the path less taken

When we thought up the idea for Writers Boot Camp.

We came up with the business only a few months ago and already we’ve hosted a few workshops and a writing weekend.

meandering

We took the noncomformist path.

Kelly and I started our business, Boot Camp For Writers because I went off track.

I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.

Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.

I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.

A detour in Oregon.

The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”

I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.

We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.

After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).

We sat at a cafe then walked around.

Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.

“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.

“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.

Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.

We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!

Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.

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No good reason to write

I hate when I get out of the habit of writing. I feel life’s pointless; I feel I will never catch the momentum of my creative life again.

It’s like the train is idling in the station and I have to run and catch it. This has happened a million times when I drove down from Lake Champlain to Albany-Rensselaer. I had to run to catch the train, back to the city, back to work.

Once I missed the train and I was so pissed. Couldn’t they have radioed down to tell the conductor, “Wait one minute!” I watched the train pull away.

I digress. I was writing about writing. And how hard it is to write.

I have been preoccupied with winding down from my day job; vacating up in the Adirondacks; teaching my first boot camp workshop; caring for kids, spouse, family; trying to get my freelance biz going; and now organizing the Adirondack Memoir Retreat (Oct. 25-28 – Please come).

The point of my life is to make stuff.

Yet all things conspire to get in my way when I sit down to to write. Everything and everyone. And they don’t even mean to. And besides, I tell myself there’s no good reason to write. No one’s asking me, “Can you please blog?” (But kids ask me, “Can you fix some dinner?”)

There’s no good reason to blog because it doesn’t make any money. And why do anything but make a buck? our capitalist society asks.

Yet our souls hunger for art. Our lives need to make things of beauty or else it’s all for nothing. It’s all spent grasping for the stupid gold ring on the merry-go-round. And you can never grasp it. You can never have enough. Money does not satisfy.

Art satisfies. Creativity gives back. Handmade dinners, crafts, and poems thank you. If they don’t, well, then you have something to write about then too. Write about the disappointment and the tragedy of all that lack of return on your investment.

Most of the time, you get the return, you catch the train. The conductor waits.

I have caught the train more times than I have missed it. I hopped on. I watched the cities roll by my window. I opened my laptop. I caught my breath from the run to the train and started writing.

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. But yesterday I went to the Staten Island Yankees game. On the free ferry, you pass Lady Liberty. You are free and at liberty to pursue your happiness.

Leaving the Job

In about a month, I’m going to be divorced from my job. In many ways the marriage has been fruitful. We’ve had wonderful children (projects) together; we’ve gone many places; we’ve grown; we’ve pushed each other to grow; and now we’re moving on. We are going our separate ways. We have other loves and other children and other journeys to take. Still, it’s weird. I have mixed emotions.

I find myself moody and at times sad and in need of attention. My friend Rachael said, “That’s good. As it should be.” I remember as a kid going to summer camp or to college and missing my crazy family like crazy. (Work has been like a family to me.) But I assured myself, “It’s okay. It’ be horrible if I was just happy to be rid of them. Just to be free.”

There is a longing for freedom — a desire to speak my truth and not care if my truth jibes with the dogma of the faith-based group. I want to scream from the mountaintops, “I love Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs! I love all religions — no one has a corner on truth. No one of you is more perfect than the rest!” And if I blog about how I love gay marriage I don’t want to fear some stuffy church exec pulling me aside, “You represent the agency so please keep your public opinions to yourself.” (Yes, that kind of thing, on occasion, happens!)

I’ll miss the family dramas. I’ll miss the comedy. I won’t miss the meetings.

I’ll miss my identity as a writer. I always felt I had the best job at the place. There are many writers who want to write full time. And for most of my 20 years with the agency (10, part time and 10, full time) I’ve done it. But writing for work is different than writing for your own passion. And because I’ve given at the office, I don’t always feel like giving out at home.

I gave the best years of my life to that workplace. (I get dramatic. Maybe the best is yet to come?) The agency made me better and I made the agency better.

Still, I feel untethered, unmoored. What am I doing? I need the apron strings of a day job to get by in NYC, especially since I have three kids heading to college within the next six years.

I assure myself I am not alone. I am one of 38 of the 201 full time staff of my agency who accepted this voluntary severance package. That’s about 20 percent of us, who are cut loose and footloose.

