Photo by Kimberley Crespo
Photo by Lloyd Wigglesworth
Photo by Keith Barnes Photography
Photo by Kimberley Crespo
Apparently you have to have a bio. So I started one. But I wasn’t sure what you’d want to know. I guessed I could do the usual, listing and linking you to the books I’ve written. But you’ll find all of that in ‘Books’.
Or, following other usual bio fare, I could tell you when and where I was born, and about my education, or about awards I’ve won. That would be quick. Or about the properly who-I-am thing of being both American and British and married to the heavenly Christopher Spence.
Or I could go very professional and tell you about being Director of Time To Think and its faculty, or being a teacher, or researcher, or school co-founder.
Or I could lose track all together and talk about being a lover of ideas and of beautiful science writing and philosophy; an addict of accuracy and devotee of imagination and independent thinking; a survivor (and a now gratefully old woman); a non-conformist conformist; a basker in hot summer days; a reveller in Santa Fe and Oxfordshire skies; a stepmother and godmother and aunt; a reader; a thinking partner; a gazer at full moons; an ideosyncratic believer, an almost Quaker; a worshiper of nuance. They are all, after all, who I am. Life at its core will not be parsed.
But, invoking Cicero’s ever-clever praeteritio, I won’t.
Instead, I think I will take my twin’s advice, offered a year before he died: ‘Just have fun’.
That would mean telling you this: I have adored writing since I was little. It started with Mrs Murphy. She was my 5th grade teacher. ‘You can write about anything,’ she instructed the class of 10-year-olds. ‘Just write.’
I wrote about Pokey, my teensy metal mouse with rollers for feet. Mrs Murphy posted everyone’s writing around the classroom as if we were all Nobel Laureates. Just about everyone in that class loved writing by the time we went to the 6th grade.
The 6th grade, however? Not so great. You had to be a defiantly in-love-with-writing 11-year-old to survive Mrs Davis’s red pen. So I didn’t venture a word of original writing that year. (I was already learning to choose my battles, or at least my enemies.)
But at home I wrote a mystery novel, inspired by Nancy Drew (what little girl wouldn’t be?). I gave it to my mother for Christmas. It was pretty pathetic (its title was just a large red felt question mark glued onto a green felt cover), but she loved it and said I would be a writer someday. I thought that she was right about everything. So that vision went in.
When I was 12, I was too busy figuring out how to have a boyfriend and not make anyone nervous; and at 13, I spent every waking minute practicing to be the best cheerleader in the whole wide world. So the writer in me patiently filed her nails, in it for the long haul.
But when I was 14 and at Hockaday where everyone was expected to do phenomenal things, I wrote a poem that was published in the Latin Club journal. My poem was about Athena. I called it, ‘Athena to Athens’. It celebrated her founding of Athens, which was very feminist of her, and come to think of it, very apt because the Latin club’s name was: Dux Femina Facti: ‘The leader of the undertaking was a woman’. That publishing venture changed my life forever. As did the school. I never stopped writing.
To celebrate, Mother even had a gold charm made for my bracelet (all the rage in 1961). It was a disc with ‘Athena To Athens’ on one side and my name on the other. That was sufficient encouragement to hold me up when the next year a family friend read a collection of poems I had written for my big sister, Merl. It had taken me most of the year to write them. He handed them back to me saying, “You have not suffered enough.”
I wasn’t sure what to do about that.
I read Jane Eyre that summer and thought that her life would definitely qualify her to write. I fantasised about braving the English moors but didn’t feel too hopeful sitting in Clovis, New Mexico.
At Scripps I learned about the majesty of writing and about the importance of being true to yourself (a magical duo for aspiring writers). I also got to critique fine literature (full of suffering), and revel in its philosophy.
Then one day, when I was 23 and in my first job, teaching English, the Head of the English Department, Peter Kline, invited me to write a book with him. He assured me I could do it. The result was Physical Movement for the Theater (Richards Rosen). It sold to schools and libraries and all my friends.
Peter wanted to do his next book by himself (on opera), and he suggested I do one by myself (on dance). So I did. Rosen called it: Enjoying the Arts: Dance. I loved writing it. It involved going to New York City to fabulous library archives to see films of dancers I adored, all on microfiche. Don’t worry if you have never heard of that.
Five years later, a colleague invited me to write for a journal. He said, ‘Figure out what you want to say. Then write it to me in a letter. I will turn it into an article. I’ll delete the ‘Dear’ and the ‘Sincerely’, and we’ll have it. That worked. I was free.
Since then I have written everything as if it were a letter to the reader. It was the best writing advice ever. I now give it to others (when I’m not busy scorning the whole idea of advice).
In all I have written eleven books (if you don’t count the Nancy Drew caper). Six of them were published, of which three are still in print and linked here to book sellers. The other three you can find through the magic of search engines, (if you’re indefatigable).
My new book, The Promise That Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You. (Penguin Random House), appeared a few months ago. Writing it and working with Penguin Life were bliss.
Excerpts from the other four books I will present on this site sometime soon.
That’s enough. Thank you. It was fun telling you all of that. Even if you’re asleep by now. :-)