Words are my passion and always have been. It began as a young child when I lived in foster homes and a Children's Home during the Great Depression in the 1930s and continued through the 1940s. I learned to write and tell stories to anyone who would listenas a way to connect with the people in my life. I didn't understand why my Baptist Sunday School friends and my young schoolmates lived a different life from mine: pretty clothes, bicycles, parents who picked them up in big, black cars, while I walked everywhere. I dressed funny in second-hand clothes, and didn't bring a lunch to school. But I never lacked friends because they thought I was smart. I tutored them with their math and writing reports in exchange for half a bologna sandwich and fruit. I still remember their names.
My writing passion flourished during the early 1950s, when as a student nurse, I learned to write narrative non-fiction in the form of 'nurse's notes' on my patients' charts. These notes described in detail: how did the wound smell, what color was the drainage, was the skin hot and red, and did the patient complain of pain?This information helped physicians know the changing conditions of their patients. Again, the medium for sharing and connecting was words. My passion was further nurtured.
My next writing journey began in the 1960s with my graduate education to earn a PhD as a Sociologist where the predominant medium was numbers. Thus, I learned a new form of thinking and writing that was heavily focused on reporting analysis and manipulation of quantitative data, other wise known as,'Research Findings.' Writing science in this form was a challenge for me because I preferred words to numbers. But I accepted the challenge and evolved into a social science writer, publishing books and articles as an academic sociologist. But my thirst for narrative non-fiction remained. This hunger led me to my current journey: creative non–fiction.
This journey began early in l999, when my husband showed physical signs of a severe neurological disease: hand tremors that resulted in dropping his tennis racquet and falling on the tennis court, facial tremors, and slightly slurred speech. At that time, I began writing a detailed journal of my observations every night, including our personal reactions to this illness situation. He finally agreed to a neurological evaluation, that resulted in a diagnosis of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, on Friday the 13th, 2000. I continued this journal throughout our journey and after his death in 2003. Journaling exposed me to myself. I found that sometimes I wanted the dying to happen sooner so I didn't have to watch his pain and he would be free of this ugly disease, but then he would be free of me. The contradictions loomed large during the journey we shared.
I continued my journal writing and decided to study how to write a memoir to share the richness of our experience to show the ways we lived life to the fullest with a terminal illness, experiencing joy and meaning, rather than dying from an illness.
Beginning with courses at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland, followed by summer workshops at the University of Iowa, I learned about artist residency programs where you have the privilege of time, space, and stimulating colleagues to encourage your development in your chosen genre. I applied to an artist colony in 2005 and was accepted at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Georgia. The first night sitting around the dinner table sharing our writing experiences, I felt like a fraud in the midst of these accomplished artists. What was I doing there? My only publications were academic ones. I hid for the rest of the week not wanting to expose my incompetence to these accomplished artists.
I finally ventured out and asked two colleagues, Heather Tosteson and Florence Weinberg, to read a draft of the first chapter of my proposed book. I struck gold. With their encouragement and instruction I persevered. A few years later in 2007, when Heather Tosteson, editor and co-owner of Wising Up Press with Charles Brockett, was planning to publish an anthology, Illness & Meaning: Terror & Transformation, she invited me to submit an essay for consideration. Again, I felt like a fraud. How could I do that when I didn't see myself as an authentic artist? My essay was accepted and published, followed by four additional essays.
Following this, a new opportunity opened: an invitation from Heather to join the new Wising Up Press Collective's editorial board. While excited by the opportunity to engage in conversation with these accomplished artists, I was reluctant to participate. The old ghost was nagging me. I was not qualified to belong to this distinguished literary group. These ghosts disappeared when we met together in 2009 to share our experiences and together advance the vision for the Collective initiated by the publishers.
In my late seventies, I continue to feed my passion as I write my memoirs in progress, Make the Good Times Last: Live Well in the Face of Death, and Sweet Abandon. Belonging to a literary community helps me learn, grow, evolve and connect with other human spirits - a precious gift.