I chose April Fool’s Day 2016 to leave my job and begin a creative career. It seemed an auspicious date – one that honored storytelling, invited humor, and ushered in spring. But as I tucked the last of my office boxes into the car, I fretted. Work had structured the last three decades of my life. It had bestowed purpose, identity and status. Venturing into the unknown, I trembled inside as I had when I married, brought newborns home, moved to a new city. Fortunately, the wise child who still lived inside of me – the book-loving fabulist and adventurer – spoke firmly, sounding a lot like my long-deceased mother.
“Get in and drive, Mary Beth. You can do this.”
So I did. That first month, I luxuriated in free time – traveling to New York City with my husband, helping plan my daughter’s wedding, and coordinating my elderly Dad’s finances and health care with newfound patience. After that, I went back to work – this time doing what I’d always wanted to do.
To start, I took a poetry workshop with a brilliant teacher. I created a schedule whereby I wrote in the morning, and devoted afternoons to Dad. Once a scholar, Dad could no longer read – his eyes and brain casualties of Parkinson’s disease – so I often read aloud to him. He enjoyed classical poetry. Reading it was delightful. I began to write it too. I couldn’t resist. He rewarded me with shameless flattery, pronouncing anything I wrote to be “among the best he’d ever heard.” One afternoon, he surprised me by reciting, in his soft monotone, William Henley’s poem, Invictus.
“Wow, Dad, where did that come from? How did you remember it?”
“I memorized it in high school. It just came back to me and seemed appropriate to my situation.”
When Dad died, I wrote through my grief. A year later, when my daughter gave birth to her first child, I wrote through the anticipation, anxiety, and joy. Now, with the support of my husband and children, talented teachers and colleagues, I continue to write. As I’d hoped when I embarked on this journey, I love the work. Each morning, sitting at my desk, I am a magician. My pen is a wand with which I resurrect loved ones, create dream worlds, tease meaning from pain, and release joyful lyrics into the world to entertain my grandson, who, like his great grandfather, delights in the words I chant for him.
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