Author Archives: susanjtweit

Writing: A Typical Day at WISC

One of the reasons writers crave time away to write is that so much of our daily lives isn’t actually spent writing. We all have family, friends, community work, administration (answering inquiries about writing assignments, talks, workshops; publicity, paying the bills, reminding people to pay us, accounting, etc), and so on.

If you asked the average fulltime writer how much time they actually had to put pen to paper or hands on keyboard, the answer is likely considerably less than 8 hours a day (except in the days or weeks immediately preceding a big deadline, when we panic and make those words fly!).

Two hours of actual hands-on, uninterrupted time is a figure I hear. I’ve been writing a long time, so I have more practice in focusing and ignoring interruptions than many writers, which means on a good day I might get in three or four hours. But that’s a lot.

So when we have the opportunity to leave our daily routine behind and just focus on our writing, we’re ecstatic. Or terrified, because then we have to actually produce something. Or both ecstatic and terrified.

Which I think describes how I feel having a whole month here in Santa Fe at the Women’s International Study Center, with few responsibilities besides writing. I’ve gone through the whole gamut from over-the-top excited to what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here? And that was just the first day…

So what’s a typical day of my writing fellowship like?

Pretty ordinary. I get up at my usual time, around six a.m.. (Which is easier now that we’re past daylight savings time and those very dark mornings!)

An especially lovely dawn

I take a moment to appreciate the dawn out my windows, and then I do half an hour of yoga (which reminds me to be in my body while I write, not just in my mind), and my morning gratitudes, which include a salute to the four directions, plus earth, sky, and self, in place wherever I am; plus sending out love and good wishes to friends, family, and my far-flung community, human and moreso.

After yoga I write in my journal for half an hour or so, and then I bathe, dress, and eat my simple hot breakfast cereal of organic whole oats and other grains, plus organic dried fruits, and cinnamon for sweetness and blood pressure/ blood sugar control. I read the news online over breakfast (although some days I wonder why I even want to know), and then head back to work.

Breakfast (earthenware bowl by Jim Kempes–see below)

I do my best to focus and write until early afternoon, usually about one-thirty or two. Usually that means I write for a while, then have to stop to think, pace around, check my email, resist the obsessive urge to read the news, and then sit back down at the keyboard again.

When the stream of words dwindles to a trickle and nothing I try restarts it, I break for a late lunch, answer more messages, and then go back to the writing to see if there’s anything else I can say. If not, I need to move, so I head out for a walk.

Sometimes I have an errand (like walking to the grocery store for food!), but mostly I just ramble at random, letting the writing rest in my subconscious while I look at interesting walls, gates, gardens, sculptures, plants, and other sights, and listen to bird calls or ravens croaking, people talking in different languages, traffic whizzing past, cathedral bells… I smell tortillas frying or chiles or spicy piñon smoke.

Eye-catching details in a woodbine (Parthenocissus vitacea) vine with blue berries and red stems

When I get tired, I come “home” to this quiet casita on a dirt side street and read a book from my stack, or check the news or answer emails… I usually eat my simple dinner early and then read until bedtime, do a bit of yoga and am asleep by ten.

Yesterday I played hooky all afternoon and drove out to the Chama River Valley (Georgia O’Keeffe country) near Abiquiu with my agent, Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli. Our mission was to visit Lesley Poling-Kempes and Jim Kempes, she a fine writer (and another of Liz’s clients) and he a ceramic artist. (Lesley and Jim stayed with me last month in Salida and brought me one of Jim’s wonderful ceramic vessels.)

Jim’s large sculptural ceramic forms issue from the desert along the dirt road leading their house; I could have spent all day finding and sitting with them. (And I so wished Richard could have been there to delight in them and talk art with Jim.)

See it?

As it was, we had just time to admire the beautiful adobe house they built with their own hands (building the studio first, as is proper for any artist, and then the house), and then we followed Lesley to the house of a member of her writing workshop. We had tea with Peggy and another poet and workshop member, Ginger, and talked writing and women’s history and elections, and life.

And then, all too soon, the sun set to the south of Pedernal Mesa, and it was time to head home to Santa Fe, tired but full from the time with friends and art and beautiful landscapes.

Sunset from Peggy’s house

Today was an ordinary day, which meant I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, a joy in itself.

Thank you to my Santa Fe friends for understanding my need to write, and also making sure I get out of my cave from time to time, and to Laurel and Jordan of the Women’s International Study Center for the blessing of this time. It is rare and precious, and I am using it well!

