I’ve been grappling with the death on August 10th of Pat Schneider, founder of The Amherst Method of leading writing workshops. She was my workshop mentor, and taught me everything I know and love about facilitating groups for generative writing. But she taught me so much more than how to be an empathetic leader. She forever changed my life and how I thought about writing, including my own words. This poem is for Pat.
All Pat Schneider Taught Me
by Lana Hechtman Ayers
You never know at the time,
or at least I never have,
when a chance encounter
will change the course of your life,
and in my case, the flow of generosity,
not only away from the heart to others,
but back toward.
Having been writing since
I could manage a crayon between
my chunky thumb and index finger,
those words rushed and sloppy
were my life raft, a way of testifying
that was surviving daily assault
and still breathing, still willing
to keep breathing, but barely so.
Until I discovered the Amherst Method
casually perusing ads at the back of
a writer’s magazine, I was certain
my words had no use to others,
artless and overwhelming,
without value, and beyond that,
a waste of precious trees.
In that training circle
in the Amherst Writers Method
Pat Schneider’s living room,
I learned how to listen deeply,
not only to others, but to my own soul.
How its voice could raise a bell
in celebration with and for others.
How its lonely distant train whistle
on the night breeze could help
relieve others’ suffering.
In that sacred Amherst circle,
the voices around the room,
were as much my own as their own.
I learned listening is
the most active verb
and speaking is an act of generosity.
I learned forgiveness
of self and others
begins with the words written
on the page, then breathed out
by the lungs, flowing liquid oxygen
into the veins and every organ.
My life with words transformed
from despair to joy,
becoming charged with vitality,
with a soul-renewing energy.
In those precious days with Pat
in her cozy home,
my breath changed,
my heart changed.
I became a writer welcomed into
the family of writers,
as grand and myriad
as every human who has ever
spoken a syllable of their own truth.
And I learned to believe
my own truth could be art
as well as power.