From every ending comes a new beginning.

This phrase is tired, overused, cliched, but I can’t help but see a red sun sinking deep into the earth, the black of night, the moon a pearl in a quilt of stars; and then as though a God were fishing, the sun hooked and reeled back up into its perch in the sky, dressed in muted yellows and luminescent golds. Something new, ready to begin.

My MFA program has ended. I spent two pandemic years immersed in earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing.  “We’re masters now!” my peers and I joked at graduation. Yet every master knows that only a fool would consider themselves to have mastered a subject to a point of completion. The learning has just begun, and will begin again tomorrow, and the next day, if we’re lucky. Still, the intensity of the program, the degree to which we immersed ourselves in that learning, focused in on honing our craft, applied critical thought to ideas, worked to deadlines, received feedback and tried again. And again. And again. To improve and get better. This is worth an oversized piece of paper and a pat on the back. That the learning should and will continue does not diminish the accomplishment. But, maybe, just maybe, if you’re like me, before you dress in that graduation gown and plop the cap askew on your head, tassel waving in your eyes; before you strut across that stage to fanfare and applause, smile plastered across your face; before all of that will sit a question high on your list of priorities to attend to. A big question, the one that’s constantly at my throat, clawing my insides, pushing me further into the deep thick of this life’s offerings: What’s Next?

I really, truly, like to know where I am going. Not everyone does.

From every ending comes a new beginning.

A month or so ago, on a day when I may have been pondering that question of what’s next, an email jumped to my attention on the screen from Alison Wearing whose newsletter I subscribe to. Alison is a writer who runs Memoir Writing Ink (an online memoir course) and facilitates writing retreats around the world in addition to the many other hats she wears. I have read her books which are enthused with life and humour and seen her animated readings. She has a charismatic theatrical personality that only the dullest of person would not find charming. I know others who’ve attended her workshops and retreats and I have long since known I have something to learn from this woman. I just didn’t know when exactly that would be or how. Other paths have bumped into each other peripherally the past few years, with her name poking up for me here and there, and about a year ago, I seriously considered attending her writing retreat in France. I looked through photos, reviewed packages. But the timing was wrong. I already had residencies to attend where I would be engaged and working with other writers, and the MFA was intensive and consuming. France would have to wait.

But the email that came into my inbox from Alison was about two magical spots that had opened up in the France retreat in June. These were truly last-minute spots due to cancellations. An end for someone else meant a possible new beginning for me. Alison was seeking out published writers to fit in with the group, and I could sense this retreat would be a good fit for where I’m currently at in my writing process. I have essays to edit. The timing was right. The exact week of the France retreat, I had planned to be on a self-imposed writing residency with a friend anyway. My writing friend is a world traveller. Literally, she has been to every continent and over a hundred countries. We had planned to meet in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, where my cottage is located to get some work done. “How do you feel about going to a writing retreat with me in the South of France instead?” Reader, there was no hesitation. I reached out and applied to Alison Wearing’s retreat right away, and by some stroke of magic, within hours of receiving the invitation (because that is exactly what that email was, an invitation from the universe) I had a confirmed spot, and my friend too! And we were on our way to France.

What’s next?

You could argue that a trip to France is nothing but an elaborate distraction; that travel, in general, is simply a way to pull yourself away from the responsibilities of real life. But if I’m going to keep writing and moving on to the next thing, I need to recharge, to feel invigorated in my life and have things to look forward to. I need space and time to myself and with other creatives. I need to experience the world outside of my office window. Why not surround myself with beauty and do this in the wide open air countryside of southern France?

What’s next is a writing vacation, the rest of summer, and the business of real life. Trying to find an agent, secure a teaching job as a writing instructor, finish editing my essays, continue writing and running my own retreats and believing in myself. What’s next is more family life and visits and house cleaning and cottage maintenance and the plethora of usual adult responsibilities.

But first, we celebrate.

How many trips across that stage does one get to make? Visiting my in-laws, my brother-in-law asked me, “So when are you going to get your PhD? He was partly joking, goading me on, knowing it’s an avenue I’ve considered. What’s next? I have no plans to pursue another degree as of now, but who knows? What’s next is clearing the space in my mind for future plans. What’s next is being pulled by the tides, not adrift, but not fully in control of my final destination either.

But for this moment, I see myself holding a glass of something red, the sun a slow melt into distant hills, sinking deep into the earth, eventually folding into the black of night; the moon ever a pearl in a quilt of stars.

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