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Primarily a poet, Jane Wong ventured into memoir with the release last year of her book Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City. The book recently came out in paperback, and Wong is celebrating May 8 with an appearance with fellow poet Yanyi at Eagle Harbor Book Co. in Bainbridge Island.

We spoke with Wong ahead of the event about pivoting from poetry to memoir, growing up as a “restaurant baby,” and why the personal nature of poetry means poets won’t be replaced by chatbots anytime soon.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell me about your background as an author.

I am a poet primarily, but also a memoirist. My memoir, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City, came out last year and [came] out in paperback [this] week. I grew up on the Jersey Shore in a restaurant, so I call myself a restaurant baby. And I’m also a professor at Western Washington University. That’s pretty much what I do. I like to write and I like to eat.

Since this event at Eagle Harbor Book Co. is centered around the paperback release of your memoir, can you talk about the book and what it’s about?

The memoir is my third book and it is centered around a lot of things, but mostly my upbringing as a Chinese-American immigrant baby and what it was like to grow up in a Chinese-American takeout restaurant. And there’s some stories about my father, who’s estranged from my family, and his gambling addiction, which basically led to the closing of our restaurant. There’s bits about what it was like to grow up pretty low income and working class as a Chinese-American immigrant. And there’s a lot of stories that also have adult-me and what it was like to take this path to become a poet.

I hope the book is a mixture of heartbreak and intergenerational trauma, but also a lot of laughter and a lot of levity. I like to call it basically a love song to my mother. There’s this one chapter where I grew up going to illegal dentists in Chinatown, and it’s looking at communities that we often don’t fully see. That’s a pretty common practice amongst a lot of low-income immigrants, is to seek healthcare the ways they need to, even though they can’t necessarily afford it and can’t navigate the English language when going to the doctor here. So for me, it was a little bit of sociology. I did a bit of research and that is in this memoir, too.

It’s very regional in many ways. Certainly it is a book that’s centered around my upbringing in New Jersey. But there’s a lot of Seattle in this book, because obviously I’ve been out here for a while. It’s pretty funny, whenever I’ve toured in Jersey everyone’s like, “Why is there so much Seattle?” And I’m like, well, I live in Seattle. I’ve been here for a while. So to me it’s very much a New Jersey and Washington state book.

I hope it’s also a book that plays with form and reimagines what a memoir looks like. I certainly wanted to write a book that was nonlinear, to kind of mirror reflect migration and experiences of migration. And I’m a poet, so the book is very imagery-based, very lyrical. I still write my sentences in meter. So I hope it’s also a book that’s lush.

The biggest part of memoir is reflection and thinking about, what does that mean for me now as an adult? What about the future?

I was going to ask if the book included poetic elements. Did it require a big shift in your thinking to go from writing poetry to writing about yourself in a long form manner? 

It definitely took some effort in terms of reflection. I think the thing I loved doing the most was writing scenes, making us feel like we’re there: the tastes, the sounds, the feeling of being on the boardwalk while my father was in the casino. My mom and I and my brother, we spent hours waiting for him to come out, but he had a compulsive gambling addiction. So we would walk that boardwalk for hours. So I was trying to get the scent of the air and trying to get the seagulls squawking, trying to steal our bread. All the imagery there is, in many ways, easy to translate from poetry. 

However, my editor was always like, “You should stay here and reflect about what this meant for you.” In poetry, we do not do that. We actually prefer not to, because we don’t want to explain to the reader how we’re feeling. We just want them to see it. But the biggest part of memoir is reflection and thinking about, what does that mean for me now as an adult? What about the future? So that was a huge part of writing narrative, was just sitting in that moment where you really have to understand, what does this mean for me, but also what does it mean for my family and my larger communities?

You’re writing about yourself and about your family and these sometimes uncomfortable memories, like your dad’s gambling addiction. Was there any tension there where you were like, oh, I don’t really want to put this out in the world? Or was it cathartic for you? What was going through your head as you were writing about those aspects of your life?

I started writing the book in earnest maybe six years ago, seven years ago. And it’s so interesting — I think the moments I found really vulnerable to write came later, right up to the deadline. I almost saved the most vulnerable parts for the very end, which I think a lot of writers do because you have to be emotionally and mentally ready to share something. I also wrote a lot about what it was like to write about being vulnerable and sharing things that I wasn’t sure if I should or could share. So in many ways, I was very honest with the reader.

There’s this one scene where I write about my brother and my father’s relationship. And it always breaks my heart because I have kind of worked through my estranged relationship with my father, but my brother has tried to reach out to him year after year and gets rejected. It’s really hard to watch as an older sister. And there’s this one scene where he tries again and he comes back and he’s heartbroken. And I needed to write in that scene, like, I wish I could describe to you the ventricles of my anger. I want to tell you how I felt in this moment, but I just can’t because it’s overwhelming. And so I tried my best to also be honest with the reader, to let them know that this is really hard for me to write. 

And that was really cathartic, I think, to also admit to the fact that it was hard to write. And hopefully readers can see the process through which I was writing the memoir. It’s a little meta, but to me, that’s just being more honest; it’s nonfiction. If I was going to go nonfiction, I was going to go as well as I could. I’m not sure if I’ll write another memoir, so I decided to be as raw and honest and vulnerable as possible. It was definitely difficult to write some of the scenes, but I went there.

