“I write for myself—and through myself for everyone.”
(Natalie Goldberg, 2000, p. 215)
I created this blog after my first year in a doctoral program. I was studying Sustainability Education, and professors and students in earlier cohorts had recommended that we keep a journal. I was about to move from a small town in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to an even more remote community at the edge of the earth in Southeast Alaska.
It seemed a reasonable idea to keep in the practice of writing over the summer by committing to a post a week for a blog with a theme of capturing my experiences rooting myself in a new place.
And so I began.
I had never considered myself to be a writer. I had often wondered what it would be like to be a writer and imagined it to be quite romantic.
A writer is an artist with words creating images on an empty canvas.
I never imagined myself an artist, though dozens of people from all stages of my life have observed this identity as a deep part of who I am and how I interact with the world. My low self-esteem held me prisoner to embracing this part of myself. Someone else was always more gifted than I. I could never reach the level of brilliance they had already attained, so why should I bother?
I was quite a defeatist child. I rarely had crushes on celebrities because there seemed to be such little chance of ever realizing the romance that I refused to allow myself the gift of simply dreaming about something beautiful.
In July 2010, I allowed myself to dream. I began writing. What I had envisioned as a doctoral practice became a gift I gave myself.
It was less romantic my childhood visions. I found myself composing sentences every time I went for a walk in the woods or along the line where water meets the shore. It was more annoying than anything else. I grew so attached to the phrases and paragraphs forming in my mind that I had to repeat them over and over so as to set them to memory until I was near a computer.
Thinking about it now, I suppose that love can inspire us to madness, and this was definitely a form of madness. I am already prone to strange mannerisms and habits, so perhaps writing has always been in my blood?
Writing began as an exercise. It became a meditative practice. I began by writing about my relationship to place.
I was living beyond the edge of the “civilized” world. Flying in to Gustavus, one found little visual evidence of a realm inhabited by people. There was a paved airstrip and dots of unmaintained roads and houses. Yet, stepping off the plane that first morning, an owl pillow held close to my chest, I felt home for the first time.
I wrote about my connection to the flora and fauna, to landscape and waterscape. I took pictures of wolf and bear tracks and described bird song. It was a romance full of passion, like a teenage crush. I was certain that I would live and love Alaska forever, just as I had been certain that I would marry and live happily ever after with my first boyfriend. It hadn’t mattered that he wasn’t Jewish (as my relatives desired) or that he wished to change me to fit his own idea of who I was and who I could be.
First love can be fickle. And so, too, was my relationship with Alaska. I held on long after the flames had died out and insisted on stirring the coals in desperate attempts to rekindle what had been lost.
Loss is great fodder for writing. And my writing continued, despite my broken heart.
The subject matter shifted, however. I turned from writing about the world outside to a world within, what I came to call my inner ‘scapes. I focused less on the immediacy of the visual environment and more on what I could not see inside of myself—an interior environment that was wild and untamed and trying desperately to get out.
Who was marieke slovin? Who had she been thus far, and who could she be?
I wanted to find out. Through the practice of writing, I was able to peel back layer upon layer of cultural norms and mores, ever so gently, until I discovered a soft, warm, infant. It was curled up in a ball, breathing ever so delicately. At first, I did not wish to disturb it, so beautiful as it was all red and perfect in its innocence. Why wake it only to harden it with the realities of the cold, cruel world outside? But I had this sense that if I left it alone, it may wither and die.
So wake it, I did. It was a part of me, after all, and I was curious. I whispered my deepest secrets to it, and gradually it grew and took shape. As it grew, it seemed to spread out, like wings pushing out from a chrysalis casing. From something so impossible small and fragile, it metamorphosed into an entire being, one with purpose and newfound confidence. It had a different voice, yet there was something familiar about it.
It was foreign but seemed to spring from the vestiges of something I recognized.
The entire process took several years, and it was only looking back over the stages of growth that I was able to see myself in this strange creature. I had gone deep within and created something new.
Had this version of myself been inside of me all along?
I remember a moment of extreme darkest and despair when a small voice came through the dark.
“If you do not find me now, I will be lost,” it whispered.
“Then you will be lost,” I heard myself snap.
“Don’t be so hasty,” it hissed. It knew from experience that I could be quite stubborn. “I know that you need me. More than that, you want me.”
“Maybe,” I hesitated. “But I am afraid. I do not wish to break and more hearts because of you.”
“And what of your own heart? Your own spirit? Your own happiness?”
“I don’t need it. I have been doing just fine all these years without it.”
“You of all people know that is not true. If you do not allow yourself to find happiness now, you may lose motivation. You risk spending the rest of your life as half a person. You deserve this.”
I closed my eyes and sat silently. Then came the words that shook my reserve.
“If not now, then when?”
Something hit me in the chest. It was a powerful force, enough to knock the wind out of me. Even more, it frightened me. I knew so many people who had spent years of their lives settled comfortably into unhappy habits. I did not want to wake up 20 or 30 years from now and realize that I had missed my chance to find true happiness.
“Ok.” The words were barely audible. I cleared my throat and continued before I lost my nerve.
“What do I do now?”
“Listen,” came the response.
And then silence.