In 2003, I wrote a story for Smithsonian magazine that changed my life. It was a profile of the most astonishing person I’ve ever met — Stanford Addison, a quadriplegic Northern Arapaho horse gentler and traditional healer who lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. His place became my second home for nearly 10 years, and I wrote about my adventures there in an award-winning memoir, BROKEN: A Love Story. My time with Stanford changed my life in many ways, and saved it in some.

Storytelling is important

One of the many things Stanford and the Arapaho taught me was how important storytelling is to our growth, our relationships, and our very survival.  Some of my favorite times on the Wind River Reservation were when a bunch of people sat around the kitchen table, sitting for hours telling stories. My classes replicate that experience. All kinds of people come to class — former circus acrobats have rubbed elbows with award-winning authors at my table; sex educators have shared their writing with climatologists; motorcycle mamas have sat next to retired Danish ladies. It’s a mixed bag, and it works. I think that’s because we all have access to the truth, whether we are professional writers or occasional journalers. Often, the most exciting material comes from people who don’t consider themselves writers at all.

Inexplicable alchemy

An inexplicable alchemy often happens in class; it never ceases to amaze me how much we grow when we tell our truths, hone our craft and share our stories. As the poet David Whyte put it, “articulate the nature of your exile and you’re on your way home.”  I’m thrilled that years of journalism and my transformational experience with Stanford have deposited me here, helping people articulate their truth.

Here’s a brief rundown of that journalism career: I started out as a newspaper reporter in Breckenridge, Colorado. I defaulted briefly to the cushier wages to be made waiting tables, then back to newspapers, and then to magazine writing. I wrote pieces for High Country News, the New York Times Magazine,  Smithsonian and National Public Radio. I’ve written about dams that cause diabetesIndian high school basketball in Wyomingcowgirls during calving seasonthe Miss Navajo Pageantdating biologists and global warming. More recently, something that happened IN CLASS, which I then wrote about in class, was published in Salon.