Writing Life with Possibility

Thirteen years ago, I began thinking I should write my memoirs. I had a vague notion I would pen something entertaining, a page-turner that might resonate with women widowed at a young age who resorted to online dating. I needed a creative outlet for my writing skills after my career as a reporter ended, rather abruptly, but not unexpectedly.

Of course, what I really wanted to write about was John. I learned that writing Again In a Heartbeat: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Dating Again and its sequel Morning at Wellington Square offered a way to heal, a way to look at what was cracked and broken in my life, as well as what brought joy and fulfillment. I turned to fiction with A Portrait of Love and Honor and its sequel And the Memory Returns. I kept returning to the same themes of love and loss, honor and dishonor, and a woman’s journey.

What more is there to say? Why keep writing? Now I write about traveling alone to Cape May, New Jersey, this “old school” town frozen in the beauty of a 19th-century poem. Ghosts of lovers and old people and of dogs who crossed that rainbow bridge stroll the sidewalks. Hydrangeas and roses bloom in profusion against porticos and verandas.  I don’t want to make conversation, smile and be available to another person because I like to think about what I’m going to write and let it sink into my thoughts. I take in the sky and the clouds above me, the cool blue sea and waves swirling toward the beach with its fragrance of salt water.

For breakfast, I sit under an outdoor umbrella. I order pancakes drowned in raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. The butter is delicious and so is the maple syrup and freshly squeezed orange juice. I’m the only person eating alone. There’s a man who sits by himself with his Shih Tzu on a leash, but soon a woman joins him. After breakfast, I stroll through the shops. A sign captures my attention. My Grandkids Have Paws…funny and too true.

The writing life is alive with possibility, discovery, and reflection on a new morning.

When I return from the beach, I’m greeted with a surprise—a nest in the magnolia tree outside my kitchen window. A cardinal shrieks, scaring off a squirrel. His bright red plumage streaks across an azure sky. I look up at the nest and see the female cardinal, wings aflutter. Life will go on. The birds don’t worry. Why should I? For today, I’ll keep writing. Everything is so alive.

The Motherhood Contract

For years I swore I had no interest in becoming a mother. I guess I heard the biological clock ticking because I got pregnant at thirty-three, drowning out years of declaring that I would travel, write the Great American Novel, and never, ever, be tied down to changing diapers. Then, one day, I turned to my husband. “I want to have a baby. Is that alright with you?”

Photo by Susan Weidener

We had been married five years … five years of luxuriating in lazy Sunday mornings after making love and working The New York Times crossword in bed … five years of traveling to Yosemite and the seaside cliffs of Big Sur … five years of dawdling over candlelight dinners. But, I suppose five years wasn’t that long when you consider that we met and married within a year of meeting.

 “So, do you want to have a baby?”

John looked at me. “I’m happy just being with you, but if you want a baby, sure, let’s do it.”

And, just like that, I became a mother. Not once, but twice over the next four years, the first time the same age my mother was when she had me. It beat turning twenty-one and becoming “legal” … it beat walking down the aisle and saying “in sickness and in health” … it beat turning sixty and trying to convince myself it’s the new “middle age.” Talk about a milestone.

Motherhood, a friend once said to me, is “a contract in perpetuity.” It doesn’t end one day when your son or daughter turns eighteen and walks out the front door to attend college. It doesn’t end when they turn twenty-two and start their careers. It doesn’t end when they bring home crises and you feel useless, knowing this is a journey they need to travel on their own.

Which brings me to my mother. There was much about HER contract with motherhood that took me years to appreciate, and sadly, only after her death. She rarely offered advice and when she did it was “try marriage at least once” and “shave your legs on your wedding night” … but she packed school lunches day in and day out for me and my brother. She planted zinnias and cooked a mean rhubarb stew. She drank cocktails as she saw her possibilities dwindle — this after working as a babysitter, then as a clerk in the local gift shop, and, finally, at the John Wanamaker store selling women’s coats. In her fifties and without a college degree and no work experience (other than housewife and mother), this was all she could get … the price she paid to fulfill her “contract.”

Those lessons — her lessons — served me well as I focused on reading and educating myself as a way to escape a similar fate.

