Roots and Writing

Roots bone and BTMIt matters where my words take root.

I will write anywhere inspiration hits—on a street corner, in the bathroom or while riding (not driving) in a car. I regularly slip off to Alivar Coffeehouse a few blocks away to do a bit of editing or play with an idea. But when I’m writing about big topics dear to my heart, I need a fertile place where my words can take root.

Big Topics at Midnight was born on the road between Portland Library’s Writing Room, Suena’s Coffee Shop and my home desk. But she took root for six years in a bedroom-turned-writing-studio within Rosegate Condominium #18, where blue walls are covered with art and photographs, my laptop perches on a Value Village desk, a candle flickers at my side and the courtyard’s tulip magnolia moves gently in the wind outside my window.

When I first started writing, I was part of a small group of friends scattered across the country who dreamed about bold experiments in community and economic justice. One of those ideas manifested in the co-ownership of Condo #18 as a place of “Hospice-tality.”

Hospice-tality. Hospice and Hospitality. A welcoming condo that intentionally holds places/times of death, either physical dying or, more often, the crumbling of relationships, dreams, habits and assumptions—in a container of love and community. Jan came to calm her anxiety while simultaneously looking a job. Sally came after a beloved relationship shattered. Nothing like grief to water our souls—and my words—and send our roots down deep.

Our group’s dreams for justice, healing and community wove their way into the pages of Big Topics at Midnight: A Texas Girl Wakes Up to Race, Class, Gender and Herself. As I dove into my past, I realized that some of my cherished memories needed to be grieved and buried.

For example, my pride in Midland High School’s ease of integration crashed when I realized that it had taken fourteen years and the threat of a federal lawsuit before the community obeyed Brown vs. Board of Education’s ruling. In addition, I was horrified to realize that the way desegregation was implemented abruptly closed Carver High School, robbing the black community of a beloved gathering place and bringing an end to decades of school traditions. Meanwhile, my historically white school’s “Midland Bulldogs” remained strong and vibrant. Condo 18 held me while I ranted at the system and mourned all I hadn’t noticed for so long.

In Condo 18, with pen and paper, I also awoke to a lifelong distrust of my innate feminine, intuitive wisdom and how I, along with much of America, had exalted an intellectual, strategic masculine approach as “the best way to do things.”  I dusted off these newly discovered roots and began to notice how they had grounded my work even before I noticed them.

Sitting at the computer looking out my office window, I struggled with the ways that “Money [had] Made Howard [and me] Stupid.”* Waking up to life as it was around class, gender and race disoriented me. I was grateful to be writing in Condo 18, a community space born from a shared commitment, one created to align heart and actions.

Including actions around economics. Money, I’d discovered, sometimes had prickly and convoluted roots.

Money was part of the rich soil of the Condo 18 experiment, as we sought to grow a new economic paradigm. Each of us who stepped into the experiment donated 10% of our savings, knowing that we would be equal owners even though our invested amounts were vastly different. Extra money was donated to other organizations or people doing exciting new projects rooted in economic justice. When it is time to sell Condo 18, the money will flow out into the world in some creative way.

From outside my window, the tulip magnolia waves to me. I wave back.  She’s doing her work and I’m doing mine. I sit alone at the computer to write, but even here my solitude is held in community. In addition to the co-owners, members of my creative community have also filled my writing studio: Jen Violi, content editor/friend/word genius extraordinaire, Khara Scott-Bey, intuitive illustrator who drew the perfect image for each chapter and Ann Eames, copy editor/master at putting my spelling, grammar and tense quirks into finished words. My writing studio is full even when I am alone.

Just as Condo 18 itself pushes the edges of the cultural notion of independent ownership, my book doesn’t fit into “normal” categories either. It is a Social Change Memoir. Not pushing-the-blocks-around sort of social change, but root level change of the personal, institutional, national and global. Not just my memoir, but also the personal stories of many of my ancestors, the moon, Hectate and the Eight-eyed Steam Girl. Condo 18 and Big Topics at Midnight shoot down roots that refuse to be contained.

Big Topics. Big Change. Big awakenings. Writing Big Topics at Midnight demanded Big support. When the winds blew and threatened to knock me down, my roots held me firm.

I return to my desk, put my hands on the keyboard, plant my feet on the wooden floor and let the words flow. Condo 18 is the ground that supports my writing journey.

It matters where my words take root, and this is ground I can trust.

* A chapter in my book Big Topics at Midnight, page 241.

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