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.