This is my last post for Writer Unboxed as a regular contributor. As I write this, I feel sad, nostalgic, and grateful, grateful, grateful.
Aside from a single guest post in 2011, I began at WU in 2013 with an every-other-month column about Twitter. Three years later, we opened my topics to The World Beyond Twitter to save my sanity, and I spent two years posting about all kinds of things, from query letters to facing fears and more.
My plate just kept getting more and more full, though, and even every other month began to feel like too much. Sweet Mama T offered for me to post less frequently rather than leaving altogether, so I stepped it down to four posts a year, and then three posts a year, and now I’m at two posts a year and somehow I’ve still managed to miss one of them. (The pandemic and a toddler ate my homework.)
After seven and half years (!!!) of writing for this beautiful community, it’s painfully clear to me that I can’t keep WU on my writer’s plate at this point in my life. In the past few years I’ve had to cut back lots of not-fiction-writing writing tasks. I stepped down from leading my local critique group. I stopped webmastering for the Poetry Society of Texas. I’ve let dues expire, said no like it’s my job, and I haven’t updated my own author blog since April. Now I’ve dragged myself kicking and screaming to the acknowledgement that WU, too, is beyond my capacity at this point in my life. Even just twice a year.
This is not a farewell post, though. (At least not only.) This has prompted me to think about a larger topic that, I think, all writers might face if we write for any length of time: the ebb and flow.
How on earth do we accept the larger pattern of things when we can’t see it yet? And I’m not talking about fate or destiny here—though I imagine believing in those things might make it a bit easier—but rather the simple fact that every life has a shape in the end. Very few single days or single decisions change the whole shape, but rather build it up over time.
Take my AIS mantra, for example. (Butt in chair is a slightly nicer way of saying it.) You show up at the keyboard every day that you’re supposed to. That simple. You just do it.
Until you get sick, or your cat gets sick, or your depression overtakes you, or you get a different job to cover the bills, or your yard floods, or your air conditioning breaks, or your computer decides to start automatic updates on the day your column is due, or a dictator overthrows your country, or or or…
Life changes. Many of us, myself included, fight that, but it is the nature of existence. Nothing ever stays the same, so fighting it is futile. How, though, can we even begin to accept that with a modicum of grace?
I certainly don’t have the answer(s) all figured out, but there is one thing that has helped me many times: pretend it’s twenty years later. That might sound simple, but it really does help me look at the big picture more authentically.
It’s easier to see how this works when you try looking back. Look into the past and see phases and periods in your writing life that are so distant now that you can describe them simply. Back when I was putting my poetry manuscript together. Back when I was with my first agent. Back when I had to file that grievance complaint to get paid. Etc. When I fired my first agent, I thought my career was over. No exaggeration. I really did. The depth of doubt and pain in those months was excruciating as I lived it. Six years later (!) I smile sympathetically at that me and pat her on the back. We were just getting started.
In six years from now—or twenty—will I look back on this chaotic phase in my life and think of it as ‘back when I had taken a break from volunteering and taking on extra things’? Or will I look back even further at the time ‘back when I used to be able to do so much’? You know, from twenty years in the future where I’m standing looking back, it’s either way. It’s okay if I miss it, if I’m relieved, if I’m sad, nostalgic, or grateful, grateful, grateful.
Because letting go of one thing is how we make space for something else. Whether they’re new (toddler), gaining more priority (drafting time), or simply allowing for more breathing space overall (pandemic), to remove one thing from our life is to give permission for others. Giving permission is nice because life is going to take it anyway. Change is inevitable, and so we may as well do our best to embrace it.
For some of us, like me, that may never come easily, but it’s still worth aiming for. You never know. Maybe the me twenty years from now will have it down, glad I faced it ‘back when the world turned upside down’. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I do want to say thank you. I’ve been around so seldom here that I’m sure it’s very much like saying Hello, goodbye, but still. This community has meant so much to me (and will continue to, from a new place in my life). So thank you, Therese, for having me here all these years. Thanks to alumnus Nina Badzin for recommending me back then. Thanks to my friends and colleagues who’ve supported me. And of course thanks to the readers, you writers, because your voice, comments, shares, and discussions are what make this special. I’ll miss it.
But I’ll carry this lesson with me, that it’s okay to let go of something, even if you wish you didn’t have to. It just means there are other things taking up more room right now. Writers, are you carrying with you something that you don’t have space for anymore? Is it time to let go?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!