Yet, what mother hasn’t put her ambitions on hold? What mother hasn’t left the office early to pick a child up from soccer practice, attend a parent-teacher conference, or rush home to make that school play? Being a single mother made it that much harder. I wanted to be a good mother. We carved pumpkins at Halloween and dyed eggs at Easter, I took them to see Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables at the Academy of Music. I was never going to be that star reporter at The Washington Post or write the Great American Novel, anyway. Motherhood was harder. It meant time to grow up. It meant teaching trust, integrity, loyalty, and faithfulness and trying your best to model that behavior. It meant discipline, teaching that actions have consequences, and taking away privileges. Learning and teaching life skills, wrapped up in the wisdom of the ages, by the proverbial seat of your pants. The lessons we teach should require a doctorate in philosophy and psychology, but we do the best we can.

As I look back on it, who would have imagined that when I first held those squirming little bodies, powdered those bottoms, and changed those diapers, my sons — and I — would travel the world together?

But we did. Travel that exceeded my wildest expectations. Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, France, England, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, Nepal, Egpyt, and Morocco.

When I introduce myself to people, I talk about my writing, but I also talk about the bigger part of my life. My sons. Writing the Great American Novel or the Great American Memoir could hardly have been as challenging or rewarding as this. So, what if I sound just like a million other proud moms? This is who I am. A mom who holds close to her heart that “contract in perpetuity” she made so long ago.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the courageous women who made and honored that “contract” to do the best they could for their children. Do you have a memory of being a mother or of your mother you would like to share?

Takeaways From Nature and Writing

A green and gray gauze drapes the hillside of our retreat grounds in a cool April mist. Horses and lambs graze on a meadow not far from where white dogwoods and a catfish pond lead to marshlands. The retreat house has wooden rafters, and a basketful of old birds’ nests gracing the kitchen countertop. What might have been the shell of a snapping turtle leans up against a wall and above that a sign with faded lettering Pennypacker Farm. The smell of a wood-burning stove adds a Thoreauvian-like ambiance to our Writing in Nature Workshop.

Photograph by Sue Maron

If people can take home at least one useful thing, a dab of inspiration, a writing prompt that gets the pen moving, or a conversation to remember then the day is a success, I think.

But you never know if what you like and admire in a writer is another writer’s cup of tea, so to speak. I’ve selected the Cat Stevens recording of Where Do the Children Play and excerpts from the May Sarton journals on living a life of solitude among nature’s quietude and splendor.

And this quote from Esquire Magazine: Nature writing—in which the beauty of the natural world is used as a way of exploring inner turmoil—has enjoyed something of a commercial and critical renaissance in recent years. It’s not hard to see why. Our obsession with technology has started to feel more like a trap, making the great outdoors seem like an appealing balm. Meanwhile, the encroaching disaster of climate change is forcing us to reevaluate our relationship with nature, and maybe even stop taking it for granted.

In her blog Wings, Worms, and Wonder, author and nature journalist Kelly Johnson explains, “Nature writing opens us up to creative flow. It makes us slow down and become quiet observers. It gives us a place to assimilate our experiences and to ask questions for later answers…And it clears a way for our senses to wonder and bloom.”

I ask the group who have braved pretty lousy weather to come to a rather remote and rural location and devote a day to their writing: What did you bring today? What are you hoping to take away? It’s standard writing workshop fare but it never fails to elicit some pretty nice responses.

  • I wanted a day to focus and write and I found it.
  • I love being around other writers and hearing what they have to say.
  • I find being around other creatives energizing because it gets my juices flowing.
  • I’ve learned many ways to write about nature and share it.


Photos by Sue Maron

For my part, as a former journalist, I share a piece I wrote that contains a nudge of activism to stop egregious development and ruination of the landscape where I live. Activism is good when it comes to writing, I think. So are the memories of why nature plays a part in who we are. Childhood memories, the woods behind my house, and the black snakes that swam in the meandering creek leading to swampy marshes come back to me.


We begin the read-around.

Memories of a parent carefully tending his tomato garden, a young wife and mother raking leaves in the fall, and an old woman cherishing her flowerboxes resonate as we sip coffee and eat delicious homemade brownies.

“I haven’t taken a writing workshop in years,” someone says. “I’m taking away being inspired by all of you and continuing to write about nature.”

I think about that and I feel inspired too to keep on writing. I am now entering my 13th year of this creative writing journey. The Women’s Writing Circle coupled with publishing and marketing my novels and memoirs has proved fruitful…what they call an “encore career” although sometimes I think ministry is more accurate. So much more is behind me than in front of me, but that doesn’t stop me.

