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I grew up among natural storytellers. When my mother and her sisters got together, it was like a story slam. They took turns and played off each other, each story from the past a catalyst for the next. I was always the quiet one and it took them years to realize that I was listening and recording every story in my mind and as I got older, I became the keeper of those stories. I know how to tell a story because I listened to them tell theirs.
It was my love of storytelling that led me to blogging and when I started, my stories were primarily those of daily life, drawn from simple moments like a leaky roof, a screaming toddler, mismatched shoes and unzipped pants. I wrote about them online because it brought me joy. In some ways, it was the modern day equivalent of those storytelling circles with my mother and aunts.
Over time, I learned to dig a little deeper and make connections between moments and as I did that, I realized I wanted more. I wanted to write. So, I took a risk and applied for a creative non-fiction mentorship at the Loft Literary Center.
I interviewed on a cold December evening and, afterwards, met up with friends for our annual holiday gift exchange where everyone asked, "How did it go?" "Not great," I answered with a laugh, not because it was funny but because I had been so clearly out of my element. Sitting in that room with "real writers" made me feel like I was "just a blogger."
I was shocked when I found out they had chosen me for the program.
I was assigned to work with Cheri Register. She was this slight woman with an understated presence but a spectacular smile and her sense of humor put me at ease immediately. During our first one on one meeting, I told her that I was surprised I'd been chosen after my interview and she laughed and said, "It was unanimous! I am so excited to work with you!" From that very first meeting, she made me believe I could write.
We worked together for two years and she provided valuable feedback on my manuscript and she was the best company in the process. She was brilliant and kind, inspiring and funny. Not all great writers are great teachers but Cheri was both. Long after our time together was over, she would still pop up on Facebook with some encouraging words about something I'd written, which always made me stand a little taller.
On March 7th, Cheri passed away from a life-long chronic illness. You can read more about Cheri's writing and life here.
My family taught me to tell a story but Cheri taught me to write. She took an impatient blogger and turned her into an essayist and I am better for having known her.
As I pulled together my thoughts for this post, I returned to some of my essay drafts that include her comments and found this one: Another promising draft! Write! Write!
Thank you, Cheri. I will.