Making the Story as we go…

Mama Sally accompanied Sasha in those years so it became a family routine. Corgi Gracie.

Almost every spring for the past 13 years, our grandson, Jaden, and then his little sister Sasha, have come to Whidbey Island for Spring Break. These SoCal kids have trudged into the weather, rain or shine, behind their “Nature Grannies” and whatever corgi romped alongside. We have memories of driftwood forts, seal patrol, local hikes, hours of UNO and board games, planting garden peas, baking cookies, learning chores, being introduced to the Marvel universe, and circles at the dining table.

On campus: Sally, Jaden, Sasha, Ann

This spring, with Jaden studying at Sonoma State University and Sasha in 7th grade, they didn’t come to us: we went to them. When a 19-year-old freshman says he wants his family to meet his peeps and see his campus, we rented an Airbnb in Santa Rosa and happily gathered to honor his request.

That Wednesday afternoon we hiked the campus, seeing Jaden’s favorite haunts, meeting passersby, getting a sense of how he was embedded in his new routines. That evening we had dinner at “the Caf” with us (Jaden’s family) and a row of freshman (Jaden’s friends) sharing a table in the echoing dining hall. Talk swirled around us until I felt immersed in an oral texting machine with kids finishing each other’s sentences, interruptions popping like verbal emojis. Then one of them asked, “Hey Nina, I hear you’re giving a talk down in Marin.  What’s up?”

In the Caf: grandmas and “the peeps.”

Everyone stopped and waited while I shifted from being a perplexed grandmother watching their verbal badminton to being the center of attention. “It’s about the role of story as social influencer and the ways story organizes life experiences.”

I must have done okay in my five-minute condensed version because they judged it, “Way cool” and called out to Jaden, “Hey, you listening to your gram?!”

He laughed, called back, “I been listening to both of them all my life.” It was just a beat—like a rest in a bar of music—but it reverberated in my heart.

 

And since Ann and I were in the area, on Thursday we ventured south to Bolinas and a long-anticipated visit to Commonweal, a retreat and healing center along the cliffs of the Point Reyes National Seashore. I had been invited by founder/emeritus, Michael Lerner, to a conversation about story to be archived in their online interviews called The New School (TNS). To watch/listen to the interview, click here.

A small audience of family, Commonweal staff, board members, and community friends joined Michael and me in a conversation videoed and recorded. (I will post it here as soon as it’s available). The topic: “Writing as Legacy: what do we leave in the earth for the future to find?” His first question:Why have you devoted your life work to storycatching? And what does that mean?”

My reply: “Storycatching is the art of receiving and sharing narratives that promote and sustain connectivity.  Words are how we think, stories are how we link. (I love that line: it says the whole thing.) To be a storycatcher is to volunteer through listening, speaking, and writing to offer out stories that inform, inspire, and activate.

“I’ve spent my life proclaiming the power of story for myself, for students, and for readers. I keep saying: Who you are is important. Your story belongs. Stake your voice into the world. In my lifetime, the voices of millions of nobodies have become a global chorus of somebodies. Our whole cultural understanding of who has a story to tell and whose story is worth our attention has shifted. Journal writing, memoir, blogging, Substack, the Medium, social media, You Tube, Tik-Tok, are all ways people tell stories…  millions and millions of stories.

It took me back to the cafeteria table, multiplied into infinity!

It took me back almost fifty years ago to a nondescript desk-filled classroom with a dozen Minnesota poet-types sitting in rows with blank books and pens. I stood in front, hands gripping a lectern to hide my nervousness, and started talking about journal writing. A few minutes into that initial class I said, “It’s lonely up-front. I’m not an expert. I’m a student too. Let’s explore together how to put life on the page.” We made circle of chairs and I tucked in with everyone else, facilitating from the rim. My life work clicked into place.

We wrote in drugstore notebooks like school children because the industry of beautiful bound journals didn’t yet exist. (In boxes far back in my closet these ancient pages are bleeding through, words commingling into gibberish.) We wrote with ballpoints or cheap Shaefer fountain pens because they were available. (Though I have moved on to Lamy and Waterman pens, I still have my Shaefer: it still writes.) This first group was comprised of nine young writers, two schoolteachers, one antiquarian book dealer. Ten women, two men; a ratio that has remained pretty much true my whole teaching life.