When we take a break, I walk outside and reflect in the rain, which is pretty much a drizzle now. How much longer? How many more workshops?

For now, I listen to the writers share their nature stories through haiku or memoirs … I listen to the conversations and trills of laughter at lunch … observe them as they return from a stroll through surrounding marshlands, and hear how they loved it.

In an isolating world, I take away the fellowship and community. And, always, the writing.

Photo by Susan Weidener

Writing to Save a Landscape from Ruin

Some things in life have a serendipitous way of happening. Like planning a workshop on nature writing as I am this coming Saturday and at the same time dealing with a mega warehouse proposal in my own backyard. Yes, it is supposedly Amazon and the warehouse is a staggering 1.9 million square feet with over 300 loading docks for tractor-trailers although don’t hold me to that as I’ve lost count. Over 230 acres of farmland are in the developer’s crosshairs. People have rallied holding fundraisers and showing up en masse at township and school board meetings, voicing protest, using their two minutes to express a slice of life journey as to why they bought here, why they love the landscape, why it’s a good place to raise a family.

Bog turtle by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Some next to the proposed warehouse site survive on wells, others say bog turtles (an endangered species) live near the high-value creek which meanders near banks of wildflowers and honeysuckle…others, like me, remember driving past the open spaces, breathing in the fresh air as she picked up her small sons from their elementary school not far away.

When I first moved here 35 years ago, beautiful trees graced either side of the two-lane highway above my street. Now the trees are but a sad memory, the highway widened to four lanes—five in some places—and rush hour turns the highway into the Indy 500. School buses that once stopped at the top of the street are now forced to drop off children in front of their houses on our little cul-de-sac.

But here’s the good thing about being a writer. We get a chance to use our skills to voice our opinions, hopefully in a cogent way keeping in mind concern for the reader by crafting something understandable and relatable. Townships hold the key to zoning and school board officials (who sold the property to the developer) will follow their own greedy ineptitude but we have a voice to appeal to the greater humanity in all of us. A platform to try and save a landscape.

The nature writing workshop comes at a time when the countryside where I live is blossoming with greenery, a lesson in nature’s magnificent renewal and forgiveness of us for attempting to pave her over with abominations like that warehouse. I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which author Elizabeth Gilbert calls “a hymn to the world.”

It’s the way Kimmerer captures beauty from the smallest strawberry plant to the towering cedar that inspires how I think about the landscape and my love of nature. I’ve lived pretty much in the same area of Pennsylvania my entire life. As a reporter, I covered the unceasing development of asphalt paving over farmlands. Now, in my retirement, I’m witnessing the current hyper-construction of condos, condos, everywhere where people are jammed in like so many sardines rising to the sky. When is enough enough?

As a child, I grew up next to woods where black snakes swam in the creek in summer and monkey vines glittered in ice-covered splendor in winter. As my friend said recently referring to all the development, traffic, and obnoxious people that seem to come with it, “This is why people move off the grid to Wyoming or Montana.”

Indeed, I have had enough of the traffic, the noise, and the pollution of this once-beautiful place. Still, I hold out hope that a meadow of grass not far down the road from where I live offers respite at least this spring, if not next. But who knows when that place of solitude will surrender to the bulldozer?

Tree stump, Rushock churchyard by Philip Halling is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

At our Saturday writing workshop, I look forward to sharing our reflections on nature, its place in our lives, and how it offers lessons about who we are and what we value. Maybe, too, a little activism will permeate our writing that the gifts of this earth can’t be squandered without a price. And so, I write this, my little cry of protest and testimony of remembrance.

How about you? Have you witnessed a beloved landscape that is no more?

Seeking Answers in the Holy Land

It’s often been said that you’re a writer even when you’re not writing. Writers take in the scents, and the sounds of a bustling marketplace, an old man’s weathered and lined face as he smokes and sells his wares in a Middle Eastern souk.

Bougainvillea blooming along the banks of the Sea of Galilee

So it was with me after completing a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I am still absorbing the unfathomable, the infinite, the indefinite. As we traveled from Jerusalem to Ramallah, to Galilee, and east to the Golan Heights with its sweeping vistas of Syria, it wasn’t surprising that Israel evoked more questions than answers. This land suffers from strife and conflict like no other. From the minarets where Islamic prayer chants suffuse the air with an eerie sound like grief, to the Hasidic Jews pushing their shopping carts along the streets of the West Bank, to the hordes of Christian tourists from as far as Uganda and South America seeking to touch the untouchable, the world’s melting pot is within your grasp.

