Time continues to fly by at a pace that astounds me. I first started writing while in my forties, dabbling with children’s literature that I created with JT in mind. Sending him and our dog Freckles on far-fetched adventures. That was before I realized that I shouldn’t write for a market that I couldn’t relate to. Sure I could relate to JT because he was my kid, but I certainly didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about other people’s kids. And as loyal as JT was to me and my stories, he was quick to identify any plot flaws. After deciding to write for grownups, I completed the mentorship program at Toronto’s Humber School for Writers. I swore that if I didn’t publish something by the time I was fifty, I would give up. Then my short stories began to find homes in various literary journals.
It wasn’t until five years ago that my only book, a short story collection entitled Prerequisites for Sleep, was released. I was almost 57. At the time, many of those stories were well over five years old; and I was writing and rewriting a novel that was older than that and never did get published. It was November 2014. I was working full time as a graphic designer in a national grocery-store-pharmacy environment. All my energy, creative or otherwise, was being absorbed by this job. I was constantly tired and consistently bitchy, meaning freely expressing my opinions whether they were wanted or not. I don’t apologize for expressing opinions or standing up for creative integrity, but it can be exhausting. It left me empty, lacking both imagination and inspiration to write.
For almost ten years prior to going back to work full time, I had a great free-lance gig working out of my house for the Canadian division of a international healthcare nutrition company. It certainly wasn’t glamorous work. It sometimes entailed liquid diets and feeding pumps. But it was perfect for me because I got to be there when JT came home from school; and I got to spread my creative energy between design and writing, with most of it going towards my writing since liquid diets and feeding pumps didn’t require much inspiration. They only needed to look pretty and professional on paper. For the graphic designer in me, that was a piece of cake.
I have to admit this situation was ideal. Not just for me, but also for my creativity, my stress management and my family. My writing was at it’s best. I had eleven separately published short stories, I had received favourable accolades and encouragement and had won a short story contest in a well-known Canadian literary journal. I felt that success was just around the corner. Then the other shoe dropped. The division that I worked for was sold. I would miss the circumstances provided by this job more than you can imagine. I did not adjust well to returning full time to the world of cubicles.
Success in any artistic pursuit doesn’t just happen, it takes work; and though I managed to get my short story collection published, that was all I managed. The only writing I accomplished were paragraphs of brochure copy and ad headlines to go with the graphic design of my full-time job. It’s OK I kept telling myself, I will get back to my writing when I am retired. I was convinced of it.
So here I am, retired for almost a year and a half and still lacking story lines and fictional inspiration. Not how I envisioned things would turn out. On the other hand, I did start writing again. Last winter and this past spring I began to bang out things with my keyboard. I can’t really say tap because I wasn’t tapping. It was definitely banging, nothing gentle about it. These things had been eating me up. I certainly felt better once they were stored in my computer instead of my brain. Then I started writing other things and Still Bitchy After 60 was born. This has become my sanity project and I am enjoying it immensely. It is not daunting like a novel, or intellectual like a short story. It is tangible, just like me. The process has allowed me to focus. Focus is something I wrestle with these days.
Currently my consciousness is planted squarely in the center of reality and doesn’t appear to be willing to move. But there may be hope for me yet. I heard an interview on the radio with Canadian author Sharon Butala, who said she woke up one morning with a short story in her head. She hadn’t written a short story for fourteen years. Then she wrote the first draft of ten stories in three months. Yes she had written other things in that fourteen-year period, however that’s not the point I want to dwell on. Stories would often pop into my head in the past, sometimes almost complete with first and last and descriptive middle sentences. I would need to quickly type them out before they disappeared. Now that my brain is free from all the things recently banged out on my keyboard, and I am writing this blog weekly, an exercise in creative nonfiction that I also consider an exercise in writing improvement, here’s hoping stories will choose to come to me like that again in the future. Fingers crossed.
Thanks for reading.