Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The woods were lovely, dark and deep....'til we arrived

“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep,” I said to myself as I looked out the bedroom window across the berm and into the trails of the state park while getting ready for work this morning.

Except that unlike Robert Frost’s woods on a snowy evening, the woods weren’t dark, because it was only 10 a.m. Just lovely and deep.

And the only promise I had to keep at the moment was the one to be at the office in another three hours, since I was working a half-day.

The woods are lovely and deep, I said to myself, retrofitting the poem to my own circumstances, and the promise I have to keep is the one that I would try to be more direct in pursuing the things I want, rather than expecting them to fall into my lap. It was the closest thing I had to a New Year’s resolution for 2014, and two days before the first of the New Year, it hung over my head as I looked out at the bare trees and snowy ground cover.

It’s a perfect day for a walk in the woods, I told myself, contradicting the sentiment of the Frost poem that had come to me so easily. Because we’ve gone more than a week without fresh snow, the trails in the state park are temporarily closed to skiers, which means walkers and even dogs are welcome there. The temperature was a comfortable mid-30s, with predictions of colder weather to come, along with more snow, which would mean the trails would be restricted to skiers once again.

If ever there was a winter morning for walking in the snowy woods, I told myself, this is it.

But it wasn’t just me. I wanted the kids to come along also. And they are not generally winter hiking enthusiasts.

I pitched it to them the same way I had ultimately pitched it to myself. Limited opportunities for using the trails in the winter. Nothing else on the schedule. Not too cold.

And then I pleaded a little bit. “I really really really want to do this,” I told them. “It would be a big favor to me.”

But it turned out I might not have had to work quite that hard, because they shrugged and said once they were done with breakfast, they’d go.

Just as I’d imagined from the bedroom window, it was a beautiful day to be in the woods. The snow was packed and crunchy underfoot, the air crisp but not too cold.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t quite the walk I imagined. Not the walk I would have taken by myself, anyway. I imagined trekking quietly through the snow, immersing ourselves in the beauty of winter, but that’s not how my kids roll. Or rather, that’s not how my kids hike. There were piggy backs and horseplay; deliberate slipping and sliding and innocuous collisions. There were shouts of “Oh no, wolves!” delivered in falsettos of mock horror. There was much hilarity over the challenge of fastening the dog’s new winter coat around her torso and not letting her shake it off.

Their style of hiking is different from mine. Ideally I probably would have had it both ways: their company, but also the meditative silence and observance of nature with which I like to tromp through the woods.

Instead, I got their company, the walk I wanted, and a good deal of shrieking, shoving, laughing and chasing.

Which was fine also. To any other abutters of the state park, looking out their own bedroom windows and contemplating a winter walk, the woods may have seemed a little less lovely, dark and deep with the three of us plus the dog flailing and cavorting our way through.

But it was a good walk nonetheless. Because the woods really are lovely, dark and deep. And I felt very lucky to be making my way through them, along with two kids and a dog, this morning.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Blog-cation

Taking a blog vacation. Happy holidays all!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Critical reviews

Rick wasn’t crazy about our Christmas poem this year.

It was bound to happen. Every December since 1992, which was the year we got married, I’ve cranked out a Christmas newsletter comprising about eight to twelve stanzas of rhyming pentameter, covering the events of the past year for us.

Initially, it was a lark, just something I thought would be fun for our first Christmas together. And there was plenty to tell that year: our wedding, the arrival of our first niece, our honeymoon in Venezuela, a trip to Colorado, a new job for Rick. And somehow I was able to make all of it rhyme.

Some years it was more difficult than others, but every year I managed to come up with something. This year, too, though I had to confess in the course of the poem that it hadn’t been a particularly eventful year – but that sometimes an uneventful year suits us just fine. The kids are well-established in school, happy and doing well academically; Rick and I both have plenty of work and plenty to do in our downtime. No safaris, cruises or mountain treks to describe; no major life changes to touch upon. And that’s fine with us.

Still, Rick didn’t think it was a very good poem, when it was done. But I didn’t really mind. After nearly 25 years as a professional writer under one guise or another, I’m pretty thick-skinned. Not everything I write resonates with everyone. Most of the editors I currently work with tend to offer very little criticism of my work, but I don’t necessarily see that as an altogether good thing, knowing it’s mostly because we’ve worked together long enough that I know just what they like.

