Growing up in the Hudson River Valley in the 1950s and ‘60s, I loved to draw. I was good at it. And equally as important, drawing distinguished me from my older sister. As is the way with siblings, I had to be different: she liked vanilla ice cream, so I liked chocolate; she liked grape jelly, so I liked peanut butter. Whenever we did projects together, she was the writer, and I, the illustrator.
For decades, making art was how I defined myself to myself—until, in my late twenties, I developed scleroderma, a complex autoimmune disease that has severely damaged my hands and forced me to rethink what it means to be an artist.
By now, I had moved several times, first to universities in Rochester, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, then to a job with the Illinois Bureau of the Budget in Springfield, and, finally, to Worcester, Massachusetts.
I had also shifted careers, from public management to journalism. I was researching and writing stories every week for public radio as a producer-reporter, then in print as a free-lance journalist, specializing in environmental issues. I taught feature writing as an adjunct instructor at Clark University while also writing PR and marketing materials for clients. I wrote a silvan history of Worcester, Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest (Chandler House Press. 2001). I became marketing and communications director at a small New England college for a dozen-plus years, then founded my own strategic marketing consultancy. And in my most challenging career—motherhood—I learned a lot about parenting from our two daughters.
But writing fiction still seemed a hill too far. Identities forged in childhood can really stick until you stop to question them.