It seems like that kind of vulnerability is almost like the anti-Instagram, Instagram being where people only post the best parts of their life. And for people who have gone through similar things, I imagine it’s good for them to be like, oh, here’s somebody who’s going through something similar. Have you heard from any readers who have connected with your writing because they have a similar story? 

Absolutely. I think that’s one of the most beautiful parts about writing this memoir, was what happened afterward. So many people reached out to me about certain moments in the book or ways they connected with the book: “I also have a family member who suffers from addiction and goes to the casino every single day, and we just accepted it in our family. We don’t talk about it because there’s a lot of shame around it, stigma.”

It’s very, very prevalent amongst a lot of immigrant communities. A casino bus is often picked up in Chinatowns. That’s a very, very pointed choice, I think, to sell the American dream, basically. And that leads to family catastrophe. And so many people reached out to me.

I also write a lot about adult-me in this book, and my romantic struggles, and talk about intimate partner violence. And I went as raw as I could. So many readers have come up to me not expecting the adult versions of myself in that book to link with the past. And they’ve shared their own experiences with domestic violence. And it was very powerful. But there’s also moments where readers will come up to me and be like, “Oh, this part was so funny.” There’s a lot of humor in this book centered around my mother, and they will say, “Your mother is almost like a character from a movie. She just seems so ridiculous and fun and tender and loving.” And I’m like, she is all these things. 

I feel like there are also moments where I try to really dig into, how did she become the person that she becomes? It’s as much a story about me as it is also a story about her. So it’s kind of like a memoir of her own, too. In fact, when I had my book launch when it came out last year at Elliot Bay [Book Company in Seattle], my mom came from Jersey to be on stage with me and she started to sign books. And it was hilarious, because it’s like she wrote it!

There is always going to be a human element to writing your personal experiences. There’s always a touch of something there that makes a poet very uniquely them. So I’m not necessarily fearful of AI.

You talked about how there’s a lot of Seattle in the book. What brought you to this part of the country?

I moved to Washington, to Seattle, in 2011 or 2010. I started a PhD program at UW and did my doctorate there. But to be honest, I didn’t apply to other schools as much. I was set on coming to Seattle because all my family on my mom’s side lives in Seattle — my grandma, all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins live in Seattle. So for me, even applying to UW was mostly just a decision to say I’m moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’m moving to Seattle to be closer with family. And I haven’t left.

It’s one of those things where I think I’ll always be, in some way, a Jersey girl. I think anyone from Jersey has a very particular personality. But whenever I’m home in Jersey, I crave certain things about here that I miss so much. A lot of it is the environment. A lot of it is the people, the energy, of the Pacific Northwest. It’s kind of magical out here. And so I’ve been here since, and I actually moved to Bellingham to teach at Western. And then just recently, I moved back to Seattle. So there’s something about the city that I really adore.

And there’s so many amazing artists here. There’s so much to see and do. I can’t get enough. Regardless of where I would live, I needed water. That’s central for me. But the book has a lot of Washington in it because it’s also my home. And in many ways, I bet readers would be like, “Oh, I know that street in Capitol Hill.”

What has your career teaching at Western Washington University been like, sharing your talent for writing with your students?

I really, really, really adore teaching. And I can’t even imagine what my life would be if I wasn’t a professor. For me, teaching goes hand in hand with my own creative practice.

Right now I’m teaching a graduate class called the Ghost Archive. And I’ve been obsessed with archives and memoir and trying to find the research we can’t find, especially since so much of my family’s history has been censored by the Chinese government. My memoir talks about that, too — my family’s history during the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution. And my own process of trying to find out about my family’s history while writing a memoir, and teaching that right now with my students and trying to get them to try to do that kind of digging and that kind of creative reimagining of what their grandma had gone through. And so for me, it’s very, very tied to my writing practice.

Do I write during the academic school year? No. I think I’m just such an intensely rigorous professor that I find myself struggling to do that. Though if I give them writing assignments in class, I always write alongside and share immediately, because I want them to know I’m a practicing writer, just like they are. 

For years now, I pretty much only write during the summer. I started my memoir about six years ago. And when I gave it to Tin House, my publisher, I gave them, I think, only 90 pages. In other words, I had like 200 pages still left to write. And they gave me about a year or so to do that. But I only write in the summer. So I wrote those 200 pages pretty much in three months. And that was very intense. I will never forget that summer. I had been thinking about it all year — more than a year. I’d been thinking about it for six years. So it’s almost like the book was already in my head. I just actually had to sit down and do it. And I basically had three months to do it.

It’s hard to find the practice of how and when to write when you want to give so much to your students. I’m at the point in my career where I’m writing book blurbs for my students. And that is a true honor as a professor to be able to now get to blurb their books. These are dreams that come true, you know?

Feel free to say you don’t have an opinion on this, because it’s so new, but everyone is talking about AI and how it’s going to impact Hollywood and publishing and all these different industries. Have you given any thought to the future of publishing in the age of AI?

