Each ending carries with it a beginning. This is the cycle lived every day of our lives; the slowing to rest, to sleep, at the end of day. That pause is the moment just before possibility presents itself as new. Tonight, we turn from the past to step into a new year, a new decade. Hope rises in me. Hope that we will realize our greatest potential and embrace each other as one family, moving forward into the arms of the sisters and brothers with whom we will embrace all living things as part of the larger whole. With this I open my arms to welcome the new year.
Traveling is always magical for me, because I’m not seeing anything familiar so I’m free to be completely present in the new environment where I find myself. (And I do think travel helps me find myself – my humanity, my connection to the larger world and its inhabitants.) I turn my head and am captured by a vision that transports me into a kind of dance with what I see and experience. When I come home, I’m still seeing with the pointed observation that so much unfamiliarity allows me. What happens when I arrive home is also a kind of magic. I find myself newly present in the familiar space that is my home.
Pif Magazine just published one of my poems. It’s titled “After All the Lust.” Here is the URL: https://www.pifmagazine.com/2019/03/after-all-the-lust/
I enrolled in Goddard College’s low residency program for an MFA in Creative Writing that began in July 2017. At my fourth and final residency in February 2018, I celebrated my seventieth birthday. On July 15, 2018 I graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing. The past two years have been challenging and joyful as I worked my way through a creative thesis of over two hundred pages while also reading published authors and writing critical papers about devices and techniques they use to create narrative. I got everything I expected out of this program – an understanding of literary devices such as plot and character development, theme and subtheme, scene and narrative arc. I also got something I didn’t expect. As family, friends and acquaintances began congratulating me, I was told over and over again that I was an inspiration. At first I was flattered that I could be seen as inspirational in any way at all – me – an all-around average, everyday kind of woman.
After a long series of self-directed questions, it slowly dawned on me that compared to my cohorts in the graduate program I was quite elderly. It was a revelation to realize that I was a case-in-point poster child for mentally functional elderly adults. Once I figured this out, I was delighted. I’ve spent a lifetime pursuing dreams like writing and publishing poetry, running marathons, or learning to use a torch so I can create metal sculpture. Clearly, this most recent pursuit – figuring out how to write a good novel – is just one more thing tacked onto a long list. But, still… Me? As inspiration?
I see myself as a dogged overachiever and lifelong student. In fact, I’m rather proud of this internal component, which is so thoroughly built into my personality. Over the years, as I pursued my passions, I often doubted myself. But I had one thing going for me. I believed in my ability to learn and was always ready to take a course that would help me succeed in doing whatever it was I wanted to do. My mother often referred to me as the perennial student, a label I was happy to wear. And this attitude may be what keeps my brain functional, though I believe most of the seventy year olds I know demonstrate very healthy, imaginative minds. There are a few, of course, whose cognitive processes have slowed or stumbled – but not very many of my friends seem to have faded noticeably. Most of us have lived healthy, active lives. We’ve stayed involved in the world at large. We look at our foibles with a sense of humor and often get each other laughing over our missteps. I rather think that a sense of humor is an indicator that there’s a good mind behind all the laughter.
So if I am an inspiration, let it be about believing in discovery. Let it be about trusting that I am capable of learning what is needed. Let it be about my willingness to do the work that will gain a necessary understanding. It’s all about keeping the brain growing, raising your awareness. It’s also about reaching out to people who know the things you don’t. I love a good challenge and I plan to go on running whatever gauntlet catches my fancy for however many days I have left on the planet. Maybe I’ll go for a PhD at age eighty.
Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be led by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.
Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006)
May the New Year begin positive change for us all.
The podcast of my interview at KPTZ by poet and memoirist Sheila Bender is now available at https://kptz.org/in-conversation-pamela-dionne/
Time/Dates: Tuesdays from 3 – 5:00pm beginning September 12 – October 24, 2017. The final session on October 24, 2017 will run three hours (2 – 5:00pm) in order to accommodate a reading by participants.
Location: Writers’ Workshoppe & Imprint Books
820 Water Street, Port Townsend, WA.
You can register for this class after May 10, 2017.
General Summary: As part of her Goddard MFA in Creative Writing, Pamela Moore Dionne will offer 7 workshops once a week for seven weeks at 2-hours each plus a 1-hour reading by workshop participants at the end of the final session. That means the final session on October 24th will start at 2:00pm and go till 5:00pm. (Refreshments will be provided for the reading.) This workshop is offered at no fee for ten participants. The sessions will focus on writing scenes and creating believable characters. The workshop series is open to those interested in writing fiction or creative nonfiction. In other words, if you want to write a novel or a memoir this series can help you build your narrative scene-by-scene and character-by-character. The workshop will focus on developing plausible character arcs within a scene. Interwoven into each session will be an examination of the narrative arc that is essential to storytelling. Excerpts from work by authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, John Gardner, Octavia Butler and Charles Baxter will give us an opportunity to examine narrative technique and also to practice close reading. Students will learn to critique using a system based on Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. Writing prompts will be introduced as ways to approach already existing work or to stimulate new work. Students will be given time to create writing inspired by the prompts. We will learn how to critique in a supportive atmosphere that fosters each writer’s work. The final meeting will be a reading by participants of narratives created during the workshop. Students should bring writing supplies or laptops to each session.
