I remember—my first class with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, how she did timed writing and sang Natalie Goldberg’s praises. We wrote for 10 minutes in notebooks in a day before laptops were part of the college scene in a day before the inanity of Facebook and Tweeting. We were a small rag-tag bunch of wanna-be writers who huddled in cold classrooms, four or six of us at a time, accountable to one another for our participation in classes so small that if someone dropped out of the dialogue, there was a lull and we all jumped down their throat for it later.
We spent Friday evenings at Penny Lane, chain smoking and drinking coffee, notebooks in front of us. We applauded for the people that got up and read their poetry, offering support while scrutinizing the words and how they were strung together.
When I was graduated, Bobbie Louise gave me a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription, “I expect great things from you.” I lost contact with her when life intervened. I interviewed Allen Ginsberg before he died for a small paper in Aspen. I wrote a couple of short stories for the Aspen Writer’s conference and then I went about the business of being a wife and nesting, coming eventually to partner my husband in business. I felt like I had let Bobbie Louise down. There were no great things coming from me.
I continued to keep spiral notebooks of writing but after awhile the writing became less and less.
Somewhere near the intersection of 60 and holy crap, I rediscovered the me that sat at Penny Lane listening to poetry; the me that went to student films at the art center and I pulled out those spiral notebooks only to discover that I had actually written a lot more than I thought in the years when I wasn’t writing. I began again in earnest. Timed Writing, new Natalie Goldberg books because now she had been writing about and teaching writing for 20 years. And I started giving away what was in my heart. That was a big part of my education at Naropa: community service with whatever you talent skill or ability was. So I started teaching creative writing in the jail at Jefferson County where I discovered that you couldn’t help anyone.
I remember learning that you can inspire and cajole. You can suggest and teach, but ultimately whether or not someone takes your help is on them and you are not part of that story. There was a young woman—Jessica. She had spent a year at Jeffco jail for meth use. She had energy and enthusiasm and I thought I could help her. I wanted to help her. I set up contacts at Naropa for her to call when she got out. I emailed Natalie Goldberg and told her about my student and Natalie arranged for a scholarship to a writer’s workshop. When I knew Jessica was getting out, I gave her a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription similar to Bobbie’s.
She never called anyone and three months later she was back at Jeffco. Naropa had become a place for trust fund babies and gone were the days of starving student writers who wore their angst like proud badges of courage. Jessica may never have found any comfort there.
I remember that I write because I love it. Sometimes I remember that it’s a discipline and other times I remember that it is a compelling inspiration. Still other times I remember that it is the doorway into my examined life, a painting with words that portrays who I have been, who I am and who I am still becoming.