Category Archives: letter

To My Creative Writing Students Now and Always

No one in my family wrote. That is, if you count “writing” as the kind of writing that gets validated in academic settings: journalism, opinion pieces, blogs, essays, book reviews, literary criticism, short stories, and poetry. E-mail wasn’t even a word when I was growing up. My mother wrote shopping lists. Notes to my teachers. Sometimes she wrote the occasional letter or card or college essay when she went back to school for her associate degree.

My parents never told me to write, or not to write. I just wrote. At the end of each school year, for example, I jotted down how I had changed from the year before, everything I could do differently: Write cursive. Multiply. Walk to the bus top alone.

But what possessed me to take a pen to paper and move it across a page? Who encouraged me to write?

A cousin put my first journal in my hand. I was nine, and the journal was baby breath’s pink. Its cover featured a kitten chasing a ball of twine. My cousin wrote an inscription inside the front cover. She told me to record my dreams and thoughts and ambitions. Until that moment, no one but me seemed to care about what went on inside a little girl’s head. Yet, the journal’s inscription bore a symbolic message that informs my work as a writer to this day: My writing and what I have to say are a necessary contribution to the world. It’s the same message I impart to you, my students.

Your writing and what you have to say are a necessary contribution to the world.

I initially started writing diary entries to get acquainted with my voice and to record moments of my life I wanted to remember. I write today to interrupt silences and to make meaning out of my failures or losses. I write to understand the other, the margins. I write to ask, not to answer.

What did it mean that my mother was chronically disabled for so many years?

How did I, as an adolescent and young adult, define myself against her illness?

What was I thinking at 21, when I boarded a plane for Glasgow, Scotland, to work in a country I could barely find on a map?

And then, two years later, why did I leave Scotland for another foreign country – the Louisiana Delta – to write about religion among people whose faith I did not share? What was I running away from? What was I running toward?

In each essay or book chapter or poem I create, I am writing toward and through such questions.

Like Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

I write to seek, never to find.

Writing has, in turn, given me a life I never could have envisioned when I was nine and first writing in a baby’s breath pink journal with a cat on the cover.

Writing took me overseas and into parts of the United States I initially feared –– the Deep South, for example. Writing introduced me to my husband. Writing made me a teacher. Writing gave me permission to find myself, to be myself, to live with less guilt and shame or a need for approval.

I can find a thousand reasons to write, and a thousand reasons not to write. I chose to listen to the thousand voices that tell me to write, and I want all of you to do the same. Right now. Tune out every single voice that says you’re not good enough –- or too good –– to be here.

Write when you’re tired, sad, angry, hungry, guilty, ashamed, sick, scared, happy, anxious, wide awake.

There will never be a perfect time to write. The perfect time is now.

Remake the world with your writing. Rebuild yourself. In the words of Wendell Berry, “Practice resurrection.”

Show up in this room. Show up on each page you read, each page you create.

Be who you are when everyone can see you. Be who you are when no one can see you.

Listen. Seek. Question.

Get serious. Own your words. Make them sharp or shiny or beautiful. Make them everything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to the Woke Misogynist at My Gym

I didn’t see you. I’m sorry. I know you expected gratitude, eye contact –– a flirty smile –– when you held the door for me today. You made sure I knew your behavior was transactional. I owed you.

“YOU’RE WELCOME!” You barked, like a parent reprimanding a child. I had forgotten my manners, and it was your job to remind me. Lest I forget my place in this world. My place which is beneath you. My place which is to please you.

Would you have spoken to me in such an irate and condescending tone if I matched you in height and weight and genitalia? (I’m asking that question rhetorically.) We both know the answer is, “No.” So let’s not kid ourselves that this tantrum you had on your way into the gym tonight was about anything other than gender and power. My gender. Your perception of power.

I suspect you expected me to keep quiet, stay obedient. I doubt you expected me to turn around and pursue you. Did it take you aback when I asked your name? Interestingly, you refused to say. Did you know the wrongness of your behavior, and were you ashamed? Or did you want to act with impunity? Did you believe you wouldn’t be held accountable? (That’s another rhetorical question.) We both know the answer is, “Yes.”

“Why do you feel compelled to regulate my behavior?” I asked, as you turned down the hall. My voice wavered, but I forced out each word. I challenged you. I caught you off guard.

You’d already rounded a corner when I called out, “This is a microaggression! This is sexist!” As if the Microaggression/Sexism Police would rush down the hall and arrest you on the spot. But I forget. This is your world in so many ways. You walked free. And I shook in someone’s office.

Now it strikes me as deeply ironic that you carried a Yoga mat. Was it pink? Purple?

You see, I can’t remember. This is because another man, a man with a voice like yours and a similar stature, once left a bruise on my arm in another doorway. He hurt me when I wouldn’t do what he wanted me to do. He believed I owed him something too. Thank you for reminding me of him tonight. Thank you for reminding me that no matter how far I rise, there is always a man waiting to pull me down. There is always a man who believes my behavior, my body, are territories under his jurisdiction.

I wonder if you took pleasure in your Yoga class. Were you one of a few men in the room or the only man? Did you pat yourself on the back for being so comfortable in your masculinity that you can downward dog and cat cow on a pink or purple Yoga mat? Did you say namaste and chant om shanti shanti at the end –– and feel like such a good person? I hope you cleansed yourself, a little, of your anger. I know that anger. I know what that anger can do. That’s why I’m writing to you now. That’s why I’m holding you accountable.

This letter is me saying, “I know what you did.” This letter is me saying, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Look, we only interacted for a few seconds. I don’t really know you. And you don’t know me. But if you ever see me again, please treat me like an equal. A legitimate human being. A person who doesn’t owe you anything.

Also, please don’t open the door for me. I can open the door myself. I have been opening and opening and opening doors for my whole life. So many doors. You wouldn’t believe them all. There is no door too heavy, none I can’t breach.

And by the way, I can’t stop thinking about how we stood on a threshold tonight. Did you know threshold can mean “on the verge?”  Do you ever stop to think about how a threshold is a passage?  There is no way back. Only forward.

So step aside. I am about to pass you. Surpass you. I have so much work to do. I have no more time to waste.