Monday, July 29, 2019

Aging and Exploration Along the Writer's Way

This has been a week of swimming, reading a light, entertaining novel, and helping another writer craft a narrative arc for her memoir. Working with a new writer and listening intently to her story, I help her focus on that all-important question―What is my story about?  A question both complex and interesting, she says. Ever since I asked her to sum up her story in two or three sentences, she has not stopped grappling with it, thinking about it, she tells me.

As we age and journey through the many phases of our life, the question―What is my story about?―becomes no less interesting, no less complex, no less necessary to ponder.

As we slow down, contemplate and reflect, writing allows us the opportunity to sort through the turmoil of events and people in our lives. It offers “agency” or action to make the unbearable, bearable—healthy changes that include relaxation and reflection. As we write, journal, share our stories, we view ourselves with more compassion or empathy—and this is probably more important—view others that way.

Working creatively with another writer was a welcome respite from Wednesday when I watched the Mueller hearing. I managed to get through most of it, although as it dragged on, I dreaded how a seventy-four-year-old man, a decorated Marine and Vietnam War hero, could be put through his paces like that and ultimately deemed a doddering old fool by the media and much of the Republican Party. 

The doddering and old was bad enough. Worse, watching Robert Mueller testify, it seemed that integrity and honor have long been swept into the dustbin of our country's consciousness. A person, no matter how old, who asks that a question be repeated or reframed so he can give a cogent, honest and accurate answer should be respected―not ridiculed. But we live in a country salivating for showmanship, not substance. Of fake news, not truth. We live in a country where growing old is toxic. Several major newspapers and news outlets used that hearing to write about age…about those hard of hearing, those who are “tired” and need to go away, quietly and gracefully. 

Aging is a theme in my new memoir, A Woman Alone, and integral to my own question: What is my story about?

An excerpt:

Everywhere I turn, some nameless hand is pushing the panic button—the ubiquitous warning to seniors—watch out! Scam artists are everywhere! I recoil at the articles detailing in excruciating detail how grandparents are being defrauded…appalled at the television ads hawking “find a place for Mom,” as if being older means you’re an invalid and your kids have to stow you away in a retirement home where playing bingo is a useful pastime. I cringe from unrelenting pharmaceutical marketing—living with diabetes, chronic migraines, COPD, chemo treatment. Ask your doctor to write a prescription! Try Trulicity!

Here's an upbeat way to think about growing old, I tell myself. With an eye toward exploration, aging is "gold" for the writer.  It offers the gift of travel, another theme in my new memoir. When I worked as a reporter and had two sons to raise, I never had the time or the funds to travel.  So...What is my story about? It is about exploration―inward and outward.

Taking a walk with Lily and going for a swim can rehydrate, wash away the weariness. I am also reading. Books are a great diversion and now it is Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood which explores the feminine psyche. Set in Northumberland, England, the story reminds me that I was lucky enough to be there last summer, so close to the Scottish border, where I wandered crumbling castles and moors covered in purple and pink foxglove. 

No matter how young or old, finish your memoir or novel, I think on this morning. Find the answer to those burning questions which you long to answer. We have written here on Women’s Writing Circle how to achieve that; drafting timelines, mastering takeaways, excavating those caves we fear to enter which hold the treasures we seek.

The hours fly by as I write this on a sunburst July morning. How lucky I am—how lucky we are as writers, no matter our age—to explore along the writer's way.


kathleen pooler said...

Hi Susan, I had left a comment but apparently it didn't go through. This is a beautiful and relevant reflection on the aging process. I love how you reframe the process in a positive light. I certainly can relate to the changes and limits imposed by not only the aging process but the worsening of chronic health issues. Still as you say, there is "gold"to be excavated when we now have the time to be still and reflect. Thank you for your lovely reflection.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Hi Kathy, Thanks so much for trying again and commenting. Aging when health is failing is not for the faint of heart and I do not mean to underestimate that. And I know you have been courageous and valiant and your battle with cancer and related health issues which you write of in your upcoming memoir, "Just the Way He Walked" is moving and reaches out and invites the reader into your journey with honesty and hope. My hope is that writing leads the way now and into those "golden years" offering healthy reflection and self-discovery for as long as I am able to do it and help others do it.

Marian Beaman said...

There's gold in the old: old photos, old memories, old friends. That's why I'm writing memoir. Thanks for the excerpt, Susan. Today I wrote a draft of a blog post for you and your Circle. :-)

Susan G. Weidener said...

Marian, Yes, there is gold in looking back and your new memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl, attests to that as a coming-of-age story. I received my ARC in yesterday's mail and love the old photographs included in the back of the book. It was an honor to be your developmental editor and assist with turning "gold" into story. We look forward to featuring you here in the Circle in August and meeting you in person at the Sept, 21 read around.