Meet Carol. She's the Attic's Assistant to the President. She keeps the Attic running from behind the scenes.
Q: How are you?
A: I’m doing well and determined to not let this COVID-19 thing be the end of me. I’ll be one of the first in line for a vaccine once they are widely available. I live with my sweet Burmese rescue cat “Elsa” (she has no tail) in a townhouse in the Orenco Station area of Hillsboro, a community with myriad walking trails that I love to utilize. Everything I need is nearby, but I do miss dining and socializing with friends. A long-planned Roads Scholar trip to Amsterdam during tulip season was cancelled. I also miss ballroom dance classes, driving to the Attic on Hawthorne Blvd. twice a week to work with David Biespiel, and occasionally for in-person workshops. Joining some of the Attic’s online workshops this year has been a wonderful way to keep busy, and as an added bonus, I’ve finally gotten to know some of the many Attic writers whose names I was long familiar with.
Q: What is something that you’ve read recently that you really enjoyed?
A: I recently read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for the second time, and enjoyed it more than the first reading. I also snuggled in for a few rainy days with David Biespiel’s new memoir A Place of Exodus, which was like being wrapped in a warm blanket of soothing prose. Not only did I learn a lot about Texas, Houston, and Jewish life and traditions, but I felt like I got to know David a little better—and I’ve worked with him for nearly ten years. Just this weekend, I finished reading Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers, about an orphan from Ethiopia who was raised by adoptive Swedish parents, and who eventually became an internationally-known chef in NYC. It was a good read about good food, and eye-opening about the life of someone aspiring to become a top chef.
Q: Why or how did you first get involved with the Attic?
A: I wanted a part-time job after retiring from OHSU. I had worked as the Corporate Secretary and Executive Assistant to six (6) consecutive presidents of Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Engineering before it merged with OHSU. I wanted to keep my skills up, make a little money in addition to my Social Security and retirement income, and I wanted to create some new connections in the Portland area as my entire work life had previously been in Washington County. The day that David invited me to the Attic to interview with him, I wore a dark brown “corporate” pantsuit and a pair of dressy boots. At the conclusion of the interview, David asked if he could call a few of my references and I gladly agreed. Two days later he offered me the job with the understanding that it was not a “career ladder,” which was fine with me; I had already had a long career. After observing how casually David dressed (and the Attic itself was a little less than glamorous), the first day I showed up to work, I wore a pair of jeans and Western boots. David looked at my boots and exclaimed, “If you had worn those boots when you interviewed, I would have offered you the job on the spot!”
Q: Over the years, what have you learned about writing or a writing community?
A: For me personally, having a writing community is important. It helps hold my feet to the fire to have a deadline, and I find it really helpful to have writing prompts. Give me a prompt and I’ll give you a story. I also appreciate the many suggestions from other writers about how a particular narrative or story might be presented differently. My earlier writing background was with a group of about 8-12 women in a “Women’s Life Writing” workshop through Hillsboro Parks & Recreation. We met for nearly five years with the same instructor (Marie Buckley) who provided us with terrific prompts; we shared much laughter and many tears. We all agreed that it was a lot cheaper than therapy—and a lot more fun.
Q: Can you tell us more about Ikebana? What is it like studying at the Portland Chapter of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana?
A: Flowers have been a lifetime passion of mine. I used to live on 40 acres in Yamhill County and had a veggie/flower garden that was 50’ x 100’. I grew gladiolas in 50-ft. rows like some people grow corn. I had a 20’ x 10’ greenhouse and grew all of my own flower starts. I have always enjoyed having fresh flowers in my home.
Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. I first became interested in it after seeing the beautiful ikebana arrangements on display in a quiet corner at the annual Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. It always felt like stepping into an oasis of beauty and calm in the middle of an otherwise hectic world. I was fortunate to be referred to Keiko Kodachi, the founding and longtime director of the Portland Chapter of Sogetsu School of Ikebana, which has a corporate headquarters in a high-rise building in Tokyo (which I once visited). She has been my “sensei” (teacher) since 2003, and offers classes in a small studio in her home. There are many, many schools of ikebana, and most of them have very rigid guidelines for how arrangements are to be created. The Sogetsu School of Ikebana is known for its encouragement of creativity – they teach you the rules and then allow you to break them. I have been honored to participate in many Sogetsu ikebana exhibitions at the Portland Japanese Garden over the years.
If interested, see photos of Sogetgsu ikebana here: http://www.sogetsuportland.org/
Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to those wanting to introduce a writing practice into their schedules?
A: The same advice I’d offer to anyone wanting to introduce a walking or an exercise routine into their schedule: Just DO it! Do it first thing in the morning. Then, you have the whole day ahead of you if you want to spend more time on it. And, once it’s done (just like that walking or exercise thing), you feel so good that it’s behind you.
Q: What is a new project that you are working on, creative or otherwise, that really excites you?
A: Well, I could say it’s that draft dating profile I started to write in Brian Benson’s Flash Nonfiction workshop this fall that began with, “Retired senior female adventurer needs someone to cook for. Once caught a 175-lb. halibut in Alaska while vacationing with ten men in my extended family.” Just kidding. Coming from a large family, I learned to cook BIG.
It’s not new, but there is a long-time, continuing project that I’m working on. I’m the oldest daughter in a family of nine siblings from Salt Lake City, Utah, who were born over nearly twenty years. Some of my younger siblings barely knew our grandparents and other older family members who I was close to as a child. I am the keeper of a lot of family knowledge, and even a few dark secrets. I was also the one who lived the single life of a flight attendant (we were “stewardesses” in those days), chose not to have children (after being the built-in babysitter for most of my young life), even though I was married twice, and had a long career away from Utah.
I’ve been working on a collection of creative nonfiction stories about my life and I want to pull it together in some way to share with my large extended family. I have no burning ambitions to have my work published, but I do want to share my knowledge and some personal experiences with the younger generations. I like to imagine that someday, some of them will read my stories and exclaim, “Oh my God! Did Aunt Carol really do that???”