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So Not Tired of Winning

December 29, 2020

I know I haven’t posted in a while. Teaching, as you can imagine, has become an energy-sucking challenge, forcing some projects to the back burner. Sadly, this blog found itself stuck behind the saute pan and the teapot. Today I intend to move it the front.

I do have much to say about the current state of teaching. I have been so immersed in it over the last four months that I felt I needed some time to process and develop any real perspective. I think I am just about prepared to begin commenting on it–but not this time. Instead, I want to offer something of an overview of my year in writing.

Of course, this year was ghastly in so many ways. Aside from the Covid-19 pandemic, I lost my mother this year. I also lost my agent and his husband to the coronavirus, and Darlene’s mother also passed away. It has been a frustrating, exhausting, heartbreaking year.

And it’s an awful cliche, the worse kind perhaps, to say that life still goes on. And of course, it does. In spite of everything that went wrong this year, there were some things that went right. I’d like to share those with you, if you can pardon the self indulgence.

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February

I am interviewed by the Wordpeace blog.

April

I learn that I have been named a writer-in-residence at Trail Wood, the historical home of naturalist Edwin Way Teale.

May

Darlene and I take a storytelling class together. We enter our very first story slam–and I win (scroll down to the audio files to hear my story).

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June

My screenplay “Ashes” reaches the finals in the StoryPros Screenplay Contest. I submit a revised copy to the contest again and reach the finals a second time in December.

July

My play “Invincible Summer” reaches the semifinal round of the American Association of Community Theater’s annual new play festival

August

“Ashes” finishes fourth in the annual Writer’s Digest Competition. Another screenplay I entered in the contest, “Ravine,” receives an Honorable Mention.

A poem entitled “Relics” is accepted for publication in the Schuylkill Valley Journal.

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September

A poem entitled “The King is Dead” is accepted for publication for the Wising Up Anthology called “Goodness.”

“Invincible Summer” reaches the quarterfinals of the Screencraft Stage Play Contest.

November

A screenplay entitled “Season of Mists” reaches the quarterfinal round in the Emerging Screenwriters competition.

“Invincible Summer” is accepted into the Jocunda Music, Film and Theatre Festival.

December

“Season of Mists” is a winner in the Madras Independent Film Festival.

“Ashes” reaches the finals for the Visionfest Screenwriting Competition.

“Season of Mists” is selected for the Kalakari Film Festival.

Being a typical insecure writer, it is easy for me to focus on the festivals and contests I didn’t win–especially ones I have placed in before. But that is a rabbit hole no one wishes to fall down. I am doing my best to focus on the positive, and as you can see, there is reason to do so.

In one of the few times I will ever paraphrase the President, I have not gotten tired of winning. We’ll see if I start to get tired in 2021…

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Trail Wood Photo Album: The Outdoors

August 11, 2020

My previous entry included photos I had taken to give you a sense of what it was like inside Edwin Way Teale’s home. This post will share some of the exterior photos I took during my residency that I have yet to share.

This photo is the back entrance to the house. I took it from the shaded picnic table wherein I took most of my meals. There are also three bird feeders set up which allowed me to see many grackles, blue jays, red winged blackbirds, cardinals, nuthatches, and goldfinches. I prepared most of my food ahead of time, so I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to use the grill. Also visible is one of the four rabbits that frolicked in the grass around the house.
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This is a reproduction of a hide Teale would use to sit, watch, listen and write. The frame has been newly restored, and visitors and residents are encouraged to collect branches to add to the frame. The bench is quite comfortable, and given it’s proximity to a nearby stream, it is easy to be quiet and listen.
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This is the large beaver pond. I only got to see the beavers at a distance in the early morning, so sadly no good photos of them. If only I had a kayak…
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There are six different trails that cut through the 168 acre preserve. Happily, most of the them intersect, so it’s easy to create new routes each time you head out. This is one of the trails, along with views of flowers and freshly blooming black raspberries.

