moving slowly feels good (whaaaat)
the naming conventions for Tai Chi moves are a bit poetic, which I like
Yes, this: Recently, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, and after I finished I swirled with all the implications for modern society. Then, someone took all the things I was swirling about and put them in one essay, and it is awesome.
Purchased: an iPhone 7. (see Gif above) This will be the first time that when my phone was eligible for an upgrade I purchased the newest model of the iPhone available. I’m expecting that the jump up from my iPhone 5s will feel significant.
Watching: Happy Endings–this is a fave of Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes and I like her taste in movies/tv so I thought I’d give it a try. It took me until episode 12 of season 2 to click with this show, but now it has me laughing out loud, particularly when I saw this scene where Brad goes to the dentist.
Reading: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler with art by Maira Kalman–I’m really getting into the novel-containing-visuals trend. Perhaps I’ll make my way into some graphic novels eventually.
Practicing: memorization, a skill I haven’t really employed since my days in grade school school plays.
Confounded by Technology: I fell victim to an instance of too good to be true. Having returned to academia I discovered our university provides Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions through our email accounts. Pleased with this discovery, I dowloaded the various Microsoft apps to my iPad and began using One Drive to back up my lectures. When, while in One Drive, it offered a free download of the latest Microsoft software I thought to myself, free upgrade? Why not! Only after having dowloaded updated versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (which deleted the old versions from my computer in the process) did I discover that to use these programs on my computer I have to sign in (with my university email address) first. The catch–I’m an adjunct, and in semesters when I’m not teaching (like for example, over the summer) my email address is deactivated i.e. I won’t be able to use these programs come this summer. This has led to hypervigilant saving practices to make sure anything I need stays on my hard drive and won’t get trapped in the cloud if and when my access is turned off. Wish I could have stumbled upon some hashtag on Twitter for this one.
Nature: My weekend included a hike near the Woodbine Falls area of the Beartooth Mountains. I love that this trail winds along the river for the first half a mile or so. It’s beautiful and loud–the sound of the water definitely clears the mind.
Watched: Street Fight–a documentary by Marshall Curry about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign to become the mayor of Newark, NJ. I remember now why I don’t often watch documentaries–the more controversial the topic, the more I yell at my TV screen.
Reading: Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Was introduced to this in grad school by James Patrick Kelly, who was a faculty member in my program. Don’t know why it’s taken me this long to read it other than now feels like the right time.
Possibly one of the more optimistic articles about government/the election I’ve read in awhile (and possibly why it’s not getting much coverage). I particularly like everything that’s happening in this paragraph:
“The big-ticket item in Ms. Clinton’s plan is $5 billion for community health centers providing substance abuse and mental-health treatment as well as traditional medical care, which jibes with elements of reform initiatives emerging from Congress. To address a shortage of mental-health professionals, meanwhile, she would smartly encourage telemedicine, among other things. Ms. Clinton also proposed pumping up the budget for basic scientific research, some of which would be diverted into studying the brain. Aside and apart from the debate over mental health, Democrats and Republicans have often been able to agree on funding basic research such as this.”
Current Obsessions: eating dry cereal, candles, tea,
Watched:The Imitation Game–appreciated this film, especially the soundtrack. Found myself somewhat distracted by images that reminded me of some cast members in other movies with a WWII or pre WWII setting. (Keira Knightley in Atonement, Matthew Goode in Brideshead Revisited).
Culinary Delights: burgers and milkshakes for my husband’s birthday, a fresh baguette courtesy of the baker at my new fave coffee shop, peaches, popcorn
Reading:The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore–I’m told by the praise on the front cover and reviews on Goodreads that I’ll like this because I liked The Night Circus.Passing no judgements yet.
Prepping: materials for my return to teaching at the college level. Overwhelmed by my own millennial tendencies to hyper consume I now have collected more articles than I’ll likely have time to teach. Under consideration:
The article shared above (Cause and Effect Essays)
The bulk of my scarf collection was purchased on a summer trip to France when I was sixteen. I still remember the store in Paris; it was a chain, I think, and not particularly fancy, maybe the equivalent of a Claire’s in the United States. I remember loving the red and purple logo on the plastic shopping bag, the same logo that was above the door when I wandered in off the street. The store was filled with large swathes of color in sophisticated patterns and styles (unlike the washed out screen prints in the stores back home, “17” on a faded green and orange t-shirt in The Buckle, or “U.S.A.” in blue lettering on a red t-shirt in Old Navy). These were not “t-shirts,” they were blouses, and each floral print, pin stripes, patterns of words, or even better–the blouses in solid colors–reminded me why I’d come to appreciate France in just the ten days I had been there. France was elegant.
This was before France used the euro and the franc exchange rate made my American dollars go pretty far. Seeing 10-franc signs around the store I realized again what I discovered in the beach stores in the south just a few days before: the shopping I did on this trip would outshine both in volume and quality any experience I could have at home.
The scarves even looked French, almost romantic, that’s probably why I was attracted to them. The way necklaces covered the side wall of Claire’s back home, organized by color and size and hanging in rows, the scarves billowed from ceiling to floor like rainbow colored waterfalls. Years later I learned these were called pashmina scarves. I wanted to touch every one and couldn’t believe how soft the fabric felt, or how beautiful they looked with the reflective sheen to the threads as if they’d been weaved with a bit of satin.