Thank you, Peggy Thompson, for the gorgeous hand-knitted wool scarf as well…

For more from Susan J. Tweit, visit her blog.

Exploring Creativity: Musings Journal

When I took Sherrie York’s field journal workshop at Rocky Mountain Land Library‘s Buffalo Peaks campus in August, I came home inspired and vowed to make sketching a part of my creative routine. “I’ll do a few sketches every week,” I told myself.

And… I didn’t. Of course I have good excuses: writing and workshop deadlines got crazy. In September, I was on the road most of the month, driving almost 5,000 miles in just over three weeks. And so on.

Still, I could have made the time and I didn’t. Clearly, I needed a nudge.

So when my neighbor, Lisa DeYoung of Mountain Mermaid Studios, mentioned the other day that she had finished the new edition of her Musings Journal, I bought one on the spot.

Today I took time to play with it. (Lisa offers two versions of this hand-designed tool for creative play: a daily one dated with the months of the the year, and an undated one. I bought the latter so I wouldn’t feel guilty about missing a few weeks now and again.)

Pages in the undated journal, just waiting for me to fill those rectangles with something…

I took my journal and my trusty mechanical pencil out to the front steps to think about where to start. A comma butterfly fluttered in and landed on the rabbitbrush near me and began to feed. It sipped nectar from one flower cluster, crawled to the next, and sipped more.

I picked up my pencil and began a simple gesture drawing, sketching the general form with quick shapes, and then beginning to fill in the details. The comma was so cooperative that I had gotten the ragged outline of the wings and had begun on the somewhat complicated wing pattern when I looked up and…

The butterfly was gone.

Since the rabbitbrush hadn’t flown away, I sketched one of the small, compound flowers, and then took my journal inside. I dug out my favorite colored pencils and added color.

Derwent “inktense” colored pencils, which I love for the tin they come in as well as their great feel and handling.

I even colored in the shapes Lisa had drawn as a playful border for the page, and thought wryly as I did that my kindergarten report card probably said something like, “Very enthusiastic, but cannot stay in the lines.”

Which is quite true about my approach to life as well: show me a line or a wall or a boundary of any kind, and I’ll be the one quietly figuring out how to stray beyond it.

When I finished coloring, I made some notes (ever the scientist, observing and recording those observations), and looked at my first “creative play” page. My butterfly sketch isn’t finished–the comma flew away mid-pattern–but it pleased me, which is important.

The butterfly was actually perched upside down as it fed, so I drew it that way…

I learned something about myself in the doing. I’m not a doodler; doodles are abstractions, and I’ve never been particularly good at the abstract, whether in philosophy or art. I’m rooted in what I can touch, smell, taste; what I can measure and observe, describe and record. (There’s that scientist again!)

Nor am I am artist. I have friends who are wonderfully talented at interpreting life through visual and sculptural forms, who practice art in their daily life. My late love was one such.

I’m an observer of details, one who notices the everyday marvels around me, one who wonders constantly about how it all works: how all of the beings involved in creating this animate world fit together, the why and who and how and where of life. I’m happy practicing sketching as a way to notice and record, to witness life going about its business.

This moment, this now.

This comma butterfly who flitted before I could puzzle out the pattern on those dusky orange wings.

For now, I’m just happy to be able to translate a moment onto a journal page as a way to focus, to learn, and to express my gratitude in being alive on this glorious autumn day.

Thank you Lisa for the nudge, Sherrie for reminding me that I do love to sketch, and comma butterfly for fluttering into my day…


For more from Susan J. Tweit, visit her blog.

Betwixt & Between: Creativity in a Liminal Time

liminal – adj. [technical]
1. of or relating to an initial or transitional stage of a process
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a threshhold.
origin: late 19th century; from Latin limen, limin ‘threshhold’

For the past few weeks, the word “liminal” has been in my mind. It’s a curious word most often used in sociology, anthropology and psychology, and it is almost oenomatopoetic (sounding like its meaning). Say “liminal” out loud and the word feels drifty, as if it’s a kind of floating place, there in transition, on the threshhold to… what?

I think I first heard the word from Molly, home on break from Reed College more than 15 years ago. Her daddy was talking about how he was struggling with the transition from being a professor of Economics, his time structured–constrained, really–by classes and grad students and committees, to a self-employed consultant who had to find his own work and schedule every day.

