Detours on the Way to a Binge

Eleven months ago, in June 2013, I came to Pendle Hill for a weekend conference on the life and writings of Isaac Penington, one of the first generation of Quakers in the 17th century. After the conference ended on Sunday afternoon, I was able to tuck in a stay of an extra 36 hours to do some writing of my own on Choosing Miracles. It was time well spent. I was able to get some words out about a heartbreaking time of my life. Based on the responses of my beta readers, I managed to do so with some economy and without too much self-indulgence. And then did life take an amazing turn!

I’d been home about a week when, from the next room, Bowen said, “Huh. This is odd. I seem to have an e-mail from Google. They want me to call them.”

“What is it?” I said. “Some kind of prank or spam or phishing thing?”

“No,” he answered. “It seems to be legitimate. They saw my resume on LinkedIn and they think I might belong there.”

And so, after a screening call, a few phone interviews, a day of coding sessions, several lunches, and more phone interviews, Bowen was hired by Google in mid-September as a senior staff software engineer. He resigned his position as a teaching adjunct in late September, took six weeks off to get rested and organized, and began working for Google in the New York office in November.

I’m still moving back and forth between Peekskill and Manhattan, but now we have a regular schedule. In on Monday mornings on the 9:15, back to Peekskill Friday night on the 5:35, 6:35, or 7:21. Commuting takes less energy now that we have an established rhythm. Now the energy is going into learning how to support my partner in his high-level job. How can I make life as easy as it can be around the times that he’s not coding or thinking about code? What can I put on the table for dinner? And most of all, what can I throw out, give away, take to the Housing Works thrift store, or shred next in order to free up more room for us in my 400-square-foot studio apartment where we spend Monday through Thursday nights?

I am amazed to find how much of my past accumulations I can let go of when I feel like I have a new future!

I have been thinking about this blog, and wanting to get back to it, and wanting to get back to Choosing Miracles, but Google life comes first . . . for now. It comes first because something else has happened. After more than thirty years of supporting myself as a freelance proofreader, the work has disappeared. In January my two major clients reorganized, doing away with the departments that contracted me. In one month, 50 percent of my income disappeared. I have other clients. Work is coming in at the end of this month. But for the first time in decades I’m not self-supporting. The same technology that’s taking away my livelihood is providing my partner with a salary ample enough to take care of both of us and his four children and their college educations.

It’s a loss for me of identity, of independence. It’s a gain for me of energy. Much less splitting myself between straightening out other people’s words and writing down my own.

And now here I am at Pendle Hill again after eleven months. And blogging again after how long . . . ? And why? Because of Google! Bowen and I drove down from New York today, he dropped me here, then he went to the Philadelphia airport for a flight to San Francisco and his first visit to Mountain View, California, Google’s main office. While he meets his coding colleagues in Silicon Valley, I go on my longest binge yet at Pendle Hill. I’m clear to write until Friday morning. I’ve got to get myself and my readers through a dark and painful piece of my life. There’s no better place to face up to that work than here. 

How many words can I get out by Friday?




Answering Jim’s Question: Living in My Work

Yesterday, my writer friend Jim added a comment to my “Identity Shift” post about the words I heard in Quaker meeting. He asked: “What are the implications of ‘You live in your work’? Was the next inspiration, ‘and that’s where I belong,’ or was it, ‘and that’s not right’?”

The answer to Jim’s question is important. I understood ‘You live in your work’ to be both an instruction and an explanation. The implications were, ‘I’m doing all this in your life so you will understand that you are to live in your work.’ And ‘I’m doing all this in your life to make it easier for you to live in your work.’

The opening brought an immediate and deep shift. (The word ‘revelation’ comes to mind.) It was effective in several directions: It helped me accept the comings and goings I’ve been pondering on this blog as being a support for my writing work, not an energy-consuming interference. It told me that my writing work was solid enough to hold my weight. It told me that God is an active partner in what I’m doing. And it reassured me that I’m on the right track at last.

“At last” because I started work on my manuscript more than four years ago, and it’s taken me this long to come to terms with writing it. And, yes, the call came in and there is room for me. I’m confirmed for my second three-day writing retreat next Tuesday.

Identity Shift

Yes. It’s been that busy around here, what with the comings and goings and the deadlines. But I’ve been thinking about this blog and wanting to get back to it, because I have news. The blog is working for me!

That last post I made, “Monday Afternoon Commute, Friday Morning Commute,” was a breakthrough. For the first time, I gave writing that piece priority over working on the proofreading deadline. I was able to put personal, creative work ahead of money-making labor.

Of course, let’s overlook the fact that, having done so, I then disappeared for 23 days. Let’s not connect those two events at all. Let’s not consider that perhaps it hasn’t been all that busy around here.

In any event, I’m doing it again. I’m writing this before I turn to the day’s deadline.

