Starting Over, Starting Out

It wasn’t supposed to be like this at 50. Maybe I'd be single, yes. But not on the verge of starting over while friends were counting the years until retirement.

The professional life I had worked so hard to build in my 20s and 30s ground to a dead halt when I was 39. Poised to finally move into full-time academic respectability, I stumbled. Badly. A pulmonary embolism, followed in quick succession by a nervous breakdown blew everything apart. Forced onto a regimen of meds that fogged my brain and transformed grief into bonafide crazy, I struggled to pick up the pieces and keep teaching. People told me to write and I did. But it made no difference. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

Wheels spinning, I tried different things. I had an affair. I took up photography. I left Tucson for the Czech Republic to teach English, vowing never to return. When I did it was with everything I owned packed into two suitcases, the rest left out in an alley for the trash man to collect. A friend in Dallas who’d just left his own job took me in. His more practical wife threw me out less than three weeks after I arrived. She couldn’t bear to have me watch as they fought each other to keep the big suburban house and perfect life they couldn’t afford.

An organization dedicated to helping the homeless found me an apartment just east of Oak Lawn, the Dallas gay district. Meanwhile I survived on unemployment until I could get surgery to fix the broken body that had traveled back with me from Europe. After that, I found work scratching out a living as a part-time community college English teacher and kept regular appointments with a therapist. I hated every anguished minute. But looking back, Dallas was also the place where I began to heal.

Fearing another another rendezvous with the street, I had started writing again. Then I noticed it. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Not just copy for local newspapers, magazines and marketing firms that might earn some bus fare and grocery store money. But personal essays about a life that had taken a series of spectacularly wrong turns.

In late 2012, I approached poet and memoirist Lucy Lang Day, a writer I knew from my work as a Kirkus book reviewer. Calling on boldness I didn't have, I asked her to read sections from a jumble of papers I was daring to call a book. To my surprise, Lucy didn't turn me away. After reading the essays, she said,“You can get these into journals. Good ones even.” I listened to her and did.

That was four years ago. Now I'm in Austin with published essays and a book on hold, watching my profession - and the place I have in it - erode. Full-time jobs are scarce, people say, and the academic market is in crisis. But I'm done with crazy; all I want to do is leave it like a bad lover.

So here I am on yet another precipice, writing. Again.