And criticism can come from various places: not just editors and not just bosses. Last year a local realtor asked me to write a marketing piece for her, describing a historic property that was up for sale. I worked on it for days, and the realtor was delighted with the results, but one of my closest friends visited the property during the open house and said afterwards, not knowing I’d written the marketing materials, “The house is wonderful, but the brochure didn’t do it justice at all.”

I couldn’t really understand why she didn’t like it, and I don’t really know why Rick wasn’t too fond of this year’s Christmas poem. But in a paradoxical way, sometimes this kind of criticism makes me happy, because it reminds me that I’ve reached a point in my life and in my writing career when I understand that not everyone will like everything – and that one off-the-mark piece doesn’t make me an incompetent writer. It’s subjective, and I don’t take it to heart when someone doesn’t like something I’ve written.

On the other hand, it’s always useful to listen to people’s criticism and learn from it. I don’t have to impress or please every reader with every piece of writing, but I’d rather write marketing copy that my friends find appealing, and I’d rather write a Christmas poem that Rick considers an engaging reflection of our year.

So being thick-skinned is good in my profession, but been attuned to feedback is as well. I’ve learned a lot from pieces I’ve written that have been well-received, but I’ve probably learned more from those that haven’t. I put effort into everything I write. And sometimes it’s invaluable to learn, through negative feedback, how that same amount of effort might have been better used. And how I might be able to do better next time.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wreathed in holiday spirit


“I should at least have put a wreath on the door,” I thought with mild remorse as I drove home one day last week.

It was two hours until I was hosting our annual holiday cookie exchange, to which all the guests bring homemade holiday cookies and we each take a few of each other’s cookies until everyone has a variegated combination of treats. (The idea is to then have cookies at the ready to serve for any holiday gatherings that take place in the upcoming weeks, but most guests have confessed that their families eat the collected cookies within a day or two of the party.)

Still the first week of December, it seemed to me to be too early to decorate the house, and it didn’t bother me at all that we didn’t yet have a tree, because of all the watering and sweeping that putting up a Christmas tree requires. “But I should have at least picked up a wreath over the weekend,” I told myself.

But when I entered the house, I stumbled into a coincidence. “Look what Mary and Pat sent!” Tim said, pointing to the kitchen table. It was a Christmas wreath, lush and large and fragrant with pine needles, a red velvet bow encircling the dark green boughs.

Merely taking it out of the box to see what the mystery package concealed, as the kids had apparently done before I arrived home from work, had already caused a shower of needles to blanket the floor, but I didn’t mind sweeping them up. Once I’d done that, we all marched to the door and put the wreath on the hook that was still there from last year.

Hanging a wreath is a perhaps inordinately important gesture to me. Our house is not visible to passersby on the street, regardless of whether they are driving or walking, and in some ways that can be a cop-out when it comes to seasonal decorating. Why bother with jack-o-lanterns, Christmas lights or even spring flowers if no one but us will see them?, I reason when I don’t feel like going to the extra trouble and expense that any of these frills would require.

But at other times, I regret the fact that even when we make the effort, no one really gets the chance to appreciate it. We don’t even use the front door ourselves; we go in and out through the garage most of the time. Putting up a wreath is, in a way, the “If a tree falls in the forest” equivalent of home d├ęcor. Why do it if no one will see it?

This same question causes minor friction in our household when it comes to cleaning. My husband Rick believes in cleaning the house only if we’re expecting guests, whereas I believe in the value of cleaning just so that the four of us can enjoy a clean house. (His attitude does not extrapolate to eating well only when we have company, though. He’s happy for me to prepare good meals no matter how few of us are present to enjoy it.)

And really, the idea that no one will see our wreath brings up a larger issue for me: just how easy it is to insulate ourselves from society. I sometimes think I’d be happier with a regular stream of people walking, driving or biking past our front door. Living in the woods amidst the trees, deer and owls is picturesque, serene, and often blissful, but sometimes I regret not having more humanity around.

Nonetheless, this was the evening of the annual cookie exchange, and by coincidence, it was also the day that a gift mail-ordered by my aunts, who live two thousand miles away and didn’t even know about the party, had arrived. The wreath would be on the door just in time to greet our guests.

None of the guests even mentioned it. A wreath on a front door in December hardly bears comment, after all. But I knew it was there. And to me, just knowing that made the annual party perfect.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Peaceful and joyful

Not long after Halloween, a friend described her daughter practicing Christmas carols on the piano. "I know this is early, but it sounds so peaceful and joyful," she wrote.

