By Amy Armstrong
In her latest release, a personal memoir titled, “Water Mask,” Monica Devine has done what few writers accomplish: She has successfully linked Outside experiences back to life in Alaska while staying true to the uniqueness of life on The Last Frontier.
She’s scheduled for a public signing on as part of September’s First Friday offering at the Georgia Blue Gallery from 5 to 7 p.m. The Press caught up with her recently to delve past the book’s cover.
Water Mask, published in March of this year by the University of Alaska Press, is a collection of 15 stories that Devine said, “explore issues of the heart; felt things like fear, spiritual longing, memory, connection, perception, and loss.”
From the story of a young Native Alaska mother experiencing the ultimate tragedy while dipnetting as the infant strapped to her back fell in to the water to conversations Devine and her parents had before her father’s death, the former children’s author intentionally tackles the raw, sensitive and plain-old tough issues that mark adulthood.
“It’s a bit raw and I was hesitant to put it out there, but it was truth with a capital T, staring us both in the face, and I couldn’t see the point in sugar coating our experience,” Devine said of the chapter titled, “Cold Departures.”
While writing this chapter, Devine said she knew she was “standing on vulnerable ground.” She wondered what her readers would think.
And then she decided to move past that fear.
“I’ve learned that you can’t control what other people think; each individual comes into a piece with their own bias and level of experience, and that’s what will be reflected in their response,” she said. “So, I’m happy to put that worry past me in regards to all the art I create going forward.”
Devine is applying this approach to sculpture. She produced several rustic-looking pieces based on the poem, “Nature,” featured on her website. The poem with one of its sections stating,
“Hug the debris
hug all the hard places
hug the mountain road
speed the steep
slide & swerve”
is a reflection of her writing in Water Mask – much of which is drawn from her journals while working as a speech pathologist in the Interior. During that time period, Devine wrote in her journal daily. Sometime the entries were notations of who she spoke to during the day; other times, those journal entries were, “about the deeper issues that connect us as human beings.”
What has emerged from her journal to the memoir is a fairly intimate look at Devine’s lifelong experiences and thoughts – even those things from Outside that she ties back to her life in Alaska.
As Devine describes it, she has “gathered a love for northern New Mexico,” with its dry, wild country and stunning geological formations. She is especially drawn to a small village named Abiquiu with its warm adobe curves decades old with the wear of history.
“Nothing stimulates the imagination more than exposing yourself to different landscapes and this one has drawn my attention,” she said, “It is a place to land, to sit perched in a canyon with a congress of ravens, and writer.”
Quiet is inspirational, but so is noisy as Devine shares her experience on the bustling streets of Bangkok where she watched a monk “walk with the purest of attention to every step her took, walking mindfully within a blur of activity on a city street.”
In sharing these differing experiences, Devine encourages her reader to be on the lookout for those moments that feed their soul; those moments that may seem trivial at first glance but when given an intentional glimpse are the ones that leave a lasting impression.
“Around every corner, there is a story,” she said.
Learn more about Monica Devine online at: www.monicadevine.com.