I think about this all the time, especially since it’s been something the English department at Western has talked about: What do we do with students writing papers or essays, etc.? As a poet, I don’t know if I fear it, because there is always going to be a human element to writing your personal experiences. There’s always a touch of something there that makes a poet very uniquely them. So I’m not necessarily fearful of AI.

In my memoir, I took as many risks as I could take because I was like, let’s just have fun with writing this book. But in the memoir, I actually make up a character — which is kind of breaking a rule of nonfiction, but why not? — and the character is called Wongmom.com. And it’s my mom that lives in the internet. So this is a different mom. I have my real mom in the book, and there’s Wongmom.com, which is a character in the book where she basically gives life advice to you if you’re feeling nervous about whatever. In the book, she’s giving me life advice as I’m writing this book. And I actually made her real recently. So you can go to Wongmom.com right now. It looks like an old AIM instant messenger box. It’s crafted from the old school internet I grew up with. And you can type in things like, “I don’t know if I should quit my job? Should I?” And she’ll answer you. 

I was talking to my friend, Eric Olson, who designed the site and he wanted to make her AI. And I was like, “Oh, no.” That’s what I got scared of, I’ll be honest. I was like, Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My fake internet mom would definitely become a demon. So I actually turned it down. I was like, look, I can’t make her AI. So she just feeds you lines from the book at random. So I have no idea what she may say, because it’s just random sentences in the book. But usually it’s quite poignant. It’s very strange that it works oftentimes.

But maybe that’s also an answer to the AI thing where I’m like, I’m not afraid of it … but I’m afraid of it.

I feel like there’s a lot of uncertainty about it, because nobody knows exactly where this road is going to lead. It could all be cool and fine and dandy. But it could also eventually wipe out the human race. So I think there’s tension because there’s uncertainty about it.

Yeah, totally. In terms of a lot of my students — maybe this is very particular to Western students — but they often try to go analog. A lot of students are really trying to be off their phone, trying to literally get more into the grounds, like gardening, and trying to be more analog.

I’ve noticed in my students, basically since we returned after the COVID lockdown, that they really want to be more physically present in the classroom. I’ve noticed that shift. I don’t know what that says. Maybe it’s just Western students in particular, but they’ve been wanting to take technology breaks and are very mindful about that. They actually have to say, “I’m going to set this amount of time to not look at my phone.” So I’ve never had to deal with students on their phone, whereas pre-pandemic, I did sometimes. But maybe there is a movement to get closer to something that’s more human.

In conversation, sometimes epiphanies happen

I’m actually talking to you on a ‘dumb phone.’ And I still have a smartphone, but I basically got the dumb phone because if I go out to eat with my family or something, I don’t want to be on my smartphone the whole time; I can leave that at home and take my dumb phone. There’s actually a subreddit called ‘dumbphones,’ so I think you’re onto something. How big is the movement? I don’t know, but I think there is definitely a movement to push the brakes a bit on technology.

There is definitely a movement and I can see it very clearly as a poetry professor — I think they really just want to go notebook, “let’s write in nature,” “let’s go outside.” They want to feel the world versus scrolling through it. I can see it unfold in real time in the last two, three years.

At this event at Eagle Harbor Book Co., you’re going to be speaking with the poet Yanyi. Can you talk a bit about what we can expect from this conversation?

Yanyi is a lovely friend of mine. He and his partner just moved to Seattle, I want to say last year, and I’ve loved Yanyi’s work for years. I’ve taught his book, The Year of Blue Water, in my Asian American literature class.

We’re both poets, so I thought it would be nice if we both opened up with poems, especially since April is Poetry Month; I think it still lingers in May. Maybe I’m just always thinking it’s Poetry Month. But we’re probably going to start with poems, most likely new poems. And then I’ll read a little bit from the memoir. And the paperback is so exciting for me, especially as someone who comes from a working poor background. To have a price point that is somewhat reasonable is important to me. I was really thrilled that the paperback [came] out. 

And we’re just going to have a conversation really talking through some of the major themes in the book. I wanted this to be an opportunity; we’re both sharing new work as well as celebrating the paperback. I’m always trying to spotlight other writers in town and introduce folks to writers who have just moved here. Whenever I think about local Pacific Northwest authors, the people have been here for many, many years, but I’m always curious, who just moved here? Can we say they’re also Pacific Northwest authors? I’m a big proponent of spotlighting local voices, other writers, that I never want to be just by myself whenever I do events. I want to really share Yanyi’s work with everybody. He’s super talented.

And I imagine there’s value to having another person there rather than just speaking by yourself to drive the conversation forward. 

And you never know what’s going to happen. I guess that’s the other thing, is that in conversation, sometimes epiphanies happen depending on what questions are asked. I’ve had the honor of moderating or being in conversation with numerous writers who are from out of town who come to Seattle to read at bookstores and for me it’s such a powerful job to dream up what questions will really give you a taste of what this book is, but also open up discussion amongst the audience of, what’s the process of writing a book? I think a lot of readers in the audience are writers, too, and makers and creators and artists, and I think it’s always great to know the kind of process, and thought process, and what it was like to write this, because we don’t usually get that in the book itself. We always want to know the scaffolding, what happened to you after you wrote the book. 