Perhaps this is true of all writers, but certain words catch my ear in a particular way: a simple phrase that, when dissected, can't possibly be original or unique, but somehow hits me as if it is. "Peaceful and joyful" – it may not quite bear the resonance of t.s. eliot’s "When the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherized upon a table" or Robert Frost’s "The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep" and yet their pairing jingled in my mind as pleasingly as the Christmas carols must have sounded to my friend when she wrote that.

Peace and joy are words that are often twinned in the holiday season, of course. And surely those two abstract nouns are among the most noble goals to which we might strive. But “peaceful and joyful” are a more tempered version. Adjectives, not nouns, and somehow more modest and relative in nature. Even when the absolutes of peace and joy seem impossibly out of reach, the adjectival forms seem possible: even if we haven’t achieved peace and joy on either the universal or the domestic level, an 11-year-old playing Christmas carols can still be deemed peaceful and joyful.

I liked the phrase so much I decided to adopt it as a holiday season mantra and resolved that everything I choose to do under the umbrella of the holiday season had to fit into one category or the other, or better still into both.

This isn't to say I expect the entire month of December to be peaceful and joyful for me. There are other things I'll still need to do -- like buying groceries, and folding laundry, and commuting to work -- that may seem neither peaceful or joyful. But anything I opt to do in the name of the holiday season -- any party I attend, any gift-buying excursion I embark upon, any hours spent creating the perfect holiday newsletter -- are hereby required to fit into at least one of the two categories.

It’s a little simplistic as a benchmark, I realize. Peace and joy should be hallmarks of everyone’s holiday season, and for that matter, everyone’s non-holiday season as well. And I’m sure I’ll still find myself standing in a long checkout line or baking Christmas cookies at midnight at some point this month, feeling neither peaceful nor joyful. But I still like those guidelines. Peaceful. Or joyful. Maybe even both. As a way of approaching the holiday season, it just sounds right.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contemplating commemorations


The flags are still at half-mast in front of state and federal properties, but the official remembrances of the Kennedy assassination as well as the TV specials and news stories are for the most part behind us. And I, for one, find this a relief.

I don’t think my aversion to these anniversary commemorations that seem to border on reenactments is due to the fact that I wasn’t yet born when President Kennedy was assassinated. I felt the same way two years ago during the 9/11 ten-year anniversary commemorations.

It’s not a matter of denial. I agree absolutely that tragedies and their victims need to be remembered. But remembered how? It’s the tradition of dwelling on the shocking or tragic moments that ended their lives that I find unsatisfying.  I would so much rather honor President Kennedy by learning more about the Cuban Missile Crisis or reading about the history of the Peace Corps than seeing yet another photo of the motorcade, hearing yet again about the blood spattered on the pink suit. 

The memory of September 11th gives us much to reflect upon as well, from the Patriot Act to the level of acceptance for Muslims in America, and, of course, tens of thousands of people mourn individual losses from that day. But seeing footage of a burning building remains horrifying and scary, just as it was on that day, and I simply don’t see any redeeming qualities in the experience of being frightened and horrified all over again.

We had an interesting off-the-record debate at church earlier this fall. Every year, in preparation for Day of the Dead on November 1, our Music and Worship Committee asks parishioners to submit names of the dead to be read as part of a commemorative ceremony. A year ago, I submitted five names: three were personal friends lost over the past few months, and two others were townspeople whom I thought other church members might not think to include on the list. Many people at our church submit the same names year after year, but when the request came out this fall, I wasn’t tempted to write down any of these names from last year again.

“It’s not that I don’t still mourn them or think about them, especially the two to whom I was closest – one a former next-door neighbor and the other a high school classmate,” I said to our minister as I explained my concerns about the Day of the Dead tradition. “It’s just that commemorating them by reading their names aloud the first year that they are gone feels respectful and appropriate, but reading their names year after year just reminds me that they will be gone forevermore.”

But another church member in on the conversation disagreed with me, saying that his late mother had been an active and enthusiastic churchgoer for decades before her death five years ago, and he felt it was right for her name to be spoken there in a ceremonial context once a year.

