One of the other things that I’ve recently decided to do (apart from weeding my library and pruning my record collection) is to finally dig into the huge pile of papers, photos, notes, letters, and memories I’ve stored in boxes and carried from apartment to apartment over the past decade or so. It’s just been accumulating, and I rarely think about it, much less look at it, touch it, or even read what’s in it.
This past weekend I decided to do something about it. It started a few weeks ago when I found out a really lovely woman that I knew in England was experiencing some serious health issues and was going in to see a heart specialist this week. It had been probably 6 years or more since we had last had any contact, and I knew that I needed to get in touch with her, to tell her that I loved and appreciated her, and that I hoped that she survived and thrived, provided that it was also what she wanted. I took my time with it, but eventually I found her on Facebook and wrote her a long message. It also got me thinking about some things that she had given me while I was in England, the first a lovely amber brooch that would have been used to fasten a ceremonial cloak worn by one of her relatives who served in the Scottish military several decades ago. The other was an undated picture postcard of this man, Peter Bowie, wonderfully attired and holding a beautiful set of bagpipes:
I knew I still had the postcard and a letter from this woman, but that it was buried somewhere amidst the boxes and boxes of things in what I’ll call my ‘personal archives.’ That was the immediate motivation for digging out the boxes and beginning the big sort, but it soon took on a life of its own. I found all kinds of strange and wonderful memories from my past, many of which I had almost completely forgotten that had taken place, and even more that I didn’t even know that I still had or had saved. One of the sweetest and most unexpected discoveries was this:
This was a kind of teenage literary magazine written and published by a group of roughly three dozen 15-16 year old high school students from all over the state of Idaho. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school (in 1998, just before I turned 16 years old), I applied for and was invited to participate in something called the Whittenberger Summer Writing Project. The project was really something incredible, in that it brought teenagers from all over the state of Idaho to the campus of Albertson’s College of Idaho, a small liberal arts school in Caldwell, where we lived, slept, ate, wrote, and flirted wildly with each other for a couple of weeks (I don’t recall exactly how the long the project was). The project’s director was a man named Stan Tag, then a youngish 30-something professor who quoted Cat Stevens and took us into the wilderness to observe and write. He brought his 8 year old daughter, Arwen (who I realize is probably 23 years old now–insane!). He was wonderfully earnest and is now an associate professor of English at Fairhaven College (Western Washington University), where he has cultivated a tremendous beard.
There were three other visiting instructors there at Whittenberger, all of whom were fantastic, encouraging, and very generous, in addition to being really talented writers themselves. Gretchen Legler was one of them. At the time she had already published her wonderful book All The Powerful Invisible Things: A Sportswoman’s Notebook, though I doubt that any of us knew that and had just returned from several months in Antarctica, which we did all know, an experience which became the basis of her 2005 book On The Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station Antarctica. Gretchen is now a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maine in Farmington.
The second instructor there was James (Jim) McKean. What I remember best about him was that he was 6’8″, had played basketball at Washington State University (I think), and that he played pick up ball with me and a couple of other attendees. He’s also the first person to recommend that I read Stephen Dunn and Phil Levine, both of whom I came to love and appreciate very much throughout my high school years. Jim is an Emeritus Professor at Mount Mercy College, as well as a current Professor of Creative Writing (Poetry, Creative Non-Fiction) at Queens University of Charlotte.
The final instructor was Tim McNulty. He was also wonderful. A mountain wildman, probably the closest thing to Gary Snyder we could have had access to in southwestern Idaho in the 1990s. Lovely man, fierce advocate of wild things, of trees and animals especially, and a bearded longhair, as they might have said in an earlier time. He’s written several books of poetry and nonfiction, including In Blue Mountain Dusk, which I chanced upon at a sale at the BYU bookstore and happily purchased several years ago. Tim currently lives and writes in the foothills of the Olympia Mountains.
The project was also attended by 35 teenagers. A couple of them I’ve been friends with on Facebook for the past few years, but most of them have entirely slipped out of my life and mind. Finding this old publication, however, I decided to create a private facebook group for the project (it would be our 15 year reunion this year, amazingly), and see how many people I could find and invite to join the group to share recollections, updates on our lives and writing, and future plans and dreams. So far I’ve located about 10 of the 37, and hope to find the rest. I’ll most more in the future as my sleuthing bears further fruit, but if you happen to read this and want to help, please let me know. Detectives wanted!