Right now, for many of us, so much of our lives require interfacing with a screen: a computer, a TV, our phones. Human interaction has been stifled by COVID-19 resulting in significant interruptions to our communities. We don’t have to be suffering from the coronavirus to experience symptoms of this pandemic including loneliness, anxiety, and uncertainty.
Idaho Writer in Residence Malia Collins and the Idaho Commission on the Arts are presenting a non-virtual writing event designed to build community, encourage creativity, provide diversion and, potentially, to relieve some of the emotional weight we are experiencing during this time!
Registrations closed Friday, August 7, 2020, pen pals are in the process of sharing their writing. Below are responses to project prompts from Malia Collins.
Prompt 1: Working in the genre you write in, introduce yourself to your partner (think pre-pandemic). Write a poem, piece of flash fiction, or a memory you have of yourself. Describe yourself and your life (true self or fictional self) with as much rich detail as possible—this will be your pen pal’s first introduction to you. What do you want them to know?
Malia Collins, response Prompt 1: My mother wanted to name me Malie but worried people wouldn’t know how to pronounce it so she named me Malia instead. I was born in Kailua, on the island of O’ahu, late on a night with no moon and named after the glass bottom boat on which, it was rumored, I was conceived. When I was born the tips of my hair—long, black hair—the hair of a child, not a newborn—shone gold and my mother couldn’t believe her good luck. Hawaiians don’t tell their babies they’re beautiful because they don’t want the spirits to steal them away. So pupuka—the aunties said when they first met me—such an unfortunate looking child.
I grew up in the mountains and ocean. My father took me high up on the ridges and deep into the valleys behind our house to teach me the names of the ferns and the flowers. We picked lacy palapalai ferns, stacked laua’e one on top of the other like paper, untangled maile for lei, and passed acres of the light green uluhe fern—the earthly form of Kamapua’a, the pig god—that covers the sides of the Ko’olau Mountains thick enough to hide drop-offs from those hiking along the trails. When I was young, the albizia trees hadn’t taken over yet. When I dream about Hawai’i, I dream in smell and wake up with the scent of both rain and dirt on my clothes.
My mother was ocean. I wore orange bikini bottoms and no top until the swim coach gave me a faded blue one-piece swimsuit that came down nearly to my knees. I knew when to jump over the waves and when to dive through them. When my own children were born, I took them to the beach where I learned to swim and once they got older, they piled onto the boogie board I tied to my foot and we swam from buoy to buoy until they could jump in with me and match my stroke. Watching my son swim to the buoys at Kailua Beach for the first time by himself brought me to my knees. My grandfather on my mother’s side was renowned for his fish sighting skills and could see schools of aku, skip jack tuna, more than a mile off shore. My children love the ocean with the same devotion I do. It is where we go when nothing else makes sense. It’s where we stand in a semi-circle at the shore of Hakioawa, on the island of Kaho’olawe, and call to our ancestors. It is where we wade in and lay on our backs until whatever is holding onto us loosens itself and floats away.
This summer I’ve had to find my own water here—Hawaii is too far and too fragile to visit right now. Instead of going back home this summer, we’ve been home here, in Boise. Most mornings I spread two blankets under the trees in the backyard, next to the ditch that runs along the side of the house, and listen as the water flows past. At night, the raccoons slosh through it and set the dog off barking. I walk next to the Boise River and let the dog cool off in a small pool surrounded by fist-sized river rocks and more than once we’ve watched as the Great Blue Herons take off from the islets in the middle of the river. I think there is always a part of me looking for another island. I find water next to the trails near Fort Boise, and water running down the creek at Dry Creek—where crickets the size of small pencils rest in the middle of the path—their hard-shelled bodies completely black, the sound they make a click and whistle, both.
I planted Silverstone in pots out back because it looks like coral, and tall grasses that fan out like palms—all of the ways I’ve tried to find my way back to Hawai’i—all of the ways I live in water and mountains, clouds and sky.
Prompt 2: Using the character you created to introduce yourself to your pen pal, take that character (remember it can be true or it can be fictional) and have you or have that character look back to a memory of something you did, or a place you went before we went into quarantine. Describe that moment, or describe that place with rich detail so your pen pal can see it as vividly as you can.