genre 2
Art by Yi Shun Lai

Curatorial Notes

I have an absolute horror of earnestness. I think I mostly worry that it will make me seem weak. In my childhood home, we didn’t say, “I love you” or even “You did a great job,” or “Hey, I think you’re okay.” And if I ever, misguided and emboldened from a sitcom I had seen, actually asked out loud why no one ever said, “Mama is so proud of you,” I got a steely-eyed stare and “Stupid, blind child—that your family loves you should be obvious,” and “Praise is earned, not given.”

And yet, how I admired those people who left the house every morning saying, “I love you! Have a nice day!” and who told their children, “You’re amazing—did you know that?” or “You can do anything you set your mind to.” (I may have also seen these things on network television, so maybe my reality was skewed.)

All of this may explain my allergy to nature journaling. This is that peculiar thing people do where they go out into the woods with a notebook and some watercolors and lumpy-bump their pages with wet leaves and tape. They draw petals and bees and birds and landscapes and annotate them, oh so carefully, oh so diligently: “Soft breeze blowing from the northeast,” they might write, after wetting a finger and putting it into the air to test the direction of said breeze. “Balmy, mid-70s,” they might further jot, next to their perfectly rendered eucalyptus tree. “I feel at one with the sky, the earth, the worms tunneling beneath me,” they will notate, after lying with their faces to loamy earth for fifteen minutes of communion with beetles scurrying beneath them.

(This last I made up.)

I admire these people who can access this deep noticing, to borrow a phrase from the poet Derek Sheffield. But I cannot help but roll my eyes, to varying degrees, at this nature journaling. Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle, I think to myself, must everything be so all-fired dramatic? It’s just a nice day, and the breeze does not care to be noticed, and the worms will go about doing their thing when you are dead and gone and your precious watercolors have faded and the cellophane tape has lost its stick so that all your flowers and leaves are in a pile under your books, and no one knows where those goofy notebooks are anymore anyway.

And yet—and yet. I love this different way of seeing. Writers can so easily get bogged down in the alphabet. Pictures are always accessible, and it’s kind of neat to reproduce a memory with your own two hands. Sometimes I take notes in that medium, just so I can remember, in another format, the things I have seen and learned.

It is not quite earnest. But it is nice, and that will have to do for now.

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“Chef Charlie”—notes from the Scott Polar Research Institute’s archives on an Antarctic expedition.

“Orde-Lees’ Diaries”—notes from the Scott Polar Research Institute’s archives on an Antarctic expedition.

“Orford Castle”—self-explanatory.

“TRex”—a scene from a trip to Phoenix. Inked on-site; watercolored in whilst nursing a beer at a bar, which makes everything less earnest, and therefore okay.

Yi Shun Lai is a co-publisher of, and prose editor at, The Tahoma Literary Review. She's an adjunct faculty member at the University of La Verne and Southern New Hampshire University and teaches workshops and classes on creative writing and the craft of publishing at other higher-education institutions. Her debut novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, has been in its fourth printing forever. She dabbles in nonfiction, and likes it.
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