Inspiration, By Debbie Clarke Moderow. April 22, 201623 Apr 2016, by Dog Journeys in
Last week I traveled to southern California to participate in the first part of an author exchange. Susan McBeth, the founder of Adventures By the Book (www.adventuresbythebook.com) and Alaskan Deb Vanasse coordinated this trial in which four Alaskan writers visited San Diego. In turn, we will welcome our southern California writer-hosts into our Anchorage homes during the last week of September.
For me this was a fine opportunity to make new friends, reach new audiences, and network about our shared love of the written word. During my short week in sunny California, I taught a workshop “Animals as Literary Allies,” spoke to an audience of dog lovers at Qualcomm, and participated in two panels entitled “Our Wild Alaska” with fellow authors Deb Vanasse, Kaylene Johnson, and Marybeth Holleman.
As always, leaving my world of snow and mountains, dog trails and family meals—not to mention a host of book launch commitments—ushered me into a stunning new landscape. Within hours of arriving in San Diego, I feasted with Susan and John McBeth, over Mahi Mahi tacos and blood orange Margaritas. Then, barefoot, we walked a beach where snowy plovers sped in and out of the surf along the tide line, vying for their own meal. Everything that evening made a strong first impression: the sand beneath my naked winter-weary feet, and the lemons hanging on branches in the back yard. The unfamiliar birdsong, and the dusty sage-covered hills peppered with cacti.
The week’s activities unfolded, first with a spectacular Morrocan dinner prepared by author and chef Kitty Morse. Then, with presentations, panels, and more festive meals with engaging new friends. Time and again I was asked to describe how wildness informs and inspires my writing. I tried to articulate my relationship to the wilderness—whether running my dogteam in the arctic or raising children in the dark of winter. Of course, being a dedicated outdoor person, I’m wired to connect and draw inspiration from the natural world. It was logical, then, that my initial experience of southern California had everything to do with the sea and the birds, the wonder of that lemon tree outside my window. As the week unfolded, however, the people-part of the exchange stole the show.
My host, Marivi Soliven and I recognized kindred spirits in one another, the moment we met. “We certainly got along like a house on fire,” she wrote in an email last week. Marivi grew up in Manila. Author of many books including her vibrant novel, “The Mango Bride,” she and I share the love of writing, but that’s where our obvious commonality stops. Her world is urban, intellectual, academic—her culture Filipino. I’m an outdoors girl, athletic, of European descent. Her household is home to two cats. Twenty-eight sleddogs live in my back yard. Her novel explores the struggles of Filipino immgrants as they forge new lives in the US. My memoir attempts to make sense of a double Iditarod journey with my huskies.
Now that I’ve been home in Alaska for a week, I’ve had a few moments to reflect about my time in San Diego. My initial delight in the 70 degree breeze and bounty of roses at Balboa Park has shifted into lasting gratitude for the extraordinary person-to-person exchange. Interacting with our generous San Diego author-friends about their lives and their books was to enter into an enlightening and broadening conversation. To return home with Marivi and her husband John, on the final evening of the exchange, was to settle with new friends—and their cat Merlin—into their living room. There, we tipped a glass of wine and indulged in an inspiring late-night conversation, instigated by the written word.
In last week’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote, “Inspiration is not earned. Your investment of time and effort prepares you for inspiration, but inspiration is a gift that goes beyond anything you could have deserved.” Later in the article he adds, “Inspiration does not happen to autonomous individuals. It’s a beautiful contagion that passes through individuals.
That’s exactly what happened in San Diego—“a beautiful contagion” passed through a group of eight writers brought together by the daring vision of Susan McBeth and Deb Vanasse.
Thank you, Marivi, Kitty, Kathi, and Susan, for so warmly welcoming us into your world. I suppose in David Brook’s analysis, the hard work writing our books set us each up for this opportunity. I’m still a bit incredulous that my dogsledding journey on the Iditarod Trail set me up for visiting all of you. Just thinking about the next step of the exchange,when we Alaskans will host you in September, makes me smile. I cannot wait to tip a glass of wine to you four in Anchorage—and grill you some local salmon and caribou for dinner.