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LITERARY: More from Kate Hopper and Kevin Kling
Kate: I had a question for you about writing and healing, which I know you’ve talked about in your interview with Kristin Tippett last year. It was so interesting how you talked about how in the U.S. we’re so focused on solving problems and curing things, instead trying to really focus on feeling. For me, certainly, writing is healing, and I know it is, too, for a lot of my students who have lost children or have kids with special needs—to process that loss of dreams is critical. I wonder if you’d talk a bit about how writing and storytelling has been healing for you.
Kevin: That’s one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Simply, I think when you can tell a story about something then it doesn’t control you anymore. It’s in your vernacular. I was thinking about that a lot when I was looking at your work—that there are certain things you can’t prepare for. Like when you talk about traveling, there’s the trip you plan and the trip you go on. Motherhood seems like that: I don’t care what you plan—it’s not going to be your trip.
Kate: Exactly, that’s totally right. I always talk about fear and how it can be so debilitating; it can actually control you. But what happens when you write it all down? I know that some of my students have talked about how it feels to do those exercises and how once it’s down on the page, it loses some of its power. It still exists, but in a different way.
Kevin: That’s part of the power of the arts—it puts it out there and reveals those parts larger than ourselves. When we put them in our own context we take a sense of control over those larger things.
Kate: Another thing you mentioned that’s interesting is being able to get people together who are not going to agree—people who are opposites but can listen to a story or read the same thing and say, “Oh, wait a minute, I see a bit of myself in here.” And that’s always one of my goals, to connect people.
Kevin: Working in the world of disability you’ll find that tolerance and compassion have a shelf life, but recognition doesn’t. Recognition in that I see you and you see me and by helping you I’m helping myself. It is so important in this day and age where we can choose what we read and whom we talk to; we don’t often find those essential connections with people who aren’t like us. Most of my storytelling is done for people who don’t vote like I do. That’s the fun stuff. They know it and I know it and we don’t care. It even feels better when you connect with someone who doesn’t agree with you. Because that’s the only way we’re going to solve things.
Kate: In my writing guide it was very important to me was to have a diversity of voices—moms with kids with special needs, adoptive moms, lesbian moms. Some of my favorite comments are, “I would never have read this person otherwise.”
Kevin: You bring up some pretty tough topics that I’m sure people wouldn’t read unless they were already in your momentum and already trusted you and went, “Okay, I know who she is so I’ll go there.” You’re dealing with things that are in peoples’ sacred areas, and you’re offering them these different choices and opinions. I think that’s vital. You don’t have to agree when you can at least understand.
Kate: One thing you do that I love is you sum things up in a way that isn’t like, “Duh, I knew that already.” Many beginning writers will tell the whole story, and then neatly sum it up.
Kevin: That’s not how life works. And that’s one thing I loved about your work—it made me think, “I know about life, but I still don’t know how this is going to go.” It wasn’t formulaic. It’s interesting how that kept me engaged.
Kate: You need to trust the reader but also trust yourself as a writer. It’s hard to just let it lie and let people take away what they will. How did that evolve with you?
Kevin: A buddy of mine, Bill Harley, a wonderful storyteller, says it takes about 10 thousand tellings. And I think he’s going pretty fast (laughs). But you’re looking for that point where you’re challenging the audience right up to that point. I saw the most wonderful reading by Robert Bly once, where he finished the poem and everyone sighed. And he goes, “Did you get that?” And we all went, “…No.” Then he said the coolest thing. He goes: “Me neither. But I almost did!” And we all go, “We almost did, too!” There was so much to that because there he was: a poet who put it all out there even though he still didn’t get it. But he needed to get it out there. That was a good lesson for me.
Look for Kate Hopper's memoir, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, in stores October 1. Kevin Kling's children's book, Big Little Mother, and compilation of stories, plays, and essays, On Stage with Kevin Kling, will both be in stores in November.