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.


Today, July 4th, I Am Celebrating Many Things!

July 4, 2015

TODAY I am celebrating… the 4th of July, the day of our nation’s independence.  As for many Americans ,  for me and my family this day has become a reason for a three-day weekend, an opportunity for a  hot dog and hamburger barbecue with friends and/or family, and a chance to see an evening fireworks display.  After reading the morning paper about how members of ISIS are destroying even more ancient artifacts in Palmyra, Syria, I am celebrating the fact that I do not live in a country overtaken by religious zealots.  I am celebrating our constitution which was written to maintain a balance in our government and our daily lives. I am celebrating our relative peace and prosperity.

TODAY I am celebrating…the fact that I am still alive.  At about this time last year I had just retired from teaching and was looking forward to enjoying the “golden years” when I was suddenly overtaken by a 4th stage cancer with the odds definitely not in my favor.  Seven months later I was declared cancer free, and I now consider myself a cancer survivor…one of the very lucky ones.

TODAY I am celebrating the beginning of summer;  I have so much I hope to accomplish.  On Monday I will begin to participate in a two-week  workshop for teachers of writing with one of my favorite groups…the Long IslandWriting Project.  I have been affiliated with them for over thirty years and still think they serve a very important function in this mostly technological world.  I celebrate their wisdom, their perseverance and their mission to create a safe haven for all writers.

TODAY I am celebrating that, thanks to this website, I have become an avid blogger.  Participating for the first time this year in the March Slice of Life challenge, I overcame my depression from having cancer and could not wait to get up each day and read what everyone had to say.  Becoming a weekly blogger has introduced a very welcome discipline in my life which…dare I say it…is therapeutic and good practice for a would-be writer.

TODAY I am celebrating that I have taken some baby steps toward beginning to write a book I have been thinking about for a while.  I have joined an online writing community which will require me to post new writing once a week, and like Slice of Life, will provide me with some feedback on a weekly basis.  My long-term goal for now is to produce a first draft  this year.  My immediate goal is to produce new writing each week.   Without the encouragement of the community of writers at TWT, I don’t think I would ever have taken this first step.

TODAY I am celebrating the flowers in my garden, the clear blue sky overhead, the zero-gravity chair I am sitting on while writing this in my backyard, the time I’ve been given to pursue one of my passions, and the communities I’ve become part of that will be my support in the months to come.