Perhaps I’m being callous, or am in denial about the scope of tragedy. It’s hard to know what the right answer is. But with the anniversary of the Newtown massacre coming up, I anticipate thinking about this all over again. Remember each child: pay tribute to the adults who lost their lives: make a contribution to a cause; join an anti-gun group. But using the anniversary to relive the events themselves? I just don’t see the value in it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's the journey, not the destination

Ten days ago, my friend Nicole persuaded me to try a half-marathon with her in December. Tempted, I began ever-so-tentatively training: first an eight-mile run, then five days later a ten-mile run, and once I had both of those distances under my belt I was hooked. From our respective home offices, at the agreed-upon time, we logged on to the website to register for the race.

And learned we were already too late; the race was full.

For the rest of the day, I thought about how sure I was that I was ready for a half-marathon, and how now I wouldn't be doing one as planned. All that psyching-up for nothing. It wasn't a matter of just finding a different race; winter races in New England are hard to come by, especially for casual athletes. I can't do a Thanksgiving race because it feels too soon to run a distance nearly twice as long as I usually run -- I was counting on the full six weeks of training, not two -- and also because as Thanksgiving dinner host, I can't be away from the house for half the day. After Thanksgiving, there are very few races to be found in this part of the country until late spring.

But it wasn’t long before I stopped feeling disappointed about missing out on registration and found that instead, I was thinking about how great I felt after the two training runs I'd done in the past week. It occurred to me that even without a race number or an official measured course to run, I could still imagine I was training for a half-marathon, and do the same running.

It’s the journey, not the destination, I reminded myself. This mantra came in handy just a day later when I told another friend I’d join her for a day trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, to look at summer rental properties. I had it in my mind that Bar Harbor was about four hours away; it turned out to be five, and even though we left the house at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, by the time we’d reached our destination, had a harborside picnic, and toured three potential rental options, it was nearly 4:30 and dusk was falling. And we still needed to drive back.

But as with training for the non-race, I realized the journey and not the destination was what mattered. Maine’s northern coast is beautiful but desolate in November, and we’d spent almost the entire day in the car. It hadn’t been a great trip from the perspective of what we’d done there. But the ride itself had been wonderful. It was the best visit we'd had in years. We caught up on everything that had happened to us all fall – and then some. Since my friend was driving, I napped a little, read a little, and had some time to prepare for my Monday night class. From the perspective of the drive itself, it was a great day.

The journey, not the destination. I’ll try to continue with the training runs and hope that when the opportunity for a half-marathon arises in the spring, I’ll still want to do it. But either way, I’ll keep savoring the running. Getting there, after all, can be well over half the fun.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thirteen-point-one miles....maybe

Thirteen-point-one miles.

Oh, I haven’t actually run it yet. But I think I might.

The idea began germinating last Thursday when my friend Nicole joined me for my usual weekday two-mile run. One of the many things we had to catch up on, having not seen each other in nearly a month, was the half-marathon she ran last month in St. Louis, and at some point in the conversation she mentioned there was one coming up next month in New Hampshire.

“Send me the info on it, if you could,” I said.

She was surprised and actually so was I. I’ve been in the same running pattern for several years now: two miles on weekdays, four or five, and very occasionally six, on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been working well for me.

My daily running streak is more than six years long. Why change anything?

But as soon as I told Nicole to send me the information, I started noticing omens.

Just a couple of days earlier, my friend Leigh had given me an unexpected gift, a pair of fancy padded running socks. Late last month I’d gotten together with a former co-worker whom I hadn’t visited with in over ten years. She told me she had recently become an ultra-marathoner, completing distances of 38 to 52 miles per race. “But how do you do that?” I kept asking. “First I ran a marathon,” she said. “Then I realized after 26 miles, there’s no difference in what you can do physically; it’s all psychological."

Well, I began to think, if she could make the psychological jump from 26 miles to 52, then I could probably make the same jump from my usual six to a little over twice that.

There was the fact too that I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately, and this felt like something that might make me dwell a little bit less on what it meant to be just a few years from fifty.

It just started to seem like something I might be able to do. And once I started to think that way, I began to feel like it might be something I really wanted to do. 

I’m still not fully committed to the idea. For that matter, I’m still not even registered for the race. At the time Nicole and I first discussed it, the race date was six weeks and two days away. I knew I could do six miles. So with five weekends before the race, I reasoned, I’d do eight miles the next weekend and then build by one mile each week, which would bring me to twelve miles the weekend before the race. If I could manage to do each of those distances as the respective weekend arrived, I’d feel like the half-marathon was worth a try. If I found the training too difficult along the way, I’d stop. Six weeks isn’t really long enough to train for a half-marathon. If I couldn’t do it, I’d reconsider in the spring, when there would be more races to choose among.

