To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays from people who have encountered our programs over the years. Read the earlier installments, Stumbling into the Waterfall and Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.
By Linda Wendling
A Tuesday evening in Seattle. A cozy, one-room apartment on Queen Anne Hill overlooking bustling Nickerson and the shipping yards. If I step onto the balcony, I can see the Ballard Bridge and down the steps I can almost believe I see Rapunzel letting down her blue and yellow neon hair on the Fremont Bridge.
I am alone, my husband is in St. Louis, and I’m holding a mug of peppermint tea. I’m here because I’ve been selected by Image to receive its Milton Fellowship, providing me with a whole academic year to work on my first book (and more).
I have walked home from the Garfield Public Library—a cozy place to write if you don’t mind little kids climbing on the table beside you (I don’t)—and plunked down a rain-soaked bag of books—all research—on the kitchen counter.
Changing into a dry sweatshirt, I turn on the lamps and Zap Mama for atmosphere, and sit on the carpet. The sun is down, but I keep my windows open, all night long when I can. I like the sounds of Seattle, the poetry of rain, voices in traffic, music from a passing car radio to remind me that “one fine day, you’re gonna want me for your girl.”
I get up from the floor and go to my laptop. I add that moment to a story. Then I’m back on the floor beside the cooling tea, doing what makes me happy when a sharp knock at the door makes me jump.
What kind of woman lives alone with the windows and blinds all stubbornly open, letting the world see what I’m up to?
Night before last there was this crazy guy going door to door, banging and screaming at us to repent; the end being so near and all. At my end of the building, I saw everyone’s blinds going shut, and I shut my own too. When none of us opened our doors to him, his pounding became harder, his language less, um, biblical.
In the morning the three guys peeked outside at the same time I did. “Hey, you hear that last night? Was that guy freaky or what!”
“Yeah!” I say. “And yeah!”
Before they leave for classes, they rap once and give me their numbers.
“Just in case, Little Mama,” one guy says.
“Thanks!” I tape it on the fridge.
So now tonight’s freaky guy has clearly seen me. (Shit.) Through the wall, I hear vague strains of local indie music and know my friends are home. So…
I open the door with my best “tough-chick” look, but he’s yet another sweet-faced boy who points to my doorknob.
“You left your keys in the door!”
“Whoa. Thank you!” I smile. I feel like hugging him.
“Oh wow,” he murmurs. “What—uh, what are you doing here? This looks intense.”
He is staring at the floor where my mug still sits, the tea, as it does every night, getting cold.
I turn to see what he’s staring at. It’s not the tea. It’s the index cards. Orange ones divided into purple-inked and green-inked notes. Lavender cards with numbered notes in color-coded red and black ink, spiraling out across the living room and onto the gray-and-pink kitchen linoleum, interwoven carefully with yellow note cards. And finally, lining the hallway are blue notecards, half a dozen flagged by the special post-its—the all-white ones.
“What is this?” he says.
“My first novel,” I sigh, pointing to the orange cards.
“Essays and stories,” I point to the lavenders (fiction) and yellows (essays) fanning the kitchen floor.
“My first anthology,” I point to the blues.
This sea of notecards. My paradise.
Where else could a mother of active students, a dog with identity issues, three gerbils in roller balls racing through the house, and a cat with a big-time god complex ever find a garden retreat where notecards can live on her floors for nine whole months without being disturbed?
Where else can a writer of faith have the rare privilege of attending a weekly writing group where her peers are a group of Seattle’s best writers of faith?
The Milton Fellowship remains one of the most treasured years of my life.
The solitude and writing space, the fellowship and support rendered some small successes:
My anthology was published as a result of my time in Seattle. One of the essays I started that year was nominated last year for a Pushcart Prize. Two of my stories were published immediately. Three other essays were published. Another essay was anthologized, along with another story. And the novel manuscript I left Seattle with won me a relationship with a literary agent, as well as two more writer-in-residence positions after I left the Milton Center.
But best of all, I loved the camaraderie, and I have retained relationships with writers (and former students and musicians) that I would not have had without this rare and beautiful experience.
Oh, the notecards? Well, I’ve switched to Excel. But I still have those old cards, wrapped in a thick rubber band, gathering dust on a shelf next to my Bible. I don’t need them anymore.
But every once in a while, they catch my eye and I fan through them, and I am back in Seattle, in love once again with the city, Image, Seattle Pacific University, the coffee shops and most of all, the friends—both colleagues and students—I have with me forever.
Linda Wendling was a Milton Fellow from 2004–2005, and later a Starr Novel Fellow and Writer’s Colony Writer-in-Residence at Dairy Hollow. She’s been a Best New Stories from the South winner (Algonquin), has won the Heartland Fiction Prize (New Letters), and the World’s Greatest Short-Short Story Contest. Her writing is slated for a McSweeney fiction anthology and an anthology on parenting for peace and justice (Barclay Press).