After nearly 30 years practicing law, I retired at the end of October 2007 to have time to do “other things.” One of those other things was writing. It wasn’t so much that I needed more hours on the clock, though I have been chasing those all my life. It was more a matter of freeing my mind so it could meander, unencumbered by the polar pull of work.
I enjoyed my work as an attorney. It was mentally and emotionally provocative. Being privy to my clients’ life stories – their heartaches, as well as their triumphs – was a rare privilege. Nonetheless, it was a door I was ready to close.
Of course, once I closed that door, rather than living my dream, my nightmare began. My time was now my own to allocate as I chose, which ought to mean ample time on a regular basis to do the ‘writing’ that work had kept me from.
Writing on any regular basis requires focus and discipline and keeping my fanny in the chair. ‘Staying on task’ can be a challenge of heroic proportions.
Distractions – legitimate ones – are legion. Dirty socks, barking dogs, the absence of a plan for dinner. Bills must be paid now. Thank you notes are overdue and my mother is giving me ‘the look,’ something she manages to do from the grave. There’s no reasonable way out. I’ll get back to my writing as soon as I complete these chores.
Being your own boss isn’t easy. Having no one but yourself to blame for not getting something done is irksome at best. I’ve learned that going toe-to-toe with the vicissitudes of life isn’t for sissies!
Writing is a ruminative process for me. Long before I ever approach the keyboard, I have talked out whatever the subject is I want to write about. Long walks with whichever dogs are in my custody at the time, regular bouts of insomnia, as well as nine-hour solo car trips to our Idaho cabin, serve me well in sorting out and capturing the particular event or notion that is currently niggling at me.
The dogs, who are my constant companions on the road or in the car and who look up at me from their beds at night when I am awake and talking to myself, are always my first editors. Interpreting their wags and snorts is an art at which I’ve become adept.
For the past several years, the genre I have most frequently worked in is that of “the personal essay,” a term I had never heard until a couple years ago. Before that time, I didn’t know what to call my work – part memoir, part commentary, mainly musings. As it turns out, ‘the personal essay” suits me to a “T.”
Writing, no matter what type it is, ain’t easy. It requires discipline and concentration – there are days when putting the grocery list together is a challenge. I could write several volumes about “what I do when I should be doing something else!”
If company is coming and the kitchen is a mess, that’s when I decide to go to the basement and reorganize the shelves that hold the jars saved for canning – something I rarely get done but often think about. The only person outside of family who is ever allowed in the basement is the furnace man. Certainly, no “company” has ever set foot there.
The essay format allows me to take a single idea or event, run into the weeds with it, and then come out again. A novel requires keeping multiple plotlines going, creating believable and empathetic characters, and building a compelling plot. The “personal’ essay” is all about me – someone I know all too well.
I have led a charmed life, to be sure. It also has been a life filled with foibles and funnies. I suspect yours is, as well. Sharing them is a singular pleasure.
Not quite two years later, and here I am with two books and a third in progress. I have a website, business cards, a team of capable folks who help bring everything together. Right now, it is hard to remember when I wasn’t engaged in “the business,” which I named “Bookworks.”
“Quite Contrary,” a slender volume of about 100 pages, debuted in fall 2014. It’s about me, of course, but if the comments from readers can be believed, it is about you, as well.
It was my hope that while it wanders through the ordinary events of my life – walking dogs, making pie, cleaning behind the clothes dryer – readers would see themselves and smile. Evidently, that is the case.
During the time I worked on selecting and editing the pieces that would go into “Quite Contrary,” I decided that a second volume of essays and stories knitted together with family themes would be my next project.
“Too Far from the Tree” was released in April 2015 and covers five generations of my family, with me in the middle.
That volume is in two parts. Part I contains essays about my family and events in my life, some of which occurred in my childhood, and others that are more contemporary. Part II contains stories I wrote for my daughter, beginning when she was about two.
I always hoped that someday these stories would be read to a child, so it is very gratifying when my daughter Kate tells me that Eleanor, her three-year-old, frequently asks to have them read to her. The final story in Part II was written by Kate when she was in middle school and is about her grandfather.
They help us find common ground. They foster empathy and encourage self-discovery. This has been true for me and for my readers, as well. Honestly, there are a few things I have learned about myself that I might have preferred to leave in the closet. Nonetheless, on the whole, it has been a joyful journey.