Just a Few Days in, and Boom

Exhibit A.

I just clicked “submit” on my timesheet for August. It will be the last time I do that regular hours, vacation hours, sick hours, personal hours, other hours thing. On Friday, I went to my now former-office to “wrap up” three years’ worth of work in a few hours. I did my best to sort through server files and stacks of papers I hadn’t touched since May, when I unexpectedly left work one day, used up my sick time, and filed for Family Medical Leave Act soon thereafter.

First for eight weeks, then for twelve, and then–who saw that coming?–for good.

On Sunday, I had seven people signed up for a new two-week writing group that was starting, well, Sunday. I put the word out and a couple of other people put the word out and before I knew it, five more people had signed up, and I am all smitten by this collection of people, some known to me and others completely brand-new, their names becoming familiar as we post and comment and cheer each other on. Just a few days in, and boom. We are writing, and trusting each other and the space and the practice.

How does that happen? I am not sure I know the answer, and I’m ok with that. Earlier, though, after reading a freewrite that made me gasp and pause and ask questions about my own life and laugh and touch my hand to my heart, I thanked God out loud. And then told Mani that when things are going well, I thank God because I’m superstitious, to which she (wisely – oh, that woman) responded that while she’s plenty superstitious in other ways, she thanks God because… she is thankful.

I had lunch with my now-former colleagues in town, then we all hugged each other and exchanged warm wishes, and that was it. The job that brought us to Amherst three years ago, the job that came like a godsend, the job that came on the heels of a weekend trip to Chicago and a summer of unemployment and easy love and a long-time-coming book and not pushing but paying attention, ended.

Here are some things from a few days in to this new beginning.

Today, drop-off at Rock n’ Roll Camp in Goshen (about 40 miles away) was at 3:00pm. I got up around 7:00, poured my coffee, made rice cereal for Mani, and read and wrote freewrites for about four hours. I have five groups right now (do not even ask me how this happened–it just evolved that way: One long-term, two that continued after we didn’t want it to be over in July, one that sprung up spontaneously after a wonderful in-person workshop in Burlington in June, and one brand-new one as of Sunday, which I mentioned earlier).

Exhibit B

Exhibit B.

I keep track of new posts in a notebook and cross them off after I’ve read them, in a very fancy and modern method of organization. (See Exhibit B.)

Yesterday morning, in the midst of a similar routine, I also had a thirty-minute conversation with a beautiful essayist and poet in Maine, who had contacted me asking if I might have time to chat about a workshop she is leading next month at a bereavement camp.

That was so fun, and meaningful, and yet again a reminder of how much I enjoy and appreciate hearing people’s voices–especially when I’ve read their words. Another writer asked me if all of The Roar Sessions posts lived in one place, which they didn’t–yet. Her email motivated me to create a new page on my website just for that. Also fun, to be free to respond to things in the moment if they feel good and make sense. (And sometimes even if they don’t make sense, assuming the former criterion is met!)

But back to today. By late morning, I was getting a little antsy. And cranky for no good reason, and then cranky about being cranky. So I put on my sneakers and went for a two-mile run, which felt more to me like five miles in the heat. Aviva got home just as I was emerging from a cold shower. She’d spent a few days on the Cape with River and Pearl and my sister’s family and my parents. She plunked down on the couch before making herself some fried eggs and toast while I ate an all-beef bologna sandwich on white bread.

I’m on a sandwich kick this week, with potato chips, even. I think it’s tied in to soaking up every moment of heat and sweat and sandals and skin and not wanting summer to end but feeling the turn, knowing it’s been happening all along. And the sandwiches, they must remind me of the beach where I’m not, or something. We’ll just leave it at “or something.” Oh, digressing again…

In any case, V and I loaded her huge-ass suitcase in the backseat of the car, the very backseat that I vacuumed yesterday during regular work hours, along with delivering a bag of clothes to the Hospice Shop and getting groceries. She also had a backpack and her electric guitar and a small amp (though when we arrived and saw the dozens of amps, we realized she didn’t really need to Bring Her Own Amp). A welcoming young woman gave us a five-minute camp tour and we milled around a little with other arriving campers and parents.


Exhibit C.

I chatted with a musician from Brooklyn who will be teaching there, and also with some of the college students who are there as interns. The whole vibe was good (Exhibit C) and I left feeling confident that the awkwardness of arrival would melt away as soon as all the awkward parents (like me) left. I already can’t wait for the concert on Sunday.

On my way back to Amherst, I stopped at an ice-cream place I’d noticed on the way there, and got myself a creemee, which in Massachusetts is called soft-serve but I will always claim that small piece of Vermont for keeps. I sat there on a bench in the shade licking around the edges, keeping an eye on the time knowing I had a coaching call with an old writing comrade in L.A. at 5:00 my time. I finished eating, snapped a selfie after reading something about selfies being empowering (please see Exhibit A), and even had time to cash a check in the bank, go to the post office to mail one of Mani’s penpal letters and all of Aviva’s bat mitzvah invitations, and pick up a new library book, before going home to switch gears.

