Making a Life That I Love

This is my second post about taking a writing class with Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew at the Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISE).

During our first day of class, we started out right away with a free-writing exercise. We were to write about a moment in childhood when a layer of illusion is peeled away. I wrote about my first day of kindergarten, where I was so excited that another girl, I’ll call her Pam, selected me to be her friend. There weren’t any kids my age in my neighborhood so I was hungry to play with someone.

Things were going great until nap time, when Pam reached over and started to tickle me. I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t hold it in and she wouldn’t stop. I ended up getting yelled at and told to stand in the corner with my face to the wall. The teacher wouldn’t listen to my excuse that “I couldn’t help it,” and my ‘friend’ did not fess up and tell the teacher that my laughter outbreak had been her fault. In fact, Pam thought the whole thing was rather funny, while I, an extremely shy girl (to the point of some sort of mental illness) was devastated. Both my level of trust of children my own age and adults took a dive.

A quiet girl became even more quiet.

Our writing class ran from 9:00 AM until noon. Then we would break for lunch. Lunches arrived in a bag or a box, depending on what you ordered, with your name clearly written on the container. I ordered a mixture of salads, sandwiches, and wraps for my lunches. There was always a big bowl of berries, melon, and grapes available, boiled eggs you could add to your salad, yogurt, and ice tea.

After lunch, our class didn’t meet up again until around 3:30. During our free time, we had an excerpt from various memoirs that Elizabeth handed out to read, with questions to guide us through the reading, and a writing exercise to work on. On our first day, my roommate and I decide to pack up our homework and drive to a nearby beach. There was an overlook where you could watch all the multiple colors of kayaks and canoes paddling about.

Down by Lake Superior, we were able to sit under pine trees near the beach. I had a hard time concentrating on my reading and writing. There were a group of women sitting nearby who were having some very interesting conversations about Uncle Stormin Normin and a guy with a Jersey accent who they thought had to be part of a witness protection program, and about the bad turns they had made as teenagers. Yes, I am one of those lurking, eavesdropping, studying what your wearing and your body language, types of writers…

The afternoon portion of our class lasted until around 5:30 and then we were free to go find dinner on our own. The first place we ate was called “The Beach Club.” I had a fish taco with fried white fish, cabbage, tomatoes and guacamole. It was good, although I would have preferred my fish broiled. Fish “fresh from Lake Superior” was on every menu I saw on the island.

Back in our room, there was another reading to do and a writing exercise to finish before the next day’s class. I was thinking about what Elizabeth had said about the inner and outer story, and the before, during, and after of the story. If you are going to show a transformation, you have to have enough “before” story to show what changed.

She spoke about how there is a relationship to being open to change and how well we write. You could expand that to say that there’s a relationship to being open to change and how well you do anything and how much you enjoy life.

Writing and life can take you to places you never planned to go and reveal things you didn’t know, and often wish you didn’t know now. But if you think about it, you don’t really want to go backwards.

Some experiences, it’s difficult to find anything beautiful about it or even to name some kind of positive growth. But even if you can’t tie beauty to the event itself, it can change how you look at things.

I savor cloud paintings in the sky, the stark lines of a tree against a white background in the wintertime, and the taste and crunch of my first Honeycrisp apple in the Fall. These things stand out because my eyes are open, looking for the things that make a life that I love.

That’s what facing difficulties can do for you.

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  1. Maery, thanks for sharing your adventures in this workshop. It seems that some heart softening and allowing is going on with you and your writing.

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