Writing into a new season with renewed hope: A reflection

Writers are the scattered or lost tribe of the world. They originated from one belief—even the tenants have been lost—shared rituals and music, and the same place, which was an oasis port on the edge of dark badlands. Because of a history of roaming and Diaspora long, long ago, the individual members became stultified in separate languages and they took on as protective colouring the customs and the beliefs of the populations among whom they lived. They may have given their hearts to the people. But when they meet they recognize one another by a look in the eyes as if squinting against the sun, and by the clumsy gestures of hands. Their hands are uncertainly looking for sugar signs of sharedness. This they will see, maybe with mortification, remorse and shame: That they are indelibly marked by the same stubborn illusions, the same shortcomings making their fit into life an awkward one, the same yearning for projecting connectedness and for initiating transformation.

— Breyten Breytenbach (from Intimate Stranger)

I entered September on a low note, still trying to stay a step ahead of the tendency to slide toward darkness that has been haunting me these past few years. At times I thought I had finally shaken it, only to have another challenge rise up. Last October, bereaved three times in the span of a few months but unable to begin to untangle my grief, I hit the lowest point I can recall since my teens. And paradoxically (because depression holds to its own logic) I had just sold several essays and had two pieces finally emerge in print.

Now, almost a year later, I sense a change.

I feel that I am beginning to heal, and that I am ready to begin to grieve.

The past six months have brought adventure, a degree of closure, a measure of financial security, and the recognition that with true friends, the ones that really matter, distance is not a barrier. However, I have not found a job and I have not written much beyond a few select critical reviews and a few short creative pieces. I talk about finally being ready to write, to focus on a larger project, but now that I no longer have any kind of regular income, writing can feel like a frivolous pursuit. Yet, as much as I was briefly tempted by a professional position I was interested in, I don’t really want to go back to my former line of work, even if that was a viable option and I’m not sure it is.

So, I have made an exciting—and a little unnerving—decision. From the money I recently inherited, I have put aside enough for the next twelve months. It’s a modest sum but my life is not extravagant and I now own my house. Of course, being a pragmatist, I’ve also left a decent amount for emergencies (the cat’s dental work to start) and with luck, a little travel. But rather than seeing this as a stopgap until I find a job, I am considering this as: Paying myself to write.

 My goal is to attend to writing as I would any other job. I’ve joined the Writers’ Guild, increased my volunteer commitments in book and writing related areas, and have several opportunities for contract work of various types. I want to continue to gain practical experience and build on the connections I have.

I made this decision several weeks ago, but only shared it privately with a few people. I needed to know if I could keep on task and keep my mood positive before making my commitment public. Before putting it out there.

And so now it’s public.

Today I turn fifty-seven, another fact I hesitate to share. I’m not sure how I got here so fast, but I don’t want another year to pass without making a serious effort to finally do the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. To write. To believe in myself.

It is not easy. I realize now that every day I need to work to keep from slipping back into a negative spiral. To that end, I have taken a cue from Michel Leiris whose work has been a near obsession for me of late. I’ve just finished reading his monumental work Phantom Africa which is a journal he kept over the course of a two-year ethnographic expedition from Dakar to Djibouti in the early 1930s. He simply records the events of the day and his feelings about his experiences, in so much as he has time to do so. He does not edit himself, his moods fluctuate, his doubts, frustrations, and erotic dreams are all noted. I decided to follow suit and keep a journal of this year myself. My past journaling efforts have fizzled pretty swiftly because I assumed I had to be profound at all times, to only record my sculpted thoughts. Now my aim is to comment on my successes, or shortcomings for the day, and set a goal for the next. When time or inspiration allows I go further, write about the things that are worrying me, speculate, even dream a little. I don’t confine myself to reading and writing concerns, but they are always central.

So far so good.

I hope to stay open to possibility. To read and write to purpose and potential. I have certain projects in mind, call for submissions I want to answer, but I want to kindle and nurture other ideas and see where they take me.

To trust words.