We didn’t know it then, but we were pioneers. Breaking silence is hard work: like plowing a field with only a pen; the horse of necessity pulling us forward line by line. We witnessed each other reveal the stories of ourselves one page at a time. It was therapeutic, revelatory; a pre-device, pre-Internet experiment that seeded the expressive cacophony of today’s storyfield.

From the 1970s to my late-70s: and here I am sitting in a circle of chairs speaking the story journey of my life work. Some of the things I’m still saying today emerged from that first class and our explorations. I don’t know where they are now, if they are still in the story or resting in the field of the past, but they are with me. I remember their names, their faces, and some of the books they went on to write. And as I looked into the faces of those in the room in the spring of 2024, we are one tribe: we are storycatchers.

Home to the Skagit Valley. There are as many stories as there are tulips… as far as the eye can see.

 

45 replies
  1. Sandi
    Sandi says:

    Christina, I have tears of joy upon reading this blog….the generational connections, you going to THEM this year and being embraced by the campus kids, their interest in your work and the incredible experience at Commonweal….so eager to hear / see that presentation. Thank you for nourishing and encouraging stories in all forms….YOU are a gift!

    Sandi

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Well, I think what qualifies as cool, is that we came. And we made dinner for his apartment mates, and played a couple rounds of very competitive Uno.

      Reply
  2. Janelle Brown
    Janelle Brown says:

    What a beautiful reflection, dear Christina. Your wisdom shines through. Love the picture of the very cool grandmas and Jaden’s “peeps.”

    Reply
  3. Jackie Bayer
    Jackie Bayer says:

    Love to hear that you got the attention of the teens and that they acknowledged the importance of story in shaping our lives. Since retirement, I too, have been involved in encouraging people to do legacy writing through my work in a local community college and in my community center. It’s so gratifying to watch the connections grow as people share who they are through their stories.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Sometimes making story out of the chaos is the only rock we stand on. Thank you for your work with the college and community center, and I enjoyed reading your blog on the Crowsfeetchronicles!

      Reply
  4. Deb Lund
    Deb Lund says:

    All those thoughts, experiences, and moments where you were open to exploring what would happen if… with no way to know you would spark a legacy that keeps circling not only through you but far beyond you, spiraling outward and igniting countless others in global concentric circles. Well done.

    Reply
  5. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    How wonderful this all is. I remember visiting my niece and nephew at college and how the idea of stepping into their lives might be somehow intimidating. Instead I found warmth and some really smart young people. I can imagine you there, radiant, and genuinely interested in people and the stories they carry. Cool, indeed! How fitting to see your teaching come full circle. I received a card from Jaune recently and she mentioned you would be at Commonweal in conversation with Michael Lerner. Looking forward to the recording!

    Reply
  6. Sandra Marinella
    Sandra Marinella says:

    Christina, What a beautiful story. How wonderful that you went to Jaden and were so well received. How beautiful that his college tribe honored you and even played Uno with you! Thank for a lovely story and the reminder that we are all storycatchers–you taught me this. It is never-ending and life-affirming work! Much love, my friend!

    Reply
  7. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    I think of the countless thousands you have reached in your pioneering aries energy, reaching across generations and times and places, lots of different pens and journals, and people, and places…… a legacy that will live on like a huge boulder thrown into a lake whose ripples reach out and out……and now your grandchildren carry it on, they will always remember their nature grannies, carved through experience into the earth. Thank you always for your inspiration and teaching. May you continue to endure….. love,love….. Anne

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      This is a potent pray–not only for me but for many: may we endure in the next phases of our lives however long and whatever comes. May we trust that each of us leaves ripples beyond our knowing–certainly Anne I mirror your message back to you in your good life–and that the “pond” goes on. love back.

      Reply
  8. Judy L Todd
    Judy L Todd says:

    Oh what a thrill went up and down my spine as I read your beautiful powerful post! I felt myself at your table, in your circle, arm in arm wandering through the island woods…so many connections to my heart strings you plucked! Thank you forever for your devotion, trust and storycatching!
    Love always,

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      May we indeed walk arm in arm through the island woods one of these days. The trees await you–and that standing in place is their legacy to us two-leggeds.

      Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Jeanie. Go hug that forest you saved and know that is one of the things you leave in the earth for the future to enjoy.

      Reply
  9. Leckey Harrison
    Leckey Harrison says:

    Hi Christina,

    Long time no see, yes? As I am near the end of my own book story, this is more poignant as I never considered it as what I’m leaving in the future, which is more upon me than I realize. The last five years have imbued with leaving a legacy of love more than anything, and even my book isn’t about that. It will suffice me to know it’s in the hearts of some.

