Hippocampus Magazine has published my nonfiction piece, “A Moon Story,” a piece about losing life, giving birth, and surviving in nature.
The first love letter I ever wrote was in Kindergarten to a boy I won’t name (because I’m friends with his wife on Facebook). I wrote some in high school, to a high school sweetheart. By the time I was in grad school, and met my husband, I was too cool for love letters. I knew so much about myself that a couple scratches on a napkin or the back of a receipt would suffice. I didn’t need to write long, scrawling pleas for love and for attention. I had met my match, and he knew I loved him, so I didn’t need to write a big fat love letter sealed with a kiss. I could draw a heart on his hand and call it a day.
When I imagine writing love letters–the type that declare love–the instinct, for me, is a need to confess it or lose it.
This is my love letter to Goddard, to the faculty, to the process (a process I “trust”), to the program that has sustained and nurtured my creative addiction for the past two years.
Goddard, I don’t want to lose you. (“you”= the faculty and the students who come with the same love in mind, a shared goal of seeking humanity, of living the creative life, and the history, the place that wraps its arms around all of us.) And the good thing is that education is not possessive, monogamous, closed-hearted, or self-seeking. Goddard, especially, is none of those things.
Goddard, writers everywhere and anywhere cannot afford to lose you. Your students recognize that the program requires sacrifice–a magnificent sacrifice of fear and doubt that sits in the gut of every writer–and every human!– and gives back something so big there isn’t a word for it, this new way of learning and teaching and being. It makes this creative life possible.
For what it’s worth to the administration: understand what’s at stake for the students and faculty of all the Goddard programs to live and eat and breathe the practice of teaching and learning. It’s the most fundamental and fulfilling of human exchange.
There is no number you can put on what comes in and goes out of these residencies.
We stand together as teachers and students.
I stopped keeping a journal when I graduated from high school. My journal was a daily escape from ages eight to seventeen. Upon graduation, I stopped keeping a journal because its contents would then become volatile.
Before that, I journaled compulsively, usually to Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing cd, which spun at such high volumes in my stereo, I could hear the hum of my parents’ hardwood floors. I didn’t do it because I wanted to. It became something I couldn’t forgo if I wanted to, like the trail of my parents’ cigarette smoke.
Today, I sit here with a paper plate full of Triscuit crumbs and smears of cream cheese, wondering why I cannot continue writing a series of flash fictions for Goddard without first writing a blog post. I’ve wondered why I had to do this after the Boston Bombings, the Newtown tragedy, the loss of Alexandra Kogut last semester, and other experiences I’ve had like wishing I could call my grandmother on her birthday.
The blog has become, in some fancier way, my diary, which is why, for weeks, I am able to not write a thing, and then some days, I can’t not write. My blog entries typically come out in an hour or less of writing. And now I understand why. It’s the same muse in action that has you jotting down story ideas on a fast food napkin. I blog because I cannot continue my daily routine without writing about whatever it is I’m obsessing about.
For the past few days, it’s been Connie Rodriguez, one of my students from this past fall, who died over the weekend.
My husband scolds me after tragedy, as though he expects me to react any differently: I am as guilty as anyone who grips the controller to watch the terror unfold before them.
I found her old submissions from my creative writing course. I needed proof. I couldn’t believe she was my student just last semester, it wasn’t so long ago, and I hadn’t seen her since. I read a Facebook friend’s page religiously, but not for posts about her daughter like I usually do, but for photos of Connie, who was her friend. I Googled her name to see if her obituary had been posted yet or if anyone had written about her. Just before writing this, I found a university news article about her. I had to write.
As her instructor, I knew these limited things about Constance Rodriguez:
She wrote one hell of a short fiction piece for her portfolio–a story about twin sisters who would not stop battling each other, who would wake each other in the middle of the night to physically and brutally terrorize one another. The story ended with a blaze, the house catching fire, the girls running away.
She was the first to share her writing on the first day of class.
She lost her mother.
She had seen things and lived a life that I could not ever fathom– a life she wrote in her poetry and essays that I will not post here. She was a survivor.
From reading the article, from looking at pictures, Connie was a bubbly girl, a forgiving friend. What I can’t stop thinking about is this: the pain beneath her pretty smile.
We like to think we are heroes, that we can save the world, that the future is ours for preserving. I wonder if I could have done or said one thing to make her life, then, easier. I couldn’t have healed a thing for her, a tough girl enduring a tough time who’d lost her mother just before she started my class. Had I known her deep state of grief, would I have been able to be fair? Should I have been able to be fair?
I haven’t stopped thinking about her since Sunday, when I learned of her passing. I printed her poems that had been archived away in my college email, the first creative essay she wrote for class. I read them at 10 o’clock on Sunday night. I re-read them at 4 pm on Monday, and not more carefully than I did when I graded them, but differently–with the urgency to pull her back, to prevent the loss of her after it happened.
I grieve in a different way from her friends, from her family, who grieve the loss from their guts. I am sad about the small part of her I knew, the small part of her that pulled back into herself towards the end of the semester, who veered away from school into sadness. But I remember her as something bigger, as part of a future unknown, as part of a difference we are afraid to make.