Writing Away

So I retired early from a job I love – teaching English in a warm, potent, and energizing community. I needed to follow a passion – writing. No matter how many summers (and there were thirty-seven) I tried to focus on writing, I just couldn’t dig deeply enough without the end of August springing out of nowhere too soon. I left something I loved and knew for something I love that is quite unknown. It’s a scary leap.

When I was all of eighteen, I remember calling my parents from the phone closet (it was bigger than a booth – I was lying on my back with my feet up the side) on the fourth floor of Maine Hall at Bowdoin College. I had been at college for about two months and hadn’t found a home.

“I think I’d like to leave, go to the house in South Stafford and write poetry,” I said.

Silence. I can only imagine what my parents were thinking or miming to each other on two different phones.

“You know, Sally, you’d have a lot more experiences to write about if you stayed,” my dad finally said.

He was right. And my life happened with a lot of experiences: finishing college, teaching, graduate school, more teaching, marrying, having two kids, more teaching – a life brimming with very little time to write. When the opportunity emerged to retire early at sixty, I felt a magnetic pull to do something I’d had an urge to do forty-two years before – go to Vermont and write poems. And so I have. Three months in I am questioning that decision (some things never change…). I’m just not feeling like the writer I want to be. I’ve sent work out – nothing published yet. In my poetry class, I’m feeling like the worst poet at the table. It’s a general feeling of a lack of confidence. I’m compelled to write and have disciplined myself to do it every day for at least two hours, but what if I suck?

It’s Sunday morning – I’m in Vermont. I’m gathering a batch of recent pieces to find one I’m willing to take to slaughter for Tuesday’s three hour workshop. I really don’t know which of the six poems in front of me is the least worst.

I decide to call my sister.

“Could I come over and show you some of my poems? I know you don’t like or read poetry much, but I know you’ll be honest.”

Sitting with Julia, reading my words aloud to her and having her note places that resonated, places that failed to touch, and places she wanted more was so helpful.

“All I want in this new chapter of being a writer is a little speck of affirmation, a meager yes – that’s all I really need. I know I’ll keep writing – it’s something I must do, I love to do, but I guess I need a little back,” I told her. “Thanks so much for helping me.”

On the way back up to our house, I felt renewed, lucky to have my sister so close. Some of my words worked with her.

As I turned into our driveway, I stopped at the mailbox – mail gets delivered late on Saturdays, and neither Ben nor I had checked.

And there it was. Another speck of yes. In a manila envelope were two certificates for awards two of my poems had won. These weren’t first place certificates. No. Third place (tie) and honorable mention. And a check for five dollars. Yes, five dollars. I couldn’t stop smiling. I still can’t stop smiling. I asked and I received – beautiful, wonderful affirmation. I’m still smiling – so thankful. Writing away.

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