I was having a tough time coming up with a topic to write about this week. We haven't been doing much traveling and I've been completely absorbed by my other writing projects. "Well, write about that." my mother suggested. Ok then.
When we first moved to England I used my free time doing a slightly better job of what I did in Seattle when I was working, namely keeping the house tidy, keeping my son clean (my husband was on his own), and occasionally cooking interesting food. That has since become as tedious as it was in Seattle, though I'm not as fatigued by these domestic responsibilities now that I don't have professional ones. I won't deny that I'm a bit of a slacker, but as I explained to C, don't look at how I spend my time here as carefree unemployment. Think of it as graduate school without the tuition.
So that's what I'm doing. Graduate course work in creative fiction, non-fiction, contemporary literature and reading comprehension. I come up with topics, assignments and deadlines. My classroom usually involves one of the many coffee shops in town with a wifi connection. I've found I'm much more productive getting out of the house to write because then I can't get distracted by the carpet that needs vacuuming or the jar of Nutella calling out to me from the cupboard. I'm also taking my second 6-week workshop with the Berko Writers Group, this time on the short story taught by Adam Marek whose writing is really worth your time. (His books are carried by the Seattle Public Library, though not my local English library!)
Just a short walk up the road, in one of the oldest pubs in town, I enjoy a once weekly meet-up with The Watling Street Writers, a group equally interested in drinking and socializing as they are in critiquing each other's work. Even after two pints they are collectively better at finding the weak spots in my stories than any of my graduate school workshop classmates. I was once enrolled in an MFA program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1991. Within a month of moving there, I met C and a year later decided life on the road with him would likely be more interesting than another year in the classroom with angst-ridden wanna-be writers, myself included. So finding this group of talented, funny and generous people ("Next round is on me.") has been a lifeline for my motivation.
I'm also working on reading a lot more. I've always had shelves full of books I haven't read. I'm an ADD reader and have a hard time finishing anything. I do much better since I started subscribing to Audible and I can listen to someone else read to me while I do the vacuuming. But I am working on the act of completion. After all the purging we did before moving here, I've slipped into acquisition mode again when it comes to books, especially short story collections and memoirs. It breaks my heart to think that just over a year ago I gave away so many of the books I thought I'd never read because I was never going to be a writer. The collected works of John Cheever, Raymond Carver, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Hunter S. Thompson. Not to mention a dozen anthologies. The list goes on.
But I've forgiven myself and moved on to a new attitude toward writing and that is it should be fun. I also think writing at this time in my life is therapeutic. I feel as though I'm straddling a gulf between youth and old age. I'll be 49 next month (and for many years to come) and I'm full of questions worth exploring through fiction: Memory, regret, marriage, family, passion, age. Sometimes I wish I'd continued to write creatively over the past 20 years, but I don't think I would be the writer I am now if I had. I'm not sure I would have lightened up or had as much to say. Now I can't shut up. In all likelihood, I wouldn't have gone into medicine and collected the many strange but true experiences I've had in an ER and a steel mill.
My mother also asked me, "So, when are you going to publish something?" I would have to say I'm not very close to doing so, and besides, I haven't sent anything to a publisher. I don't think I'm too self-critical of my work, but I do have high standards and the simple fact is I don't have anything worthy of being published...yet. But each day I write, or read someone who does it well, I'm just a tiny bit closer to being able to tell you a story that I myself would want to hear.