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[The Writer's Life] For Real
Contributor
Written by
Cindy Eastman
October 2018
Writing
Contributor
Written by
Cindy Eastman
October 2018
Writing

The pop-up calendar reminder on my computer is more reliable than I am: SW Column due. Since October 2013, when I was a new She Writes Press author getting ready to publish my first book, I took up the offer to write a “Behind The Book” post for the She Writes website. After that, wonder of wonders, I was asked (or maybe I suggested) to contribute to a monthly blog which I presumptuously titled “The Writer’s Life.”

Every month since then, the reminder pops up, I procrastinate for about a week, and then I come up with a piece on what it’s like to be a writer. Through my lens, I detail the ups and downs, the rewards and challenges of deciding to become a Writer in mid-life; after other jobs, a family and lots of insecurity. For me, taking on this so-called career was a leap. There was no six-figure contract awaiting my signature. I learned I would have to pretty much make it up as I went along and to my surprise--I did. And I enjoyed it.

After a teaching job ended, I had some flexible time on my hands to make a go of this writing life. Even though I worked part-time with my husband, I was free to create this career pretty much any way I wanted to. My doubts and insecurities flared from time to time, but I soon got the hang of this writer thing. I was presenting at author talks, teaching writing workshops and peddling my book at festivals and other events. And each month, I wrote about something that I discovered about writing, books or myself along the way and promptly(ish) sent it off to Kristen to plug in on the She Writes site whenever she had the space. After a lengthy trip to Italy a couple of years ago, I came back armed with notes and enthusiasm for writing my second book. It was all going just as planned.

Until it didn’t.

Almost literally as I landed at JFK after the 9 hour trip from Naples, I got a phone call: Mom was in the hospital with pneumonia. Within three days I was in Sarasota helping out with my dad while Mom recuperated. As the next few months passed by, we learned that the pneumonia was actually stage 4 lung cancer and she was admitted to hospice. Then, two weeks after that, she died. One of the last things mom and I talked about was what was going to happen to my dad. Legally blind, diabetic, with a pacemaker, he was largely cared for by mom. Naturally, I assured her he would be okay--we would take care of him. Of course I did...who wouldn’t say that...even though I had no idea what it would look like.

Now I do. Our family decided to bring Dad to Connecticut from Florida. My house made the most sense and we remodeled our dining room into a first floor bedroom. My sister lived nearby, but she was struggling in her own battle with cancer and could do little more than come over for short visits. This was one of the reasons coming to Connecticut seemed like a good idea; we didn’t really know how much time she had herself. My brother didn’t live nearby--he lived in L.A.--but at least he would have a place to stay when he came to visit. I figured it would work out much better for me and my writing because I’d be home and not flying back and forth to Florida. I didn’t see any reason to suspend my plan on getting book two out--after adjusting for time to transition, etc. I should be able to do it--no problem.

Of course now, a year and a half later, I see why there was no way I could continue on with my “writer’s life.” For the first six months I fought against the new responsibilities that claimed my time. I was exhausted, irritable and short-tempered. I felt it was unfair and wondered when someone was going to give me a hand with this caretaking thing. Between finding new doctors, going to the doctors and establishing a new life and routine for my dad, I hit the bed every night wrung out. It seemed like everyone else’s life hadn’t been impacted at all--just mine. Then, the worst happened: we lost my sister about a year after Dad came to live with us. Her loss devastated us all and our days were filled with sadness and grief.

Some days I forget what my life used to look like. The days when I claimed I was so busy and didn’t have time to serve on this committee or take on that other job. What was I doing? When I felt so stressed about having so many responsibilities and couldn’t seem to get anything finished, what was taking up my time? One day I happened to be reading about Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series. (I have a six-year-old grandson...of course I read Captain Underpants.) The article reported that Mr. Pilkey “took a break from writing for a few years to care for his terminally ill father.” Somehow, that made me feel better. Even a writer with a successful career needed to take time off from his writing in order to assume the role of caregiver. Knowing that gave me hope for my own nascent career.

The last column I wrote for She Writes was a November piece entitled, A Thankful Writer. I am just days away from having ditched this responsibility for a whole year. I can’t believe it, because it’s not like me to simply let go of a commitment; to just stop in the middle of what I was doing because I had to do something else. But I did. I felt supremely guilty about it for months, until I was finally kind enough to cut myself a break. Being a caretaker is full-time and if I’m not kind to myself, I might not be kind to anyone else--especially my dad. Taking care of him is probably one of the most important roles I will ever have, next to being a parent to my children.

The lessons I’ve learned in the past year and a half, as well as the lessons that are still to come will provide me with the path to bring writing back into my life. So even though everything has changed, nothing has. It’s only slightly ironic that the last post I wrote is about being thankful, because I really am. I still have my writers group, I have my talent for writing and I even get to teach a class at a local arts center. Book Two is still on the back burner, but I can probably fit my She Writes post in each month. I am still a writer; it is who I am, not only what I do. It’s a writer’s life.

 

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