I waited on the stone retaining wall near the new children’s park, where he said he’d meet me. My feet dangled down, as I shivered a bit from the clouds, unaccustomed to them after a few months of summer though they mark our Pacific Northwest fall, winter, and spring. A small girl, curly brown hair dangling in barrettes, shrieked as she ran around the play structure, her shoes making soft thwaps on the bouncy rubbery ground. I remember when playgrounds meant woodchips and sandboxes.
He said he’d be late, and he was, but he made up for it with a huge hug. Eight months since we spent time like this, with a hug good-bye outside a coffeeshop downtown in December, two days after my graduation and a week before he left for a semester in Oxford. Now, he’s back after studying in England, researching in Dublin, praying in France. I can’t wait to hear his stories.
We play disc golf in the park as we chat, or I pretend to play and accidentally throw the disc into the bushes. Patiently, he climbs through the brush to get the disc and sails it back on track. I warned him. I’m a writer, not someone with any sense of spacial relation or aiming ability whatsoever.
He’s a fellow writer, and I ask him about his research project about Quaker John Woolman he’s been working on all summer, funded by a grant from the university. His passion in talking about what he’s been studying is evident, and we talk drafts and citations, those things that excite people like us.
Then comes the question he always asks me with a wry smile: “How’s your writing life?” For some reason, I always answer him honestly, and I tell him about the struggle and my existential crisis brought on by the professor for whom we share a deep love and respect. He laughs knowingly and says, “Bill can do that. He can just slice you straight to your heart.” I felt warm relief flow through my chest – I wasn’t alone in what this wonderful man did to me.
After completing the course only because he was able to correct my horrendous throws, we finished the night on a bench talking about his travels and studies through Europe, something I’ve always dreamed about doing. He talked about the libraries he touched, the books he read, the places he saw, all the things my heart wonders about.
I met her for coffee in the late morning. She walked in, lithe of frame, long hair braided down her back and wearing an embroidered tank top, obviously not from the Gap down the street. We embraced, and it didn’t seem like a year since I’d seen her face, since she walked across the graduation stage and soon after left returned to Jordan.
We got in line for coffee, and she took in the aromas. This was her first time back in this coffeeshop where she spent time reading and writing and drinking caffeinated beverages for four years of undergraduate life. Now she’s off to graduate school in the UK at one of the world’s most respected institutions.
We sat down to catch up. There was a candidness between us as we shared the challenges of the last year — her teaching secondary school in Jordan, my foray into the professional world, the struggle to create art or anything in the time that is left over. I was amazed by this woman who sat before me, that mind that thinks in such a beautiful way, a person who has always been stuck between two cultures and so many loves.
The struggle to edit, to write, came up, and we discussed the difficulty in finding the lines between projecting our own writing perspective onto those we edit and helping them find their own way to communicate. She shared the scariest part of teaching, the ability to forever change someone’s feelings about learning in general. I knew precisely what she was talking about, and could understand to some degree her discomfort and exhaustion in the classroom due to her introversion. I also understood her hesitation when a mutual acquaintance came over to greet her and asked her if she’ll be teaching after graduate school. She said “maybe” with a slight smile.
The treasure of like-minded people is unlike any other. I’m blessed with a good number of people who love me and do their best to understand this passion of mine. They support me and encourage me, make me write when I do not want to, read what I’ve written. But they can no more understand my passion than I can understand their passions for directing, for teaching, for singing. I can understand it on the most basic level: it makes them happy, it drives them, it is intrinsically and fully valuable. But I cannot ever fully know what it is about the notes, the images, the people that makes it so.
That’s why I need my support group of like-minded people. Other people who write and know the struggle of creation. Others who love the sounds of words and the power of sentence structure. Who use paper and black and white letters to say something. Who understand the same literary vocabulary and allusions and use them to communicate. Because they understand the core of me and why it is I do what I do. Why I need to do what I do.
Those people are important, nearly as important as my favorite movie buddy or the person I choose to cry on after a hard day. Because, often, they understand the cry of my soul and why I cannot express it in words. I’m thankful for these people that surround me, a little community of artists who have scattered all over this world who know my art and know my struggle. It’s an invaluable community.