I keep trying to say something meaningful about Brussels, and in truth, there is nothing to be said. My love is with you, for whatever it’s worth. My heart breaks for you, but that won’t bring back the dead. I long for the day when humanity’s dark history of violence and hatred gives way to light and peace. I write always in hopes that the marks I make on the page sink into hearts and create a modicum of love and peace, because peace begins within, and we are all war torn creatures.
For all the mockery and outrage that happened after the attacks in Paris because people thought praying for Paris was useless and futile, I do pray for Brussels, partly because it’s all I can do right now, partly because I do believe that the thoughts we think, and the prayers we pray, have power to bring love, light, and peace into a battered age.
After all, the horror that happened today began with a thought in someone’s mind. Violence is a disease that begins in a mind. It is a plague that spreads quickly and viciously from human heart to human heart and manifests itself in horrific ways. But peace is a cure that begins in a mind. Can’t we begin something more beautiful by heading our hearts and minds in the direction of peace?
And yes, when the moment comes where we can give our money and hands and goods to cause of healing, we do that too. Of course we do that. But for now, in the shocking aftermath of yet another attack, when there is nothing to be done but read news articles and weep for the victims and reel at the monstrosities that human beings can become, I pray.
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Daniel Wallace, a brilliant writer and thinker from the UK who was dating, and later married, one of my best friends. (I officiated their wedding.)
Daniel is unequivocally one of the smartest people I have ever known. When we sit down together to drink, I always end up feeling like I really, really need to read some books because I don’t know anything about half of what he talks about. But he’s never showing off. He just genuinely believes everyone else is as smart and well-read as he is. He’s kind and warm and charming, and he always refills your whiskey glass as he elucidates the finer points of three act structure. I’ve learned more about writing from drinking whiskey with Daniel than I ever did in college. I’ve never known him to take an uninformed stance on anything. He has a PhD in Creative Writing and has traveled the world and seen things, man. He’s seen things.
Normally, he blogs about writing, but today, he felt the moral obligation to post this letter to Republicans about Trump. I almost never post overtly political blogs, but like Daniel, I feel that opposing Trump is a moral obligation. He said what I want to say better than I ever could, so I’m sharing it here. Thank you Daniel for this brilliant, informed, powerful piece of writing.
I’m calling on Republicans to repudiate Donald Trump.
Before I explain why, here is a quick note to regular readers: I realise that this post may not be popular with everyone who reads this blog. You come to my site for writing advice and reading recommendations, not for my political opinions.
Plus, I’m not American. Who cares what some British intellectual thinks about the Republican Primary?
On the other hand, I live and work in the U.S. And I intend to seek citizenship as soon as I legally can. And I’m close to many people, here in Appalachia, who I imagine are planning to vote for Trump, and what I write in this post, if they read it, may well hurt and upset them.
Some of the greatest gifts in my world are my students. I almost always fall in love with them the moment I meet them, and they often stay in my life long after their time in my classes comes to an end.
Beginning writers are fragile creatures. They are like baby birds learning to fly. I love working with them. I love finding the kernel of genius that lives inside them and nursing it until it sprouts.
I remember sharing parts of my heart in early writing classes and having them crushed. I still cringe to think of a girl who went on and on about how terrible and unreadable my work was, throwing it down in disgust at the end of her tirade. The teacher sat by and nodded his assent to her assault. I almost never wrote again.
I never want to replicate that experience in my students’ lives. Most student writing isn’t publishable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not precious. Great writing comes with time, but people stop writing if you crush them. I often say I want my students to learn to write well, but I need them to learn that they are loved.
Anyone who’s ever taken one of my classes knows that somehow, they always end up being about people’s hearts as much as they are about art. My students at Estrella Mountain College used to jokingly call my classes “Tawni’s unofficial group therapy sessions.” I didn’t mean for this to happen, but so many times, people show you their hearts when they write. It is my impulse to respond to that gift of honesty by honoring it and protecting it.
I obviously taught my students as much as I could about the craft of writing, but I tried to do it in a way that was careful with the pieces of their hearts they were baring in my classes. I hate it when art is used as an excuse to elevate artist/teacher over audience/students. I hate when art classes become viscous and competitive. Isn’t art supposed to be joyful? Isn’t it supposed to give way to freedom? Isn’t it supposed to help people to tap into their truths and express them in a way that is meaningful to others, thereby creating a connection between human beings? So often I feel like my students teach me more than I teach them. I want to be open to what they teach instead of shutting down their innate wisdom.
Working for the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing has enabled me to do this purposefully. I’m often amazed at the way my Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self online classes seem to magically fill with like-minded people. Sometimes, I’ll have a group of people who are all recovering from childhood abuse. Sometimes, I’ll have a group of people who have just left bad relationships. This is never on purpose. Random people just sign up for the class, and then, during the first week, I find out what they want to explore during the class.
This time, many of my students are cancer survivors, or are recovering from the death of a loved one from cancer. It’s amazing to me the way this magic happens again and again, and I always feel honored when the themes emerge because it feels like something larger than me is guiding the classes.
Last night, my dear friend Martine told me she could see me being an art therapist. I’m obviously not a licensed therapist, but I do feel like I already am blessed enough to be able to use art to heal people’s hearts in at least a small way. My boss tells me that my Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self classes draw the most students, and get the most positive feedback, of any of the courses that she offers.
And now, we are talking about starting to offer in-person Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self retreats. This is so thrilling to me. A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine being able to make a living doing only things I love, but now, somehow, the universe has made a way for me to live a life based on some of my heart’s greatest passions–travel, spirituality, writing, and healing people’s hearts.
That makes me feel very lucky, punk.
