Discover more from Beyond with Jane Ratcliffe
All Things Can Transform
The Body, Brain, & Books: Eleven Questions with Amanda Hinton
What are you reading now?
NYC ABCs and Moo, Baa, La La La! are currently in the rotation these days at bedtime. My daughter Evagene’s reading keeps me firmly grounded in the here and now. But I suppose you’re also wanting to know what I’m reading for myself, which is where I’ll confess that I am a solid book hopper. A few pages here, a few chapters there. Currently I’m making my way through Tamed by a Bear by, and before it got packed away in our cross-country move, I was reading Happiness is Overrated by Cuong Lu.
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
There wasn’t a lot of privacy in our home growing up, so even if I wanted to hide a book, I knew it was pointless. I did find a lot of kinship in Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. I have to admit I was a movie-over-the-book sort of kid. The sights and sounds were much more immersive for me and then worked like a gateway drug into books on paper. Once I could see it, then I could read it and imagine all sorts of offshoots.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
I don’t re-read much of anything front to back. But I do have an audio file that I replay from one of Pema Chodron’s live retreat recordings called “Noble Heart.” Her voice is very similar to my grandmother’s, and so I replay her work fairly often. This interview with Bill Moyers for his Faith and Reason series is something I used to play in the evenings in my late 20s and early 30s.
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
This is a tough one because “feeling most like me” is kind of elusive. But I know there are magical properties in a few baseball caps I own—when I put them on, I feel like I’m a young and carefree version of myself who looks like she understands fashion.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
I really undervalued the bounty in writing friendships for a long time. Perhaps because relationships drain a lot from me, but in the context of writing, they do seem to have a regenerative quality that’s really humbling me these days. I used to think that when my writing got good enough, then all the friends would show up and we’d laugh, clink our glasses of champagne and be merry. Or some such nonsense. But it’s actually seeming to be quite the opposite—the wisdom that keeps poking at me is this: I don’t have to wait for my writing to be good enough before I can enjoy the company of fellow writers.
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
Our recent home in Colorado bordered other large parcels of land. So just imagine pine trees folding in on one another, one after another, along with rock outcroppings in the forest, and that’s where our home sat, along one of the passageways for many deer families.
One night a few years ago when I was getting up the nerve to undergo IUI treatments to try to get pregnant, our motion-activated lights turned on outside. I walked into the living room and saw a white-tailed doe and her fawn standing close to one another, just a foot or two from my back deck and staring at me at eye level. Perhaps I was delirious or half-asleep, but I stood there and watched the mother drag her tongue across the neck and head of her fawn over and over again. And I burst into a bucket of real ugly crying tears. I know they heard me from inside the house because they paused to look up, their ears at full attention, but then they softened back again.
Something about the moment, their tenderness and the trust to be so close to me felt kismet. I felt so many messages flooding to me. Something like, “your baby is coming… she’s on her way…” As anyone will tell you after walking the road of infertility and child loss, placing your trust in anything can be somewhat impossible. But I do remember that mama doe and her babe. I do think they came through that night to let me know things would be changing soon.
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
Around 2013, I was looking to make a career move out of Colorado Springs and had some doors opening to Boston. The idea of belonging to the east coast made me euphoric—being part of an important marketing org, keeping company with intellectuals and driven people, it really was the stuff of my childhood dreams. There was also a person I admired and felt deeply drawn to who was Boston adjacent. And I was really excited about the possibility that he and I might see what was underneath all this long-distance chemistry.
There was such a rhythm in that season. Do you know what I mean?
A feeling of, “Yes, this way… keep walking this way… all the stars are aligning…”
And then wham!
I didn’t get the job. My friend went offline. And that same week, my landlords gave me a three-week notice that they were taking their house back.
So there I was, heartachey, broke and near-homeless—and I decided to take a leap. I quit my job, moved in with some friends and tried freelancing back in Texas. Less than a year later, I met Lee, my entrepreneurial software architect husband. And with his support, life looks dramatically different than what I could’ve ever imagined. We’ve had so many adventures and given each other space to try lots of different things that interest us.
