Hi. I’m Maery, a writer in the Twin Cities. Although I no longer have the body for extreme adventures, I love to bicycle, go horse trail riding and take hikes with my dogs.  

One thing you should know before you join me on my quest -- I don’t have a map. And I’ve been known to wander off course and stop to listen to birds and look for agates. I also have a few issues with fear and anxiety. In other words, I’m not a good role model or adventure guide. But in this time of uncertainty and polarization, I'm not sure anyone has a reliable map. We'll just figure it out as we go.

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

Journal Entry from Thursday, August 1, 2013

August… How can this be?!

One true month of summer left, if we’re lucky. In the Midwest, the length of summer is a crapshoot. Last year though, we went straight from summer to winter and skipped Fall altogether.

Yesterday’s magic was waking up to the sound of rain and distant thunder. The rain was polite enough to stop and the clouds to move out of my way by the time I walked to the barn for breakfast.

In the evening, the whole class went to “The Pub” for dinner. I had “Simply Done Whitefish” with champagne beurre blanc and a glass of Cabernet. It may have been simply done but I felt ‘fancy.’

(And yes, it’s all about the food.)

For dessert, we stood down by Lake Superior and watched the sun set. The wind was cold and strong and if I still had long hair, it would have been waving and snapping like a flag behind me. The waves bumped and rubbed against each other in their hurry to reach the shore, creating a perfect lullaby to accompany the sun as it took it’s final bow.

Today the wind is quiet, but I can feel it’s chill coming through the window. There’s a grasshopper outside, who keeps flying up into the air, then dropping to the ground. When in flight, his wings make a sound like rapid applause.

Despite the peace of my surroundings, I am tense about my class this morning, which is silly.

“You don’t have to do your homework perfectly, Maery,” I tell myself, then throw in a “relax dear” for good measure.

We are supposed to have three printed pages of a rough draft this morning to use for revision work. I, unfortunately, have seven pages that are on my computer, unprinted.

“It will be fine Maery, just fine. No rushing. No perfection. Just breathe.”

I read a portion of what I’d written to another classmate and I think I will approach my revision with her advise in mind —  “I want to see more you in the piece.”

I’d written so much about the man who was abusing me, in my desire to formulate his character to the reader, I’d forgotten that the story is really about me, not him. Or maybe I didn’t forget but shame made me not want to be in the limelight.

When I met with Elizabeth, in a sudden gush, I told her “What I really want is to be a really good writer,” and I realized the honest truth of that statement.

But what does it mean to be a really good writer? 

I know when I’ve hit the sweet spot and when I haven’t. And I want those ‘hits’ to happen more often, not by chance but because I’ve practiced until my skill is more than an impulsive jet of creative spew.

I enjoy the process of writing, the sheer pleasure of honing words. So whether I become REALLY good or just good, I’ll continue to enjoy the practice.

“Good writing creates not the fact that it’s raining, but the feel of being rained upon.” ~E.R. Doctorow

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

Journal Entry from Wednesday July 31, 2013

It’s my third day on Madeline Island. So far it’s been intense, wonderful, exhausting, overwhelming, exciting and frustrating.

I’m going around in circles trying to select one manageable piece of story to work on for the reading the whole class will participate in on Friday, before we take the ferry back to Bayfield and head on home.

This feeling of circling and never landing is the same thing I struggle with at home. I start on one thing and then am drawn to another, then another, then another! I rewrite one event five times, five different ways, without realizing I’m doing so.

Perhaps it’s significant that I am drawn to the same part of the story over and over again. But why is the emphasis always different? Where is the true story? How do I meld the many minds of Maery together?

I meet with Elizabeth one-on-one for thirty minutes this afternoon. I have so many questions I want to ask but I need to choose the most important ones to ask first, in case we run out of time. I hope to get at least one bit of wisdom that helps me to loosen and write freely and fearlessly again.

I’ve been thinking about hiring a writing mentor for at least three years now. I’ve had three different writers in mind for the task – Elizabeth is one of them. But it’s expensive. I keep thinking I should be farther along before I spend the money on a mentor. And yet, a mentor may be what gets me farther along. And then I think, I should be able to do this on my own and use the money for travel and fun stuff that will feed my creativity. But maybe there are things I can give up, like cable TV, or things I can put off spending money on, like painting my house’s exterior, and spend the money I save on a mentor or editor or classes.

And so the process of not deciding goes on in my life.

This investment in developing my writing, which is not going to pay off monetarily, is a tough topic. Just putting the money into coming to Madeline Island was a decision that I wrestled with for two years.

I want to leave the island feeling as though one part of my writing struggle is less of a struggle. I want to leave believing that I can finish what I started.

And I’d like to break free from my blogger-twitter-lilt and return to my gutsy, brash, possibly offensive or shocking, but always honest brogue.

“The more you show up on the page, the stronger your voice becomes,” Elizabeth said in class yesterday.

There are aspects of my voice that do not, and probably never will, attract the people that fit into the “majority” designation. But I think I can attract the people that I want to write for.

As I work on my story, it occurs to me how much I’ve changed. Or perhaps that’s simply desperation speaking, wanting to reassure myself of the distance I’ve traveled.

All I know is that when I walk past someone here at MISE and say, “Good morning,” I really mean it. I know, SOOO sappy (and lilting).

But the sky today is a soft blue and there’s a cool breeze that makes the warm touch of  the sun all the more sweet, and I feel that “Good Morning” down to my bones.

I can feel the beginning of letting go.

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.