Poet and writer Pamela Moore Dionne’s work has appeared in a number of journals including Shenandoah and Pontoon. She was a Jack Straw writer and received their Artist Support Grant to record a CD of her Sabina Spielrein Ghazal series. Dionne earned a Centrum residency and an Artist Trust Gap Grant. Her visual art has been published in journals and presented in one-woman shows. Other credits include founding and managing the online art & literature journal Literary Salt. She was also the founder of Discovery Bay Games. Currently she is enrolled in the Goddard College MFAW program.
The Missing Voice of Tyranny in the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible is a novel that uses five different voices to tell the story of Nathan Price and his family who go to the Belgian Congo in 1959 as itinerate Baptist missionaries. The only adult narrator is Orleanna Price, Nathan’s wife. The other narrative voices belong to the couple’s four daughters. Rachel is fifteen when they arrive in Kilanga Village. The twins Leah and Adah are twelve and Ruth May is six. The age differences alone make for distinctive narrative variations as the plot line unfolds. But each narrator also has a personality that reveals itself through her telling of the tale as she sees it. It is a compelling way to tell a story from five different perspectives while giving new information to each retelling of the same event. What this does for the story is layer it in a way that reveals more than a single narrator would be able to do. But the most telling piece of narrative technique Kingsolver uses in The Poisonwood Bible is the missing voice, that of Nathan Price. In a narrative where language and communication – or more accurately miscommunication – act as a central theme we understand that a considered perspective cannot be delivered by a man who refuses to listen to any voice other than his own. He relies on judgmental dogma that doesn’t allow for input different from what he already believes. In the pages of this novel Nathan is a tyrant oppressing his family in much the same way that a foreign government oppresses villagers in places like Kilanga.
The foolhardiness in Nathan’s attitude becomes apparent when he ignores Mama Tataba’s instructions on how to plant his vegetable garden in Kilanga. (39-40) Because of his refusal to listen, he handles poisonwood and breaks out with a painful rash, loses his first crop to flooding and later finds that the plants he has chosen to bring with him from America have no pollinators in Kilanga. So he creates a very showy garden that flowers profusely yet never produces any fruits for his labor. Essentially this is the perfect metaphor for Nathan himself, showy but without substance. Nathan has stepped into a world so utterly different than the one he left in Bethlehem, Georgia that the only logical thing to do would be to listen to locals. They are his only chance to learn how to survive in this new world to which he has brought his family. The villagers know from generations of experience what works and what does not. But Nathan believes God is testing him and to win almighty approval he must bend the village and the land to his will. How very colonial of this man with all of his proselytizing.
Nathan’s missing narrative helps to define him as incapable of self-examination. But more than that it allows his wife and daughters to observe him as though he’s a member of a different species of animal altogether. This creates the right atmosphere for readers to recognize him as a metaphor for a larger concept of usurper. Nathan represents the bullish manner in which the Belgians and the U.S. treat Africans and their national resources in this novel. Nathan with his total disregard for his wife and daughters and his disdain for the villagers he has come to convert mirrors the way western governments colonize third world countries. Kingsolver has chosen to set this novel at a time in history when the Belgian Congo was experiencing the beginnings of a pro-independence movement. This political unrest is mirrored by the burgeoning unrest within the Price family against the tyrannical despot that Nathan Price has become. The way the narrative works in supporting this construct is by showing readers a man who rules his own family unreasonably. He does whatever he decides to do with total disregard for his wife or his children’s welfare. Belgium’s King Leopold II governs his African colony with this same disregard for its citizens’ welfare. Both Nathan and Leopold see their subjects as tools to be used rather than individuals who think and feel and are worthy of respect. In these men’s minds, only the patriarch holds a purpose or position that can be considered as having merit.
Ultimately, Nathan is abandoned in Africa by his family and is seen by villagers as an evil spirit who can turn himself into a crocodile. It is the process by which he holds himself separate that sets Nathan up for one small disaster after another leading to a finality he is unable to see coming. He is shunned and eventually killed by villagers who suspect his crocodile-self of causing a group of children to drown in the river. Nathan’s inability to listen, empathize and communicate clearly is what causes his failure as a father, a husband and a missionary. The fact that he doesn’t narrate any of his own story sets him apart as does his inability to communicate with other characters within the pages of this novel. Because of these factors he is never actually able to bring about change in anyone, including himself. He is the only member of his family who doesn’t evolve. The reader is left with a sense of the way arrogance has caused tyrants to fail throughout history.