I sometimes imagine life as a spiral, circling upwards, always returning to the same spot, only more experienced, hopefully more highly functioning. So here I am again, cycling around to being a learner, after the last years of being a producer. Actually, as a gardener, I like to think of my growing and harvesting stages.
Does this feel familiar? You can probably come up with places you keep cycling back around to. Here’s a few of mine: from crawling toddler to walking to school by myself; from an insecure student nurse to teaching new nurses on the hospital floor; from learning the craft of writing to publishing Heart Wood – my first book (at 74 years!). And now I’m back in the learner’s seat, growing my ability to write a Historical Narrative of my Great-Grandmother Emily Hoppin’s life and times.
Growing requires stress.
I finally came to terms with that when I saw how much stronger my little tomato seedlings were when they were outside being buttressed by a gentle wind that caused them to twist and turn from their base instead of being continually protected in a warm, sunny room.
Bones are like that too.
The matrix that makes bones strong is developed by the tug and pull of muscles on the bone. Whether it’s weight-lifting or easy strolling, bones need to be prodded by pressure to become strong – a point not lost on me as my bone-density reports show I’m in the middle stages of osteopenia.
Our brains thrive on novelty – even in old age, we put down new neural pathways when we struggle to learn new things – which is why it’s good to do something different and something difficult every day.
I thought it would be easy to shift from writing Historical Fiction to Historical Narrative. Turns out, it’s a whole ‘nother world with a whole new set of “how-tos.” So I’m now cycling around to being a learner again and immersing myself in a ten-week online course on writing Advanced Historical Narratives with Marty Levine. Now I’m vacillating between “I just love learning so many new things!” to “Aargh, this is too hard. I’ll never get it. I should just write a simple biography.”
But I think of my little seedlings, my bones, and my brain, and keep spiraling on.
Heart Wood is fictional history inspired in part by the life of my great-grandmother, Emily Hoppin. Many of her life events and writings are incorporated into the novel in the character of Eliza. My initial research on Emily and Charles Hoppin is posted on my website: shirleydickard.com under “Historical Research.”
Heart Wood can be found at your local library, bookstore, and Online.