Carol Good discovered her voice and the power of poetry in a writing group working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the mid-nineties. She continued to write around the edges of her life – filled with family, “billable work”, too many cats, a house in constant need of repair, continuing education and community volunteering – until her decision to retire which was expedited by the pandemic. Now she makes her writing a priority.
In the moment of writing this, I am again sitting at my desk, silently producing words in front of a screen displaying 30 other writers. This has become a twice-weekly ritual since the New Year of 2021, for an hour each time. We do not talk – we write, wonder, revise and go for coffee refills.
For much of my life, my writing practice had been a sidebar activity – a way to relieve pain, sort through confusion and clarify options. If I could get the churn out of my head, I believed I would make sense of the dizzying, distressing mess.
Re-reading my collection of journals, the demons who show up regularly have become familiar. The truth of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s, “Wherever I go, there I am,” is noticeable as I review my years of ruminations. No DNA testing is required. My quirky and struggling self shows up consistently. (Of course, this awareness triggers my very opinionated inner critic: “Really? There you go again, do you have anything original to say?” Apparently not, given the evidence in a banker’s box brimming with filled pages).
In 2019, I added another dimension to my writing practice. After years of being a participant in AWA writing groups, I decided to train to become an AWA-certified workshop leader. The AWA workshop leader training opportunity appeared in my own backyard (aka Dufferin County) – one of the biennial Canadian trainings. This proximity felt like the training was being offered on a silver platter. It would have been churlish to decline. The balance tipped when I learned that my life-long friend, Sue, was the lead trainer.
I felt I had a running start in this new identity because of my career as a group process facilitator and experience as an AWA workshop participant. I had also completed a four-year training program to become a Gestalt psychotherapist in 2014, though I decided not to pursue that career in 2016. How to usefully redirect my eclectic knowledge and skills is a question I grappled with as I moved towards retirement.
For years, my hobbies had looked a lot like my billable work. I sat on Boards and committees and participated in community planning and projects. I wanted – and needed – to do something else.
After the training, I decided to test my new wings with the local library. I figured that an AWA writing workshop would fit well with their supports for local writers. I refined my proposal with the library’s program coordinator in the Fall of 2019, and we agreed that April 2020 would be a good time to offer a Saturday morning series. They printed brochures and updated the website to accept registrations.
And then the pandemic hit. The library closed during the lockdown and cancelled all programs. My well-laid plans were dust.
Earlier in 2020, I had accepted an invitation to participate in an online AWA Launchpad mentoring group. The group’s mandate was to provide peer support to ease AWA workshop leaders into active practice. Because we were set-up to meet on ZOOM, we were slightly ahead of the online-everything-wave that hit in March.
During 2020, our mentoring group continued to meet every two weeks to provide a supportive space and accountability. We designed workshops, explored marketing (by creating websites and brochures) and actually delivered our workshops virtually. We learned that the robust AWA method was sturdy enough to allow us to move our work to the virtual world without losing its essential intimacy. At each Launchpad meeting, we also acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on our lives. We discussed the good, the bad and the often ugly.
My focus on writing practice during this pandemic has allowed me to move forward with a long-time goal of publishing a book of my poetry. I had been writing poems since the mid-nineties and had them stashed in journals, assorted files and piles of papers. Most had emerged during writing workshops, although I’d written a few with intention for special events. And a few I had already revised.
A visit to an exhibition about the life and work of Irish poet Seamus Heaney in 2018 (where I picked up a copy of his posthumously published 100 Poems) inspired me. I decided to pull together 65 of my poems in time for my 65th birthday in June 2021.
My mother had died at 59, her mother at 64 and her mother at 48. If I could live to 65, I would be the oldest woman on my mother’s side of the family in four generations. So 65 is a significant birthday for me.
With editing and publishing support from long-time friends at Stone’s Throw Publications for the text, and original art provided by a talented dear friend for the cover, I have Alive & 65: a celebration ready for release in time for my birthday. This has only been possible because of the unshakeable support of the AWA method, the kindness and encouragement of my friends and the enforced time at home due to the pandemic.
As I look for silver linings from this period of fear and uncertainty, I find a surprising number – my published poetry book, a facility with ZOOM, low mileage on my car, weeded gardens and an acute awareness of the capacity of collective writing to create and support life-affirming connections with others. I have also learned to bake bread.
Now that I have had my first “jab,” my challenge is to move into a post-COVID time where I will have more freedom to choose how I live. I know that my writing practice will support whatever I discover in this chapter.