Amy L. Wink, Ph.D. Poet ~ Writer ~Educator ~ Mentor ~ Morgan Driver ~ Welshie Owner

Writing Mentor

Welcome to my website. I am the author of She Left Nothing In Particular: The Autobiographical Legacy of 19th Century Women's Diaries (University of Tennessee Press, 2001) and the editor of Tandem Lives: The Frontier Texas Diaries of Henrietta Baker Embree and Tennessee Keys Embree, 1856-1884 (University of Tennessee Press, 2009). You can find out more about my work on these diaries by visiting embreediaries.com. I started learning to drive horses after I bought my first horse for my 40th birthday present to myself. I now own two Morgan horses, Will and Blessing, as well as 2 Welsh Springer Spaniels, James and Lily (not named for Harry Potter's parents but I'm okay with that connection.) I am now in my 30th year in the classroom and have just finished a new eBook Small Voices and Encounter Narratives: Notes from a Creating Life. I teach at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. If you are interested in mentoring, I specialize in narrative non-fiction, life-writing, autobiography, and memoir.

One Stone

amywink October 6th, 2018

This dark grey stone
with lines of quarts
turned under the glacier’s
weight, not crushed
to dust but formed
and smoothed
by that solid shifting
ice until the one
degree made
all the difference
and out from beneath
that fracturing
blue and snow
this stone now
in my small hand,
waited as if
for Samuel,
a stone of help,
waited as if
for David,
one of five,
just enough
against Goliath,
waited as if
for me,
and just such
a moment
as this.

Sitting with My Father

amywink October 4th, 2018

There are days when I just
sit with my father in the quiet,
which we both prefer to the
terrifying dreams he cannot
always end, those into which
I can only sometimes reach
to lead him toward
some peaceful place
much longer ago than now.

I remind him how much we are
alike, thoughtful and deep.
“And so quiet” he recently said
about me, knowing who
I truly am, how much time
I spend in silence.

I remember all the years
we were quiet together,
driving to school
in the dark mornings,
silently preparing
for our public days,
just being
until a thought worth
speaking came to mind.

I remember the long drive
to Kansas when he came
to help me home,
and how he listened,
so carefully, that when we lost
each other in Oklahoma City,
on our return, we found each other
where I had said I always stopped,

I remember how I told him years later
in his fear of being lost,
how we had found each other then
and how I would always find him
because he had taught me
how to listen and I had
learned also how to look.

I think about this long last journey
we are on together, not knowing
when it will end, but also knowing
now is the time to speak
the things worth saying,
those deliberate thoughts
that form in that deep
quiet into which God will speak.

So Close to Help

amywink September 26th, 2018

This Saturday, I will be walking with the First United Methodist Church-Austin team at the Austin NAMIWalks event. There’s a little irony in this, or perhaps it’s more of a full circle coming around to meet me again and remind me of a moment when my life could have gone a different way, the juncture of two possible directions, to be influenced by chance or fate, or mistake, or simply missed opportunity. I do not spend a lot of time thinking about what “might have been” but this one, this moment, has been coming back to me a lot lately because of the grace I have found at First.

44 years ago this summer, my family moved to Austin. My Dad had left the UMC ministry to pursue teaching and I started, in the fall, at Eanes Elementary School. We did not live in the district, but in South Austin, in a rental house in a somewhat dicey neighborhood. Since my parents did not know what the quality of schools was in Austin just yet, they decided that my brother and I would go to Eanes where my Dad was teaching. I started the 4th grade and met my two best friends, Toni and Leah, who remain my friends to this day–and we have been through a lot together. That Christmas, my mother had a psychotic break during a manic episode. She had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, then called manic-depression, in 1968, and I now understand that the stress of moving, the stress of her father’s stroke, and the dramatic changes in our lives likely triggered the episode. But I didn’t understand all of that until a long time later, until I could look from a long distance and see what happened from the wider range.

At the time, we were new to Austin and did not have a community yet. But my father called for the only help he knew, the pastor of FUMC-Austin, and another friend, a former UMC minister-turned-psychiatrist. The pastor came, as I recall, but I remember little else except the fear and disorientation I felt during this inexplicable experience when my mother became a different person, right before our eyes. I have memories around the fringes of the experience but my memory of what happened is a blank space and I have not gone searching for that memory. I was 9. My brother remembers–he was 12–but his story is his and I can only tell mine. I know our lives were never the quite same after that. I know we are still learning to understand what happened and the depth of its consequences. My father did get help and my mother got better–she always wanted to remain well and was medication compliant– other people with BP struggle with that. And while my experience was not nearly as bad as some people I know, it was bad enough and there was enough damage done. Damage I didn’t understand until later, some damage I didn’t understand until after her death.