This is a view of the meadow that you cross when you leave the house and head onto the trails. As you see, the Audubon Society has built a lovely martin condo. The building in the background was the Teale’s garage; it is now Trail Wood’s visitor center.
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I hope from all the writings and photos I have assembled, you have a reasonably clear picture of what it is like to spend a quiet, solitary week in such a place. In September, myself and the other residents will have a public reading to share our work. It will be great to meet the other residents and see the work Teale’s residence inspired them to create.

Trail Wood Photo Album: The Indoors

August 9, 2020

I recently completed six separate entries for my time as writer-in-residence at Trail Wood, the former home of Edwin and Nellie Teale. I took several more photographs than what has appeared in previous posts, so I wanted to share some of those images. Hopefully, the photos will give the reader a deeper feel for the environs of Trail Wood.

First, some images from inside the house.


This is the kitchen. You can see that it’s had some recent updates; I think you can also get a sense of how much of it remains from when the Teale’s cooked and at here.

This is the area I set up as my workspace. As I said before, it appears to be a dining room, but it is not adjacent to the kitchen, so I am unsure.
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The bookshelf in the corner contains many of Teale’s books; they are filled with his marginalia. I always love finding marginalia in a book; it feels like I am dialoguing with a previous reader.

These shots are of the living room, which was a comfortable spot to read, and hand write into my journal.


The fireplace is usable, but as it was July, it stayed dormant during my visit.

Also in the living room was this guitar and drum. I don’t know if they belonged to the Teales (the instruments seemed a bit too recent), but I like to imagine them wiling away a Saturday night plucking and pounding away…
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These shots are of Teale’s office, which was left exactly as Edwin left it when he passed away in 1980. When Nellie agreed to leave the house and lands to the Audubon Society, her only requirement was that his office remain untouched.

For the next entry, I will share some more photos of the outside.

Trail Wood Journal, Day Six

August 2, 2020

Hard to believe this is my last full day. And it’s nearly 6pm, so it is almost over. I’m writing from the summer house–I wanted my last entry to be written from there, because it really was my favorite place to sit and write. It started to rain as we walked down here. This was a perfect place to watch the rain hit the pond.

I never noticed a bird’s nest that sits right at the entrance to the summer house. I’m glad I spotted it, and the chicks don’t seem to mind me. No sign of Gil Scott, sadly.

Today, I completed the rewrite of the screenplay–another fifty pages. It still needs a lot of work, but at least it’s a coherent story. I feel better about it for sure.

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A view of the Teale house

I also wrote another poem today–so excited to have hit that goal. And I have ideas for several more. I will have plenty of work to share at the reception this fall. And even though it was kind of lonely (this is not a place for someone who struggles with isolation and depression) and the bedroom reeked vaguely of mouse urine, it was a successful residency.

Going to put some effort into getting more poetry published upon my return, particularly if I’m going to self publish a collection. It’s been a very long time since I published a poem. I’ve been emphasizing script writing, so it’s nice to be doing poems again.

So that’s about it. The only thing left to write is my message to the other residents in the guest book. Tomorrow, I will pack up and head home.

Postscript: I have several more photos to share. The next post will be a photo album, with my descriptions, to hopefully provide a deeper picture of my experience this week,

Trail Wood Journal, Day Five

August 1, 2020

Hard to believe tomorrow is my last full day. The time here has gone by quickly. I am a bit sad to be leaving. It’s beautiful and serene here. But, I am also looking forward to being home. I love the country and I love it’s beauty, but do you know what else I love? Civilization. Dishwashers. Wi-fi. Bathtubs. Comfy chairs. I can’t deny that about me. You can take the boy out of the city…

Today was fucking hot! 95 with the heat index. That meant two things: ice cream and an evening walk. It’s 8:30 p.m. now so it’s quite pleasant. I thought the walk would still be tough, but the tree canopy really keeps the sun out. Ended up walking three miles tonight, when I was initially planning to do about half of that.

