Monday, June 26, 2017

Voice in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

What can possibly be more important than a writer cultivating an authentic voice? Nothing, really, for without voice our words remain a collection of floating pieces, thoughts and memories with no anchor. 

Who are we? Does our personality come through on the page through our language use and word choice? Can a reader say: "I know this voice. It is unique to this writer."

As one writer said after our Women’s Writing Circle "Voice Lessons" workshop this past weekend: “What I brought today was openness and anticipation. What I’m taking away is greater recognition of the importance of using my voice.”

The alchemy of creativity hums in a collaborative community of writers. It fosters confidence and clarity that voice is unique to the writer. In a rapidly changing world of turmoil, a writer’s authentic voice become ever more invaluable.

Tips on finding voice.
Listen to yourself because if you can't, you can't listen to others.
Dig deep into what has been silent.
Be uplifted by the creations of each other.
It is a gift to write because it wasn't that long ago there were (and still are) places where women were not allowed to do so.
Write what you are dedicated to, passionate about, and emotionally invested.
Accept what it feels like to stand in a happy place where you are validated and your voice loved. 
Perhaps, no genre better allows us to explore our voice than creative nonfiction (which includes memoir). Told in first person (‘I’) narrative, the genre offers the writer the opportunity to explore experiences and topics of significant interest, using literary devices common to the novel and the play.

In our workshop, we discussed the personal essay to honor and hone our voice. There’s a lot on the Internet about the personal essay, including this from the blog Find Your Creative Muse:

  • It is based on a personal experience in which you have gained significant meaning, insight, or learned a lesson. It can also be based on a milestone or life-altering event.
  • It is personal narrative. The writer tells the story by including dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting.
  • It is written in the first person. (“I” point-of-view).
  • It is an autobiographical story in which the writer describes an incident that resulted in some personal growth or development.
  • A personal essay is a glimpse of the writer’s life. The writer describes the personal experience using the scene-building technique, weaves a theme throughout the narrative, and makes an important point. There must be a lesson or meaning. The writer cannot just write an interesting story.
  • It does not have to be objective. However, the writer must express his/her feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
  • The writer uses self-disclosure and is honest with his/her readers.
  • The writer writes about a real-life experience. The incident or experience must have occurred.
  • The writer must use fact and truth.
  • The writer must dramatize the story by using the scene building technique. A scene includes setting/location, intimate details, concrete and specific descriptions, action, and often dialogue.
We borrowed quotes from Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World as prompts for our free write. I’d like to share those for your use (with gratitude to Women’s Writing Circle author and member Flo Shore for compiling them):

Our work is about something much bigger and more important than we are. In the long run success means we secure a place in the pantheon of people who care about ideas.

Success is not about fame or ideas; it is having our ideas discussed by other people.

Point of view reflects our understanding of the world.

Change writing almost always involves trying to understand the points of view of others and communicating those points of view to readers.

Metaphors are paths into something much older and deeper than we are. They are one of the most powerful ways to express the wholeness of our ideas.

Tolstoy’s definition of wealth was “the number of things we can do without.”

Long after buildings and aqueducts crumble writer’s words live on.

Writers are cultural brokers for the world of ideas.

Writers pay attention to both the internal and the external landscape.

Cynicism is a form of resistance, a walling off of possibilities for transformation. Scratch every cynic and underneath you find a wounded idealist.

When we writers offer readers multiple points of view on the universe, we help them expand their frames of reference. We dissolve prejudices and open hearts and minds.
I thank the wonderful women who attended our "Voice Lessons" workshop. I thank them for their willingness to explore their lives, their memories and their voice ... and let me share and explore mine.

As one woman wrote, “I walk away with the knowledge that there is no ‘right’ voice―there are multiple voices and multiple perspectives based on time and place in life.”

Special thanks to Flo and Jan for feeding the hungry afterwards with an excellent Mediterranean repast of humus, cheeses, olives, salad, grapes, and chocolate. Brava and job well done!

