Recently, I bought a dozen doughnuts from the baker and was given 13 instead of 12. A baker’s dozen. Apparently, bakers in the Middle Ages were afraid of being beaten for ‘cheating’ their customers out of bread. Strict punishments would be handed down to any bakers who were found skimping. So, to avoid these penalties, bakers threw in an extra roll, just to ensure the shortfall was covered. This pleased customers as they felt they were given more than they were owed.
As everyone shares their accomplishments from the last decade, I’ve been reflecting on my own. This decade was the first that I dared call myself a writer. Even though I stayed awake at night scribbling stories and (terrible) poetry in my journals as a child, I never saw my life as one which would lead me to write, and teach writing, for a living. For this, I feel very lucky.
For me, this writer’s decade has been different to my non-writer’s decades. Time has moved at both a hare and tortoise pace. Perhaps, as Natalie Goldberg says, this is because writer’s ‘live twice’:
They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives every second at a time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.
Or, perhaps it’s because the life that blossomed during this decade was one I never thought would be mine. In 2009, thanks to the Marshall Scholarship, I moved from America to Wales with two big suitcases. I’d always wanted to live abroad but never believed it would happen. I was a poor girl from Pennsylvania and I won that scholarship with only $5 in my bank account.
In the ten years that followed, I earned two Master’s degrees, started my PhD, founded my writers group (Roath Writers), became the manager of a language school, published my first poetry collection, embarked on an international book tour, got my first full-time academic job, received a contract for my second collection and much more.
I still remember my white-knuckled plane journey to London in 2009 – I had only flown a handful of times before that trip. Now, as the decade closes, I am amazed that I have managed to visit 33 countries across 5 continents. I also met the most wonderful partner and married him (another thing I never thought I’d do), bought a house, adopted a violent but beautiful cat, became a godparent and an aunt, etc. Sometimes I still stand in my living room and look around my Victorian home with its stained glass and slate floors and ask: how did this happen?
This decade also brought hard times, of course. My Dad died of a drug overdose and my grandmother died too. My brother was – and still is – caught in a terrible cycle of prison, recovery and relapse. I’ve been through bouts of unemployment and illness and terrible grief. But always, the kind people in my life – family, friends, the writing community – pulled me through.
I had personal and professional goals for this decade that I am grateful to have reached with the help of those I love. These past ten years have introduced me to many great writers and exciting adventures as well as change and challenges.
This really has been a baker’s dozen of a decade for me. I got more good and more bad than I had bargained for – intellectually, emotionally and physically. The extra doughnuts of my decade have been both stale and sweet. But, I am finishing off 2019 feeling satisfied and grateful. I don’t know what the next year, or what the next ten, have in store but, whatever is to come, I am ready with an open notebook.