Harvesting stories from life

I spent this past week as an instructor in the memoir workshop at Houston’s first annual Writefest, sponsored by Writespace. It’s been a rich week, immersed in the voices of new and emerging writers with evocative and amazing stories worth telling. The experience has given me an opportunity to reflect on why we dedicate ourselves to this work, this storytelling, crafting our memoirs. The courage it takes to reveal ourselves.

We are the authors of our life story, a personal narrative that compels us to leave home to find our destiny. Each time we take a risk to leave the safety (and boredom in the routine sameness) of our lives, we embark on a new beginning and the excitement of possibilities. As storytellers, we explore the depth of our experiences for meaning. There is pride in accomplishment, hope in surviving tragedy, and joy in a life fully lived. By sharing our stories, we share both our fragility and fierceness. We share our humanity.

Irish poet John O’Donohue writes: “Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning.”

He adds: “To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a cynical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening.”

I love O’Donohue’s word “ripening.” I imagine my ideas for storytelling as seeds. When I give myself permission to sit and craft those stories, I can imagine a story ripening with each draft, each new revision. The hardest part of craft is to begin. Once that occurs, I can be vulnerable, honest, and authentic. The story swirls, ripens, flourishes.

Sometimes writing is play, often it’s work, but oh my God, it is sweet ecstasy to see it finished.

Again quoting O’Donohue: “There can be no growth if we do not remain open to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that has not been rewarded a thousand times over.”

When I explore my life experiences, I’m startled by the lessons they offer me. But as Carl Jung observed, an unexamined life is not worth living. Telling our amazing stories together may be living out loud, but it’s preferable to living unconsciously. Indeed, if life is worth the risk for the rewards, so all the more worthy is the telling of those stories for others to hear and celebrate.

Hitting the road, RV style

My sweetie bought us a recreational vehicle, known commonly as a RV.

She’s a Dolphin, which is a popular brand. In fact, the newest custom ones can sell for as high as six figures all tricked out, but Ronnie found an old girl that was still trustworthy with only 45,000 miles on her odometer. Built in 1997, she was a steal at $12,000, and he is proud he found her.

She’s got two captain chairs up front. One for Ronnie, the driver, and one for me, the navigator… or as Roinnie sometimes complains, the nag-igator.

She’s 36-feet long with a slideout in the living area, complete with sofa and recliner/rocker. There’s a full galley with gas stove, microwave and a man-sized refrigerator, dining table with cushioned benches. In the back, there’s a bathroom with shower-tub, and a bedroom with a luxurious queen bed. Plenty of room for two adults. Actually the specifications hint that the RV will sleep six. In addtion to using our queen bed, there could be two people sleepng on the converted dining table and two on the pullout sofa, but trust me, my man isn’t letting anyone crowd him inside his new home-on-the-road.

Ronnie has spent weeks sprucing her up. She’s sparkling clean, inside and out, and sporting new license plates so everyone knows that she belongs to a veteran. Her fluids are topped off, and she’s ready to hit the road. He has a spot reserved in Kerrville for us over Spring Break.

Although it’s still two weeks away, I’m already packing.

We figure we’ll take the Dolphin across country this summer and see some of America. We can’t decide if we’ll head up to Montana or across to Florida, but we’re leaning toward the northwest. Driving  to Florida seems more like a plan for autumn, winter even, skimming the Gulf coastline like snow birds.

If we like travelng RV-style, we plan to trade up in a year. If we discover we like the idea of RVing more than the actual experience, we figure we can probably sell the old girl for what Ronnie paid for her. Either way, it’s sure to be quite an adventure.

Let love lead

This is my last year to work full-time at Lone Star College, and it marks my silver anniversary. Twenty-five years filled with teaching, administrative tasks, engaging with colleagues, motivating students–making a difference. It’s been a glorious ride, doing meaningful work. I have been relunctant to retire because I love my job.

But I feel a stirring in my soul. I want to spend more energy helping women give voice to their life stories. However, as I told my sweetie, I do not want to make it a business.Instead, I want to take my time and follow my heart.

It will be a challenge. I have been addicted to “busyness” most of my life. In fact, someone commented that I should be slowing down, but I laughed and said that I’d decided to finish strong. And I will; it’s in my nature. After that, however, I am going to bask in the late afternoon of life.

My plans? I plan develop workshops for women and bear witness to their evocative stories, both in person and online.  I’ll finish that second novel that is hiding in plain sight in my computer. I’ll travel with my sweetie in the RV that he bought for us three weeks ago and plant the seeds for women’s story circles as we motor throughout the nation.

I will not, however, do any of this hurriedly. Busyness is not part of my post-retirement plan.

And if those plans don’t work out?

“Let go of the life you planned and embrace the life you are meant to live” reads one of the quotations prominently placed above my computer in my home office. What better reminder for today, Feb. 14, 2016?

First love

I believe a woman remembers her first love because there’s such a sweet romantic high about it, like being drunk on Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine.

You can hear the nostalgia in the lyrics “I Got the Boy,” a heart-warming song inspired by reading in the newspaper the details of your first love’s wedding and honeymoon. Jana Kramer sings:

I got the first kiss and she’ll get the last
She’s got the future, I got the past
I got the class ring, she got the diamond and wedding band
I got the boy, she got the man

Yeah there’s an old you that I knew,
Fake IDs to get into those spring break bars
Back woods on a four wheeler, hanging on tight, I can still feel my racing heart
And now you’re cleaned up with a haircut, nice tie and shoes
If things were different and I had a choice, which would I choose?

Oh my. The memories just flood like Galveston’s beachfront during a hurricane and wash over me. Our innocent flirting in algebra class. Shy at first and then more brazen. The first date at Huntsville State Park. Getting all dressed up for the Junior Prom. Sneaking off to Splash Day USA. The budding feeling of young love. Our sharing secrets and mutual plans for the future: a white-framed house and five children. The dreamy certainty that we’d experience happily ever after. Followed by the shifting emotions, the drama of misunderstandings and arguments that ended in deep kisses. Until the last fight that ended it all. Or did we just drift away after high school graduation? Whatever the reason, the memories are no longer sad—they’ve become sweet with time.

Truth is, we learned enduring lessons from one another about love. How fragile it is. How intimacy is more than sweat-slicked bodies and breathlessness. How commitment binds together a man and a woman, and we were far too young for such capacity.

The question, however, in Jana’s song is intriguing: If things were different and I had a choice, which would I choose?

The answer comes in a heartbeat, quick and sure. I’d leave the boy where he is now—nestled in past memories. My sweet Ronnie is not my first love, but he is surely my last. He is the man with whom I make new memories every day. He’s funny, he’s wise, he’s kind. The memories of the boy pale in comparison.