I quickly did the math and realized I could get at least five and still have money left over. Torture came in having to choose which colors I wanted. The pink was gorgeous, so was the turquoise, but I didn’t have a single thing in my closet I could wear them with. I settled on the practical colors: scarlet, cream, sage, deep purple, and a cerulean blue that grew lighter in hue at one end.
Of course when I returned to school in the fall I wore the scarves. I began wearing them everywhere, even on weekends with sweatshirts and sweat pants. I told myself I used them for warmth. It helped that I was a dancer and we danced in a cold studio. Also, I wanted to emulate the college women who wore scarves for the warm ups. Really, I think the scarves made me feel older and more glamorous.
By college the scarf habit had become second nature and even somewhat of a joke among my friends. One friend even texted me a picture of herself when she’d dressed in a cardigan and jeans with a scarf, calling it a classic “Ashley” look. I was the girl who wore scarves.
By the time I was twenty, for every birthday or Christmas I’d receive a scarf. Honestly, I loved almost every single one. I was given scarves that might have been sent to Goodwill. I had scarves knitted for me and scarves brought back from far away places. It had become my thing, but then, by my late twenties it became everyone else’s thing too. Infinity scarves were all the rage. I started seeing the undergraduates wearing them at the University where I was an adjunct professor. At a gas station on a road trip, I saw a rack of scarves placed near the women’s restroom. I couldn’t leave the house without seeing someone wearing a scarf.
I admit I found an infinity scarf in Target with words printed in a pattern like some of the clothes I found in that French boutique. The fabric wasn’t right–thin and already fraying a little bit–but the pattern made me nostalgic and I bought it anyway. I got a few compliments and I suppose I appreciated the way the scarf stayed wrapped around my neck, but the glamour and sophistication were missing. When I wore the scarf to give a presentation to a group of third graders and they raved, I knew that uncomfortable moment had come. I had become that person who still wore the thing they liked to wear in high school.
I’ve decluttered a few of the scarves now and have asked people to stop buying them for me. I rarely wore the cream colored scarf I brought back from France, even though the color felt as comforting as drinking a vanilla latte. When I wore it I looked like Amelia Earhart, which wasn’t the look I was going for.
I saw an article the other day with a headline that read something like, “Can You BELIEVE What We Wore in the Early 2000’s?!?!?!” and saw pashminas on the list. I felt that disappointed sinking that comes with the dissonance of time passing. The way that living in your own present can also mean staying in the past. I had an inkling of how wearing scarves was my metaphor for resisting change, and wondered what other parts of my life I was holding onto for too long. If only every idiosyncrasy or habit could show up on a fashion listicle to remind us of how we drag the past with us.
I will still wear scarves, I can’t help it. I want to feel elegant and sophisticated, but I won’t wear them out of habit. I’ll wear them for the confidence. The moment the confidence is gone, so too go the scarves. If that means my friends will still be sending me selfies with ironic scarves when they’re in their eighties, so be it.
Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds: Was awoken by a flock of sparrows battling in a tree directly outside my bedroom window. Went to the bathroom and discovered one had managed to maneuver itself under the screen and between the storm window and the actual window. It looked like a living shadowbox. Only days before while practicing yoga I watched a sparrow try to enter our house in a similar manner.
Looking Forward to: roadtrip to Missoula with greyhounds in tow, stopping in Bozeman to eat at Roost, and listening to episodes of RadioLab on the way.
Reading: Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink by Jeff Johnson. This book has a brilliantly colorful quote that demonstrates the use of tattoo industry slang. Terms indicated in italics:
“Dude, it was a Dee Dee on speed dial unholy bloodbath. No pork chops, a mid-shift seismic California bumper sticker taco valve explosion, a fucking parade of drunks brimming with Chud potential and I ran out of boy butter after the second fight in the lobby. Bonus hole city to boot.”
Also reading: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
“I think it’s important to talk about the reality of being a writer. The glossy author photos don’t really speak to that. To the sacrifices that are made. And the times when you watch your family and friends who have chosen other paths make money, get married, move up and out in the world, have kids. You wonder what direction your life is truly going in and have to grapple with some difficult choices, all without knowing whether or not you’ll succeed. That’s, to date, the hardest thing I’ve had to face. My own self-doubt. ” – Annie Dewitt
“I’ve always admired how writers like Schutt and Salinger accomplish so much through the use of the unsaid. As a child, you have so little of the world explained to you. Your perception of events colors everything. So much of what you know is defined by the perimeter of what you don’t know, which is always expanding.” – Annie Dewitt
Reading: Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton
Nature: while walking by a city park near downtown I saw not one but three hawks hanging out behind the bleachers near the high school. They sat on the chainlink fence and watched as the crows picked over scraps. Whenever the crows found something good, like bullies the hawks dove and chased the crows until the crows gave up their lunch money.
Current Obsessions: my local library, evening walks, drinking water, ice cream (any number of flavors)
I’m kinda over it: the mouse we saw in the house a few days ago, despite many mice-preventing tactics currently underway
Bingeing: Gilmore Girls (3rd time), this time with my husband and in preparation for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Pompey’s Pillar: Visited Pompey’s Pillar National Monument for the first time, and during Clark Days, a miniature festival celebrating Montana history. I was maybe a little underwhelmed at the pillar’s size, but the graffiti courtesy of Lewis and Clark was pretty cool.