graduate school, sober lifestyle

Experience

The student finished reading his personal narrative, and one of the English professors running the panel commended him on his closing paragraph. “You see a lot of young writers struggle with endings,” she said, “and yours was really strong.”

I wanted to yell out from my seat in the audience: “YES! Endings are SO HARD! Even for OLD WRITERS!”

The moment kind of reminded me of sitting in an AA meeting early in my sobriety and hearing someone talk about the alcohol-induced anxiety attacks that hit like clockwork every day at 3AM. It’s one of those things that everyone in a certain group of people goes through, but you think you’re the only one, and when someone else brings it up, you’re so relieved to know you’re not alone.

You’re hit with this feeling…like, you’re finally home.

That’s how I felt at the Delaware Valley University Student Writers Conference last week. Not surprisingly, I was the oldest one there — by quite a large margin — and from what I could tell, the only grad student. But art knows no age, and one of the first things you learn in studying this particular art form, other than “know your ending before you begin,” is to “write what you know.”

I was super impressed and inspired by the undergraduate authors all around me — like, to the point of tears. But let’s face it: When it comes to knowing stuff, I blew their little butts out of the water. I’m a 43-year-old recovering alcoholic in the midst of her third career transition (and second month of unemployment), for Pete’s sake! If life experience is a key advantage in the writing “game,” this “competition” was not a fair fight.

Of course, I did not submit my old “Nature” blog post to the conference with thoughts of winning anything. I mean, it certainly is nice to be able to say, finally, after three years, that I made money off this project ($50 cash, to be exact), but blogging to me has never been, nor will it ever be, about cold, hard compensation.

It’s about pushing the limits of run-on sentences right up to the red line, and making as many 90s pop culture references as humanly possible in one piece! 🤣

Hold up; I’m lagging way behind on the latter. Here’s Christopher working on his screenplay, which I guess is technically from Year 2000, but don’t bust my balls, OK?

I learned at the Writers Conference that kids today actually get some decades-old references, because everything that was ever remotely popular has been “rebooted.” But anyway, back to the reason I did this thing…

I did it because it was a conference for writers, and ever since I could form a semi-coherent thought in my busy little baby brain, I have been a writer. Every second of my professional, and a good chunk of my personal, time over the past 30-plus years has been spent “using my words” to tell stories.

There are few places on Earth where I feel more at home than in a creative writing forum where thoughts and feelings are being expressed with style and flair and clever use of vocab. When I was an undergrad, I was basically an English student masquerading as a journalism major.

I should probably have majored in English, except I didn’t want to teach, and look where that decision got me!

*Stares at Indeed profile with a column full of ❌s next to my scores of applications*

It’s a painful internal tug of war, feeling like my skill set and one true passion has tremendous value in one community, but when it comes to the one that “counts”? All my talent and years of experience putting it to use in the workplace seem basically worthless.

It’s a total mindf*ck to be told, on one hand, “You’re an amazing writer; you should write a book!” — and honestly, if I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that, I would not be stressing about a lack of income right now. I shrug off the compliment because while I might be “good” at relating my story, it’s really nothing special in the oversaturated memoir marketplace — and on the other hand be ghosted or rejected by employers looking for full, part-time or even contract copywriters.

It doesn’t help when everywhere I turn, I read about this “Great Resignation” where millions of people are reportedly like, “I’m better than this shit job! Byeeee!” when I’m grieving the loss of a decent job that paid my bills and wonder if I’ll ever again be deemed good enough for another one.

Flawed thinking, I know. Overdramatic, maybe a bit. But tell me you haven’t felt that exact same way at some point. Well, maybe you haven’t if you don’t fancy yourself an “artiste,” or you’re savvier than me when it comes to selling yourself, or you’re just more adept at the job search. I’m not used to being unemployed, and I’m feeling really discouraged right now…that’s all.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have this space, or this craft, or the inextinguishable fire deep inside that moves me to write, write, write (rant?) and spew the contents of my soul into the universe — the healthiest way I know to exorcise the demons that led me to drink.

I had an AA sponsor once tell me that writing a recovery blog was wrong because it broke anonymity and put personality over principles, and what if, she asked, I relapsed and people reading concluded that “the program” didn’t work? 😱

What if, I ask back, I told you that this blog is at least half the reason I’m sober today? 😳

Sharing my experience (and yes, my strength and hope) with you and with the other writers in that room in DelVal’s Life Sciences Building the other day has been a great way to learn about myself, laugh at myself, and connect with other people who share my passion. The worlds of recovery and writing have collided in a way I couldn’t have foreseen when I punched in my credit card numbers to purchase this site, and even though I’ve technically received a single paper bank note featuring Ulysses S. Grant back, the rewards have been truly priceless.

For all the ranting and raving I’ve done in these run-on sentences, I do have faith that someday writing will again help me pay our household bills. Until I can write an ending to the job search story, I appreciate you, as they say in AA, “letting me share.”

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