As I handed my money over I felt like a kid again caught up in back to school shopping. Instead of a long list of supplies for my back to school shopping I only needed a notebook and pen. I was taking a course on writing autobiography and I had my hopes up.
I left early Monday morning in anticipation of traffic. Coffee in hand, notebook and pen tucked in my bag, I was ready. I drove through heavy Vancouver traffic, looked longingly at my favorite places to visit that line West 4th Avenue, and finally reached the massive UBC campus. What a beautiful place. I found parking and made my way over to the Writing Center. With every step I wondered, will I like this? Will I suck? Will I be in over my head? The question I didn’t dare ask was will I fall in love because, secretly, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to fall in love with this class, with writing and have my hopes answered. ‘Writing Life as Story’ was posted on the door to the classroom. I was the first to arrive and quickly chose my seat out of the ten that formed a semicircle around the instructor’s desk. Others soon followed and the room was full.
As we went around the class and introduced ourselves I grew more and more nervous. Journalists, teachers that taught English Lit, professionals… What was I doing here? Our instructor, an accomplished writer and professor, had us dive in with writing exercises. As I put pen to paper I realized it had been so long since I had done that. I’d been so used to the clicking of keys that it took me a while to orient myself to the pen in my hand. I listened to the scribbling, to soft sighs, and pages being turned. I felt helpless. I had nothing. I was to write my autobiography in five minutes and the pen just hovered over my notebook. I guess what year I was born in would be a good place to start, but what about the rest? How do I sum up my life? Do I split this in years? In childhood, adolescence, and adulthood so far? Five minutes was up and I had written three sentences. It was time to read. I panicked. I had to read this crap that I just wrote? This nothing? I was shaking when it was my turn. It took seconds to read and I was breathless by the end. I kept my head down and waited for the next person to take their turn.
Excerpts from incredible autobiographies were read…Raymond Carver and Eva Hoffman…poetry by Mary Oliver. I was swept up in words, mesmerized by the beauty of how they were strung together. I felt peaceful. Memories of my childhood flooded me. I was sitting in classrooms listening to my teachers read, hiding novels under whatever work I was supposed to be doing, coming home to my journals and writing like I was possessed, like I was a poet.
At three in the afternoon I packed up my things satisfied with the day and what I had learned, but still worried that I was in over my head.
The next day I managed to make it through the five hours of class without crying, but as soon as I entered the safety of my car the tears came uncontrolled and fast. I cried because I felt inadequate. I cried because I felt more awake and alive than I had felt in a long time.
It wasn’t a stretch to call the next few days exhilarating. I grew more confident with each exercise. Reverie, thematic conflict, story splits, and on and on it went. Each was a challenge and a mystery to unfold. What memory would make an appearance today? What words could I use to describe that pivotal event in my life? How could I make this come alive? I loved hearing the words of my classmates when they read their work. Each one in their voice with a story to tell. I felt like I had come home.
My course finished up yesterday. After five days of uninterrupted learning, introspection, and writing I fell in love, just as I secretly hoped I would.
In the Birth House by Ami McKay
This book was lent to me by my mother in law. I’m not going to give you a great, big book report on it, but I will say that I thought her writing was beautiful, rich and goes well with a cup of something hot.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“My house became the birth house. That’s what the women called it, knocking on the door, ripe with child, water breaking on the porch. First-time mothers full of questions, young girls in trouble, and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies ‘toesies,’ because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped the feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves.
Ginny, she had two…
Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here.
Precious, she had twins…twice.
Celia had six boys, but she was married to my brother Albert…Rare men always have boys.
Iris Rose, she had Wrennie…
All I ever wanted was to keep them safe.”