therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

I’d like to thank a few people

DSC00865 I am writing the first acknowledgements page of my writing life, and I am paralyzed. I don’t want to send it to my editor. I won’t send it. What if I’ve forgotten someone? I know I’ve forgotten someone. I mean, let’s just assume. Because where do you draw the line?

For example, I didn’t include the first person who told me I could write: Mrs. LaCross, my second and third grade teacher. She loved my sometimes droll but mostly inane little poems, directly inspired by her frequent dramatic readings from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

I didn’t include Rose Moss, my Wellesley College creative writing professor, who taught me how to show versus tell in a piece of “fiction” that really was my first attempt at memoir. Mrs. Moss made me see a dark night in my young life so clearly I can see it still: the train station in Geneva, the last train pulling away with me not on it, the blond man in a trench coat who seemed so trustworthy, so sincere. She made me see myself: a college student in a peach-colored parka, Frye boots, bell-bottom jeans, carrying a forest-green, metal-framed backpack. Wearing old tortoise-shell glasses with a bad prescription, because I’d flushed my contact lens down the drain of a pension in Rome.

I didn’t include Paul Zimbrakos, my boss at City News Bureau of Chicago, who taught me that I could and would interview anybody, from AFL-CIO chief Lane Kirkland to the cops who addressed me as “Hey City Nooz” to young Sandinistas wearing bandanas over their faces, in hiding at a Chicago convent. Or Edward Bliss, who I never met but whose classic Writing News for Broadcast taught me that I could and would boil Washington state’s epic nuclear power default scandal known as WPPSS down to fifteen seconds of copy for the nightly news. Or Jan Chorlton, who died this year of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but who, 30 years ago, showed me that it was possible to commit acts of daily creativity in a TV newsroom.

I didn’t include Jacci Thompson-Dodd, my boss at the Seattle Art Museum, who encouraged me to pull out the stops and make the most obscure art come alive. Or Kristin Hyde and Liz Banse, who did the same when I turned my writer’s eye to environmental issues for Resource Media.

I didn’t include Rebecca Brown, who taught fiction in the University of Washington evening extension program in the mid-1990s and urged me to take my own writing seriously, at last.

I didn’t include these wonderful, memorable, powerful people because they weren’t directly influential in the writing of my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, which will be published in Fall 2014 by She Writes Press. And yet the question remains: where do you draw the line?

There’s a folder in a box in my closet that contains poems, nursery rhymes, riddles, limericks, all laboriously copied in my 8-year-old’s cursive writing. Mrs. Lacross thought a good way to practice our handwriting was to copy things we liked out of books. To build our own storyteller’s treasure chest, our own “fairy’s gold,” she called it. It was the corniest idea ever. I loved it. Loved it: never knowing how permanently it would influence me, this notion of stories as treasure. As magical, intangible currency; a savings account that would never run out.

I wish I could share the news with Mrs. Lacross that I’m going to be a published author at last. I know she would not be troubled at all by how long it took me. According to her daughter, she went back to college and became a teacher when she was sixty and taught until she was 78.

Lucky me, that she did.

Lucky me, that so many people invested in me when I most needed them to. Thank you all. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Night of the Shutdown

DSC00865On the night the Republicans shut down the government, I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College: “Intro to Memoir Writing,” a non-credit class offered through Central’s lively Continuing Education program. While my students and I tackled the mysterious mechanics of writing about our lives, other students and other teachers labored in classrooms all around us: French, across the hall; English as a Second Language, a few doors down; history and sociology around the corner. While Congress wasted the country’s time, we devoured time hungrily and with purpose: teaching, listening, learning from each other. While House Speaker John Boehner did his best to dismantle the democratic process, we were building—in our cases, stories, built one word at a time with sweat, tears, love and hard labor.

At some point earlier in their careers, surely Boehner and his colleagues must have wanted to build, rather than tear down. Maybe not: maybe the Republican party has always been dedicated to ending government as we know it. Government, as we were taught in classrooms long ago, in which bills are drafted, debated, rewritten, passed, signed and then become the law of the land. Law: not a target for blackmail and subversion, but law.

It cheers me to think of all the learning going on in community college classrooms, not only on Monday, September 30, but on any given evening. Because this is where Boehner and his cohort are going down. The people the Tea Party et al fear so much—people who think, people who want to learn rather than be spoon-fed half-truths and untruths about how democracy is supposed to work—I’m here to tell you there are more of them every day. And they’re not home watching Fox News after work, they’re going to night school.

What angers me is that some of those students might also be among the 800,000 federal employees who are out of a job, thanks to the selfish grandstanding of the zealots on Capitol Hill.

It helps a little to know they’ll be able to get health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Law: the Affordable Care Law. Passed by the people’s representatives, signed by the democratically elected president, upheld by the highest court in the land.

I love how that works.

Just as I love teaching in a continuing education program at a community college: where people are excited about opening their brains up to new ideas, rather than pretending new ideas—or new laws—don’t exist.

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