Originially published on kobowritinglife.com, May 14, 2018:
We define ourselves in various ways, depending on time, mood, inclination. Many of our identities are stable throughout life. I am a woman. I am a forever army brat. I am a reader. I am an athlete. Other roles become part of us over time, growing and evolving and spreading into us like ivy; I am a wife, mother, a friend, a student. Definitions of these roles morph and take shape over the years—a mother isn’t the same person to her baby as she is to him when he’s married and living in his own home. (Although she still sees that two year old sucking his thumb—doesn’t that beard scratch?)
Some roles define us for a very long time, then dissipate until you wonder how they ever once described you. I was a computer programmer and Information Technology consultant for decades, in a career that financially supported my lifestyle and family. Now, just a few years into retirement and away from that life, I have to google how to change fonts in the latest Word version. And “social media”? I just figured out Facebook and am now told I need Twitter, Instagram, and Snap-whatever else! “Back in my day”, computers were kept in large back rooms with their own air conditioning, not worn on everyones’ wrists or simply glued to their palms, an ever-present bodily extension. (The “Borg” is us, but I digress . . .)
The student of life that I am and always hope to be, I am now an author. I started by being a writer, creating a blog, writing a few short stories. Then I self-published my first book Camp Follower One Army Brat’s Story. I’ve sold some books. Some even to people I didn’t know. So now, I take ownership of the role “Author”. People ask how I did it. I’ll share a secret with you: I don’t really know! But in the spirit of figuring that out, I’ll relay the story below.
Although I no longer work in IT, I still use step-by-step logic to approach any activity, task, or challenge. That’s how I approached retirement. Once you are financially secure enough to quit your day job, (that’s another article entirely, but basically the formula is simple: save; downsize; wait until the kids leave home again and again until they stay away), the real challenge in retirement is what to do all day. I am a reader. I would have more time to read. But once I realized that reading alone was not enough to challenge my day, I decided to become a writer. (Another aside: a long-time friend wasn’t surprised; she said I had always wanted to write and that I’d said so since we were kids. I didn’t remember that!)
So. Decide to Write. What to do? I found a short course for “learning in retirement” at the local university and took a writing class. That turned out to be terrifying, requiring short pieces to be written every week and then, gasp, read out loud in the next class! But luckily, I didn’t stroke out, no matter what it felt like at the time, and soon, at the recommendation of the teacher, I submitted a story to a local paper for publication. That’s when I encountered the new creature in a writer’s world: the Editor. How to describe the feeling when I read her emailed comments about my piece: shock? distress? Maybe horror. What was I doing, thinking I could be a writer? I’d better give up, before I died of stress. But the editor wasn’t fazed by my reaction, and didn’t give up on me. We reworked it, and then, I was published! I think I emailed everyone I’d ever known with the news. I was a writer!
The rest of the story is similar: step by step. Wrote little stories, researched where to submit them, got accepted by some, rejected by most. Started a blog to collect the musings and stories. Curiously, I noticed something was happening: many of the stories were anecdotes about my life growing up in the military as an army brat, then Air Force wife, a hockey mom, an IT worker. My life. Told in short stories. I saw the themes: search for a hometown, growth from an independent young woman into a successful partnership marriage with children. I threaded and stitched the stories together with some narration, context, clarification, an editor, then voilà, there it was: my first book. A memoir. Even though I prefer reading fiction, the first genre I wrote had become, organically, a non-fiction contest-placed (Top 5 in 2018 non-fiction Ink&Insights) book, Camp Follower One Army Brat’s Story.
I’d like to finish with: “And that’s how I did it”, which is true, but somehow anti-climactic. Because I’m not finished, of course. Writing, like all of life, is a never-ending journey. The roles are always changing and growing. I want to write fiction next, historical or science-fiction—the book I’d like to read myself. Keep tuned, I’ll let you know how it goes!