Cathy Bryant is the author of the delightfully touching "Tense Dating" in the anthology On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties, published by http://www.silverboomerbooks.com Here's my interview with her.
TZ: I loved "Tense Dating." How long were you widowed when you had this experience?
CB: Actually it's about my friend Elizabeth, and I'm Anne, the friend in the story in which she realizes she turns off potential dates by saying she's married. She was widowed at 44 and was 55--a very young and gorgeous 55-- at the time that the events in "Tense Dating" happened. It tore my heart out when I realized what she was doing.
TZ: Her husband made her promise she'd find love again? Did she?
CB: She's doing her best. She's actually dating a lovely man who adores her, and she really likes him. But it's hard. She's wrestling with all sorts of feelings--guilt in spite of her promise, for instance. Dating brings a new kind of grief. It could go either way, but my money's on love winning. I just want her to be happy because she's terrific.
TZ: For yourself, what has been the hardest part of being a widow?
CB: All the widows I know agree on this one--missing the person one thought one would be with forever. I'm the unhealthy one. I've always had illnesses and disabilties. When I lose anyone, I think, "But I was supposed to go first." I want to have an argument with him about it. It's funny how one misses the rows as well as everything else.
TZ: I miss them, too. Alas, he could always out-argue me.
Tell us what you're most proud of.
CB: My friends. I'm very lucky in my friendships. I always have been.
Also, I've done all sorts of things, making my jar larger. Let me explain.
This really helped me. I heard it at various widowhood seminars, and then in magazine articles, and I hope it's reached America. (Note: Cathy lives in England) If you imagine that your life is a jar with a ball in it, and the ball is your grief, most people realize that the ball fills the jar when you are widowed. It's overwhelming. But they think as the years pass, the ball gets smaller, your grief lessens and you recover. That isn't what happens and it isn't what should happen either. Our grief is one of the things that links us to our deceased partners. I don't want to stop grieving or to stop missing him. And that's fine. The best plan isn't to make the ball smaller--let yourself grieve--it's to make the jar bigger. Enlarge your life, try something new, take up a hobby, change something, meet new people as well as cherishing old friends. Keep the ball, but in a bigger jar.
I have a friend who was widowed terribly young, in her thirties. She has chosen not to find a new love, but she has, well practically, taken over the world. She travels all over the planet and writes travel pieces, sometimes for very well-known newspapers now. She went vegan and started a fabulous new blog, and makes maazing cakes. She is really living life to the fullest and is one of my inspirations.
TZ: Tell about your writing background.
CB: I've always been a scribbler, since I was a tot. When I was little, I had dreams of publication, but a couple of early rejections put me off. Like a lot of writers, particularly women writers, in my experience, I lacked confidence.
I was 39 when I spent New Year's Eve with my best friend, Neil.
"Do you have any New Year's resolutions?" I asked idly.
"Yes," he said, surprising me with his vehemence. "My resolution is for you to get your stories and poems published, and if you don't even try, then my year will be a complete failure and it will be all your fault."
I thought he was joking, but he said that he was quite serious.
I sent six pieces off, just to prove to him that I was no good and that no one would want them. Two were accepted...one to a paying market. It was such a thrill to see my name and my work in print and for a kind stranger to send me a cheque for it.
Needless to say, I kept submitting and was very grateful to Neil. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't gotten an acceptance for one of those pieces. I often get six rejections in a row, so it could have happened.
I started to perform my poetry at local events, too, and met a book publisher who became a fan. He published my first collection of poetry, "Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature," which meant that I had achieved my childhood dream of publishing a book of my own. It finally went into profit when I won the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize in 2012. The attendant publicity was very helpful, and everyone was so nice.
TZ: What is your current writing project?
CB: I usually have a whole mess of things on the go, being an untidy sort of person, I'm afraid. The main one is a novel. I did Nanowritmo last year and wrote the first draft of a novel, "Beloved Idiot," in a month. However, it needs about a year of editing, I reckon. I'm also working up to a second poetry collection and still entering writing competitions and sending short stories and poems to anthologies and so on. It's all such glorious fun and takes you to such interesting places.
TZ: Any advice for writers...other than finding a friend like Neil?
CB: Yes, lots. Try everything--ficiton of all lengths and poetry in all forms. Some won't suit you, but you'll always learn something. Keep writing, even if it's only for ten minutes a day, or an hour a week--it will stop your muse from falling asleep or wandering off. Like anything else, it helps to keep your hand in.
If you'd like to be published, then submit like mad. Expect loads of rejections--we all get them. I always say you aren't a proper writer until you have a pile of rejection slips (or these days, a file full of rejection emails). Learning to submit is a skill in iself andit can be learned over time, so don't be put off by initial lack of success. Proof your work carefully and get friends to help with this, too--however good you are at Engish, you tend to see what you intended to write rather than what you actually did write. Go to any local writing group--some are free or very cheap, and it's amazing how a simple bit of constructive criticism can turn an unpublishable piece into a publishable piece in a few short minutes.
I have two metaphorical hats. The first is my creative hat, and when I'm wearing it, I let myself write whatever I like, and go with the flow. But the second is my editor hat, and when I metaphorically put it on, I am quite fierce with my work, giving it a harsh critique, as an editor has to. Editing "Best of Manchester Poets" every year has taught me so much. When you can only pick one poem out of every ten received, any small error can mean that a poem will be excluded--one simply has to be very, very picky. So, when editing, I'm quite ruthless. I recommend that two-hats approach--it doesn't stifle your creativity but does allow you to edit properly and get things ready for publication. If you try to edit as you go along, then I find that you can't create as freely and can't always get into the writing groove.
Finally, if blocked, try any writing exercise and let yourself write badly. It's fine to write terrible first drafts, particularly to get out of a block. Don't expect yourself to be Shakespeare every day. Also, take the pressure off. Don't worry about where you will send the piece or how your writing career is going--just remember why you wrote in the first place--for sheer love of it, out of curioisity, or just for fun.