That’s because there has been another breakthrough I want to commemorate. On Sunday, February 2, I was sitting in Meeting for Worship (I’m a Quaker) where I was offering up some of the anxieties and questions I’ve laid out here, specifically, ‘Where do I live?’, and I felt a sudden and profound opening and shift. Up from the space that had appeared inside me came the words, ‘You live in your work.’

I have felt different ever since.

I’ll add only that my consciously acknowledged reason for disappearing into my deadlines for 23 days is that I’ve been accumulating money to take my second three-day writing retreat. I’m waiting for a call back now to let me know if there’s space for me. More about my writing retreats soon, I promise!

Monday Afternoon Commute, Friday Morning Commute

In my last post, I wrote about commuting to the city from my partner’s home in Peekskill to do a day of in-house work.

This week my partner, Bowen, and I begin another commute. On Mondays we’ll come into the city from Peekskill to stay in my studio apartment in Manhattan so he can catch the subway to his campus in the Bronx to teach his Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. classes rather than fighting through rush hour on the Taconic. On Friday mornings, we’ll go back to Peekskill so we can be with his teenage daughters, he can help them with math homework, and we can all enjoy movies-on-demand together. Sunday morning we attend a nearby Quaker Meeting for Worship and get ourselves organized to come back into Manhattan again.

Bowen is a professor of computer science, a math kind of guy, and a high-level programmer. He’s got a mind that’s really different from my own. He’s all abstract and super-rational and mostly oblivious to his surroundings. (A touch of the Laputan there, for you Jonathan Swift fans.) I’m off-the-charts intuitive, highly visual, and often too deeply connected to my surroundings.

I’ve lived in my studio apartment in Manhattan since 1973. It’s at the top of five flights of stairs and has two north-facing windows. When I took it, I thought, ‘It’s dark and small, but I’ll only be a here a year or two.’ What I didn’t factor into my figuring was that the apartment is rent-stabilized (meaning the rent can only be raised by a small percentage each year). As the years went by and unstabilized rents rose much more steeply than my freelance wages did, the apartment became more and more precious.

92nd Street ViewThen three years ago, Bowen and I became a couple. He worked at IBM-Watson in Westchester County at the time, and that’s when I began living in his apartment and mine. A year ago, after he retired from IBM, he bought the one-bedroom co-op in Peekskill, and while my studio in Manhattan is my legal residence, I’ve gotten used to spending more and more time in the suburbs.

The view is better. Life is slower and easier (as long as you have a car). The Hudson River is a little under a two-mile walk from our front door. We have a balcony where we breakfasted in the summer and I grew flowers for the first time in my life. I’ve sunk into our life in Westchester seamlessly. And I’ve been musing on what it means that I haven’t missed any of the stuff in my Manhattan apartment.Peekskill Autumn View 7B4

I’m thinking what it means, as we begin spending more time here than we do in Peekskill, is that a great deal of that stuff is about to head to the thrift stores and the trash! A new method of de-cluttering? Move away for several months and see what you miss.

But what I’m also musing on is this: Where do I live? Do I have a home? For decades I was centered in my studio, my artist’s garret. I felt a great sense of accomplishment at having created a happy, independent life for myself, running my freelance proofreading business, enjoying the city, and delighting in Central Park and the birding community I discovered there.

Now, this garret, this center of my solitary life, is becoming our weekday pied-a-terre. How much energy will it take to make it ours instead of mine? What has become of my solitude? Was it something I truly needed? Or was it something I found a way to make a life with from necessity?

I Begin

Some time ago, at the prompting of a friend, I began writing a narrative account of the strange things that have happened in my life–curious coincidences, intuitions that mattered, even instances of what could be called spectral visions. As I begin this blog, I’ve got an outline, a conclusion, a first chapter with part of a second, and a circle of  friends (veteran writers among them) urging me on.

The book is called Choosing Miracles: A Memoir of Voices, Visions, and Angels. 

That’s what I’ve got.

What I don’t have in place is my own internalized identity as a writer. And I can never seem to get, find, or create the time, space, and energy to write given my work as a full-time freelance proofreader. (These, I’m sure, are related.)

Yes, of course I should make my own work my priority and turn to the moneymaking jobs after the day’s writing is done. Yes, of course I should write every day, no matter what. It doesn’t happen. My proofreader self crowds out the writer in me every time. I’ve got to get to that job on the desk so I can submit the invoice so I can pay the bills. And by the end of my day looking for typos, bad word breaks, bad base alignments, and inconsistent heads, the last thing I want to do is mess with words–even my own.

So I go to the park and look for birds. I go to the movies. I watch TV. I do things that lift my eyes off the page or out of the computer and I watch colors, shapes, and things that move. It’s wonderful!

This blog is an attempt to deal with the conflict between my work as a proofreader and my work as a writer. (There are other conflicts I’m aware of that are getting in my way, but I’ll talk about them later.) I’m beginning here. I’m creating this place where I can come and go casually, on coffee breaks or when I’m shifting from one proofreading job to another, and jot things down. Who knows what it’ll turn into?

Now it’s time to work on the quarterly macroeconomic forecast for New Jersey.