I’m starting my own business coaching writers. (Check out my new biz.) I’m freelancing writing and teaching in a couple of afterschool programs. Oh, and I’m going to every single one of my kids’ meets and games in track, swim, basketball, soccer, and gymanstics. I’m going to volunteer with the PTA, go on field trips, and help backstage at the shows.

Here’s the view from the top of my office building.

I’m not going far. I’ll still hang out with my old work friends for lunch, happy hour, maybe even to walk the 19 flights up to the roof, hit up the art opening, visit the ecumenical library, or take my old Pilates class. It is, it turns out, all of these peripheral things that I’ll miss, that I’ve added on to my work life, that have made my life meaningful. It is what I’ve brought with me. And these things, it turns out, I can take away.

I may be getting a divorce from work, but it is an amicable one. We still love each other very much and want only the best for one another.

Union Seminary

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At lunch time the other day, I walked around Union Theological Seminary, where the trees in the center courtyard were just past their full bloom, carpeting the lawn with their petals. This seminary is a hidden  jewel in New York City with its gorgeous arched passageways and quiet corridors.

The chapel is always a hub of colorful, creative worship with bright banners swooping down from the ceiling. The last time I was there, I was reporting on the Poverty Initiative, a movement that grew out of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

As a writer, artist, worker, mother, wife of a chronically ill spouse and person of  faith, I am often looking for quiet and sanctuary, hoping for hidden nooks to reflect upon my life in the big, busy city and recharge my soul. Union Seminary is just such an oasis.

Going Running

How do you psych yourself up to go for a run? I tell myself, “Come on, girl. You can do it.” I talk to my body like it were a beloved family horse. “Yes, get moving, Ole Paint. Get out of your easy chair.” (I know that’s a mixed metaphor: horses don’t sit in easy chairs! Hey, it’s my blog. Write your own blog and mix up your own metaphors!)

There are a million reasons NOT to run. Here are a few:

Florida flower1. My feet hurt.

2. I am slow.

3. No one else is running. (Everyone else is going out for breakfast, in fact.)

And here’s why:

1. It will feel good when you’re done.

2. You will see some new things.

3. You will model fitness for your kids.

4. When you’re done, you can have a big breakfast.

Maybe I’ll go wake up one of my kids and see if they want to go with me.

I am writing this from a rocking chair on the porch. The kids and I are on a four-day trip to Siesta Key, Florida. It is our third day and inertia has set in. After a few days of vacay, especially in a warm clime, inertia always sets in. I must beat back inertia as if it were a horse sitting in an easy chair. (That’s a horrible image. But there you have it. As I’ve said, inertia has set in and I am mentally lazy, can’t come up with a better image. I could, if I really tried. But I have to go running.)

Come on, girl. Let’s go.

Aging

My birthday is coming up. Not really feeling it. I am no longer an ingénue, a wunderkid, a hot new writer. I hope I hit my stride before Amy Clampitt did. But hey, she hit it big at 63, publishing her first book of poetry and following up with ten more years of poetry success (which, I know, sounds like an oxymoron).

Face it, we are all getting older. While visiting Florida this week, I’ve realized there are many ways to age gracefully.

There are athletic 85-year olds striding down the beach and bejeweled 75-year olds shopping for knick knacks.

As they say, aging is better than the alternative.

Like Phil Dunphy in Modern Family, I want to stay hip and childish. Maybe I mean, child-like and full of wonder.

I can be gullible, especially when my kids show me some new technology, my mouth falls open, Are you kidding, Facetime? Skype? You can talk on the phone and see someone? What will they think of next? Flying cars? Moving sidewalks?

Yes, at times, I am more naïve than my kids. They are growing up in New York City, after all, so that gives them an advantage over a kid like me who grew up in the Midwest suburbs. (Of course, ever since Obama became President, the Midwest is hip.)

As I age, I mainly want to stay curious and kind. I don’t want to be a know-it-all or a crabby old lady when I grow older. I love the song by Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance. I love the line, I hope you never lose your sense of wonder. 

I hope, as I age, that I never lose my sense of wonder.

New York Is Beautiful

It’s true that New York is beautiful. Every night, we have an incredibly sunset. This is my view of the West Side Highway.

The sunset was especially lovely.

But today’s bill at the gas pump was not so pretty. WTH! (This is the MOST I have ever paid for gas!)

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