Thursday, August 9, 2007

Flyin' West

Susan IMed me the other day: “I’m so proud of you for asking to take your New Mexico trip as personal development.”
She asked me what workshop I’m taking. It’s called “The Sacred in the Everyday.”
“I feel like this is going to be a major milestone for you—not just for your writing, but for your personal journey.” I hope she’s right.

I don’t know if I posted this here, and I’ve been reading lots of Anthony Trollope lately, so here’s the exposition: When I was seven (told you, Trollope…), I heard Colleen Anderson singing on the radio. I thought she must be very famous—I didn’t really know the difference between West Virginia Public Radio and the top 40. I wrote her a letter, which she still (last time I saw her) carries in her wallet and shows to people as her “first fan letter.” We’ve kept track of each other over the years, and probably met in person about four times. We have some friends in common, so every now and then I’ll see her at a party or arts event.

Anyway, Colleen is teaching at a writing festival at Ghost Ranch, which is (or is near..?) Georgia O’Keefe’s old house. She emailed me this winter, while JC and I were visiting Katie in Nashville, to offer me a tuition scholarship to attend a workshop there. Colleen is teaching a songwriting workshop, which I’m not planning to take, but she’ll be there and we will spend more time actually in the same place than we ever have. Colleen also was talking about doing some writing together in the afternoons while I’m there (workshops are in the morning, afternoons are for hiking and homework).

I’m SOOO excited. I’ve never been to New Mexico. I’ve not really been camping much this year, and I’m going to camp out there. I need a vacation like nobody’s business. I also need to take a time and recharge my writing spirit. It’s feeling pretty bedraggled lately.

Oh, and about the “personal development” thing. I asked my manager (William) in February if I could take this, or part of it, as a personal development opportunity, in the budgetary sense. He said he’d look into it, and ask his manager (Ellen). Well, then in late February, I had about the worst performance review of my life, and after that, he never said anything about Ghost Ranch to me, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to him about it. So, in late July, it happened that I was having a casual conversation with Ellen, and I said, “Did William talk to you about my New Mexico trip?” He hadn’t, but I told her about it, and on the spot, she told me I could take three of the five days I would need as personal development, rather than vacation, and the department would pay for my plane ticket. As the big red button says, “Wow, that was easy!”

So, anyway, shady motivations aside, I’m going to New Mexico without blowing my budget. Sweet, right?

I need to be writing, something other than [redacted due to an unusually strict confidentiality agreement with my employer]. I was talking with a friend, who had hosted a photo shoot at his house. “It was really silly,” he said. “They were shooting lines of text like, ‘[censored].’ But you don’t write that stuff, right? You write, like, marketing materials and stuff, don’t you?”
“No. I write [what he said].” The fact is, I spend most of my days, when I am writing (which isn’t so often as I would like), crafting subject-verb-object sentences. The specifications are very tight, it’s like writing haiku in some ways. However…it is still just one SVO sentence after another, and you can bet your dollars to your donuts that the O is probably “apple.” As William said, when he read my first nationally published piece last summer, “You don’t need to be writing, ‘The boy is under the airplane.’ You need to be writing writing.”

It’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten from him, and I won’t forget it, because I feel like he is entirely correct. I love my job, most days, and I love the people I work with every day. Still, I want to be doing something that is more helping-people-y (though I can think of a few ways, if only I could convince the bra$$ that it was in their be$t intere$t, to really change lives, just doing what I do right now). Bryce, who homeschools his younger kids, and used to homeschool the older ones, told me about a curriculum program called Five in a Row, which consists of five activities to go along with each book in a large library of classic children’s literature. Madeline, for goodness sake! Without thinking, I blurted—in the office where I work, in front of three other employees and the Chief Technical Officer—“Are they hiring?” Oops. It’s just … My heart really wants to be in my true love, literature, especially children’s lit. Admittedly, FIAR caters to homeschooling families. We’re not talking about kids who are struggling to get by in the public school system, only to go home to parents who throw a TV dinner and a box of Cheezits at them, without ever turning away from their soap operas. Those are the kids I want to help. Those are the kids I worked with during my AmeriCorps days. I want to give them the classics.

I wonder if I could make something like FIAR, but for Sunday school, especially for young kids. What does The Giving Tree say about God? How about Horton Hatches the Egg? (or, for that matter, Horton Hears a Who…he’s got the whole world, on a clover…)

I might need to do this. Unless it already exists. Does it?

So, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but maybe I’m getting there. Of course, if Sesame Street would hire me, I’d have that one figured out in a heartbeat.  Sigh. I love you, Jim Henson.

I must say, I’m ever grateful to my younger self for being so sure, so completely unwavering, until about a year before I got my master’s degree. Who WAS that young woman? How can I possibly thank her enough (and how can I get her back?)? I might not have a clue, but at least I’m making good money and having a good time and building my resume while I figure it out, as opposed to my brother, who is 21, has switched majors at least four times, already will have to take an extra year of school, and definitely doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. I feel sorry for him, just because he’s in the same place that I am, only I have a career that’s good enough for now, and he’s hemorrhaging money.

I realize this isn’t much about Sunday school, and I’m sorry for that. I just … I don’t know. The impulse that made me all excited when I heard about FIAR is the same one that makes me excited to teach Sunday school. I want to say to these kids, “Look! These stories are just for you, and they were made by a God Who loves YOU and who wants you to understand that. God loves you even though your parents don’t talk to each other, and He loves you even though He knows that you are mean to your little sister, and He just LOVES you.”

Literature is a gift, and we have such a literary religion.

1 comment:

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

New Mexico is beautiful. Enjoy yourself. Hopefully you can deal with the heat better that I can.