What is your earliest memory of writing?
I started writing when I was a child. I wrote thank you letters in the form of poems to my grandparents. When my grandparents passed away, I discovered that they had saved all my poems in a desk drawer. My grandmother had even rewritten some of my poems in her beautiful script.
What inspires you?
Every day life. Getting through the day can be a struggle, especially now, during these extraordinarily challenging times…I usually write from a place inside me that is aching, and if I am fortunate and have worked hard enough, I am able to arrive at a fresh perspective, by the time that I have finished the piece. The other day I was out taking a walk, trying to ease the pangs of loneliness I was feeling from the prolonged lockdown. I turned the corner on Stephen’s Street and saw a strange, bulky rectangular object a few blocks away. My curiosity was perked. I quickened my pace. Soon I was standing face to face with a full-sized refrigerator standing stoically on a neighbor’s front lawn. It was encased in a cedar shed, fully protected from the elements. “Take What You Need, Leave What You Can,” the laminated instruction sheet said. “Have a nice day” was spelled out in lopsided magnetic letters. The refrigerator even had its own hand sanitizer station. I gently opened the door. A little lightbulb glowed. I heard a reassuring hum. Felt a refreshing chill. The refrigerator was packed with food: peanut butter sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, pasta salads, family-sized casseroles, cups of yogurt, tangerines. People were looking after each other, expressing care, in their own unique ways. This is the kind of moment from everyday life that moves me to write.
What do you think makes a good story and why?
I am drawn to stories that portray worlds that are often overlooked, underrepresented in the “mainstream.” These are the stories I learn the most from and find the most gripping and inspiring. Everyone has an important story to tell.
What are some of your favorite books, tv shows, movies?
I am drawn to nonfiction. These days I have been reading a lot of riveting investigative journalism books and medical memoirs. Some of my recent favorites include: Suleika Jaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms, Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road, Katherine Standefer’s Lightning Flowers, Nick Flynn’s This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire. I also really loved Gretel Ehrlich’s book Unsolaced and Sarah Smash’s memoir Heartland. Along the same lines, I watch a lot of medical dramas on TV: Grey’s Anatomy, New Amsterdam, and Chicago Med.
What is your writing process like?
I am a very kinesthetic person, so I usually begin my writing day by swimming ( before the pools closed due to COVID) or taking a walk. Physical activities are also meditative ones for me, the rhythm of doing laps in the pool or strolling in a forested park with my arms swinging back and forth like pendulums helps activate my creative mind. When I return home, I might find myself quickly jotting down words, images, details, bits of overheard conversation, memories, etc. on sticky notes as fast as I can ( to outrace my perfectionist critical mind)and placing them on a big piece of poster board that I have spread out on the living room floor. I draw upon my passion for woodworking. When I write I like to feel as if I am building something, putting bits and pieces together, that capture a moment.
Do you have a writing quirk?
I love to write in my pajamas encased in a very cozy fleece-lined sleeping bag…
What is the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
Writing for me is a solitary activity that I practice alone in a room. What has surprised me is how writing has opened up my life and filled it with the most remarkable people. From working with students to attending inspiring writing workshops, like the ones WGI offers, writing has enriched my life beyond anything I could have imagined.
How did participating in a WGI workshop help your writing?
In 2018, I was part of a cohort that gathered together to write about living with chronic illness. One fateful weekend, WGI mentors came to join us. When I realized that they had flown in from all different parts of the country to spend the weekend with us, I was utterly moved. From the moment they arrived, their fresh energy, enthusiasm, and generosity of spirit infused the room. There were still obstacles for me to overcome. I was so used to sitting in a room by myself while writing. Suddenly, I was being asked to write spontaneously to assigned prompts, given a certain time limit, and asked to share my raw work with a small group. Initially, I clanked around awkwardly in my protective armor. But with the help of my WGI mentors who gently nudged me along with their encouraging words coupled with the brave stories shared by my fellow participants, I felt myself slowly opening up to a room that turned out to be full of the most generous listeners. Three years later, I still return to the notebook I kept from that workshop, reread my notes, especially when I feel my motivation flagging, and work with some of the writing prompts. I recall my transformative journey from “I Can’t” to “Yes I Can,” and once again feel the gentle nudge of encouragement and hear a little voice inside my head telling me to keep my pen moving, to continue on…
Any advice or tips?
I carry a pocket notebook around with me. I often write during that precious in-between time when one task has ended and before the next one begins. Read the work of other writers you admire. You will learn a lot. Read your own work out loud to yourself as you are writing. Tune into the cadence of your own voice. Find a writing buddy, someone whom you can exchange work with and/or connect to a supportive writing community. Give yourself permission to be playful. You do not have to sit and stare at a blank page. Get out your art supplies—- your magic markers and colored pencils, your construction paper and poster board and create a colorful word collage to get your creative juices flowing! Keep practicing. Continue to open your heart wider and wider.