The Year Of Writing and Books

During this past year, writing saved me. Writing evokes tremendous energy. Time spent writing is never wasted. Walks through woods along paths of creamy dogwood and raspberry-sorbet trees, inspire reflection … always a good use of time. She remembered exploring her grandparents’ house as a little girl, especially the second floor sewing room. Pink-cheeked china dolls and a stuffed rabbit in orange overalls lay tucked in baby carriages under crocheted blankets. The old woman goes to her bedroom closet and looks inside at the faded gray rabbit in orange overalls on a shelf next to a worn pair of high heels. What does she have but her memories?

Aging, like lichen on a rotting log, offers crusty lessons. We have no control, are at the mercy of greater forces. All we can do is try our best. This April morning, I see the old woman in a cool, green meadow. Her ambition, her ego, even her bygone relationships become moments of being, always with a pen and a good book by her side.

It’s popular these days to ponder: How did the pandemic change me? But wasn’t I always the girl squirreled away in her bedroom with a good book? Wasn’t I always scribbling in a diary or spiral-bound notebook, or reporting on events, people and places? Wasn’t I always the woman fighting doubt and lack of confidence that what she wrote mattered to anyone but her?

Writing is hard work. Reading helps ease the strain. This year I became a fan of Emily St. John Mandel‘s work because she writes about dystopia and end times. My favorite read, though, Where the Crawdads Sing, for the sheer luxury and beauty of the written word. I opted for the easy read, the page turner. A Kristen Hannah novel: Winter Garden and The Four Winds. Admission and The Undoing by Jean Hanff Korelitz. When it came to memoirs, I picked up Educated by Tara Westover and Becoming by Michelle Obama. I gave up on library ebook rentals. Although nothing kept me busy, everything kept me busy. The days flew by and I couldn’t finish books loaned for only two weeks. Sometimes, it took three weeks or more.

It’s hard to say where the days, where the time has gone this strange and terrible year. One thing I know for certain. Everything comes full circle, back to that good book, back to that open notebook and pen, back to that young girl and old woman trying to write this year and every year.

My Mother’s Robin

When I was a child, spring arrived when my mother cried out, “Look. The first robin!”

No matter that frost in Pennsylvania could linger into May. Mother’s thrill at sighting that small, orange-breasted bird’s return after winter was a sign—spring had officially begun.

That’s what I told my friend because she had just said that spring was her favorite time of the year. “I wonder if it will get cold again?” she’d said.

As we walked through the neighborhood, redolent with the fragrance of flowering pear and cherry trees, I didn’t say that my mother suffered from anxiety and depression her whole life. Or that her joy at seeing the first robin was probably as much about hope as spring. Maybe she expected life to feel better.

For me, spring meant longer days, time dwindling toward the end of the school year…shedding the heavy winter coat. An expectation of summer and barbecues to come of roasted chicken and corn at the old picnic table near the weeping willow. It meant Mother in pale-pink sleeveless dress pouring iced tea from a glass pitcher.

It struck me after I said this about my childhood. “I’ve been around a long time.”

My friend said she felt that way too. “On Easter, my sister and I drank shots of Bailey’s Irish cream from the same glasses our mother used to put eggs in when we were little girls.”

We kept walking, two motherless women.

“I wonder if life will ever go back to the way it was?” she mused. She said a couple people she knew doubted life would return to ‘normal’. “Whatever normal is.”  

“I don’t know,” I said. “International travel…. I can’t see myself in a place like Morocco or Nepal again.”

We walked past a flowering magnolia tree. A montage of white-pink petals spread beneath the tree like a woman’s wedding train.

A bird tweeted its song.

We stopped to listen.

“Maybe, it’s my mother’s robin,” I said.  

The Dream Catcher

Recently, as part of its fundraising, the St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota mailed me a dream catcher. The legend of the dream catcher among Native Americans of the Great Plains is that the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. The good dreams passed through the center hole of the dream catcher to the sleeping person…the bad dreams remained trapped in the web, where they perished in the light of dawn.

Covid and the year 2020 felt like that. A lot of bad dreams trapped in darkness. Now, the pandemic is on the wane, sparking possibilities…indoor dining, splitting dessert with a friend, maybe even a trip to the airport.

For Native American tribes, sharing a dream in community was considered a privilege, not just for the dreamer, but the listener. I felt that many times in our Women’s Writing Circle, a circle like the center of a dream catcher, conjuring timelessness and the universal experience of life told through stories.

One of my recurring dreams this past year was about the American Southwest. I can’t say how many times I’ve dreamed it, but at least half a dozen. In the dream, the same thing happened again and again. I didn’t want to leave. I lingered over lavender and orange sunsets and breathed deep the pungent aroma of the desert floor after a monsoon. In the dream, I kept postponing the flight back to Philadelphia and the darkness of winter. A psychoanalyst might say I was avoiding coming ‘home’, preferring to escape reality…the isolation.

Writing about my dream now, I sort through my thoughts. Where do I go from here? How do I move on from this life-altering year? What brings comfort and contentment? No matter where I am, desert or suburbia, it all comes down to me. Only I can invent my own destiny. So, I put pen to paper…I write for no one but myself.

I also believe new stories will not find their way to other women unless we write them, share them, break the isolation of the past where women remained voiceless and silent.

April is upon us, the month when winter’s detritus is replaced with pink splashes of magnolia and chartreuse trees. Mid-morning sun warms me with hopes that summer’s long languorous days are not far behind. I step out on the deck, soaking up heat and light. My yellow lab, Lily, rolls in joyous abandon and rubs her back on the grass, long white-blond legs pointing skyward. Maybe later, I will start looking at those flights out West. That’s my dream now. Not escape, but renewal.

Many of us are alone and in our sixties and seventies and beyond. Who is the woman alone and what makes her find within herself the strength to carry on when so many have left or died? Maybe the legend of the dream catcher holds the key? Dreams must be shared in the circle of faith, of other women. Bad dreams perish, rendered harmless in the dawn of a new morning.

Now that the pandemic is on the wane, what is your dream?

Welcome to Along the Writer’s Way

“Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” ~ Carolyn G. Heilbrun

Although some may find this philosophy repugnant, it seems some things do happen for a reason. I had long been thinking about a new website and blog. That said, it’s a steep learning curve. Whoever said that writing was just about writing? As authors know, we find ourselves with the somewhat unenviable task of mastering social media and everything that entails.

So bear with me as we begin this journey, me experimenting with design, blocks, templates, fonts and more, while, hopefully, providing interesting and timely blog posts on subjects from the craft of writing to women’s lives and finding within an ordinary day the extraordinary.

As May Sarton writes in Journal of Solitude: “I have only to imagine what it would be like were there very quiet days, under no immediate pressure, taken from me to realize how precious they are.” And, so, as the light from my window casts its morning glow across the books and manuscripts on my desk, I came to appreciate a new rhythm to my days. The walks with a neighbor, the unexpected visits from my adult children and the conversations we shared, the phone calls and, yes, even the ubiquitous Zoom meeting. As life changes, one thing remains constant—the joy of self-discovery and creative expression “along the writer’s way.”