It was the month of September, in the year 2003, and I decided I was going to write. I would do it full time.
I had no ideas for a book. I didn’t know a thing about blogs. I wasn’t even sure which genre I’d pursue. I just knew writing sounded fun, and also that I liked to read, so I would give it a shot.
Also based purely on its fun factor, I got a job at a scrapbook store. I love paper! I love stickers! I love colorful pens! I love finding and writing a story from a few pictures! What could go wrong?
A lot. I quit the job after maybe six weeks. Let’s just say I’m not customer friendly.
Still more fun: teaching step aerobics at the University of Notre Dame. I loved picking out music, I loved choreographing and teaching the routines. I loved increasing the intensity and difficulty of the exercises as we progressed through each session. I loved having a microphone.
This was all in the summer of 2003. I was piecing together a dream, or a bunch of dreams, and figuring out which ones would stick. That September morning, I went to Notre Dame with my graduate student husband with the plan to write – all day – perhaps taking a short break for lunch. What better place to give writing a go than the Hesburgh library?
I think I lasted an hour. I went to check my email on one of Jesse’s lab’s fancy computers where he tracked hurricanes. (I couldn’t blame my lack of discipline on Instagram and Facebook. They weren’t around; neither were smartphones.)
About a week later, an administrator of a school I’d worked for was behind me at a stoplight (I was probably driving to Target to putz around until it was time to teach aerobics that night). From my rear view mirror, I saw her point to a nearby coffee shop, and then at me. A few minutes later, she and I were sharing a pastry and sipping mugs of coffee, and a few minutes after that, I had a job working with middle school students.
I think I was willing to begin writing, but I wasn’t ready to begin.
Years later, L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water jolted me back to this writing dream. This time, not so much because it sounded fun (though it still did), but because it felt necessary – like breathing or picking out the right color lipstick.
So I told my husband and my parents, and it felt like a confession, and also like a secret. Should I consider writing now that I’m a mother? Maybe I ought to keep this to myself. But they supported and encouraged me as I blogged, went to graduate school, found a babysitter so I could have time to read and write, and soon being a writer didn’t feel so confessional or secretive anymore. It felt like something I was.
I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2014. The ceremony was in Santa Fe, and along with the essay I would read at a sturdy wooden podium with a microphone (kind of like aerobics), I packed a teacher’s lesson plan book and a spiral bound notebook to write down ideas for teaching 8th grade English that fall. I would begin the job in September, after an almost decade long hiatus.
A few weeks before I graduated, and was deciding to take the job, my dad sent me an email suggesting I consider not teaching. It had nothing to do with whether or not I could teach. He knew I could. He was coming from the perspective of a father who had seen, not just the last few years, but over the course of a lifetime, his daughter creeping her way toward a writing dream. Now, with two degrees under my belt, and my two daughters in school, maybe it was time to dive in and see if I could swim.
That was probably the only time I went against one of my dad’s suggestions. That time, I was ready to write, but I wasn’t willing.
It’s not that I didn’t write at all. In 2014 and 2015, I had several contributing writer gigs, was featured on other websites, and even got to perform one of my stories to an audience in Arlington, Virginia (again, with a microphone). In 2018 and 2019 I had books published. I’ve given readings, workshops, been the keynote speaker at banquets and conferences. Writing has proved to be both necessary and fun and has never left my side.
Then, a little over a year ago, I was at a conference listening to an author, and with every ounce of my soul thought, “That’s what I want to do.” It wasn’t a whim. It wasn’t a Let’s see what’ll happen thought. I wasn’t burnt out with the job I currently had. This wasn’t an escape. Not only did I want to do what she was doing, I believed I could do what she was doing.
Since then, I’ve made changes in my schedule with this goal in mind, and one lesson I’m learning is that it’s good to be willing and ready for the writing life, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be certain – ever – about choosing it.
I miss the library where I used to work something awful. I miss walking in and smelling books. I miss finding all the Mo Willems books for young, delighted readers. I miss making fall, and soon, Halloween and then winter displays, highlighting stories having to do with the season. I miss reading to classes.
I miss teaching middle school, too. It is not easy to admit I wasn’t ready to leave teaching or working in a library, but I was willing – not because I believe writing is better, but because sometimes in the pursuit of one part of yourself, you must let another part go. At least, for a while. I did it when I became a mother, and it was good to learn what else I could do and be. More, teaching Callie came back, and she came back with a creative vengeance.
In a discussion about Jacqueline Woodson’s poem rivers, Megan Willome said that, “Personally, I like that rivers are always moving. They never arrive. They just keep going.”
I liked thinking that I do not have to arrive; that I can keep going, keep twisting and turning, change course, change the land, become small and big, roaring and rocky and adventurous; quiet and peaceful and refreshing. Still, I have uncertainty, and I feel a little lost, but this is not so much a time of pain, rather, it is a time of growth and discovery.
On the morning of the first day of school for my daughters, I repeated L.L. Barkat’s words, “Somehow begin,” as we walked to the bus stop. I find the word “somehow” empowering, and freeing. It is up to me to find a way in. It is up to me to turn the doorknob, push the door open and walk in – maybe leaving parts of myself behind, but believing they’re never lost.
A Writer’s Dream Book
“Callie Feyen has such a knack for telling personal stories that transcend her own life. In my years in publishing, I’ve seen how hard that is—but she makes it seem effortless, and her book is such a pleasure. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s enlightening. Callie writes about two of the most important things in life—books and clothes—in utterly delightful and truly moving ways. I’m impressed by how non-gimmicky and fresh her writing is. I love this book.”
—Sarah Smith, Executive Editor Prevention magazine; former Executive Editor Redbook magazine