What about you? Can you share an experience, a memory that offered you a chance to let your voice ring out?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Reviews, Marketing and the Love of Writing

At a writers’ meeting yesterday, we talked about book reviews, how difficult they are to come by. I hadn't gotten a review in quite some time, despite people saying they loved my book, I said.

“Some readers just don’t know how to critique, they’re not the type of person to write even one or two sentences,” one writer offered.

"Sprinkle me with stars," another laughed.

Writers, themselves, draw the line―if they don’t think the book is well-written and they couldn’t get past the first fifty pages, they’ll forgo writing a review even after promising the author they will.

“Well, can’t you give it four stars and say you found the first fifty pages spellbinding?” one writer suggested, half-joking, half serious.

The writer said, ‘no’, he felt he couldn’t and then we were back to talking about marketing and publishing in all its mind-boggling variety, herculean effort and time away from doing what we love―writing.


A story captured my attention: Yoko Ono sharing credit for “Imagine,” her husband’s masterpiece. A husband and wife collaboration recognized thirty-seven years after John Lennon’s death. Imagine that. A timeless love story, I thought …

The story struck a chord. A Portrait of Love an Honor is a collaboration between my late husband John M. Cavalieri and me … a collaboration which became public as a published work twenty-one years after my husband's death. In this guest blog post on author Kathy Pooler's Memoir Writer's Journey blog, I wrote what inspired our book.

Most creative journeys and the stories that unfold are about love, aren't they? A husband and wife, a father and son, a mother and daughter, a friend and lover ... an attempt to find redemption, a vision for a better, kinder world.

Saturday would have been my 39th wedding anniversary. Clouds and gray sky suddenly gave way to a steady rain running in rivulets down the driveway and tap, tapping on the roof, much like the weather that day.

I have written about our wedding day―there didn't seem much point to searching that memory again. Then, as I listened to the rain, one memory emerged ... one I hadn't written. I saw myself looking out the window of John’s apartment where I had spent the night. In the parking lot below, John, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, worked on the engine of his green MGB … this and our church wedding less than an hour away.

I opened the window. I think I shouted, “It’s getting late, you have to get ready!” … but he waved me off. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there,” he said. And he was and always will be.

Lily sleeping at my feet, fading peach-colored roses in a delft blue vase on the living room coffee table.  A June day with the freedom to write. Yesterday, I bought a dozen white roses in anticipation of my anniversary. I take stock, thankful that we loved each other ... had two amazing sons who steadfastly remain by my side. This is enough for any one life … any woman alone.

The writing life is a journey close to the heart. Forget the book reviews and the marketing, I tell myself. Either you love writing or you don’t. That's what matters. I have to work on another book, and gird myself again for all that comes with it. Writing must be met with resolution, but also joy!

I'd love to hear your thoughts about writing and/or the marketing journey.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Memoir Writing and Memories Then and Now

This summer marks the 7th anniversary of my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat. Would I write it today as I wrote it seven years ago? Maybe not. But on the other hand, the story holds true for it captured that journey in that time when I wrote it.

Memory is tinged with longing, nostalgia, traumatic and life-changing events. Perspectives change as we age and time etches its imprint.

For me personally, a former journalist trained to observe details and chronicle other peoples' lives, I've learned when I became the subject of my own remembrance, observation and contemplation, it is a difficult process.

The writer chronicles both the inner and the outer life ... and her own faults, fears, sadness. Solitude, reflection and moving forward on a spiritual journey ... all helped me understand memory is intricate, shape-shifting as we age.

As I think about memory and how to break through to what May Sarton calls "its rough, rocky depths," I offer thoughts from other writers about memory, along with some writing I've done in recent days.

“What could be simpler to understand than the act of people writing about what they know best, their own lives? But this apparently simple act is anything but simple, for the writer becomes, in the act of writing, both the observing subject and the object of investigation, remembrance, and contemplation.” ~ Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives

Sultry summers and shimmering autumns… two dogs you will never know, faithful companions and sources of comfort and joy. Friends who have come and gone, crises large and small, all passed through the window of time.

Love affairs dabbled in ... there had to be something to look forward to or I couldn’t go on living without you, although, of course, they weren't you.

