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

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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.

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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 ( 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.

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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.  

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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.

The One True Desire

It’s often been said that the desire to find God draws all our desires together. While some may find God in Scripture, others may find him through a walk in the woods after a first snowfall…or striking up a conversation with a stranger where an unexpected connection turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Desires are many. After a while, it becomes exhausting to indulge in desires that harm us physically, mentally, or spiritually. So, we seek the one true desire—the ecstasy that is God.

Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

The “treasure” in understanding our own lives and nurturing the interpersonal relationships that most satisfy our temperaments and heart’s desire is precious and draws us closer to God. While writing might feel painful at times, the absence of exploring long-buried feelings becomes an obstacle to knowing ourselves and others.

I remember a little girl on a Christmas morning. I let her tell me what she thinks. As she tugs at her pale blond hair, she says that she has no idea who she wants to be when she grows up. If only she were prettier, she confesses, or smarter or cleverer. She seeks clues to go about living in books. From Shirley Temple’s Storybook of fairy tales with its cream and turquoise cover she found wrapped under the Christmas tree when she was ten years old to novels of adventure, love, and loss she read as a young woman, wife, and mother, she explored myths and real-life stories.

As she grew older, she wondered: Where will it all lead? Is it fate? Some days it felt easier just to let it be, go home, snuggle with her dog, and not worry. There had been so much anxiety and so many side trips that led nowhere. Put aside childhood notions of fairy tales, she thinks. Appreciate your own story of love and loss as compelling as anything within the pages of a book.

Like walking the beach and stumbling across a washed-up intricately designed scallop shell, her life with its many nuances and complexities is a treasure.

As the poet, Mary Oliver writes,

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

 into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

An old woman with lines around her eyes and strands of gray hair grabs her coat. She walks among trees shimmering in sunlight. Go easy, love yourself, the breeze whispers. Cherish this day. She begins the journey…finding the treasure…desiring God.

Susan G. Weidener is the author of several books, including memoirs and fiction. A former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan runs the Women’s Writing Circle in suburban Philadelphia. A graduate of American University and the University of Pennsylvania, Susan lives in Chester Springs.

Confidence and the Act of Writing

The daily diet is 24/7 news, carnage, disease and disasters. It leads to feeling overwhelmed. Here’s a thought for consideration. Writing is enough. Enough for what? Enough for one life? Enough to get through one day? Enough to move beyond feeling drowned in the overwhelming?

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Sometimes, I let the uncensored pen guide me. On the page I relive memories of my family, friends, politics, the woman’s journey. The inner and the outer life…the faults and fears. I stand back and say don’t be so hard on yourself and your choices back then or of their choices which is probably more important.

Memory is intricate, shapeshifting. I think about how to break through to what May Sarton calls memory’s “rough, rocky depths.” I have my writing to dig deep, unearth the secrets. I gain confidence. Much is written in newspapers about older women losing confidence in themselves. Women are up against a lot. A society that discriminates against aging, the feeling of losing one’s attractiveness and worth. Stay focused on something meaningful, stay engaged with friends, strike up a conversation with a stranger, they say.

Many theologians preach that whether you’re searching for God or not, hope and transformation serve as the pathway to meaning. When we engage with others in meaningful and uplifting pursuit, hope and transformation naturally follow, don’t they? It’s the reason I cherish the love among fellow writers as we share our words and stories.

We love someone and so we write.

It is the season of Advent. Darkness envelopes the spirit. The holidays leave many grappling with loss, grief, pain, even death.

Advent is a time of expectation. A gloomy day soon gives way to sunshine. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel! A writer takes it all in, loses her naivete, applauds herself for declaring her independence…no apologies, no excuses.

Writing in this crazy world leads to mindfulness, which leads to understanding, or at least a little peace of mind to accept each other, to stop worrying, to accept ourselves…to confidence.

The Many Benefits of Writing

“It’s not until we are lost that we begin to understand ourselves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

At last Saturday’s writing workshop at my church, we talked about the many benefits of writing. Among them are strengthening ourselves both emotionally and physically by writing and unburdening thoughts and memories that may have restrained us over the years from fully self-actualizing or healing. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. ~ Joseph Campbell.

We spoke about the curiosity a writer cultivates through something as simple and mindful as a walk in the woods on a wintry day and then going home to write about it with an uncensored pen.