Molly said something like, “You’re in a liminal state, Dad.” He who always loved learning new words or new anything asked what ‘liminal’ meant. She explained.

I listened to their discussion as I prepared dinner for the three of us, and rolled the word around in my mouth like a marble, intrigued by the way the consonants and vowels slid out like quiet water.


Richard, Molly, and Isis, our late, great, Great Dane,
at Christmas break in 2003

As a freelance writer, I knew the feeling of it, that curious pause, the hesitation at being betwixt and between that came when I finished a writing project, whether one that had required months and months of my attention like a book, or just the days and weeks devoted to reserching and writing a feature article or commentary.

As soon as a manuscript leaves my desk, I enter that liminal time–even though I didn’t know the word until Molly mentioned it–that shift and confusion in reorientating my life and world to whatever the next project is. There is always that moment, standing on the threshhold or just before it, when I feel a queer combination of bereft and adrift, and also the quickening of excitement (and no small amount of terror) at taking off into the unknown.

Liminal comes to mind now because it’s where I am. I finished what I hope is the final major rewrite of Bless the Birds almost three weeks ago—the day before what what be Richard’s 66th birthday—and sent it off to my agent (who is reading it right now).

I have some smaller projects to work on, but they’re not occupying the same intense and exhilarating creative space the memoir did. They’re good work but not the deep work of heart and spirit that I’ve come to put into my books.

I can’t quite see what’s ahead, though I have a vague outline, and I’m drifting a bit. When I’m not engaged in those immediate deadlines, I read and let my mind wander, which is sometimes comfortable but often not.

I am much more used to a focus and a schedule, but honestly, creativity does not come from being comfortable. This betwixt and between state is far more open to creativity than when I have my tidy self organized and pointed at a deadline.

I need this unmoored, edgy, awkward time to push my boundaries, to throw open the doors in my mind, to think of ten impossible things before breakfast, to be surprised and amazed and unsettled, to open myself to what I didn’t know I didn’t know, the paths that will take me far beyond the familiar and comfortable and safe.

It helps to have useful work to occupy the front of my mind right now, so my subconscious can wander and integrate things that didn’t necessarily seem to be related, find pattern in chaos and meaning in random thoughts and memories and ideas. So that I can weather the uneasiness of knowing that possibilities are so wide open that it’s bewildering and somewhat overwhelming, that I have no set goal to aim at or even more than the vaugest idea of a general direction I might want to take.

Come November, thanks to the Women’s International Study Center and the residency they awarded me at Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, I’ll have a whole glorious month to explore whatever has presented itself in this liminal time. A month to wander paths–both literal and metaphorical–without caring where they go, just to see and feel whatever is there.

Liminal time, that state when anything and everything is possible, when we have yet to choose the path or even know which door we will go through. It’s scary, discomfiting, annoying, and increatibly [oops, that was supposed to be “incredibly,” but I kind of like “increatibly” too!] liberating; if we can stay with it, that awkward and difficult process may yield our most creative inspirations, like a bud, cells dividing seemingly at random until the whole assemblage forms a glorious bloom.

Memoir: The Craft of Revision

Richard and me–in shadows–at Carpenter Ranch on The Big Trip, our last trip together

 

Back in May, I started on one last revision of my new memoir, Bless the Birds, after receiving comments from editors at good publishing houses that they loved the story, but… But it was just too personal, but it was just too intense, but it just wasn’t quite right for them.

I realized on reflection that I needed to shift the balance of voices and detail in the book. Keep enough of the personal, the intimate details, while at the same time strengthening and giving more space to the objective voice, the voice that explains what the story means, not just to me and Richard and Molly, but to us all.

Simple, no?

No. But I was so jazzed by that realization that I set to work immediately, and found to my surprise that as I read the manuscript with my intuitive “ears” tuned, listening for places where that objective voice was missing or weak, I “heard” them, like a click in my mind that said, “Stop here. This needs work.”

And once I focused, I could also hear what I needed to say.

As I worked my way through the manuscript, taking a few chapters each day, I could sometimes even sense in that intuitive way when there was extraneous detail that cluttered up the story, and left readers no space to engage in the narrative. So I did some cutting as well.

Still, by the time I finished that first pass of strengthening the objective voice, the manuscript was much too long for a standard memoir.

(Memoir generally runs 75,000 to 95,000 words; Bless the Birds came in at 103,350 words. In pages, that’s 20 to 25 pages too long. Length matters because more pages means a higher cost to produce the book, which means a higher cover price, and often lower sales. That makes a manuscript harder to sell to a publisher.)

