I had a difficult time learning to drive. For sixteen years I had sat in the back seat reading while others mysteriously conveyed me to my destinations, so I arrived unprepared to the front left quadrant of the car. I couldn’t even see the terrain properly. The car needed to be in the center of the lane, sure, but since my seat was off-center, how could I tell where the center was?
My parents wisely decided I needed more instruction than they could provide, so they lined up a friend who had taught fighter pilots to fly. This unflappable man sat beside me while I learned to interpret the road, grinding the gears of the family Volkswagen Jetta and stalling amid the West Virginia hills. At the end of each session, he assigned me practice tasks (five hours of starting on a slope, five of merging into traffic) to document in a notebook he called my log. I did not become a driver overnight, but I did become one. I had been happy as a passenger, and as a driver I was nervous, bringing my chest to the steering wheel in a tense embrace. Still, there was pleasure in getting myself where I needed to go. Even better, I could eventually pilot others to a shared destination, becoming both leader and dogsbody, helmswoman and factotum.
Some of the world’s most satisfying work partakes of this sense of being both a leader and a useful servant. Last week, the lovely group of Goddard MFAW alumni attending this year’s Clockhouse Writers’ Conference and Retreat entrusted me with the title of Lead Steward. I know that the language of this title was carefully chosen, just as CWC’s founding principles, articulated twenty years ago and still lived each time we gather to work on our writing together, were set down with great care and thought. A steward takes care of important things. I am honored and proud to care for CWC, collaborating with Goddard faculty and many other alumni as we hold two writing conferences each year and produce a national literary journal. CWC is more joyful yellow submarine than VW Jetta, luckily for us all. Talk to me about where you think we should be going. I’m looking forward to some incredible conversations during the ride.