People are always saying that you need to follow your dream; find what you love to do, and make a career of it. Well, I’ve always loved to write, as for the career in writing, life got in the way of that. This being said, the desire remained and I had no doubt that my path would bring me back to this dream at some point.
My dream, was to be a journalist and travel the world following stories. My reality; getting married right out of high school, quitting college after the first year to work and help pay the bills, raising two kids and well, living my life. This is the life I chose to have, not necessarily the one I dreamt of having. Don’t get me wrong, I would not take any of those choices back. They were the ones I was meant to make at the time, and that was the life I was meant to live. I needed to have those experiences in order to become the person I am now, and personally, I kinda like the person I am now.
Deep inside I knew I’d make my way back to writing. I didn’t know the form it would take, or even when it would happen, but I knew that like everything, it would happen when it was meant to. Now, I also believe it was meant to happen several times over the years, I just chose to ignore the signs and kept moving in the direction of the path I was on, never wavering and never giving in to that quiet voice whispering to me.
Over the years I’ve somewhat appeased the sleeping giant by sharing stories verbally with family and friends. I have absolutely no qualms in sharing my faults, nor those of others; and feel that if you can’t laugh at yourself, give me a call, I’ll laugh for you, at you and with you. After several years of sharing family stories and numerous gags with my co-workers, I arrived at work one morning to find a brochure for a workshop, ‘Write For Your Life!’, sitting on my desk. There was, and still is, a handwritten Post-it with the following, “Jan, I thought you could really appreciate this seminar. Kathy”. This was in February 2001. I still have the brochure, the Post-it, and the enduring friendship of my fellow writer, Kathleen.
I immediately signed up for the seminar and appreciate it I did. It was held over two Saturdays in Uxbridge Ontario and was led by an amazing writer, Susan Reynolds. The information in the brochure promised to “distill your memories into writer’s ink”. I could hardly wait. I remember arriving and feeling a bit out of place, not an unusual situation for me as I tend to be more comfortable around those I know. Many of the attendees knew each other from other seminars, as well as a local writing group. I, on the other hand, knew no-one.
A few things about the first day really stand out for me. I remember Susan’s demeanor as very calming and warm and she seemed to have an understanding of metaphysics long before I started my own journey. She brought with her a Tibetan Singing Bowl which she used to signal the start and end of our periods of writing. I have my own Singing Bowl now and have used it during mediation and will also use it during future writing classes. I felt relaxed and knew I was safe in putting pen to paper and expressing myself here.
Our first assignment was to write about a place that brought back a specific memory from our childhood. Susan quickly mentioned a few; a garden, cottage, basement, grandparent’s home. Basement….my heart skipped a beat and I knew that was the one I needed to write about. We were given 30 minutes to write, and then we would go around the room and read what we’d written, but only if we were comfortable in doing so. This is the first time I’ve read, or typed up this hand-written piece since that day and it’s never been edited:
It was cold, dark and damp. Light never seemed to get in all of the corners. Coming down the wooden stairs from the pantry above you could see the bare bulb hanging dimly from the ceiling, the old ringer washer standing guard by the concrete sink. Stairs also led up to the backyard but we did use those much, didn’t use the basement at all, if we didn’t have to. I remember two smaller rooms off of the main one, used for storage I guess, but too dark and scary to enter.
Shelves under the stairs held jars of preserves harvested from our garden and the fruit trees in the yard. Sweet jams and jellies, tart pickles and crisp beans saved for the coming months. Under the stairs was also where you hid when you didn’t want to be found. Like I said, no-one went in the basement if they didn’t have to. One small window was set above the old sink. I don’t remember it ever being clean, or fully closed. I can see the tires of Dad’s car out that window, and weeds. Did we cut the grass over there? High cupboards beside the sink, lower ones beneath. I wonder if this use to be a ‘summer kitchen’. The drain hole in the floor always seemed to be making a gurgling noise and I often wondered what sort of creatures lived down there. Could they get out….and could they climb stairs? The old wringer washer, busy with the clothes of three active young girls on the weekend, but silent and lonely the rest of the time.
We wrote for thirty minutes, then Sue rang the gentle chime of the Singing Bowl to bring us back to present day. I’ve never been one to enjoy speaking in front of people I don’t know, and certainly not one to read something I’d written out loud so I sat back and listened as others told their stories and we all encouraged them with our applause. Some people chose not to read, and there was certainly no pressure one way or the other. This was just a time to explore our own comfort in writing down the words. When Sue called on the table I was sitting at, I suddenly found myself standing and starting to read. I focused on what I’d written on the two sides of this line piece of paper and blocked out the sounds around me. I’m sure I stumbled on words as I raced the words written before me and, when I sat back down, I took a deep breath and mentally asked myself what the hell I was thinking. I’d never read anything I’d written out loud before, save for the obligatory speeches in English class at school, and this was so beyond my comfort level that I couldn’t even focus. After the usual polite round of applause, we continued on to the next reader. About fifteen minutes later, a woman stood up at the other side of the room to read the piece she’d written. We’d all turned to give her our attention and she started by saying, “I’ll read my piece, but first I have to say, I’m still back in that basement over there. I could visualized everything as you described it and I wouldn’t go in that basement if I didn’t have to either”.
Wow! Yes, she was pointing at me. Maybe it was time I started following that dream and started believing in myself again.
Part of the workshop was to complete three written pieces before the next session the following Saturday and email them to Susan. She would provide a critique on each piece and give them to us before we started into the last of the workshop. Three pieces in a week. I could do that.
As we finished up for the day and I walked out into the cold February afternoon, I realized, that basement was still calling to me…..