Writing is a good place to land

It’s June, 1988. My adopted daughter, Ali, is diagnosed with cerebral palsy two days before her first birthday. I’m in a marriage sliding toward rock bottom.  A jogger since graduate school, I’m running longer and harder distances, itchy in my skin, restless, scared. I feel called to a life that looks nothing like the one I’m living but have no idea how to find it. An artist herself, a friend offers up writing as a place to begin. She suggests we take a journaling class set to start the following week.

Welcome Everything. Push Away Nothing.
— Frank Ostaseski

The one thing I remember about that class is the teacher recommending Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg’s wildly successful first book about writing. Like thousands of aspiring authors, I connected with Goldberg’s process from the get-go and clung to her forgiveness of the slop and chatter that comprise ninety percent of what we write. A short bio on the book’s back cover said that the author lived and taught in Taos. Believing I had nothing to lose, I addressed a postcard to Natalie Goldberg, writer, Taos, New Mexico. I had one question: Do you teach workshops, and if so, where and when?

My world of achievement and perfection had been blown open by a child who wasn’t sitting at a year, wasn’t babbling, couldn’t hold her head upright for more than a few minutes. Natalie’s response came in the form of a flier announcing a workshop that September at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, an artist’s haven in Taos. My parents drove their Buick from Minnesota to Chicago to spend the week with Ali. I flew to Albuquerque, rented a car, backed into the car behind me at a gas station in Santa Fe, and continued on to Taos.

The week was transformative. In the company of other writers, my Self woke up in a land the tourism bureau calls enchanted. I hardly slept, writing during the day and devouring books about writing at night. I knew nothing and somehow everything. Like the Zen master, I sensed there was nothing to be done yet no time to lose. 

“We can roam for only so long,” Natalie told us one morning before we were sent to the courtyard with a prompt. “Eventually, we all need to land. Writing is a good place to land.” Seven days later, I left New Mexico believing that if I could just step out of the way, life would unfold in ways I could trust.

Two years later, my divorce final, I left the Chicago office of Vogue magazine and moved with Ali to Denver. After a short stint at an ad agency, I joined a nonprofit founded by Denver photographer Katy Tartakoff. For eight years Katy and I documented through words and images the lives of children and families living with life-threatening illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS. With the support of The Legacy, we published four books and assembled several touring exhibits. We did programs about living with differences in schools throughout Colorado. The work was gratifying, intimate and sometimes sacred, but also wearing. When my mother’s breast cancer relapsed in 2001, I left The Legacy in search of neutral ground and launched a writing business.

I took what I had learned about writing from years of practice, applied the marketing and advertising know-how I had gleaned during my ten years in the magazine business, added the skills that came from telling the children’s stories and writing fundraising appeals, newsletters and grants, and focused on writing marketing content. In the years since, I’ve come to think of websites, blogs and brochures as another way to tell a story: the story of your business, the story of your staff, the story of your service or product and what it brings to a customer or client.

I raised Ali as a single mom for many years, marrying again when she was sixteen to a man with two young children. All three kids are in their twenties now, emancipated millennials finding their way. Single again, with no children in the house, work and writing are front and center. Family and friends are my greatest blessing; traveling is my dream come true. Put me on a mountain trail or on a bicycle and I’m a happy girl.

We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got.
— Alex Haley