    A good observation about the behavior of this younger generation. I hear it. Some day though, on an inhale, they will remember that moment of silence, and how you moved into your 5 minute reply, and they too will slow down and begin to embrace their story more fully.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Oh Lecky, always good to hear from you, to know you are loving and writing and leaving the legacy of your being to us who know you in community.

      Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Oh good to be reminded of where we started orbiting together. And here you are still doing such good work–one spiral notebook and circle at a time. Carry on sister teacher.

      Reply
  10. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    “I been listening to both of them all my life.” This literally brought tears. Coolest. Grandmas. Ever. What a mark you have made on Jaden and Sasha’s lives. And on the lives of so many. I am in full awe, and so lucky to know you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Well Gretchen–I hold that mirror back to you! Pandemic grandma school, hikes in the mountains, trips across the entire country to graduation… lucky us to have the energy and resources to be present. You are GG+++

      Reply
  11. Floralyn
    Floralyn says:

    Dear Christina, thank you for continuing to share your words of wisdom. You have been an influence in my life for over 35 years when I first met with you at the Split Rock workshop, “Using Yourself as the source of the story”. Our group continued to meet until recently because of the groundwork you laid. Our size is shrinking now due to several deaths, but our stories live on.
    thanks to you and Ann

    Reply
  12. Kim Fenton
    Kim Fenton says:

    Christina; do you remember me? 10 years ago I entered a circle with you and my life has never been the same. I, too, am a storycatcher, and I have not forgotten those lessons from that circle in December. I love how the message of catching and keeping stories is the same in our electronic lives as it was with school notebooks and bic pens. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank you for opening the pages of my journey.

    Reply
  13. Laura Collins
    Laura Collins says:

    What a joy it’s been to watch from afar over these nineteen years; to witness the growth of your beautiful grandkids and the relationships you and Ann have with them. Oh the stories they will tell throughout their lives that will be rooted in all of your shared experiences. For a freshman to invite his grannies to come and see him on his turf, and to meet his friends speaks volumes about his character and of his love and trust of you and Ann.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Having grandkids has been such a core part of the past 2 decades–and since I was not “the” mom, a big surprise to my heart. Making a family is a long-term love project.

      Reply
  14. Susan Blythe
    Susan Blythe says:

    Dearest Christina,
    Wish I had known you were in Point Reyes. I’m across the Bay in Berkeley, but you’ve been with me since your post in late July.
    I have been writing and pondering our first meeting. I’m sure you don’t remember it, but it was at the Minneapolis Club where you were addressing a group of Mac alums and I attended with a friend. I don’t remember the date, but you inscribed One to One for me. That was the first time I gave voice to my whole life and I can’t thank you enough for validating me those many years ago.
    Missing you, Sue

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      That is a far piece back… and I am glad you are still writing, and honored that you are still tracking my work. Carry on and keep in touch.

      Reply
  15. Linda J Porter
    Linda J Porter says:

    I truly enjoyed reading the benefits you two have reaped from your love of your child and grands. What a great testimony!

    Reading your blog post was once again inspirational. Of course, I believe you wrote it just for me, which is the sign of a good writer, isn’t it? That others can relate to your thoughts and words? You have reminded me that it is all about relationships and connectivity. I have clarity.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Linda. I am delighted that you have clarity and I look forward to seeing more of your writing.

      Reply
  16. Kyra Epstein
    Kyra Epstein says:

    Such a pleasure to have your conversation with us at The New School! And to hear about your journey, and the lineage that has led to where you are now–and to where your lineage intersects with Commonweal’s work. It will be a treasured part of our archive. The recordings should be out soon.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Kyra… for all you do. I’ll be talking more about Commonweal when I release the recordings on this blog and website.

      Reply
  17. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    I’m smiling with a full heart’s tears in my eyes as I read this. How you and Ann have “grandmothered” Jaden and Sasha, for him to invite you to meet his campus kin. For them to get you! And the invitation to share your life story in such a way at such a gathering. My heart overflows for you…

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Katharine… and for your own wabisabi brilliance and tenderness on the e-pages of my days.

      Reply
  18. Roslyn Duffy
    Roslyn Duffy says:

    I always feel my heart expand when I read your wise words. Thank you. We too, spent last weekend visiting our granddaughter on her college’s family weekend. The best part was our whole family being together and laughing together. Refilling our happiness bank after these long bleak covid years. Love and hugs. Roslyn Duffy

    Reply

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