“Playfulness in writing plays an important role. Allow yourself to try new things, to shake off the inner critic and loosen up. I think you’ll find, as I did, that your creativity soars.” ~ Margaret Gracie.

Poet Mary Oliver made a whole career out of writing about her surroundings from a walk on the beach where a simple scallop shell caught her attention to the sounds of birds on a spring morning. “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. “~ Albert Einstein

Writing teaches us “stillness.”

Everything that’s created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness. ~ Wayne Dyer

After we discussed the benefits of writing and more, we penned our memories of Christmases past and shared them in the circle. Here’s mine. As we approach Advent and the darkening of winter, a luminous path back to ourselves often resides in gratitude.


Evening darkness descends with the harsh high-pitched caw of a crow. Or is it a turkey buzzard? Amid cornstalk fields, and suburban lawns, these birds stake their claim to November’s dark days. I’ve seen a lot of them lately, foraging for food, cawing from the leafless treetops, strutting and bobbing along the sidewalk, black harbingers of approaching winter. The days loom long and lonely and the birds and I are one, creatures caught in a chilly winter world. Their cries are a reminder that he is gone, although the years stretched into what feels like a millennium since last I saw him or heard his voice or felt his touch or took in the scent of his apricot aftershave.

On our first Christmas Eve together, he said, “Let’s get a puppy.” Scrapping by on a teacher’s and a reporter’s salary— fairly good to make a life together—we hung glass icicles on the small pine tree in my apartment. “A blonde cocker spaniel. Our gift to each other,” he said. His offer of a puppy went right to my heart, lighting up a dark winter night.

I wish I were thirty again and his hand reached for mine. As I write this, I marvel at how words work as witnesses. He lives in my heart and on the page. Writing brings me closer to myself. Outside my studio window in the darkening night, the caws remind me more is behind me now than before me.

Perhaps when the mood strikes, I’ll string garlands of multi-colored lights on the azalea bush by my front door or put up a Christmas tree in my living room decorating it with holly berries, dried magnolia leaves, and hydrangeas… Downstairs in the cellar alcove, cardboard boxes filled with ornaments won’t be brought out this year, it’s just me after all. No fanfare, just me. The glass ornaments from Dresden, once belonging to my grandparents lay buried under dusty tissue, along with the silver glass icicle, and the bubble lights he insisted we buy which I hated.  I hear his voice. “Let me get you a puppy for Christmas.” I sit up straighter. Have I noticed the warmth of my house tonight, the yellow Labrador Retriever lying at my feet? When I do the caw becomes not a mournful dirge, but an invitation to stop and listen. To remember the touch of his hand on a Christmas Eve long ago and his words, “Let me get you a puppy for Christmas.”

Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and joy… and writing.

In an Aging and Difficult World, How to Find Focus?

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing what most authors do after they publish a new book. I’ve been reading at Open Mic Nights, giving author talks, sharing excerpts from my book, and sitting for book signings. My books are displayed on a table like so many pieces of a rainbow puzzle, brightly colored covers, and stories about women—older women as in the case of the new novel And the Memory Returns. The women come to my table and skim what is written on the back, the plot synopsis, and my author bio of being a former reporter and now running a writing group. Often in the last few weeks, I’ve heard, “This sounds interesting. These stories. My problem is that I can no longer focus. I’ll read a few chapters, forget what I’ve read, and then have to go back to the beginning so I don’t read books much at all anymore.” Some admit the inability to concentrate on reading a book has meant resorting to word games, and crossword puzzles, Wordle, in hopes of keeping their minds, if not sharp, at least from becoming more muddled.

I empathize as I have not been writing every day as I once did, and I indulge in my favorite word game on my cell phone far too long each day. My focus wanes and many days I feel the lack of energy that prevents a writer from crisp and thoughtful intent when putting words on the page. What is wrong with me?

Or is it the difficult world in which we live? As the election tomorrow finally comes to a grinding end, I am exhausted. I live outside of Philadelphia, one of those “swing state” areas that apparently can decide the increasingly fragile balance in Congress. I can’t turn on the television or listen to the radio without being bombarded by endless political tirades of one candidate against another, mean-spirited rants that eviscerate the opponent whether for health reasons or for their supposed indifference in stopping crime, even in some cases accusing them of making crime worse, although for what end anyone would do this strains credulity.