Being where Jesus walked and brought his ministry to the world seemed at times surreal. He was a figure I had seen since childhood immortalized in stained glass windows holding a lamb or symbolized by a crucifix above the church altar. Unlike some of my fellow Christians, I’m not certain I ever truly felt his presence except for when I looked into the faces of the suffering or wept at my husband’s funeral and felt the comfort of his touch. But who was he? Here, I felt the life of the real person come alive.

I walked down to the Jordan River and renewed my baptismal covenant in the waters where he was baptized, trod the pathway brimming with bougainvillea to the Galilee where he turned a few fishes and loaves of bread into feeding thousands, visited the cave where he may have been born, took a cable car to the top of the mountain in Jericho where a rocky ledge enshrines where he sat for forty days in loneliness and what must have been fear. I felt the presence of his mother in the church dedicated to her in Nazareth. I saw the place where he was crucified entombed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Why had it all been so hard? Even the entire country seemed made out of limestone, a hard unyielding surface of smooth and jagged rock. Why had he been tested so many times, and suffered so much?

At the same time as I was seeking spiritual answers, a world crisis was brewing as Israelis took to the streets in protest of their government’s plan to overturn its judiciary. Inside the West Bank, I walked along the wall separating the Palestinians from the Israelis, a concrete monolith of apartheid, for there is no other word. So little had changed since Jesus lived here. Strife remained paramount. The world isn’t always black and white, and the preconceived notions I had about this place became meaningless. As I visited the Western Wall, once known as the Wailing Wall, praying next to Jewish women, I realized I knew nothing.

Yet, perhaps it was the church service I attended in Ramallah a Palestinian city in the central West Bank that left me with one answer, at least. The service was conducted both in Arabic and English. As we celebrated the Eucharist in both languages, the Muslim prayers from the minarets outside our little stone church echoed as a point/counterpoint to the divergent beliefs of mankind … almost as if we were one community of believers. This was a moment to cherish.

Later, outside in a cool rain in the church courtyard, we sipped Turkish coffee. It didn’t matter that we were thousands of miles from home. This service, this fellowship was happening everywhere on this Sunday around the world. And it will continue so for another two thousand years, just as the Muslim prayer chants call its worshippers and the Western Wall my Jewish sisters. It’s not up to us to understand the mystery that is God, only to embrace it.

In Search of New Stories

At all times in my life, when I felt most down or hopeless, writing has saved me. By pouring it out on the page, I found solace and if I was lucky a little enlightenment too. The other “antidote” has been travel. The world is a journey to learn more about yourself and others. The moon over the Mediterranean and the bleached sand of the Sahara inspire poets and mystics. The Buddha gazing out upon the mountainside, the pungent incense of the temple to the gods so that you find peace and gratitude when you return.

After And the Memory Returns was published this August, my writing, except for blogging, has been at a standstill. I didn’t set aside an hour a day to write, I wrote only when the spirit moved me which felt like listening to the faint melody of a piano. I walked my dog through sunlit winter fields, read a bestseller, washed my hair, and did the laundry.

The time I went packing had arrived…time for a change of scenery in search of new stories.

That’s why I’m leaving tomorrow for the Holy Land. I had wanted to do this trip for some time and, of course, when the opportunity came up years ago I didn’t because “life” got in the way. So now, with pen and notebook in my backpack, a good novel for the plane, and the support of fellow pilgrims, I’m off to Jerusalem. Walking through Old Jerusalem the winds whisper that joy is just on the other side. The Lord is my shepherd

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

As Bob Dylan once said, “wait only for my boot heels to be wandering.” No journey is complete without the soul’s desire to explore and search for meaning. I’m a writer and I can’t stop writing. I admit it. There are always more stories to write here along the writer’s way.

Will AI ‘Authors’ Become the Norm?

This morning I woke up to an article in the New York Post about “authors” using ChatGPT to write and sell books on Amazon. The artificial intelligence tool builds off simple writing prompts and can write a book in under four hours. Give it a topic…let’s say a children’s story about two dogs who are best friends and save a farm and its animals from being sold. Presto. A story and illustrations are “created.” Everyone who wants to write a book can now call themselves an author. Apparently, the “boom” is in e-books. This got me thinking…will AI authors take over the already saturated marketplace and the competition for readers? Will this become the new norm in the burgeoning self-publishing business or a threat to the traditional publishing model?

