Anne Stanton recently caught up with author Kathleen Stocking.
What makes a person want to be a writer?
Troubles, I think. Someone, not me, said somewhere that a person starts with a wound they need to heal and once they figure out how to do it by creating – in art, writing, music — then they can do that in a way that helps other people work through things. Stephanie Mills, another writer, said, “Writers are the shamans of our time.” I’d add to that: musicians and artists. We interact with our environment and then produce out of that, hopefully in ways that will help our fellow human beings cope with their existence.
What made you want to be a writer?
Not sure. It started very early. Here’s what happened to me. I was raised as a boy for the first ten years of my life. My parents had three male babies who died, two at full term and one in the third trimester. I became the designated boy, transgendered without the surgery. When puberty hit and it gradually appeared that the boy plan wasn’t going to work long term, I had a lot of thinking to do. I had to think about my parents’ marriage, their grief, and a whole lot more. In the meantime, I’d had ten years of almost unlimited freedom, unlike my four sisters, and that was a gift. A gift and a wound, I’d say, that combination, makes a writer. Or did in my case.
Why did you decide to create a trilogy, books about your village, your state, your world?
I didn’t decide to do that. It just happened. I wrote about my village of Lake Leelanau and the Leelanau Peninsula because a wonderful editor in Detroit, Kirk Cheyfitz, asked me to write an essay a month about “whatever you’re drawn to” up north. I wrote about my state because I finally had enough money to venture beyond the Leelanau Peninsula. Then, when the auto industry left Michigan and the magazines in Detroit were in economic trouble and I needed a job, I decided to follow Kirk’s advice and go toward what I was drawn to, but further from home. When I came home in 2013 to stay, I realized I had a trilogy.
Why did you want to travel, and especially why did you want to go teach in prisons and work in the third world?
Probably everyone has a natural curiosity about the world. I always did. And after years of having my shoes nailed to the kitchen floor, I had a pent-up, ravening curiosity about someplace, anyplace, beyond where I was. I had never been interested in travel as a leisure thing, going to Paris for instance and staying at a nice hotel and visiting the Louvre, and coming back and telling people about the delicious onion soup in the food hall at the Bon Marche. I wanted to go places I knew nothing about and couldn’t imagine. I wanted to stay long enough to know how people, real people, lived every day. How should one live in this world? That’s the central question of existence and the central question of classical literature, too. If you think about it, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Homer – that’s what they were tackling.
Are you a good traveler?
I’m a terrible traveler. My children and friends were filled with foreboding when I decided to work in the prisons of California, go to El Salvador, travel alone.
How were you able to do it?
Guardian angels, I think.
What makes you a terrible traveler?
Everything. I hate to be hot, cold, dirty, hungry, tired. Those are pretty much constraints of travel. I daydream a lot and don’t pay attention to what’s going on around me and when you travel that’s dangerous. One of my friends, warning me not to go work in the prisons, pressed his hand to his forehead and imitating me, said “I’m feeling a little strange, a little bit dizzy, I don’t know what it is,” which apparently is something I do a lot but wasn’t aware of it.
Are you glad you went?
What’s your advice to everyone who thinks they want to travel?
Go. See. Do. You’ll never be sorry.
Bio/Tagline: Award-winning essayist Kathleen Stocking has two Michigan best sellers, Letters from the Leelanau and Lake Country. Called a “seer” by The New York Times before she left Michigan to work in the California prisons, she has now written a third book, The Long Arc of the Universe – Travels Beyond the Pale. This book, based on global travels of the last 20 years, represents her attempt to understand the larger world, including several third world countries, in relationship to her beloved Leelanau Peninsula.
Photo credit: Francie Gits, Leelanau Museum and Historical Society
See Book Cover here: UniverseCover_Final