by Marissa Yoo
“I frequently feel so moved in the middle of class at people’s bravery at what they’re sharing,” Gotham teacher Cindy House says. “I feel very honored just to be there and I’m so grateful to my students.” As a humorist and memoirist, talking to Cindy is itself a source of inspiration and a delight.
With just a dash of serendipity, Cindy got her start in writing while attending the School of the Art Institute in Chicago for visual arts.
“When I got to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, I realized that I was kind of a mediocre visual artist,” Cindy says, “I wasn’t dying to work all night like some of my peers.”
However, there she would meet her mentor, the memoirist David Sedaris.
“I started taking writing classes and doing independent studies with him,” Cindy says. “And I would write all day and not even know what time it was. I thought this is what I really should be doing.”
Fast forward and Cindy now frequently opens for Sedaris at his shows, even going on a book tour with him. When asked how she feels working with a past teacher of hers, Cindy says, “I think that any of those connections you make with other writers are so crucial because it’s such a lonely job. You’re writing by yourself and so it’s part of why I love teaching, I just think you need other people to know how to do this.”
After getting her MFA from Lesley University, Cindy began dividing her time between teaching there (in the MFA program’s nonfiction genre) and at Gotham. She’s successfully surrounded herself with students and has a fantastic view on being in a writing classroom:
“I mean, the world is crazy and on fire…where else can you go be with a bunch of total strangers and lower your guard, to be vulnerable and write about things in your life and have people support you?”
As a published author, Cindy also has a great understanding of what works for her as a writer and has not just one method to her madness. Aside from writing on a near-daily basis, she says, “I take a walk every day and there’s something about being in motion. So I’ll try to start the path with a problem, and it helps to work it through as I’m walking.”
And if that doesn’t work, she says, “I also trick myself a lot. I’ll decide I’m going to look for calls from small presses for certain topics and I’m going to make myself do them like assignments. Or I’ll set up a swap with a writer friend, and then I’ve got to come up with something.”
Cindy stresses the idea of writing not as a solitary act, but as something to be done within a community of fellow writers. “So I do these things to push myself,” Cindy says, “but it’s also good to have writers around you.”
She especially emphasizes this mindset as a teacher, telling her students:
“I wish that people could understand that they’re better than they think they are. I think that everyone should start from a place of, I'm doing this amazing, hard thing and I’m great just for doing that.”