21 thoughts on “Writing into a new season with renewed hope: A reflection

  1. There is something about declaring oneself in public that makes things real.
    One of my moments like this was nothing like as momentous as yours, but I’m still pleased that I had the courage to do it. My Ex of 20+ years had shot through, and a year later at a New Year’s Eve party I confided to a friend that I planned to revert to my maiden name. He insisted that there was no better time to announce it than at that party because all my friends were there and I could start the new year with my real name. That announcement made my decision irrevocable, and it meant I was committed to living my life on my terms, not on anyone else’s.
    Which is what you are now going to do. I think it’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was living on a long term disability income of 60% of my former salary until earlier this year, so I’m not taking that much more of a cut, and I now have a debt-free financial security I would never had if the events of the past few years had not happened. My decision is, I hope, giving myself permission to be open to opportunity and build a new future.

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  2. Firstly, happy birthday Joe. I share your age and don’t always want to acknowledge it – but I guess all those years of experiences, good and bad, make us who we are. As for your decision, it’s a courageous one and I wish you all the success you deserve – hopefully you will find the focus doing the work you love with words. And I hope that a year on from your losses you can move into a healing, grieving phase – time really *does* do what it says on the tin and it is a healer so I’m keeping everything cross that things continue to move forward for you. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Karen. I suspected we were close in age. I have some wonderful supportive people in my life but many of them are15-20 years younger. In the past year or so I have had the good fortune to build strong connections and friendships with people my age or older. That’s so important, especially with writing which, like so many areas, is obsessed with youth. But there is a wisdom and understanding that comes with age and all the losses and joys of living.

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  3. Need it be either/or? Doing something part-time might work as well. It can be difficult to get back into paid work after a break, alas. Good luck however you do things though.

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    • It isn’t really an either/or. Working part-time, contracted or for someone else, has always been my ultimate goal. But I was putting everything on hold thinking I need the job first, and then write and volunteer around it. Finding a job after a few years of illness is not easy—I do need to rebuild references, and gain some more experience to secure the type of pert-time work I want. So I’m resetting my priorities for this year, putting writing and related volunteering first.

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  4. Many of us have made the same or a similar commitment — essentially, to avoid for the rest of our days all that oppresses us, even (or especially) if it’s our own fear.
    Congratulations, Joe. May you thrive in every way!
    P.S. But now I’m concerned about those “tenants” who’ve been lost! 😉

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  5. Congrats on the recent publication credits. It really does help to see one’s name in type, doesn’t it?! Or, as is often the case nowadays, in a typeface online. Glad to hear that you are finding some quiet moments of satisfaction and wish you more of those moments (and fewer of the despairing kind). Do you care for Timothy Findley’s writing? I have a signed copy from many years ago with “Against Despair” and I treasure it and repeat it as often as possible. May the year ahead be amazing!

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    • Thank you for the positive wishes! As for Timothy Findley, I can say that I hated one of his best loved books but thoroughly enjoyed Headhunters—an absolute favourite for me. He was a fascinating man whom I respected greatly. It’s hard to believe he has been gone so long.

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      • Oh, that is a terrific one indeed. I usually (re)read one of his every June, to commemorate (in my own mind) his death, but I missed doing so this year (started one on that day, but just wasn’t in the right frame of mind after all). Perhaps I’ll revisit this favourite. And, yes, it is hard to belive that much time has passed. He is still very prominent in my literary landscape and that doesn’t mesh with his actual absence.

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  6. If your cat is anything like me, it’ll have to be unconscious while dental work is being administered. Unconsciousness, alas, is a state that always lures, even when no dental work is in the offing – and that is why I love your writing, your reviewing, so much. You read and write with your consciousness turned all the way on – and reading you, I remember why I read, and why I’m awake. Looking forward to whatever you discover.

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    • Thank you for your very kind words. I’m continually surprised that people respond to my writing when I was so reluctant to share anything for so long. And yes, my cat needs anesthetia—all his teeth are being removed. I’ll need it when I get the bill!

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