Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Stay Drunk On Writing and Claim Your Sacred Space




"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

What better time than a new year to refresh our souls, welcome in the dark days of winter and let the light of writing shine? That’s what I’ve committed to this winter. Each day offers insight about this business of being older and living alone, observations and reflections which I keep adding to my third memoir, A Woman Alone.

No man is necessary to make life more meaningful, as I once believed, no writing teacher or class can make me want to write, rather what I do with this time is totally up to me.

I am 'retired', which means no schedule to keep, no job that needs attending in order to pay bills. I admit this is an advantage in terms of my creative pursuits. I can fully commit to writing and seeking in community―church, friendships, a yoga class, a writing retreat which I am planning to offer this summer―the magic of each day, if only for an hour, or a minute. I keep notes through one of the many free apps (the one I use is called Notepad Free), so if something comes to me while I'm watching TV or reading a book, I can 'jot' it down on my cell phone.

An unexpected conversation with a friend, as was the case on New Year’s Eve, a visit to nearby Longwood Gardens, a rainy afternoon at Starbucks are important and energizing, and especially necessary as you age. There in the cozy and aromatic warmth of white Christmas lights and coffee, I could write and edit my book, make 'rowing north' an enlightening journey, perhaps like no other, including the halcyon days of youth.


Day trips to nearby Maryland’s Eastern Shore are a way to indulge in what Julia Cameron calls “the artist’s date” by treating myself to a leisurely, solo drive through sun-soaked countryside toward a town of brick homes from the Federalist Period which fly American flags and offer graceful courtyards of hydrangea and magnolia.

As this year progresses, I’ll blog here on Women’s Writing Circle the issues that I hope are relevant and important to women, especially older women, and share excerpts from A Woman Alone. I will post my upcoming travels which include Vietnam in March and Portugal in late May, offer reviews of books I’ve read and continue to feature guest authors and bloggers. Of course, Lily, my dog, my best friend, my companion and my muse will make her way onto these pages.


So, it is that writing always was and continues to be my faithful companion-explorer.
Nothing is so sad as the life unexamined. Listen, stay attuned. Load that app on your cell phone ... stay drunk on writing, as Ray Bradbury said, and claim your sacred space. My hope is that what we continue to share here might resonate, or encourage you to pick up pen, whether as a healthy or healing journey, or one imbued with the joy of exploring your creative muse, no matter the age. Onward and upward, friends and faithful ones, toward a festive and fulfilling new year filled with the elixir of writing.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Read Around Filled with the Light of Gratitude


So many times I have heard women say, "I have nothing to say. My story is not that important. It's not that interesting."

In the words of the great Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

When you can't express yourself, when you live behind self-imposed walls, it's depressing. Hopelessness, depression, discouragement ... these are the maladies of our time. Saying our story isn't interesting or important is the inner censor hobbling our muse. In our read arounds, we banish the censor. In community, we are restored.

As I look back on the past decade, all our read arounds have been special and heartfelt, all unique. From a small independent bookstore, to the lovely Hilton properties here in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to my own living room, and to the living room of members who supported us with homemade luncheons, we have gathered in community.

So, to every wonderful woman who has attended the Women's Writing Circle these past ten years, let me say that you have added immeasurably to my life. Together, we have traveled the writer's journey with our words, our women's voices and our wisdom.

Women in our group are planning read arounds in their homes in 2020, which is going to continue the community of our sacred container. I also want to let you know that although I am taking the year off to finish my memoir and travel, if you have an idea for a manuscript, whether memoir or fiction, I am available to offer consultation and editing services. I am including here links to my "So You Want to Write a Memoir" one-on-one consultation and my editing services. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.


http://www.susanweidener.com/p/editing-and-writing-services.html


http://www.susanweidener.com/p/so-you-want-to-write-memoir.html

The writer knows her writing is a process, not a product. It is a process invested with meaning and the worthiness of her own conclusions. This validity allows her to grow and flourish. This is the gift of believing in herself, facilitated by writing.

Have a very Happy Holiday filled with the light of gratitude! Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.