I knew I was going to need another intensive editing pass to slim the manuscript. And I also knew I would bring a fresher eye if I could let it sit for a while.

As it happened, I finished that first revising pass just before I left for Wyoming in early June to teach and then spend two weeks working in Yellowstone where I would camp without modern conveniences like electricity, much less internet access. A good time to let Bless the Birds “season.”

When I returned home at the end of June, I picked it up again, determined to unclutter the story and bring closer to normal memoir range. Back in May, when my agent had asked when I thought I’d be done with the revision–she’s eager to send it out to a select few editors for a re-read–I said blithely, “I’ll have it back to you by July 15th.”

So that gave me a deadline. I worked with focus and intensity, and was surprised that as I read through the manuscript again, taking my time, I could “hear” passages that felt like they weren’t necessary.

What isn’t necessary to a story like this? That’s hard to define: it’s both contextual and intuitive. One thing I listened for was the kind of detail about the medical parts of the story that a scientist like me thrives on, but which can get in the way of readers’ engagement. Another was excessive information about the major characters, or the places we were.

Detail makes a story authentic; too much detail clogs it up like a gut full of donuts.

A sample page of the mss with my trusty editing pencil, one Richard used for sketching sculptures. The blue type is the new objective voice.

There’s no magic formula for how much detail is the right amount; what works for me at this stage is to read the story out loud to myself, listening carefully. When I feel myself disengaging, I stop, and read that part again, listening for what’s not working.

Over the past three weeks I worked steadily, and each day, the total word count dropped. As it did, the story strengthened, its muscles toning, its voice growing clearer.

On Friday morning, the 15th of July, when I read the very last section and finished, the word count had dropped to just over 97,000 words, slimmer by 6,000 words and nearly 20 pages.

I knew when I read the end that the manuscript was ready to go out. The story had touched me again, and now it was done (again).

Here are the final two paragraphs, plus the haiku coda:

Death will touch all of us, expected or not, ready or not. It is simply part of life on this planet. How we deal with the losses and with our own mortality is up to each of us. One thing is sure: Facing what Rilke called life’s “other half” with an open, generous heart makes letting go easier.

I think of the grief I feel at times like this as a tribute to the love Richard and I shared. I am grateful to be reminded of that love, even when my heart throbs with loss. We lived wholly and well, and that love, as the reader’s email reminds me, lives on—heart open, wings spread.

_____ you/ and that tiny glinting hummingbird/ arrow straight to my heart

 

I wrote an email to my agent, attached the revised manuscript and hit “send”–only I had no internet connection. I checked my system, and then called my provider. Which is when I found out that someone had accidently severed a fiber-optic cable, downing phone and internet service for the whole area. “We expect service to be restored again tomorrow,” the chirpy support person said. Great.

It felt urgent to get Bless the Birds emailed to my agent. So I considered who might have a live connection, and ended up asking my local financial institution if they could use their dedicated backup line to send my email with the manuscript. They took pity on the crazed writer and did.

That’s the benefit of living in a small town where everyone knows you. (The drawback of course, is that everyone knows you, so anonymity is nonexistent.)

Yesterday, July 16th, I realized belatedly why I had picked the previous day as my revision deadline, and why I went to extraordinary measures to finish and send out the manuscript.

July 16th was Richard’s birthday. I wanted the manuscript off my mind and my desk before then. It was a gesture of celebration and gratitude to the man who inspired the memoir.

So here’s to you, my sweetheart–Happy 66th! Your story is on its way again; this time I believe it will find a publisher who loves it. And I’ve learned more about the craft of shaping a narrative that is both intimate and universal, one that grabs both head and heart, and doesn’t let go.

Thank you for the gift of you in my life, and the gift of inspiring my growth as a writer and a person.

Richard Cabe in San Francisco, September 2011, two months before he died

 

((This post was originally published on Susan J. Tweit’s blog.)

Writing Through Burn-out

Double rainbow over my neighborhood.

Double rainbow over my neighborhood.

Last month I wrote about realizing that I’ve worn my creative self down so much over the past five years that I’m “ground to dust,” as a friend put it. It’s not that I’m sick of writing; I’m just sick of doing the sort of writing I get paid for. That writing feels like drudgery to me right now. It doesn’t refill my creative well or my spirit.

