I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer and even wrote a “book” entitled Hard Decisions about changing schools when I was in the third grade. In high school, I wrote for the school paper and, for a while, thought I wanted to study journalism. In college, I dabbled in writing some really bad poetry and, shortly after graduation, I had stopped writing, except in journals.
I was in my mid to late twenties before I circled back to writing. I was dissatisfied with my job and decided to teach myself to write. This started a long journey which I continue today. I went to conferences and signed up for out-of-town workshops and classes. But then I got pregnant.
When you are expecting a baby, people begin to tell you all of the things you’ll never do again–sleep, have a hot cup of coffee, go out to dinner, and on, and on. At first, I wanted to sob, but, quickly, my stubborn streak took hold. I was determined that I would not wake up one day with grown children and never have pursued my dream. I had been working on a book-length piece and somehow finished it while nursing my first baby.
I was about seven months pregnant with my second baby and was picking up my two-year-old from Mother’s Morning Out one day when I started talking to another parent, Gordon Johnston, in the parking lot. When he told me that he taught creative writing at Mercer University, I said, “That sounds fun!” He invited me to join his class. I did, though my son was born before I finished the class. Gordon let me know about future classes, encouraging me to come back when I was ready. He and his wife had three children, and he did not think that writing and parenting were mutually exclusive activities.
A year later, I went back to Mercer and audited a course taught by Judson Mitcham, novelist and former Poet Laureate of Georgia. Sometimes I had to close myself in the bedroom to write assignments for the class while my two sons played raucously with my very patient husband. Perhaps it was insanity (I’ve come to believe that the desire to write requires it.), but writing fed something in me, and it was mine at a time when my identity revolved around raising children. What some viewed as a “nice little hobby” kept drawing me in, despite my exhaustion and lack of free time.
With the encouragement of my friends and mentors, I applied to MFA programs in creative writing four years after I had audited my first creative writing course at Mercer. I knew that I couldn’t move to attend a traditional program, so I was delighted when I learned about low-residency programs, and I was even more delighted when I found Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. I vividly remember two barbed comments from women in a club I belonged to at the time, “How nice for you to do that for yourself,” and “Gosh, I don’t see how you’ll have time to help your children with their homework.” I ignored the voices that told me I could not be a writer, a student, and a mother, and did it anyway, thanks to the support of my husband and my parents.
I attended my first residency at Spalding in the spring of 2011. Not everyone can say that they have trained in the same gym as Muhammed Ali, but that was the case for me. My first writing workshop was held in Columbia Gym at Spalding University, the very place where Muhammed Ali had his Red Bike Moment. (See https://alicenter.org/red-bike-moment/) In addition to my workshop, I attended lectures, readings, plays, operas, art exhibits, met other writers and, the icing on the cake, got to stay in a beautiful room in the Brown Hotel for ten days–all by myself. Being surrounded by people who were dedicated to honing the craft of writing was an unusual and tremendous gift. As one of the program’s founders, Sena Jeter-Naslund, said at the beginning of each residency, “We’re all odd ducks quacking together.” I found such comfort in that statement and will always treasure the community I built during my time at Spalding.