As much as those questions, though, I consider a robot becoming our voices, our storytellers? Do writing seminars become unnecessary? Have talent and dedication gone the way of the landline? Will ghostwriters be out of work? And what about the journey the serious writer undertakes to understand herself and others and her place in the world? Now, she simply loads an app and lets it outsmart her?

The Post article goes on that “there are concerns over authenticity because ChatGPT learns how to write by scanning millions of pages of existing text. An experiment with AI by CNET resulted in multiple corrections and apparent plagiarism before the tech news site suspended its use.”

Besides wondering if some of my novels or memoirs might appear someday in an AI-generated book, I have to think that the hard work and years of dedication it takes to master the craft might simply be expendable.

As Ava Stuart, the writer in my novel And the Memory Returns puts it:

She thought of the many writing spaces where she had tried to find meaning beyond words. The weathered picnic table under the elm tree in her parents’ backyard. The upstairs attic bedroom where she tapped away on the green Smith Corona her parents gave her as a high school graduation gift. The beach in Crete the summer of 1973 when she traveled with Asher, who strummed his guitar to the doleful strains of a Leonard Cohen song. The stark white oncology office, where she waited for Jay during his chemo treatments. Her bedroom late at night, pen scribbling across a spiral-bound reporter’s notebook, pouring out her grief for all that had been and never would. What will I write? How many risks will I take? Will these impressions, memories, and observations that I pen in airports, at home, and in doctor’s offices remain for my eyes only or for an audience of many?

If a robot writing tool exists as a way to simply write and sell a book as a commercial, not a creative enterprise, will those places, memories, and reflections become little more than superfluous? And what about the lovingly crafted workspaces, the nature walks that spur reflection, and the time spent in solitude that fortifies and nourishes the writer? As Ava writes:

Now, sitting at the new desk, the screen glowed translucent, inviting her to write. As Virginia Woolf said, a woman needs money and a room of her own. Woolf also said that a woman needs privacy to write, pen her innermost thoughts, and believe in herself. There was no “perfect” pen, no “perfect” desk, no “perfect” manuscript, and maybe no “perfect” title for a book. Just the invitation to enter the sacred space of writing.

Like so much in life, technology becomes master if we let it. Will the AI ‘author’ become the ‘norm’?

Would you use ChatGPT to write a book? And if so, why or why not? I would love to hear your thoughts.

A Woman Shares Her Own ‘Lessons in Chemistry’

Although it hardly matters that mine will be the 95,000th review of the Bonnie Garmus novel Lessons in Chemistry, I’m sharing with you my thoughts and impressions of this runaway bestseller, anyway.

I remember reading a novel similar to this one in terms of a feminist treatise, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room. It changed my life when I was in my mid-twenties. Like Lessons in Chemistry, it explored the mundane life of the housewife and the injustice of not taking a woman’s intelligence and talents seriously. The Women’s Room served as a validation of all I had been thinking and feeling as a woman thrust into a male-dominated profession. I was young then and naïve and believed the world would change.

As I got older and saw the way things were going, I found it difficult to read books describing in great detail how women were mistreated and abused by a misogynistic and patriarchal system that stymied their hopes and dreams. I think of the job interviews where people asked if I planned to have children, and the time I lost a possible promotion because I couldn’t take a job in the city due to the long commute away from my sons. I found reading about these issues that I had lived with both infuriating and upsetting. So, when I began Lessons in Chemistry, I felt the urge to stop but went ahead because it was selected by my book club, and I was curious why EVERY book club in America seemed to be reading it. Why was there a FIVE MONTH wait for this book at my local library? And 95,000 reviews? What was going on?

It’s only as I sit here and write this review or whatever it is that I realize how far I have come. Maybe it’s listening to all those women share their stories in the Women’s Writing Circle over the years that I realize I’m not alone. Maybe that’s the “lesson” in Lessons in Chemistry. We’re in this together and all of us have lived knowing how hard, how strong, and how resilient women have to be to overcome the odds, the sexism. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or a chemist—to figure that out. Or even a great cook and TV show host, which brilliant and beautiful Elizabeth Zott, the book’s heroine, becomes in order to earn a paycheck after being run out of the male hierarchy of scientific research.

