Searching for the Writing Life

Aside

Searching for the Writing Life

by Sandi Sonnenfeld ’85

I was twenty-four years old and enrolled in my first year in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Washington when Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life first hit the bestseller list.  I devoured each page, my heart pounding as she spoke of words that hammered against the walls of one’s house, about how writing was the freest way to live. I gobbled up each of her delicate bon mots as if they were the finest Swiss bon-bons. I read and re-read passages until they flew off the page and entered my bloodstream by osmosis, her words reverberating off the soft spongy walls of my brain.  Apart from being a wonderful guide on what it means to write, Dillard’s book exhibited the best in what good writing should be: fresh, interesting metaphors, near perfect use of rhythm and repetition, and complex ideas presented in a strong narrative framework.

I was twenty-four and in love with the idea of success as much as I was in love with words, and as I read her book, I vowed that I would always live the writing life.  I would write brilliant novels with insightful characters that made readers laugh and cry at the same time. I would gather around me a group of writing friends, a modern-day salon where nearly every conversation would be about the meaning of art, the importance of literature, and the role that we as artists would play in the world.

Most of all, I would never, never hold down a nine to five job.  That was for conventional people, for lawyers and Boeing engineers, for telephone repairmen and marketing reps, not for “creative” people such as myself.  Besides if I worked a regular job, I would never have time to write.  So I would do as Dillard did.  As all my writing teachers at Mount Holyoke, my undergraduate institution, and the University of Washington did.  I would teach creative writing.  One or two classes a semester, filled with inspired, talented (though not more talented than me I hoped) students whom were also committed to the writing life. And of course, after the appropriate amount of rejection, I would win my first Pulitzer Prize, the acceptance speech for which I had already been writing in my head for at least a year.  Ladies and gentleman of Columbia University…

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Circuitous Path

Aside

Circuitous Path

By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg ’81

I always said I’d never go back to work after the birth of my children. Various factors contributed to this thinking; discrimination against mothers in the workplace, being a member of the sandwich generation, and most importantly the opportunity to witness babies’ first steps.

And although I still wasn’t contemplating a return, one day I was unwittingly drawn back in. After shepherding my offspring into Hebrew school, I saw a flustered educational director in the hall. “Are you available to substitute teach today?” she said.

Unencumbered, I responded “yes” without a moment’s hesitation.

Thus began a pretty steady gig of substitute teaching which happily continues to this day. A few years later I yearned for additional income, financial independence, and increased job satisfaction. While contemplating the future at my 25th college reunion, a perfect volunteer opportunity arose when I was elected class scribe. I poured my heart and soul into this position; diligently editing and reporting news from my classmates.

Kathy Gray, my most supportive friend and classmate, enjoyed reading the class notes and encouraged me to expand my horizons. “You can write!” she exclaimed. Soon afterward, I ran into a fellow mom at a pancake breakfast in town, who happened to be the editor of the local magazine Inside Chappaqua.

I inquired whether she knew of any part-time writing opportunities.

“With your educational background, you are certainly capable of writing,” she said. “The next time I’m looking to assign an article, I’ll let you know.”

My interest was piqued. When no word came after a month, I composed a piece about the local Caramoor Music Festival and sent it off.

“I can use this,” came the editor’s prompt reply. I have been a regular contributor to the magazine ever since.

In 2010, I contacted the editor of the Chappaqua-Mount Kisco site of Patch.com and became a bonafide freelance journalist. Currently, I am writing one weekly column and covering local events.

With my daughter happily ensconced at Wellesley and my son in his junior year at Horace Greeley High School, I realized my dream of taking a journalism course by signing up for one online through a university.

As luck would have it, my son fell ill on the first day of the class.  I had an assignment to cover an antiques event, my regular feature was due, and I was scheduled to teach at the temple. Still, I persevered. I  made my son some chicken soup, wrote the two articles, and led my Hebrew school class.  When I logged into my journalism class the following day, I felt content, knowing I had found the path to a fulfilling career in which motherhood never takes a back seat.