At 26 I led my first writing workshop at the dining room table of my San Francisco flat, overlooking rooftops and traffic winding along Highway 101. I hadn’t been able to find the workshop I wanted, so I created one, and gave groups of writers what I was looking for: inspiration and critique. When I moved across the country after two years of running the group, one student wrote me a note: “Thank you for seeding a new tongue to flower.” A great reward for becoming a teacher of what I love.
Ten years later I became a memoir teacher, taking a job as adjunct faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College. What could be better, I thought, than helping people get their life stories written down?
Fifteen years and over two thousand classes later I find that some days there is still nothing else I’d rather do than help people write the stories of their lives. Other days I want to be home writing my own stories and working on my own books.
On one of those days, a new student came into class. She was small, and stooped. I greeted her as she took a seat at the farthest end of the table from me. I gave her my name and asked for hers. “Alma,” she said.
“Alma,” I repeated, so others could hear. “That’s unusual. Where is your name from?”
She smiled, her eyes lighting up like it was the first time she’d been asked. “In Spanish,” she said, “‘alma’ means ‘the soul.’”
Of course. Thank you, Alma. Thank you for reminding me why I was in memoir class that day. Thank you for reminding me what it’s all about. Thank you for reminding me how important it is that every tongue find its flowers.