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Good Medicine

Alison Schaumburg -- March 27, 2011

I am suffering from Anne Lowenkopf-student-envy. At first, I felt it was a disease with no cure. At her standing-room-only memorial service I listened to sweet memories from her husband, nieces and a dear friend who traveled all the way from London, grateful former students, a poem that brought tears to the poet, and a chant by the Vendanta nuns, all soul mates.

These insights described a woman I desperately wished I'd known better: her reverence for animals, American Indians, plants, all that is good, her sincere spiritual searching. I had lived and backpacked in Northern Arizona, almost drowned in a flash flood in the Grand Canyon tributary and Indian village of Havasupai. So I find she has written a guidebook (her favorite) about the same area, Camping with the Indians. Our Volkswagens, hers with the Bluetick hound named Jedidiah Smith and mine with a Samoyed named Eve, may have passed each other on those great stretches of road, skies heavy with summer monsoon clouds. I felt real pain -- there was much we could have shared; I could have learned. My fever is one hundred and three degrees.

Moving here nine years ago, I spent my time raising my young daughter, writing poetry (mostly), learning to race sailboats and grow avocados, and trying to launch a modest sculpture career. I knew about Anne through mutual friends and I thought I might someday take her class. There was something otherworldly about Anne; a beautiful softness with a dash of wise intensity. Our paths crossed one July afternoon at a screening of the haunting movie, "Winter's Bone." Because it was my birthday I dragged my husband and daughter along. The empty theatre was soon graced by the tall, elegant couple, Anne and Shelly, like lovers on a date, holding hands and whispering, still so much to say, share. I like to think there, in the darkness of the theatre on Hitchcock Way, we shared that exquisite storytelling experience: the watery blue tint of the screen, the raw story and the enduring courage of the young star. That was the last time I saw her.

This January I finally embarked on my novel about the Pony Express and the Paiute Indian War. I deliciously discovered Anne is good medicine, even now. A spoonful of sugar, no less; though Anne might recommend local honey.

At her memorial service, I purchased the book so cleverly titled AnneThology, a collection of some of her student's work. Miraculously, in the back are her students' Dedications: enriching comments/tips/priceless lessons learned from Anne and then an essay: Anne -- On Writing and Writers. Typed and posted on the edge of my computer screen are several comments from those entries; very important guidelines I use for every page I write: What does your character want? What is his driving motivation? And especially: details, details, details. From what I've learned about Anne, she would call this a miracle too.

My disease is cured, somewhat. I will always feel a loss in not knowing Anne Lowenkopf sooner, but I wish to gratefully thank those who had the vision of her AnneThology. We who did not have the privilege of experiencing her magic in the classroom may still, through words, receive her wonderful instruction.

Einstein said this is the only question that truly matters, "Is the universe friendly?" Anne knew the answer -- a resounding "Yes!" And she would add, "Hooray!" So join the circus, be daring, take chances, and surprise yourself as Anne advised. And, be well.