Maybe the challenge lies in finding the energy to focus on what matters in your own life, whether it be a day trip or lunch with friends, a stroll through an art museum, or an escape to an other-worldly field of lights. Still, there is nothing that can turn the tide on age. The body is fragile, and the mind is taxed to remember details, storylines, and even the simplest things that once came to mind without effort. “What is the name of that story,” a friend asked me recently. “You know, the one with the sled and the big rock?” It wasn’t until an hour later after we had both scoured our brains that a light went off and I remembered it was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. “Thank you, thank you,” my friend said, knowing that otherwise she would have had to go home and look it up to get some peace.

So, I will continue to write when I can, where I can …. I like to think I can seek out the quietude to do this away from the frenetic frenzy of a warming planet, screeching politicians, the stripping of women’s rights that held for half a century before a politicized court decided to force their extremism on the rest of us. I just finished reading Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers, a large volume on the last twenty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. I can handle court intrigue, why Harry married Meghan, and how Camilla spent her life pursuing Charles and assuaging his fears and his ego. Maybe that’s all I can focus on, some fantasy world in the court of the absurd. My mother stopped reading after my father died. It was too painful she said because it brought back memories of the two of them lying in bed together reading at night before they went to sleep. She was also nearing eighty when he died. I’ve been alone for years now and I hope that doesn’t happen to me because I feel the desire to clear my mind and focus on what matters. I want to keep reading. There’s still so much to learn. I want to keep writing. Yes! Even writing this helps clear away the fog.

If You Don’t Write, Life Is Just One Thing After Another

Our Women’s Writing Circle prompt for November comes from Zen in the Art of Archery, a book by German philosopher Eugen Herrigel, who after living in Japan and studying Japanese archery, is credited with introducing Zen to the Western world in the late 1940s. He writes: “If you don’t write, life is just one damn thing after another.” This struck me as a good prompt, not to mention a reminder to keep writing. How does writing lead me to understand something, whether great or small in my life, simply by putting it down on paper? To say that writing is cheaper than therapy is an oft quoted cliche but one that is true, as well as a teaching tool. You see if I don’t write, life does become just one damn thing after another.

Take the past several months where I learned that making the days enjoyable meant reaching out to others, talking to strangers, learn something new. As I traveled solo up and down the tri-state area where I live, I forced myself to walk miles, past historic homes of clapboard and brick, along banks of green, gray rivers glistening in the sunlight, lugging a small suitcase up the winding wooden stairs of bed and breakfasts, where in one case, I felt I had stepped into a scene out of Stephen King’s The Shining. The house was literally wall-to-wall dolls, ceramic and cloth faces frozen in smiles, eyes glittering, staring at nothing. They were arranged in china cabinets, on fireplace mantels and hearths, even on bathroom shelves above the toilet. Write about this, I told myself.

It reminded me of the time when we cleaned out my grandparents’ house in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Dolls nestled in baby carriages wearing faded yellowing nightcaps and gowns spoke of childhoods morphed into old age. The memory returns of my mother and her life.

At night on my trips, I wandered into restaurants, usually seeking out a comfortable looking bar where people talked to one another and shared anecdotes about their lives. “Here, look at this,” a woman said to me one night at a bar in Frederick, Maryland, holding out her cell phone. “This is my granddaughter. She was born yesterday. The first girl in two generations!” It made me remember my father’s joy at having a daughter.

Or the night I drifted aimlessly down streets and into a tavern in Annapolis, Maryland with seashells and maritime decor on wood-paneled walls. A man young enough to be my son asked me what it was like to be a writer. “I’m a painter,” he said … “when I get the time and I’m not working in the tech industry, I want to live a creative life like you.” He told me he worked remotely, saw few if any people during the day. So, there we were, two strangers, making a connection on a breezy summer night in a world where loneliness and isolation are epidemics. Write about this.

So, as I write, I think about what I want to say tonight when I read from my new book at the local public library. What do I want to say about being a writer, about the privilege of being able to connect through the written word? Maybe it’s that you have to keep experiencing new things, meeting new people, learning something new each day, and booking a solo stay at a bed and breakfast out of a horror movie. We live in a world where too often people are glued to their screens, they’re not getting outside, taking a walk, just living, just observing, just listening to someone else. See that’s the joy of being a writer. All of that is part of your job description. And in the end, you’re making sense out of “one damn thing after another.”