Monday, March 16, 2020

Solitude During Trying Times While Spring Beckons


The sun is shining, the magnolia blossoms ready to burst forth, but I go outside rarely unless it is to walk the dog, pull up crabgrass or other small yard work. Lily is patient and understanding of my moods, my need to sleep a little later in the morning before getting out of bed to face a day empty of all routines and contact with others.

This is the life of the woman alone, only with a deeper, more profound challenge. I work toward finding a new rhythm, being resilient and grateful, but, for now, like everyone, my life has been upended by the virus. A long anticipated 17-day tour of Vietnam came to crashing cancellation less than 72 hours before we were scheduled to depart.

Isolation, disappointment in the crushing load of cancellations from church services to a teaching seminar, to the shutdown of parks, libraries and gardens is the new norm.

A much-needed break alleviated this stress Saturday night. I met two women writing friends for dinner (before the edict came down that all bars and restaurants were to be closed for at least fourteen days, beginning today).

We shared over white wine and Thai cuisine concerns, despairs and frustrations. We miss the camaraderie of the read around in our Women’s Writing Circle, which is on hiatus this year. I wish I could call an impromptu read around now in my home to break the isolation, but it doesn't seem wise.

We shared our love of writing. One friend said virus, or no, she dutifully journals every morning. As for me, my new memoir, A Woman Alone, was shipped off a week ago to an editor living in the San Francisco Bay area. I spoke by phone with her, after she was recommended to me by another writing friend, and was delighted with her understanding and appreciation of the rigors involved in memoir writing—how we wrest all we have both personal and professional—molding something that transcends ourselves and reaches a larger audience. I look forward to receiving her critique, (a bit apprehensive, too)  as well as the critique of two writing friends who have agreed to be beta readers.


I find it hard to put all of this down in a cogent way on the computer; the writing is not easy to come by, but the writing also drives away the despair, the chaos.

Reading does too. I have found respite reading Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. The novel is provocative feminist writing at its best. I imagine Atwood had great fun writing it, the sarcasm, the nod to the absurd, but also the deeply profound story of women of all stripes and persuasions in the grip of a cruel and violent patriarchy with obvious parallels to the present.

How we cope with the loss of income, of companionship, of life savings on the line, truly are the times that try men and women’s souls. But spring beckons. We are all in this together.

When I went downstairs this morning to make coffee, I spotted those magnolia buds outside my kitchen window about to pop through their brown shell coverings. In the corner of my yard, I saw the forsythia ready to bloom in gold splendor. John planted those bushes so long ago, yet every spring they offer renewal and memories of my love for him. I keep those memories close now in these difficult times. I keep the memory of love close. And I keep writing.




How about you? How are you pausing, thinking, coping?



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Authoring a Love Letter to Ourselves Through Writing



As Valentine’s Day approaches we think chocolate, roses, cards with cupids, jewelry, or romantic Instagram photos. As one who has been widowed for longer than she was married, I think of Valentine’s Day as giving to the community in meaningful ways, volunteering, cultivating friendships, saying 'I love you' to my children.

I think about self-love this Valentine's Day.

One of the more fulfilling aspects of writing your story is that it is an act of self-love. For women—especially—writing means breaking the silence. It means sharing our voice without apology. It offers our worldview told through characters, first person narrative and storytelling. Whether for publication, our eyes only, speaking out, or engaging in activism, authoring our story is a love letter to empowerment and authenticity.


In the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana”, Taylor Swift speaks and performs her memoir. It begins with a seventeen-year-old girl who tried to be (her words) “Miss Nice”. But like all good stories, there is a trajectory, a narrative arc. Something happens that changes the protagonist and her journey from then on and forever. For Swift, it was several things, but being a sexual assault survivor led to the realization that being “Miss Nice”, coupled with silence was soul-killing.  “I feel so much better,” she says when she starts going public with her politics and her feminism. She knows women are demeaned and criticized no matter when they speak out, so why bother to be someone you're not in a vain attempt to please?


We all know that feeling of the weight being lifted. We all know people telling us not to do it.  We all need people loving us and encouraging us to be ourselves.

For me, breaking the silence and finding my voice was a gradual evolution, happening over several years and life events. I identified with Swift's story because, not only was I sexually assaulted as a young girl walking home from school when I was in the seventh grade, but I was mercilessly bullied by a boy in the 9th grade, on the bus and in the school hallways. In my late twenties, I was demeaned by the vice principal in the high school where I worked as a young teacher, to the extent that he refused to renew my contract because he was a misogynist.

As I write in my new memoir, A Woman Alone

Over the years my anger grew. They could get away with calling us bitches and whores, not renew our contracts, mess with our livelihood. It was everywhere, too, from politics to Hollywood to people who blamed women for being assaulted and raped, as if it was our fault and we asked for it. One of the reasons I loved my newspaper job was reporting exposed falsehoods. Creative writing meant sharing my voice, which I knew was strong. I was no longer willing to remain complicit ... to be silenced.
I have had female friends I loved and admired, my mainstay against loneliness and isolation. But it is the support of family, of a loving husband who championed me, a father who drove me to school, sons who respect me, which made all the difference. Their love led to my self-esteem and resilience, helping open the door to a new morning and the desire to keep moving forward.



These are important and exciting times. What we say now will play out generation of women to generation. It might feel uncomfortable, but hopefully, freeing, too. Valentine's Day is more than Hallmark cards and roses, which wilt and fade. It's about all that sweetness that comes when we accept and love ourselves. And for those of us who write, we have a chance to share that message.


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.