I’ve known that I could write since the tenth grade when a wonderful english teacher’s simple assignment changed my life. Mr. Blank asked us to keep a journal for the school term. I followed his instructions to write every day. I wrote about my daily experiences, spilling the thoughts that crowded my mind, imagining myself as the heroine of my own story that unfolded day upon day in my middle class suburban existence. New to the neighborhood and the huge high school, I wrote about the way my life was, my insecurities and my triumphs and my uncertain place in the world. I wrote down my questions, my concerns and my musings. Perhaps because of the journaling, when the same teacher asked us to write a list of the things we intended to accomplish in our life, the only entry that I remember making is that I would write and publish a book some day.
Today I have boxes of bound journals. Like coffins, they contain the remains of every person I have been in the past 32 years. I can only bear to exhume the most recent ones and I often wonder what use it is to hang on to the stories of my life, an ordinary life in so many ways. Lately the bound essay books take longer to fill as I prefer to tap out my thoughts on my laptop. Yet I persist.
Recently I have begun to understand the wisdom of allowing all things to take their course. A little over a month ago a friend emailed to tell me of a writing teacher, offering a memoir writing class. I had confided a year ago to this friend, herself a memoirist, about my rising interest in writing for a wider audience, in literally briging my writing out of the closet. She thought Jennifer and I might be a good fit. I flagged the email for follow-up and forgot about it until a week later when a second friend emailed the same teacher’s contact information. This second connection was a real estate listing and had nothing to do with writing but I was astounded enough to put getting in touch with Jennifer on my TO DO list. The very next day a third friend told me of a different connection with the same woman. Right then and there I picked up the phone.
A month later I am sitting in Jennifer’s Venusian office space, all velvet, crystal, and artsy. The space befits the domain of the published memoirist, New York Times Bestselling author, fucking Oprah writer that she is! I have read all three of her published memoirs and I sat in this room with her once the week before for a pleasant chat about life, writing, Buddhism, Portland and a quick look-see at some journalistic pieces I’d written for an on-line class.
Our connection is unmistakable, and the work–my assignment to write 5 to 7 pages using Jennifer’s particular method–has been effortless and joyful. And yet this is the moment when my tiny seedling idea must break through the soil. I adjust my glasses on my face, check in with my breath and clear my throat. I have no idea what my voice will sound like. I begin reading, controlled, tight and way too fast. Jennifer listens and jotting notes furiously and suddenly I have a feeling like galloping horses running off with my breath. She stops me and she says, “Slow down. Start again from the top of that last page and savor the words. They are beautiful words.” I take another deep breath and I begin again and suddenly I am my own audience, hearing my own truth. The tears are streaming down my face, a box of tissues appears out of nowhere and my mother-sister-author-girlfriend-nurse-teacher-self is witnessing the tiniest seedling breaking new ground as a writer.
I have been invited to join a writer’s group that will give me the accountability and structure to produce the manuscript that has been growing inside for 32 years. I have no idea what to expect but I relish the thought of losing myself in the story. I sat in tears today after reading my first 6 pages out loud to my new teacher. She believes in my talent and unlike the experience of the skinny, buck-toothed, teen-aged journal writer who listened to the same words of praise from a different teacher 32 years ago, this time I believe in myself.