Autumn Stephens, CA

Critically Acclaimed Writer

Empathy, curiosity, and that crucial second or third cup of coffee fuel Autumn’s ongoing career as a memoirist and a journalist. A Modern Love columnist for The New York Times and author of the Wild Women book series, she received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Stanford University and for many years led healing writing workshops for people living with cancer. “Everyone has a fascinating story to tell,” she says. Autumn is also crazy about composing epic to-do lists, reading in bed, and enjoying time with her young adult sons.

As a Story Terrace writer, Autumn interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

An Unexpected Gift

The last thing I wanted was to take piano lessons.

But one afternoon, I came home from third grade and discovered that a sleek Yamaha upright had been delivered to our home. It dominated the living room like an intimidating guest, its horizontal ladder of black-and-white keys gleaming like something I wasn’t meant to touch. I touched one anyway, poking it with the tip of my index finger, and a mellow sound hung briefly in the air.

“Aren’t you excited!” my mother said, beaming. “And guess what? Tomorrow you’ll have your first lesson!” Truth is, she would have loved to change places with me. She had come up in the Depression, scrimping and saving; her toes still curled under from years of stuffing her feet into too-small shoes. Piano lessons had been a luxury she could only dream of.

I, however, had zero interest. I had heard other kids complain about the horrors of having to practice. And I sensed, from my mother’s bright eagerness, that some heavy burden of expectation was about to fall on me. But in those days, a child did not say no to a parent. “Thank you, Mom,” I said.

I went on to study the piano for nine years, slowly falling in love with composers like Bach and Beethoven and Debussy, and my own increasing skill at calling forth the piano’s rich, expressive tones. My teacher, it turned out, required only 30 minutes of practice a day. But as the years passed, and my ability grew, I would sometimes find myself at the piano for two or three hours, absolutely absorbed, working a single passage until I got it right.

Now, it’s been decades since I sat down to practice. But almost every day, I sit down at a different kind of keyboard, the one on my laptop, and write. A “writing practice,” some people call this. My fingers move easily across the keys, and while the words don’t always flow like a Mozart sonata, I stick with the task until I’m satisfied. Thanks to the music lessons I never wanted, I have a bone-deep appreciation for the power—and the pleasure—of a sustained focus.

And when my own son started third grade—yes, I signed him up for piano lessons.

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