My friend Kristine—the genealogist who helped me to search for Sarah in Old New Worlds—sent me this quote from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: East Coker after I lost my sister, Anne, to pulmonary fibrosis three weeks ago. Anne was the one who brought our family’s African sojourn full circle when she went back to live in England almost two hundred years after our great-great grandparents left. It was she who settled in Earls Colne, just twenty miles from Wimbish, where our great-great grandfather was born. With Anne’s death, I find myself the only one remaining from our nuclear family now—though, happily, my niece continues the line through her three children. “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

One of the reasons I needed to write Sarah’s book, I think, was exactly for that sense of where we fit on the continuum—where we come from, where we might be going, how we find our place in the interlocking patterns—so that our little existence doesn’t seem so random and transitory. Certainly, I’m by no means the first writer to think about why I need to write.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” — Joan Didion

 “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you’ve got something to say.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” — Lord Byron

“It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” — Stephen King

“Writing is the supreme solace.” — W. Somerset Maugham

What’s curious about my writing life, though, is that, while most writers seem to know that’s what they want to do from childhood, for the longest time it never occurred to me that it was something I wanted—much less needed—to do. It was only once I’d reinvented myself as a citizen of another country that I discovered I had to write. It forced its way on me to the extent that, now, if I haven’t written for a while I begin to feel jangled. While I wouldn’t go so far as to put it as strongly as Lord Byron, there is definitely something cathartic about the process of taking an ephemeral thought or idea, holding it, constructing it, shaping it, finding just the right word and just the right sequence to words to convey the essence of what you mean. Even writing this to you now has a settling effect. 

A lovely and surprising bonus that I’ve discovered as I’ve been taking Old New Worlds around—to The Studio at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company; the Johns Hopkins Club Book Circle; Lit & Art at the Ivy Bookshop’s Bird In Hand; the Mount Vernon Club; a gracious friend’s home in Guilford; City Lit Books in Chicago—is how much a book becomes a conversation. After three years of writing my side of the conversation in solitude, now I find that readers are responding with their own questions and answers and observations, and so the whole enterprise becomes a shared experience. Somehow, I had not anticipated this active interchange, and I welcome it. 

Lately, it’s been fun to get back to writing some immigrant profiles on Outside In with Polish cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and Belgian astronomer Sarah Kendrew. Also, I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my new book—another immigrant story of sorts, as I try my hand at pure fiction—though it’s still too new and vulnerable and embryonic to be shared with anyone other than my writing partner at this stage.

I send this to you from Chicago, where Sharyn Skeeter (Dancing with Langston) and I were in convo with the redoubtable teacher, storyteller, coach, podcaster, and creative strategist Ben Tanzer at City Lit Books on Thursday evening. Coming up on Thursday, April 2 from 7:30 – 9:30 PM it’s the Multiverse Reading Series at Buunni Coffee, 4961 Broadway, New York. Please come if you are in the area! I’ll be heading off to the Green Mountains in central Vermont to coach at a writers’ retreat in April, and hope to tack on some readings in the New England region around that time too. There are also a couple of author events in the works in Baltimore during May. Please keep an eye on the Appearances page on my website. 
So, as we head into spring and the cycle of life comes around again, I wish you hope, love, faith, light, and dancing.

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