P.S. I always show this video on the first day of the classes I teach, Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self or otherwise, because my first goal is to make my students feel safe enough to explore and speak their truths. Come on up to the house.
P.S.S. Jeremiah Stone (https://www.facebook.com/TheJeremiahStone/?fref=ts) singing his song inspired by Beauty of the Broken. It’s called “Handful of Dust,” which was the novel’s original title. The chorus goes,“Fear makes us brave. Brave makes us free. Light begets dark. Dark helps me see.” Can you see why I say my students teach me more than I teach them?
P.S.S.S. If you’re interested in taking a class with me, here are some options. ❤
In addition to Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self, which is almost always in session, I’m teaching a bunch of classes at various universities this summer. The info below was lifted from my Facebook page:
East Coast home slices, come learn with me this summer! (You know why I called you home slices? Because I’m hip with the jive. Totally. Ok, I’m not. I wasn’t even hip with the jive when it was hip to be hip with the jive.)
After I return from France, where I will be devoting several months to editing my novel, The Long Ride Home, (to be released by Sourcebooks Fire in 2017), I’m going to be doing a series of workshops on the East Coast. If you’d like to learn about writing from a reasonably intelligent writer who falls down a lot and almost always has some kind of food on her lapel, here are some options.
Rosemont Writer’s Retreat June 17-24 (I will be serving as the writer in residence/manuscript consultant. I will also be reading at some point during the retreat if the ghosts in the haunted mansion don’t eat me first–details to come. The workshop can be taken for graduate credit.)
Lehigh University July 10-July 23 (I will be teaching a multi-genre college prep course. It’s a wonderful opportunity for teens to take a college level writing workshop and have tons of fun!)
Western Connecticut State University, First Week of August
(I will be teaching a master class that will unfortunately only be open to MFA students at the university. However, I will be reading on August 2, and the event will be open to the public. I’d be willing to bet there will be cheese involved. I’d also be willing to bet I will be wearing a nice spread of brie on my lapel before the night is done.)
I’m a quitter. I own it. Whether you are a job, a book, a hobby, a house, or a relationship, I will quit you if you stop being right for me. I respect you and me way too much to waste either of our precious time on this planet.
I have been married and divorced twice. I have quit countless jobs. I have read about three pages of many of the great books in the world, and only finished a handful of them. I have lived in myriad houses in my adult life, and now, I don’t even live in one house. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment. Which is supposed to be a bad thing.
In our culture, if you can’t commit, you’re defective. You’re supposed to stick it out. Whether “it” is a marriage or a job or a mortgage, you’re supposed to be in it for the long haul, no matter what. My question is why? I’m going to die. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe 40 years from now. But I will. I don’t get to take anything with me when I go, except maybe the experiences that colored my soul, the memories that became a part of who I was, the authentic loves I gave and received. Why would I waste one second of the precious, limited quantity that is my life on anything that isn’t right for me?
Today, I sit in a house in L.A., a house in which I have experienced untold adventures and delights with people I genuinely love. Next month, I’m off to France to live for two months in a village that resonated with the deepest, most sacred parts of my being. I have traveled the world. I have sold books. I have starred in plays. I have seen and done so much because I wasn’t afraid to quit.
Had I been afraid to quit, I would still be a tortured, suicidal housewife living in Edgewood, New Mexico, still married to the guy I thought was right for me when I was 18, because even though people grow and change exponentially over time, damn it, marriage is for life. Divorce is blasphemy.
You know what I think is blasphemy? Wasting the precious life you’ve been given because you are trying to follow someone else’s dumb rules, because you are so concerned about what the neighbors will think, you can’t possibly begin to think for yourself. That’s fucking blasphemy. Life is sacred. Wasting it is a crime. I think some of the holiest things I have ever done have involved finding the courage to walk away.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying if something is hard, I quit. Sometimes, the things that are right are also hard. Selling my books was hard. It took decades, and most of them were filled with rejection, disappointment, and Ramen noodles. I didn’t quit because even though there was no rational reason to keep at it, I knew writing was what I was born to do. My soul knew.
Being a mommy was hard. Waking up at midnight to change diapers and mop up vomit was hard. I didn’t quit because my kids were the best things that had ever happened to me, the greatest loves I had ever known. My soul knew that they were worth every minute of sacrifice it made for them.
But had I been wasting my time schlepping away at some shitty cubicle job I hated, would I have had the strength I needed to keep fighting for what really mattered to me? I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick things out. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight good and hard for the things that count. Just make sure the things you sacrifice for are the right things. Your soul knows.
I admire people who quit. I admire people who leave what is wrong for them to find what is right. I’m not automatically impressed if someone tells me she’s been married for 25 years? Oh, yeah? What kind of marriage is it? Why did you stay? You stayed for love? Then fuck yeah, go you. You stayed because your church said you should? Yawn.
I think commitment-phobia is a virtue. It’s sort of like jumping-off-a-cliff-phobia. It’s rational. It’s well-founded. You shouldn’t sell your sacred life away to anyone or anything that doesn’t deserve it. You should make damn sure the person, place, or thing you are about to commit to jives with your truest soul.
And if it doesn’t, hit the road, Jack. The neighbors may not approve, but then again, they won’t be your neighbors anymore anyway, so who the hell cares?
P.S. I give you Roger Clyne’s “She Took All of My Horses When She Left Me Last Night.” It’s become a bit of a theme song for this girl, a celebration of the art of leaving in style.
P.S.S. And here’s Miley singing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I think she’s uber-talented, and for all her foibles, she’s brave as hell. I’ll take brave over spit-shined and perfect any day of the week.