“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world… The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” — James Baldwin
I started this blog because I believe that writers, like other professionals, have a responsibility in the world. They can shape the story that we’re moving into, whether it’s one of violence and darkness or one of beauty, love, and community.
It matters what stories we share, the images we instill in our youth and even the ones that we ourselves take in throughout the day. It also matters how we use stories. In this blog, I’ll be posting stories that help writers tell their stories, whether to get published or simply to heal and transform.
I’ve highlighted a picture of Santorini in this post because I’ve been to this Greek island and absolutely loved it. But during my many travels, I learned that I can take the images I like best from each culture and bring them home. This was very helpful after I got married and embraced the role of wife and mother. It was a lot more meaningful than buying souvenirs.
I took our Girl Scouts troop to Greenfield Village last weekend and one of my favorite places we went into was the Logan County Court House. Built in 1840 in Postville (now Lincoln), Illinois, this building was where Lincoln tried cases as a traveling lawyer. Between 1840 and 1847, he visited once or twice a year, working mostly on cases resolving neighbors’ disagreements over land, contracts and debts.
Abraham Lincoln had the reputation for honesty, thus nicknamed “Honest Abe.” When he was a young clerk, whenever he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies, he would close the shop and deliver the correct change regardless of how far he had to walk. And he had once walked out on a client who had lied to him.
What I didn’t know, and the curator passionately informed us, was that Lincoln was a great storyteller. He learned the art of storytelling at a young age, despite his father’s illiteracy and discouragement of books and learning. Lincoln could tell stories about anything, and he used this gift as a tool to illustrate the idea he wanted to convey. He sprinkled his stories with genuine humor and cleverness and he valued other peoples’ stories as well.
The art of storytelling helped Lincoln win cases and later earned him votes when he went into politics. As he traveled, people got to know him because he took time to talk to them.
Our lives are surrounded by stories, some inspiring and empowering, others cunning and harmful. Last year, a con-artist was arrested for masterminding an email scam cartel that swindled over $60 million from victims around the world. Similarly to how we choose the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the activities we participate in throughout the day, it is important that we pay attention to the stories that we allow to run our lives.
If you have played the role of a victim or caregiver, stuck in the Cinderella or middle child complex, you want to find a way to break that pattern. Otherwise, you’ll continue to experience the same story again and again – like Bill Murray in Grounds Hog Day (watch this movie if you haven’t done so already).
It takes time to break old patterns and replace them with new ones. For me, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and actions on paper – using a pen, not a keyboard – has helped me transform my story. I give this mental exercise as much time and consideration as I do attending my yoga classes, cooking a healthy meal, and meditating – not only because I’m a writer but because I care about the continuous development of my self-discovery.
Consider this exercise: spend a few hours this weekend alone at a bookstore, café, your front porch, bedroom, or some hidden lovely spot where no one can find you. Sit down, relax, and look at an issue that is currently nudging at you, wanting you to pay attention to it. Ask yourself, how did I get here? And then write your heart out. Be real in this process and don’t use up all the paper space blaming others. Most importantly, always remember to enjoy the journey.
The morning yoga class was full yet people kept walking in. The instructor didn’t turn anyone away and helped us inch our mats closer and closer together to make room for others. We began to look like children standing in line, waiting for the school bell to ring.
“Most people have difficulty creating their own practice at home because they like to be in a community of other like-minded people,” said the instructor. “There’s strength in community.”
Those words resonated with me, especially after I returned home and read an email from Vivian DeGain, a journalist and author. She told me the article she wrote about me was published by The Oakland Press (in print) on Sunday and through several digital media the next day.
“There’s strength in community,” I thought.
But what does community mean for a writer who isolates his or her self, sometimes for years, to complete a book? Writers are advised to sit at their desk and close their doors to the outside world in order to focus at the task at hand. True, this is a necessary discipline, but while writers need to write in isolation, cracking their doors open occasionally can help them get some fresh air, encounter adventure, and discover a rich and striving creative community in their backyard.
My first such community was the Rochester Writers Group, led by Marry Gibbons, an author who has been instrumental in nurturing the careers of many writers. That was over 20 years ago, and although the group eventually folded, I’m still friends with a number of writers who I met at that group. In fact, last week Mary and I attended a lovely gathering at her friend’s home.
More recently, the Detroit Working Writers (DWW) has served as a nurturing and inspiring community for me. At DWW, I reconnected with author Iris Underwood whom I was a student of many years prior when she led a journaling workshop at Troy Public Library. Iris became my mentor, and she not only has authentic stories to share but a lavender farm which I’ve fallen head over heels with. Shortly afterward, I got to know Cynthia Harrison, an author of nine books (and counting), whose stories of a young wife and mother trying to fit writing into her hectic routine reminds me so much of my life. She is a charismatic woman, a real go-getter. Within a short time of knowing me, she invited me to be keynote speaker for DWW’s 2017 conference. Then she nominated me to be vice president of DWW. Yeah, it’s hard to keep up with her.
Then last summer, I met Vivian DeGain, and we immediately clicked. Vivian gifted me with the book Variations on the Ordinary: A Woman’s Reader, an anthology of poetry, prose and essay, written by Vivian and eight Michigan women and edited by the late and fabulous Margo LaGattuta. Reading the dedication – “For extraordinary women everywhere…” says so much not only about the stories in this book but also the essence of the countless talented people I’ve encountered in this organization. They understand and appreciate the strength of community. By inching each writer closer and closer to their goals and dreams, they help make room for others.
Link to article Vivian DeGain wrote: http://web.ncs.theoaklandpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/20170911/writers-seek-inspiration-at-one-community-many-voices-conference
To learn more about these wonderful writers, visit their websites:
Vivian DeGain: https://viviandegain.wordpress.com/
Cynthia Harrison: https://cynthiaharrison.com
Iris Underwood: http://www.yuleloveitlavenderfarm.com