New Teacher Feature: Cara Stoddard and Inspiration from the Natural World

Fall quarter at Hugo House is just around the corner! Welcome Cara Stoddard joining us this quarter with their class perfect for those creatives celebrating autumn’s arrival, Keeping a Phenology Journal: Recording the Changing Seasons.

Cara Stoddard smiles at the camera in front of lush foliage background. They have blonde shoulder-length hair and glasses and are wearing a floral-pattern button-down shirt.Q&A with Cara Stoddard

Who is your class best suited for? What would you like your students to take away from the class?

I based this class off the five-year diaries my grandmother used to keep where you can see your entry from that same day the previous year(s). My grandmother usually recorded the weather and what was coming ripe in her garden, as well as who she and my grandpa met up with for coffee at the Wooden Spoon and who she talked to on the phone that day.

I hope for students to leave this class with a new or renewed habit for record keeping for the purpose of noticing the cyclicality of the seasons, tracking change over time, and ultimately paying closer attention to their own interconnectedness within a larger network of living things and how everything relies on everything else.

What advice do you have for writers working through a creative block?

Idle time is when my best ideas come. Watering the garden. On the lightrail. Waiting for my daughter in the parking lot after practice. I work full time (not as a writer) and sometimes have to manufacture “idle” time so that I have space to declutter my thoughts—something where I am not having to parse new inputs (not listening to the radio or a podcast or scrolling through social media on my phone). I also keep a “Self” text thread on WhatsApp where I collect ideas that I can return to later when I have set aside writing time.

What are you reading now? How do you approach reading as a writer?

Reading begets writing for me, and it is so easy to get too busy and not have enough time in the day to read. When I go through a dry spell reading, my writing follows suit. To get out of a dry spell, I usually pick up momentum with a graphic novel or something else super compelling and page-turning. I also love pairing reading with eating (coupling a new habit with something I am already going to do every day helps me). I’m currently reading Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, which is fantastic at the level of the line.

Tell us about an author, poem, idea, storyline, sentence—something that has you currently captivated.

Oliver Baez Bendof’s poem Outing, Iowa

“If you ever doubted that a body can transform completely, take the highway north from town, past the crowded diner with the neon sign for pork loin sandwiches, and go left at the arrow for the lake. Can I tell you? The land where I was born was born an ocean, and that ocean born of ice. … plates shifted, glaciers melted into river, into rows of corn that flipbook past your car. Park anywhere and follow the trail back in time … I still bleed, still weep: what we used to be matters.”

Cara Stoddard holds an MFA from the University of Idaho and a BA from the College of Wooster. Their work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Terrain, and Ninth Letter, among others, and has been nominated for Pushcart.

Register now for her upcoming class on Oct. 25, Keeping a Phenology Journal: Recording the Changing Seasons »

Learn more about Cara Stoddard:

Instagram: @bigspeedsguanaco