Our little boys are men now. They travel in their father’s footsteps, quietly, silently in moments when your spirit brushes theirs with a whisper of your name­─John─and you and they become one.
“I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl, that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid.” ~ Bell Hooks, author of Bone Black
One chance meeting altered the course of my life. I was twenty-six, so young, searching for romance and that one true love. I remember seeing you for the first time as if it were yesterday. But now I understand something I didn't then. Your sadness was palatable in your gentle, intelligent disposition rendered expendable by those you once idolized and who almost destroyed you.

What did we feel and why did we feel it?  I know this. My heart was open. I loved seeing myself through your eyes.

We had seventeen years. Twilight evenings of lovemaking; a blizzard that winter I was miserable and pregnant; August by the shore, the sea stretching beyond the farthest horizon toward a future never to be.
“Looking back over sixty-odd years, life is like a piece of string with knots in it, the knots being those moments that live in the mind forever, and the intervals being hazy, half-recalled times when I have a fair idea of what was happening, in a general way, but cannot be sure of dates or places or even the exact order in which events took place.” ~ George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma
Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. Your death forever changed my life, my journey ... society’s crushing expectations of the single mother, the widow … the woman alone. Widowhood has shaped my belief that out of great loss comes great abundance, if we―I―allow it. Part of me felt rearranged after you died, never to be the same.

Now ... a rose in bloom, the coo of a mourning dove, my dog’s velvet blond muzzle, a word artfully arranged here and there and read to others; something akin to satisfactory acceptance that this is life, my life, and remembering is enough.

How about you? Can you offer an experience or technique to tap into memories?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Traveling Through Ireland: Lessons in Writing and Poetry

On my recent trip to Dublin we followed in the footsteps of James Joyce’s protagonist Leopold Bloom, past townhouses with colorful blue and red doors and window boxes brimming with purple and pink petunias.

For the writer, it is pure delight to wander Ireland where the likes of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw produced plays and poetry that changed the world.

Bram Stoker, an Irishman who attended Trinity College and the author of Dracula, found in Ireland’s mists and dramatically plunging seaside cliffs, the broodingly dark mood for his classic Gothic horror novel.

Around every corner and turn, Ireland offers a learning experience and lessons in writing and poetry in a land known for its storytellers and literary legacy.

Ireland, as I came to understand during my two-week visit there, is a place that deeply moves you, whether Irish or not, whether you're a writer or not.  From its rugged coastlines to its rolling hillsides flowering with white thistle and yellow gorse bushes ... its wild daffodils blooming in profusion on chartreuse meadows ... it’s magical.

James Joyce was a risk taker. Always seeking to challenge the literary conventions of the day and find  new expression (the popular term is stream of consciousness, although there is much more to his innovative work), Joyce was both rebel and outsider. Only by being outside and looking in could the author capture Dublinindeed, Ireland―although he left in his early twenties for the continent of Europe, never to return. 
Still, as Joyce put it: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal. 
I stopped at Sweny’s, the pharmacy Leopold Bloom frequented in Ulysses, tucked away on a narrow street near trendy bars and restaurants. It remains exactly as Joyce described it, although it is now a little museum of sorts, run by a nonprofit, near fashionable Merrion Square in Georgian Dublin, where writers and poets gathered during the Irish literary revival of the early 20th century.

At Sweny's, featuring sepia-toned photographs of Joyce, floppy brimmed hats worn by the ladies of the era, medicine jars, lemon-scented soap and second-hand books, daily readings by volunteers and aficionados of Joyce keep his words alive.
Writers Museum of Ireland

As writers we break barriers, challenge norms and take risks with how we craft and present our stories. Our voice, our take on the world and the memories we write are unique and, hopefully, universal. We play with point of view, often merging fiction and memory with imagination as we move from one character's perspective to the next. The people we have known and loved, detested and admired, take on a life of their own.

