Three Things I Learned in 2017

Marion Roach Smith is the author of “The Memoir Project,” one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. I’ve started reading her website, too — it’s incredibly helpful if you’re a writer — and one of her blogs was entitled something like “Ten things I learned about memoir writing in 2017.” I thought it was a great idea, and it made me think about what I’d learned about memoir writing, too. Then it made me think about what else I might have learned that had nothing to do with writing. Looking back, here’s a few things 2017 taught me to do:

Realize I don’t always know what’s best for me.

Right before we said goodbye for 5 months. I didn't know it at the time.

A quick rendezvous during Eric’s trek.

While my husband Eric was cycling to Central America, for eight months I lived in Nashville, a wonderfully creative city I’ve lived in periodically for the past three years. I returned to NH in May, with a plan to spend the summer with Eric and then return to Nashville by August, maybe September at the latest, to take up an exciting position. Eric and I had gotten used to a commuter marriage — I’d spent only four of the past 17 months in NH, which meant I’d lived with Eric for only four of the past 17 months as well. But the position I assumed would come through did not. It might materialize someday, but right now, it’s on hold. For the foreseeable future, NH will be my base. At first I was disappointed; now I’m grateful. I needed to be reminded that while careers and cash are important, relationships and connection are what life is all about. After 19 years of marriage, Eric and I know that our two very big personalities require a lot of room to breathe. But we also know that our relationship gives us a stable framework that allows us to pursue our individual adventures. It’s a gift to have the time and space to tend to our marriage. And as it happens, another Nashville opportunity came through, but this one allows me to stay in NH and travel back and forth. The best of both worlds.

Raise my bar.

With Kevin Young, poetry editor for The New Yorker, and Ben Rector, singer/songwriter. It is a miracle I am upright.

With Kevin Young, poetry editor for The New Yorker, and Ben Rector, singer/songwriter, with whom I shared the stage. It is a miracle my flu-ridden self is standing upright.

Last year I did several things I didn’t know I could do: I performed at a two-hour, live streamed gala event without the audience ever knowing I was riddled with the flu (joining a zillion artists who have done the same) and I went five months without seeing my husband (I now have a profound respect for military families). But just when I was getting a little cocky, I joined an online writer’s group, led by the amazing Janelle Hanchett. We each set a daily word count to meet.  I set mine at 1,000 words a day, feeling like an overachiever, until Janelle mentioned she’d met her goal of 1,500 words a day while raising three children, working a 30-hour-a-week job and finishing graduate school while her husband commuted two hours each way to work. The resulting draft became her first book, which will be released this April. My husband works 10 minutes from home and we have one dog. I upped my word count and wrote 51,000 words in a month. Most of the words are crap, but within them are moments of good writing. They’re a critical step in my creative process. And most importantly, I know I can push myself harder.

Do what my inner voice tells me to do.

Last year was tough financially. Eric was on an unpaid sabbatical, we were basically supporting two households, and I was frantically trying to generate income. December 2016 was particularly dodgy and I was at my wit’s end. During the chaos, an inner voice (in my world that would be God) kept urging me to reach out to a colleague who’d asked me to review his writing as a favor. Annoyed, I thought I didn’t have any time to work for free — I needed money now! — but the voice’s urging was persistent and I finally gave in. My colleague and I met for lunch where I shared my edits and he promptly hired me as a writing coach. Income problem solved, at least for three months, which was enough time to stabilize. That inner voice gives me my marching orders, whether it tells me to write a blog (it told me to write this one), make a call, or launch a project. I ignore this voice at my peril.

What did you learn this year? Leave a comment and let us know! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018!

Upcoming Storytelling Workshop

NH folks! I’ll be conducting a storytelling workshop January 20, 10 am – 1 pm, at the Hancock Library. Cost is $95 and class size is limited to eight. Register asap by emailing me at:

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