I adore a line from Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.”
Writers live with a keen awareness of memories. (For writers, see an old post on Mining Memories.) We sift through memories in creating our work — poetry, essays, short stories, novels, whatever — something from our past experience plays a role in every creation. For me, memories of place often bubble up in my writing. Particularly memories of childhood places. My stories tend to land in rural New England, the place where my good and strong childhood memories were created. In fact, though I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Midwest, I’ve also wasted a lot of mental energy mourning New England. I hated the whole “bloom where you’re planted” platitudes. The comparison Wisconsinites make of Door County to Cape Cod made me guffaw. The bump Midwesterners called a mountain five hours from Milwaukee in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was the same size as a hill twenty minutes from my childhood home in Massachusetts. A two hour drive to Vermont meant arriving at a real mountain with good skiing.
Yes, I got stuck in comparing instead of experiencing. Never a wise move. I’ll defend myself by saying I was twenty-three when we moved to Wisconsin — and — hardly anyone in my extended family had left New England. Many hadn’t even moved from the town I grew up in. Instead of diving in and exploring my new home, I spent most of my vacations back at my old stomping grounds. Summers always meant a trip to Cape Cod when my kids were little so they would have time with their cousins. I didn’t explore much of Wisconsin until having lived in the state for twenty-five years. Cancer and radiation treatment meant I couldn’t wander far in the summer of 2008, so my husband and I explored Wisconsin during weekends that summer. I recognized, finally, that my longing for New England had been a hindrance to appreciating where I was.
Lately, I’ve had to think about my appreciation of and longing for another place. The Marian Center in Bayview, WI has been a special place in my life. For me, its magic has been all about writing, but for others, it holds memories of school days, of contemplating entering the convent. About twenty years ago I brought my son, then in second grade, to a summer writer’s camp there offered by Judy Bridges at Redbird Studio. Judy saved his summer. The magical sense of possibility and creativity pulled at me. I recalled a Gertrude Stein line, “This is the place of places and it is here.” Someday, I thought. Someday I want to come here and learn more about writing.
My son’s sixth grade reader/writer workshop class returned to Judy’s studio at the Marian Center and again I thought, someday. Two years later, my someday came. I hiked up the stairs to Judy’s Shut Up! & Write! Class. I didn’t know how the shape of my life would change. I didn’t know how important Judy and my fellow classmates, especially Kim Suhr and Kathy Lanzarotti would become in the coming years.
Writing, and finally owning the label “writer,” has been for me an awakening. A grand journey in paying attention. In the Marian Center’s walls, my eyes opened to the writer’s sensibilities. I had always been someone who paid attention to details, who recalled specific snippets of interesting conversations, who cared about reading body language. Suddenly these things (oddities to some) had a place. I had a place. I had found my tribe.
In time, Judy handed the reins for regular roundtables to Kim Suhr and Red Oak Writing. For years, with Kim and
For years, with Kim and Robert Vaughan, I taught at the Red Oak Young Writers camps — many of which were held at the Marian Center. Some of my fondest memories – for all time – are tied to those camps. It is a beautiful joy to watch a young person take the steps from the hot rush of creating, to the sometimes cold hard truth of editing and arrive at a place where the writing sings. But, while we loved the campus, the lack of air conditioning and accessibility proved to be problematic. The camp has been using new — and equally wonderful — accommodations in recent years.
My tribe is leaving the Marian Center because its Center for Nonprofits is closing in July, 2016. Official word has not come out about the plans for the Center, but I hope the old building will be preserved as much as possible, while being renovated to become handicapped accessible and then, maybe it could become condominiums? Who knows. Not me.
I hope my fellow writers won’t waste time mourning the Marian Center. Let’s rejoice in the gifts we’ve received there — but remember that those gifts truly are from the other members of the tribe — not from the floors, the walls, the bricks & mortar. Not even from the gazebo outside, or the grape arbor or the walk to the old cemetery.
The photo below is from our last writer’s showcase recently at the Marion Center. It was a beautiful night, food, fun, friends and fantastic readings.
Left to right above are writers whose work you may know of, or, may want to keep your eyes on: Lisa Rivero, Aleta Chossek, Judy Bridges, Carolyn Toms-Neary, Jennifer Rupp, Kim Suhr, Robert Vaughan, Marjorie Pagel, Carol Wobig and me, Pam Parker.
Judy Bridges always loved circular stories, so I return to paraphrase the Dostoyevsky quote I began with. “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of finding your place, your tribe.”
Update from Kim Suhr:
The Search Is Over!
Last fall when I learned the Marian Center will close on July 1, I set three priorities for our new space. It needed to…
I’m thrilled to report we have a place that meets our needs. The new studio will be in the education wing of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 11709 W Cleveland in West Allis, just west of Hwy. 100.