Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Member Appreciation Month: Heather Davis

Writing at the Edge of the World
by Heather Davis

Last night one of my neighbors trotted over to my six year-old daughter and me while we were cleaning out our mini-van in the warm January sun. In her eager way, speaking very quickly, she apologized for screaming at her dog and then proclaimed that he had very inappropriately eaten cat poop or what she calls “cat crunchies.”

“It’s no problem,” I said. “Sometimes we need to yell at our cat.”

Then she explained how upset she was that Hazel, a 94-year old neighbor, had finally moved out. Hazel had been like a grandmother to her.

“I was so messed up, I did this,” she said, holding up the inside of her right wrist so I could see the young scar running across her translucent skin.
Dumbstruck, I tried to distract my daughter so she wouldn’t notice the scar and ask me later what it meant.

Finally, at a loss, I said, “You really shouldn’t have done that to yourself.”

“Oh,” she replied, “I didn’t mean to do this. I had to break into my own house a while back. I locked myself out and couldn’t wake anyone up. Sliced some major arteries. Lost about half my blood.”

At moments like these, I say a little prayer to The Writer’s Center: “Help me!”

It’s comforting knowing that I can turn to the Center to learn how other local writers process all kinds of experiences. Although I live 70 miles from Bethesda, in Front Royal, Virginia, I can access the Center online through classes, the website, or the blog.

Living out here, my husband José Padua and I often feel like we are writing from the edge of the world. Both poets, we are hard-core city people who transplanted to the hinterlands to make ends meet. The farther away I am from town, the more I appreciate institutions like The Writer’s Center.

After earning my M.A. in poetry and becoming a working stiff in the early 90s, the Writer’s Center helped me stay connected to my creative work. I took poetry and fiction courses there. José and I also completed an HTML course that helped us land jobs as website managers.

Six years after those classes, my first book of poems, The Lost Tribe of Us, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and was published in fall 2007, just as we moved to Front Royal.

We’ve learned that to live here is to step through the looking glass, only our guide is not a rabbit but a shirtless, pot-bellied man holding a menthol cigarette in one hand and a Bud in the other. The Shenandoah Valley may be the land of wineries and Skyline Drive but it is also home to Confederate flags, the Stonewall Jackson Restaurant, and Xtreme religion.

Happily, there are as many stories here as there are “Gut Deer?” bumper stickers. The Writer’s Center helps us keep one foot in the city while we focus on our blog about rural small town America. Without this blog, called Shenandoah Breakdown, we would be mad as hatters.

In the coming year, we hope to take even more advantage of the resources at The Writer’s Center and to coordinate some writing events in the Shenandoah Valley. Maybe we’ll see you down at the Knotty Pine or at Stoke’s General Store. Just make sure you have a notebook and a pen in hand.
Visit Shenandoah Breakdown at

For more information about The Lost Tribe of Us.

To read work by Jose Padua, visit
Heather holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and her first book of poems, The Lost Tribe of Us, was published by Main Street Rag in 2007. When not working as a communications manager or being mommy, she can be found holed up at various cafes in the greater metro area trying to write.

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