Susan

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Letting Go of Anxiety, Grief and Guilt Through Writing



The holiday is a time of great anxiety in an anxious world. Anxiety is endemic. Things are moving at lightning speed in a chaotic world.

Maybe that's why ten years ago, I began writing my memoir. Anxiety revolved around suddenly being alone without a partner, raising two children on my own, and keeping up with a fast-paced, deadline-oriented job. Still, it took thirteen years after John died before I began writing. I literally had no idea what it would entail. I had a vague notion I would pen something entertaining, a page turner that might resonate with women widowed at a young age who resorted to online dating. I needed a creative outlet for my writing skills after my career ended.

Later, I learned that writing Again In a Heartbeat: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Dating Again offered a way to heal, a way to look at what was cracked and broken in my life. I felt terribly guilty that I hadn’t been kinder to John at the end of his life. It was this personal recrimination that haunted me and hindered the transformation necessary to grow and move on. I was stuck in reliving my own transgressions. My failings.

Through the writing and then by sharing my story with readers, I accepted that much during those final years of my marriage had been beyond my control—namely his illness and, ultimately, the tragedy of his untimely death. What was in my control was the decision to write my story. I couldn’t change the past but I could reconstruct what I had been feeling during that time and why.

At first, it was a hazy process, as those of us who go back in time and parse “turning point” events know. I learned that bad moments take hold in memory and are almost impossible to shake … for example, that terrible moment when I shouted at him, “I wish I’d never met you!” I couldn't change that reality, or ever take back those words. So, that meant forgiving myself and forgiving John. Both of us were caught in an impossible situation―terminal cancer. Now, by writing, I could stop punishing myself. I had always been too hard on myself, anyway, as John often reminded me. John had never sought my forgiveness ... that claim that somehow I had failed as a wife and as a woman, I laid at my own feet.

Not writing my story wasn't an option. Rather, it seemed the next logical step in a long trajectory of grief, anxiety and guilt. Of course, there was nothing logical about revisiting the pain and heartache of the past. In fact, it was illogical. Still, it called me and captured my imagination. That, I would later understand, was the creative within me urging me to free myself.

Writing is a way to fill the hole in our hearts. Writing is a way to come to terms with the pain, the guilt, the grief and the anxiety that those emotions engender.

Writing is a way to reroute, what Biblical scholars refer to as metanoia― "a change in one's way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion." (Wikipedia) The action of turning around by focusing less on ourselves and our grievances with others, means embracing the larger picture. I could no longer blame the doctors, blame John, blame God, blame myself.

Finally, there is one incident I want to share. A couple years after the publication of Again in a Heartbeat, all the hard work of going back to the past and writing came together.


"Do you remember me?" A small woman with snow white hair stood by my table of books and bright red poinsettias. I had come to the local library to talk about memoir. She smiled and her eyes crinkled at the corners. "I'm Sandy," she said ... and then, I remembered. In a quiet room eighteen years before, the only sound was my voice breaking into a sob. "It's not fair. He was too young, too good a person to die." Sandy smiled and said, "Remember, Susan, he loved you." Now on this pale winter day in the library, my former therapist and grief counselor held my memoir, reading the synopsis on the back of the book. She looked up at me. "I have two clients who recently lost their husbands. I want to give them your book. I'm thinking of starting a grief support group in a church," she added. "Thank you for writing this."

Just those words, “He loved you” was enough―more than enough to sustain me in the years since then. That my grief had been channeled in a way that might help others also made me realize that writing and sharing my story allowed me to rise above my own darkness and move toward the light.

My holiday wish for all writers―embrace your writing. Move beyond the crisis that hobbles the spirit and will. Give yourself the gift of love.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Unfaithful Widow Ten Years Later—Memoir Sequel


Widowed eleven years ago, Barbara Barth wrote about finding a path toward a new and creative life. Her memoir The Unfaithful Widow garnered awards and audiences, not just of widows, but other single women. Now in this, her just-published memoir sequel, The Unfaithful Widow Ten Years Later, Barbara shares an amusing take on her life—adopting dogs while friends are becoming grandparents. I've begun reading the sequel and love how Barbara shares that writing was often a healing journey. Please welcome Barbara to the Women's Writing Circle.



