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A Day in the Life of.....
Here’s a little bit about me: I’ve been trying to make the world a better place since I arrived with a book clutched tightly in my little fist. I taught nature day camp at the Norman Bird Sanctuary and environmental education as a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Jamaica Junior Naturalists. From there I flew to Dutch Harbor and boarded the Mineshima Maru to spend a few months in the Bering Sea with three other women and three hundred Japanese men(!), performing intimate operations on Pollock such as collecting otoliths and, well, sexing them. I spent most of my career as a fish biologist saving the salmon, managing a multitude of projects in the Columbia River basin from endangered Kootenai River sturgeon to the offspring of Lonesome Larry in Redfish Lake. I’ve been slowly undergoing metamorphosis from a fish biologist who writes to a writer who used to work as a fish biologist. I enjoy writing about nature and have recently had articles and essays published on salmon, scallops, sea turtles, narwhals, and quahogs.
I’m an avid ocean swimmer and spend a lot of time hanging out with jelly fish and salps. For the past thirteen summers, I’ve swam 1.7 miles across Narragansett Bay to raise funds for Save the Bay because, as I’ll tell you in the following tv commercial, I’m part fish. I love to walk the beach and feel happiest when I have sand between my toes. And, indeed, some of my best friends are books.
My husband, Andy, and I have beat the odds and been married for 25 years. He and I are East meets West—I was born into the fourteenth generation off the Mayflower and he to a family logging business. Hailing respectively from the next towns to Newport, Rhode Island and Newport, Oregon, we met as Peace Corps volunteers where he worked with yam farmers in a town called Wait-A-Bit. Our goal has always been to raise our children to be citizens of the world and to that end we’ve taken them to live for a year in Portugal and another two in Costa Rica. I’ve had thirteen pregnancies and given birth to seven children, only five of whom are living today.
I’ve never been highly decorated, but I was the spelling bee champion of my second grade class and once took first place in both the rose and dahlia competitions at the Norman Bird Sanctuary Harvest Fair. I currently live on Aquidneck Island, the original Rhode Island, with Andy and our two youngest children (the other three are in college and grad school). But my favorite place to write is in our yurts on the coast of Oregon.
A Typically Fascinating Day in the Writing Life of Author, Kelly Kittel
My favorite writing space is in our yurts on the coast of Oregon, where my bedroom is also our kitchen, living room, and dining room. In the mornings I wake up to the welcome sound of my preset coffee pot gurgling on the counter across the room. When I’m sure it’s ready, and not a moment before, I slip into my Uggs and shuffle over to pour myself a cup. Having lived in both Jamaica and Costa Rica, one of the sweetest moments of my day is that first hot taste of the tropics. I relish my morning coffee and, indeed, some of the many invaluable supporters I acknowledged in my memoir, Breathe, were the many coffee beans sacrificed on my behalf. I can write for hours with a lukewarm cup of coffee at hand and sometimes have to force myself to get out of my chair and eat in the afternoons before I become dizzy from hypoglycemia. I recently told someone that I live on words and liquids, as I move from coffee, to water, to wine. But no, not every day.
A yurt has thin, acrylic-coated polyester walls, think high-tech tent. On the coldest of days, I light a fire in the wood stove and wear my colorful alpaca glittens to type until the yurt warms up with the rising sun. My writing window faces east and is actually two layers—clear vinyl and an attached, fine-meshed screen. On warm days, I go out on the deck and literally rip the vinyl from its Velcro frame and all of nature floods through the screen into the yurt. I feel like I’m writing outdoors and nature provides a peaceful soundtrack that is truly the only one I need. My head is busy enough that I prefer to work in complete silence and relish the lack of noise. But, as I said, since my writing space is also the living room, when my kids are home I am subjected to endless episodes of Good Luck, Charlie, which I am equally capable of tuning out. For the most part, when I’m engrossed in my writing, the world falls away from me.
From my writing window, I can see the remnant stand of old-growth Douglas fir trees growing on the hillside across the creek that wraps around our pastures. These ancient trees are part of the Siuslaw National Forest surrounding our property and often I can also watch the resident herd of elk grazing in the rising morning mist. The fir trees range in age from one to four hundred years old and have survived countless wildfires, windstorms, and at least one gigantic earthquake. They, and the slow-moving ungulates, are all excellent reminders to me in my writing career to be patient. To everything, there is a season.
Right now I have the luxury of writing all day, which I typically take advantage of during the week as the weekends are never mine for writing. For decades, with five children to raise, I didn’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time and I only began to write in earnest while my last child, Bella, napped in the afternoons. It has only been three years since Bella started going to school all day, during which I’ve changed my morning routine from working out at the gym to working at writing. I get my best work done in the morning when I’m fresh and free from distraction. (And, yes, my ass is distinctly more chair-shaped than gym-shaped as a result.) Once I turn on my laptop and get started, I am off in my own little world. I often feel myself inching closer and closer to climbing into the screen and disappearing. I’m usually surprised when my kids walk in the door from school in the afternoon to find me, still hunched over my laptop in my pajamas. Then we’re off and running for the rest of the day, late for everything and wondering what we’ll have for dinner.
Kelly Kittel never questioned her Mayflower Society mantra—Family is the most important thing—until the day when her fifteen-month-old son is run over by her sixteen-year-old niece.
Nine months later, Kittel’s doctor makes a terrible mistake during her subsequent pregnancy and she finds herself burying yet another baby. Caught up in the maelstrom of a malpractice lawsuit, Kittel and her husband battle not only the medical system, but their own relatives, in the courtroom.
As their family tree begins to topple, the Kittels struggle to nourish the roots of their young family and find healing. Achingly raw and beautifully narrated, Breathe is a story of motherhood, grief, and family in the face of unspeakable tragedy and, ultimately, how she learns to breathe again.
“In Breathe, [Kittel] bares her broken heart, and shows us all courage and hope and, mostly, love.”- Ann Hood, author of the memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief andThe Knitting Circle.
“Many are the stories of a mother’s love and loss. Kelly Kittel’s is different: when her beloved niece killed Kittel’s toddler in the unimaginable accident of a moment, horror spread through her extended family like the cracks in a mirror … bad luck, bad luck, bad luck. Her warrior’s fight for the survival of that family is a witness to every one of us.”- Jacquelyn Mitchard, author, The Deep End of the Ocean
“Breathe is a heroic story of one mother’s struggle to find the courage to continue to breathe after the deaths of her precious sons… Kelly Kittel learned to open her heart again and again and serves as a beacon of hope for those newly arrived in the valley of grief.”- Darcie D. Sims, Ph.D., CHT, CT, GMS; Director, The American Grief Academy and Co-founder of Grief Inc.
“A powerful story of how a family comes to terms with the unbelievable loss of one child, then another, and how love and hope knit them together.”- Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers