Whenever someone reveals the story of their life, that ground on which they’re standing is holy ground. That’s common ground. We’re human, and we’ve got a story. If I listen to yours and you to mine, we won’t agree on a whole lot, but we will understand each other, and that’s common ground. –Bishop Michael Curry
I have been teaching a writing class at the library this winter. I should say I have been facilitating a workshop of writers. Okay- to be frank, it’s more like a group of friends (old and new) that meet on Monday night for an hour and a half to connect through stories, haikus, thoughts, hopes and dreams ( a dream to write a book) and I would say, as St. Luke said, the imagination of our hearts. We show up and we are kind. And brave about sharing.
I used to think you could teach writing– that there was a way to do it and a way not to. Now I’m not so sure. I remember the arguments about using “I” — definitely a no-no for a lot of years. Semi-colons always trip me up (and dropped my grades more than once.) Is however really better than but? And of course you can’t begin a sentence with and. No way. Once, an editor told me my sentences were too long, that I needed to break them up so that I didn’t talk about the dog, say, snoring on the rug behind me, or the moon out the window and the coffee that tastes so creamy (surely I can describe it better than that old hack) all at once. The particular story was about my neighbor Don, an old fisherman from Rhode Island who is no longer with us, clearing a plugged well pipe by shooting out the blockage with a .357 pistol, which worked, except that the well was in his basement and it was an artisian well, so when the mineral clog broke loose a geyser blasted up through the kitchen floor. He told me this so that if our new well ever seemed to be slowing down, we would know what to do. Shoot it. Which actually, did not seem to be the best way, you know? I rewrote that column. With very short sentences. One thought at a time. It was awful. That’s when my dear editor (and I loved him. He taught me a lot), said it was best to mix up the length of the sentences. It was a good story he said, keep trying. You will figure out how to write it right.
But I what I really wanted to tell you is that yesterday I snowshoed with Chip and our daughter Sarah, and Sarah set the pace, steady but kindly, she runs up mountains, and how I was behind her and we talked all the way up the steepest part of the trail, huffing and puffing but not noticing the effort as much because of the company, and then when we were up on the easy ridge, in the deep powder and winding through the frosted trees in a gingerbread forest, we were silent. I thought how happy I am that my daughter loves this too. I thought about how I did this before I had five children, when Sarah was younger than her children are. I thought about how all of my children have children, and how I did not tell them to do this. I know what an effort it takes, and families are not for everyone, but it makes me happy. Which is a long way of saying that I know that I am standing on holy ground, and I hope you do too, and maybe this is the year you write your stories down. Maybe buy a journal. Start with 300 words a day. Don’t worry if your sentences are too long. Or too short. Your story is good. Focus on that.