The moment I realized graphite marks on paper magically became words, I knew I had to figure out how to tell my own stories. I wrote my first autobiography in 1974 when I was six, titled aptly: My Name is Laraine. It was twenty-one pages, written in pencil with illustrations. I hand-made several copies, bound it with glue, and put a $2.00 price tag on it. I’ve spent the intervening years trying to find the courage to claim my own story as succinctly as I was able to do in 1st grade.
At career day in the 6th grade, I said I wanted to be a writer and a witch. I intuitively knew how storytelling cast spells over people and I wanted in on that gig. Grown-ups kindly suggested I turn to English or the Humanities (or please please a STEM field?) and as I grew up, I continued to deflect statements such as, “How are you going to make a living?” and “Girls can’t be writers. Girls are muses.”
I am no one’s muse.
But then we moved from North Carolina to Arizona and my dad died and I ran away to college and majored in English like I was supposed to, and became a teacher like I was supposed to, but all along the way, the words never stopped whispering. I learned how to manage my energy with a full-time job so I could write in the mornings before work. I tried on different kinds of stories trying to find the voice that I had when I was six. I tried to write for the marketplace. I tried to write like the writers I admired. I had some success, but I kept a part of myself back, hiding, pretending I was safe. The pretending that I thought kept me safe kept me trapped.
When I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017, there was no longer any more time to hide, and the words that I’d been swallowing for nearly five decades demanded to have a voice. I still work full-time. I’m a professor now of Creative Writing and Psychology, and I do love teaching. I love my students. I still write in the early mornings. But suddenly, when faced with the idea that the next thing I write could be the last thing, I had to write like me, even if no one connected with it. It was time to put it all on the line.
My speculative memoir, A Constellation of Ghosts: A Speculative Memoir with Ravens, which Regal House will be publishing, is what emerged from stepping out of hiding. My first draft of the book was a 32-page visual book illustrating the arc of the story, not unlike my first attempt at autobiography during the disco age. Many times, I thought I should turn back and find a more traditional structure or cut out the magical elements so I would have a better chance at selling it, but every time (with the help of great writing friends) I turned back to the voice of the book and listened to it and followed it.
My health prognosis is good, but I have taken in the lesson that none of us knows how long we have. To honor that wisdom, everything I write now is with the urgency of understanding that what is left unsaid may remain unsaid. The time is now to tell the stories we have to tell in the ways we must tell them. When the old narratives fail us, we must write new ones.
Although to my family’s chagrin, I did not become a medical doctor, I have become a writer and a witch, and that’s all I ever dreamed possible.
Other Things I’ve done:
I’m the author of three books from Shambhala Publications: Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice (2007); The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice (2010); and On Being Stuck: Tapping into the Creative Power of Writer’s Block (2016). Both The Writing Warrior and On Being Stuck have been recognized by Poets & Writers Magazine as a Top 10 Book for Writers. My book Lost Fathers: How Women Can Heal From Adolescent Father Loss was released from Hazelden in 2005. My work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and my fiction has won the Barbara Deming Award for Women. I’ve worked as a grief counselor, a poet-in-the-schools, a counselor for women in transitional housing, and at my favorite job—a projectionist in a movie theater. I’ve taught nationally at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Omega Institute, the Antioch Writers Workshop, the Tucson Festival of Books, Desert Nights Rising Stars Conference at Arizona State University, and many others.