by Kristen Stone
One of the most amazing things about my Goddard experience (beside the invective to TRUST THE PROCESS, something I still wrestle with, on the daily, in my writing and non-writing lives) is the connections I made with writers—who became friends—around the country.
One such friend is Kristen Nelson, founder and Executive Director of Casa Libre in Tucson, Arizona. In the fall, she posted on Facebook that she was seeking writers to lead workshops at Casa Libre. I thought about it on and off for a few days. I don’t know what I would teach, I’m not teaching right now anyway, plane tickets are so expensive, etc. but I went ahead and put together a proposal for a weekend workshop on Writing Childhood because, well, why not? I work with children and have a lot of training in childhood trauma and development, and I thought it would be interesting to see how to connect my two worlds—social work and writing. We looked at a calendar and chose a weekend in late February, which at the time seemed impossibly far away.
The last few months I’ve experienced what ecologists call shifting baselines in my writing life. I started a second graduate degree and became a mother, in addition to working full time in a non-writing job as an anti-violence educator. My free time has shrunk to almost nothing, and so if I wrote a few pages a week I considered it a good writing week. Revisions on my (nearly finished!) second book have ground to a halt. I felt guilt and shame when I thought about writing: inadequacy, waste.
In the weeks leading up to my trip to Tucson, I worried and worried over the class, over-committing myself to yet another thing. But something else really magical happened—in my busy life I carved out the time to prepare, to write prompts and exercises, to write some “opening remarks.”
Kristen Nelson picked me up from the airport in her dreamy blue El Camino at noon on Friday, February 20. I’d been traveling since 3:30am EST, a bleary blur of elastic space and time, of four airports and three planes. There was stuffed unicorn in the front seat. “For you to snuggle.”
Over the course of the weekend, four women wrote about childhood—processing parents and siblings, mapping childhood homes, cataloging sense memories. One of these women “had never written before.” Another used to journal religiously but had dropped the practice a few years before.
One woman talked about poking her finger through plastic to taste meat in the grocery store. Another woman woke up Sunday morning and wrote for an hour before coming to our final class. “That never happened before,” she said. “My pen couldn’t move fast enough.”
What our grandmothers smelled like. How we don’t want to be like our mothers and why. What made us afraid.
In my professional life, I lead support groups and violence prevention classes. I was worried, in choosing childhood (trauma) for my topic,that it would get too—“therapy-y.” That someone would be too upset, that it would feel gross to process like that. I didn’t know that I could manage it if that happened, move back towards craft and writing.
But I came away from the weekend humbled and grateful for the women who trusted me and wrote with me. I have a renewed dedication to my writing practice, even as I also feel disloyal to writing, in this wacky way, because I’m studying social work and eventually want to work in art therapy, which is not the same as teaching writing, which is not the same as writing.
In addition to opening her beautiful home to me, and making a space for me to teach in a way I haven’t in awhile, Kristen Nelson took me to the desert and the mountains. We watched a sunset at Gate’s Pass, hiked Pima Canyon under a deceptive sun, and drove the winding roads through the sky islands of Mount Lemmon. As a writer and a person trying, deeply, to understand Things In The World, I hold these names close to me. (I write these notes on an airplane, somewhere between Dallas, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. The plane shakes and the man next to me taps his square fingers on the cover of Scientific American.)
What am I trying to say here, in this essay (“blog post”)? A few things. As Goddard alumni, not all of us are teaching or making a career of just writing, per se, and while sometimes I feel guilt or shame that I’m not writing more (that I could be the “real deal” if I just sucked it up or worked harder) it is times like these, my visit with Kristen Nelson, that remind me to trust the process. We are using our words in the world in many different ways, and although I am not writing every day or teaching in my local university, I am creating, with others, these weird and healing places; I am making and dreaming, writing—out—in(to) the world.
Kristen Stone is a writer, domestic violence advocate, and social work student living in Gainesville, Florida. She is the author of Domestication Handbook (Rogue Factorial, 2012) and self/help/work/book//The Story of Ruth and Eliza (Birds of Lace, 2014). Her work has appeared in Women’s Studies Quarterly, finery, Adrienne: a poetry journal of queer women, Mutha Magazine, and elsewhere. She blogs about books and affect at kristenstone.com