Like, I hadn’t seen my father in about 15 years and I went to see him after I wrote the memoir. I would not have seen him if I didn’t write the book. I just felt compelled to see him. So surprising things happen and I think that part of that was just the energy around sharing the book. I’m just excited to be able to share it with folks.

Was it a good meeting with your father? Did you get closure or anything?

Unfortunately, I didn’t, but that’s to be expected. There’s a scene at the end of the title essay, “Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City,” where I imagine walking down the boardwalk with him when he’s 90 years old and I dream of reconciliation. I dream of something in that essay or chapter. And then when I saw him, it’s hard to divorce what you wrote from what’s in front of you, what the reality is. And the reality is, he had had a stroke and it was heartbreaking. We couldn’t really communicate with each other. It was a deep melancholy. Still things unsaid, and they will continue to be unsaid. However, I am glad that I saw him. I’m glad that he saw me physically there. And even though we didn’t talk, I think something was passed in the air. Maybe it is just a feeling of, this is how it is. And we hope for change. We hope for certain things in our lives with all our different relationships. But sometimes, it is what it is. And in many ways seeing him was like a confirmation that that longing may still be there. But at least there was and is forgiveness.

It was a very emotional moment. I actually wrote another essay about that moment, which is coming out in Lithub. When you write, it just leads to more writing.

Anything else you’d like to add?

No, your questions are really thoughtful. And I appreciate our conversation.

I’m just really excited for the event. I’m glad you reached out. It’s been a surprise along the way. You never know when people come up to you and share such personal things about their own lives. That’s one of the most powerful things about memoir specifically as a genre. So thank you.

Jane Wong at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

6:30 pm, May 8
Eagle Harbor Book Co., 157 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island.
Buy Wong’s book, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City:
Eagle Harbor Book Co. | BookShop.org | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Travel guru Rick Steves is delivering two lectures this weekend at the Admiral Theater in Bremerton — 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., Oct. 8.

Watch our full interview with Steves, in which he details the ways the COVID-19 pandemic changed travel to Europe, talks about the ability of travel to break down barriers, and opines on the benefits and limitations of new mediums for travel writing when compared to tried-and-true print travel guides.

If you’re planning to take the Bainbridge Island ferry to Seattle between now and Sept. 13, don’t bring your car or other vehicles.

The ferry will be taking walk-ons only as work crews lift walkway structures into place on their concrete and steel pilings as part of the Bainbridge pedestrian walkway project, according to the project page on the Washington State Department of Transportation website. The work began 1 a.m. this morning, and continues through 3 a.m. Sept. 13.

Diagram showing Bainbridge Island ferry walkway project.
From WSDOT: “In September, crews will lift and lower the new walkway structures into place. This view shows how crews will receive and stage the four large bridge spans that will make up the new overhead walkway to the ferry. This work requires using all available vehicle holding space and ferry lanes.”

The route will be operating on a one-boat sailing schedule during that time. The ferry will load only walk-on and ADA passengers via the existing walkway. There will be no drive-on passenger service on the route during that time, including vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and electric scooters.

Staff will be on hand to assist with the expected increase in walk-on ridership, and accommodations will be made for emergency medical vehicles, according to WSDOT.

Additional service will be available on the Edmonds-Kingston route while the Bainbridge route is closed to vehicles, when crewing and vessel availability allows. “Because the Seattle/Bainbridge route will operate on a one-boat sailing schedule, the second boat is available to provide unscheduled service as a third boat on our Edmonds/Kingston run to handle additional vehicle traffic traveling to or from Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula,” WSDOT states.

According to WSDOT, the four bridge spans will arrive from Tacoma via barge, and will be rolled off into the ferry holding lanes. “The longest span, sections 1 and 2 joined together, weighs 90 tons and measures 199 feet long and 18 feet wide,” WSDOT states. “Over two to three days, all four spans will be lifted by cranes and set into place. The other three to four days are needed to erect and stage cranes and equipment, then dismantle and demobilize them.”

Alternate routes for drivers

WSDOT recommends people who usually drive onto the ferry use public transit in Seattle or Bainbridge Island and walk onto the ferry. (People planning to park and walk onto the ferry will find scant parking at the terminal, WSDOT warns, although they may have better luck at adjacent paid parking lots. Kitsap Transit park and ride lots offer an additional 150 spaces. The streets of downtown Winslow are off limits to commuter parking.)

Passengers who must drive are advised to plan ahead and use an alternate ferry route:

More info on Bainbridge Ferry Terminal Overhead Loading Fixed Walkway Replacement

More info on the project is available on WSDOT’s website.

Madeline Ostrander is the keynote speaker at this Saturday’s Bainbridge Island Environmental Conference. We spoke with Ostrander about her book, At Home on an Unruly Planet, which chronicles communities taking action against climate change; how her book’s message can help people find hope among other troubling current events; and how her time at YES! Magazine, which was started on Bainbridge Island, helped shape her book.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you talk about this environmental conference, your background, and what you’re going to be talking about?