But I did do the eight-mile run last Sunday. It felt good, and not all that difficult. Now I’ve told a few people I might do the half. And I found the race website myself even before Nicole sent me the information.

So it could happen. I’m not sure yet. I probably won’t make a decision for another two or three weeks. But the idea is somehow tantalizing. The possibility of conquering a new challenge is close at hand. Little lies at stake; I won’t feel bad about it if I end up backing out. There will be other chances for other half-marathons.

But this just might be the one. All those omens, after all. Time will tell just what they all signified.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Camera dread

Ever since my business partner and I started setting up our new company, she had been warning me that we were eventually going to need to do a photo shoot.

She's a photographer as well as a designer, and she already had her own company and website as well, so getting a professional photo of her for the site was no problem. She had a whole line-up of favorites.

But all I had for a head shot of myself was a cute snapshot that my daughter had taken on my birthday last year.

"It's okay for now," my business partner had said diplomatically. "But at some point we'll need to get professional shots of you for the website."

I'd been delaying it and dreading it in equal measure. Since reaching my mid-forties, I've become almost phobic about getting my picture taken. Last year, a couple of high school boys who were doing a project on community journalism wanted to videotape an interview with me. The fear of how I would look on film caused me to perspire through the entire interview. Despite promising to send me a copy of their finished product, they never did, and I'm convinced it's because they didn't want to embarrass me with how I looked on screen.

My business partner must have grown weary of my deferrals every time she suggested a photo shoot, because Sunday morning she sent me a cursory text. I thought she was just letting me know what time she'd pick me up for the trip we'd planned to the beach to take some landscape shots for an upcoming project, but her text made it clear that there were other purposes to the trip. "Wear a white shirt and tan pants," she wrote. "And makeup."

So this was serious, and sent me into a fresh tailspin of worries about brow creases and crow's feet.

Not that my quasi-phobia is strictly the result of aging. At 25, in the hours before my wedding ceremony began, I stood in the sunshine outside a pretty little New England chapel while our wedding photographer did shot after shot. "Karen, it's just me," I said finally. "How good do you really think it's going to get?"

So I try to avoid photos. But my business partner is really good at what she does, and one of the things she does is photography. She made me feel comfortable with a relaxed pose and a beautiful background against the whitecaps of Plum Island. I started to feel less self-conscious as we proceeded through a series of shots. I laughed a little. I imagined that the blue sky and bright sun and sharp breeze blowing my hair around might compensate for the crow's feet and wrinkles.

And in the end, it really wasn't so bad. I've seen only a few samples of the photos, but I think they turned out okay. And that reminded me of something: that's what usually happens when I see pictures of myself. They really aren't so bad. I'm really not so bad. I worry so much about how the pictures will look, and then I find myself looking at a picture of a pleasant-looking, smiling, cheerful middle-aged woman with a few crow's feet but nothing all that hideous.

The pictures showed….me. No cover girl, but a pleasant person with an inoffensive appearance. If it didn’t forever quash my phobia, it reminded me of a simple truth: a smile does a lot. I looked happy and approachable in the photos, which is really just what we needed for our website. It would do. I would do.

I may not be ready for my close-up, to paraphrase the classic movie line, but I’m okay with a mid-distance shot profiled against the ocean on a beautiful fall afternoon.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Not much of a fan


My husband does not think of me as a very good sports fan.

In fact, he’s pretty sure that if the success of our local pro teams depended on my support, we wouldn’t even have the teams anymore, let alone the occasional championship season.

Right now, the Red Sox are halfway through a World Series, and the Patriots are having a generally winning, if not stellar, year. So the TV is on a lot at our house, tuned to various matches.

I find the score read-out at the top of the screen enormously useful. It allows me to take a quick peek, see whether our team is winning or losing, and continue on my way. If our team is losing, I usually say something insightful like “Oh, no!” If we’re winning, I can usually muster up a “Yay!” After all, I might not be genuinely interested, but the rest of my household is, and so are many of the people with whom I interact in a typical day, so life is better for me when the home team wins even if I personally don’t particularly care.

