"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My People

I'm sitting in my hotel room, the fan whirring away in a mostly futile attempt to cool the air, the morning not yet fully lit, surrounded by half-packed belongings. Home today. Full to overflowing. Alone.

But after this week, I don't think I'll ever feel alone in that one certain way again. I have finally found my people.

On Sunday night, the organizer of Iowa Summer Writing Festival spoke to us about being among our people, our tribe, as we gathered for the first time. Maybe a couple hundred writers all there to improve their craft, to share their work, to learn from each other.

In an e-mail  shortly after that, Walt wrote, "You belong with these folks. These are your people."

And I was reminded of that in a hundred different ways all week long. Running into a couple of women who shared our table that first night everywhere we went and greeting each other like long lost friends. Standing next to a perfect stranger at the book store and having a wonderful conversation about writing books. Strolling campus and town, catching the eyes of people never seen before and exchanging smiles of recognition.

The Elevenses lectures each day in a small auditorium, watched over by two huge periodic tables, provided endless opportunities to hear my people share their writing, their insights, their questions. Whether I was sitting with Carrie, or alone waiting for classmates to join me, I felt such a sense of belonging. Sometimes starting up a conversation with the woman sitting behind, or the man sitting in front, and sometimes just absorbing the fact that I was sitting in this amazing world.

There were twelve people in our class, in addition to Hope who is everything I could have wished for in a teacher and more. I'm not sure whether it's because it was a memoir class, or the magic of our particular combination, but we found an even deeper level of our people in each other. By Tuesday we were attending Elevenses together (all twelve sitting in the front row that day to hear Hope speak), and eating lunch together, and going to dinner after class. Not all twelve every time, but different combinations.

I fell in love with my classmates, and their stories. Everyone has a story - it's what makes us human. But one of the things that makes writers unique is our willingness to put our hearts on the page and in the world, our determination to find truth and bring it into the light.  We are the tribe's storytellers, candles in the darkness, painters with words.

At that first Sunday night dinner, I noticed a woman at another table. I'm not sure why she in particular stood out in a room full of interesting and new faces, but I couldn't take my eyes off her, and as I always do in these situations, I wondered about her story. So later when she walked into the small room that would become our nest for the week, I knew she would become important to me. As her story emerged throughout the week, I learned that "my people" is an important theme for her as well, in those exact words. While one of my people in the larger sense, she's also become one of my friends - a friendship I hope grows beyond this magical week.

"My people," times three.

Like the puzzle pieces, a clear message delivered gently. In the weeks ahead as I sit at my computer and work to give birth to the next book, midwifed by powerful new knowledge and insights, I'll have the comfort of knowing I'm truly not alone. I'll hear the voices of my people offering encouragement and empathy. And I'll have a dozen new people to reach out to when my flame flickers again in the winds of doubt and fear.

The doves and grackles have been cooing and singing wildly for a bit now. Morning is fully arrived. It's time to finish packing, maybe give myself the gift of one more walk in this sweet town, and then to head for home. Changed. Charged. Certain of my calling.

Four classmates, including Carrie, are missing from the picture, taken at last night's farewell dinner. That our utter and bone-deep exhaustion doesn't show here is testament to the magic of this week and our bond. 


Niki said...

There is nothing like the feeling of being in exactly the right place at the right time with the right people...may you be filled to the brim with this feeling for a long time to come

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

Good for you Deb!! :)

Anonymous said...

I felt like that during my first racewalk race, These are my people. I'm glad you found your people. You look so happy.

Suzy said...

Absolutely beautiful!

I am so glad you found them, and what's even better- they found you. Heavenly bonds.

I am so envious!

Take them in your heart wherever you go. I know you are in theirs.

Love you


Terri Tiffany said...

Oh wow. I would give anything to be one of those people around that table. I felt that similar way at my last writers conference. It is wonderful to bond with others who feel like you do and feel that story is important.

Wanda said...

Belonging--nothing is quite like it...or as important. Glad you have the experience of being with your people.

Kathryn Grace said...

You glow. They glow. The best part: "... head for home. Changed. Charged. Certain of my calling." Now you know.

When those doubts and fears come, always remember your own words: "We are the tribe's storytellers, candles in the darkness, painters with words." Take care not to let doubt, fear and worry silence your voice. Your story, your truth are deeply needed in the world.

Loren said...

Oh Deb ~ The Joy in your face and in your words say it all! I am just praising the Lord for HIS perfect timing and all HE has shown YOU and each one that attended this week! He has knitted your hearts together and no doubt shown you things you have desired to know for so long! I believe HE will continue more and more with each passing day and your gifts will flourish!

Bless you my friend as you travel home and continue to see all the benefits that HE has poured into you !!

Much love!

Carol............. said...

Oh, my... you've created happiness and belonging. So many people intentionally shy away from this "belonging to" because of the fear of sharing and giving of themselves. I believe you are one of the special "givers" in the world.

Wonderful post!

Linda Hoye said...

Oh how wonderful! I felt that way when I went to the SCN Stories From the Heart conference in February - like I found my tribe.

Pam said...

How wonderful Deb! I've felt like this in textile workshops and occasionaly with people I meet.Husband and I found a house we were considering purchasing recently but visiting the area and shops numerous times,I felt no connection with the sorts of people there or what was on offer. While not meaning to sound in any way disparaging,"I felt there were not my tribe" are the exact words I used to my husband. Nothing can bring a smile to our face as does like-minded souls and environments.
So happy for you that you could experience such creative company and gain so much.I am also sure you had much to contribute with your positive interactions and outlook.How inspiring this writers gathering must have been!xx

patti said...

Oh, PRAISE GOD! I know exactly how you feel, Deb, and have experienced this to some degree at every conference I've attended, whether as instructor or attendee.

I hope to meet YOU at a conference SOON!

P.S. Y'all are a stunning group!

Jerri said...

You look radiant.

Tabitha Bird said...

"My people." YES! What a wonderful wonderful phrase. sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for sharing about this. I am going to be walking around all week thinking "My people." :)

Carrie Link said...

I love this and everything about this. You captured "it" so well, the magic of the experience. Magic we knew we'd experience but underestimated even then.

Love this, "We are the tribe's storytellers, candles in the darkness, painters with words."

And this, "Changed. Charged. Certain of my calling."

The picture is beautiful.

M said...

You simply look like you belong in that group...a family of writers. And the simple truth is that you do! I'm excited to hear the stories of the workshop and the journey that it leads you on now.


#1Nana said...

You are a lucky woman! The writing conference sounds wonderful. I'm adding attend a writing conference to my list of things to do in retirement.

Amber said...

Oh MAN! That is so cool!! I am so happy for you!


fullsoulahead.com said...

Sounds wonderful and yes, exhausting!

You look radient in the photo. Glad you had an amazing experience.

Lisa said...

Deb, what a wonderful report on our workshop in Iowa City! It was WONDERFUL to meet you & read your writings. Keep up the spirit!

Lorna said...

This post struck a chord, as I have been searching for my tribe for awhile now. I am brimming with excitement that you have discovered yours! It leaves me hopeful, and seeing your pleasure is priceless!