The Bainbridge Environmental Conference is, as I understand it, an annual conference hosted by a bunch of community groups on the island. This year they wanted to make the theme related to having conversations in the community about how to respond to the impacts of climate change and also how Bainbridge Island can be part of solutions to climate change. And that’s really the theme of my book, which tells a series of stories about communities that are responding to climate change and its impacts in different ways across the country. And so they asked me to come and give a talk about, what can Bainbridge learn from some of these stories that I’ve written about, and then how can they apply them to things that are happening locally? So I’ll be giving a talk and then we’ll have a discussion, and then there’ll be a series of breakout groups where people can talk about different things related to local impacts.

I know one of the discussions around climate change is how much of an impact one person can make, versus how much you need collective action through, say, legislation. Can you talk about that, and some of the actions people take in your book? Is the idea that smaller scale projects add up to have a greater effect?

I think my book really occupies a middle scale between acting as just one lone person or acting on some big legislative scale. I write about communities in the book and how communities are searching for solutions related to climate change. And I think there’s a lot of potential for people to make a big difference at that scale. I think there’s also a lot of interest from climate experts, and climate organizers, and people who work on policy on what can be done by cities, what can be done by communities. And since the Inflation Reduction Act passed in the summer, there’s a huge push to organize communities all over the country to be involved in different kinds of transitions to renewable energy and to electrification and electric vehicles and different kinds of transportation.

So there’s a lot happening at the community scale, and I think communities also learn from each other and adopt solutions that they see working in another place. And I also think that what happens at the level of the community can become an example that then can influence state policy and then, eventually, federal policy. But there’s a lot you can do kind of quickly and simply and in a really empowering way at the local level. I also think it’s a place where it’s just more tangible for people to see what they’re doing and to get together and organize something. It feels more immediate. And so I think there’s something really inspiring about when people get together and do something locally.

Are there illustrative examples in the book of something that’s really effective at making a change?

I think all four stories are about different examples of that. There’s four main stories that I focused on and they’re kind of braided through the narrative arc of the book in terms of taking action and rethinking what our economy looks like. The story that reflects the most on that in my book is from Richmond, Calif., which is actually an oil refinery town — it was built around this rather large oil refinery, one of the largest on the West coast. And it’s also one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions on the West coast. And over time the community has both been confronting that industry about pollution, but also then developing a lot of grassroots projects to do with urban farming, to do with developing little green businesses around the community, and recruiting solar companies to come to town and starting solar jobs training programs.

It’s allowed people there to start to imagine what it might look like if there weren’t a refinery there or if the community were something else besides an oil town. And over time they’ve been having a more and more assertive conversation about, what say do we have over the energy choices that are made here, and what can we do to influence whether this refinery stays here forever or not? And can we actually shape what happens with oil policy in California? And so I find it to be a really inspiring example.

And it’s also happened across the northwest as well. For instance there was a lot of local resistance to the idea of putting a lot of coal export terminals across the region. People really got together and said, we care about this place and we don’t want these here. And those export terminals didn’t get built. And a lot of that has to do with the way people care about their communities and the way they care about the northwest.

Beyond climate change, it sounds like the point of your book is that these huge problems may seem hopeless, but people can gain a sense of purpose by taking action. There’s a lot of things like that nowadays: We had this global pandemic, and you have political division and inflation and all this stuff; I think there’s an undercurrent of hopelessness on a lot of different fronts. Does your book have a broader message about how even though it might feel hopeless sometimes in the face of these issues, there are things you can do to make an impact?

One of the things I reflect on in my book is about the emotions that we feel about the climate crisis, which I think you can think about more broadly is the emotions we feel about the state of the world right now. We’re living through a lot of overlapping changes that are scary, overlapping crises. We’ve lived through the pandemic, there’s been a lot of economic uncertainty. There’s been a lot of political turmoil and divisiveness over the last few years. And so I think we all feel uneasy. I think that title, about living on an “unruly planet,” could play to a lot of things. But one of the things that I reflect on in the book is that this anxiety that we feel, when researchers and scholars have studied what it is that makes us able to cope with that anxiety, or able to cope with this level of change and disruption, is to be able to find community and to be able to come together and come up with shared things that inspire us, shared actions that are creating something positive.

That’s hugely helpful for people’s ability to cope with whatever it happens to be, whether they’ve lived through a wildfire that’s burned down a lot of their community, or whether they’re really just coping with a sense of unease about how troubling things are right now.

A separate crisis, so to speak, is this loneliness epidemic we’ve heard about, and deaths of despair. You mentioned coming together to work toward a common goal, and it seems like maybe that is also something that can address that, where you’re building community and staving off that loneliness a lot of people are dealing with nowadays.

Someone asked me recently on social media, what’s one surprising solution to climate change that you’ve come across? And I said: getting to know your neighbors. Because even though that seems small, there’s a lot that can come out of a conversation with your neighbors. And also we’re all more resilient against certain kinds of threats and impacts and crises when we get to know our neighbors. For instance, there was a famous study done by a sociologist in Chicago after a heat wave where he shared that in communities where people knew their neighbors, where there was more social cohesion and people were friends with each other, they were better able to withstand the heat wave and have fewer health impacts, even if there are all sorts of other things that made them vulnerable, like a lot of elderly people, or having lower incomes, or not having that much access to buildings that had proper heating and cooling. The effect of people knowing their neighbors was as powerful as if you had given everybody an air conditioner. Because people checked on each other. So I think there’s a lot that comes from getting together in community and talking together about, how do we deal with the challenges we’re facing?

