It was a friend who first found Storyknife. Only for women, he realized, and forwarded me the link. Repeatedly, he urged me to apply until I relented and submitted an application for a summer residency. There’s no way, I thought. There’s no way that I’ll be selected.
One month later, while my first grade students were at lunch, I got the email saying that I was one of four chosen applicants.
“I got in,” I interrupted, eyes wide.
“I’m not surprised,” he answered. Looking toward his student, he added, “This is what a panic attack looks like.”
I walked back to my classroom, in shock, detached but intensely vulnerable. I didn’t reply to the email; that would have been too real. Instead, I decided to wait for the follow up email which was sure to start with: “We apologize for the email sent in error…”
What came instead was a phone call from poet and director of Storyknife, Erin Hollowell. In what I’m sure was a very awkward conversation, I told Erin that I would be there.
I dealt with my anxiety through action. I arranged for a rental car, booked tickets, and studied the little Frederica cabin pictured on the website. A little deck with a bright red plastic chair. A little writing area. A hot plate and a mini fridge. I tried to see myself there. I tried to see myself as a writer.
On July 1st, I flew from Utqiagvik to Anchorage and then Anchorage to Homer, landing at the airport just outside town. I got my luggage, picked up my aloe green rental car, and drove through the darkening skies to my temporary home where Dana Stabenow was waiting to greet me.
I spent the next 28 days living small, spending most of my time in the sturdy, little cabin, watching the weather change from the window. When the fog rolled in, I snuggled in the reading chair with a book and a blanket. When the fog rolled out, I sat writing longhand at the writing desk or clacking away at my computer keys. When I was hungry, I ate, and when I was tired, I slept. Every day, I wrote.
During my stay, Erin arranged for me to meet with renowned writers Tom Kizzia and Nancy Lord. They were both shockingly generous – they bought me lunch – and offered advice specific to writing in Alaska and more broadly on what it means to be a writer. It was my first insight to what it might be like to be part of a community of writers. So much of the work we do, we do alone. It’s easy to forget that there are others out there, people just like us.
In the months since my residency, I published an essay that I finished during my stay in the Frederica cabin, and I hope that it’s one of many published pieces that will develop during a Storyknife residency. But my 28 days in Homer helped me see that it’s not publishing and it’s not residencies that make one a writer. It is the act of writing, the act of alternately wrestling and coaxing words until they bear some semblance to the beautiful thing in your brain, the refusal to give up when the first (or fifth) iteration is born monstrous, the courage to return to the page again and again, that is what makes one a writer.