The Association of Writers and Writers Program (AWP) had their annual Conference and Bookfair this past weekend in Minneapolis and over 13,000 people attended, including me.
I could have left after the first panel discussion I attended: Stranger than Fiction: Personal Essay in the Age of the Internet. I got my money’s worth in the first hour of the four-day conference.
I heard, “What is our truth and are we doing that on the page?”
I heard, “I allow myself to be a person who can change.”
I heard, “Let’s put out shit that matters.”
Those few words gave me the courage to own my story in its entirety.
When asked what I write it was easy for me to say, memoir, adopting infants from Guatemala, raising them with another woman, etc…but I generally would not say the whole of it.
Fear of how people would see me was part of that.
But, no one else can tell my story.
My completed memoir manuscript, House of Fire, uses fire as a metaphor for the dysfunction in my family of 14 growing up on a Wisconsin farm. I interweave the incest that defined my childhood and teenage years with how I healed. The book describes how my partner, Jody and I, intentionally created a safe healthy family by adopting and raising two infants from Guatemala.
I’ve spent over thirty years working on myself to have my past not define me.
And, to that end, I’ve been successful.
I contain multitudes: the Tae Kwon Do black belt who is a goof who loves to spar at the Dojang, the mother of two twelve-year olds, the police reserve officer, the human resources manager, the soon to be Assistant Scoutmaster, the writer and author, and the woman who married her partner last August.
I’m also the woman who suffered repeated sexual abuse, who had a hushed-up abortion after I was impregnated at 14 by one of my brothers, who was pregnant again within a year by another brother, who gave up a son and never saw him again.
What I wanted most in my early twenties was to know that people could not only survive what I did, but heal and live a good life.
Now, my book, House of Fire, will help me be that person for others.
I didn’t go home after that first hour of the AWP conference. I remained among my tribe of 13,000 writers.
I also have another tribe who I hope to reach through the printed and spoken word.