That’s interesting, because preppers — you know, like “doomsday preppers” — that’s one of the pieces of advice that they give, too: One of the first things you should do is make connections with your neighbors and look out for each other. I think that’s a universal thing we’ve kind of lost sight of, and getting back to that is a good thing in general.

Yeah, I mean there’s so many other implications about being together in community. There’s so much research about how much healthier it makes us, how much happier it makes us. We live longer. I just think we as humans, we’re wired to want community and we do much better when we reconnect with one another. And I think that’s a solution to a lot of different things. But in particular, my book is about how it’s a solution to things related to climate change and how there’s a lot of power and a lot of inspiration people can find from community.

Switching gears a bit, I know you’re based out of Seattle, but you were the editor of YES! Magazine, which was founded in Bainbridge Island. Can you talk about your experience working there?

I think, really, the book came out of my experience working as editor there particularly. We did an issue — I think it was in 2010 — on resilience. And that was the first time I actually reported on Richmond, but I also went down to the Bay area of California and I talked to a lot of environmental justice groups who were working on climate change. And one of the things I noticed when I talked to those community organizers was that they spoke about climate change in a very tangible, local way because they were used to thinking about, how would an issue affect their communities that they worked with, how would it affect vulnerable people? How would it affect communities of color, people living in poverty, people who are at risk in a lot of other ways? Because decisions that are made on a local level can either make better or make worse the kinds of disparities that we already have in our society. But what was inspiring about all of that was that they had such a tangible, real way of talking about climate change — what does this mean for us here in our home? And I think that was one of the first threads that got me thinking about this book. How do we talk about this in a way that people understand it in places that are familiar to them, in contexts that are meaningful to them?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I didn’t talk at all about the fact that the first story in the book is all about the Methow Valley [in northern Washington] and about its experiences going through multiple mega wildfires. It also talks about my experience living in Seattle and how all of us have dealt with these seasons of wildfire smoke year after year now. I think for all of us, our perception of what it means to live in the northwest has changed because we’re going through these heatwaves and wildfire smoke, almost every summer it feels like. So those stories are both about recovery. They’re talking about how, especially Pateros [a small city in north central Washington] and the community recovery efforts out in Okanogan County played out because those are the kinds of examples for communities all over the nation.

Carlene Anders, who was a former mayor [of Pateros], who led those efforts, now goes and consults around the country about how to recover from disasters. And they’re also about, how do we take care of our forest ecosystems in a time when there’s more wildfire risk? And then it’s about our connection across the northwest between the east and and west and places that are more prone to wildfire. And here in the west we’re living in places that are increasingly getting their own wildfires. How do we navigate living in this time of fire and heat?

A couple years before COVID, I bought some N95 masks to deal with the wildfire smoke because I have asthma. And those came in handy when COVID hit. But it is crazy how frequent it’s getting.

I reflect on the same thing in the book actually. I think it was in 2018, I bought an N95 mask because the air quality in Seattle was so bad. And then I still had it when the pandemic came around. For a while you couldn’t get that kind of mask. And so I kept using the same mask that I bought for wildfires during the pandemic.

Any last thoughts?

I realized when I was talking about these stories, I haven’t reflected that much on the people in them and they’re very much driven by the people in particular communities who have come to these realizations about how climate change is affecting the place they love and care about community — they care about and are taking it upon themselves to organize responses and to organize inspiring solutions. I mentioned Carlene Anders as one. She’s the former mayor of Pateros. She was I think one of the two first female smokejumpers in Washington state. She has been a firefighter for a couple of decades and also has run a fire recovery organization in Okanogan County.

And then in Richmond, the person there is named Doria Robinson and she’s an urban farmer and also now a city councilor. She was just elected in the fall and she’s been leading efforts to get kids, especially young people, teenagers and youth, involved in urban farming. It has evolved into this big community conversation about what else could we be in Richmond — could we actually be a healthy community that doesn’t have all this pollution from an oil refinery and have a different kind of economy that can be a different kind of place?

I think people might think at first glance that it’s a pretty dry journalistic account, but it sounds like it’s more of a character-driven narrative nonfiction book.

It is a narrative journalism book, yeah. It also has a lot of essays as well where I’m reflecting on some big ideas about home and about, what does it mean to live with uncertainty in this time that we’re living in? It’s very much focused on storytelling. I’ve had a couple people tell me it reads like a novel, which is what every narrative journalist wants to hear.

I definitely respect the craft of narrative nonfiction journalism, because I’ve tried to do that a couple times and it’s definitely harder than it seems. It’s not like a novel where you can just make stuff up; you have to find the narrative elements within things that actually happened and make sure you’re still maintaining your journalistic ethics. I definitely appreciate the skill that goes into that.

Thank you. It’s a huge amount of documentation, like photographs and audio and checking back with people. I had three fact checkers work on the book. It was quite a labor, um, to have all the details be part of the story. And yet I think they’re really important because too often we think about climate change as this abstraction or as this kind of wonky policy question. And I really wanted to write something where people would feel it — they would feel it in their heart and in their gut and not just think about it as an abstraction or as a scientific issue, but as a personal question. And so the story is very personal and the writing is really personal and all of the essays are also very personal.