What a perfect post to share on the first of December. Christmas is coming and I wonder if it’s time for a new fur baby! Dear Santa ... I’ll have to sneak this letter to my mailbox since my friends say I have enough dogs with four (my six-pack has two vacancies). Kind friends who think I need less responsibility and more freedom, not because I’m getting older. (I should hope not! I’m never too old for dogs.) Some of my friends are getting a little older for grandkids, babysitting them. I hear them, happy to be with the grandbabies, but complaining about aching joints from racing around taking care of their darlings. A little jab from one who has no children or grandkids. No one to call me Nana or GiGi (or whatever the current lingo is for my old fashion Grandma). Do I regret not having children? My life is my life, full of love, not kids. I don’t think I’d change a thing. Maybe a thirty-year-old daughter would be fun now, to pal around with, and, hmmm, babysit my fur babies if I decided to travel.

Chloe
I know I have a nurturing, mothering side, it’s just focused on dogs. As a kid, while other friends played with dolls, I read books about rabbits and mice wearing dresses and having tea parties. I wanted lots of animals, and I owe that to my mother. She filled our childhood with odd pets from mice, hamsters, cats, a few dogs, and a pet monkey. Mother kept her wonder of animals and shared it with us. As a widow in her sixties, she had a house full of birds (some she hatched from eggs) and pet rats and a huge iguana. She never pushed me about grandchildren, she was a kid at heart herself.

My husband and I never talked about having children. We weren’t married for our first twenty years together (we met in our mid-thirties). I guess I thought I’d wake up one day with a house full of babies. And I did, but my babies had fur and wagging tails. They also came in after I lost him, rescue dogs that rescued me.

What always makes me smile, is my sister’s life. She lived on a boat, was the adventuresome one, the one who could claim the title pirate. The pirate (and she is still that) also became a grandmother. She has a wonderful son, a lovely daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters that are nearing teen years.

And let’s not leave my brother without a comment. He married a woman with two daughters and is that perfect father to them, over so many years ago.

I was the one everyone expected to have a big family, and I do. But I’m a proud dog mama instead. They fill my heart and house with love. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Some folks like to say they are the children I never had; others say they have replaced my husband. Maybe, maybe not. I do know I couldn’t love them more and I’m good with that!

Adopting another dog? I’ll leave that to Santa. I know he’s following my blog tour with WOW! (Women on Writing!) He’ll know what’s best for my little fur family. My four old dogs are happy again after dealing with losing two of the pack members since December. They are demanding more of my time and attention and another dog would take from them. I’m not used to this much restraint, but they come first, as any good mama would look out for her kids above all else.

From my home to yours, fill it with love, rescue and adopt from
your local shelters, and have a wonderful holiday season!


About the Author:

Author, blogger, sometimes antique dealer, dog hoarder, bedazzled by life, Barbara Barth writes about finding a creative path back to happiness. Her recent move to a 1906 historic cottage brought many surprises, including discovering the Monroe–Walton Center for the Arts where she started the monthly Walton Writers group and is on the MWCA Board as Literary Arts Chair. Barth is a contributor to Walton Living Magazine and a former blogger for The Balancing Act, Lifetime Television’s morning show for women. Currently she lives with six dogs, rescue dogs that rescued her. Visit her website at https://www.barbarabarthwriter.com/ Her books are available on Amazon and Kindle. Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Barbara-Barth/e/B0049M0IXO




Monday, November 18, 2019

"The Crown" and Shedding Tears for A Woman Alone


There’s a fascinating scene at the conclusion of the third episode of "The Crown", Netflix’s series now in its third season about Queen Elizabeth II.

Elizabeth has just confided to her prime minister, Harold Wilson, that she has “a deficiency”. That deficiency is the inability to cry. The revelation comes after Elizabeth berates herself for her lack of tears or empathy following the mining landslide in Aberfan, South Wales, which has killed hundreds, including 114 schoolchildren. She was unable to cry when her beloved grandmother Mary died, or shed tears of joy at the birth of her first child, she tells Wilson.

