This is for my CW class, because as artists in an unique moment (in a school full of people a lot like them) I want to remind them that they have an opportunity that extends beyond their education. In the room where they learn to invest, critique, edit one another's work, I urge them: find your peers, your critics, your muses, your crowd. If you leave with even one really good friend from this time in your life, you leave with someone who reminds you about art, carries art forward no matter what you do for a "day job," you have a bookmark in the pages of yourself in the chapter that is artist/writer.
I could go on and on and on about Utah friends and what I carried to Alabama where I met other crucial writers and carried them forward to my Cincinnati self where there were still other friends, projects, editors and they have added to my life as a writer in very specific crucial ways.
Sometimes the connections to the truest part of who I am have been figurative life-savers, others: (like one low, low summer when I lived in Cincinnati where my talented and beloved, Liz Besmehn stayed with me on a shaky cellphone (life) line while I traveled by train from Chicago to Salt Lake City,) quite nearly literal--and literary. When I had forgotten what to value, it was she to remind me of words, the ones we treasured and the ones we wrote, and most importantly, the ones we had yet to write.
Now that I am out of school, I congratulate myself often for having the good sense to scoop up some of those school-friends and tote them into my "Grown-up Life." I am lucky, I love my Grown-up Life very much, but no one assigns me homework that will result in a short story and another and another, until quite effortlessly, I have a collection. No one, that is, but say Kathrine from Utah-days, responsible for my teaching-life as she was the one to sign us up for an adult community education class to teach creative writing. I found out something new about myself and it would change my life: While shy in most settings, teaching exhilarated me. Kathrine and I had always been a bit of a two-headed monster: editing various journals and anthologies together, setting up a writing group so professional, we began to get calls for judging local contests and readings at various venues. Together, we launched the first ever Share Our Strength reading in Salt Lake City and attended that writing group every Saturday morning religiously for years and years. When I moved away to graduate school, I missed that life terribly, but as I was in a writing program, I had the chance to meet more writers and share those writers with the writers of my Utah life, particularly Kathrine. We started an online journal and stocked it with magic and talent from my Alabama program and her Florida one, plus dozens of amazing national figures, too. Then Cincinnati, same thing, each opportunity shared, until there was a virtual community of us, looking-out, helping, publishing, and reminding, most of all that, "you're still a writer." So it went on, and from Alabama, my friend, Steve Fellner was gathered-up and into my crucial-keeps and my favorite living poet, Eliot Khalil Wilson, too. Alabama was teeming with talent and there are many more. Each of these people brought more writing life into my writing life and do so daily. I am in touch with these three weekly, sometimes monthly but never do months go by without an email telling me "try this contest" or "should we enter this?" or "I am editing such and such, do you have work ready?" or "you have three books now, right? Can you blurb my latest book? or ... you get the picture.
Whether it's art, cooking, horses, writing, stamp collecting, cat rescue, decorating or air hockey,whatever your fancy, surrounding yourself with like-minded people brings and keeps more of that activity into your life. It keeps you a citizen in the village of say, Writing or Art, and on days when a large percentage of one's too-few hours are spent on that which does not light you up inside, the other residents of your like-hearted town, carry lanterns out to into that murky outpost and lead you back.