Writing Coach Interview: Sarah Holden
Continuing our series of interviews with our marvelous writing instructors, here’s the latest installment: an interview with Sarah Holden!
Sarah had a magical childhood in Vermont, the fairy dust of which still informs much of her life. Now she lives in a home full of books with a view of the Rocky Mountains. She spent a year at Smith College and then transferred to The Juilliard School where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Oboe Performance. While in New York, she took poetry classes at Columbia and wrote and wrote and wrote amidst all the practicing and performing. She has been teaching in one form or another since she can remember: playing “school” as a child, private oboe lessons, Parent and Child music and art classes, elementary and middle schools in inner-NYC, classes to help public school teachers add the arts to their classrooms, Meet-the-Instrument assemblies, a decade of homeschooling her own children, homeschool co-op classes, and now online for Brave Writer.
What kind of a writer were you in high school?
I’ve always loved words. They feel like magic to me and I’ve enjoyed them from a place of reading, writing, and informal debating for as long as I can remember. Writing is a creative and emotional outlet in my life. I started journaling avidly at age 8 (yes, I still have those journals…and, no, you may not peek at them until I’m in my grave). I am very grateful that words and writing have always allowed me to process the good and bad parts of my days. I find that my thoughts are more free and forthcoming when I write them down and that the act of writing gives my oft-cluttered mind a means of organization. Of note, writing was especially helpful in the turbulent teen years when I felt lots of angst and overwhelm. When my mom and I had tense moments, I poured out my anger and confusion to her in letters. I’m sure these were difficult to read, but the act of writing those feelings down and getting them out of me was cathartic and lightening. I think they were helpful to my mom in finding a way to understand where I was coming from, too.
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You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
Bright mystery blue. I like to think that I’m open to people, experiences and knowledge but there will always be an inner piece of me that I keep to myself.
What is one of your favorite classroom moments?
Witnessing a moment when someone (a child, a parent) who has been struggling has a breakthrough of understanding and a surge in confidence. Getting to live that moment with others just can’t be beat.
What inspires you?
The ocean makes me feel whole. I’m working on a JF book that takes place on Cape Cod. I listen to Enya while I’m writing because her music sounds like the sea.
What are you known for?
I’m very proud of being known as a devoted mother.
What do you work toward in your free time?
My free time is very limited these days because I have a toddler. I long to work on stories (writing) and memory keeping (scrapbooks for my kids, though I’m way behind) when I’m free. I’m also looking forward to going back to school when she is a little older.
Which superpower would you like to have?
Being completely rested and rejuvenated without the need for sleep.
What is a superpower you already have?
I am usually quite good at picking up on other’s unspoken feelings.
Where would you go in a time machine?
I’d beam myself to the Prince Edward Island of the Anne of Green Gables books, making sure to steer into fictitious time instead of reality.
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?
In college I visited Key West with my family and was drawn to the beauty of the Banyan Tree. I’ve never forgotten that. The intricate complexity of its root system is a lot like people, I think. But if I’m true to my Vermont upbringing, I’d choose a Sugar Maple.
What was your favorite toy growing up?
A stuffed elephant named Sunny. Though, truthfully, I’m not sure I can call him a toy. He is real to me.
What’s the one food you could never bring yourself to eat?
Pickled Pigs Feet. My Granny made this as a “treat” sometimes and…just no, thank you.
Cake or pie?
Cake. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Always!
What book on your shelf is begging to be read?
I’ve just started Grit by Angela Duckworth and it is fascinating.
As someone with a background in music, how would you say music and writing are connected?
We hear often that “music is the universal language” and I believe this. Music has the magical power to express emotion and intention on a level that is above the kind of obvious meaning that we associate with speech.
As I said before, I love words. I love meaning but I also just love the sound and rhythm of words (I enjoy writing nonsense poetry that focuses solely on the sound of the words and not the meaning). In this sense, my experience of language is often like the way many of us experience music–aurally.
You’ve been involved in writing about the history of your state. What advice can you give to families who’d like to study their home states as part of their homeschool year?
A few years ago I spent a great deal of time researching my kids’ home state of Utah (I still consider Vermont my “home state” and probably always will…) and designing a course of study for our school year that focused on the big topics. It was SUCH fun and I plan to go back to my notes and write it into a curriculum for others to use. My goal was to keep up with math, basic writing (we used journals as the basis for a lot of our language arts) and reading but otherwise to delve deeply into things like Dinosaurs, Mountain Men and Native Americans, Pioneers, Geology, etc. We took some amazing field trips—Dinosaur National Monument, a Mountain Man Rendezvous reenactment (we went in costumes that I made), the Golden Spike (Transcontinental Railroad), the State Capitol. In hindsight, even though I meant for us to keep to basics only and focus on state studies, I wish I’d cleared our schedule even more (we were still doing lots of lessons and activities outside the home) so that we were fully immersed. There were a few fieldtrips that I’d planned that we just never got to because we were too busy. While I recognize that the best laid plans in homeschooling (and life) never happen just as we imagine them (at least that’s my experience!), the tweaks I’d make if I were to do that year over are all about letting there be more room in the schedule for the state studies and less time spent on other activities. Truly, that’s probably a tweak I’d make MOST years! Less really DOES end up being more.