Mary Bardsley Backchannels Journal

Meet Mary

I’ve been writing all my life. I remember my very first “published” piece that was proudly hanging on my grandparents’ wall. I had drawn a series of pictures with captions of a bear going to sleep, though it might have been a large dog (my artistic talents weren’t quite developed at age 6)! When in elementary school I started writing furiously in little notebooks, mainly a story about tree elves that all had tree names (Ash, Elm, Acorn) and had adventures in the forest. In middle school I found that my diary was my best friend, and I would pour my heart out onto its rainbow lines pages and lock it up after every entry with the little silver key and padlock. As a teenager, writing became my saving grace, my release, and my creative outlet.

Now I write to figure out how I feel about something, to make it real, or to confront my own fears in black and white print, because if it’s not on paper I can hide from it in my mind. Writing is a sort of truth telling, and when I am in the thick of something tough, I sometimes don’t write at all, perhaps afraid at what I will scrawl. What I’ve learned though is that words heal, ultimately, and they reveal things about ourselves. When strung together, words can create a picture that makes sense of life, captures its essence, or illuminates its beauty.

Reading a memoir recently, I realized that I had dogeared nearly every other page because a phrase resonated so deeply with me and I wanted a way to recall it. This author was able to explain emotion in a way that left me saying, “Yes! I didn’t have words to articulate this fully for myself, but now I do”. I felt so grateful reading the book because her story was proof I wasn’t alone. And, that’s why writing has always been important to me throughout my life; it’s about connection, connection with others and within ourselves.

As a high school teacher, this connection is explored not only in the classroom, but in the theatre program. My co-director and I call it “theatre as therapy” because students are encouraged to write about their lives, share their feelings and struggles, and then take the stage to release it all for an audience, as well as their own ears. To write your story is powerful, but to perform it for a crowd is profoundly healing. Part of this process in our theatre program is getting kids to believe that they have a story to tell in the first place, and furthermore, that their story matters and deserves to be heard, and beyond that, their story has value to someone else if shared with authenticity. Teasing storylines from students is one of the most rewarding writing ventures I’ve ever been a part of, and the experience continues to validate how empowering writing can be in one’s life.

For me, being a reader is as important as being a writer, because the two inform one another. The more I read, the more I am inspired to write. The more diversified my reading is, my writing delves deeper too, like my mind has been activated in new ways. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. Some of my favorite authors include Tim O’Brien, Ken Follett, Mary Allen, and Jodi Picoult.

I share all of this to offer you a bit of insight into who I am, and what the writer inside of me looks like (she will always be wearing a cute hat and sitting in a sunny corner at a coffee shop, chewing on a pen cap, by the way). I share this to make plain what writing means to me on a personal level. I am excited to read submissions to this journal, and I look forward to “backchannels” being a soft place for writers, artists and performers to land, share, grow, and connect.

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