I have been off- line, off the grid, off the radar, and off my game for well over a year now. Here’s why.
I’m a perfectionist and can edit myself to death, but this time I will try writing in a stream of consciousness style. In any case, the point is to be writing, which I haven’t done in a very long time. In fact, except for my annual Christmas letter, I have not “put pen to paper” or more aptly “fingers to keyboard” in more than a year. Hence my blog title. My goal this month is to begin working again on my long-neglected novel about Tolkien, but this blog will have to be my kick-starter. Frankly, my season of silence has done a psychological number on my head and my confidence: I sometimes wonder if I still can write at all. I need actually to write something—anything—so that I feel I can. I expect this post will be longer than usual—just because I have so much explaining to do to myself and my readers. So if you care, please read on…
The season of silence began well before I wrote my last official blog post in the fall of 2015. In fact, my Tolkien novel has been neglected since August 2015 when I went back to teaching my fall college classes. The reasons are many but mainly the absolute lack of time. My life has been taken over by duty and necessity. I remember a friend saying to me at the funeral of her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, that she felt like she had fallen into a black hole for the previous several years. I too feel like I have fallen into a black hole over the past five years as we began the process of moving from our beloved Oakton home where we raised our nine children, to our “interim” home in Manassas where we could care for my parents, to finally our new down-sized home along the Occoquan River where we hope to age in place ourselves. The black hole feeling can mainly be attributed to caring for my parents (my mom has Alzheimer’s). They are now in assisted living and my mom in the memory care unit, but we are still dealing with sorting through and passing along all their stuff—68 years-worth—as well as our own. If we include their moves with ours, we’ve sold four houses and moved four times in four years. We are just beginning to emerge from the black hole.
My parents lived with my husband and me and our two then college-aged sons for two and a half years in our “interim” Manassas home. I believe firmly that God called us to care for them, and I do not regret our decision, but none of it has been easy. Their demands were constant and draining and I had little time to call my own. When my mom’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where I could no longer care for her, we made the difficult decision to move them to a lovely assisted-living home close to our church. Those of you who have elderly parents know that even if they are in a good assisted-living facility, your care-taking is hardly over, and you can still be called nearly daily for various demands: doctors' visits, medical needs and decisions, running errands, etc. But at least I no longer had the constant minute by minute demands of daily care to meet. I naively thought that I would perhaps have more time to visit with friends again (my socializing had all but disappeared) and maybe even finally get back to writing. However, God had another plan in mind.
In the fall of 2015, I had a fairly strenuous class schedule at NOVA community college with three composition classes on my plate. I then received a “Macedonian call” to take on the 11th grade American Literature classes for Trinity Christian School in Fairfax because the young man who had been the teacher shocked them by quitting after the first quarter. I really, really didn’t want to return to high school teaching and I really, really didn’t want to give up my flexible schedule for a full-time job on top of my college teaching. Such a job had not been on my radar at all and yet it’s timing was very interesting. Since I no longer had the daily care of my parents to contend with, I technically could accept. Plus with my parents no longer contributing to the mortgage of a home we had bought large enough to accommodate them and all their belongings, my husband was earnestly seeking the Lord for how we were going to financially make it. He prayed for provision and this job looked like the answer to that prayer. The school needed a teacher who could step in mid-semester and we needed the money. After arguing with the Lord for a while, I prayerfully, albeit reluctantly, accepted the job. The plan was for me to finish out the fall semester at NOVA and come in two to three days a week to Trinity to teach their American Lit classes. Second semester, I taught a weekly literature class for NOVA and came on full time for Trinity. This was one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters of my life. I can completely sympathize with all my friends who have long commutes into work in the D.C. area. I rose at 5:15 every morning and did not get back home until 5:15 or 5:30 every night. Anyone, who is a high school, and especially English, teacher knows how a teacher cannot leave their work at school. Each night I still had to plan lessons, grade papers, and often try to cook dinner and do household chores for my family, then fall into bed, and start the whole routine over the next day. Literally the rat-race. The Trinity students and staff are wonderful, but the demands of the job were overwhelming to me. For the first time, I felt my age—definitely too old to be standing out in all kinds of bad weather for 45 minutes every day directing traffic for carpool duty! I had no time for myself and fell deeper into the black hole. In fact, I fell completely off the social media/ writing grid.
