It’s been some time since I’ve posted on this blog. My life has been through a lot of changes, and that includes my writing life. At times, I have wondered if I am still enough of a writer – or writing teacher – to continue contributing to the blog. In 2017 I published just one short story, and the amount of new work I produced was relatively minimal. The novel I was working on fell flat; I just didn’t like the direction it was taking. Most of the writing I did was in the form of personal journal entries, which I have shared for decades with a single close friend and never intend to publish in any form. I was teaching creative writing, and that was something, but who was I, really, to keep blogging about a writing life?
Let me back up for a moment. Starting last May, I spent ten months attempting to juggle three part-time jobs. That was what a writer was supposed to do, after all…find ways to bring in just enough income to have the time, space, and bare necessities to keep living and writing. One of the jobs, which I had held for four-and-a-half years, was the position of Adjunct Professor of English and Creative writing at a private Boston-area college. I was lucky to fall into the job when a friend’s wife, the director of the Humanities Department, was looking for a freshman writing instructor, and then helped move me through the system over the years to the point where I was teaching literature and creative writing. Thank you, Jim and Becky Kennedy.
I enjoyed many aspects of teaching. I enjoyed helping and inspiring the students who were interested and talented, and who cared. I appreciated being around young minds and learning about their lives. I learned a lot about literature and writing that I hadn’t truly understood during my own studies, simply because I had to read more and dig deeper to teach those subjects. Teaching is an incredible opportunity to be a student. I enjoyed being a college teacher, despite the accompanying challenges and stresses. As each semester passed, I felt my skills as a teacher (and writer) improving.
It was a valuable experience, but being frank here, adjunct instructing pays relatively little for a lot of hard work and offers no benefits. This is a well-known issue in the academic world. In addition to depositing, well, modest paychecks, it was difficult being on the faculty email list and getting the emails from HR reminding employees of the benefits they could sign up for or take advantage of, knowing none of those emails applied to me or my fellow adjuncts.
Still, being a college literature and writing professor fit the desired profile to back up Message From a Blue Jay, the book I published in 2014. I was now a working writer and a writing instructor, even though none of it led to financial security. So, I did a second job as freelance social media consultant working from home, and then a third job as an office manager at an architecture firm. I tried to tell myself that hours I spent stacking coffee pods, changing copier toner, and answering phones in an office could be written into the romantic profile of a writer teaching and juggling part-time jobs to give herself time to write.
The problem was, the romantic image of who I was didn’t live up to the reality. What I really was, was stressed and exhausted. My husband, a newly minted Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work, was still in the process of building his private practice. His bookkeeping tasks were added to my plate along with all the usual household duties one does to keep life moving. When I did have “free” time, I was so preoccupied with thoughts about one job or another or how we would pay our bills, that the last thing I could find the energy to do was the one thing I really wanted to do…write.
I did fall in love with photography. I learned about that new love and prepared, with the help of a professional photographer friend, for my first little show in Harvard Square. Thank you, Bill Chapman.
Still, at the end of last year, I was so stressed and tired that people were starting to notice. So, I took a friend’s new-agey suggestion and sent a request for the change I needed out to the universe, hoping an answer would appear. The request, for me, came in the form of a networking email I sent to a group of friends, colleagues, and anyone I could think of who might know of a job – one, single job – that would fit my professional background and end this period of juggling jobs and financial struggle. I have sent out similar emails two or three times over the course of my career, and they have rarely led to more than a small freelance job, if that. This time, however, was different. A friend and former colleague had just gotten a high-level marketing job at a major international company. Not only that, but the division she was working in involved renewable energy, and my first master’s degree, from early in my career, is in environmental science/communications. Environmental conservation has always been one of my priorities, and I started my career doing writing and media relations work for environmental organizations.
To make a long story short, after some back and forth and uncertainty and waiting, I learned at the very end of last year that I would be hired full-time, on a contract basis, for a remote position doing marketing writing for this company’s energy business. Thank you, Donille Perrone. I gave notice at my other jobs, one by one, and although the biggest tug came when I had to turn down the opportunity to teach creative writing next fall, I knew that I had to say no.
So, that’s where I’ve been and what has been happening. For the past two months, I have been writing about renewable energy in a full-time position. Then an interesting thing happened.
I started writing creatively again. Within a short time, I was working on a children’s book about Little White, our feral cat, that I’ve been thinking about writing for more than five years. After numerous drafts, commiseration with two experienced readers and consultation with an expert in children’s book publishing, I completed the text. An illustrator is now working on illustrations. My hope is the book will be published later this year. Thank you, Alison Stone, Lori Groudas, Laurel Petersen, and MaryChris Bradley.
Then, today I met a friend for a new once-a-month coffee shop, no pressure writing session. I sat down at the table and announced that now that my children’s book text was basically done, I had no idea what to write next. I was there, I explained, not because I knew what the heck I was going to write, but because I was trying to honor the concept of “showing up” in the hope that something would happen.
Let’s just say, something did. Cindy and I did part of a writing exercise out of a book, and then, although she had plenty to work on for her own upcoming book, Cindy paused and suggested we talk about a concept I had been thinking about for my next project. Within a short period of time, I surprised myself by rattling off a few ideas. By the time I left the coffee shop, I had the first few paragraphs of the new project drafted. Thank you, Cindy Zelman.
I guess what I’m trying to say by recounting all of this is that I’ve realized what a mistake it is to try to live up to some kind of ideal, or image, or accepted conception of what it is to be a writer. For some time I have found myself resisting the idea that I need to be part of some sort of literary club, that I have to look and act the part, that I have to know the right people and attend the right events and drop the names of the right people and hope maybe even my own name will be dropped. I have never been that sort of person. I didn’t fit into any acceptable high school mold when I was a teenager. Once I graduated, I refused to go to a college with fraternities and sororities, because I didn’t like the concept of clubs that excluded others. So why was I trying so hard, whether I admitted it to myself or not, to fit into a mold or play the part of “a writer” now?
I am a writer. I am a writer who now spends eight hours per day writing about a topic that’s important to our survival: renewable energy. And in the early hours of the morning, before the sun rises over the gray skies of Cambridge, Massachusetts, I am also a writer of my own creative stuff.
And the other thing I am is very lucky…because I got by with a little help from my friends.