"Naomi created a very safe, non-judging space to open our hearts to reveal ourselves, a community. My intention was to begin a healing journey that would manifest my creativity. I have started to trust. This class offers a sacred space to begin your writing journey."
Postscript, months after the class:
"I’m continuing to write on my own, and my writing is flowing."

–Gretchen Deutsch, on our work together

About my work with Gretchen

Gretchen Deutsch responded to a listing I’d sent out about a Writing from the Deeper Self class. She had just come back from working in the Peace Corps in Africa, and she wanted to write a book about her experiences. As she was also a photographer, with boxes of photos from her 2 years in Gambia, she was eager to put the words and pictures together. As she said in her message on my answering machine, "I’m incredibly excited to be doing this."

She showed up not just excited but open and available. She was ready to look at her longterm nervousness about writing, born in part of a reading disability, and allow herself to spread her wings. She was also ready to look at her own internal state, and to see what the writing revealed.

Each week she and the others in the class went into a deep state, then wrote deeper and deeper layers about the same subject they had chosen at the first class. Over time, Gretchen realized that her original intention to write about the people she knew in Africa, and their very different way of life, also had to include herself; that she could not write a moving, honest account and leave herself out of it. Everyone in the class, including me, was stunned by the mindfulness and beauty of her writing.

At the end of the class, I put together a publication of the participants’ writings of choice. This was what Gretchen chose to have published. I could scarcely have been more moved, more awakened, myself, or more proud.

Quote from her work, "I Follow in Her Footsteps"

I follow in her footsteps. It is the first time I can honestly say I know what that feels like, and I am so angry inside. So angry that I want to write; no, I will write–every friend, every family member–and tell them of her life, the injustice I feel. There must be something else we can do, other than walk a few steps with her and then turn away saying, "What an experience."

That morning, like many before, I heard the call of the women as they flirted with me to join them. I have joined them. I fetch water, I pound, I clap and sing with their children, but behind that, I know that I have not poured myself into all that is required to be a woman here. I see it in their faces. There is something I am not ready to admit to myself. Today, I answer their call to join them in their world–not entirely fearless, but what could I lose?

Our food and water for the day is carried in large yellow jugs and silver bowls wrapped in cloth, balanced on their heads. I am given the responsibility for caring Ramata's milk mixed with the powdery fruit of the Baobab. It is a small task, something a child would be given. I am like a child, here.

We walk along the narrow path through the groundnut fields, through the coos fields, up along a rocky hill, until I get a glimpse of the beauty that surrounds this poor village. The descent opens up into an ocean of mud with pools of water and miles of golden rice dancing against the wind. Here, the women begin to laugh and tease, saying, "Demo, you won't go out there. It is no good. Stay here. It is dry." I tell them I am brave, and I smile as I continue to follow them.

Jaineba motions for me to follow her. With each step, we begin flattening the thick grass to make our path. She is leading me as if I am her child. Well, she is my mother. I call her my mother because she cooks and cleans and feeds me. Her role is my mother. We begin to sink into the gray mud, squirting and oozing for about a mile. I smile and think, what a great photograph.

As we endlessly greet and find our place amongst the other women, Jaineba hands me her knife. "Oh, I've got one," I say, pulling out my shiny Leatherman, and am immediately embarrassed. Smiling, she begins to show me how to cut each stem of rice by pressing the blade against her finger. I start to see the limitation of my technology and humbly ask for her dull knife back.

As the first hour passes, I enjoy the nostalgia. The "If they could only see me now" thoughts rattle in my mind. I am in Africa, thigh deep in mud, picking rice alongside Gambians in the hot sun. In a moment, I begin to become aware of what I am actually doing. Each stem contains maybe 8 grains of rice, each bundle in my hand–a cup? This is my food. Not just my food in this village, but back home. This is the slow process that I have never helped with, that allows food to touch my lips. It is no wonder they pick up every grain that falls from their pounding bowls.

After several hours, Jaineba boasts to all the other women how much I've collected. She also notices the burnt skin on the back of my legs, the one place that I forgot to put sunscreen. She tells me to sit and rest, that we are almost done, and shows me to a dry mound. A long curved stick and a ripped shirt block out the sun as I sit with the kids. I didn't even make it a whole day. Feeling inadequate and childlike, I sit and wait. Several hours come and go, and still the women are not done. I try to say that I will find my way back, but Jaineba once again tells me she's coming soon. I wait until the sun starts to lose its power, and finally we begin our journey home.

I will always remember this image. The brilliant sun is sinking into the horizon. We are wading through a large pond, skirts hiked above our knees, taking a short cut home. I am carrying one bundle of rice on my head. Jaineba is carrying two. She is also carrying Ramata around her waist. She stops and looks back at me.

About a mile from our village, Jaineba drops the bundles of rice and walks into the dry forest to collect firewood. My aching legs enjoy the rest. She returns with a large stack, ties it with strips of cloth, places it on her head, and somehow gets the two bundles of rice on top of that. We walk a few steps further, when Ramata begins to cry.

Jaineba stops, unties the cloth where her four-month-old is, and begins to feed her. She looks at me, shaking her head, and says, "It hurts. If she nurses, it hurts."
I don't know what else to say but "Sorry," which I already know doesn't translate.
She grabs my hand and asks me to feel her. "Does this feel right?" she asks, as she places my hand on her breast.
I want to tell her, "I am not a doctor," but her eyes are still on me. "I don't know," I say, looking to the ground.
"It hurts, Demo."

I follow in her footsteps. It is the first time I can honestly say I know what that may feel like, and I am so angry inside. Her life is hard. Not because she works all day for her food and cares for her children, but because I feel like we've failed her. Maybe it is her lazy husband. But it is the tobacco that she chews that has kept her going this far. The tobacco she calls medicine. The tobacco that cures her headaches and toothaches, that numbs her pain. The tobacco that every foreign doctor smokes, which makes her and her people believe in it even more. The tobacco she won't ever be able to stop, since she has no sick leave or even weekends. I don't know what a fifty-year-old breast that has nursed seventeen children should feel like. I don't know if she just has an infection or cancer. All I know is that I am angry. I am angry for her, and what I couldn't admit to myself then was that I was angry for myself.

Read other client samples:

SUSAN KNUTSON, To See or Not to See

CHRISTINE COLE, Meeting in Deep Places

STEVE SANCHEZ, Spiritual Perversion

RAHIMA WARREN, Dark Innocence

BILLY WEPRIN, The Gift of the Day

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