On Not Writing


I’m about halfway through my inhale year  – twelve months with no writing outside of periodic blog posts and social media updates – and I thought I would let you know how it’s going.

Quick recap:  In January, I made the bold – and perhaps bizarre – decision to take a year away from writing so that I could concentrate on my writing workshops, private writing clients, submissions to my literary publication Thread, and other aspects of my professional life. (You can read my EBB & Flow post on the subject here.)

I can’t say I am recommending it just yet, but these past six months have been interesting, to say the least.

Right from the get-go I noticed that I had more available time. It was a bittersweet reminder of how lost I can get in a writing project, to be so full of concentration so as not to sense the hours passing was a confirmation of how much I love working in the form.

I wondered about the frequency of thoughts-that-become-stories. Would they slow to part time? Vanish completely? Neither. They are as active as they’ve always been. Which is very. I’ve since started a long and colorful list of ideas on my cell phone to address in my exhale year. My writerly approach to the world, even when I’m not writing, seemingly has stayed intact.

Third, and by far the most challenging during this year without writing, was that something was missing. That some essential part of me, something that separated me from others and made me feel unique,  was either in a deep sleep or … gone. I didn’t feel like I was fully present. Now that I’ve identified myself as a writer – which in itself took many decades (see my essay on this subject here) – I seem to very attached to the label, making me feel a bit anchorless without it.

Which strikes me as not such a good thing.

So I’m looking at the rest of this strange, self-imposed experiment as an opportunity to mull on two profound questions of artistic identity:

Who am I if I’m not writing?


Do I feel like a writer even when I’m not getting my work published or telling a story on stage?

At the end of the year, I promise to let you know how it all turns out.

Maybe I can help save you from squandering a perfectly good year. Or perhaps this hiatus, in combination with some personal discovery, will be well worth sharing.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.





Prompted by the Young




My youngest daughter is graduating from college in a few weeks and preparing to move to New York City for her first job.

I keep offering to help with neighborhood selection and apartment hunting but she’s been politely waving me off. “I’m good, Mom,” she says. It’s becoming clear that she doesn’t need my help because, the truth is, she knows more about navigating urban space than I do.

On the subject of living as a single woman living, working and socializing in the city, I have virtually nothing to offer her.

I’ve been sitting with this realization now for some time, mulling over the meaning in the moment when you recognize that your child is now the expert.

It’s yet another in a long succession of prompts, brought on by the young.

I share this with you — especially for my writing students who are currently on break — as a reminder of how deep that well of story ideas can run from the young ones in our lives. Whether they are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, godchildren, patients, clients or neighbors, there are so many rich prompts that can come from their lifecycle events, big and small.

A few that have come to mind recently:

  • My eldest daughter – also an urban animal – has had many more years of dating experience than I so what, if anything, can I offer in the way of useful advice?
  • Many of my friend’s children are graduating from college and getting their first jobs, which has been bringing up memories of my own.
  • What’s it like to be the child of a traveling musician, a kid who goes on tour with Mom?
  • As the weather is warming, the children in my neighborhood are riding their bicycles which is conjuring up memories of learning how to ride and where we went with that newfound freedom.
  • Photo diving can be very fruitful for memory jogging. I can recall where each of the above photographs were taken, and the mood. The first, in 1997, in our front yard. Mood, goofy. The second, in 2004, at the New Jersey shore. Mood, relaxed. The third taken in 2013, on the deck of a Skokie restaurant for a belated Mother’s Day dinner, just me and my girls. Mood, well fed and happy.


Photographs by Ellen Blum Barish