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For part of the walk, we did part of the Airline Trail, which separates Trail Wood from the Natchaug State Forest. Attached to one of the trees in the forest was a bear shaped sign with the word “BEN” painted on it. I am thus able to induct two possibilities for the existence of this sign: there is a bear in the area the locals have named Ben, and this is how they let hikers know; or, the bears in this area are so intelligent this is how they mark their territory. I, of course, prefer the second explanation.

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When we returned from our stroll tonight there were four rabbits in the grass around the house. I think it’s a mother and her three offspring. That was a real joy to find. Did not bother or come across Gil Scott Heron, today, nor did a snake block our path. With the heat I stayed inside a lot. I rewrote 51 pages of a screenplay today–I wanted to get halfway through, and it appears I did. The structure still isn’t where I want it, but it’s getting there.

I read Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Common Things” today (all out of Billy Collins), and wrote the first draft of a new poem. One more tomorrow, and I will have my new poem goal. If I finish the screenplay rewrite, that will be all my goals hit this week. Extraordinary!

Trail Wood Journal, Day Four

July 31, 2020

According to the good people at Word Press, yesterday was my 100th blog post. Even though it’s been nearly ten years, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that number.

The forecast had rain and thunderstorms off and on all day, but have turned out to be off. It was cloudy and cool in the morning and early afternoon, but it got very humid in the afternoon. I ended up putting the air conditioner on after the evening walk.

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Walking one of the trails near the large pond, we came across a large coiled black snake. A large one. Usually, when you come across snakes on a trail, they slither away. This one didn’t move, eyeing me directly. I know the snakes around here are not poisonous, but this was unusually obstinate for a snake in these parts. It could have been a sign it was hurt, it could have just given birth, it may have just eaten (I know some snakes can’t move very much after they eat) I decided to respect it and yield the trail to it.

I completed the revision of my television pilot and wrote two new poems today. I also finished reading Ballistics–that’s four Billy Collins collections in four days. I also spent some time organizing my poetry collection.

I can’t believe I have only two full days left here. It has gone by quickly. I am going to spend the next two days writing two new poems and rework one of my screenplays, which has an idea I really like, but I’ve never gotten to work. I have several new ideas for poems which I will work on as time passes. It’s been frightfully productive.

I have found that my favorite place to write is what Nellie Teale (Edwin’s wife) called the summer house. It’s a gazebo adjacent to the small pond. It has a comfortable bench and a small table, a lovely view of the pond, and screens to keep the bugs out. You can also hear all of the pond sounds–frogs jumping into the water are so loud when everything else is quiet.

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I also found out from Rich during my orientation that the summer house was recently rebuilt by a young man who had been sentenced to community service by a local court, and chose to do this project to fulfill his obligation. So aside from it’s other virtues, the summer house has a lot of stories.

Trail Wood Journal, Day Three

July 30, 2020

We managed to spook the great blue heron, who turns up at both of the ponds.  Since it appears I will be having frequent interactions with the heron, I have given it a name:  Gil Scott. I imagine, thanks largely to my disruptions of it’s hunting process, it has written a poem entitled “Whitey’s at My Pond.”

I managed to snap a picture of Gil Scott flying away.  I would have shot video, but the heron made it clear to me it would not be televised.

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It’s not easy writing in a hammock, but I feel silly not trying. Can’t believe it’s been three days already.  This is the level of focus I usually bring to Seascape, only one one’s around other than Lollie.  I think she likes it here. Lots of new sniffs, different grass to roll in. She’s not eating much, which is typical for her in a new place. The only dog ever that had to be persuaded to eat.

There is a lovely hammock near the house, which I have made great use of.  It’s not easy writing in a hammock, but I feel silly not trying. I have come to the conclusion that one cannot say they truly love napping unless they have had the experience of being tossed on the ground while trying to climb into a hammock.  You really have to want it.  

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I can’t believe it’s been three days already.  This is the level of focus I usually bring to Seascape (my annual writing retreat), only no one’s around other than Lollie.  I think she likes it here. Lots of new sniffs, different grass to roll in. She’s not eating much, which is typical for her in a new place. The only dog ever that had to be persuaded to eat.