Like Elizabeth Zott encounters in the 1950s when the story takes place, I was one of those women who didn’t change her name for a man, and like Zott, a chemist who entered an all-male profession, I began my career in journalism. Now, it doesn’t seem unusual—women in journalism and keeping your name—but back in 1978, it was. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked why my name was different from my husband’s and my children’s. As a journalist who was somewhat known in the community by her name, I didn’t like the idea that I had to give up my name. And like Zott, I thought it unfair that children would automatically have the father’s name. My husband was adamant, so I settled with our older son, taking my last name as his middle name.

As for women and the Catholic Church, its horrors of orphanages and treatment of unwed mothers resonated even though I’m not Catholic. I’m not one to believe that science trumps religion as does Zott, who, like me, also tragically lost her soul mate (“chemistry” between soul mates is irrefutable) and becomes a single parent. And like Zott, I do question whether faith is simply an antidote to coping with life. Yet, for me, unlike Zott, who spars with the Presbyterian minister, Wakely (a little Dickensian play on words?), about science vs religion, accidents vs fate, I believe I settled those questions some time ago.

In my own novel, And the Memory Returns, Ava Stuart explores her faith with this memory of her late husband, Jay:

She remembered Jay clutching his rosary from Catholic school days as he lay dying. He hadn’t been an ardent believer when she knew him but there he was dying and Catholicism had left its indelible mark, eraser-throwing nun, or not. Maybe he felt he had sinned, and needed to make atonement. She knew she was a sinner because she had felt relief when his ordeal with cancer finally came to its inevitable conclusion. What a terrible person she was to want it to be over, to get on with her life, which she now saw as unrealistic and naïve. She wanted to believe that the reason Jesus came into the world was as a compassionate and loving pathway to God, and, of course, his suffering had been the worst. If God suffered, why should people expect anything different?

One final observation about Lessons in Chemistry. A dog is a central character. I love dogs so I found the dog’s thoughts and his actions a fun and touching part of the story. Surely, anyone who has ever loved a dog will recognize how we all feel they are smarter than people, how their quiet and unconditional companionship and love help us through the lonely times when we feel most fragile.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I guess I just answered my own question as to why this book has entranced readers. It’s a fun and witty read, although lacks lyrical description and is a little too feel good (cooking is chemistry …”fearlessness in the kitchen translates to fearlessness in life” … housewifery is important work, male bosses are often stupid, and women who undermine other women sometimes surprise you in the end).

There are more narratives … the discerning male journalist whose reporting sheds light on the truth, the best friend who supports and loves you when you reach your lowest point, the sport of rowing which serves as a metaphor for life.

If you’ve lived through some or even one of the stories in this fictional tale—and I suspect, you have—you’ll probably feel that the author has captured a part of your life … the life of every woman.

Writing and Self-Perception

This blog post was inspired by a recent IWWG workshop led by Hannah Rousselot (hannahrousselot.com). It focused on self-perception and looking at narratives that shape us. What are the labels others put on us? What are the labels we put on ourselves?

What is self-perception? I found this definition from the American Psychological Association Dictionary: a person’s view of his or her self or of any of the mental or physical attributes that constitute the self. Such a view may involve genuine self-knowledge or varying degrees of distortion.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

There is also this from the internet: Self-perceptions, or different beliefs we have about ourselves, exert a powerful influence on the kinds of activities we engage in, the amount of effort we will expend on that activity, and the likelihood that we will engage in that activity in the future.

At our Women’s Writing Circle read around last week, we talked about the “myths” that often stymie writers. One is that you need a college or writing degree. Another is that writing is easy for some people and not others. Another myth is that writing anything short of “perfection” is failure. These attitudes can impact whether we will write or just shrug and give up.

I often encourage people to write in third person because it helps create distance, especially when writing something personal. I found this writing prompt offered in the IWWG workshop useful, especially as we start a new year. Write about what you love about yourself, but also include things you’re working on or things you would like to change. Here’s what I came up with.

Photo by Susan G. Weidener

In the infinite swaths of time afforded by not having to work a job anymore, she has little excuse for not writing. So, she writes. Here I am, this is my place in the world.

She grew up in the suburbs and loves keeping her own house, her refuge, her private space, her white refrigerator, white kitchen countertops, and the framed photograph on her workroom wall of a young girl with long hair and downcast eyes. Was she ever that young?

She burns vanilla-scented candles and grows orchids and African violets on the kitchen windowsill. Stone barns and wooded trails dot the landscape of her neighborhood and take her back to simpler times, the creeks and monkey vines behind her childhood two-story brick house fifteen miles down the road, but a world apart from where she now lives.

