Matthew Komatsu | Danger Close Alaska 2020

Editor’s Note: Danger Close Alaska 2020 takes place Saturday, March 7 from 11 AM–3 PM at the Anchorage Community House. Danger Close is open to the public. Registration is just $10 for members of the military, active duty, retired, reserve, and families.

If you’ve participated in any of our four previous Danger Close seasons, then you’ve probably heard me talk about how every year, we do something different. How we’re always looking for new and interesting ways to come together over the craft of writing. Well, we’re doing it again. 

This year, we’re dialing back the hours, but cranking up the intensity by building the whole thing around the idea of conversation as a basis for writing. And my co-host, Wendy Willis, and I, well, suffice it to say that we’ll be coming at this year’s workshop from very different sets of life experiences. 

In a way, it’s about time. Danger Close Alaska kicked off in 2016, the year in which I feel like the nation’s divisions turned things up to 11 after decades of us trying to treat our deepest problems like the uncle nobody likes at a holiday. As if ignoring them might just cause them to go away. To be fair, Danger Close has tackled some pretty hard material. But as the creative director looking back, I also think it’s safe to say that I’ve played it a tad safe. 

In the past couple of years, I’ve given a lot of thought to how we all get inside our own echo chambers. Online and in IRL, it’s what we do: we tribalize. The more history I read, the more I realize that we’ve been drawing lines amongst ourselves since before we had the words to describe the phenomenon. In some regards, it can be a useful activity. At the individual level, we want to be surrounded by the comfort of like-minded humans. At the larger level, groups with common interests are often required to get things done, or maintain the status quo. Inevitably, though, conflict will result as interests compete with one another, and here we are, as we have always been in some form or fashion. 

Democracy has always been about compromise and aspiration. “A more perfect union,” as the founders of this nation put it in the preamble to the Constitution. Hell, just getting all the words that went into that foundational document down on paper took a major crisis and months of wrangling. And people have been dying as a result of, and over the interpretation of those words ever since. 

This year’s Danger Close Alaska is about getting out of our comfort zones, and having hard conversations. My hope is that we get people very unlike each other in the room. Veterans and civilians could be one way of identifying those differences, but it’s not just that. Differences in economic class; race; identity: my dream is that in chasing better poetry and prose, we come together to better understand each other. Doing so will not only build community, it will enable us to create more compelling conflicts on the page, enrich the characters we seek to represent, and potentially even open our narrators’ eyes to those critical details needed for a rich and authentic narrative.

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