So…. What happened with the writing assignment?
Wednesday, I decided to give it to another writer, one I felt could do a better, more thorough job. She was more familiar with this non-profit organization, and IMHO, she’s a better writer. But then, my next door neighbor with the yapping dog is a better writer. My son half-asleep taking a dump and yelling out the play-by-play is a better writer.
I felt instant euphoria that comes from enormous relief. As if a weight had been lifted. My family knew right away, too. They had wanted me to take a pass on this assignment from the beginning, because they knew how miserable I’d be.
The universe had other plans…
I fell into a dead sleep later that night, only to wake bolt upright to pee. I couldn’t get back to sleep. That’s when the entire lead for the new writing assignment dropped into my head: “In an ideal world, no one would go hungry…” What followed was the next paragraph and the next, a dark night of the soul — just a moment, and a flurry of activity, as I roused myself out of bed, rushed to the computer in another room, and wrote down what I heard.
After a brief hesitation, I emailed the publisher to say I changed my mind, I’m keeping the assignment.
It felt like jumping off a cliff in pitch-black darkness. Naked.
On paper, there’s no way in hell I would succeed past those first few paragraphs into the meat and bones of a very complex topic of food justice.
Yet, I kept having to fight off the urge to overthink, to overplan, to follow the script, to run away.
Saturday, I texted the woman I’m supposed to interview after a week of getting our wires crossed. I knew in my gut she wanted a real conversation, rather than email interview or even Zoom. Just two people talking. To break the ice, and to see if she could trust me.
They all do this. But she deserved it, after everything she’s done for countless people going to bed hungry.
I believe in this cause. If I could choose one in a million, feeding the hungry would be my cross to bear until the day I die.
Too many of us are going without, without any resources readily available.
Any small thing I can do towards this noble effort would be enough.
But I was still scared to death.
Saturday, after I texted her that I was free this weekend, she immediately called me on my phone. The one whose speaker is busted. I asked her to call me back on my husband’s phone in a minute, long enough to frantically find a working voice phone recording app that allowed recordings of phone conversations. My husband helped, and after 15 long minutes, we were able to finally connect.
I kicked into automatic, a straight-news reporter’s reflex, and began asking her questions from a list I’d made up the days before. Halfway through, I stopped asking, put aside the list, and just began listening to her, sharing my own impressions, and having a normal conversation.
I cried. I thanked her for doing this for people, even though, obviously it isn’t easy.
She was touched. Called me by my name. And I could feel the mother within her, the lifetime of caring for the land, however small, and being cared for by parents who made the most of what they had.
I could feel why so many have come away so inspired by her to pass it on…grow their own sustainable, edible gardens, and share the harvest with others.
The “interview” took 20 minutes, the shortest I’ve ever done.
I forgot transcribing by rote — dotting every I and crossing every T, and began writing the story, feeling around in this woman’s soul, finding the right words.
I finished the article in five hours. Like moving pieces of a moving puzzle.
I had several juicy quotes from her in a 2017 Ted Talk and a November 2020 Facebook post. But they weren’t mine.
I wanted this to be mine. For her.
I did it.
I wish I weren’t constrained by the publisher’s 600–700-word sidebar. It limits me and stifles my voice, the voice she always says she needs to bring a story to life.
But I did my best in that first, crucial paragraph. The one that really counts.
The one that dropped in my head out of nowhere, compelling me to keep going…the one that believes in me more than I will ever believe in myself.
Now…should I ask my photographer friend for another favor?
“Industrial agriculture wants us to believe that ‘feeding the world’ is a one-size-fits-all problem, requiring increased production to feed a growing population. But as we charge headlong into an uncertain future, truly feeding the world will require uprooting deep-seated institutions of power, and embracing diverse methods of food production that work with local ecosystems, not against them.” —Debbie Weingarten, “How To Fix A Food System That’s Not Designed To Feed People,” Huffington Post/FutureProof
Originally published at https://carolbankswebercoggie.wordpress.com on December 7, 2020.