by MELISSA RESCH
“I recently joined the circus,” my friend Judy told me over drinks in 1999. “My days as a therapist are over.”
She showed me a photo of herself wearing a sparkly green costume. My jaw dropped.
“I want you to know that the bravery you showed in your life gave me courage to quit my job and become a trapeze artist,” she continued.
What? My bravery? At that very moment I realized that I might have a life story worth sharing.
“Friends have encouraged me to write a memoir, Judy, but I wasn’t sure they were serious,” I said. “I thought they just enjoyed hearing stories of my unconventional childhood and international travels.”
“What a great idea,” Judy exclaimed. “You can write the book you needed to read when facing your challenges. It will help and inspire others.”
But I never got around to it. I never wrote my memoir.
I considered returning to university to study creative writing, but pursuing another degree wasn’t in me. When I received my master’s degree in 2008 at age 42, I triumphantly waved my diploma in the air and sighed with relief. My best graduation gift was simply being free of homework assignments.
Writing only when the mood strikes is fun, but does not manifest a memoir. I sometimes share my poems and stories at open mics. After one such occasion in which I read a story about my adventures while living in Korea, I received a strong reinforcement to continue writing. A woman introduced herself to me and asked to buy a copy of my book. I humbly admitted, “There is no book, just a few memories committed to paper.”
“Stick with it,” she said, “and I’ll keep an eye out for your memoir. I want to read it.” Her affirmation reminded me that I must get serious about this memoir thing one day.
In January 2023, that day came. I attended an event at Write On, Door County. It was the final celebration of a new group of women who had met monthly for one year to write stories from their lives. They each took a turn at the podium to present writings they had completed through the class. Their heartfelt stories and poems moved me deeply.
During the reception that followed, I inquired whether the class would be offered again and was invited to add my name to a list of those interested in the next session. Within a few weeks, I received an email inviting me into the 2023 Women Writing the Stories of Our Lives.
I asked myself whether I was ready for this commitment. Was I prepared to bring forth my life story? After all, no good memoir is free from hardship and vulnerability. Was I willing to be a student again and commit to regular homework assignments? Yes – I knew the time had come to dedicate myself to this project.
As I composed and sent the email enrolling myself in the yearlong writing class, I remembered Judy’s journey into the circus and took my own big swing towards my goal to write my memoir.
One Saturday morning of each month over the past year, I joined 11 other students and two mentors as we delved into the disciplines of writing. We explored fiction, non-fiction, journals, nature poetry, persuasive essays, and more. The poems, essays and stories we wrote reflect our wide range of interests and experiences. I learned that creativity thrives in community. As we offered one another genuine support and friendship, my confidence as a writer grew. With gratitude, I am pleased to say that my memoir is now fully underway.
This women’s class is quickly becoming a staple in the curriculum offered by Write On, Door County, evidenced by county-wide interest and enthusiasm going forward. The third annual women’s class is scheduled to begin in February, led by alumni Amélia Canilho (’22) and Holly Meikle (’23). Additionally, alumni of both previous women’s classes have joined to create an official, ongoing collective that will meet monthly, with discussions and writing exercises facilitated by volunteers within the group.
On Sunday, Jan. 14, from 2-4 pm, I will join my classmates at Write On, Door County, 4210 Juddville Road, in the 2nd annual reading by Women Writing the Stories of Our Lives. At this free, open-to-the-public event, we will honor our devotion to the craft of creative writing as we present works completed during our year together.
Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.