A Fresh Start: Piecing Together a Reading/Writing Life

As I read my email this morning, searching for familiar names, I realized that I really have created for myself a connection to the wider community of readers/writers/lifelong learners during this past year.  Before my retirement two years ago, I was uncertain how I would be spending my precious new “free” time. Cancer stole one year from me; but the year that followed has been a splendid feast of reading, writing and learning.

This morning alone, I logged on to attend a webinar on the subject of ELLs and the Common Core to be held later this week on Education Week, courtesy of Melinda and Bill Gates (thank you!).  As a former ESL teacher, I do my best to stay current in my field so I can continue to build on my 22 years of teaching experience with the newly acquired wisdom of others. At a recent TESOL conference, I presented a workshop on The Power of Teaching Poetry to English as a New Language Learners and attended a couple of other workshops to keep my skills and knowledge about teaching ENL students up to date.

Then I responded to the news, delivered by email, that two of our writing mentors at Two Writing Teachers (TWT) are going to be stepping away from their positions as co-directors to become contributing writers. I wrote a short post thanking them for their contributions and mentorship. In a year of interacting with them (and others), I have come to value their mentoring and now honor their decision to move forward in their lives. In this writing community we are all juggling time and other interests; its vitality is one of the things I love most about it.

Next I wrote an email to my local library, to check on the progress of a workshop proposal I have recently submitted to lead a study group based on Julia Cameron’s newly published book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. As a person who became a fulltime teachers in her mid-40’s, and now as a retired person who is restructuring her life once again, I feel very excited about sharing what I have learned from previous encounters with Julia Cameron’s writing. I am hopeful the workshop will be approved.

In the past few days I have read several articles online in the New Yorker and in the NY Times about authors I am currently fascinated by: Karl Ove Knaussgard, the author of a six-volume autobiography entitled My Struggle and Elena Ferrante, author of a widely acclaimed multi-volume autobiography known as the Neapolitan novels, who also explores her past lives from a much different perspective. Last year, while recovering from cancer, I read the first half of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and will read the second half probably sometime this fall or winter. I don’t know why I am so fascinated with these longitudinal autobiographies, but I am. Once I settle into a genre or author I tend to “live” there for a while. Perhaps it has something to do with reflecting on my own life during the year I was struggling with my own cancer survival. I love the fact that the New York Times Sunday Review section offers so much “food for thought” each week. I could survive on that diet for a long time.

Finally, there is the writing. Several decades ago I was discouraged by an English professor who told me I could not write and did not belong in the graduate program I was attending. This experience crushed me for at least two decades. But over the weekend I found myself writing to a very close, old friend of mine, who is also a writer of poetry I greatly admire, to say that I have finally begun to think of myself as a writer. What has brought about this shift?

Now I think in terms of writing about whatever preoccupies me; it has become the way I process all the disparate parts of my life. I enjoy the challenge of finding connections between the threads of my life and then celebrating them by writing about them, much as I am doing today. I cherish the writing/teaching communities I have become part of: the Long Island Writing Project and the Two Writing Teachers website. Writing has become my “oxygen.”

Tonight I will attend the monthly meeting of the Great Books Discussion Group at my local library. We will be discussing Michel Foucault’s opening chapter to one of his best known works: Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1977). This is definitely not a selection of writing I would pursue on my own, but that is the beauty of this group. As a community of readers, we choose to accept the preordained list of readings, read the selections with respect for the writer, and share our personal perspectives in a lively discussion with respect for each person’s opinion.

My reading repertoire and writing skills have been stretched as a result of these yearlong experiences, my enjoyment of being part of a group has increased as a result of my own efforts at participation, and I now feel as though a good amount of my precious time as a retiree is devoted to the things I love most: reading, writing and being a productive participant in several communities of like-minded people.

Today, dear reader, I celebrate (my OLW) these experiences with you.

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13 thoughts on “A Fresh Start: Piecing Together a Reading/Writing Life”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your exciting life since retirement. (Although I’m sure you could have done without the cancer experience) I’m retiring at the end of June and think I might finally decided what I want to be when I grow up! Your piece reminds me that life will be even fuller than it is now, and it will be filled with things I am passionate about!

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    1. I wasn’t thinking of my retirement life as exciting, but in a small way it is. I certainly have been looking forward to each day and what it brings. But you have to “shape it” a little at first; there’s all this open-ended time and so many choices to make. My mantra was “do only what makes you happy” (not counting daily chores) and that seems to have worked so far. Now, a year later, I actually see a rhythm developing that is helping define my week. It’s good to have some boundaries, as long as they are YOUR boundaries. Can’t wait to hear about your new experiences. Congratulations on making the decision. You won’t regret it at all!

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  2. I’m so impressed by this post and how you are so vibrantly learning, growing, and sharing! This is what I want for my students and my children too… Heck, for me as well… To always be a passionate learner! Today I celebrate you!

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    1. “I get by with a little help from my friends,” and in some cases with a lot of help from a particular friend! You’ve been responsible for a big portion of my sense of contentment and I’ll always appreciate that. Isn’t it amazing how we found each other at LIWP? You will ALWAYS be a passionate learner…it’s your oxygen!

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  3. Wow! You certainly have lots going on in your life. That’s wonderful. I have always impressed upon my students that learning doesn’t stop when one graduates. Shame on any teacher who would tell a student that they could not write. You definitely can write.

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    1. That teacher definitely got his comeuppance when he wasn’t hired for a job he really wanted to keep on the West Coast. I must admit, I quietly enjoyed the karmic outcome. How can anyone ever stop learning is the question I have?

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  4. I believe I could respond to each of these paragraphs, Barbara. What a full learning life you are living, each sounding exciting and thought-filled. I returned to teaching in my forties, after staying home with my children, so our teaching lives are similar, and I just retired last year. I am finding new paths to follow that are exciting to me, and applaud you for finding new kinds of learning, too, along with keeping up with teaching ideas. We are fortunate to have the internet in our lives I think. And, I am sorry for that terrible comment to you about the writing. People’s cruelties still surprise me, but I know it happens. I’m glad you’re now thinking of yourself as a writer, and I agree!

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    1. So we are kindred spirits in many ways. I have been impressed by your poetry and your participation in so many writing platforms. Actually, I have been somewhat stalking you as a mentor for me. Thank you for you kind and supportive words. These days I am a much happier camper since I found my communities!

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  5. You are living a life to it’s fullest and taking every opportunity to stretch your thinking. I think that is what keeps a mind young, being open to new experiences. Keep going, it only gets better.

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    1. If you say so, I believe you because for me you are a model of living the best life you can. And in addition, you take the time and carefully choose your words to encourage others (like me) to do the same. Thank you!

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  6. You are a writer, and you live a writer’s life – that much is clear. But I think, too, that you are right about finding a community of voices that shares this life, supports it and allows us to continue to take joy in the word in all its manifestations is critical, too. You lead a rich and thoughtful life, and I feel grateful for a peek into it every Tuesday.

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  7. From March 1st to today, the thought that you hadn’t been writing for a very long time never crossed my mind. Your writing, and your reflections on the writing of others’ who post here, has always been well-thought, structured, professional, and left me a bit envious as a novice. I am very glad that you have found solid purpose in your retired life, especially after that very difficult year. Finding one’s “tribe” isn’t always an easy thing to do. Best wishes, Barb.

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