Rick likes to remind me that one impediment to true fandom in my life is that I don’t like the thought of anyone losing. I like people to be happy and feel good about themselves as long as they’ve tried hard. You don’t reach the upper echelons of professional sports without pretty much always trying hard, which means that you nearly always end up with one group of guys who gave it their all but lost anyway. I always hope they enjoyed the game despite the score, but coming home to a city of disappointed fans when you’ve lost can’t really be as good a feeling as I’d like to think it is.

The irony is that for the past couple of years, one of my varied freelance roles has been to write profiles of past and present NFL players. To a writer who was more of a football fan, this would be a dream assignment, getting to hear the innermost thoughts of these men as they train or reflect on past championship games. To me, it’s just another writing assignment, although a generally interesting one since each player’s path to the top is a little different, and each man’s perspective on the obstacles he faced along the way varies.

But regardless of the details, I’m not star-struck by them. I’ve never heard of any of them. In a way, that gives me a healthy advantage in terms of journalistic objectivity, but it also means that I don’t always get the terminology right. Rick occasionally looks over my work and points out that I’ve misused the term “sacking” or referred incorrectly to a “college draft.”

It may be to my disadvantage that I’m not a sports fan, but almost without exception, everything I cover as a journalist eventually becomes interesting to me, and even if I still can’t follow the score while watching the Super Bowl, I appreciate the players for their fierce athleticism and the mountains they’ve climbed to reach their particular level of accomplishment. Later this week, I’ll have the opportunity to interview the women’s Olympic hockey team. I’ve never watched a pro hockey game in my life (and actually, the only time I’ve ever watched a non-pro hockey game was when the only opportunity I had to meet with my literary agent was over her son’s Pee-Wee Tournament), but I’m eager to hear what they have to say about their training, their challenges, and how they imagine the Olympics will be.

Sports may not interest me, but people always do. So it’s true that I probably won’t sit down for a minute of the World Series this week. But given the chance to talk one-on-one with an athlete, I’m always confident I’ll learn something fascinating.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On the teaching of writing


I sat down over the weekend to draft some notes for the writing class I’m teaching for Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education, which began last night. “I’ve taught writing here off and on for the past ten years,” I scribbled as I began working on an introduction.

Then I paused. Ten years? Was that right? I thought back and remembered the circumstances of my life when I started teaching: I had recently started a new job in Cambridge, which made it possible to commute to Concord in time for the class, and I was married but with no children.

Come to think of it, that was 1994.

I’ve been teaching this class for nearly 20 years? I mused. That didn’t sound right either. I didn’t start writing for the Boston Globe until 2005. I didn’t even write for the Concord Academy Magazine or any of my smaller clients until after 2000. In 1994, I wasn’t published anywhere but the Carlisle Mosquito

So what possibly gave me the idea to teach a writing class?

But the more I thought about it, the more the answer seemed obvious to me, just as it must have back then when I had the temerity to apply for a job as a writing instructor even though I wasn’t really much of a published writer.

I taught it because it was something I enjoyed.

In the almost twenty years since, my writing career has become fleshed out, even if I’m still not exactly on the short list for a Pulitzer Prize. I’ve become a weekly arts columnist and regular feature writer for the Globe; I contribute four alumni profiles per issue of the Concord Academy Magazine; I wrote the lead feature for the inaugural issue of a regional magazine called NorthBridge.

And yet the class I teach isn’t really about how to write for magazines and newspapers; even if it were, I’m not sure I’d have all that much insight to offer. The class is about writing just for the love of writing, and as I remembered the twenty-something-year-old me who taught that first session, I wonder if I’m any more qualified now than I was then. I’m no expert on writing, but I’m good at making it fun, because I have so much fun with it myself. People return to my class not because they receive such insightful critique from me but because every week we all have fun getting together to write.

Looking back, I think what actually gave me the temerity to teach writing when I was an unpublished, nonprofessional writer was something poet Natalie Goldberg says: If you want to get good at something, teach it.

Her words remind me of the maxim that medical students use regarding new procedures: Watch it once; do it once; teach it once. We learn through doing, but perhaps we also learn through leading.

I’m no expert on writing. I’m just an avid practitioner. If that’s enough to motivate the people who come to my class, then I’ve offered them the best I can give. Even though I have more publishing credits now than twenty years ago, I may not have much more wisdom to impart. I just really like writing, as much now as I did back then. And if all I can do is communicate that passion, it still somehow seems to be enough.