Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Take Me In

the day the furniture and boxes arrived

One of the best parts of being at Squam was getting to share in more detail about my journey.  In one class, a hand went up as a student tried to pull the timeline together. "How long ago was this?"

"Let's see," I counted.  "Two and a half years ago."

Two and a half years ago, I completed a home-based business I'd been doing for eight years.  I had a three-year-old and a three-month-old.  I thought I wanted to write, though I had no idea really what I would write. Maybe I'd finish my practice novel.

Two and a half years ago, we said yes to the part of us that wanted to live in New York City. Even though we'd never been here in person. I watched You've Got Mail so many times back then, internalizing the conversation about how closing the store is brave, and how it takes a lot of courage to imagine a new life for yourself. 

And that's just what we did.  If I told you about our life, just four years ago, you would not even recognize huge swaths of it. Some things are the same, like our love and the friendships that remain.  But it is a new life, and all the people I've met and places I've gone since then, were only wild, unlikely dreams.

And it only took saying yes to one wild dream to set us on this course.  I didn't know what was going to happen back then, and I still don't know what's going to happen today.  But I'm slowing learning to trust my dreams and those intuitive ways of knowing, and more and more I'm practicing being brave.

I'm so thankful for Stacy, who heard my story at Squam, and then sent me this song yesterday. I'm posting it here, for everyone who has even one wild dream calling her right now, for anyone hoping that following her intuition really will lead her someplace good in the end:

 

The Story Catcher

Some stories you hold too close to your heart. You believe that they are dear or precious, and you don't know what to do about those white knuckles gripping them.

The best thing, you suspect, is to let go. To release them with open hands and trust they find their way to those who need them.

I have one such story.  I am giving it to you now.

Here is how it begins:

Some stories are too difficult to carry around. Some taste like ash in your mouth, others feel like they might rend you in two. That’s why we have a Story Catcher in our village.

The Story Catcher takes your stories as you tell them truly—things that make your bones tremble and your muscles shiver, things you might only be able to whisper in the dark. She receives them as happily as a person making a ripe purchase at market.

She gathers all of them from the old ones to those wee ones just learning to give thoughts shape with their lips, and she holds them in her memory, tends them with her heart.

Then, when we’re ready, the Story Catcher gives us back our tales, on a day when we need to be reminded that we once were brave or that we once were rescued. That we might be so again. 

--from The Story Catcher, by Jen Lee

To download The Story Catcher in a beautiful, full-color pdf, simply enter the following information:

In the Works

Production mode continues here in the studio, because I'm always one to try to squeeze out one more thing. My friendship with Tilky, my designer, is changing my life--we're like Fred and Ginger over here, tapping out and spinning our moves and loving the dance. I'm so pleased to tell you that one of the publications we're working on will be FREE. (I'm setting up a little email system to help me distribute it and keep you posted about future projects and events.)  It is a story that I've been holding tight to my chest like gold, but I think you might need it, too, so the time is coming to share.

But for today, let me give you a sneak peak of the new journal that I'll be debuting at the Squam Art Fair next week.  What do you get when you have me, writing in my own hand, unedited and homespun, just for you? A writing guide/fill-in journal that begins like this:

If I heard you were coming to see me, and if you said casually, "Do you think we could talk about writing while I'm there?" I would say, "Of course." Then I would go out and buy you a blank book. While I waited for you to arrive, I would jot some of my thoughts and ideas on writing through its pages, so you would have something to take with you we we said our good-byes.

This is that book.

Available at the Squam Art Fair, Saturday, September 19th.  Coming to my online store soon after.

Where I'm at

Diana Instant+

I couldn't resist the feeling this morning that summer is some alternate reality and that I'm missing my "regular life" just a little bit.  We're having one adventure after another, and my feet don't even feel themselves landing home any more.  I've surrendered to leaving the suitcases packed, and I feel like some part of my soul is now doing the same.

This most recent visitation home has been spent with my head down, cranking out a new project in the minutes when I'm not applying sunscreen at the park and herding preschoolers through lunch at local diners.  This is the crazy five-week project, and I think it's all pulling together.

The reason for the urgency is that I want my students at Squam to have something more they can away with them when we part, and I want everyone who wanted to join us to have something in its place.  Part fill-in journal and part writing guide:  this book will be your companion as you find your courage and your voice.  It's coming in September, and I promise it will be worth all the quiet it's taken on the blog to get it done.

The Treasure Hunter

The Treasure Hunter, Lake MichiganNot many of us are at the lake this early. I am proud of myself for finding it, with only the view from my 18th floor window to guide me in the right direction through city streets that are still drowsy, hours away from the morning rush. 

There is the runner, who sheds her shoes and stretches facing the lake as if bowing in devotion.  And there is the treasure hunter, who scans the sand with his metal detector, pausing for examination every time it squeals.  He pokes a hole with his toe, and if further beckoned, he kneels.  And digs.

Back and forth, one row and then the next. Now here's a man with stories to tell, of possessions lost and found, and surprises just below the surface. 

I lose myself in this picture.

