Saturday, July 31, 2010
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.