Why am I telling you all about these few days, like a total Chatty Cathy? I just ate a bowl of pumpkin-spiced mini shredded wheat (I kid you not). It’s almost 11:00pm and the kitchen windows are all wide open; the crickets are a thousand bells and I’ve written three different ten-minute freewrites today, pieces that will probably never see the light of day beyond their secret online confines. The fridge hums, and as I type away, I wish I could think of a different verb. A better one. But that doesn’t stop me, usually doesn’t, at least not from posting here in this space. It has always been about practice and about showing up. So here I am.

And I’m here in ways I would not be able to be, wasn’t, when I had the job. The job I am so thankful came. And if it had to go, which life made pretty clear these past few months, I’m grateful that it went — that I left — on good terms, mutually appreciative terms, and terms of integrity. I’m also allowing myself to sink into this new normal, noticing all the things I’m able to do during these days, without having to worry about how much personal time I’m using, or whether a kid’s needs will conflict with an important meeting, or how I’m going to get to the bank AND the post office all in one day with an hour for lunch.

Gains and losses are what a wise therapist once advised me every choice entails.

Leaving my job was a choice, and in some ways, it wasn’t. It was life speaking to us quite directly, and us sitting down and listening and having a frank conversation with life back. It was Mani’s health started to spiral as of just over a year ago now, and me starting a little writing group to earn some extra income and connect with people at a time when I was beginning to feel isolated, and it is now Mani’s health being on the road to recovery and wellbeing, but this is not the autobahn, people.

So of course, there are trade-offs. And losses. Tonight, though, and I’m just going to go ahead and say tomorrow, too, and the next day, you’ll find me here focused on the gains, giving thanks for the gifts and the angels and the connections and the yeses. Saying thank you, not out of superstition, but because I am thankful.

16 thoughts on “Just a Few Days in, and Boom

  1. Jean says:

    Ok so now I’m intrigued. I have read some, lurked some, and wondered what you can share with me. I want to write and do so when I have or find the time. My wife has dementia. I work full time. I’m wondering how much longer that will last. You’re dealing with something far more serious. Well we’ve been there too. Both of us survived cancer. Jan has had several serious overdoses and brain swelling as a result. She has had a stroke. We are 68 and 67. We have been together 28 years. We have 5 children between us, 9 grandchildren and 2 great grands. I am working hard to stay sane and take care of both of us. I write about how this feels. I don’t share my frustrations and anger anywhere. How can I start to create something helpful to others as well as to myself? I’m interested in how you are surviving financially. I can retire but we’d lose our house and I’m not ready for that yet. What do you think? I’ve been a teacher, a counselor, and a secretary. How can I retire and still earn money?


    • Jena Schwartz says:

      Jeanne, my heart aches reading your comment — the love and pain both so evident. And I am honored that you came out from lurking to share so much. I earn money by leading writing groups and retreats and individual coaching and consulting. It’s not “secure” the way a paycheck is, but is allowing me to be home full-time as Mani’s healing journey continues. I wish I could advise you but truly don’t feel qualified to do so. The frustration and anger you mention, though, and the wanting to write — what if you turn to these as vehicles for both expression and possibly your own answers? Use your trusted networks as witnesses; use the library for books that will inspire you. Everyone has told me time and again to ask for help and to take care of myself–practicing these has both given me so much more empathy and opened up communication in deep ways with Mani, and also helped me through moments of fear and panic. I hope this is even a tiny bit helpful. And send you boatloads of love for all you are holding.


  2. dhenryb says:

    Well, Mani really said it: “she thanks God….because she is thankful”……………..So simple,…….no thinking,………………. just doing what’s right there.
    Someone to love, someone to be loved by………………(How some people look at God—a loving, changing, holding, presence of light in their lives)…………………(Look: it’s just there!)………………..and life goes on.

    I am so happy to hear that Mani is doing better and you are filled with the work you like to do. Sometimes blessings do come forward and all we can do is……thank……God.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dana says:

    I loved going on this journey with you Jena, which was both micro (that pumpkin cereal sounds delicious) and macro (health, work, thanking God for a variety of reasons). Your little writing group on the side had become a livlihood and a way of life. So happy to be a part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Katalina4 says:

    Wonderful to be in the kitchen with you at 11pm with the windows open and the crickets and so much change, so much life happening and evolving and I hung off every word so happy to feel in the thick of it…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sandracharron says:

    I have only just seen this gift to aspiring and not so aspiring writers. I’m already your biggest fan. I am on the email list and am saving up to join, and hope that when I am able to, I won’t be on a waiting list for 2018! Because girl, I suspect you’re going to be out of this world with this program. Congratulations for being so innovative and for being so courageous in taking the necessary steps to be with your family during this time.

    Liked by 1 person


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