Current Spring Residency

Carol Green and Tamie Harkins - April 2014 - Non-Fiction

Our spring 2014 collaborative residency features two authors and friends, Carol Green and Tamie Harkins. In their time here, they are working on their own writing projects while drawing on one another for insight and inspiration. 


Carol Green is on a yearlong fellowship through the University of Rochester's Medical Humanities department, and is investigating the varieties of spirituality among modern believers of a number of faith traditions, as well as non-believers. Carol is drawn most to the stories, "those peripatetic, painful avenues toward God and peace, and how these stories are rooted in the surest depths of a person - not in the side pockets". In Sitka, she hopes to learn more about the island's spiritual heritage, the dialogue between native faiths and those of later immigrants. Carol will offer classes related to her work in her time here. 

Statement of Purpose

It might sound odd, but something in me wants to bow. I feel it press down, a hand on my shoulder, when I step into autumn evenings or watch a river bleed into the cold horizon. I’ve felt it before Catholic altars and Hindu shrines; it’s there, real and absorbing and healing.

But wait a minute . . . I’m a medical student! We don’t tend to bow before much except our textbooks and attending physicians. We want gloved hands, surgical-scrubbed hands, not God hands, or any of that wishy-washy ethereal business. And the idea that such a “hand” could heal? Although health has similar etymological origins to hallow and holy, the term “faith and healing” still raises eyebrows: does it involve also snake handling, or Kool-Aid? (in case you were curious: no.)  

Despite the taboo, many brave and articulate voices are giving credence to the idea that faith and spirituality can impact health: Herbert Benson, who pioneered mind-body medicine through his research on the relaxation response, and Harold Koenig, who spearheaded religion and health epidemiology research, are just two. Even my medical school, the University of Rochester, has taught the “biopsychosocial” model for decades: the idea that psychological and social influences play a role in health and disease. Who knows—maybe spirituality will seep into that model soon enough.

Currently, I’m on a “year-out” fellowship project through my school to learn about the faith-health connection experientially. I spend most of my days talking to members of faith communities in the Rochester area, or health providers who focus on this topic: churchgoers, Reiki healers, faith-based physicians, rabbis, Zen psychologists, imams, family and pastoral therapists. We’ve had vibrant conversations about their spiritual journeys: those peripatetic, sometimes painful avenues toward peace, which, I’m certain, are rooted in the surest depths of a person—not in the side pockets.

A number of themes emerge when I talk to people from different religious traditions about the faith-health intersection: death and grieving; anxiety and “existential dread; ” spiritual disciplines that are also health practices, such as prayer and meditation; and the healing power of connection between people. The latter is a major reason that I’m drawn to the Island Institute. Faith can be a major source of resilience for individuals—who may struggle with disease or personal loss—but it also promises something healing for communities affected by racism, socioeconomic disparities, and other societal rifts. While an Island Institute Fellow, I look forward to the chance to discuss some of these issues with members of the Sitka community and to learn from the perspectives offered.

As you might imagine, my fellowship year has been a spiritual journey for me, too. I’ve attended Episcopal Complines and Zen sittings, danced and chanted in Sufi worship, marveled over the feisty, quirky Quaker spirit, felt the blanket of some heavy presence as I walked into a Trappist monastery, bounced to the pounding thrum of hip church bands, closed my eyes while I listened to the chime of a thurible as it sprayed incense around a Greek Orthodox sanctuary. To be honest, I’m not sure what my own faith is, but the year has been a kaleidoscopic mess of possibility. Certainly, I believe in belief: the idea that faith can brighten life. I’ve seen it, in the eyes and voices of the people I’ve met. They’ve blessed me with their own belief.

I’m excited to come to the Island Institute along with my friend and fellow writer, Tamie Marie Fields. A month of stimulating conversations and time for focused writing will be invaluable, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of Sitka’s community.

Tamie Harkins grew up spending salmon season on a small island northwest of Kodiak Island, where her family worked. For the last three years, she has been writing a memoir, Even The Song Birds, about this experience, and she hopes to spend her time in Sitka turning sections of this work into stand-alone essays. She is excited to be in Sitka, both because she finds that the nature of her writing changes here, and because she finds the Institute's resilience work inspiring. Tamie will offer creative writing workshops while in Sitka. 


Statement of Purpose

When the wonderful writer Jaed Coffin first suggested to me that I apply to the Island Institute, the thought of writing again in Alaska thrilled me. When I began investigating the work and vision of the Island Institute, I was surprised at how good of a fit it seems for me. The Island’s Institute’s concerns with landscape, story, community, loss, and, especially, resilience, resonate deeply with my own writerly concerns. While at the Island Institute, I intend to continue writing about Alaska and resilience: what we gain by being resilient, and what we lose when we are not allowed or able to be anything but tough.

    For the past three years I have been writing a memoir, Even the Song Birds, about growing up (during the salmon season) on a small island on the northwest side of Kodiak Island. While at the Island Institute, I'd like to branch off into other work that probably will still involve the context in which I grew up, but will be written in a different tone: more essay and less memoir. I take inspiration from Annie Dillard's "Expedition to the Pole," Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, Susan Griffin's A Chorus of Stones, Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence, all works involving personal experience/reflection whose primary intent is to understand something broader/other than an isolated or individual self. I'm interested in what happens when one considers the human bodily experience within and alongside a stark, wild, seemingly-indifferent landscape, which I do in my memoir, but I'd like to do experiment with doing it in other forms of nonfiction. This may sound a abstract or overly theoretical; in my writing I would want to keep returning to the body’s inherent, and necessary, softness and fragility.

    So much of what draws me to the Island Institute is simply being back in Alaska, because I write differently in Alaska than I write elsewhere. I look forward to the chance to be in Alaska while also having reflective distance from the particular Alaskan community I know so well. But it’s not just Alaska. It’s the concerns of the Island Institute. As an adult working in a commercial salmon family on a remote island, I have wondered how my family could live in concord with the land—and why they (we?) often don’t, and don’t even want to. I see my family’s work and life practices as a microcosm of the global conundrum; participating in the Island Institute would give me the chance to dialectically explore what I’ve usually had to puzzle out alone.

    I’ve asked Carol Green to apply with me. Carol is genuinely curious and brave, unwilling to concede to the status quo even when there are pressures on her to do so. She wants to know the deep-down truth about things, to investigate broadly and deeply. For these reasons, and just because she’s such good company, I look forward to sharing this residency with her. While we do not intend to collaborate directly, we have a synergistic relationship, and our work will benefit from being at the Island Institute together.