Three weeks before my husband died, I fell in love with someone else. I was swept off my feet, had a funny feeling in my stomach, and realized that person would be important to me the rest of my days. And it all happened because of a letter she’d written.
Yes, I said “she.” She, as in Beth Westmark. Oh, by the way, she’s married to the love of her life, has a chocolate lab named Maggie, lives at the opposite side of the
Confused? Do I have your attention? This is important, so please pay attention.
Late February, 2007. I had returned to writing exactly a year before, after not writing anything for forty years. The circumstances of my husband’s final illness, the toll it took on me, and what happened after a late night meltdown were the impetuses behind that return. I enrolled in online writing classes to practice my chosen craft. That February I was taking “Creating a Sense of Place” at the ed2go online site, and the first assignment was to write a letter describing a place to someone who had never been there.
I wrote mine, posted it, and began to read those of others. Then I came to Beth’s. I could use the words “awesome” and “blown away,” which have become trite, and certainly for someone who aspires to be a writer, not at all adequate. Nonetheless, I can think of no others. Beth’s letter assignment awed me in a way I have seldom felt. I knew then that I had to stay in touch with this person, read every word she writes, and wait impatiently for her books. I knew there were going to be books.
Half-way through the course, my husband died from the disease that had taken him away from me long before his body was vanquished. Though we had long expected it, circumstances threw me and our relatives into turmoil. I thought about dropping out of the writing class, then realized that I was clinging to it as a sanctuary. And my complete and utter fascination with the writing of this person who called herself "Beth" drew me away from my worries and problems and concerns, and gave me precious moments of surcease while my equilibrium slowly returned.
Those online classes are set up to protect the privacy of the students and instructors. We are encouraged not to reveal our real names or our e-mail addresses, and the site censors deleted those addresses if they were posted. Fortunately, a group of students from a previous class had created a Yahoo site to keep in touch, so I implored Beth to meet us there, using my best powers of persuasion, which lean more toward brow-beating than finesse. (I chose that word “finesse” intentionally, and soon you will know why.)
She did. Real names and e-mails were exchanged. Better yet, Beth had been blogging at Switched at Birth for several years, and once I figured out what a blog was and where to find one and what to do with it, I became a regular reader. Beth lives in
I like Beth. I like her a lot. But, what I fell in love with was her way with words, her finesse with those things comprised of circles and lines and squiggles and serifs.. Once before I had “met” a writer in an online class whose soft touch with words impressed me. Beth also has a soft touch with words, as if she knows the exact weight and the exact import of each carefully selected word. She knows the effect that word will have on the reader, and she carefully shapes her words and chooses their companion words to define a subject or a character or a thought in such a way that the reader is swept away on gossamer wings of imagination.
That is not to say she always strolls arm in arm with Aristotle in bucolic dream fields of esoteric philosophy, as she once wrote about. Nor are the themes of her stories fanciful and light-hearted. She has, instead, many writing moods and many tales to tell. She brings her part of
Her writing has influenced mine in ways I find hard to describe. When I want to write about something in a style other than my usual tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, lead-dog-short-of-a-dog-team manner, I think about Beth’s writing. That slips my mind into another realm, I "taste" her way with words, hear the way she weighs them, and then I do the best I can. My written words will never measure up to hers; she is a master at what she does.
So today, when I went to my e-mail and saw a note from Beth, I opened that one first. It was a “Dear John” letter, so to speak. For various reasons, she wrote, she is closing down her blog, taking a road less traveled but one most sought.
I had a lump in my throat, both for my loss at losing her writing, and out of concern that something bad had befallen the lovely Beth. I read on, and hope—that thing that is supposed to spring eternal—jumped right up and shouted, “How-deee!!!”
Beth was taking what I hope will be a sabbatical from her blog while she pursues writing in a more diligent and dedicated manner. She will collect her previously written stories and essays, add to them, and combine the whole treasure to produce a printed volume or two. She is ready to take that step, that journey. It is one every writer dreams of, aspires to, hopes for, and at times shrinks from in a fear intense enough to send them scurrying to their bedroom closet where they curl up on the floor in a fetal position with eyes closed.
I await the result of Beth's brave journey anxiously. If she doesn’t come on a book tour to
Sadly, today I removed the link to Beth’s blog from my own site. I will miss it. I already miss it. As a farewell to Beth’s Switched at Birth, and as a tribute to her writing skills, with her permission I am posting the letter she wrote, the one that made me fall in love.