Writing Does Not Wait –
I am writing this week’s blog from Paris. It is barely 6am and I am witnessing the transition from night to day play out in real time through the early morning light that is rapidly illuminating my hotel room.
Over the past several weeks, as the date of my impending vacation inched closer, I thought about skipping today’s blog, as I anticipated the exact circumstances that I find myself currently writing under.
A long day of travel, followed by jetlag and time zone confusion are predictable gremlins, which can wreak havoc on one’s schedule, even when you plan for it and especially if a deadline is involved.
However, while I momentarily entertained the thought of skipping this week’s blog, I knew it wasn’t an option. Not writing a blog from Paris would be the equivalent of my not properly thanking someone after receiving a thoughtful gift.
For the gift I received from Paris is this blog.
Two years ago, I attended a writing workshop in Paris called Penning In Paris, led by Kimberly Wilson – a writer, creative entrepreneur and therapist. I met Kimberly in 2010 during a yoga retreat she was co-leading in India. My sister Meghan, who was taking a nine-month travel sabbatical, convinced me to meet her in India and attend the retreat.
When I think about this trip almost eight years later, I can see and feel the indisputable evidence that it changed the direction of my life. But the impact and results were not immediate.
When I arrived in India, I had just turned forty and was awakening to the realization that my creativity, which I treasured like a precious jewel, was being used exclusively in the furtherment of my career.
I was so physically and mentally exhausted that sadly, I looked forward to three weeks of disconnection from my life more than the possibility of a great life adventure.
Before sunrise one morning, our yoga group gathered to board a bus that would take us to a temple nestled high in the Himalayas. As we waited for everyone to arrive, I found myself sitting next to Kimberly. I may not have been fully awake, but my unconscious was quite chatty as I shared with Kimberly one of my biggest dreams.
I wanted to write a book.
Kimberly, an accomplished writer herself, offered to help and mentor me. I could not believe my good fortune. Surely, this was the beginning of my Eat Pray Love moment.
When I returned from India, I received a beautifully crafted outline from Kimberly on how our mentoring sessions would work. I was beyond excited. I immediately replied and told her I would be in touch soon to get things started.
I never replied. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to write about.
Writing would have to wait.
Less than six months after returning from India, I changed jobs and moved to Seattle.
Writing would have to wait.
I kept in touch with Kimberly and in the spring of 2014, I traveled to Costa Rica to attend another retreat, which included a writing workshop.
I sat on my yoga mat, pen in hand, open journal on my lap and diligently responded to Kimberly’s writing prompts and guidance. I was simultaneously inspired by the passion I still felt to write, yet disappointed by the fact that I had not operationalized my creativity in any meaningful way since India.
Seven months later I received my cancer diagnosis.
Writing would have to wait.
I had just finished chemotherapy when I saw a new addition to Kimberly’s retreat schedule; a writing workshop called Penning in Paris. My heart raced as I read the description of the workshop.
Spend five days exploring the City of Light through led writing workshops. Picture yourself writing in cafés where Hemingway and de Beauvoir wrote, sharing your literary dreams, and deepening your commitment to a writing project.
My mouth began to water as I imagined eating a pain au chocolat.
Then I read this.
We’ll also explore writing prompts and the science behind using writing to heal and deepen self-awareness.
The retreat was almost a year away, but I signed up immediately.
Writing would no longer wait.
As I have tried to articulate in previous essays, cancer is not a “one size fits all” experience. One must look no further than recent advances in cancer treatment to see that better outcomes are achieved when the focus is placed on the patient as a unique individual.
This is what I wanted to write about. Cancer from my perspective. How cancer impacted me personally.
I wanted to write to help me heal. I wanted to write to help others heal.
I wanted to write with authenticity and honesty. I wanted to write without fear of being judged.
But how do I do this?
I wasn’t sure, but I felt the answers may be in Paris.
As I prepared for the workshop, my goal was to turn my thoughts into writing, then writing into a book. It came as no surprise that my Type A, project-manager-self loved this idea. A book would be the “tangible proof” that I found so elusive. My story would have a beginning, a middle and an end. My book would be the perfect summary of my cancer experience, which when finished, I would put on the shelf alongside other books that chronicled times of past unrest and upheaval.
Sometimes I find myself both amazed and amused that in my moments of extreme clarity, I summon an equally intense behavior that is guaranteed to derail it.
Fortunately, Paris intervened.
Many of Kimberly’s classes were held in the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg). As I sat amongst the beautiful flowers, statues and fountains, I quickly realized the flaw in my plan.
How does my story end?
One of the things that makes Kimberly such a wonderful teacher is that when you hit the proverbial writing wall, she is there to help pick you up and attend to the bruise you received from the impact.
My bruise was this. I didn’t have an ending. In fact, what I didn’t know at the time was that six months later I would need more surgery and six more rounds of chemotherapy.
I started to panic. If I didn’t have an ending, I didn’t have a book.
Then Kimberly said, Maybe this is a story you are still telling. Maybe you need another way to tell this story. What about a blog?
That was the moment that birthed patient and empowered. It was not only the idea that my writing would be best suited for a blog, but the realization that a cancer story – my story – can be told as it unfolds.
For the rest of my life, I will be a cancer survivor. There is no way to tie up the experience with a pretty bow and say, “all done.” And I am ok with this. Shifting my perspective to writing as simply a “means” and no longer a “means to an end” has created the space for me write consistently, without restriction or reservation.
As someone who still craves structure and certainty, I find great comfort in how the blog is providing a much-needed counterweight of fluidity and possibility. I am committed to telling my story, but have let go of any preconceived ideas as to how it should be told.
There is a Buddhist expression I love which is, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” This morning, as I prepare to take my second Penning in Paris workshop, I am deeply grateful to Kimberly, my teacher, and the fact that she kept “appearing” over the many years it took for me to be ready.
And it’s also why, this morning, while on vacation, jetlagged and not sure what time it is, I am writing this essay.
Because writing does not wait.
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