She remembers when she and her childhood friends rode bicycles and disappeared for hours. There were no cell phones, and parents didn’t worry as long as they got home by dinnertime. You should have seen her, pedaling down the steep neighborhood street, no hands on the handlebars, balancing, the wind sweeping back her hair. When she writes about this, she feels sadness for that vanished time of innocence. Then again, in those days, women and girls were subject to many debilitating myths of what was “pretty” what was “feminine” … “anger” was forbidden. Those myths still exist, but voice is encouraged now, and progress is made. But a lot of them are still with us.

It’s okay to be angry and speak your mind, to love yourself, warts and all. Your eyes are pretty, and your face is kind, she tells herself.

She loves that she wants more, that she remembers to pay her bills on time, and doesn’t ask for help setting up her Amazon Firestick because she has mastered (for the most part) the technology of the times.

She loves her bravery. How do you do it all? someone asks. Drive thirty miles alone at night down a dark highway to meet friends for dinner? Good for you, they say. Yes, good for her. It’s either that or another night alone. Still, there’s a doubt. How long before she can’t do that anymore? It’s her anxiety she works to overcome.

And the loneliness. A Mary Oliver poem comes to mind:

I too have known loneliness

I too have known what it is to feel


rejected, and suddenly

not at all beautiful …

She holds herself close with the promise of each new day. She calls her dog, grabs the leash, and goes for a long walk under bright winter skies. She banishes the doubt, the fear.

How long does it last? So, she writes. Here I am, this is my place in the world.

Myths and Writing as a Vision Quest

Writing about myths is our Women’s Writing Circle prompt for January. Using this quote from Rumi – “Unfold your own myths” – write about how you or a character in your work-in-progress recognizes a myth in his or her life and “unfolds” it as a path forward.  

Photo by Dave Meckler on Pexels.com

In a recent episode of Yellowstone, one of the main characters, Kayce, goes on a vision quest.  He has no clue who he is but understands that he’s been held back by the myths of “right and wrong” instilled in him by his family and society. After he served as a Navy SEAL and returns to his father’s ranch in Montana, he ponders what is “fair and unfair”, what is “just and unjust.” He chews peyote, and fasts for four days and nights, and the visions under starlit skies and sun-drenched clouds come in both terrifying and beautiful ways: a Native American woman dressed in white leather and beads…his murdered brother, blood pouring from his mouth. As one vision fades and then another emerges a wolf watches over him, his spirit guide symbolic of courage, loyalty, and strength. When the four days end, we are left wondering what it all meant. “So, what did you see?” his wife asks. “The universe,” he says.

I think of the lotus I saw blooming in a copper barrel outside a squat hut near the Annapurna trail of the Himalayans in Nepal, which I visited several years ago. It starts its life in the mud and despite its hard beginning, it blossoms from its murky surroundings into something unimaginably beautiful and pure. Imagine that anything is possible, that black is pure and beautiful, and that we are surrounded by the magical every day. The worries, the bitterness, the less-than-hoped-for fade away, and if we’re lucky we find the “universe”. As a friend once said to me. “Most of our journeys, at least in the beginning, are cloudy and muddied. So, the task becomes to imagine the beautiful, which leads to serenity.”

If we are to survive this life, we move away from the things holding us back, derailing peace. That’s why I take a lot of artist’s dates, as Julia Cameron calls them, those fun getaways, and the little treats for myself that spark inspiration and independence. The only ones on this “date” are me and my creative self…like going out for lunch as I did last week to a rustic farmhouse turned café where the gouda and broccoli quiche was rich and creamy. If only we could string together these days of fun, pleasure, and renewal, one after another, I think, as sunlight streams through the window with a view of translucent winter grasses. My “quest” to rediscover who I am and what matters to me often resides in those moments of aloneness and simplicity. I think about the myth that if you work hard enough, you will be successful. What is success? Success is finding peace within yourself. I know that now. Or those happily ever after’s that never really existed? Only loss and death allow the adult to emerge. I think about that well-worn narrative of the perfect mother as respectable, no mutiny, self-sacrificing, reduced to a symbol and deprived of her freedom. I think about the myths, the choices that led to embracing a certain life I live, one both conservative and creative as a woman alone. If I write about it, the storyline emerges. Writing is a vision quest, after all, an unfolding of myths.

Is there a myth holding you back? 

“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”

“Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.” ~ Buddha

Happy New Year.