Echoes from the past aren’t necessarily a bad thing

I heard from literary maven, Esther Altshul Helfgott, in a Facebook message today as I was scouring my Twitter feed for news this morning.

It turns out that a presentation I delivered ten years ago for the wonderful writer’s reading series in Seattle, It’s About Time, that she still curates, is going to publish its first anthology with Cave Moon Press (Yakima, WA).

Not only that, but they want to publish my presentation transcripts in it!

“THE INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE, or how to have an accomplished writer’s life without an MFA” was a presentation that I’m still proud of, and still wholeheartedly believe in.

That night, a decade ago, is truly a faded memory… so much has happened to me since then.

Which made it so interesting to revisit this morning, looking for any places in the notes where I might want to update the text or make changes.

I followed my own advice

A funny thing happened… I revised my biographical statement, and then went back to read the text, discovering that in the last ten years, I have literally put into action the advice I was giving away to everybody else.

Now, it’s easy to hang out your advice shingle and share the chestnuts that make everybody’s eyes light up as they nod their heads with enthusiasm.

It can be quite another thing entirely to take that same advice back home with you and actually follow it.

Charles Dickens didn’t live my Sandwich Generation life.

I remember the old days when “writing every day” was the cliché most proffered.

No matter what source, whether it was a book on writing or Writer’s Digest or advice spoken aloud at a conference… there it was.

And it was mostly shared by male writers who were clearly not caring for children or elderly loved ones for a full third of their lives.

They usually had some other means of income to keep a roof over their heads.

Look, I get it. You wanna write? Write. But daily?

Yeah, if only.

I did what worked for me 

I stopped believing that advice and started practicing the much more sustainable goal of “writing smarter, not harder.”

For me, this meant strategies for time and energy management that meant I actually stopped “writing every day” but still got huge amounts of work written (or revised) while running an anthology off my home laptop and raising two kids.

Those same skills fueled a brief but meaningful stint as a creativity coach, developmental editor, literary community organizer, and workshop instructor because, let’s face it, real-life experience is still the best teacher an artist can ever hope to find.

Then I went through a “disruptive” phase in which several things happened within the same time frame: I went back to school to earn healthcare credentials so I could make a return to journalism as a science and healthcare writer, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and my children grew up and went off to college.

The echo bounces back with lovely resonance

Now I have this writing career that feeds me in so many ways it’s kind of ridiculous… an embarrassment of riches.

No, it’s not easy, and it’s not perfect, but it’s exactly where I want to be, and it all came about because I didn’t follow the OTHER standard advice foisted on me by so many when I was younger… to get an MFA if I wanted a legitimate writing career.

Not only am I glad I didn’t go that route (if for nothing else, because who needs the debt?), but I’m so glad I let the milestones in my life in those moments prominently shape my career path.

Life is but a dream

I can’t resist a sleep-related metaphor here, because my writing life is so steeped in sleep medicine as well as overarching illness narratives that reflect the importance of sleep.

It’s a bit of a dream-like reverie to remember that night I presented with John Burgess, Jennifer Borges Foster, and Michael Schein… writers who I have come to respect nearly as much as I do Esther herself.

To be taken back to that place to find that my present is a positive echo of the past, especially since I’ve walked such a crooked path between then and now, is heartening.

My focus as a writer in the last few years has been outwardly trained on the nonfiction form, either as essays, very short prose forms, journalism, advocacy blogging, or personal commentary.

Still, I have a poetry manuscript that is very much alive and well, and new work recently published in the literary domain despite the fact I stepped away from the spotlight some years ago.

Esther’s good news reminds me that all that hard work from before has not been lost, and though I might have moved into a new neighborhood as a writer, I did leave behind parts of myself that can still help others move forward with their own writing lives.

I cannot truly express how gratifying and humbling that is.

The power of the past inside the present

The way I see it, I’m still all of those personas rolled inside my current self, and it feels great to be remembered and honored for it. Thank you Esther, and everybody else who remembers me from the old days of magical realism, short shorts, and literary activism. I’m talking to you, Jordan, Kristy, Shannon, Kim, Beth, Sam, Jan, Julie, Fred, Jeannine,and so many many others.

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