I open my laptop and click on Skype so I’m ready. The snow-blower in my neighbour’s driveway whirs just outside my window and shoots a cloud of flakes onto the glass. I sit down and answer the incoming call. First I appear on screen, wearing a bulky knit scarf around my neck. Then Kirsten’s photo pops up. She’s sporting spaghetti straps and big hoop earrings that almost touch her bare shoulders. It’s obvious we inhabit different seasons and hemispheres–she’s in Kenya, I’m in Canada–but there’s no time to comment on that now.
We don’t start with the conversational niceties of a regular coffee date, don’t ask about each other’s husbands or how the kids are doing, and don’t explain our daily lives. We’ve got other things on our mind. Right now I open my black book from our last session and scan the notes.
I met Kirsten my first year of university. She came over to the apartment I shared with Bonnie and Michelle, and after our first visit I knew we were kindred spirits. The clincher was the way she drank our rice milk. I had purchased a carton simply because I was curious. (I’d never seen or heard of rice milk before and was thrilled to add it to my cart full of experiments.) When we poured that milk into our glasses someone started narrating (was it me?) the history of the beverage so we might all enjoy it more. We closed our eyes and imagined the women working in the rice paddies, felt the mud squishing between their toes and the sun on their back. Kirsten took all this in stride and we’ve been friends ever since.
For years, though, our communication was limited to the occasional Christmas card or letter. But now, I’m not sure what I’d do without her. She’s my writing coach, which means she reads through my rough drafts, helps prioritize projects and works through things like structure and purpose. I aspire to do the same for her and every month we take turns being the talker and listener. It’s a mutual relationship but I feel like I got the better end of the deal. Kirsten speaks poetry when she’s not even trying, listens hard and asks the right questions. She says what I need to hear, what I can already hear my heart saying. She tells me things like: Be generous with your writing and This piece will work if you care about it, if you think it matters enough.
Relationships are slippery things though, and they’re always changing. I’m not sure how long this will last, how long we’ll be able to make space in our lives to talk about commas and word choice and literary dreams. But for now, the way this friendship works is a gift.
Find out more about Kirsten here and check out her soon-to-be released memoir, gorgeous poetry and other good stuff.
Ps. Also, these books on creativity, failure and more…