Joyce, along with Nobel Prize winner, the Irish poet WB Yeats, combined memoir and fiction … drawing from personal experience, the people they knew and the defining events of their lives and moments in Irish history.
Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square

Yeats wrote often about the supernatural, the fairies that came to him in dreams and his quest to understand the nature of life and death. In one of his most famous poems "The Wild Swans at Coole", he sees them and the Irish countryside again:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

Dingle Penisula
As for women, one often stands out during the Irish literary revival. Her name is Lady Augusta Gregory. A poet in her own right and a wealthy widow, she mentored Yeats and other artists of the day, who gathered at her country estate at Coole Park in County Galway. Her importance as a purveyor of the arts cannot be underestimated.

She wrote of marriage:

“the rainbow-color honeymoon
Fades in dull tints of common life
With misty cares and clouds of strife” …

(The history of women in Ireland is one fraught with struggle and a lack of equal rights … a story for another day.)

We visited with writer Deirdre Ni Chinneide who offers spiritual retreats in Ireland and America. She lives on Inis Mor. “Let the land speak to you … and leave something of yourself behind,” she suggested to our group of travelers.
Celtic ruins on Inis Mor

Inis Mor, which means ‘the largest island’ in Irish, is part of the Aran Islands and is steeped in Celtic heritage. It was here monks escaped persecution in the 7th and 8th centuries. Sheep, cows, horses, stone barns and Celtic ruins draw in the traveler, provide moments of deep reflection for the writer in the isolation that is Inis Mor.

Ultimately, this is the great secret of travel. You can’t help but leave something of yourself behind.
Travel pulls you in and you feel the connectedness of us all. As a writer, a poet, an artist, you find new material, are exposed to new ways of writing and creating.

You have passed this way and may never come again. So, if you're like me, you leave a piece of yourself there, but you also take with you a memory, a moment, a realization. You craft this into a story, a poem, a blog post, a way to live and transverse the world and share through the power of words.

NOTE: This tour of Ireland was organized by Road Scholar.

How about you? Can you share a memory of a journey that touched and moved you and helped you craft a story or poem or find a new way of looking at the world?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Carving Out Time and Space For the Creative Life

Whenever I teach a writing workshop, I always emphasize the treasures that unfold when we devote time to a creative life―even if only ten minutes a day. One woman in this weekend’s writing group said to me, “I’m so busy I don’t have any time to myself. Although I have always wanted to pursue writing comedy, I work three jobs.”

I asked if she felt she might cut back on the hours spent at work, figuring she was about my age when I “retired” from my career as a journalist. “You deserve time to yourself,” I said, at which she quickly protested that she deserved nothing. So, I suggested that maybe she had “earned” the right to slow down and enjoy a creative pursuit. Later, in our writing workshop, she wrote a few sentences, a memory, crafted in a way that had everyone laughing with pleasure.

Whenever our hopes, our dreams, our desire to dip a toe into the creative life are stymied
―whether by ourselves or others―it saddens me ... not just for the woman, herself, but the gifts to others that may never come to fruition.

I often see in my writing workshops so much untapped potential. In our short session I led on friendship―using a poem by Robert Frost as a writing prompt―one woman created a wonderful little poem right off the bat. (The Frost poem was about setting priorities for what matters in life.) She read her poem to the group and everyone liked it, encouraging her to say, “Oh, I love writing poetry, I always have. It comes easy to me.”

The “coming easy” part is particularly revealing.
My memoirs practically wrote themselves. No strain, no heavy lifting. Tapping our creative muse, our voice and spirit as we tell the stories we long to share, feels invigorating … a healthy and powerful step toward a richer life.

Later, we chatted and she again brought up how much she had enjoyed the opportunity to write a poem and read it aloud. “Have you ever thought about publishing a poetry chapbook?” I asked. She looked away, flustered. “Oh no, I don’t think I’m ready to publish anything.”

Whether we write, or paint, make music or cook up a new recipe, unlocking the creative spirit nurtures the very best in us while at the same time fostering community and fellowship.

When I first started the Women’s Writing Circle,
I wrote this, which turned out to be one of the most popular posts on the blog. It’s titled: Devoting a Morning to Ourselves. I knew it hit a chord with the simple message that support and validation energize the woman’s creative pursuit to devote a morning to herself.