The blessing of the job—besides increasing my empathy for all my friends and acquaintances who are caught up in the rat-race—was that the added income enabled us to not only pay our mortgage, but also pay off many debts and put aside enough to begin needed updates so that we could sell our Manassas house. We had earnestly sought the Lord at the turn of the New Year 2016 and believed He had called us to sell the house and move by the summer or “as soon as we could.” We really enjoyed our Manassas home and neighborhood (and the bonus of a hot tub:) but knew we didn’t need all that space for ourselves. Our sons had graduated college by then and were soon to be married and on their own. After going through all we had with my parents, we were determined to down-size and get rid of most of our “stuff” while we still could. We did not want to subject our children to having to do it for us. As soon as I stopped teaching in May, we began the “Great Purge.” We had the house on the market by mid-August and had a contract on it within the first week. We had spent the spring and summer looking for just the right place for us and, by God’s grace, found a lovely condo in a waterfront community, not far from our church. Originally, I had not even considered a condo, but over time this proved to be the best option for us. With more and more purging and exhaustion, we moved by mid-October. Not much fits in a two- bedroom condo with little storage (and our youngest son is still with us until his wedding), so the purging and unpacking continues. We recently moved all the random boxes—of files and photos and memorabilia from years and years of my parents and us—out of storage, and now our condo looks like we just moved in again. So all that sorting still faces us, but bit by bit we will get there!
Meanwhile, the literature class I was supposed to teach this semester at the college was given to a full-time faculty member who didn’t have enough students enrolled in their class. I was disappointed at first but acknowledge the Lord directing my paths. I have been praying about having the time to return to my writing, and this unexpected change seems to be the answer to the prayer.
In the time I was off the grid, I discovered to my consternation that my e-book publisher had taken the four books of The Oxford Chronicles down off Amazon without any communication that I can find. It’s a long story, but it turns out I was not the only author involved. After several years of disputing about unpaid royalties and breach of contract with this publisher, my agent wrote a letter declaring the return of the publishing rights of all her authors. The sad thing to me is that I worked very hard revising and editing the books for the Kindle version and, of course, those files were not returned. Now I have to start all over again: recovering the revised manuscripts and either finding a new e-publisher or trying “Indie” publishing on my own—all rather daunting.
I also discovered that while I was off the grid, my web-site had been taken down. The renewal notice had been sent to a defunct email address and I wasn’t aware of any issues. Thankfully, I was easily able to recover and rectify that and it’s now back up and running. Finally, many of my blog posts, which had only been partially posted and then linked to the e-publisher’s blog post had been taken down by the said publisher. These I still have to restore and this offering is the beginning of that process.
To kick-start myself, I recently attended a conference sponsored by my local Christian writers’ group. Frankly, I came away more discouraged than inspired. The publishing industry continues to rapidly change, and keeping up with all these changes—marketing, on-line publishing, social media, etc. — is overwhelming enough, and we’re not even talking about the craft of writing. Being so long from actual writing has left me full of self-doubt as I said at the beginning of this post. However, when I came home from the conference, I received a serendipitous boost. A long-time reader, or fan if you will, had posted on my Facebook page a picture of my novel Expectations and wrote: “One of my favorite things - re-reading parts of your favorite books and crying in all the same places (for several chapters)... LOVE Melanie Morey Jeschke and her Oxford Chronicles (EXPECTATIONS) and the wonderful world she created!” Needless to say, this reader’s message encouraged me greatly just when I needed it most. Writers need readers, and if you have taken the time to read all of this “lament,” I am grateful. Thank you, dear readers, for all your encouragement, support, and prayers over the years.
So that is the sorry saga of my season of silence. I hope and pray the silence will now be broken, and I can be disciplined to write faithfully. With God’s help and grace, I hope this new season will be my season of stories.