I’ve just taken a peek at the first chapter of a “debut” novel by a woman I used to know back in my salad days within the seemingly safe harbor of the Minnesota literary scene.
There were four writers per city block back then, and it appears, as I surf around, that there are at least eight today.
Those were golden times for me; I had real support and was part of a real community, with real friends. That’s three “real’s”— really. I was blessed with a number of good things– the attention of National Book Award winner Robert Bly, who founded the Minnesota Writers Publishing House, a collective, and edited my first chapbook, In Pursuit of the Family. I received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in Literature, as a poet. I was appointed full-time Poet in Residence for the St. Paul Schools– a job I held down for four years before returning to Colorado after my father died and I had to come home.
Together with the woman whose book I noticed last night and perused a little this morning, and other women, we organized for one another to break into what had been a male dominion for the most part. Google Women Poets of the Twin Cities and you’ll find a collector’s item.
I still remember being invited to this young writer’s apartment for dinner. I even remember that she made something with brown rice and fresh vegetables in it. I remember that I was having a very rough time, and had started to talk to her when she stopped me.
“What makes you think I want to hear about all of your problems?” she asked. “What makes you assume that I’m even interested?”
I remember how it felt to take this in the solar plexus, and the shame that drenched me.
This is not an isolated incident in my experience. Can there be anything more painful than to take a hit from another woman? I doubt it. Many of us have had hard lessons where men are concerned, but don’t we view other women as sisters, as other mirror images of Eve herself?
And remembering this makes me feel that we should all take a long hard look at what we mean when we use the word “community” or the word “network” –and especially, the word “friend”: are we honest? Do we really value each other?
Those of us who keep on despite uphill battles, who have overcome many obstacles and are still fully clothed and in our right minds, much less engaged in a writing life, should be accorded all due respect. Period. We have not walked in each other’s moccasins.
For me there is but one overall solution: to enjoy community, and the building of platforms but not depend upon these things. To support one another with gentle honesty and sustained communication: the two biggies, but to never assume that you are making a life-long friend, even though that can and does happen.
And most of all, because people do get claimed by their own daily lives, and fallings out are part of being human, to cultivate self-love and not need anyone else to tell us that we are good writers or bad, or that our lives and work have beauty, meaning and purpose.
We have all heard this ad nauseam but perhaps that’s because it is true: without self-love and self-respect, it doesn’t matter who validates you: it could be God herself.