We arrived on the coast of Maine after a long day of driving and stopping at scenic overlooks and eating chips and celery and carrots just in time for the Perseid meteor shower. I lay on the beach, my cotton scarf spread beneath my head. My little son, just ten and still bright with boy-wonder, rested against my rib and we watched for long-tailed streaks of light, hoping to bear witness before the meteors burned to ash. Neither of us thought to make a wish.
The next afternoon in my workshop, people were brave and honest, first speaking aloud what scares them about writing and then sharing what they wrote in stifling heat so unusual for Maine. They wrote on rocking chairs, under the shade of trees, thighs sticking and sweat pooling–the perfect conditions for writing the heavy lifting stuff. No comfort to coddle you and distract you from how hard the writing is. We wrote about aloneness and the failures and humanity of parents and other big things told through the small. Later that evening I was to address this audience, and it terrified me–the bigness of their hearts, the privilege and responsibility of their attention. So when I sat in Callid’s engaging, informative presentation on creativity, my nervousness spiked. And then suddenly, ten minutes before I was to pour my voice into the microphone, my fear fell away. I realized that with an audience like this, I could stand up there and listen instead, to speak from my heart to theirs.
My friend C drove down and spent the day at the conference being curious and generous and gentle–how I’d missed her. There was a break up sometime ago that I thought maybe I’d lost friend-custody of her in, but those things pass, don’t they? And I was glad to discover that we are entirely different in our lives and exactly the same in our hearts. After Hurricane went to sleep behind the pocket door of our little bedroom in the cottage by the beach, she and I shared a tiny bottle of scotch and went for a long walk along the shore under a cloudy night sky, losing track of how far we’d walked until thunder sounded and we hurried back the way we came, the storm at our backs.
I attended a presentation by gentle soft-spoken genius Tom Janisse about how listening instead of talking can help doctors save lives, and a workshop about writing from photographs with Kelly DuMar. The presentations and workshops and stories and performances kept me gasping and crying and laughing. On Saturday evening, when Hurricane said he could not stay up another moment, we stood to walk back to the cottage and Rhiannon began to sing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” which I sometimes hear him sing softly to himself. Tired as he was, he could not help dancing with me there just inside the door, both of us so thoroughly present and joyous.
There were many mothers further along on the path who told me not to be afraid, that while the world may take its toll on my sons, they will come back. One brilliant mother told me that she had a deep fear during their teenage-hood that her daughters would become “mall queens.” But they came back. When I met compliments for Hurricane’s confidence and joy with my fears about the precipice he stands on, they each told me, They come back. The exact thing I needed to hear.
The weekend fed every part of me–mother, teacher, artist, activist. I met people doing incredible things in the world and instead of feeling incompetent or unaccomplished, I felt inspired and good enough to do more.
Which is to say, come be a part of this organization, the Transformative Language Arts Network. Come see what people are doing out there in the realm of giving and receiving love. One of my new friends said, “It’s this environment of unconditional acceptance.” Yes. There’s another conference in a year, and I’m really excited to be co-chairing it. I hope you’ll think about coming and sharing what you are doing, what you hope to do, to make the world a little less lonely.
Our prompt this week comes from Mark Nepo’s Surviving Has Made Me Crazy. Though it may have all happened before, and worse, to other people, though we may sometimes feel like our stories needn’t be told, it is our work to examine our particular lives as though they are singular. It’s the only way to learn anything from all this messiness. It’s the only way to move past the particular to the universal. It’s your life that’s at stake here, the quality of it.
“Knowing how much is at stake, it is imperative to…”
what? what must YOU do?
Bonus: Below is the call and response handed out at Lyn Ford’s story performance (Lyn has said she will come visit us…!). It is the advice we all need. Say each of those lines aloud. Maybe every day.