At the end of August in 2011, Dan and I got in a Uhaul and started driving toward Hurricane Irene. New York was our destination. I would be starting an MFA program at Sarah Lawrence, a school I never visited. The only thing I knew about our life in New York was that my first workshop professor would be JoAnn Beard. I bought her book, Boys of my Youth, and Dan and I took turns reading it aloud to each other while the other drove. I adored it. This was going to be amazing.
It was. At the end of May of 2013, I was exhausted from finishing a psychologically rigorous program and stumbling through the thesis. Too thwarted for a lively celebration, I instead picked up JoAnn Beard’s In Zanesville and didn’t get off the couch until I turned the last page. I ate it like bread.
I consider myself lucky to have JoAnn Beard bookend my Sarah Lawrence experience. She taught my first and last workshop. She authored the last book I read before I started the program and the first book I read after I finished. She is a Zen goddess, a master teacher, a lovely human being and a truly gifted writer. The very last assignment she gave us at Sarah Lawrence was to write about what contribution we wanted to make to the writing world. Yikes.
At the end of July in 2013, Dan and I packed up a Penske truck and started driving back toward Minnesota. Here I sit, transitioning into the life of writer without the support of a school program. There is no more homework, just work. I realize now even more than in May, what a gift that last JoAnn Beard writing assignment will be for me in the year to come. A bold, ridiculous, hopeful credo to come back to when I lack confidence or focus. It’s a document in progress, of course, but I want to share bits and pieces of it with you to witness and hold me to. Thanks for being with me on the journey.
Let’s talk about what happens when women like Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, or Brandi Carlie take the stage. They create music that reverberates in my chest. I weep. They have the ability to fill an entire auditorium with their voices while singing to only me. There’s something about these empowered, graceful, fearlessly unfettered, wise artists that makes my heart whisper, “I want to do that.” I want to find words inside me that are true. I want to use my voice to share those words, to tell stories that dignify other people, that dignifies me. I want to encourage other women to stand up taller and be moved to find their voices, too, to add to the beautiful conversation.
I hope to write for myself in a way that lures me to a deeper appreciation of my consciousness, that invites me to be tender with my story and generous with my own spirit.
I hope to write stories that challenge us to keep dismantling limiting hierarchies that get between us and our own humanity. I spent last summer in a slum in Kenya at a free school for girls. One of those girls, Asha, was my intern, helping me with my research project. We became very close and continue to email back and forth. I read her writing and encourage her to keep going when slum life gets heavy. The day before I did a public talk to tell the story of the school that changed Asha’s life, she sent me a note. It said, “You will shake the world with your truth. They are ready to listen. Maybe, God willing, because of what you say, the world will be ready for me to take the stage and tell my story some day. Right now it’s your turn. One story at a time.” I want to take my turn and then watch Asha shine.
Truth does not lie in separation from but in deeper engagement with the universe. The world is filled, and filled with wonder. To see this is to be made free. I hope in my creative process to be able to convey the extraordinary that surrounds and embraces us. There is reverence in repetition. There is transformation in the beauty of the ordinary. The grace, the light of a brief encounter, of the greening weeping willow, of coffee brewing. There could have been nothing, but there is something, and that something is very good. There could have been nothing, but instead there is you, me, this. It is good. We forget that, in the drudgery of life. We forget to look around with the amazement of a child. We forget to be kind to each other and make apple pie and plant trees. I want to remember.