A new poem today.  Billy Collins has become quite the poetry teacher for me the last few days. I’ve just about completed the third collection of his that I brought along.  I got another idea for a poem while I was in the hammock, so it’s all clearly working for me. 

Later today, I will be working on a revision of my television pilot.  The International Screenwriters Association recently offered a free online writing class with writing guru Jennifer Grisanti.  I found her class very enlightening, and I want to bring what I have learned to my pilot and make it stronger.

After dinner, I was sitting outside sipping tea and writing this as the sun was setting.  I was scanning the skyline for bats, when I noticed a particular maple tree.  The tree was huge and it’s foliage possessed shadow and texture that created the illusion the tree had eyes.  But not just any eyes–indeed, it seemed to be giving me side-eye, like it could barely tolerate my presence.

It seemed to be asking me, “You’re not writing another fucking poem about a tree, are you?”

 

 

 

 

Trail Wood Journal, Day Two

July 28, 2020

There were bats last night!  As I understand it, bats eat between 6-8,000 insects per night.  So for every bat I see, that’s 8,000 fewer bugs in the world.  I saw at least three last night.  So that’s 24,000 bugs I never have to deal with.  To paraphrase the President, I like the numbers were they are.

Today was my first full day at Trail Wood.  Had some difficulty sleeping, not unusual for me in a different bed.  I finally nodded off between 1-2 am.  Lollie got me up at 6 to let her out.  She’s a little confused by our presence here.  I wonder if she thinks this is where we will live from now on?   I spent the morning reading some older poems.  I’d like to put together a poetry collection–I have quite a few that I like, certainly enough for a collection.  Given that I will likely not be able to do a staged reading of my new play (other than on Zoom) anytime soon, I think I will put those financial resources towards a poetry collection.

I think I’ll divide it into parts–the first part will be poems on nature, and my experiences growing up a part-time Indian.  The second part will involve the poems from and written about the other aspects and geographies of my life.  Reservation poems, and off the reservation poems. I think it was philosopher Luce Iragaray who wrote about world traveling (not in the literal sense).  I would like the two sections of the collection to describe and illustrate the different worlds,  hopefully in a way that reinforces their similarities.  That’s the goal at least.

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So I spent most of the day reading, revising, and rewriting my poems.  Some are written by a young man clearly trying to sound clever and poetic, and at this point amount to juvenile exercises of interest to only me.  I stuck those in a folder called “archives.”  There were a couple more that were definitely cringe-worthy, but the ideas were redeemable.  So, I decided to change the perspective of the poems from me to someone else.  In other words, I imagine a character very different from me, then the write the way this person would see it.  That was an exercise I did very rarely when I was younger. It’s amazing how much both poems were improved by that process.  I think with some more work they might be good enough to end up in the collection.  One in particular I am very happy with.  I’ve also set a goal to write one new poem a day, based upon a long-neglected idea list I’ve been carrying around for years.  So I did write today’s new poem at breakfast.

It turned out to be a very productive day.  I’m ¾ of the way through preparation for my collection. I ended up writing drafts for two new poems, wrote a synopsis for three of my plays (very helpful for submission purposes).  I’m also half way through reading Billy Collins “The Art of Drowning” (already finished “The Trouble With Poetry”).  To celebrate, I treated myself to We-Lik-It ice cream, which is just a few miles up the road here. 

The thing about Trail Wood is that it is very isolated.  I’ve only seen one other person while I’ve been here, and I am reasonably certain he was not a guest but one of the caretakers, as he was heading off on a trail with his weed-wacker.  Either that, he’s a local eccentric who likes to take his power tools for a walk. Or both, perhaps.  Regardless,  the ice cream was delicious (a scoop of chai, a scoop of salted caramel, with hot fudge) but it was also nice to hear other human voices, if only for a short while.

The solitude, though, is intended to help the writer or artist staying here focus.  Certainly, that seemed to be the case today.

Trail Wood Journal, Day One

July 28, 2020

I kept a journal during my residency at Trail Wood.  Over the next six days, I will share each day’s entry. 

