As we rode, I made up songs, none of which I can remember now, 35 years later. But they were stories those songs, my first writing, maybe. The way I took the journey of highways and laid it into language. A girl with her blanket imitating the Jack Kerouac I she didn’t know.
I was 27. I had a Uniball Vision Elite pen tucked into my hand, and I was writing as fast as I could on the second floor of Guilford Hall at Case Western Reserve. Ted Gup, my writing professor, was sharing why he loved Tracy Kidder, and I couldn’t capture the language of his vision fast enough. The words were whipping by me like electric poles. I was on fire, and I didn’t know why.
Weeks later, when I stood at Prof. Gup’s door to talk about my PhD applications, he said, “Andi, I wonder if you might want to consider an MFA instead.” He laid out the benefits – two years instead of five, lower cost – and then he said, “Maybe you’re a writer.”
He wrote, in an analysis of my work that semester, that I had “a bohemian sensibility and a unique voice, and that the largest danger to her work is that she will begin to parrot herself.”
It felt like he wrote a love letter to my soul.
I was 35. I had an MFA diploma tucked into a trunk in my house, and I was writing as fast as I could to get the 35 end comments onto composition papers. My office was filled with a papers – compare/contrast essays, drafts of short stories, business reports complete with pie charts. I was suffocating in my office without windows.
Weeks later, I sat in a brew pub with three of my dear friends, my colleagues in the English department, and I was telling them I was going to be resigning in one year. I had worked 10 years to become a full-time professor, and I was going to leave after 3 years. I cried as we talked, and they – good friends – thought I was sad about leaving teaching.
I still miss my friends – my heart aches with the journey away from them.
I am 41. I have my hair tucked into a bun, and I’m wearing my father’s old sweatshirt as I type out these words at our dining room table. I am looking out the window, but I can’t see our goats. Our two hound dogs are on the couch near the woodstove. My life is filled with farming and with words.
These days, I take the journey of words and lay them out in books, stories of enslaved people and the strength of their lives. I write novels where teenage girls save history, and I read books for clients who ache to have their stories reach the world. I’m still a girl writing the journey – maybe more Wendell Berry and Alice Walker than Kerouac now. I try not to parrot my own voice.
My window is stationary most days, but out the door, I can see the power line that ties our farm to the road, the path that carries my words into the world.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives on God’s Whisper Farm at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 22 chickens, 4 dogs, and 4 cats. Her books include Steele Secrets, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. You can connect with her at her website, Andilit.com
Photos: Top by Chris Lawton via Unsplash
Steele Secrets available at Amazon