Where Robindale Meets Woolf
I was writing my application for the Gift of Freedom about this time of year in 2012, just as I expect hundreds of women writers will be doing in coming weeks. I was going on faith, I was remembering an entry from Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary in which she’s considering Byron—how as a young man he never believed in his poetry and so became “Byronic.” On the other hand, she says, “The Wordsworths and the Keatses believe in that as much as they believe in anything.” I do believe in poetry as much as I believe in any human practice or path toward what’s beyond us, toward what Stanley Kunitz has called “the dear, inviolable mysteries.”
I waited for my deepest answers to rise—sometimes I wasn’t even sure that the answers I was giving followed from the questions, but I knew they were my answers, so I sent them.
I sat quietly, for days on end, with each of the questions that the essays posed. I didn’t let myself think about right answers, or about what the grantors might want to hear. (Though I couldn’t help noticing every time I drove down my street, Robindale, that I crossed paths with Woolf—maybe that was a bit of mystery, is what I came to think.) I waited for my deepest answers to rise—sometimes I wasn’t even sure that the answers I was giving followed from the questions, but I knew they were my answers, so I sent them. “I was writing for my life as I knew it could be” as poet Irene McKinney said. I didn’t hold back, I told every story that mattered about my writing life and choices I had made to protect it. I told them as truly as I could. I was writing toward my own understanding of my life every bit as much as I was writing for the application at hand. I used all my powers as a writer at every turn for the sake of that understanding and so that I would know I was doing all I could to preserve my writing life.
With regard to my financial story, I also told it all. When it came to a budget for the grant amount, I said very plainly what I would use the money for: bills, groceries, gas, all the ordinary expenses a person has. I laid out my monthly budget, yearly expenses. By the time I put my stack of pages into an envelope and said my little prayer to the goddess of the mailbox, I had told all my business and all my stories and I felt that no matter what I would make sure my work got done.
There are women who don’t even know you yet working right now to keep [the circle] strong and open, with a place for you if you want it.
I had the best possible ending to my application story, and here’s the thing. There is the possibility of a rich, happy ending for every application story. While it’s true that one woman will be chosen to hold the Gift of Freedom for the next two years, the purpose of AROHO, as Darlene Chandler Bassett defines it, is to end the isolation of creative women. When I received the Gift I entered into a circle in which the Gift of Freedom and other considerable gifts pass among the women who make up that circle. The Gift, the retreat at Ghost Ranch, the myriad resources and opportunities for connection offered through the website—all of these are ways to come into the circle. There are women who don’t even know you yet working right now to keep it strong and open, with a place for you if you want it.
Poet Diane Gilliam is the winner of the 6th $50,000 Gift of Freedom.