The truth is in the
of our lives.
When I recall my childhood, I think of mud, rain, the slap of a soccer ball on wet cleats, and the kind of running and hollering that propels a person forward into something bigger than herself.
This is what I most want you to know about me: I’m still doing it—running toward something, breathless and full body. Call that something life, work, love, or the practice that for me is all three: writing. I believe with all my heart that writing can save the world, can lead to a moment in time of ecstatic connection—something very different than what we perceive as being provided by our smart phones and Facebook pages (though I don’t deny these are handy tools).
Whitman College Rugby, 1999
I’m talking about the kind of connection that happened when my soccer teammates and I, all those years ago, jumped into the air when one of us scored a goal (or later, in college, when I played rugby with the same ferocity). That moment when our cleats left the ground and we were all suspended together. This is the kind of love and living I believe in. It’s what I’m always reaching for. And I’m passionate about opening doors and shining a light into the dark places so that others can reach for it too.
To propel yourself forward into something bigger than yourself requires a certain kind of blind trust. By this I mean, you stop relying on your set ways of seeing things. You devote yourself to being present, curious, and open. You take risks. Those risks lead to another heightened state, what I call ecstatic uncertainty—the best phrase I’ve come up with to describe what it feels like when a person is presented with the opportunity to stretch beyond his or her comfort level and current understanding of the world. Just as I believe with all my heart that writing can change the world, I believe that the only response to a moment of ecstatic uncertainty is to take the leap and trust that the net will appear.
As a writer, instructor, and human being, I strive to create for others what I strive to create for myself: a kind of space in which you’ll be encouraged to explore the unknown and trust that you’ll come out on the other side with stronger skills and deeper understanding. Our society may continue to evolve at the cost of environmental sanctity or economic and social justice for others, but this doesn’t leave us helpless. I see this work as a way in—to engage by looking closely, asking questions, and taking a leap.
Notably, these are also the three things it takes to write a good story.
Which brings me to my first book, Flashes of War. That it has won a number of awards doesn’t feel like proof of my value as an author, as much as confirmation of the power of the human imagination. I am a civilian who has never travelled to Iraq or Afghanistan. I had been told that the recent wars there were “my generation’s.” This confused and interested me, as I didn’t feel a part of them. My desire to write the book sprung, in part, out of a sense of duty to understand what going to war could possibly mean, and furthermore, to understand something that was being called mine. I looked closely, I asked questions, and I took the leap. Three years later I came out on the other side with a deeper understanding and a book that is praised for its precision and heart.
There are many more questions that burn in me, other subjects that call. Whether a story is about a soldier at war or a mother sipping bourbon at the end of the day, my words are always angling for the same thing—that moment of ecstatic uncertainty for my characters. Time and again, I find myself putting them into situations where they can turn their backs and refuse to change, or where they can take the leap and move toward a clearer, more precise understanding of the human heart, and of their place in the world.
The gift of this writing life, the reason for my devotion, is that it propels me into something bigger than myself—something that includes you, fellow readers, writers, students of the craft and life. Through words and pages we connect. We realize we’re more alike than different. We’re in this life together and it’s lived in the tiny moments, from beat to beat, where one word can change a life, where the accumulation of our efforts to be better human beings becomes a beautiful thing.