I’ve thought back to my “Boston Dream” and imagined how differently things in my life could look if I’d actually gotten that dream job. And only in the last few years have I realized that sometimes “No” is actually the universe saying, “Just hold on.”
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
One of my stims is to “type on a keyboard” with my fingers in the air while someone is talking. Sometimes I’m typing their actual words, sometimes I’m just mimicking the sensation of ten fingers rising and falling. I don’t catch things very easily when I’m talking face to face and these hand gestures help fill in the gaps.
What are your hopes for yourself?
Big H Hope, I want to always be the person who notices the quiet, forgotten people.
Little h hope, I’d really love to figure out how to attend writing retreats, either as a participant or a facilitator. They seem very elusive and hard to pin down to me. Like something the cool kids instinctually understand and belong to. I worry about the pacing, the auditory nature of them and missing out on the value because I might need some sort of translator. But I’m hopeful the right retreat is out there, and if anyone knows of one, I’d love to hear about it!
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
When I graduated from college in 2007, I had about $60,000 in student loans. Panicking about how I would start making the payments, I began searching not for jobs in editing or writing, but in nannying. It was a mainstay of my high school and college years, and I wasn’t feeling confident about my chances to find a job in town.
Thanks to an online au pair agency, I was put in touch with a really beautiful Jewish family in New Jersey. They described their family of six using terms that made my inner 9-year-old squeal—they said their previous au pairs were part of the family, that I’d be invited to accompany their family on holidays, on trips to New York City for Broadway shows and so on. I was one phone call away from being introduced to the children when the mother—I forget her name now—asked me about why I was looking to be an au pair now, right out of college. I can’t remember what I said to her, but I remember what she said to me:
“You know, Amanda, I think you’d be the perfect fit for our family, but you just graduated with your degree. And I really feel like if you don’t pursue writing and editing, you’ll really live to regret it one day. And I don’t want to be the reason you don’t pursue a writing career.”
I was disappointed, but I also knew she was wise in what she said. Her kindness helped push me closer toward the world of publishing and where I am today.
What’s a guiding force in your life?
That we’re basically good. That we all have access to basic sanity. And from that ground of goodness and sanity, all things can transform.
I was raised to believe that we were all rotten, born sinful and that we just needed to grab onto “the right kind of grace” to find some relief. Most western religions are built on this premise. But after a lot of study and experiences, I discovered even the “rightly labeled” grace can be hard to pin down. It seemed to always have this exception for me feeling OK about myself. Like, “Here’s some grace, but let’s make sure you remember you’re still a piece of shit first, OK?” The way grace is doled out felt a lot like an abusive relationship to me.
So perhaps I didn’t have much to lose by giving the sanity-first lens a chance. I used to worry quite a bit that if I didn’t stay in the ground of “basic rottenness” it would create some sort of arrogance or self pride. I took the leap and began testing it. I was surprised to discover, so far anyways, that quite the opposite effect showed up. I began to soften to myself, my shortcomings, my autistic nature, my social confusion, my meltdowns. And over time that softness has slowly rippled out to others around me, people in my family who have hurt me and so on. Here, in the basic ground of sanity and goodness, everything, writing especially, softens and becomes more workable.
***publishes , a burgeoning newsletter that explores belonging, expression, and the heart and craft of writing. Her own writing pursuits are interspersed with caring for her daughter Evagene and helping writers say the thing only they can say in this world. Amanda is a seasoned editor and once ran a small self-publishing org before becoming a certified meditation instructor. Twice a month she hosts Ask an Editor discussion threads, where writers can enjoy one-on-one editorial guidance.
For more bite-sized questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and transformative essays, subscribe to Beyond.
Meet me in the comment section
Do you have a Big H Hope and a Little h hope for yourself? Has being turned down from a job led you to a better place than you could’ve imagined? Do you ever feel pressure to get your writing to a “good enough” place before you can enjoy the companionship of other writers?