Wheelhouses

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
(William Stafford, “Ask Me.”)

It was March 2012, and I had just emailed a few friends about writing for an online literary magazine that at that point, existed only in my heart and in the glint of my eye. At that point, I had gone on at least one or two job interviews a week and either nothing panned out or I wasn’t interested in the position. That particular week, I had multiple interviewers ask me to describe my “wheelhouse.” And in response I gave them my standard answers, but in reality, at 30 years old, I wasn’t sure I really knew.

typewriter

Courtesy of unsplash.com and Sergey Zolkin

But in my other life outside of job-hunting, deep in my heart and soul, was this need and desire to write. And so I turned all the excess attention I would have devoted toward worrying about the future and focused it on this writing venture. I kept praying for a name for it–it seemed wrong to just choose something. After all, it felt like an entity all itself that I was merely stewarding.

Then I woke up one morning from a dream in which everyone kept saying the word “wheelhouse.” I didn’t know that word would change my life.

It’s now nearly March 2016, four years after that fateful dream. Less than two months after that dream, my co-editor Ryan and I launched The Wheelhouse Review. We’ve published 866 pieces by over 20 contributors, many of whom “bared their souls spread eagle,” as Ryan likes to say. Some of our contributors have gone on to write or photograph for other outlets including Sojourners, Sojourners Magazine, Mockingbird, The Body Politic, and The Burnside Writers’ Collective. Most of us found our voices through faithfully contributing each week to what Ryan and I called our “literary petri dish.”

From the start we wanted it to be a safe place for writers and designers to experiment and find their way. We became masters of the compliment sandwich, trying to handle mildly-terrified contributors with care. After all, this is the Internet Age, where something you write can live on forever and some crazy person can send you a blistering comment from across the world. As a result, I count Ryan and Stephanie as two of my best friends, as we have labored together to create a good space to do good work.

For me personally, The Wheelhouse Review clarified the contents of my “wheelhouse” for me. I had spent my 20s doing what seemed practical and safe, what pleased others and would get me a “gold star.” That kind of life is sustainable for a few years and then it’s just exhausting.

Place matters: I could never have dreamed up or started The Wheelhouse Review where I was in New York City, despite the fact that it is a much more creative and innovative place than Washington, DC. Not many people knew who I was in DC and so I had some freedom to, as the Quaker author Parker Palmer writes, “let [my] life speak.” In New York it felt like there were all these expectations of who I was and what I was supposed to do. In DC, I was just another young idealist.

But I also couldn’t have had the space or quiet to question whether what I “had done was my life” in New York. I would have continued to snuggle under my cozy excuses or drown myself in drinks and distractions because they were there and they were easy. They didn’t require anything from me. The rowhouse I lived in on 5th Street NE between C and Constitution could have been a metaphor for my life–spacious and airy, yet rambly and vaguely smelling of beer. There was a lot of potential there, but was there the will to change?

There was. And I did. The course of my life has changed radically since those mid-March 2012 days. I recently began a spirituality blog called Perissos and a friend commented that it happened so quickly and efficiently–in roughly two months. And I pointed out that I knew how to do it because I’d already done it with The Wheelhouse Review.

Nearly four years and 866 pieces (now, with this one, 867) later, it feels like time to close up our beloved blog. We plan to continue running pieces until May 1, our four year anniversary, and hope to have a big celebration to commemorate our work over the past few years. More details on that to follow–we’d love to have our readers there with us.

Thank you for reading our work. Thank you for sharing it with your friends and your family and on your Facebook pages. Thank you for letting our lives speak to you.

Written by Juliet Vedral

Juliet is The Wheelhouse Review’s Founder and Executive Editor. She is also the founder and editor of Perissos, a devotional blog. Juliet is also a regular contributor to Sojourners and The Body Politic. But if you don’t have a long attention span, just follow her on Twitter.