I learned a lot about life through death.
My grandmother, a grant writer and school board member for the ROCORI school district in Central Minnesota, had been my writing mentor. We spent hours together at my grandparents’ house, where the smell of coffee filled the air, public radio played softly in the background and editions of the Wall Street Journal were strewn about the kitchen table. She always greeted me warmly, ready to give me feedback on the poetry and stories I wrote.
She meant everything to me. She taught me to be worldly and compassionate. She was the first in my family to call my writing a gift. She even taught me to drive and introduced me to my first latte.
In the middle of those formative years, my grandma was rushed from one panic-stricken doctor visit to another. It soon became clear there was no way out of the hell that is pancreatic cancer. She died at 59, years before retirement, years before her other children would marry and start families, years before she could reach more of her own dreams.
Her death devastated our entire family.
I was just 15. To heal and cope, I disappeared into my poetry and filled piles of notebooks with emotional journal entries. I also created zines for my loved ones, who appreciated the distraction from our family’s pain.
Since then, I’ve come to know storytelling as a powerful way to do good in the world. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in English (I also minored in print journalism and studied Dutch for two and a half years). After writing my way around a variety of Minnesota newspapers, websites and even some magazines, I now work as a general assignment multimedia reporter for a Twin Cities-based company that publishes eight weekly newspapers. My writing appears in several of them.
After I graduated from college, one of my mentors — a Pulitzer-winning journalist — told me I should find something else besides journalism that I love. (For him, it’s music.) That would bring balance to my life and depth to my work, he advised.
A year or two after he said that, I fell deeply in love with yoga and the healing arts. My mentor was right — the practice made my life better and it has given me a new perspective. My love for truth-seeking emerges both in my work in journalism and in my practice as a yogini. I have been teaching yoga at various Minnesota studios on and off since 2011. I write about yoga and the healing arts over at my other website, brittjohnsenyoga.com. (By the way, I created that site using Squarespace. It turns out I also really love creating websites.)
If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s this: follow your heart and your dreams and you can’t go wrong. Your path could take you to unexpected places but it is entirely worth it.