Monday, January 23, 2006


That no-one-is-like-me feeling growing up? That goes away.

For me, a little bit went away the first time I stepped on stage in elementary school. This feels good, this feels right. Then more went away when I met my best friends, Brad and Lauren in chemistry. Almost all of it vanished in college with my first English class, then my second, then my first creative writing class. I dated two members of that class, then a third, then I thought, well, that’s over. There ends community. But it wasn’t. The most unlikely friendship that I made in that class has gone on and on, and now, nine years later, I can’t imagine my life without her, one of my first ever writing friends.

I thought the community I had in college couldn’t possibly be replicated in grad school. I went straight through, and it wasn’t. But then. Then, then, then. I heard my name whispered in the bull-pen room of teaching assistant cubicles. There she was, beyond the orange felt walls, in ballet slippers and braids: my new poetry friend, a star, a sister, Shara. And then I graduated and taught high school, but we stuck together. We stayed. We formed our own workshop, outside of class or rules. And then my first college job sent me up to a frozen lake and Christians whose hearts were frozen even harder, but my office mate just happened to be one of the best new young writers in this country (buy his books!). And my job as the writer in the small school brought me love and brought me away from all that, and I thought I didn’t need all that anymore, community with other writers. I thought I could do it alone. I was done, I was formed, I was solid and solitary girl.

So when I came out to California, I was very suspicious of the reason.

I was very suspicious of the workshop waiting. But the workshop waiting was real, people you can raise a beer with and watch a movie with and have a writing conversation with and a non-writing conversation with and take you out and make sure you get home okay. There are so many writers doing important, amazing, odd work, and it makes me feel better about wanting to do it, too.

One of the greatest gifts you can be given as a writer is time, yes. But also: other people. You can’t do this alone. You just can’t.

I feel so alone sometimes, but I have never been alone. The dead keep watch and so do the living, though they are far away in the middle and the end of the country in snow and tractors and boots and fields. There are others here, and they are extraordinary.

Here on the other side of the bridge.

Thank you, Al. Thank you, Shara. Thank you, Anti’s. Thank you, Ander. Thank you, English department. Thank you, Boyfriend Blythe. Thank you strange bolt of luck for bringing me here, and brief loss of sanity for making me say yes (move across the country by myself and live with strangers? why sure). Thank you, new teachers, selection committee, post office, Wallace, spring weather, students, librarians, everyone who’s ever donated money to a scholarship fund or subscribed to a literary journal or bought a book of poetry or short stories or taught a class or sat in one or read in a near-empty room or a near-raucous bar or believed that books matter.

Thank you, workshop of world. I mean it. We’re in this together.

Today, good poetry and fiction. Tomorrow, health care for all.

And if we could try to abolish holiday sweaters along the way, too, that would be great.