“…so I start to write about her and this new version of myself I’m working to understand.” – Nicole Gulotta in Wild Words
In a cafe on an early summer morning. A plate of bacon, hash browns, and scrambled eggs for me; a sweet potato hash for Jesse. A mug of coffee (black) for me; a pot of tea (Irish Breakfast) for him. We’ve come here weekly, Jesse and I. Each Friday while the girls are still asleep, we have an early morning breakfast date. This morning, I have a filled notebook with brainstorms, lists, ideas, color-coded plans and schedules—I even have a budget—for working for myself. Unshowered, in workout clothes and a baseball cap, I talk to my husband—a guy I’ve known since I was 19—as though I’m leading a meeting.
“I think I can do this,” I tell him and point to the writing workshops I have planned, freelance gigs I have lined up, potential books I would write.
“I think I’m ready to give it a shot,” I say.
Jesse sips his tea, and nods his head. “Ok,” he says. “Give it a shot.”
I shake more hot sauce on my eggs, then pick up my fork to eat.
“OK,” I say, before taking a bite.
At a bonfire on Friday night, I am talking with friends. It is a night with the sort of weather that wants to begin a new story as evidenced from the harvest moon, the plaid scarves and mugs of hot cider, the kids playing “Ghost in the Graveyard” instead of swimming in the pool nearby.
A woman who I’m friendly with but I’m not sure I’d call a friend walks up to me and I smile, then look at my boots. Something about her makes me feel examined, and because of that I’m guarded.
“So, Callie,” she begins and I look back up. “Yeah?” I say.
“Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been using the library,” she tells me.
She’s referring to the library where I used to work, the library where I found the wild things again and danced and danced with them. I didn’t want to leave that library, but the only way I could stay was if I worked in two libraries, something I’d been doing for a few years that had left me feeling stretched thin. It was a painful choice to make.
“It’s a great space,” she said and continued to tell me about all the nooks and crannies as though she were describing what was inside my heart.
I was reading Wild Words at the time, a chapter on the season of doubt. I’d walked away from the library and walked toward writing full time, but got scared and took a part-time literacy job, the filled pages of my notebook I’d shown to Jesse forgotten. The job I took was good, even important. It was a job that allowed me to write, but it was also a job that reminded me of who I used to be and left me feeling like a shadow of myself.
In “The Season of Doubt,” Nicole quotes the poet David Whyte. “When we are humiliated, we are in effect returning to the ground of our being.”
I am sure this woman didn’t mean to humiliate me, but something about the poet’s words here were comforting to me, and I was grateful Nicole shared them. I was glad to cloak them around myself in this new season.
That night, as the fire died down and people started for home, I wondered: What is it I want to return to?
I am feeling caged, impatient, disappointed. I don’t believe I have time for anything. I don’t know how to move forward, or even what it is I want to move forward to. I let my dream go because I was too afraid to hold on to it, and now I don’t know how to get it back. Or even if I want to.
I suppose it sounds like a dramatic pivot, but it’s at this point point Nicole reminds me to get out the cookie sheets.
In a section discussing how to find and use the margins in our day, she writes, “Seize opportunities to write, even in strange places and for the briefest of moments. One afternoon I was baking brownies and had to put the pan back in the oven for three more minutes so the center would set. I returned to my computer and wrote until the timer went off.”
I took two sticks of butter from the fridge and wrote while I waited for them to soften. I decided roasted walnuts would taste great in the chocolate chip cookies I was making. I wrote for a few more minutes until I smelled their toasty sweet fragrance coming from the oven.
And I wrote while the the cookies baked to a golden brown, their chocolate chips melted smooth and mixing with the brown sugar, vanilla, and just a dash of cinnamon.
I had no plan to use a word to guide my year. I liked the idea of the popular exercise, but no word ever jumped out at me. Then, on this early and cold and not yet born winter morning, I am reading poetry and maybe an icicle will fall and crash to the ground, but that’s what it feels like when the word “dare” comes walking through the front door and sits across from me at the table.
It is less than 24 hours before the world as we know it changes forever, and I am in a neighborhood bar with my friend Jaime. We know things are changing fast, and we have an idea of the severity of the situation, but our lively storytelling as we share a plate of french fries suggests that we are thinking this is going to be a fun adventure rather than a dystopian novel come to life.
“I could have three full weeks off of work,” I say and Jaime raises a glass.
“And what will you do?” Jaime asks.
I pull apart a french fry.
“What would you do if you didn’t have to go back at all?” Jaime asks.
I pop the pieces of the fry in my mouth and chew.
“You cannot apply for any teaching jobs right now. Teaching is literally off the table.” Jaime puts her elbows on the table and cups her chin in her hands. For the third time she asks me what I’m going to do.
“OK,” Jaime says and pulls a quarter from her pocket. “Heads you tell me everything—all your wild writing dreams—and you use this time to try again. Tails, we finish these fries, and go home.”
“I’m not ready to go home,” I say.
Jaime flips the coin. It lands on the floor, under the table where we are sitting. We scootch our chairs back and lower ourselves to the bar’s floor that smells like bleach and beer and fried food and Saturday nights.
Between us sits George Washington’s profile.
1. I think it’s important to note that in Wild Words , Nicole Gulotta places “The Season of Doubt,” right after “The Season of Beginning.” While it’s not a hard and fast rule, I think that with every beginning comes doubt. What will we write about? How do we find time to write? What about when we have loads of time to write, and the words won’t come? I have been calling myself a writer for over a decade, and it seems like every time I’m on the verge of beginning, or even when I have begun, doubt is sandwiched between the excitement and joy and exploration of bringing everything I have to the page. I think Nicole’s suggestion to write five different ways to begin is an encouraging practice to show that there are a multitude of ways to begin. And begin again. In the comments, write one (or five) of your beginnings into your writing journey.
2. Where are your margins for writing? Do you carry a small notebook with you and jot down ideas as they come? Do you write while cookies bake? Do you find time in the early morning or late at night to pursue your stories? In the comments, share where you have found your margins.
3. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Nicole writes that one way to “remedy this [season of doubt] is by rewriting the myths we tell ourselves.” What myths can you re-write? What myths have you rewritten?
4. What fears can you name as they pertain to writing? How can you be as gentle as possible with them? I tend to invite them into my writing room because I’ve found they won’t leave no matter how hard I try. I think they want to be heard, so am always listening, but I also try to see what else is there besides my fear.
Editor’s note: Join us this month as Callie Feyen leads a book club discussion of Nicole Gulotta’s Wild Words: Rituals, Routines and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path. We’re reading on the following schedule:
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