I arrived at 8am, my car packed with food, a computer, a week’s supply of clothes, and my dog, Lollie. Rich Telford, who helps run Trail Wood and organizes the residencies, met me here. He gave me my orientation, showed me around the house and introduced me to a number of details about Edwin Way Teale’s life, many of his books on display, and his study, which has been left largely untouched since Teale’s death in 1980. Indeed, the calendars on the wall still read “October 1980.”  I was twelve, living in San Diego the last time the calendar page on that wall had been turned.

He also took me to Teale’s writing cabin, which was reproduced at the exact specifications of Henry David Thoreau’s at Walden. It was more pleasant than I expected. It’s kept very clean, has a new roof, and is not anywhere as dingy as it appears when gazing in through the windows. I don’t know if I will use it much this week, but I may be tempted to give it a try. It was also a surprise to learn the two ponds on the site are filled with bass–not artificially by humans, but by nature.  Teale had a local fisherman come and catch 20-30 fish per week because he hated the bass.  They evidently ate a lot of the insects he wished to study. 

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After Rich’s departure, I settled in, set up the kitchen, unpacked my clothes, made the bed and discovered there were no pillows. Evidently, I was supposed to bring them, but missed that in the instruction sheet.  I brought cases, but no pillows.  I set up my computer and my writing in what appeared to be the old dining room. There is a huge dining table in the center, but it’s not adjacent to the kitchen, so I’m not totally sure. I  then ran home to get pillows. I was only 25 minutes away, so it was worth the trip.

I didn’t sleep well that night (or any night while I was there, unfortunately), so I worked on new ideas for poems, read Billy Collins “The Trouble With Poetry” (the trouble is that reading poetry makes you want to write poetry), in between shifts of the hammock and the living room love seat. I also did revisions to some of the poems I brought to work on and then Lollie and I went for a pre-dinner walk that introduced us to a great blue heron on the beaver pond. 

After dinner, I decided to sit outside and write this.  I wonder what it will be like to wake up here tomorrow.  As I write this, a chorus of bird song, not all of it harmonic, is filling the air.  I am hopeful to see bats this evening.

Countdown to Trail Wood

July 4, 2020

It is nearly here…my very first writing residency. I will report to Trail Wood  this Sunday morning, and it will become my temporary home until the following Saturday.  It is a first for me.  I am nearly ready–I have selected the incomplete works I want to focus upon, brought plenty of paper for new works,  and of course, selected the music I want to write to (essential to my process).

What follows is the artist statement I sent in with my application, which should give you an idea of how I will be using the time…

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As a child, the beginning of the summer meant something more to me than simply the end of the school year.  It meant I was going to spend the summer with my grandfather.  A few days after the final bell I would be in a car or plane headed from my suburban San Diego home to the distant reaches of Duck Valley, Nevada.  My grandfather lived there on the Western Shoshone reservation, a proud tribal elder.  Living with him was like being transported to another world.   Of the many things he taught me was how to be an “Indian”–to live “En Dios,” to live “With God.”  His interpretation of this meant to live with nature.

Through his tutelage, I began to understand that truly living with nature didn’t simply mean the science of living in harmony with the environment.  It also implied the concepts of respect for land rights, spiritual practice, and a sense one oneness with the sacred. If any of these were denied to a group of people, there could be no true stewardship.  This notion is not only key to understanding the Native relationship with ecology; I think it is a key component for anyone striving to understand their role in the natural world.

It is my plan to explore my grandfather’s teachings at my stay in Trail Wood.  Being immersed in that environment and reflecting on the works of Edwin Way Teale have reminded me so much of the discussions my grandfather and I once shared.  The writings I have submitted are the beginnings of a book that will share the lessons of nature and life I absorbed from my grandfather.  The book will contain poetry, prose pieces, and journal entries about both the human relationship with ecology and a boy’s affection for his grandfather.

So now I have to do it.  I’m excited to see what happens.

Note: Trail Wood, by design, lacks any internet or wi-fi connection, so you will not hear from me until I return.  I expect to write daily journal entries of my experiences, but they will actually appear in this blog the following week.

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