In 1974, bipolar disorder was not something we talked about in public. While we dealt with it as a family, sort of, we didn’t talk with anyone else about the experiences. She had been diagnosed in 1968, after, I suspect, her depression and mania were triggered by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, as well as the stress of being a pastor’s wife, with the unrelenting scrutiny of every congregant. I have a letter she wrote to me from the hospital, telling me, at 3, to pray to God to make her well. That we were moved suddenly by the Bishop from Leakey to Premont, mid-year, also indicates something about what also may have happened, though not why. In 1974, she did not write. I have no idea how long she stayed in the hospital. She got better because my Dad was able to ask for help and able to get at least some help. But we could have used so much more, my brother and I, and my father. We could have used church, if church had been there for us. If we had been able to look to church.

My dad had asked a pastor to come, and while he came, no one else did. We were not members of First and I have no idea if the pastor told anyone we needed help or if anyone would have come. Perhaps he did not himself know what to do. I cannot blame him for what did or didn’t happen. I just wonder what might have happened otherwise because we were so very close to help. The people I know now were there then, and have been like an entire group of church parents for me, now that I am 53, and I think how they would have folded around us then, to take us in when we needed help, to show up no matter what they found. At least I like to think they would have and I think about how very different our lives could have been if that had happened. I like to think they would have come and overwhelmed us by their help if only the call for help had been received. And I wonder if that call for help was ever even sent.

Instead we were left to cope and learned not to talk about this with anyone but certain family members, and not that often. We certainly didn’t talk about it at school or anywhere public. And knowing we were not supposed to talk about it mean we knew that it was shameful, something we had to hide. Shame is a powerful silencer and forces people into isolation.

I’ve thought about that time a lot as I have worked to unlearn some things I learned at the time, things that were reinforced later with other experiences, though they started earlier: how not to ask for help, how to manage on our own, how to take too much responsibility for someone else’s behavior. Even though I have resolved many of these things, I am often struck by understanding now, after my mother’s death, as I lay down the armor I needed to protect myself. I have learned just how much armor I was wearing, because I had to do so. And on occasion, I trace my reaction to the beginning at that difficult time when my mother changed, the moment I learned that people can turn on you, that help is hard to find, that change can be a terribly frightening and completely destabilizing , in a way other people do not understand.

My parents did the best they could and they did get help. And we recovered, and we kept recovering, but we were changed. To be able to reconcile with that difficult past, I have to be able to understand what happened, to know enough about what happened to know who I am because of it. I do no seek to fill in the black space of my memory–I have enough details to discern what likely happened to me, or what I overheard–and I know my brain is protecting me from that remembrance. But I wonder about what might have happened otherwise, since we were so close to help and help did not show up to overwhelm us in our need.

I think of this when I show up for someone. I think on this when I encourage others to ask for help, to be open to receiving help, even if asking is frightening, even if it seems easier to go through the difficulty alone so shame is kept a private thing, because being alone seems safer. I explain how very different my life might have been had things been different in 1974. If more help had come, stayed, and pulled us back to church, so we would not have had to be alone. Show up, I think, because I might be the help that is called to get close. And let people show up, even if they do not have a clue as what to do, if I just ask, I might discover how very close to help I actually am.

My Mother’s Presence

amywink September 19th, 2018

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

I am in the third year after the death of my mother and I have moved through the first year of astonishment at her death, the second year of learning the difficult consequences of her presence in the relief I feel living my new life, understanding how much she had been in the way (though I know that is not always what she wanted), and forgiving her for that as well. This year, I am remembering and comprehending her own complex story of self, her story with me, and my story without her, even though she is present in me, with me, no more shackles on her feet.

When I returned to church, I came because I missed my mother’s music. She had originally been a Church music major when she entered Southwestern, until she discovered she could major in art. I grew up with her church music and also her art. She worked hard to encourage my creativity and though I remember the moment when I decided I was Not Good at Art–the moment she colored so beautifully the carousel horse in my coloring book. It was so stunning, shaded in lavenders and pinks and I thought, at 5, “I can’t do that.” not at all understanding she had learned to do it, and I was 5. — she didn’t make very many mistakes with my creativity. She remembered that too and stopped coloring for me, even though I kept asking. She taught me to have an artist’s eye, to see things deeply, to understand the symbols of our faith, through the artistry that infuses Christian identity and worship in the presence of the Creating Spirit.

I had not thought about this as much, though I have always known a great deal about art because of her, but this weekend, when I prepared our table for the Bolder than the State of Texas project, I found myself accompanied by my mother as I designed our table. I chose a red ceramic fish we’d had for as long as I can remember, a lovely icthus image for our fishing expedition, to hold our business cards, and then a dish I had made of red and yellow glass, so perfectly reminiscent of Pentecost, when my mother and I had taken a glass fusing class together when I moved home.

We often had a lovely time creating together, as long as I didn’t surpass her skill and trigger her jealousy. I had learned to stop when that happened and move on to another creative outlet, writing, photography, in which she did not excel. That’s also a part of our story together and one I remember even as I also forgive. She needed to be The Best at something, or she often felt The Worst, and that, I know, is a difficult way to be in the world. Our last creative project together was the renovation of our kitchen, and we had a wonderful time selecting everything. I still sit in that kitchen and think of what a good job we did together with it. I enjoy her creative presence as I think on that.

