The Hover

May 22, 2023 § 21 Comments

By Carolyn Roy-Bornstein

When I retired at 65 and closed my medical practice, I looked forward to long stretches of time to write, something I rarely had when I worked.

My days then were filled with sick visits and well-baby checks, hospital rounding and conference calls. For all my adult life, writing had been catch-as-catch-can. I carved out time in the morning, before the rest of the household woke up, to add a few precious paragraphs to that half-written essay, to polish and submit a short story. I’d pull out my young adult novel every couple of Novembers and add a few chapters during National Novel Writing Month. I kept notebooks in my car and purse, a voice recorder at my bedside, jotting or recording ideas for future pieces.

And I accomplished a lot. I wrote two memoirs. I saw my pieces published in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I edited an essay collection, all while doctoring hundreds of patients and raising my own brood. Time management was my super-power. Imagine what I could get done now that I had hours (days!) of nothing but time stretching before me. How I looked forward to filling that void with my words.

Except I didn’t.

I gardened. I pulled weeds and laid down mulch. I planted peonies and phlox, dug compost around hydrangea roots. I kayaked and swam and stand-up paddle boarded. I picked blueberries with my granddaughter. I took yoga classes and boot camps at the gym. I did everything but write.

I still thought about writing. I still worked with words. I developed a curriculum for a creative writing class, which I taught at my local library. I continued my work as an assistant editor for a literary journal focused on healing and the arts, reading other people’s essays with a keen eye. I led narrative medicine seminars for physicians-in-training which involved close readings of short literary works followed by reflective writing exercises based on prompts I created from the poem or story we’d just discussed. I reviewed books, doing my part to elevate my fellow authors’ work.

I was still a good literary citizen. I just wasn’t producing original creative work of my own. With the “gift” of time, I found myself blocked.

But maybe this period, this very early stage of my retirement, is meant to be a fallow phase. A pause in my word life. A season of rest and recovery before another cycle of great productivity begins. Writers can’t be all output all the time, after all. We must also read, visit art museums, and take in a ballet. Fill the generative well so we can create our own art once more.

When my yoga teacher leads us in a final meditation of the class, she tells us, “Take a moment. Hover between the inhale and the exhale.” Maybe this part of my retirement is that liminal space, too. The hover. Between the inhale and the exhale. Between taking in and putting out. Between a practice of writing in snatched moments and one where I fill my days with my own words.

I know the writing will come. Maybe as I’m paddling through the mist at sunrise, an idea will form. Maybe it will take shape while I’m thinning the pole beans and staking tomatoes. Maybe my epiphany will emerge while I’m perfecting my crow pose, not thinking about writing at all, just trying not to topple over.

The words will all come.

And I don’t mind waiting. I have time.


Carolyn Roy-Bornstein is a retired pediatrician and the writer-in-residence at the Lawrence Family Medicine Residency Program. She lives and writes in Massachusetts and Maine.

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§ 21 Responses to The Hover

  • You’re a beautiful writer. I envy your doing other things like garden and exercise. Good luck with the writing. I know the words and the story will come if you keep holding your dreams.

    • Carolyn Roy-Bornstein says:

      Thank you! Just writing this short piece has already seems to have unlocked something in me!

  • Sarah Powley says:

    I’m hovering myself post-retirement and glad to know I am not alone. Breathe easy.

  • Carolyn — This is your “shmita year,” that year in the bible when the land is fallow every 7 years to regenerate. I hope your shmita year is regenerative and restful and refreshing. XX

  • michelleredo says:

    Yes- I love the hover. There between every single inhale and exhale.

    When I left my full time employment (not retirement!) my objective was to write more. I started a podcast, and my husband and I moved to a house with a huge yard with many overgrown gardens where I imagined planting peonies and pansies; never a gardener, I learned about phlox that I still have not planted and I learned the hard way about bittersweet. Not sure what the “sweet” part of it is- unless you love seeing your tall white pines strangled before your very eyes. I’ve cut back about 5% while it continues to proliferate.

    And while I gaze out at our lawn-turning-meadow I still work on pruning my own manuscript down to a workshopable length! The more I cut, the more it grows!

    You will write. It all comes at exactly the pace it is meant to come. I trust you in this. The garden, the yoga, all those in betweens will help you get there. And I look forward to reading your words when you do! (a former Mass resident, turned Mainer!)

  • Hovering. . . a loving way to describe the liminal spaces in which we find ourselves. Also happy to know I’m not alone in my garden.

  • youngv2015 says:

    You write beautifully. Your essay is proof of this. I connected to your words because I went through a similar struggle after I retired.

  • Robin Schoenthaler says:

    This is super super super

  • Arman says:

    That was really amazing..

  • Gary says:

    Your writing is not coming, it is here, now, and it is terrific because it is you, also here and now. As a retired professional, would-be, wanna be writer, I applaud your good work, then and now. And of course, the gardening is such a great metaphor for life as well as what it is in reality.

    • Carolyn Roy-Bornstein says:

      Even when I wasn’t writing for publication or working on any specific essay whatsoever, I still wrote and do write in my journal every day. It’s how I think!

  • Beautiful, Carolyn. Enjoy the liminal space while you’re in it. It is teaching you much that you’ll unearth when the times comes to write. (Although it seems that time has begun!)

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