Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

I Write My Life

writingOccasionally, I teach a creative writing class. I teach off the beaten path in dark corners that don’t get too many visitors—homes for seniors, halfway houses and jails. The stories in these places are less polite than the stories you get from a class at your local community colleges. I teach in these places because writing has helped me to better understand and accept myself, so I share the process in hopes that it may help someone in this way too. Writing is how I make sense of who I am and what I’ve lived. Writing is the talent that I give as service.

Aside from a few newspaper articles and a couple of magazine pieces (I wrote a piece for Quilter’s Magazine once) and few big blogs like Care2, I am not a widely published or famous writer. I write because I am a writer, one of what I imagine to be millions who get up each day and scale a white screen or blank page, looking for the right turn of phrase to convey the story, the life within life. I blog a couple of times a week, because it just feels right to see a finished piece that you are willing to put out there. It’s a risk. The more authentic a writer you become, the more you risk.

I knew a man when I was in my 20’s– Murray Schisgal. He wrote a whimsical book: “Days and Nights of a French Horn Player.” He went with me to an acting class that I was taking. On the drive home he gave me a great piece of advice. He said “don’t worry about whether people like your work or not. You should worry about whether or not they remember you.” I write to leave something of myself, just the way the Sumerians did.  The written word is the story of being human.  We live in a time when literacy has never been higher and in spite of inane tweets and texts, there are those of us who want to tell the human story in complete sentences.  Please God let me be remembered for half-way decent descriptions!

Jessica was a student of mine at The Jefferson County Detention Center. She was eighteen and landed herself in jail for over-using, abusing and in general screwing up her life with meth. She was so pretty, so young. Armed with Jesus and G.E. D. she always sat close to me, beyond excited about discovering Emily Dickinson and May Sarton. She wrote strong, haunting poems about the sensory experience of meth, longing essays about “getting it right,” and I so believed that she would. When I knew she was being released, I left a Natalie Goldberg book for her.  I penned a note of encouragement and gave her list of resources—a contact at Naropa’s Writing program, a lead on a writer’s workshop that would give her a scholarship. But she never called anyone. I heard months later that she was back at Jefferson County and sent her regards. The system slithered and coiled itself tightly around her. Drugs lulled her into submission. Now she belonged to them and I learned the sad song of “you cannot save anyone,” you can only give what you’ve got and the rest is just the rest.

I read books about writing. I look for ways to deepen and keep it real. Some mornings I think about Jessica and I wonder where she is and I am afraid to know. I sit in my warm little house, with my nice cup of tea, caffeine being the only thing that I am addicted to. I write my life on a laptop and I look for where my story connects to others. I was connected to Jessica. We both longed to get it right. We both wanted to leave something that asked to be remembered.


Novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer, dreamer, grateful.

16 thoughts on “I Write My Life

  1. Oh that was just beautiful and so well written, like velvety chocolate. Everything ripens at its hour. Maybe there is hope for Jessica. The seed you planted is just gathering enough energy to start to grow.

  2. Hi there! I stumbled across your blog when I searched up, “creative writing”.

    It’s hard trying to help someone change their life around when circumstances are maybe so bad that it seems like there’s no turning back for the person you’re trying to help. Even if it was for a brief moment, I think you opened up Jessica’s world by letting her see how she can create beauty even if life around her feels like hell. That’s an experience I’m sure she won’t forget even if her life is being dragged under by the drugs.

  3. This was a wonderful piece! You’re writing is exceptional, and approachable, too. It is like hearing a friend talk, despite the fact I have never met you. Yes, “Writing Down The Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg [though I don’t know if that is the one you gave her]. When I gave my book collection to Goodwill, that is one of the few books that I couldn’t part with 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. Good intuition–the book I left for Jessica was “Writing Down the Bones.” Still one of my favorite Goldberg books, now 20years old! If your work can stand up that long, you are memorable and a classic!;-)

  4. You planted a good seed… and told a good story. I am touched by both and thank you for sharing. And Natalie Goldberg is my go-to writer! May Sarton got me started on the path.

    1. May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude” introduced me to what raw, honest writing looked like. And Goldberg…she just keeps cranking it out, inspiring writers and hopefuls everywhere.

  5. Reblogged this on Reworking Joseph and commented:
    Through as simple a contact as sharing a love for writing people can help others in so many ways… maybe Jessica has found the help that she needed or maybe not. The important thing here is that the core message is the same… reaching out to help others is right and good. Over that caffeine fueled cup of tea the one who reached out has been helped and continues to go on helping by sharing their story here.

  6. Hi Stephanie, thank you for sharing. In doing so you are still reaching out and helping beyond Jessica. Though I hope she has found the further help she needs. A truly altruistic approach you have and your piece here is very well written. I look forward to reading more and searching out a copy of writing down the bones. Thank you for sharing.

  7. As in writing stories, I don’t think that in life, the order in which things happen and to whom, changes what they mean. The story of your life, is a non-linear scene with flashbacks in which you make a difference by picking the right characters and acting out the story. In your case, a story of compassion and sharing. There is no beginning nor end and that, is why you’ll be / are remembered. The fact that you can convey all this in a few hundred words just made my day. Thanks for being awesome!

  8. So easy to read, so deep it slides down into my soul, my heart. I will think about Jessica and hold her in my prayers for she is loved by her Jesus, but had forgotten when she relanded in the jail. I am learning to write even though I have journaled for years. You are teaching me too.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  9. There is a story in all of us, some of us need coaxing to get it to the surface. I hope that Jessica will be able to write her story once she gets over this hard bit. I am enjoying your blog.

Leave a Reply