Jellyfish and polka dots

Motion sicknessMy, I haven’t written on this, my personal blog, for some time.  I did get distracted by being back east for almost a month, a period that ended with my mini-residency at Goucher.  Thank God for that weekend – after a frustrating and minimally productive first semester something switched on in my head and I understood what narrative nonfiction really is.  I should have known already, right?

My mentor this semester is Leslie Rubinkowski, and she is awesome – very organized, supportive and responsive.  I missed several hours of the residency, first because I had a dizzy spell the day I had to drive down there from NJ and had to lie down until I felt well enough to drive; second, on Sunday I actually got lost walking what must be barely a quarter mile between the Sheraton and the campus.  Yes, I am an idiot, although in my defense I was given directions that skipped the part where I turn left onto the little service road that connects the street the hotel is on and campus.

Anyway, at some point during the hours I was there I was like ohhhhh I get it…and ultimately I looked at what I wrote (a measly 25 pages) last semester and realized it’s magazine writing.  Then I realized how much more reporting I need to do in order to turn my current work into narrative.  I’m continuing on with my general theme of American religious experience.  Leslie and I decided that for my first assignment I’ll work on the section on Mormons (a topic I’ve written about so long that I cringe when I hear the words “holy ghost”) and then move on to the next group, which I think will be Pentecostals.  I’m a long way from  my original theme to what I’m planning now, and I have a fair amount of anxiety over getting things done timely and well.

This morning I read this post on Brevity which matched my feelings and outlook on starting to write many years after you first knew you wanted to.  Although the author, Pamela Dellinger, was, unlike me, waylaid by mental illness, I still totally dig the sentiment:

Two husbands and three children later, I find myself back on the jetty, tossing myself into the dangerous unknown and writing again.

I had the two husbands and if you count my two stepsons I had the three children, but more importantly, for me as for Dellinger writing was a long-abandoned activity that I’m coming back to, rather than starting out.  But that’s exactly why I’m so anxious about doing my best and succeeding. To start a writing career and a serious writing degree (unlike my journalism MA, which was not so serious) at 51 requires confidence and diligence.  None of us ever knows when God will take us from this earth, but it’s scary for my starting point to be at an age at which going by average expectations you can reasonably estimate how long your career will be.  That long sentence is meant to say that if I started at 25 I could imagine having decades to continue, whereas now I may have only 20 or 25 productive years left.

I am obsessed with story these days – watching movies on my unlimited Netflix account, reading books assigned for class and other books and articles and essays, trying to figure out how to put everything together.  I think about the nuts and bolts, but then I think about stepping back and imagining I’m the public and whether or not I’m interested in what I’ve written.  Nerve-wracking.  I think the only way to meet the challenge is to write all the time about everything everywhere.  And read, too.