I was in New York City in January, for my week long residency of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction that I’m completing through the University of King’s College in Halifax. So was an editor from The Walrus. There were five blank spots on a sign-up page to meet with her one-on-one to pitch stories in the hallway outside our classroom.
I’m normally not aggressive about these things, being schooled in the art of letting other people go first to pick out all the black jujubes for themselves. But this time I shot out of the room and scribbled my name in one of those coveted spots. Then I spent a few hours trying to come up with One Great Idea, which later that afternoon made her eyes glaze over in boredom. I hadn’t actually seen that happen before, but I can assure you now that it really is a thing. I stammered to a close. We stared at each other for a moment, blinking.
Then she said, “Tell me about your MFA project.” So, I did. And she was pleasantly interested in my current work of digging around in my life as a minister’s wife. We chatted about what a Walrus piece could look like and exchanged emails.
Thus began the writer’s delicate journey of not bothering the editor too much, but just enough to stay on her radar. You want to lightly knock on the door and catch the editor at the precise right moment (and be a pleasant interlude in her busy day) not jump around waving your arms, yelling, every time she is headed out for a coffee (and be a crazy stalker). Anyway, she was lovely and we went through a few drafts with her deft edits and good questions to draw out the right things.
Then, came the fact-checking stage which involved me explaining to the new neighbours who invited us for dinner that this was SO newsworthy an event that I had written about it in an essay and now they needed to confirm it with a nice fellow from The Walrus. One funny friend told me that my neighbours might have the priest over for dinner again, but maybe not the writer. It took me over a week to work up the nerve to connect neighbours with fact checker, but in the circle of pleasantness that was this entire experience, this was just another roadstop. Everybody talked to everybody who needed to talk to anybody, and the piece was done.
And I realized as I read it in print, that I was finally, at this stage in my writing life, actually doing that thing they encourage you to do all along: write what you know. A few priests and pastors and people married to them have said to me, “Yeah, that’s it.” Because when we write what we know, we’re almost always telling the truth about what other people know too. That’s pretty cool.