Wendy Brown-Baez: Where Do Stories Grow?
The Story That Won’t Let Go
A Guest Blog Post by Wendy Brown-Baez
Like many writers, I loved books when I was a child. I especially loved mysteries and the chutzpah of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I began to write my own stories in 3rd grade but I’m afraid they were riddled with clichés. In 6th grade I wrote a story about teen-agers falling in love. I can still picture the cover I designed out of construction paper but I don’t recall where the idea came from. The title was “The Sun Comes Shining.” The boyfriend is killed when he pushes her brother out of the way of an oncoming bus. At the end, the girl goes to their secret place overlooking the ocean and watches the dawn come up. She realizes that life goes on. When I read it aloud to the class, all the girls started bawling. I thought, “This is what I want to do! This is powerful!”
I continued to write until I joined a commune as a new mother in my 20’s. We took in the homeless, provided free meals, visited incarcerated adults and juveniles, and traveled the world. I was too busy to write, taking care of households and my own children. But when we arrived in Israel, I immediately bought a notebook (just like my main character, Lily!) because the experience of being in the Holy Land was so profound. Every step you take, you are walking through layers of history. The land is beautiful and has endured conquest after conquest, yet the cities of Jerusalem and Safat remain other-worldly and celestial. The people are gorgeous, generous, vibrant, gregarious busy-bodies with strong opinions. The group was unraveling and this was both agonizing and liberating. I was discovering myself as a single mother, a nomad yearning to plant roots, and a Christian mystic attracted to Judaism. I was re-creating my identity. I had an exhilarating love affair with an Israeli that fell apart after misunderstandings and betrayals, so there were plenty of tears. Writing it all down probably kept my sanity.
In my journal I recorded the tumult inside me of questions and revelations, both personal and political. I wrestled with my desire to stay in this amazing historical vortex and the harsh reality of relentless conflict. I have been a committed peace-nik since the ’60s and the violence devastated me. It was a wakeup call from idealism to reality. Two Israeli men tugged on my heart. The first relationship was unresolved and extremely painful, and we know that writing can be cathartic. The second, due to a wide age difference, seemed to have no future. And I was wrestling with my faith and how to practice it after ten years of following the teachings of Jesus interpreted by one manipulative, controlling man.
When I returned to the states, I took a writing class and the story just poured out onto the page. I remember walking home from my waitressing job with words echoing in my head, throwing off my coat, handing my tips to my son to go get a pizza, and sitting down at the typewriter: it was that urgent.
When my spiritual community here, Unity Minneapolis, started to plan a trip to the Holy Land, I decided to revisit my memoir. I suddenly had the thought: What if I changed it to fiction? This eliminated the complicated backstory of the commune and left me free to concentrate on my main character’s inner journey to know herself. Embedded in the story are the questions I struggled with: Is peace possible without forgiveness? Can you follow your heart and still be a good mother? Where do we belong: where we come from or where we feel at home? How do we heal after trauma? How do we live with contradictions? The book doesn’t solve these questions. I hope it stirs them up for the readers.
But most of all, I wrote Catch a Dream as a love letter to a place that both initiated my healing and broke my heart.
Check out Wendy's book: Catch a Dream
A woman’s healing journey begins in a country embroiled in relentless turmoil. In Israel, the first Intifada has just begun. Palestinian frustration for a homeland erupts in strikes, demonstrations and suicide bombings and Israel responds with tear gas, arrests, and house demolitions. Lily Ambrosia and Rainbow Dove arrive in Haifa with their children on a pilgrimage to sow seeds of peace. Lily’s fascination with Jewish culture inspires her to dream she can plant roots in the Holy Land. She falls in love with the land itself, with its people, and with Levi, a charming enigma, dangerous but irresistible. Eventually she is fully immersed in Israeli life, earning her way as a nanny, hanging out in cafes with friends, and attending Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Her son rebels against the lifestyle she has chosen and war with Syria looms on the horizon. Will she be able to stay? What does she have to give up and what will she be able to keep?
Print Length: 196 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: BookBaby (March 24, 2018)
Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of a poetry CD Longing for Home, the full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, '09), and chapbooks: transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, '11) and Elegy for Newtown (Red Bird Chapbooks, '14). She has published both poetry and prose in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in print and on-line. She received McKnight, Mn State Arts Board and Saint Louis Park Arts & Culture grants to bring writing workshops into non-profits and community centers.
Wendy has facilitated writing workshops since 1994 including at Cornerstone's support groups, the Women & Spirituality conference at MSU Mankato, Celebrate Yourself women's retreats, All About the Journey healing center, The Aliveness Project, Unity Minneapolis, El Colegio High School and Jacob's Well women's retreat. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants through COMPAS Community Art Program to teach writing workshops for youth in crisis. The project at SafeZone and Face to Face Academy developed into an art installation showcasing their recorded writings. When it was noted that students' reading scores improved, she was hired as Face to Face's writing instructor.
In 2012, she was awarded a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to teach writing workshops in twelve non-profit arts and human service organizations. She continues to teach at Pathways: a healing center, in MN prisons, and in community spaces such as public libraries, yoga studios, churches, and cafes.
Wendy has taught memoir at MCTC continuing ed and through Minneapolis community ed.
In addition, Wendy has managed shelters for the homeless and visited incarcerated teens. She is trained as a hospice volunteer and as a facilitator of Monologue Life Stories. Wendy studied alternative healing, ceremony, and spiritual traditions with Earthwalks for Health and lived in Mexico and Israel. She has collected wisdom teachings from these diverse cultures, as well as written memoirs of her adventures.
You can connect with Wendy Brown-Baez on her website, blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and LinkedIn