Washington State Ferries released an update to its service restoration plan on Tuesday, and it’s a mixed bag for ferry routes servicing Kitsap County.

State ferry service was severely curtailed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a subsequent shortage of crew members. The restoration plan, first released last March, lays out the ferry service’s plan for increasing its service to meet increasing demand, with an aim to “maintain reliability of service, ensure that service restoration can be maintained, prioritize routes based on ridership needs, and facilitate transparency and customer communications.”

The Seattle-Bremerton route, which has been operating on an alternative schedule and is being serviced by only one vessel (much to the frustration of people who rely on that route), is estimated to return to a regular schedule by October 2023, according to the plan. WSF doesn’t anticipate having enough crewing to restore full service to the route until after the end of the summer 2023 season; a trial of two-boat service is expected at the end of September. The route will be considered fully restored once it reaches 95 percent reliability over a three-week period, according to the plan.

In the meantime, the ferry service will add morning and midday trips as crewing and vessels are available, restoring partial two-boat service before the start of the summer season, the plan states.

Additionally, the ferry system will continue to support additional passenger-only fast ferry service from Kitsap Transit until the Seattle-Bremerton route is fully restored, the plan states. Kitsap Transit reached an agreement with the state in November to expand sailings to alleviate the impact of curtailed WSF sailings.

Full service for the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route is estimated to be restored by May 2023 for weekday service, and Fall 2023 for full service, the plan states.

WSF expects to begin trialing full weekday three-boat service in early April, or once a vessel and crewing are available. “Because the three-boat schedule is so different from the two boat schedule, the Trial Service stage will be more challenging than trials on other routes. WSF will communicate with customers regularly about each day’s expected schedule and anticipates it may take longer than three weeks to reach full route restoration,” the plan states.

Additionally, the plan states that while waiting for vessel and crewing availability necessary to trial three-boat service, WSF will add midday and evening service to fill gaps in the two-boat schedule.

On the bright side, full service was restored to the Edmonds-Kingston route in February. Full service was restored on the Seattle-Bainbridge route last April.

Crewing and vessel availability have been the primary challenge affecting WSF service levels, according to the plan update.

Chart showing Washington State Ferry staffing needs
A chart showing Washington State Ferry staffing needs, taken from WSF’s February 2023 service restoration plan update

“In addition to the profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, WSF faces numerous ongoing challenges that compound the immediate crew and vessel shortages,” it states. “Many of these challenges were identified in the WSF 2040 Long Range Plan (LRP), submitted to the Legislature in January 2019. The LRP provides a proposal for investments and policy recommendations that support reliable, sustainable, and resilient ferry service through 2040 and beyond. The LRP identified investment in WSF’s workforce as one of the top priorities to ensure continued system reliability. It also placed particular attention on stabilizing the ferry fleet by building 16 new vessels and providing adequate time for vessel maintenance.”

WSF employs nearly 1,900 people on vessels, in terminals, at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility, and at WSF headquarters in Seattle, the update states.

“Due largely to funding provided by the Legislature in spring 2022 that allowed WSF to change the way it recruits, hires and trains employees for marine positions, the agency has made good progress in addressing crew availability challenges,” it states. “In 2022, WSF hired 202 fleet personnel. With 42 retirements and 99 separations for other reasons, that’s a net gain of 61 new fleet employees. With attrition still an issue, WSF continues to focus on the recruiting and training necessary to restore service across the system.”

The Kitsap Public Health Board has added a tribal representative, completing a restructuring process required by a state law passed in May 2021.

Jolene Sullivan of the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe joined the board for its January meeting.

She joins three community members and one tribal representative who joined the board in September 2022.

Jolene Sullivan
Jolene Sullivan

Sullivan is the tribe’s health services director and manages its health clinic, dental clinic, behavioral health clinic, community health services clinic, and business office, according to a news release from the health board. Her service includes program development and oversight, grant management, program and community organizing, and administration of multiple programs.

According to the bio for Sullivan listed in the news release: She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington and is currently a doctoral candidate in Integrated Behavioral Health Management at Arizona State University. She has more than 15 years of experience working in social services within the tribe, including Child Welfare, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Child Support, Youth prevention services, and Behavioral Health. She has held her position as program director for the past 15 years. She is a delegate on the American Indian Health Commission and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

“Ms. Sullivan is an enrolled member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. She has worked to incorporate tribal culture in all aspects of her programs,” the release states. “She provides training and guidance to new staff on S’Klallam values and traditions. Her ongoing leadership as the Health Department director includes educational presentations at multi-level meetings, consultation to other Tribal programs, and participation in Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal government.”

Sullivan was appointed to the health board by the American Indian Health Commision for Washington State and the tribe, in accordance with the new state law.

With Sullivan’s appointment, the health board is now made up of 10 members, concluding the expansion and restructuring process that began in early 2022 to comply with Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1152, which requires that local health boards must include an equal number of elected and non-elected members, the release states. The health board expanded from seven to 10 members to comply with the law. The board now is made up of one elected county commissioner, four elected city officials, three non-elected community representatives, and one nonelected representative each from the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes. The four non-elected members were appointed to the board last fall.

