For those of you who were not able to make it to the contest, here’s 2nd place winner, “My Gutsy Story,” for those of you who are sick of reading about this: sorry, one last time and I will put it to bed:>)
Runaway Writer Found on Beach, Heart Broken, but Alive!
One of the best moves I’ve ever made was to run away from home when I was almost fifty-one years-old. Once I made the move, my life changed. I did meet a small new circle of friends, but the biggest change was in my writing life.
It had been over 10 years since I was actively writing online. Back then I was writing for online magazines, a weekly column on the now defunct “She’s Got” network, and I ran a site for young writers. I wrote children’s stories, poetry, and a novel, while plotting my moves to publish them all. Then life took another swing at me and my writing life was back to just me and my journal, which satisfied me for a time.
In 2008 a personal tragedy brought writing back into my life; I wrote online updates to friends and family about my husband’s fight with leukemia. I wrote from Paul’s hospital bedside and from the desk at our temporary housing near the hospital and clinic. I wrote about our thoughts and feelings, about the latest medicines, and their cruel side effects. I tried to keep positive and I tried to make our weird humor an ingredient of my updates. Amazingly to me, I kept getting comments on my updates like, “I hope you’re saving this for a book,” and “This is going in the book isn’t it,” and “You have to write a book to help others through what you and Paul have been through.”
Patti Hall and Paul
Almost a year from the day he was diagnosed, Paul passed away at home in our bed. Even stunned by his death though, I missed writing those updates, and the connections that they brought. A few weeks later I began an email journal of my painful progress through nightmare estate issues and my stunted grief process. My email journal went out (and still does) to our same circle from the leukemia updates, with pictures, poetry, and reader comments. My audience continues to laugh, cry and cheer for me.
It was six months after Paul’s death that I ran away from home. Our home was home no more; it was a torn shell that had once been the comfortable shelter of our love. Home was now held hostage in a gripping tug-of-war between lawyers and heirs. All I could focus on during those first six months was Paul and my driving need to be near the ocean; a need that pulled me like the moon tugs at the tides. Some of our most fun and soothing times had been spent walking sandy shores.
During those six months before I ran away, I thought of other times that I had found sanctuary on the beach. As a young divorced mother, I had often bundled up my nursing son and my toddler-daughter and made excursions to a friend’s beach cottage, or to the sands of Ocean Shores Washington. I recalled treasured memories of Huntington Beach California, with my beautiful red-headed sister and our young families.
As beach memories crowded my thoughts, automatic pilot (that self-protective part of me) managed the details of the next episode of my life. Without that autopilot, I could never have abandoned our home; that sacred place of “us.” Autopilot shielded me from sinking into fear and served up a pair of wings for my flight to the beach.
Maggie’s as safe as the closet that our dog, Jake, snuggled into during fireworks or storms (and she’s not much bigger than that closet!). Maggie is a travel trailer who beats her chest with happiness when salty winds batter her metal skin. She sings along with the chimes I hang, and apologizes unceasingly when her plumbing proves imperfect. Maggie is home, and only a short walk to the beach.
Once settled into my new life, the addiction began. I dug out old work. I produced new work. I started writing under my maiden name, which I had not used since 1977. The solitary writer’s life I led now had little resemblance to any of the former lives I’d led the past 36 years, so a new (old) name made perfect sense to me.
I polished a children’s book written for my children when they were young, and then I wrote a 4000-word story based on my granddaughters. I pulled out a series of poem-stories that I wrote years ago; I had drawn little booklet covers and attached the poem-stories to whimsical creatures that my girlfriend made for sale.
I spent hours researching and educating myself on writing and publishing in this new modern world. I joined a local writer’s class in the arts center and an online memoir class. I began attending a local writing group at my library. There, I presented a new story I was writing based on the superhero flights of fancy of one of my grandsons, but written for all three of them.
More research. I followed a course online on building a writer’s platform. I made my website to blog my future readers. I joined Twitter and Facebook. I passed the initiation and became a member of several online writing groups. I was writing new material every day and blogging most of it. The feedback was encouraging, more than encouraging, as several professional and/or published writers were insisting I publish my work. I was on a roll.
I’m still on that roll. I’ve had two other very close deaths recently that almost stopped me in my tracks again. The grief is overwhelming, but what I can do is write. I can write of the cold dark hours and long, never-ending days of my grief. I can even write and photograph the joyful minutes that I allow myself to see and feel the miracles of nature; the raging waves reaching for the shore, the dancing birds on the sand who rejoice in flight, the moss-covered shack I capture being swallowed by vegetation. I’m at my beach and I’m writing a memoir. I’m alive and I’m hopeful.