As Julia Cameron writes in the Artist’s Way, we can “recover” our creative selves at any age, any stage of life.
"Creative living requires the luxury of time, which we carve out for ourselves―even if it’s fifteen minutes for morning pages and a ten-minute minibath after work. Creative living requires the luxury of space for ourselves, even if all we manage to carve out is one special bookshelf and a windowsill that is ours ….”

As I write this, I “indulge myself” in the quiet of my living room. Yes, I have things to do, obligations to meet, but for now I ponder sunlight as it streams through the window with a view of purple and pink petunias in a hanging basket. I ponder the last gasp of the white azaleas as they drop their delicate flowers on the driveway, a visual reminder that soon the heat of summer ushers in a whole new season, a whole new morning with no time to lose to create the life I long to live.

How about you? Can you share how you create the time to find room for creative pursuits, or, how difficult it can be to do so?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sheryl Sandberg, Widowhood and Life Stories

I wrote a memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, about the loss of my husband to cancer when my kids were seven and eleven. There is much to be said for writing our sad stories, so long as there are universal takeaways that readers can apply to their own lives. Then writing our stories is a true gift.

That’s a comment I left in The Washington Post comment section after reading a column, Sheryl Sandberg becomes a most unlikely Every Widow.

Written by a woman who lost her husband to cancer, the column's headline with the  phrase "every widow" immediately caught my attention. Are widows equated to "everyman?" Do we all share a universal journey, a club, as my father used to say, "no one wants to belong?"

Probably, although one widow can never speak for all of us. No one person holds the copyright to this story.

Sandberg’s book Option B is a self-help book on losing a husband when you have young children. I haven’t read it and won't. I'm not interested in revisiting the past, that way. I'm older now. Wiser. My sons have grown into men. It's been a rocky road but we're all still here, surviving as best we can.

Sandberg, the author of Lean In, apparently offers a new generation her thoughts on widowhood when you have small children ... children who one day wake up and just like that have no father. She's a celebrity so she gets a lot of press on this. Still, though, it's helpful. Good for her for sharing her journey.

Like Sandberg, I felt my sons' welfare was my priority after John died―although there is no “one size fits” all way to get through a tragedy of this magnitude, no self-help book, no how-to manual on grief's trajectory. It's flying on a trapeze without a safety net.

I remember I talked to my boys … “Always remember your dad,” I said, sharing my stories and anecdotes of the man I loved. It was that simple. I had no one―not really―but my children. They offered me solace. (Rule No. 1. Don't always try and be in control.)

Then I remember … Daniel at seven years old, running into my bedroom as we got ready for a school concert. “Mom, can you tie my necktie?” I felt helpless, I had no idea how to tie a tie! For a minute, I panicked. What kind of a mother was I that I couldn’t even knot a little boy’s necktie? How would I ever manage? What kind of men would my sons become without a father by their side?

John’s parents weren’t around and my own father would die seven months after John. So, "option B" was suck it up, along with the slow realization that time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds ...  the pain just becomes a little less intense. What I found unfathomable after John died was that someday I would be old and look back and say, “Oh, he has been gone now thirty years.”

Seven years from now I will be at that moment.

As writers, our task is to share, not just by offering helpful information and coping strategies, but stories that touch the human heart, testimonies that we are not alone. That said, we can’t burden our readers, rather, we offer them a reward. At the end of the road is the wisp of hope … we will fly again, along with the knowledge that life isn’t fair and it isn’t our fault when terrible things happen to good people.


This same week the Sandberg column ran, the Washington Post ran another story: Diane Rehm, at the age of eighty, is getting remarried again and “that no one is more surprised than she.”

Rehm’s story sounds like a happy, happy story of two old people who didn’t want to be alone anymore. They had known each other forever. (There's no old high school boyfriend about to pop back into my life.) But I'm happy for her. Despite the knowledge that with age there comes fewer and fewer dates, we all need to live with the hope that when we least expect it, something wonderful can happen,

I suppose it’s all about your purpose and your life. That's where life story writing comes in. You get up in the morning, put the dog out, make a cup of coffee and start putting pen to page ... and soon, very soon you know that whatever happens, it's all going to work out just fine ... or, at least, the way it should.

