When I take the car out of the garage, I see our kayaks, canoe, and paddles hanging neatly on the walls. Because of my difficulties with RA (rheumatoid arthritis), it is not likely that I will again be able to get into or out of the kayaks. Last summer, when I managed (with difficulty) to get into the kayak, I couldn’t get out. I had to have someone tip the kayak over near the beach, so that I could roll out into the knee-deep water and crawl to the shore to find something to lean on in order to pull myself to my feet. Pretty inelegant! I could do that on our own, private beach, but, now that we no longer have our house in Maine, I would be forced to enact this lovely procedure on a public beach, and that just isn’t going to happen.
However, both Rosemary and I are unwilling to admit that another kayak trip down the Connecticut River is out of the question. Perhaps the doctor, who has been adjusting my medications for five years now, will come up with the right combination of drugs and my RA will go into remission. Maybe my new dairy-free, gluten-free diet will have good results. Or, a miracle will happen, and I will wake up with a young body again, one able to slip easily into the kayak and scoot out again in the flash of an eye, as it used to do. Meanwhile, the kayaks, canoe, and paddles remain on our garage wall.
Signs of a life that is phasing out––items like the paddles—remain in my life. But evidence of a new life also appears.
This week, I realized that I no longer study the want ads looking for possible new employment. Although I retired from my consulting business four and a half years ago at age 69, I continued to read announcements about open positions on Linked In and in certain journals such as the Chronicle of Higher Education. I didn’t really have an intention of getting a new job, but something compelled me to read, perhaps to convince myself that I could get one if I really wanted to. Sometimes, I read the descriptions aloud to Rosemary and asked her if she thought I would enjoy a certain job. “I thought you had decided to stop working,” she would remind me. Still, I persisted. Until I stopped. This week, I noticed that I was deleting the emails about openings without reading them. I can’t remember when I stopped, but now I was too busy with my life as a writer to bother.
This idea of writing wasn’t entirely new. In fact, I have known since I was about eight years old that one day I would be a writer. It was at that age that we moved from the country into the town, and I was able to go to the Rumford (Maine) Public Library. I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed with writing a book, but I carried a little notebook with me wherever I went, writing: “Nanna is in the kitchen baking bread. I walked through the living room and saw our dog, Sugar, on the floor. My sister Carol just came in from playing with Butchie and Barbie…” Still, the longing was clear. I didn’t know that I would have to wait so long, but I am overjoyed that the writing life has finally come to be.
In truth, I had been building my writing credentials for some time…teaching writing in high school and college, training employees in the workplace, participating in a fellowship with the Connecticut Writing Project, learning about and engaging in Proprioceptive Writing (PW) for thirty years, publishing a couple of poems, writing a chapter in an academic book, finishing my dissertation, being in any number of writing groups, including my current twelve-year participation in a PW memoir group…but for all of that, I wasn’t a writer––writing wasn’t my life as it is now.
Once I had firmly committed myself to this new life, all sorts of possibilities made themselves apparent to me. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition (1951) writes about planning for his Nepalian adventure. He points out that until one is truly committed to something, “there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,” but, once his team had put down money and booked the sailing passage to Bombay, things began to fall into place. “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” [I have included the full quote below.]
His description quite captures my experience in creating this new life for myself. Gradually at first, and then with increasing momentum, my writing life became a reality. As Murray pointed out, the moment I definitely committed myself to writing, then “a whole stream of events” came forth, and “all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance,” which I could never have imagined, came my way. I met a neighbor in my new condo, Anne, and discovered we had a common interest in writing (and watching tennis). With Anne, I attended two writing workshops and met more writers. As a result of one of the workshops, I reconnected with some writer friends when I asked for advice about a publishing opportunity I had been offered through one of the workshops. Over lunch with my friend Jeremy, the wonderful man who had been the chair of my dissertation committee and a trusted mentor in graduate school, I learned about a writing group that he had recently joined, and he invited me to become a member of that group. My friend, Mary, invited Rosemary and me to the party to launch her newly published book, Walled In, Walled Out, where I met more writers. Through inquiring of Connie Corley, a professor I had met in graduate school, about some readings related to the topic of my new blog, I was invited to be a guest in a seminar on Creative Wisdom and Longevity at my alma mater, Fielding Graduate Institute. There seemed to be new doors opening at every turn!
In her film Lives Well Lived, Sky Bergman interviews people between the ages of 75 and 100, and discovers a common theme: nearly all those interviewed spoke of the importance of being engaged in something for which they had a passion. Last week, as I was watching Rosemary get ready for a busy day at work, I hugged my laptop to my chest, headed toward my office, and declared very emphatically, “I love my writing life!”
Sure, each time I open the garage door and see the kayaks, I have a twinge of sadness over the loss of youth as symbolized by the paddle, but I am very grateful for the gift of my seventies – -having the time, ability, and good health to pick up my figurative pen.
H. Murray’s full quote in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition (1951):
But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’
 Anne, I know you will ask me, but I have no idea if W. H. Murray is related to the tennis player Andy Murray, although I do know they both are from Scotland.