January 2023 I will be 75 years old.
I’ve been writing since second grade. Fifth grade poetry club. Junior high editor of a mimeographed journal. High school creative writing club. College took the most serious turn when I wanted to read books about me, while at the same time being told writing about race wasn’t trendy. But Helen Reddy told me I could do anything and I did. I wrote myself into existence. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I was complicated. Connecting the dots was a puzzle where the lines and the pieces didn’t fit. But eventually, my writing got better and my life got better and I understood who I was and why.
Along the way people touched my life and I might have touched theirs. But I was an introvert and I lacked self-confidence . Every public interaction was painful whether I was teaching a class or reading poetry to an audience. Sometimes a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey helped settle my nerves and I probably looked like I knew what I was doing, or not. Mostly the stress was unbearable. Before teaching a class, I told myself think of the pay check, think of the pay check. And I prayed.
Despite my insecurities, I earned an MFA (earned all A’s), taught workshops in the community, and was an adjunct professor at two universities for 20 some years. Sometimes my students knew more about writing, about literature than I did. Often, I felt small in the classroom, students hovering over me, looking down at me–and I couldn’t wait for class to be over. I know, I judged myself too harshly. I have a long list of accomplishments. A few students have kept writing and have stayed in contact with me over the years.
I felt most comfortable one-on-one, most useful. I enjoyed mentoring and giving manuscript feedback.
All this to say that my last book, Septuagenarian, was to be my swan song. Next thing I know I’m editing a second edition of How Dare We! Write: a multicultural creative writing discourse. If you ask me which of my books do I feel best about, it would be the anthology HDWW. It was incredible working with 24 writers, six more with the second edition. But, I want to retire.
Where is the party, the balloons, the cake, the pats on the back—the gifts! When is the last day, the final good-bye? Yes, twice a year I might get a royalty check for a few books still being circulated, but I stopped teaching because I taught evening classes, in the midst of Minnesota winters, and finally my night vision said “enough.” I stopped going to, and participating in readings except, sometimes, the few venues that held afternoon events. I ask myself, is this all a false narrative? When did I stop to exist as a writer? And yet, have I? Here I am writing this blog post.
I don’t like talking on the phone. I only have lengthy phone conversations with a few friends because they are out of state, out of the country. I’m fine with texting, I like texting. Email is okay. Social media tends to be, well social (but it’s community, and that’s why I participate). If I write anything serious, it’s ignored, but a photo will sometimes get 50 or more likes. I have a FB page dedicated to writing. Mostly I share what other writers are doing, but no one, seldom anyone, is paying attention.
Is anyone reading this blog post?
This isn’t a pity party. But as I re-organize the few books I have yet to recycle, the autographed ones, the ones where my name is mentioned in the acknowledgments—the books by local authors and writers I know, the books that turned my life around–and my books, I think where will these books end up when I die? Who will read them? Who will cherish them? Who will understand the significance of them? Possibly, most likely—no one. And I continue to shred the unpublished poems, the stories, the interviews as if it is better that I do it than someone searching thru my past as a responsibility, as a curiosity, as a joke, or heaven forbid as let’s celebrate her now that she is dead.
I think the time for a celebration is now!
When I was laid off from a menial, but wonderfully rewarding job after almost ten years, I got gifts. Gift cards to Goodwill and Treasure Island. My co-workers knew me. They said goodbye. They retired me. There was cake.
I will always write, I will always be a writer even if it’s just a sloppy first draft blog post, a throw- away poem here, a book review there, a comment on social media. But there won’t be another book, another anthology, probably not another reading. But I will always do the little I can to support other writers, especially writers I know, whether reading a manuscript or just buying an e-book or listening in to a Zoom reading. I know it’s not much, but that’s what I’ve enjoyed most during my writing life, not the writing but the community, the friends I have made, the people I have met.
I’ve done a lot. I Google my name to remind myself I exist. I (used to) update my resume every new year. I’m not a celebrity. But writing isn’t a popularity contest, at least not for me. Writers write for a variety of reasons. I wrote to discover who I am and add to a library of stories that was at one time nonexistent. I did that. Now I want cake.
But where will I go when I die, the essence of me? My sister, keeper of my archive-of anything I’ve written or was written about me, banned me, burned all my books, said I hope your writer friends take care of you. You’re no longer my sister. Not one of my three sisters talk to me. Honesty can be debilitating. What is it about being a writer that makes you so vulnerable, so hated, so loved, so invisible, so seen?
What makes you not be able to retire, to stop being a writer?
December 10, 2022