Wilson consoles her by saying that not all of us are cut out of the same cloth. We come from various backgrounds that influence our lives, beginning in childhood. Nor can we change who we are, he contends. But, as leaders, they must play the game, pretend they are something they are not, appeal to those who look up to them. Which is what happens when Elizabeth unwittingly “dabs a dry eye” with a tissue after visiting mourners in Aberfan when she finally agrees to go. The action is gratefully interpreted by the villagers as tears for their tragedy.

Here’s a woman who cannot cry, a woman who finds any display of emotion repugnant, yet must put on a show, so to speak, that goes against her very nature. As the episode concludes, Elizabeth, sitting alone in the palace, listens to the music played at the funeral for the victims. As the camera pans in on her, it is masterful acting by Olivia Colman who plays Elizabeth. One teardrop slowly wells up in her eye and rolls down her cheek. We learn in a postscript that waiting so long to visit Aberfan is Elizabeth's greatest regret as sovereign.

It’s hard not to empathize with Elizabeth and her plight, thrust into a role she neither sought nor wanted, but one demanded by destiny. The old ways are going by the boards and the times are changing with showmanship demanded. Like many women with only herself to turn to for inward strength, she shows us the agony and the loneliness that comes with being a woman alone, analyzing herself, second-guessing herself in a room filled with haunting music.


It strikes me that women who cry in public are subjected to a double-edged sword. If they cry, they are hysterical or weak. If they don’t cry, they are "deficient", lacking in empathy.

Elizabeth came from a long lineage of the British “stiff upper lip” mantra.  I was familiar with this in my own home. My father, whose mother was from Manchester, England, was very “British”, rarely, if ever, revealing his emotions. The privacy and lack of inner scrutiny demanded in my home made revealing my emotions, whether in public or private, often feel very dangerous. What would people think? Was I weak? Was I too female? Or, worse, was I too cold? Too callous?

We can’t help but admire Elizabeth as she goes about her business in this third season of  "The Crown." The weight of her situation requires not just decorum but a lack of impulsivity, unlike her younger sister Margaret, who charms LBJ at the White House with her bawdy jokes, her lack of reverence, not only for the Kennedys but her own sister to whom she bitterly announces she plays second fiddle, not because she is less talented or intelligent but solely due to birth order.

Instead, we have Elizabeth, the plodding one, the “boring one” as her own husband Philip describes her, but the one upon whom the weight of the Crown rests. She deliberates each decision, is a model of reason and logic. It's hard to shed tears for this numb and heartless queen, whose mask is rarely removed. Or maybe not. Maybe her willingness for self-reflection in the face of tragedy has changed her and, in this, we all identify and empathize.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Ten Years of Celebrating Women’s Voices and Stories



After cancer’s chokehold suffocated our future as I once imagined it―growing old with John—I began a memoir and started the Women’s Writing Circle. One of the reasons I started a writing group was to meet new people, get out of my head and listen to other peoples’ stories. A writer is only as interesting as the life she leads and the people she encounters. We ran our writing group out of an independent bookstore with its own coffee bar and opened it to fiction and creative nonfiction writers, poets, indeed, anyone with the slightest interest in writing.

It was a comforting path back to myself—meeting people through stories and lives shared, and using my writing skills. I began teaching creative writing at libraries, at churches, in bookstores. We emphasized that a writer does many things to present a compelling story to her readers, but the most important is conveying her message, her take on the world. Every writer digs deep into her spiritual resources … believes she has something soulful to say. Her journey is not just about her, but about the human condition―a healing journey to make sense of the senseless. Why did John have to die so young? Why was my best friend stricken with Alzheimer’s?



That’s an excerpt from my new book, A Woman Alone. I wanted to share that after Saturday’s read around which marked the 10th anniversary of when I started the Women’s Writing Circle. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this milestone with cakes or balloons, rather celebrate the way we started—with read around—and testimony from one writer who has been with us since the beginning who said the Circle taught her the craft of writing. What an honor to hear that. Without a doubt, it was one of the best read arounds ever. On a brilliantly beautiful November morning we celebrated our voices and stories. Several of our writers are being published in a variety of publications or querying work after they received feedback in critique. Job well done, talented writers! Your audiences await your voices, your wisdom and your words.


