The Other Side of the River

September 5, 2022 § 21 Comments

By Morgan Baker

I’m at an impasse. I’ve carved out time to write in a beautiful setting with a pond and ocean before me. Just me and my two dogs. I walk them almost every morning on the beach before towels and coolers cover the sand and people run in and out of the sea.

I walk watching the ground under my feet as we traverse the curve of the cove. Is there anything there that is going to trip me and send me flailing and falling? What I discover however, as I gaze at the ground, is that I often miss what’s in the distance—the shoreline I can walk towards, the birds protected in the sand, the dogs running in circles and jumping in and out of the water, or the other side of the creek that flows from the pond to the beach.

I find a piece of seaglass, harder and harder to find in a world of plastics, that reminds me to keep putting the words down. Don’t stop. Keep going. 

The dogs bolt up the dune to the path home, as I huff my way behind them. The puppy leaps in and out of the tall grass that looks like wheat waving in the wind. If she stops for a minute, I can’t find her. She’s hidden from view.

I return to the cottage, lay sheets on the sofa and futon to absorb the water and sand from the dogs, and open my computer. The dogs will nap. I eye them with envy. Napping is one of my joys. 

I have exactly what I’ve been waiting for and wanting—time and a new location in which to write. My own private writing retreat.

But, it’s not working. What’s wrong? I want to scream to the field of tall grass in front of me. 

I know what I want to write about. I know what I want the next project to be, but I can’t seem to connect what’s in my head to the words on the page. Like wading across a great river rushing by, I’m afraid I’ll be dragged down the rapids. It’s safer to stay on one side or the other.

Maybe I’m afraid of what’s in those rapids, of what memories are churning around in there that I need to reach in and pull out. 

I am easily distracted—text messages from my family bounce all over about scheduling meals for when they join me and the dogs. My writing time, alone, is coming to an end and I haven’t done what I planned to, but a family vacation I have been dreaming of is about to ensue. 

Sometimes writing plans get derailed, but other opportunities present. A potential client reached out to me the second week about helping him write some of his story. Didn’t see that coming.

I remind myself that I’ve read five memoirs during these two weeks. I don’t have that kind of time during the school year as I juggle my in-person classes and online workshops. 

I’ve even written several magazine assignments on this retreat. For pay, I might add.

And riding on top of all this, I must decide whether to sign with a small independent publisher for the memoir that took ten years to write, edit, stick away, edit again and now set free. 

More fear rises in my gut. I’ve wanted to write and publish my memoir for a long time, but now that it might happen, I want to hide in this cottage forever. What if it’s not good, what if no one reads it, what if I can’t finish the next one. What If?  What if?

Time, I’m reminded, is not on my side either. I’m in my mid 60s. 

So, I return to my writing. I know I have to start every essay with tenderness. I need to be kind to myself as I barf all over the page and pretend someone is holding my hair back, but the words won’t come out. Like the last toothpaste at the end of the tube, no matter how much I squeeze, the words are just not going to move. 

Writing is often about facing my fear—of stepping into that rushing water and realizing I will get to the other side. 

I don’t have to be fearless to move forward with my writing. Bravery doesn’t mean I’m not afraid, it just means I’ll keep going looking to my right and left to make sure I’m not going to trip on a rock or branch floating in the water.

I climb out of the rapids, I start to write. I bark at the fear the way my dog barks at rain and wind.  

__

Morgan Baker’s work can be found in The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, Under the Gum Tree, Expression, The Brevity Blog, and The Bark, among other publications. She teaches at Emerson College and privately online. She was the managing editor for Thebucket.com. She is excited that her debut memoir will be out in Spring 2023 from Ten16 Press. She lives with her husband and two dogs in Cambridge, MA. For more information on workshops visit Morgan at bymorganbaker.com.

Tagged: , ,

§ 21 Responses to The Other Side of the River

  • “I don’t have to be fearless to move forward with my writing. Bravery doesn’t mean I’m not afraid, it just means I’ll keep going looking to my right and left to make sure I’m not going to trip on a rock or branch floating in the water.” Thank you for this wonderful reminder to all of us writers. Beautiful essay.

  • “I need to be kind to myself as I barf all over the page and pretend someone is holding my hair back…” I love that detail: pretending someone is holding your hair back. Very nice article. First time I had a writing residency and was on my own , I discovered what a fidgety distracted mess I really was! I am trying to write now, but you see I am reading…

    • Morgan Baker says:

      Thanks for reading. We all struggle with this art we love so much. I set a timer sometimes when I can’t get my words on the page, or I set rewards. But having permission to write badly is key. Keep at it. Write one word and then the next.

  • This happened to me once. I had a residency in a place far from home by the sea before I started a university teaching job in another state, distant from the city where I’d lived for years and where I’d have to drive as there was no public transportation.. Initially there wasn’t a desk or desk chair.in my residency house, like maybe they were expecting a dancer?. I knew what I’d come there to write, but for the first time, I was totally blocked. Got to page 2: and stopped, I had an affair with some guy. I got a toothache and had to travel for treatment. Two friends visited, one , a childhood friend, was an insane basket case. My parents on their way to a special garden visited.( My mother died not long afterwards so maybe I’m glad now that I saw her although on that visit she got on my nerves).I took driving lessons. I visited with another resident who lay on the couch fiddling with a novel he’d been working on for 13 years. I walked on the beach. I read books that would help my teaching.The other two residents weren’t friendly. It was a total bust ,but now I see that I’m writing about this life passage I’d pretty much forgotten about .in response to your excellent essay

    • Morgan Baker says:

      I loved reading that. You have quite the story to share, or to relive. I would be really interested in it. Thanks for reading and I’m glad this brought back so much material for you. Keep at it.

  • Morgan, you describe this situation so clearly. I know it well. And yet, you managed to tell us this story alongside that discomfort. Thank you. I look forward to your memoir. Congratulations! xoS

  • anncb says:

    Thank you for this essay. Oh yes—it resonates!
    “I’ve wanted to write and publish my memoir for a long time, but now that it might happen, I want to hide in this cottage forever. What if it’s not good, what if no one reads it, what if I can’t finish the next one. What If? What if?” Exactly!!

  • judyreeveswriter says:

    Thank you for writing this, and sharing your fears, concerns, and hesitations. I need to get a dog so I can learn to bark. Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your memoir. I know that fear, too.

  • charwilkins75 says:

    It is so much about tenderness, isn’t it? And Morgan, your reminder of that, and how you’ve written this piece, is such a wonderful example and inspiration to be kind to ourselves on this sometimes inarticulate journey. I loved this line: “Like the last toothpaste at the end of the tube, no matter how much I squeeze, the words are just not going to move. ” Been there! Thank you.

  • Neil Larkins says:

    I love this, Morgan. After eight years writing my first memoir, my failing health (I’m 77) forced me to get it published. Still had errors, but’s a now a done deal. And I can’t bring myself to finish my second one. All interest is gone, and my health continues to decline. But life can be that way.

    • Morgan Baker says:

      Hi Neil. Thanks for reading. I’m so sorry to hear about your health. Congratulations on getting the first memoir out. That’s huge! If you want to write, try something small – a short piece on a body part like your arms. Or your ears. Set a timer for 10-15 mins. Look out your window and write what you see. And yes, life is unpredictable. Thanks again for reading. Take care.

  • lgrizzo says:

    I love the last lines! Such a wonderful metaphors. I’m climbing out and barking at fear myself!

  • davidbevans says:

    Keep barking at that fear! Lovely essay. Keep writing. cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading The Other Side of the River at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

meta

%d bloggers like this: