Glasgow wore a black coat, a shirt reminiscent of prison bars, thick glasses, the kind writers wear. I felt bad for her. The air was insufferable. This time of year, Colorado has a pattern of snow days, but today the sun was out, the streets glaring, and the school hadn’t lowered the thermostat.
When she started, I thought she was about to ask if anyone had read Girl in Pieces. Instead, Glasgow asked, “Have you ever lost someone?”
So many students put up their hands.
“Do you know someone who self harms?”
From there, her lecture sought to answer the question: What do you do with pain? With darkness? With feelings that hurt?
As you may not know, I’m a high school teacher, so I had to smile at my colleagues’ faces when Glasgow spoke about low grades, perpetual truancy, her expulsion and GED, drugs, alcohol, an early career at Wienerschnitzel and Jack-in-the-Box. And when she muttered “shit” into the microphone. Not exactly the narrative we impress on students.
Now, while she may not be a model of academia, to the nation of women falling and failing and hiding scars under long sleeves, Kathleen Glasgow is an avatar of hope—a sign that art and literature and the wondrous act of creation can salvage scraps, can save the soul.
But the answer wasn’t only art. It was the act of honesty. Of unwinding and expressing the truth without romance. “I write books for people who think help me help me help me,” Glasgow told us. “But say I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“People tell you—you’ll get over it, you’ll heal. Not true. You go on with the weight of that trauma for the rest of your life. You learn to be with it.”
“If I’m not going to be open about it, who’s going to be open about it?”
Her final piece of advice to the assembled classes, freshmen to senior, was this:
“Do not self-censor. Always believe in the story burning inside you. Write it. Rewrite it. Read as much as you can. Reading assists your sense for story, teaches structure. And never, never be afraid of the things you want to say.”