I feel a kinship with him, every morning when I rise before the rush and my hand walks from left to right across the page.  Back and forth, one row and then the next.  We both listen for things that want to be found.  He is catching metal; I am catching words.  A whole story, if I'm lucky.  If I listen, and then bend low to really dig.

There is a new comfort in my Brooklyn mornings since we greeted the day on that shore. I imagine him there, and the two of us treasure hunt together.

We can greet the days together when you subscribe to this blog here.

My voice is not for me alone

There are many writers who have influenced me over the years, for sure.  I could talk about Barbara Kingsolver, or Sue Monk Kidd, or others, but they would be more recent companions.  Madeleine L'Engle was who I read in the years in which I was becoming my adult self, a process which probably took the bulk of my twenties. 

I often thought about writing her, to tell her the difference her work made to me (especially her journals), but it just felt too cheezy--as if there was no way I could do it justice with my words.  I would sound too sincere, like maybe I was a little crazy or a budding stalker.  It felt like the only way for that conversation to work would be if we were face-to-face and she could look in my eyes and see that I was not exaggerating a bit, and that I looked to be perfectly sane at the same time.  I was trying not to be a crazy fan, because being a "fan" at all is so cliche.  I didn't feel like a "fan".  I felt mentored by her work, and that is a very different thing.  Living in Colorado, the face-to-face, read-the-God-honest-truth-in-my-eyes meeting with her was not going to happen.

Then shortly after I moved to Brooklyn, Madeleine L'Engle passed away.  There was an event to celebrate L'Engle and her work at Books of Wonder, the oldest independent children's book store in the city, and a shop to which she gave her loyal support.  I went, not at all intending to speak.  I would sit quietly in the back with my sorrow, and we would acknowledge the loss which was all of ours, together.

One of her granddaughters, Lena, was there, and she walked to the front to speak first.  I had read about Lena and her sister, Charlotte, in L'Engle's journals.  I had read about all kinds of things--the way L'Engle woke in the middle of the night to write when her children were young, the summer her mother died, the story of her marriage and her husband's death.  I had read about where she slipped away to, when her house was full and she needed to clear her mind.

Lena began to describe a memory.  She talked about her grandmother's bedroom at Crosswicks, and how they called it the portrait room because of the large family portraits hanging on all the walls, and she listed each of the relatives represented there.  She told about the way she and her sister would sit on the large poster bead with their grandmother and drink hot cocoa while they read together, and how when they were seven years old, she decided they were ready for Shakespeare.  Lena spoke about what it meant to her, during a time in which her parents were busy with their own lives, to have the presence and attention her grandmother gave them.

I sat in my chair and listened, and I could hardly breathe.  You see, as Lena spoke, I realized that I already knew this story.  Everything about it--from the portraits to the cocoa, to the reading in the covers.  I had read it in L'Engle's journals.  That moment I was completely present to the profound generosity it is--to take a piece of one's life, even one so intimate that it would be your loved one's fondest memory of you--and put it in a book, and share it with a stranger.  That you would invite a young girl half a country away, whom you would never meet, to see your world and know your thoughts, that it would change her to the core in ways in which you would never even hear of--that is generosity.  And not just to me, but to the vast ocean of readers that have found her work, or will find it in the endless years to come.

That moment transformed me.

There, in that chair, Madeleine gave me my last lesson.  She showed me what's possible when we're willing to do the work that wants to be done through us diligently, what's possible when we're willing to be vulnerable and to be seen, what's possible when we commit words to the page and then share them. We can give comfort and companionship.  We can offer the guidance of our own experiences and convictions.  We can participate in the growth of each another.

The sharing went a little downhill after Lena.  Earnest people told stories that were more about themselves than about L'Engle, and I started feeling like it was a disaster.  I could hear the words that were missing so loudly in my ears.  But I wasn't going to speak, I reminded myself.  Who am I to say anything?  We never even met.  But in the light of her generosity to me, it suddenly seemed like so little to ask in return--saying what wasn't being said--that I walked to the front.

I don't mind speaking in public, but I very much mind crying while I'm trying to speak in public.  There was no way I was getting to say these things without the tears, without having to hold my voice tightly as if I were gripping the reins on a runaway horse.  That part was painful for me.  But I got to look into Lena's eyes and tell her the difference her grandmother made to me, an unknown girl across the country.  The things she taught me, long before I needed to know them, about being a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a writer and a friend.  How she wrote about faith in a way that made me think there could be a seat at that table for me.

That day I learned that my voice is not for me alone, and that if I don't stand up and say the missing things, perhaps no one will, and something will be lost forever.

My favorite authors whisper to me through their words, "You are not alone."  Writers like L'Engle have mentored me as profoundly as the women I have known in real life.  I am who I am, in part, because of them.  On occasion I am tempted to look away from the page by one of those reasons why I almost don't do what I do.  But it is with terror that I consider the possibility that someone else--someone like Madeleine, who changed me forever--might have been stopped by one of her "reasons why not".  So I turn back to the page, as an act of gratitude for all I have been given, and I keep writing.  When the work is passing from my hands, I remember that I have been changed by generosity, and that it has become who I am.  Madeleine L'Engle taught me that we all serve the work, whether our offerings are a humble stream or a great river, all feeding into the same pool.  And so I do as I have been taught.