Yesterday morning ravens came to eat the stale bread we threw out. An eagle flew low over our heads, and we found the pile of abandoned “treasures” dumped from some child’s bucket. It must have looked like food. Only two gulls stood in the stream. The sky was bright blue all day.That afternoon I counted twenty-eight whimbrels.
There are even more this morning and we are walking out as this goes post goes live. I like thinking someone will read this while we are a couple of miles north on the sand.
To prepare for today’s post I checked back four years ago to the first time I (almost) retired.
I entered a classroom as a teacher-in-training in 1975, had my first job later that next year at a private girls’ prep school. After moving home to Oregon I worked as a substitute teacher for a long time in the English Department, but I quit teaching altogether this past March. I taught high school for over thirty years, and I substitute taught for another decade.
Each April morning between about four and about seven, I spent writing. I do this sitting up in bed. Some days I went right on writing for the rest of the day. It was a busy, reckless month. We went away for two nights. More recently, windows have been open sometimes this week. The ocean is always calling. Today we will get our longer morning walk.
Another retired teacher asked me recently what I would do now that I am retired? It is a good question for which I have no answer. Will I do something new, or merely divvy up my time in a slightly different way? I suspect the later.
What I miss is community. During the past month, various workshops, and my MFA program, I found that writing group I feel I needed. . . . At least for a month or couple of years or a few days at a time, but not regularly. What I have are a few people who will, if I ask not too often, read my work.
My original writing group was twenty years ago and it was only me and one student. B was the first sophomore we skipped over Sophomore English into the most rigorous junior class. This was pretty much necessary since she was, in skill and ability, far beyond her peers. She needed the challenge. She was the one junior in my senior class as well, and one day I walked out of the Faculty Room and there she was coming out of the Library. “Do you want to write together this summer?” I said. She agreed. We thought we would try writing a novella, just for the challenge because it is longer than a story and neither of us had written anything long. We weren’t even sure what a novella was, so while I was busy ending the year in yearbook, B researched.
After school ended in mid-June, we began writing and meeting weekly to share and respond to each others’ work. Neither of us wanted to look bad to the other. We worked hard. The manuscripts forged ahead, the stories growing beyond what we’d expected from ourselves, beyond our early goal of seventy pages or so of a novella. I discovered what a messy process I have, and B discovered she could do anything.
By August we each had a full length novel. Since I had a publishing connection, our books were read by HarperCollins. They liked B’s quite a lot. It was far the better of the two. (A senior editor wanted to see more, but HC was about to undergo a transformation and this went by unexplored by B.)
B has published since—poetry and academic writing, books, magazine and journal articles. She is a professor of English and much in demand. I have had publications too.
Later, I nominated a student for a writing award, which she didn’t win. But she went on to an MFA in fiction.
A third student was for a time a respected slam poet. And a fourth student completed an MFA in poetry from a program that rejected me twice.
Many of the students I had the pleasure of working with for a term or the better part of a year, have gone on to careers in education, the military, the government, and various professions and occupations in the private sector. Many of them earn more than I ever have. Many are smarter and more talented than I am. They are good in their various fields.
Someday they will retire too.
I receive emails about submission opportunities almost every day, but I rarely send out fiction anymore. I don’t know what I will do about writing. Duotrope shows many fiction submission in the past 12 months, but these were nearly all agent queries about the most recent novel, and now that is completely rewritten. I am not sure what to do about that. I have other work to submit, but that will take some organization. The poems too. I keep thinking I should print them all off and see what I have. There is a warp on the loom, waiting to be completed. Two quilts fight in my head. I have worked on a pattern for a grandchild’s cardigan.
Several times I have joined writing groups in the past twenty-odd years. More than one fizzled. Another decided fiction was too much trouble. Another turned out to be social, and I did not want to drink wine and smoke dope. (That word, “dope.”) I don’t know what new thing will be that I pass on to.
That word “passing.” We pass tests, pass by, pass it on, pass Go, pass through, pass as something we’re not, pass out, pass under or around, pass over, pass away. Time Passes. So many ways to leave the building.