Meet Author Sarah Cannon
Happy Feminist Wednesday, Sarah. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Sarah and I am a writer/editor and writing/publishing consultant living in the north Seattle area.
Can you tell us how you got started writing?
I was an avid reader as a kid and always kept a journal, so I guess you could say I’ve been thinking about writing a book my whole life. I love the way they smell, look, feel, and libraries and bookstores are a huge turn on for me. My Nana was a poet and author of two well-received YA books – she had the best reading voice I’ve ever heard. Ever. Outside of my parents, who were also readers, she gave me this strong hope that a finished product was a possibility. I began writing with seriousness when I enrolled in an MFA Creative Writing program in 2012. I was 38 and my kids were ages 8 and 11. I felt it might be my last chance at giving myself the gift of time and mentorship to learn the craft of literary memoir. I had so missed reading novels and memoir all those years raising a family and working, and knew deep in my heart that I had a story to tell, and the commitment to follow through.
Why feminism is important to you and how it influences your work?
Feminism to me is noticing and bringing awareness to how the world operates out of convenience for cis-men. This has been obvious to me since I was a small child. With my brother or father or boys at school it was always, No, you can’t play this, or No, you can’t say that. Even with my mother it was No, you can’t wear that. I wanted to be free, just like a boy, but I also didn’t want to be a boy. So that becomes something you look at and feel strangely about, and it only gets stranger when you hit puberty and grown men begin to leer. Feminism became even more important to me when my family moved to live in South America for a few years so my dad could work. My mom lost some of her career opportunities in that move, and being in South America in the late ‘80s I saw how women, in particular poor women, were treated like second- or third-class citizens.
Feminism informs my work because my work has everything to do with family and care giving. I loved my husband when we met and married, and I loved him when he was nearly killed in 2007. I loved him when I took care of him and the children throughout what would become an on-going nightmare of chronic disability, rehab, lost wages, and more. When we decided to separate and he left the state, I disavowed anyone who disparaged his departure, for I had had a part in it as well. I felt guilty for divorcing someone who had suffered so much. After a few years of grief, I gained, with the help of my creative writing program, some strength back. I was able to see how his decision to leave was the same thing as making fatherhood an option. Can you imagine if I had left? I forgave him though, remembering his diagnosed cognitive impairments, realizing that my own attitude was a reflection of an expectation of female labor that is sanctioned by society. I was expected to manage the hardship of parenting alone. I was strong. I was tough. Only I wasn’t! I was only human, like him.
What do you do to avoid feminist burnout? Whats your favorite self care practice?
I avoid feminist burnout by watching lots of funny TV. I remember that what I’m doing – taking care of myself and two kids (both teenagers now) is enough. I don’t have to be an activist on the streets to make a difference. The dedication I kept to make my book a reality makes me a great influence on these young humans, despite what is in my checking account. I can keep my house tidy and make sure there’s dinner and keep working. I love my animals and we live by a lovely forested trail, so my self-care is taking the dog for walks and listening to the sounds of the wild – owls, trickling stream, birds. I also love a good podcast. When I need to breathe, I listen to Tara Brach. When I want to hear a story, I tune into the New Yorker fiction podcast. When I want to laugh, I dial up Call Your Girlfriend.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in your field?
Find a good mentor. If you want to spend money on something like an MFA, then do it, but it’s not necessary, depending on your stage of life. I wanted the camaraderie of people who were attempting to write a book. I needed that kind of support. But you can also find someone you admire and ask to be their apprentice. I know lots of writers (I am one!) who offer intensive coaching support, and who can model your education like the one they have had, with readings and writings outside your creative project. Anything to exercise the writing (or whatever medium) muscles. It can be a great writing group and some community classes. Don’t worry too much about publishing or showing your art to the world. Put in the time and learn what you love. Read everything, all the time. And don’t give up.