In this essay, Laura Alexander asks: “How many of us have not chased our dreams because of a flippant comment made by a friend, a teacher, a sibling, a parent?” When Kathy and I first met Laura in Costa Rica, 2019, she was a self-proclaimed “beginning writer at age 60,” and we all fell in love with her bravery and audacity. Here Laura shares some of the pain of loss and reflects on her creative recovery, which she likens to “finding a long-lost friend.” We’re so honored to share in her process and to reunite with her in person in Grand Lake, Colorado this August!
Recovering my Creative Self
by Laura Alexander
For as long as I can remember I have been an avid reader. My teachers would pass around the thin paper Scholastic Book Club flyers and I would pour over them finding at least 8 or 10 books I wanted to order. My Mom would limit my purchases necessitating me to make what I felt at the time were agonizing choices always leaving me wanting more. As my husband shares my love of books our home is wall to wall bookcases filled to the brim.
As strong as my love of books was, my love of writing was what really occupied my soul. Telling stories was my passion until eighth grade when I was asked to read one of my stories to the class. It was a humorous story and I was worried that no one would laugh. But the class did laugh and the further into the story I read the harder they laughed. My teacher, who sat to the right of me at the front of the class, was nearly falling over in her chair she was laughing so hard. What an adrenaline rush! I was filled with excitement and pride over my story writing skills until one of my classmates walked up to me after that class. “Wow,” she said, “I can’t believe how much Mrs. Gregerson was laughing at your story. The whole class was laughing at her. It wasn’t THAT funny.” Then she sauntered away never fully understanding the effect of her words on my future as a writer. From that day on I never shared my stories again. Although I kept a journal from the time I was 16 years old, my short stories stopped and my dream of writing slowly faded away. Over the years I still wrote long personal letters to friends and relatives, occasional poetry and of course my journal. But my artist child had died and it would take 47 years for me to bring her back to life.
At the age of 60, an age when many of us look at our lives and try to figure out what items are still on our bucket list, I discovered flash fiction and began my creative recovery. Using my photography as prompts I started writing 100 word stories. They were quick, they were fun and they fed my creative self-worth like nothing had since writing my stories in grade school. My short 100 word stories turned into longer 500-1500 word stories and then my memoir based on my journal which I am writing for my four sons. For the first time since eighth grade I timidly shared my stories again at the Flash Fiction Workshop in Costa Rica last year. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by fellow writers brimming with creative energy supporting my floundering efforts. I came home inspired and feeling certain this was what I was meant to do with this last third of my life.
We are so impressionable in our younger years, not yet having the wisdom accumulated through life experience. How many of us have not chased our dreams because of a flippant comment made by a friend, a teacher, a sibling, a parent? Trusting my creativity has opened up a whole new aspect of my personality that I had ignored for way too long. I have managed to recover a sense of safety and power with my writing and it feels heartwarming and soothing like finding a long lost friend.
Laura is a registered nurse, photographer and paddler living with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of her flash fiction stories are taken from her poignant experiences as a nurse and from the frequent misadventures of raising her four sons. She is currently working on her memoir in hopes of sharing her life’s journey with her boys and granddaughter.
And check out Laura’s amazing photo gallery of Writing Wild in Costa Rica
Ready to join us in Grand Lake this August? We’d love to have you!