Finding a Creative Balance

This is a view from IRA last spring...
And this (below) is a view of the top of my bookcase next to my writing place this morning. This has been my life of opposites these past eight years, and I have loved it, although it has not often been conducive to creating the next novel or picture book. Now I have three novels under contract with Scholastic, and one new picture book just sold, and I need some steady writing time ahead.
I've been journaling all morning -- I am home for the next ten months. I may take a trip in that time, but it will be with my husband, for pleasure. Not that working in schools and at conferences hasn't been a pleasure, but -- ahem -- for the first time in eight years -- 8! -- I'm going to stay home for a good, long while, and see what it's like to live in one place with my family, to have routines, to be able to really pay attention, and to create without the distraction of so much travel.
I'm going to admit, I'm scared (who am I, if I am not the globe-hopping, teaching-writing, singing and dancing ONE WIDE SKY with Kindergarteners, airport-sleeping, bad-food-eating author?), and I'm exhilarated (will I even remember what it was like to be a writer who stayed home and wrote? And oh! the opportunities ahead of me!)

I've been trying to come back home for years but just haven't been able to manage it. Now, largely thanks to Scholastic's faith in me and the Sixties Trilogy, I'm doing it -- I'm taking a leap of faith of my own. Scholastic has asked for these books in a timely manner, and I won't disappoint them.
I'll document progress (you can see what I've been up to by clicking here), not only on the books, but on life. Next month will mark five years that I've lived in Atlanta. I've hardly been able to get to know the place! Now I will. It was five years ago this past week that I bought the little house in the little woods where I now live. June 15, 2004 I moved here. I want to mark the occasion this year, somehow, and I will.

I'm rethinking my online presence (as I always do). I will finally rework the website and will continue to tinker with the blog. I'm twittering away and find that I like it.

And, I bought sketchbooks. Big fat ones with terrific paper, and great pens, and these watercolors, and brushes, I've got paste and scissors and markers and a gathering basket, and my own good imagination. I'm going to create. I'm going to write. I'm going to collage. I'm going to garden. I'm going to walk up Stone Mountain. I'm going to get to know my neighbors. I'm going to get more than a fleeting glimpse of my home and family and kin. Maybe I'll even be a good correspondent again.
It has been a long haul, friends. In 2000, with my first books about to come into the world, I became a suddenly single parent. The words "internet" and "soul mate" were used. I thought I wouldn't survive the destruction of a 22-year marriage, and worse, I worried my children wouldn't survive it, either.

But we did. We all survived, even my (now former) husband, whom I wish well every day of my life. We raised four great kids together, and I am grateful for the days I had at home with those kids, and for the creative space I carved out during those years as I became a writer.
But because of what happened, my life turned up on its ear. I became a road warrior in order to care for us, and I didn't write another book for almost five years. EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is the book that gave voice to my despair. In the time I was writing it, I went back to school and got my MFA, my mother died, my father died, my marriage died, my youngest child graduated from high school, I turned fifty, I sold the home we had lived in for 25 years, I moved to Atlanta, and then... the dog died. So much change and loss. I've written about this time, here.
On the other side of that loss were the beautiful gifts that came out of a terrible time. LITTLE BIRD was certainly a gift. FREEDOM SUMMER, RUBY LAVENDER and then LITTLE BIRD did so well in the world that they brought invitations to travel to more schools, more conferences, to do good work in the world, to meet wonderful people (many of whom have become good friends), to keep my daughter in college, pay for my home and renovate it as I could afford, and -- this was exhilarating -- to stand for myself in the world, for the very first time in my life as a woman who could make her own decisions and totally take care of herself and those she loved.

It also brought me Jim.

Who knew? Who indeed.

It brought me the Sixties Trilogy, which brought me Scholastic, which has brought me full circle back to that place I stood in eight years ago, ready for first books to be published, ready to become an author, something I had been working toward for over twenty years.
This is the simplistic version of those years but I wanted to say it out loud, to make it real, to say goodbye for just a little while to the travel, which was so often so grueling, (and which turned me into someone I didn't physically recognize!), which took so much away from my family and from me, which gave me so much I can hardly quantify it... and I wanted to say goodbye, for now, to the students and teachers I have come to love...

,,,but I am not gone too long. I already have schools on the books for next March, in Tennessee and Mississippi. I have books for you to read and more coming. And I will be out there next year, to support the new novel, which is published next May. You can't get rid of me that easily. :>
I'll be here in Atlanta for a while, learning to use my new camera, learning to play my banjo, writing the next book and the next book, and chronicling it all.

Thank you to all of you who have made my writing life possible. I have worked hard, have been stretched to my last nerve, and have also had so much belly-laughing fun. I know you know how that is.

It's not a stretch -- not at all -- to say that I couldn't be taking this time off the road without you. In fact, I wouldn't have made it through the past eight years without you. It has been my privilege and delight to work with you. I salute every one of you and send you my love and my deep admiration for all you do for the young people in your care.

And now... I'm home. I'm about to make some lunch and open this document from my editor -- my 1962 novel revision, full of his good comments and questions. I have no travel on the horizon. I can devote my full attention to this writing task, and I will. Let me walk outside for just a moment first, take a deep breath, smell the honeysuckle, listen to the bird song, walk the garden, and welcome myself back home.