So as I work on the remaining assignments I’ve promised I’ll finish, I’ve been thinking about why I write and what I love. (Which would include the double rainbow in the photo above that graced my view last night–without the rain we need, but still a glorious sight.)

Tonight, as I was looking up a quote from my memoir, Walking Nature Home, for a friend, I came across this passage that sums up the kind of writing that does feed my spirit:

Our truest and most compelling writing comes from deep within, conscious or unconscious knowledge that is innately part of who we are. For me that is the set of relationships that make up what we call nature: who sleeps with whom, who eats whom, who cooperates and competes, and who cannot survive without whom. I know these stories both from the rigorous observation of field ecology and the experience of intimacy in my kinship with other species. –Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home

It is that intimate kinship with other species that sustains me these days. Not that the human community isn’t wonderful too. But right now the company of other species is more restful–equally fascinating and nurturing, without being quite so demanding as people can be.

For example, here two photos of wildflowers I shot this evening in the restored mountain prairie that is beginning to flourish in my post-industrial-dump yard. Watching these plants re-colonize a very-much-altered landscape they clearly still recognize and embrace brings me a great deal of reassurance and joy.

The rough blazing-star at the foot of my front steps has dozens of flowers open this evening. Notice the tiny hunting spider with front legs extended on the middle flower of this group, waiting patiently to catch one of the small flies that pollinate these starry blossoms.

The rough blazing-star at the foot of my front steps has dozens of flowers open this evening. Notice the tiny hunting spider with front legs extended on the middle flower of this group, waiting patiently to catch one of the small flies that pollinate these starry blossoms.

And here's wholeleaf indian paintbrush, one of my favorite wildflowers because it won't just sprout anywhere. A hummingbird was feeding at this cluster of flowers before I shot the photo (I wasn't quick enough to catch the hummer).

And here’s wholeleaf indian paintbrush, one of my favorite wildflowers because it only sprouts where its favorite native grass and sagebrush flourish as well. A hummingbird was feeding at this cluster of flowers before I shot the photo (I wasn’t quick enough to catch the hummer).

That these native plants can return to this blighted site, it seems to me, that they sprout from the seeds I carefully spread, grow, bloom, and reweave the relationships with other species that make a healthy prairie community, is evidence that we can restore this beleaguered earth. Bit by bit, day by day.

If these wildflowers can flourish in a place that was for a century an informal railroad-track-side dump; if their lives and the relationships they sustain can return the beauty of this land, my thinking goes, I too can revive and crawl out of this deep slump of the soul, this weariness to the bone.

I just need to remember to go outside. To watch the community of the land go about its exquisitely complicated business, full of inter-weavings and interdependencies, right out my front door.

Those wildflowers are the voices I want to listen to and the stories I want to write. They are the metaphorical pots of gold at the end of the double-rainbow in my heart, the tangerine sunset that fills me with awe.

When I begin telling these stories, I believe my delight in playing with words and narrative, with articulating the love I feel for this glorious blue planet–battered as it may be–will return full force.

Prompt: What stories and voices speak to you so urgently that you must tell them? What kind of writing feeds your soul?

(This post was originally published on my blog.)

A tangerine sunset from my side deck...

A tangerine sunset from my side deck…

Burn Out

"Paula's Find," a firepit sculpted by my late husband, Richard Cabe.

“Paula’s Find,” a firepit sculpted by my late husband, Richard Cabe.

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite books in Marcia Muller’s mystery series starring Sharon McCone, a smart, self-aware and generous San Francisco Private Investigator who finds herself so worn down from the violence and greed she experiences in her work that she becomes numb, barely able to function.

McCone takes refuge at a remote ranch in eastern California and wonders if she will ever be able to lead her agency again, or care about the work that has inspired and intrigued her for so long. In the end, it is another case that draws her gradually out of her malaise, but not before McCone learns some important things about who she is and why she cares.

I’ve been struggling with a form of burn-out lately. I have two major magazine assignments due in mid-August, and while I’ve been working on them both, to say I’m not motivated is to put it mildly.

Motivation has never been a problem for me before. I have always been able to dive into whatever’s uppermost on my writing to-do list, and work methodically toward my deadlines.

Now, I struggle to make myself focus, and spend a lot of time looking out the window, pacing the house, tending my gardens, walking to the Post Office to check my mail, reading the news on my laptop… Anything other than work on the stories I need to research and write.

It’s not that I don’t love to write–I do. Writing is one of my two life-passions; the other is playing with plants–especially native plants, the pioneers for restoring nature to our everyday places and lives.