Your comments and thoughts are welcomed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Woman Alone Shines In Memoir―"A Three Dog Life"

When I tell people I’ve written memoirs I often hear the refrain: “I couldn’t write a memoir because there’s nothing special about my life.” I usually protest, “Oh, yes, you could because every life, however ‘ordinary’, is unique.” Therein lies the success of Abigail Thomas’s bestselling memoir A Three Dog Life. She isn't a celebrity. She's a writer who writes about the extraordinary within the everyday life and it turns out to be a pretty amazing, cozy and heartfelt journey for her readers.

She has a story to tell and she wants to tell it.

A Three Dog Life is one sixty-three-year-old woman opening a window into grief mingled with gratitude. Within that framework, Thomas proffers lessons shot through with light that resonate the universal experience.

Take living alone with dogs, which is something I’m familiar and wrote about here in this blog post. Although Thomas has three (I only have one), dogs provide perfect comfort and companionship; indeed, the idea of ever living with someone again (her husband Rich is in a nursing home after suffering traumatic brain injury) is beyond her reality. She is, as she puts it, “okay alone.”

More than okay. Happy.
“Nobody shoos my dogs off the sofa or objects to the three of them with sardine breath farting under the covers in bed at night. I like moving furniture around without anyone wishing I wouldn’t or not noticing that I have. I like cooking or not, making the bed or not, weeding or not. Watching movies until three A.M. and no one the wiser. Watching the movies on a spring day and no one the wiser. To say nothing of the naps.”

Thomas writes no-nonsense. She admits she bullied Rich for not finding interests after he retired as a journalist, but guilt is not in her lexicon anymore. And I could hear her exhaustion with men who take up so much energy.

She's a writer content within her own head. And, of course, she has the dogs.

From the beginning of A Three Dog Life we’re journeying with an idiosyncratic woman; one who removes her green and pink polka-dotted shoes and changes her unmatched black socks with red peppers in the middle of a Barnes and Noble while browsing shelves for Montaigne and Vivian Gornick.

Thomas probably wouldn’t have been a close friend of mine if we’d happened to meet; she's a bit spacey, reminding me of hippies back in the day who seemed neither intent on nor caring to deal with the reality of money or career as I felt obliged to do for over thirty years; but I value Thomas for her self-acceptance; her I-don’t-give-a-damn what other people think. She draws me in with her honesty ... not feeling sorry for herself. Her grief over her husband’s horrific accident―he was walking their beagle Harry one night in Manhattan when the new leash she bought snapped; her husband chased the dog and was hit by a car―is palatable but not all-consuming.

“I found my husband in a pool of blood, his head split open … part of his brain descended into his sinus cavities … his skull fractured like a spider web. Everywhere.”

“How do you feel about your dog now?” she is asked after her husband’s accident. “I found it a peculiar question,” Thomas writes. “I couldn’t get through this without Harry” … his “small warm body” snuggled up against hers at night combines “grief and gratitude.”

Later, years later, she describes grief  “like a hot coin” on her chest. Then one day the burning becomes intense, the floodgates open, yielding a cascade of tears ... a three dog life. (Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold nights, the coldest being a "three dog night." ~ Wikipedia)

My dog Lily
We never learn whether Thomas has a religious life, we don’t know much about her childhood, although the “ancient wisteria that grew by my windows is forever the smell of hot summer …”.

The memoir is a series of vignettes with her husband's accident, his brain injury and the dogs as the unifying threads. Giving up smoking cigarettes; gaining weight; meeting Rich, draw us into the ordinary life shot through―as most lives are―with one sudden irrevocable tragedy. We don’t learn about her marriages before Rich, or her children. She declares early on in the memoir she is not interested in the past or the future. As women alone often do―she lives in the moment.

Thomas didn’t start writing until the age of forty-seven, thinking she wasn’t “very good at it”; then she stopped trying to “imitate the voice of the woman” who told her a story and tried writing that story from another angle in her own voice and discovered she had something she liked.

In the end, you can't help but appreciate and relish the extraordinary lessons learned by this writer living the ordinary life―a woman alone.