Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back to the Real Work

I want to say that it's the day after Thanksgiving because we ate turkey yesterday. On Thanksgiving we went to the church for the Thanksgiving feast where we ate niqipiaq. So now I am thinking of that word, niqipiaq, which people translate as Inupiaq food--specifically the kind of meat native to the arctic: whale, seal, caribou, ducks, geese. But when you think of it, as I am doing now, niqi means food and when you add -piaq onto the end of a word it means real or genuine. So I take niqipiaq to mean the food geniune to the land you live on--real food. Whatever your dietary bent, you have to agree that it is healthiest to eat niqipiaq, right? The food of a specific land prepares you for life on that land. And in the arctic, we have to admit, this is no small thing.

Yes, I am back home after all the hoopla of the National Book Award. I meant to take pictures so I could come home and blog about it, but the only picture I remembered to take was the parting shot--flying out of Barrow--and that wonderful arctic winter sunset that I didn't know enough about photography to capture, in all it's glory.

The rest was an overwhelming blur of activity and honor. My friend Helen Frost had warned me that it would be somewhat disruptive. Yes, writing is such a solitary activity that things of the limelight represent the antithesis to it, I think. Rita Williams-Garcia told me to "enjoy my rah rahs" and advised me to "wear them like tiaras." I tried. I really did.

So people not of the Arctic always say they can't imagine how they would survive three months of darkness. I always say, well it's not like pitch black. There's a dusky period and there are the stars and the moon and the northern-freaking-lights, for heaven's sake. Please. Then I say something about biological clocks and how they tick differently for different people in different parts of the world, different stages of life, different seasons. I guess my clock is not set differently than yours, I tell them. Then I think to myself: Three months? No way, I don't think it's three whole months. Not whole months. We measure all measure time differently. Winter is a time of hibranation and gestation. These are artistic terms, you understand, and they are critical parts of the process. I like winter.

So I like being home, in the dark time, digging deeper and deeper still into the real work. See you in a few...whatever you may call them. And it's not really dark, see:

But I am happy, nonetheless, to be back north in the heart of the dark season digging into the real work as Gary Snyder calls it. Savaagpiaq, to coin a phrase, which probably makes no sense whatsoever in Inupiaq. Why would one engage in work that isn't real? But we do, of course.

But wait... it is a word, George says. Savaagpiaq. He translates it as heartfelt work. The real work, in other words.  Savaapiagniaqtuna. I am going to really work now. Never mind my spelling, bad in both languages.

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