Steps toward reclaiming my writing time


I’m still wallowing in the land of forms and after-death paperwork, and stressing out a bit over all of the details involved in planning the celebration of Richard’s life. (Join us on December 23rd, the day after winter solstice, at the Salida Steamplant Events Center, from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m.)

I’m also beginning to reclaim my writing time. Not all day, not even every day, but chunks here and there.

Writing is not just my work: it’s vital to the way I want to live in the world: with love and care. It’s my way to process the experiences life throws at me, to share what wisdom I’ve learned, to keep the stories moving from mind to mind and heart to heart, to live mindfully, with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. Writing comforts me, inspires me, humbles me, teaches me patience and courage, and reminds me of who I am and why I love this world–over and over again, with each word, sentence, paragraph, story.

Without writing, I am like the red-brown, flattened stalks of the christmas cactus in the photo above–without blossoms. Without writing, my spirit withers. I lack the inner nourishment to thrive.

My spirit’s been feeling pretty withered lately, and not just because of Richard’s death from brain cancer almost three weeks ago. In those last two months when he was in hospice care at home, I rarely had time enough, focus enough, or energy enough to write anything that required depth or richness.

So this week I made time. And when I got started, I was relieved to find that I could still dig deep, and make the words sing.


I started with a column for Colorado Central, a lively local mag, exerpting a longer essay on home I wrote for An Elevated View: Colorado Writers on Writing. Here’s the column lede:

When I was a child, I knew exactly where home was: Wyoming. Although I was born and lived in Illinois, I recognized the home of my heart on a family vacation. It was June, my father was driving, gas pedal to the floor as he urged the engine of our home-made camper-van to its top speed…

The engine knocked hard, and I looked up from my book. Elk Mountain, still splotched with spring snow, rose out of an ocean-like expanse of sagebrush, silver-green and spangled with moisture. The air pouring in the jalousie windows bore a fragrance I still find intoxicating: turpentine mixed with pine-resin and the spicy sweetness of orange blossoms.

Sagebrush, I said to myself. I’m home.

My heart swelled with feelings a child could not explain….

It was an excerpt, not an original piece, and it came out too long. Still, I found new angles in the story.

Next, I tackled my “Whole Life” column for the spring issue of Zone 4, inspired by an article on home solar power I’d written for Audubon Magazine:

Just before Earth Day three years ago, the power company hooked up our new silent, non-polluting rooftop plant, and our electrical meter began running backwards. Our “plant” is a photovoltaic system, using 24 panels to capture energy from the sun’s rays and produce clean electricity….

Emboldened by my success at wrestling that one to my 250-word limit, I decided to work on the stack of new books on my desk awaiting reviews.


Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis had been there longest, so I started with it. And wrote a review which went places that surprised me, from parenting and environmental issues to the fundamentals of writing itself:

Each chapter begins and ends with a parenting vignette…. Steingraber uses memoir to introduce facts, and does it so effectively that the reader is sucked right in, regardless of whether we really wanted to know what she’s going to tell us. That makes the book an instructive one for writers as well, especially those of use who tell life stories. How does she keep the balance between memoir and journalism? How does she make bad news lyrical and wise?

It feels good to find my voice again, and to write. It’s what I need to do to live well, heart outstretched as if it were my hand, in all of the moments ahead, however many there may be.