My journey is unique. Each person’s journey through life is unique to that person. But if we don’t share our journeys—our joy, our heart break, our humanness—then we cannot learn from one another. And I believe every single person has something valuable to teach, to share. Our African American brothers and sisters are sharing what it’s like on the ground, every day to face an all too often unwelcoming world owing to the color of their skin. But I can’t write their story. I can, however, write my own story of a woman born in the 1940’s, who grew into young womanhood in the 1950’s, and went on to explore the far north in sixties and seventies America.
I remember gazing up at my map of Alaska in my dorm room my senior year and imagining going somewhere new and starting fresh. Lawrence College, although a small, liberal arts school, encouraged us to explore a range of writings to gain a wider historical perspective of our world, an appreciation for scientific methodologies, and literary genius. I came to realize that the amazing fiction writers I encountered brought to life scenes from different countries and cultures and times in a way that nonfiction text books could not. These books were, for me, peopled with characters who jumped off the page and into my imagination.
Equipped with a bachelor’s degree and inspired by what I learned, I wanted to share my love of knowledge with young students and so applied for a teaching position in several school districts in Alaska. I was thrilled to accept a position teaching 7th grade English and Reading at Wendler Junior High School in Anchorage and thus began my northern adventure. In retrospect, there were not a broad array of professional opportunities for women in 1963. The most common careers open to us included nursing, social work, and of course, teaching. But the most common expectation of all was marriage.
I chose to begin my adult life as a single woman in Anchorage causing much anxiety to my father. He was a very good man, but in truth sent me to college fully expecting me to meet and marry someone there who would “take care of me”. He was a man of his times reflecting the belief that a woman’s future depended on her choice of mate. But to his credit, he sent me off wishing me the best and, by the way, paying for my airline ticket north as a graduation gift. I think I thanked him for it. If not, I hope I made up for it in other ways.
And quite honestly, it was my scientist husband who took myself and our two children to the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in 1969 where we spent the next five years living and working near the Eskimo community of Barrow. Were it not for him, I would not have experienced the vivid memories which I bring to life in my story Bear Woman Rising. Someone once wrote, “There’s no such thing as fiction." My take on that is “fiction is an amalgamation of life’s experiences through storytelling.” So what I have written involves rearranging those experiences into a story line, recreating glimpses of real people into compelling characters, and writing all from that mysterious creative place somewhere between my heart and my gut. Sometimes I draw from memories as clear and distinct as when they occurred, and other times ideas arrive from a place I can’t quite describe but know is authentic to me.
If you live, you have a story to tell. Writing offers a unique challenge, an opportunity to become a part of our human history. I encourage you to pick up the proverbial pen and begin your new journey.