“The secret of a long life,” sings Michelle Shocked, “is knowing when it’s time to go.” Like a great many secrets, that one is way easier to say and agree with than it is to practice. There’s an energy to the start, an increasing sense of competence and understanding that follows the start, but then there’s a decline. Maybe it’s just a blip – we all have good days and bad ones – maybe it’s the start of the inexorable end. Does that first chill warn us that winter is coming? It does, of course. That’s the stark truth.
All of which is a wordy preamble to what I have not yet written down, though I’ve been thinking it for over a month, and saying it for a week. But writing down something makes it more real. That’s why we’re writers, to take those inchoate feelings and visions and birth them into reality. And the reality is that it’s time for me to let the Writers’ Croft go.
It has been 12 years, 25 courses, 174 people, 4499 pieces of original writing, and 22,970 posts we’ve created together. It has been as successful as I ever dared to dream it might be, and there have been four books I know that have come out of the Croft, and a number that are well on their way. And way more importantly than the writing there are the people. When I started the Croft, I imagined that people would take a single course, complete it, and move on. But that wasn’t how it worked: over 2/3 of the Crofters in any given circle were returnees. You came back because of the community, the feedback, the sense of safety and challenge, the unique combination of anonymity and intimacy. I felt that so much, in my role as primes inter pares, first among equals, and I will be eternally grateful for the generosity of spirit that was the fuel on which we all ran the Croft.
For me, it has been a wonderful bridge. I was ready, in 2003, to leave teaching high school. I knew that, although it took a year for me to recognize that I wasn’t ready to leave teaching, and to craft a structure that allowed me to teach from a place of compassion rather than from one of judgement. The Croft helped me to continue to claim my identity as a teacher, as a person who was doing something. I learned more about my writing not only from your responses, but from my responses to your work, which made me understand our shared craft more deeply. It was a joy to help mentor people with their writing in whatever form that took. It was wonderful to not have to comment on anything I wasn’t asked to comment on. (Veterans will, I’m sure, have noticed how much better I’ve gotten at not talking about grammar. Old dog, new tricks.) Most of all, it gave me a community to replace the one I had left behind, and a sense of being seen and valued within that community.
Some of you were people I’d known “in real life”, before we became Crofters together. Some of you I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the flesh only after we’d met in the circles of word, and we’ve become friends. Others I’ve only met digitally, but those connections too have often been deep and powerful. So it’s hard to let all that go. It’s particularly hard as I don’t yet know what will come to fill the space in my life where the Croft has been.
But it’s time to pull the plug. Two weeks ago I was in a ceremony at the Unitarians where we tied ribbons onto a frame to celebrate completions of aspects of our lives. I tied a ribbon to celebrate finishing Circle 25, and as I walked back to my seat I found I was thinking that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted there to be a Circle 26. So I went into a sweat lodge last week holding the question about whether I should stay or go, and it came to me, in the heat and the dark of a sweat lodge, much like the one in which 12 years earlier I had birthed much of the Croft, that I was asking the wrong question. The right question was: how do I live as creative a life as possible? And the answer to that didn’t involve the Croft.
I’m good at it, and I could keep it going, but as with teaching high school, it seems to me to be important to let go while I still love it. We’ve all seen people doing a job because they can do it, even when they no longer want to, and that’s not a happy place. I never wanted to get there with the Croft and I know that if I had kept going, I would have. Maybe not Circle 26, but pretty soon. And I really don’t know anyone who I think could both do this work and who wants to. Someone at the sweat last week actually suggested I advertise the Croft on Craig’s List, to sell it as a business because “the brand has value.” It might be a fun warmup to write the ad, but I have way too much respect for what we’ve all co-created to dream of trashing it for a few bucks. In that sweat lodge 12 years ago, what came to me was that the right way to do the Croft was not to do it for money, but for spirit. And why spoil the truth of that vision at the end?
And the lines that have kept echoing through my heart are Mary Oliver’s, “In Blackwater Woods”:
“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
Keep writing, dear friends. Keep in touch, if you so choose. And thank you all for being so close and so open on this part of our shared journeys.