I remember well our first year. Here’s a look back at how this journey would unfold:


The first year, I overcame my fears and took the plunge. I could do this. Along with another writer, I facilitated a memoir writing weekend near Swarthmore College. Several women and I had driven to Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat, in a rainstorm and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Two hours before we left, one writer called to cancel due to a family emergency. Another woman was unable to come until Saturday. Our little group was dwindling.

Yet, once we unpacked our bags, stocked the refrigerator with wine and cheese, dip and diet sodas, my worries eased. We gathered in a room with fireplace, paintings and books. I lit a candle for the read around and we set our intentions, centered on “writing from life”―the name of our retreat―and began our weekend. We committed to the work of getting it on paper, shutting out the world, leaving the “to-do” list behind.

The solitude and beauty of the retreat grounds abloom in lush springtime flowers worked magic. The next morning, the rain disappeared and sun broke through, illuminating white magnolia and pink cherry trees.

Our read round that Saturday night was more than I could have anticipated. Some women had tackled the defining moments of their lives and written about it for the first time. After the reading that night, we gathered in the dark wood-paneled dining room and celebrated.We drank wine and passed around dip and salsa. We knew our little group would never come this way again.

And in so many ways, that night at Pendle Hill sums up our ten years together. Each read around has been special. Each represented the creative spirit taking flight. Each conjured a bit of magic. And each time it ended, we knew we would never come this way again.
















Monday, October 28, 2019

With Endings Come New Beginnings and New Stories



It's a bit of a cliche to say that with endings come new beginnings, but I believe it's true. Taking time to renew and reset, especially from an endeavor that requires deep commitment and intensity of purpose, is important since new ideas and opportunities take root in anticipation of the unexpected.

November 9 marks our 10th anniversary when four women first met at Wellington Square Bookshop and started the Women's Writing Circle. We lit the candle and opened the sacred container to nurture our creative lives on a gray, overcast morning. But inside the bookstore, a fantastic and heartfelt journey I never could have anticipated waited. Over the years, the many names, faces ... the  stories and voices, comprised a collage of life's moments―large and small―imbued with the extraordinary, due to the faith and trust you placed in our Circle.


I have been asked about our plans for 2020 so I wanted to bring you up-to-date with my thoughts, which have percolated for some time. I have felt the need to finish and publish my book, A Woman Alone, as well as travel this coming year, so I feel I cannot give our Women's Writing Circle  the attention and devotion I would wish. After our Nov. 9 readaround and our Dec. 14 holiday party/readaround at SpringHill Suites in Exton, the Women's Writing Circle will be on hiatus for 2020. What comes next, I don't know, but as I have written in my memoirs, the road always leads back to writing and the connections that come with face-to-face encounters in a community of kindred spirits. In the Circle we could express our authentic selves, no small feat in a world where artifice and contrivance too often prevail.

What a great year 2019 has been. Our critique session this month was packed with intriguing pieces for our consideration and so many contributed amazing stories throughout the year at our readarounds. Our blogging workshop in August was filled and our writing workshops in the winter and spring on crafting memorable characters and crafting memorable scenes in fiction and memoir were inspiring and educational. We also found the perfect venue in our beautiful conference room with outdoor patio at SpringHill Suites. So, we go out on a high note.


Along with my deepest gratitude for all you have brought to our Women's Writing Circle over the last ten years, is the I hope I have offered tools for our writers to keep writing and meeting in person ... whether lighting the candle and sharing your wisdom, words and voices through readaround ... or meeting in a coffee shop with friends and reading each other's work and creating new stories. I feel Our Women's Writing Circle has already served as the leaping off point for the inception of several writing groups in our Philadelphia area, including those in libraries and in other public venues, so this has been an added gift. In the end, what remains most important is that together, we find kindred spirits and keep writing ... keep writing ... keep writing.




Note: The photo of the changing leaves  was the first photo I used to "advertise" that a new group was starting ... our Women's Writing Circle.