Back in November, I saw a notice for a writer’s retreat in Kentucky. Just a weekend, something I could justify by cost and time. I signed up almost impulsively. Like many friends and clients, I was feeling worn down by the year and eager for some kind of respite. As soon as the weekend came and I pointed my car north, I felt relief.
C.D. Wright’s Cooling Time serves as a devotional for me. Every reading uncovers another depth. Her cultivation metaphor speaks to the work of making, tending, unearthing. There is stewardship and also the farmer’s hard eye at what can flourish and what goes back into the compost. Wright is one of the spiritual mentors who helped redeem writing as a work, gritty and alive. The farm girl in me loves those last few sentences, those commands. I hear, “Hop to, woman. Get to work.”
Even with such guidance, I have hesitated to put hand to plow. Or worse, started to work then let the fields lie fallow. Everything else is easier to justify. My work as a helper, my relationships, the laundry, the care and maintenance of a middle-aged body. There is a voice that comes from the same farming mindset when I sit down to write, “Of what use is it?” The lines can’t feed or clothe anyone. They wither in the light of utility.
Still, showing up to the Hindman Settlement School reminded me of so much. Much of it I will hide in my heart because I am still making sense of it. This much I can say; I gathered with rooms of other writers, all women. The women had accents distinctly rural. We all told stories shaped by place and families in specific relationships to the lands called Home.
I had the deep joy of meeting a writer I deeply admire, whose work describes personal experiences and obsessions. She was kind and generous to me. Through her encouragement, I took a further step into the work and applied for the Makery Fellowship. The place and the program felt like a wish I’d forgotten to make. The whole history of the place has themes around land, community, social service, culture, rural people…so many of my favorite topics. I had even taught a beginner class called “The Made Thing” to honor the act of making poems. The whole experience made me remember the concept from growing up Christian – “grace upon grace.”
In a day or so, I’ll start my first online class of a two-year study with The Makery. I have deep gratitude for this opportunity and hope my efforts serve as a form of thanks to all who continue to support me as I go. If you are reading this, you are also part of the preserving saints. Thank you.
Happy New Year
I want to whisper it so I don’t wake you from your nap. It is the afternoon of the first day of 2018 as I write. Where are you now as this flickers on your screen? Is it night? What time is it as you read?
This is the designated beginning of a year, a longish clump of days, but not so long once you’ve had many. Shall we review, shall we plan ahead? I do not know how to write this to you or even who you are. I came of age during the rhythm of paper letters. Once one was sent, you knew things would change before the other read and responded. Letters carried our words bouncing like yells over valleys, the delay part of the message. Let this be my letter, then.
Since childhood, I have been poorly adapted to time, the kind found in clocks and calendars. Even into junior high, I could barely tell time on a watch. Once I could, I could not feel it the way it is told. I would drive to college and sit for hours before class, unable to plan the commute properly. The squares of class-time made no sense to me, or could not be sensed. At least not in the same way as time that was the five verses of “Just As I Am,” tomato season, the counts between thunders (“1 Mississippi”), Christmas break.
As embarrassing as my timeblindness was, I know am glad for the experience. It felt very animal, looking back to experience time through physical experience, through changes in the landscape. My work is adapted to a “fifty-minute hour” in which I sit with one or more humans in a room, hour-to-hour. But even there, closed off from the world, time bends. Some hours are fleet and others leaden with sorrow. Maybe every person carries their relationship with time with them.
Reader, I am rambling. Is that a waste of time? Are you still here/there?
What I mean to say, is how strange that we share whatever this is. A moment separated by time and screens and physical space. I hope you are well and happy. My wish is that you can enjoy whatever moment this inhabits. I’ll leave a little space here. Put yourself in a memory that makes you remember joy.
Happy New Year