Elizabeth Berg, my favorite author, is positively luminous in person. She is sparkly and real and has a smile that radiates best-girl-friend warmth. I met her last night at her reading with tears in my eyes, and she signed her book about writing, called Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. I love it because she shares her Secret Formula about writing...which is, there IS no secret formula. Just write. Tell the truth. Listen to what's inside you and you can't help but bring it out.
She made me think even more powerfully of the Writer's Life I want to have, which is very like the one she has. She wakes up, makes coffee, goes to her little office and just writes for a few hours until...she doesn't have to anymore. Then she takes walks with her dogs, and maybe has lunch in a diner, or calls her best friend on the phone, all of which, she reasons, can be considered part of her work. She notices everything, and stays completely open to any moment that might spark something - the glint of gold in the old-fashioned plastic diner seats, the way the nametag on the coffee shop waitress hangs defeatedly perpendicular, a snippet of conversation between the old couple wearing matching windbreakers, sitting together on a park bench. That observation IS work, and it all counts. Being with people counts. Being alone to listen to herself think counts.
I love, too, that she came to writing late in life. She was a nurse for a long time, and she feels like the sort of honesty that she had with her patients helped her find the sort of honesty she needs for her characters. I related to that, because as a teacher, I've had literally thousands of spirits come through my life in fourteen years. So many lives in flux, mid-discovery, and I have prided myself on being as true and open with my students as I possibly can. (Within reason, of course.) I have told myself that I'm not "ready" to "be a writer," that I'm too busy with the girls, or there's a show to direct or a projects to grade, but look! I'm doing it. I'm being it, here, to start. This is my beginning.
Actually, though, when I think about it, this is really my middle. The beginning is decades old... notebooks upon notebooks full of writing: dreams, reflections, frustrations, observations...more than twenty-five years worth, and I never let that "count." I'm still learning, still finding my way, and I don't know where it's going, but I feel, finally, like I am on the road to something. I am on the road I have always wanted to be on, with no more excuses. I always hoped that I would just know when the time was right, and I'm feeling that. I always hoped that my life would continue to expand and deepen, and that I would listen when the Universe "showed me a sign" that I should just DO IT, already. And finally, it wasn't about waiting for the right time. It's about making time, however I can.
I confess that I'm writing this right now while my students are in gym class. I already graded their Latin root quizzes, booked the library for Friday book return, wrote a congratulatory note for someone I like who is retiring, returned three parent emails, did some money-stuff from last week's play, talked to one of my students who was ill in the nurse's office, and copied Friday's Greek History test. Then, I wrote this. It took me twenty minutes. And in these twenty minutes, I gave myself the boost of energy that will get me through reading the next chapter of Homecoming yet again, and through taking both classes outside to the huge rock to rehearse their Greek Mythology plays, and through the praise-giving, and the love-for-learning inspiring and the pseudo-mothering that I will have to do with fifty twelve-year-olds from now until 2:45.
But, what if...what if the burst of energy from twenty minutes of writing could lead, instead, to more writing? What if I could sit in my pajamas at my desk, looking out at my woods, and take that energy and put it instead onto a page, into characters, into a story? Then, the energy from that writing could go to...what? Parenting? Wife-ing? Observing and living? I feel ignited when I picture a life with that creative cycle, full of momentum and discovery. In just the past few months, after a lifetime of hoping and visualizing, it feels like it could finally be within reach.