2/21/2008

errands



Photo by Amber--I'm with Natalie, my fearless traveling companion, on a black sand beach. You can't see it in the photo, but there is huge sea turtle lounging on the sand just behind me.

I keep going back to an article in The Sun Magazine (December, 2007)by Heather Sellers, reflecting on her writing mentor, English professor Jerry Stern, who used to send her out on "errands," such as picking up a visiting writer from the airport or a book at the library. According to Jerry, these mundane tasks were an opportunity for awakening if you pay attention.

"He sent me on errands, and when I returned, he wanted to know, he needed to know: 'What did you notice? What was interesting?' He taught me that all writers are essentially travel writers. The trip hadn't really taken place until you'd found a story in it and told it. Only after shaping the trip into a narrative could you honestly say 'I'm back.'"

I love the idea of "errands" especially here in my new context, where I feel that thousands of stones remain unturned. And how I relish the project of turning them!

Heather Sellers also has some wonderful words about teaching and writing and living, which made me think of my friend Rachel, an amazing teacher in her own right.

"This is what we forget as teachers: how close the poor student often is to doing good work, and how great the distance feels to her between who she is and who she could be. We forget how painful it is to be between selves; how all of us, always, are between selves, and it is in that desolate gap that everything true and useful is happening."

What a hopeful idea. And I think it is hope, ultimately, that Jerry Stern offered his students. He offered them a reason to keep going deeper into the experience, with heart and eyes wide open. And it was this idea, especially, that helped Heather Sellers survive her first major depression:

"Burrow into what's interesting--in you, and in everyone else. Every moment on the planet has juice to yield. Everything is interesting if you truly want to know about it. Staying awake to that was the key to staying alive."

8 comments:

Ser said...

I find this to be more and more true as I continue to write--that with each experience, I'm composing a story in my head.

Ser said...

And I forgot to mention that I loooove this picture. Amber is an amazing photographer, and you and Natalie are so, so cute. You have such a classic Jenny look on your face. I miss you!

marji said...

I loved seeing you and Natalie in the photo. I really miss seeing you. I'm glad you are posting more again. The quotes from Heather Sellers about being between selves really resonates for me and my family. We all seem to be in the beginning of the next chapters. Have you read Jon Kabat-Kinn's work on mindfulness? The title of one of his books, "Full Catastrophe Living" says it all.

anna j said...

Oh so true . . . and now I feel somewhat liberated to contentedly continue puttering about happily in the errands that have such a bad rap but which I have always found so pleasant :-)
Thank you, Jenny, for yet another inspiring post, and a lovely photo!

Molly Sabourin said...

I swear, Jen, everything about you is uplifting - your thoughts, your quotes, your photographs. Thank you for this today.

Jenny said...

Hey Molly, Ser, Marji and Anna,

Thanks for your kind comments. We've all been sick with the flu and it was most cheering to hear from you!

Lucy said...

oh, my, does Rachel ever say wise things! I loved this post, and the concept of always doing travel writing. I miss you!

Bethany Torode said...

This picture is my new computer wallpaper. It's a special one. You look so beautiful (as does your arm, incidentally)... can this be an author photo on your Paraclete book? and ooohh that is a scrumptious baby.