“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
When my youngest was attending his last year of preschool during the 2019-2020 academic calendar, I began making plans to return to the workforce and focus on writing once he entered Kindergarten. He and his siblings would finally be on the same schedule and I envisioned a new start. I began by journaling daily. I built creative momentum by cracking open the spine to one of the guides on writing I own, answering a prompt, freewriting for 15 minutes, trying again the next day. This method was a solid start, yet, my writing felt jerky and disjointed, my stories seemed stale and stuck, and I was rusty and rigid with an ink pen in my hand.
Writing is mostly an isolated art, but I craved community and connection with other writers. And I knew my work needed critiquing to improve. I longed for a retreat devoted to writing. During a lull one gray afternoon in January, I searched online and, to my delight, discovered Anne Lamott’s annual workshop in Marin County, CA had openings. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from one of my author-heroes! I moved my fingers over the keys and calculated the cost of a plane ticket for a weekend in May. Found a cute and reasonably priced cottage on Airbnb. Got the thumbs-up from my husband. Started re-reading Bird by Bird.
Then the pandemic hit. Once shutdowns ensued, my plans fell by the wayside and I was crushed. Life changed overnight, but I still yearned to write. I thought I had to ignore the call, once again. I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to take the time to write for hours on end when so many immediate and pressing concerns needed my attention. One evening, after a harrowing day of virtual learning that ended with many tear-stricken faces, I sat down in the office chair with a cup of chamomile tea beside me. I switched on my late father’s Tiffany desk lamp and as my laptop warmed up, I lectured myself: You have a choice. Make the best of this time. Life will always be uncertain. Write amidst the chaos. Carve out the time. Show your kids what you’re about. Demonstrate for them how to chase a dream. And then, I reminded myself: “Don’t piss your life away,” as my father often advised. And then, I got busy. I proceeded to search for an online course that would replace my California dream.
The instantaneous beauty of the internet was good to me and my timing was impeccable. I discovered my tribe in The HerStories Project, “a community for midlife women who write.” I began with their “5-Day Personal Essay Challenge” and simultaneously enrolled in their May section of “Small Steps in Uncertain Times,” a course geared toward Gen X women trying to make sense of an upside-down world by writing. Three weeks turned into six, then three more, and soon I found myself writing inside that special community into the third week of August. When my children returned to in-person learning in September, I kept writing. A year later, I’m still writing, still a part of that vibrant, responsive, inspirational community of writers who have taught me so much by their brave and beautiful stories, and who have been exceedingly generous and compassionate in their responses to my own.
Together, in the emotional trenches of COVID-19, my fellow workshop writers and I fought against social distance and breeding loneliness. We connected through words and story, spoke our truths about the pandemic, shared the intimate aspects of our present lives and lingering past. We gifted each other glimpses of greatness. We quenched our creative thirst for stories that matter. All of us joined together in an uncertain time, at exactly the right time, committed to writing together, sharing our tales, and absolutely not pissing life away.
I’m excited to share the start of a piece I wrote during one of the workshops last year turned into a personal essay, one of 31 featured in the forthcoming anthology, The Pandemic Midlife Crisis: Gen X Women on the Brink.
I am honored to be among the contributing writers featured in this collection. I also want to thank Jessica and Stephanie for their intuition, insight, and guidance and for creating such a welcoming space to write and connect.
A special pre-order of the anthology is open now and runs through July 15th, 2021, and the book will be available in August.
(Please note, the pre-order link here uses my affiliated one. I will receive a small commission if you purchase The Pandemic Midlife Crisis using the link I’ve provided.)
One last thing. I’d love to know:
What has been your greatest triumph or silver lining that has emerged all because of the pandemic?
“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life