So, in this way, in the things I chose for our table, my mother came to church with me last Sunday, just as I went to church to remember her music. She would have loved the people at First and she also would have loved the stories we are gathering, because she loved storytelling. She handed me the stories of our family, which I keep sharing to put flesh on the names of our ancestors, to remember not just the connections, but who the people were and how the stories we tell about them make us who we are today. She held a long grudge against the Methodist church, and never returned to it. But I am here and she is with me and in remembering, I am also forgiving, in what I think of as the practice of redeeming love.

What I Learned from Mr. Rogers

amywink July 19th, 2018

When I was in college, my summer job was day care. Aside from the excruciating tension headaches I also experienced with the job, I loved it because I enjoy playing with the children. I just liked them, partly because they can be a lot of fun, but also because they are often ready to be present in a way that adults don’t often allow themselves to be. Children just like you to be who you are and I like being with people like that, even if they are new people.

When I was in graduate school, I had a second job working at a church nursery where another friend worked. In the middle of the rigorous intellectual pursuit of my PhD, I got to play with babies and toddlers. It was great, very grounding, except on the days when more than one child was Not Happy and Not Going to Have Any of This, though really, I could always sympathize. Who has not felt like screaming their head off some days? There were really amazing moments too, like the time I watched a two-year old just work on figuring out how to put the nesting animals in the right order so they all fit back inside the cow. It took him a while but I was watching his brain grow and it was amazing. Watching someone learn is fascinating if you understand what you are watching. I now know so much more about brain development and the neuroscience of learning and as that child put those pieces together, his brain was forming new pathways, making neurons fire, creating insight and understanding, growing his brain. Every “ah-hah” moment we have as humans is actually a neuron firing and making a new pathway of understanding. Brains are really cool. And children are always learning and I love learning with them. I’ve joked with friends that I am very popular with the three-year old set and it has always been very grounding when I hang out with children.

Going back to church has brought children back into my life and reminded me of the fun I used to have at the church nursery during graduate school. It’s fun to hang out with the future. Watching the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, also served to remind me how I learned to present with children, and what a challenge when they ask really hard questions, like “are you ever afraid of the dark?” or “why do people get sick?” Sometimes, if you really listen, they remind you of things that are so deeply human, your heart will break wide open.

I’ve been thinking of one of those moments recently, given the news these days. I don’t shut off the memory because it’s the memory of how I learned, yet again, to be present, as a person, as a teacher, as a human being. There was one child (there’s always one) at the church nursery who was a handful, frustrated, and prone to episodes of anger. She was two when I started working there and was somewhat infamous. But she liked me and I liked her so we got along, though not like the two children for whom I eventually became the favorite baby-sitter. When Bethany finally learned to talk, it became clear that her frustration had simply stemmed from not being able to explain what she was thinking, which was quite a lot. Once she was talking, she was fascinating, engaging, and not nearly as difficult to deal with. Once she knew how to speak her feelings, she enjoyed life a lot more (and we are all so glad!) She was also delightfully bossy and assertive, acting much more mature than she actually was. It was endearing. But she could still throw a tantrum if she needed too and her emotions were still very close to the surface. Her bold air also made people forget she was still new and working out her way in the world.

One evening, I was engaged to babysit my regulars and Bethany was added to the evening, which was entirely manageable. Except, when she and her family arrived, it was obvious no one had told her she’d be staying behind, and I could see the betrayal on her face, the fear, and then the anger at the betrayal. I am, and was then, a person sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, and I knew what I was watching and I was also becoming angry, as I always do, when I see people ignore the feelings of another, or, worse, intentionally hurt the feelings of another person. And when that person is a child, I am both shredded and outraged. It is the double-edged sword of my compassion. I’m not much of a gatekeeper but if you want righteous anger on your behalf, I’m right there. Some friends have accidentally hit that button and some friends have gotten exactly what I have to give in moments when they needed it.

But Bethany was just four and an outraged adult is not what any four-year-old needs in her face at the moment when she is overwhelmed by her own anger and fear. As she raged at the door her parents exited, I sat with Emily and Alex, the other two children, who were also trying their best to figure out how to react to the episode. Emily, who was quite mature and sophisticated at 5, looked at me and assessed the situation before she pronounced, “She’s just being a baby.” It was a test, for her, for me. I responded, “No, she’s very angry. I think she has to be angry for a little while.” And I left it at that while we settled into our evening together.

Nothing major happened. Bethany eventually calmed down. We all watched a movie and the night got later and later. I put Emily and Alex to bed but there wasn’t any bed for Bethany, so we sat on the couch together and started talking, like friends do late into the night. I cannot recall what we talked about exactly, probably the movie, but I remember how present we were, how close to each other. Then, we got to the heart of the matter and in our quiet conversation together, Bethany said “Sometimes when my mommy goes away, I get really scared.” I responded like a friend should, “I know. It’s really scary when that happens.” It was the right answer. She paused then she crawled onto my lap, draped her arms around my neck, sank her body into mine and held on for a long time, until she fell asleep. I held on too as my heart broke wide open to hold her.

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