Writing to Riding: The Carnegie Center Connection


The other night, my friend Laurie Brock shared a few sunset pictures on Facebook that instantly transported me twenty-one years back to some warm, fuzzy feelings. It wasn’t the vibrant color nor the silhouetted trees that evoked the nostalgia. It was location. Laurie shot her gems from the premises of the Carnegie Center in downtown Lexington. Regaining my senses, I quickly liked her post and replied something to the effect that, “I love the Carnegie Center! It’s my Hogwarts.”

I mean that. If you’re not conversant in the fictional world of Harry Potter, this is the revered institution of learning attended by J.K. Rowling’s young characters. Officially Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it is where young wizards and witches, by invitation, learn, grow, and discover more about themselves. Essentially, who they are, their talents, and who they might become. The Carnegie Center was all that to me.

(Cue the overused introductory sentence.)

It all began innocently enough.

While working on my Masters in Education at the University of Kentucky, I applied to attend the Center’s month long, seven hours a day, five days a week, Summer Writing Institute (aka The Bluegrass Writing Project). I passed the initial, extensive and thorough application round and was invited for an interview. Thank goodness they included a parking pass. (Those of you familiar with parking around the Gratz Park area of downtown Lexington are nodding right now.)

I had never been to the Center before. As I stood at the information area inside the venerable structure, gazing in wonder at my surroundings – rich paintings on the walls, light filtering throughout the place, comfortable looking sofas, and books, books, books – my senses absorbing the feeling that life-changing knowledge was contained therein, the little voice inside my head affirmed, “You can learn something here.”

Twenty or so candidates would be chosen. Despite the feeling that I had knocked it out of the ballpark with the interview, the conviction in me that the voice must be appeased created a sense of anxiety. I just had to get in.

A few weeks later, I received my letter of acceptance. (Sadly, Potter fans, it came by regular mail, not by owl.) I found myself positively giddy with the promise of new adventure. And what an adventure it turned out to be! In four weeks time, my “writing fellows” and I honed our teaching skills in the areas of language and literature. We bonded through group sharing and activities; we read, researched, and we wrote, wrote, wrote. It was here, through the Friday afternoon sharing of our writing, I discovered my penchant for fiction. It was here that I discovered my words could hold a group of my peers in rapt attention. It was here I discovered that I was a WRITER!  Prior to the Institute, I had no inkling. Thank you, Carnegie Center!  Total Hogwartishness.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with “riding?”

Let’s come back to the other night and Laurie’s post, my traveling back through the portal of time, and then recalling the rich memories. Those “writing fellows” with whom I bonded?  One of them was Anne Buchanan, who, at the time, was teaching Science at Dunbar High School in Lexington. I was teaching English at East Jessamine Middle in Nicholasville. We taught different subjects at different levels in different school districts in different counties. But we were “writing fellows, Bluegrass Writing Institute, 1998” – and that is a bond that transcends subjects, levels, place and time.

Four years later, Anne and I found ourselves teaching at Southern Middle School in Lexington. It mattered not that we hadn’t seen each other since the last evening of the Institute, almost all of us having met that night, along with our significant others, at a Lexington Karaoke bar for a final toast (and a few songs) to our month of togetherness. It was four years later, but we were “writing fellows” and now we were colleagues in the same building. Totally cool.

So cool that one day, not long after the school year began, Anne asked, “Hey, Karen…would you like to learn how to ride a horse?”

Without hesitation, I answered, “Absolutely!”

A night or so later, Anne introduced me to a bullpen, a lunge rope, an English saddle, and a dead broke horse named Pork Chop. I posted at a trot for the first time.

Writing to riding.  Just like that.

But maybe never if not for the magic of The Carnegie Center.

A shout-out for posting those pictures, Laurie.

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