Say you’re driving with your husband on some winding road. Maybe in France. Maybe in Scotland. Maybe in Norway. Doesn’t matter really other than these are places you have traveled together. It’s just the two of you, and you’re probably on vacation, on your way to see something nice. So you turn to him from the passenger seat and comment on that, how this is nice, and he looks at you to acknowledge what you’re saying, to offer a slow agreeable smile. Only, as you break your gaze, returning your attention to the road ahead, you notice that your husband has missed the sharp bend. The cars that were ahead of you are now off to the left. You stay calm and say to your husband,
“You’re about to drive off a cliff.”
Your husband looks ahead as the car launches over the edge, and you think to yourself, so this is what this feels like.
The free fall is short-lived because you suddenly land and continue as if propelled down a steep grassy embankment. The front wheels make contact, and you feel the speed in your stomach, gravity zipping your little rental car toward an unknown end.
The sensation of uncontrollable acceleration is real. This is what wakes you up at 4:30 in the morning on the day of your family’s camping trip. You realize with trepidation that you do not know how the dream ends.
Maybe you have this kind of dream all the time, but this was new for me. After a year of stagnant sameness due to the pandemic, we were on the cusp of finishing our family’s biggest spring season we had ever known. I had approached the season nervously as my kids asked to sign up for baseball and soccer and Cub Scouts and art class and swim clinic and piano lessons. (Okay, they didn’t ask for piano lessons; I insisted on that one.) The scheduling was overwhelming enough, but what about the risk of COVID? The risk of quarantine? The risk of getting any kind of cold whatsoever and needing to miss school? But we needed to get out of the house, myself included as I took a part time job as a lunch and recess monitor at an elementary school. My kids needed other kids. My kids needed to play. And it turns out, I needed to watch them.
Once we finally figured out we should bring camping chairs to Little League games, suddenly that was the only place I wanted to be. Give me a warm summer night with cheering and shouts of encouragement and cool water to drink and other parents to socialize with, and I was content. Many of the other activities embodied this too.
And yet, now the season was coming to an end...but not without a bang: My son got three hits in the baseball game he played on his birthday. My daughter’s soccer team won their championship after three matches, a shut out each time. My twins each graduated from kindergarten, and we said goodbye to our 50-year-old elementary school that is slated to be rebuilt, with demolition beginning this fall. We welcomed my parents to town for the first time in two years and gathered with extended family for a BBQ for the first time since the pandemic. All of this happened in the span of a week actually, at the end of which my daughter went to an outdoor birthday party and I got a text from the birthday girl’s father saying Finally, normalcy!
And at that point, I burst into tears. So much goodness after such a famine. So much normalcy after hanging onto hope. So many endings after waiting to start and waiting to start.
Then, it was over. The games had been won, and we were about to launch ourselves into a summer and fall of more unknowns with a road trip west that also included my expectations for rest and time to write, and then a return to Cambridge where our kids will enter an interim school building with an unknown subset of the community who isn’t moving away.
But first, a weekend at Boy Scout Camp. Tent? Check. Bug spray? Check. Swimsuits? Check. Sleeping Bags Pillows Snacks Flashlights Camping Chairs Toiletries Change Of Clothes S’mores To Share Sunscreen Soccer Ball Drying Rack Towels Extra Masks Water Bottles BYO Caffeine AND
My Writing Material.
I had been rejected by five competitive writing programs in the last year and didn’t expect to get into this one when I applied back in March. Shortly after I submitted my application, in fact, I pursued that part time job as a lunch and recess monitor in order to have something (out of the house) to do with my time.
Then, mid morning on Mother’s Day, while my kids were out of the house playing at a park with my husband, I checked my email on my phone and saw this subject line:
Memoir Incubator: CONGRATULATIONS!
Yet, I read the “congratulations” part first and assumed it was spam. I never win anything. (You don’t either, right? It’s not just me?) It took a few seconds to reread and then let it sink in that I wasn’t dreaming this time. Oh, this is an email I should open….
I was thrilled and scared. A friend of mine had just finished this program and admitted it really put her through the wringer. She described it as a job you’d want on your resume but didn’t feel too good going through it. That made me nervous.
But then I learned that another woman in my writing group was also accepted into the course, and I saw another writer I remembered from a course I took last spring, one that started in person and finished over Zoom. My excitement and nervousness grew as I learned more about the course load. In addition to weekly readings, we were required to submit new weekly writing to the instructor and read a classmate’s entire memoir manuscript and give an editorial letter of feedback. Hours of work that required focus and inspiration and sitting in the seat and putting the pen to paper no matter the mood. The goal of the year-long program is to complete and rework a memoir manuscript and take it to the next level en route to publication.
This is one of the reasons this blog newsletter is late this month.
The class (and my classmates) have been wonderful so far, but with my material up for workshop in July, I’m a bit nervous. In the meantime though, I’ve been digging in. Even at Boy Scout Family Camp where I reread printed pages in a camp chair as I flicked away the ants crawling up my legs. There’s a lot of work to do going forward, and each day is full of possibilities.
I don’t know what it means to have a dream where you drive off a cliff. I’m guessing it’s not all bad actually. The spring was the overcommitted kind of fun our family really needed, and I’m embarking not only on another chance to spend the summer in my happy place but also a chance to spend it doing my favorite thing: writing in community.
So I say let’s drive. I’m strapped in. Seat belt? Check.
This is what this feels like. And I’m so ready for the ride.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.