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taking myself seriously, part 1

November 2, 2013

Now that I’ve been on a writer’s retreat, I can extrapolate to imagining myself at a writer’s or artist’s residency. Since feeding myself is a problem pretty much every day, I’d prefer something where meals are provided — so I could just concentrate on my work.

I’ve been looking into several of the well-known writers’ residencies. I really really want to do one, but I also don’t think I’m ready yet.

I’m not one of those people who never thinks they are ready. In fact, I’m more likely to jump in feet first, when I feel somewhere between 40% and 70% ready.

But right now? I think I’m about 20% ready. And that’s too big of a jump.

It’s also a consideration that, for the well-known programs, they want you to supply references from people who know your work. I haven’t been able to come up with anyone who fits that description.


Two weeks ago I took a workshop on writing characters. I didn’t really get much out of how the teacher approached the subject, possibly because she’s a fiction writer, and is therefore not completely constrained by reality.

However, I had interesting interchanges with 4 people in the class. I stayed late talking to one of them, partially about an idea that popped up almost fully formed in my mind as she was talking during class.

I should know from experience by now that when that happens, I need to pause, and not commit myself to anything right away. Because when I’ve committed myself immediately, my initial idea always always turns out to be ill-formed, with unfortunate implications.  Sometimes extricating myself from a poorly-thought-out commitment has required burning bridges I would’ve preferred to keep intact.

The good news is that I was able to synthesize on the spot a bunch of interests and what I think I could do with them. Feeling that happen in real time was really cool.

Those interests and ideas partially play into things I want to do at a residency.

As I was talking to her, though, I said something and I could feel a click, that I knew meant I had just talked her out of what I was trying to talk her into. But feeling that happen in real time — and knowing what it meant — was also pretty cool. Even though I knew it meant I would never actually hear back from her. And I haven’t. (That’s okay.)

= + =

The fourth person became the only connection that persisted beyond our class. We have PTSD in common, but she’s still mired in it, while I have healed from my trauma-onset portion. She was heartened to know this was possible. We changed contact information, and she emailed me that same day.

This was the first time I’d ever known, going into a new relationship, that I have a tendency to get entangled with people (especially people who seem to need my help) . . . so I was mindful of my boundaries and hers.

We both were.

We excitedly talked about starting a writing group, to work through our memoir-ish pieces. Even though she wasn’t actually writing yet. I suggested she look at my blog posts on my own family of origin issues; I sent links to particular posts I thought were relevant.

There were things I did not want to say over email, and I did not want her to tell me over email, so I suggested we write letters to each other, assuring those particularly-sensitive communications stayed private. I asked her to write to me first, because I have a P.O. Box, so my street address wasn’t going to be bouncing all over the Internet.

I was looking forward to finding out whatever experiences she had had that led to her PTSD — did we have specifics in common? Or not? How had she dealt with specific issues I already knew about?

Her first letter arrived two days ago, and it was a revelation, but not in a good way.

I’d originally planned to write back right away, and return to the post office, to send back my response the same day. Except that I gradually realized, as I was doing other things (but the letter was on my mind), that I was really angry about it. Even though I didn’t know how to respond in a constructive way, I did know that . . . not only were we not on the same page, we weren’t even in the same book. This relationship was not going to go anywhere I wanted to go: I’ve already dealt with the inevitable train wreck 101 earlier times.

In fact, this situation greatly resembled a different situation that had happened to me recently, also centered around writing, where I realized that I was taking what I thought would be a master class but all my classmates were (apparently) taking a completely different class, at a different level.

In this letter I received two days ago, I learned a lot of facts about people that I will never meet. But I didn’t learn anything about why anything happened. I learned no emotional truths. There was no insight. There was no indication the letter writer was even looking for insight. Nothing was really about her own life. And then there was an entry for an exquisite corpse that I was invited to add to. It seemed a thinly veiled autobiographical sketch . . . that potentially revealed more than the previous 4 pages of non-fiction.

I find myself thinking again of a conversation with Siderea and others a year ago.

The universe keeps presenting me with situations where I could reflexively agree to help other people with something they don’t even know they want to do. I could talk them into it!

In fact, the incident two weeks ago (the person I felt the in-conversation click with), was another one of those situations! Luckily for me, I inadvertently talked her out of it! Oh crap.

I do not want to help other people with their problems.

I do not want to be a healer. Or a counselor. Or — and it hurts to say this — a developmental editor.

I want — I need — to prioritize my selves. What do we want? How can we get that? What can we do with what we get?

And only then do I need to (perhaps) consider how that might add value to the rest of the world.

I am done with finding other people who can distract me from concentrating on my selves.

+ = +

Three weeks ago, completely unconnected to the writing class, I’d been in contact with someone I knew from somewhere else. We were supposed to get together in November. Two days ago, I got an email from her about her schedule this month. She also answered a lot of questions I had asked her. And I realized, reading those answers, she probably really needs a friend, or at least someone to vent to, someone who will hold her hand, and reassure her about everything she’s doing.

Not only can I not be that person (because we don’t actually agree on almost anything), but I don’t want to.

So I told her things had changed for me, and I no longer felt it was a good idea to meet up.


Yesterday I desperately wanted to go . . . somewhere. Mostly to explore a place I ready knew and loved, or a new place. I knew exactly the kind of place I needed — something like Broad Ripple, in Indianapolis. Which unfortunately is 600 miles away. We’ve lived in Maryland for 5 years, and have found no equivalent to Broad Ripple.

Frederick, Maryland has some similarities to it. So does Annapolis. But on days like yesterday, I want to be able to hop in the car and drive 30 miles or less. Frederick is about 60 miles west; Annapolis, 60 miles southeast.

When I lived in Chicagoland when I was single, if I knew I had a day off coming up, I could plan to go to downtown Chicago for the day. It wasn’t something I could do on the spur of the moment, because I’d be taking the train. And since I didn’t have a car, it would take some planning to get to the train station. There were times I had walked to the train station, but it was about 3 miles, so that wasn’t my first choice.                                    When Spouse & I lived in Chicagoland, I could drive to Geneva.

I need somewhere I can go for inspiration and renewal. I also need trips to look forward to, both short and long. And I need (at least some of) those trips to be solitary.

I have to be free to explore whatever takes my fancy.

So, I came up with the idea of an impromptu writing weekend at a place near enough that I could either take a train or drive. Plenty of things to do. Right on a river, and apparently scenic. Some place I’ve never been, but in a state I love. A place that Spouse has never expressed any interest in. Neither of us know anyone there. Not too expensive.

I looked into all of it. I could get a train. There are B&Bs. There’s hiking nearby (the Appalachian Trail, in fact).

I talked to Spouse about it last night at dinner. Mostly to make sure we didn’t have informal plans that weekend. I wasn’t asking for permission, and I wasn’t sure how he would react. He was supportive and encouraging.

Later that evening I realized going on this particular weekend no longer seemed urgent. Almost as if going through the process of finding a place, working out the logistics, and then presenting it to someone else as thing I was going to do . . . was a lesson in itself. Was homework maybe. Setting the stage for a future run.

Doesn’t hurt that it also saved me $500.


In the last few months, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about how to write effectively, and how to write poetry.

Rather abruptly yesterday, I realized that . . . research stage . . . has ended.

Now it’s time to write. Prose and poetry both.

Now it’s time to seek my own counsel, follow my own intuition about what I need to be doing.

Now it’s time to discover who I am. Co-create my selves, with help from our habitats.

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