What I don’t love anymore, I realize, is the freelancing part of writing, writing what others will pay me for. Which of course has been a major part of how I’ve made my small living for decades. I’ve been fortunate enough to land interesting assignments for good magazines; even though the magazine market has shrunk drastically, I still do.

Why am I now struggling to motivate myself?

Five years of pushing too hard–through my late husband Richard’s journey with terminal brain cancer, through my mother’s simultaneous decline, through caring for my dad in his first years alone, through finishing my former house and Richard’s studio and selling that property, through paying off the last of the brain cancer bills and building my small house and studio–five years of scrambling to cope with whatever was most urgent has simply taken a toll.

I thought (optimistically) that I had skated through those hard years without consequences. I was wrong.

I’m tired. Not too tired to prune the heritage tomato plants growing vigorously in the stock tank on the front deck, to pull invasive weeds along the creek, or write my daily haiku for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Not too tired to think about the next book even.

I’m tired of chasing a living, tired of writing to order.

Part of that is timing. Thursday, July 16th, would have been Richard’s 65th birthday, the date he aimed to retire and focus solely on his art without worrying making it pay. He didn’t make it.

I’m not old enough to retire. I’ll be 59 this fall. Yet I find myself wanting to–not to quit writing. Like Richard, I just want to quit struggling to make the work I love pay.

So I’ve made myself a promise: After I finish the next two assignments, I’ll take a break. Not from writing, just from the hustle of freelancing. I’ll work in the garden, pull weeds along the creek and think about the next book. And while I’m doing all that, I’ll take a hard look at my finances and see how far my savings would take me.

I have things to say, and my patch of earth to continue restoring, whether or not anyone will pay me for it. I could get excited about that work.

Prompt: What writing excites you? How can you free yourself to spend more time on it?

Sus short hairSusan J. Tweit is a plant biologist and award-winning author whose mission is to restore Earth and we humans–one book, one yard, one place and one heart at a time. She lives in Salida, Colorado, in a house she helped design and build on a reclaimed former industrial dump site with a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains. This essay originally appeared on her blog.

What Do You Truly Want to Become?

Richard on California’s Big Sur Coast

A year ago, Richard and I were in Denver at what turned out to be his last appointment with Dr. Klein, his oncologist at the VA Medical Center. We looked over his most recent MRI. Dr. Klein pointed out that the rapidly growing tumor in his right brain looked stable, a surprise given his increasing difficulty using his left side, as well as new skin sores and other physical issues. His mind was still clear, his sense of humor quick, and his smile positively incandescent. But his body was clearly beginning to fail.

Because of that, she said, it would be best to cancel his monthly chemo infusion. “Are you okay with that?”

Richard looked at her, his gaze straight, understanding the implication. “I’’s not working, is it?”

She shook her head, and after a moment, passed a box of tissues. We all sniffled and blew our noses. Richard and I held hands.

“I’ll call to check on you in a few days,” she said, after asking if we needed anything. “You can always reach me.”

We hugged her and left, Richard walking slowly but confidently, using the cane he needed then for balance.

I think back to that day now as the wind howls and the temperature plummets; the weather reminds me of the drive home after that visit with Dr. Klein. A wintery wind buffeted our Subaru as we crossed the high country, as if echoing the grief chilling my heart. Richard held my hand even when he slept.

Kayaking on the Columbia River off Portland. (Photo by Molly Cabe)

He and I were partners in ways that are difficult to explain without sounding trite or sappy. We let each other in more deeply and trustingly than anyone before or since.

That kind of heart- and soul-connection is rare and precious, a gift I didn’t expect to receive and one I don’t imagine will come my way again. Which is okay. I say that only to explain why I haven’t, as some have asked lately, “moved on” yet.

We had almost 29 years to grow our love and partnership, and those years and that deep connection are not something to move on from. It takes time to sort out what my life means without Richard, just as it took time to grow what he called the “body of love” that sustained us, especially through the journey with his brain cancer.

Me riding a ferry in Alaska this summer. (Photo by Roberta Smith)

It’s not that I’m not living fully. But learning how to be me without him involves a lot of trial and error, thinking, and practice. Decisions that once would have been simple are not. The path forward isn’t clear.

As I was writing this post, I found a quote from the late Steve Jobs in my journal that’s the reminder I need as I feel my way forward….

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

What do you truly want to become? How does your writing contribute to that you?