MultiCare Health System announced today that it plans to open a new neighborhood emergency department in Bremerton. It’s expected to break ground in Spring 2023, and open sometime in 2024.

The 10,500-square-foot facility, which will operate under Tacoma General’s license, will be located on 2.4 acres that MultiCare purchased at 5900 SR 303 NE, according to a press release from MultiCare. It will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will be staffed by board-certified emergency physicians. Additionally, it will include 10 patient rooms, four observation rooms, and on-site radiology services, including X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scans.

“There’s a critical need for more emergency medical services in Kitsap County,” said Mark Robinson, president of MultiCare Tacoma General and MultiCare Allenmore hospitals, in the release. “Emergency departments across the Puget Sound are often at or near capacity. This new ED will give Kitsap County residents another option for emergency medical care.”

Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler reacted positively to the news, stating in a news release, “This is great news for our community. The new MultiCare facility will supplement the current emergency services offered in our region. Once completed, the emergency department will help increase capacity, availability and access to care for residents in Bremerton as well as across Kitsap County.”

According to the release, Wheeler met with MultiCare leadership last year to discuss the city’s need for additional hospital capacity; he continued the discussion this October, “to continue building a long-term partnership.”

“I thoroughly appreciated MultiCare’s commitment to discussing opportunities for our area,” Wheeler said in the release. “We look forward to continuing to grow our partnership with MultiCare into the future.”

The city’s news release adds that the new emergency department “will fill an important need for local residents.”

The announcement of the new facility comes as the hospital home to Kitsap’s only emergency department, St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale, has been plagued by numerous problems. The hospital has experienced ongoing staffing shortages, which were exacerbated by a ransomware attack in October that left staff unable to access patient records. This summer, ambulances faced sometimes hours-long waits to drop off patients at the hospital. In October, the head of the emergency department departed the hospital, which is also at risk of losing its accreditation after an on-site survey found more than 30 standards were found to be out of compliance, according to a report filed in September.

The hospital system that owns St. Michael’s — Virginia Mason Franciscan Health — closed the emergency room it had been operating in Bremerton last year.

When MultiCare’s Bremerton facility opens, it will be the hospital system’s sixth neighborhood emergency department, according to the news release. The health system opened emergency departments in Parkland and Bonney Lake in 2019; South Hill in 2020; and Federal Way in 2021, and a new emergency department is slated to open in Lacey in Fall 2023.

You’d better be nice — and if not, you’d better watch out for Krampus.

Krampus is returning Dec. 2 for the annual celebration of Krampusnacht in downtown Bremerton.

The folkloric tradition of Krampus originated centuries ago in the Bavarian region of Europe, said Eric Morley, who organizes the Bremerton Krampusnacht event and will participate in full Krampus garb. Krampus is also traditionally celebrated in Germany, Switzerland, northern Italy, and parts of Scandinavia, he added.

Krampus roams the streets of downtown Bremerton at last year's Krampusnacht
Krampus roams the streets of downtown Bremerton at last year’s Krampusnacht (Kitsap Scene file photo)

The original intent of the Krampus folklore was to deter misbehavior in children, Morley said. Krampus would typically appear around the winter solstice to punish naughty boys and girls.

“Over time, with the integration of Christianity and back and forth with St. Nicholas, over time the two traditions kind of merged,” he said. Modern interpretations of Krampus integrate the character with Santa, positing that he is Santa or St. Nicholas’s shadow.

“That leaves Santa Clause the liberty to be the good guy and dole out the rewards for good behavior,” he said. “And Krampus is the bad guy who doles out the consequences.”

This year’s Krampusnacht is expected to be bigger and better than ever, Morley said. Last year there was only one participating business, but this year there are 35; in fact, there are more businesses in downtown Bremerton participating than those that are not, he said.

“A big reason that I do this is not only for the fun and tradition of Krampus and bringing something new and quirky to Bremerton, but it’s to support our local economy, support our local businesses, promote tourism and support our community, and to bring something new and exciting to Bremerton,” Morley said. “I really wanted to start at our core established businesses, the people who make Bremerton Bremerton, and get them involved and engaged.”

This year’s event will also feature many more people dressing up as Krampus. Morley said he’s anticipating as many as 30 people in costume, including people from Krampus groups based out of Seattle and Tacoma.

Additionally, downtown watering holes will participate, offering Krampus-inspired cocktails and beers. And kids can get in on the fun as well with activities at the Kitsap History Museum; they can color their own paper Krampus mask to wear out on the street — “so they can scare Krampus back,” Morley said.

There’s even more: Frog Soap has designed a unique Krampus soap, and at the end of the night, people will be able to head to Bremerton Vintage Flea Market to get photos with both Krampus and Santa.

Morley said he’s excited for this year’s event, and to see how it grows in the future.

“It’s taken off a lot faster than I thought it would, and I’m really excited about it,” he said.

Krampusnacht Bremerton

Krampusnacht Bremerton is 5:30-8 p.m., Dec. 2, in downtown Bremerton, starting at Collective Visions Gallery, 331 Pacific Ave.

Get more details on the Krampus Bremerton website, or follow Krampus Bremerton on Facebook or Instagram.