Writing: My Year in Review 2021

I would like to say that the pandemic, in all its extended glory, has thrown my life off kilter, but it really hasn’t. Maybe it is because I’m a nurse and it has been business as usual. Well, maybe more business than usual with a lot of extra PPE. In fact, work is the only thing that has consistently driven a thorn in my side. I have been a nurse for 17 years and these last two have been by far the hardest of them all. I would have thought nothing could top all the years I worked the night shift in the ER, but Covid has created a pressure cooker of unhappiness in the land of healthcare. Everyone is burnt out in every department. At least weekly, I consider finding a different career. But then while last minute Christmas shopping, a young man recognized my name and told me that I saved his life once. Me. Sometimes you need to know that your efforts are remembered beyond the point of the immediate action. He told me his parents never let him forget my name.

The front half of the year found my long distance relationship at its end. I learned a lot about relationships and myself and where I was in recovering from the traumas of my life. I’m in no way a victim type and have always been one to write it out as a poem and a story and move on, but what I discovered was that this is not really dealing with the problem. I’ve stated it, this much is true, but I never really inspected it and how it affects my daily life. I learned that I should have ended the relationship when I felt it was over and walked away, but I felt bad or like I was doing something wrong. Can you see what the years of manipulation had done? Made me feel bad for making the right choice for myself.

The ending of the relationship was a little painful as he lashed out verbally against my character and more importantly, my writing. I entrusted him with the first twenty chapters of my novel and he said to burn the first seven chapters. Ha. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but he did say that when my two main female characters’ friendship is broken, the reader has no reason to care. This was true. I had neglected to frame how much they meant to each other. This prompted me to realize that I needed to write the whole thing over switching from third person past to first person past. Always find the silver lining.

After this relationship, at 48 years old, I decided to call it quits. I had been along for long swathes of time before and I could do it again. Playing in the sandbox of love seemed too messy and even harder with the pandemic. And then, I met the man who would change me by letting me be myself. I felt connected to him from the first time I talked to him. Of course, I forbid myself from getting entangled in another long distance relationship, but the more we talked, the more my heart opened up. It is pretty magical to find a person that loves you exactly as you are, even the parts that aren’t so agreeable. It is magical when you can feel this way about someone else. I was listening to a Brene Brown podcast and there was a guest on that said the reason why relationships and marriages fail is often, one person or both tries to change the other into something they want, thus changing them from the person they fell in love with. This really hit me. I had been guilty of that. If I feel like I need to change someone, then they aren’t the person for me. I wish I would have learned that a long time ago.

But in this very free and open space that my boyfriend has given me, I am learning to trust. Not just another person, but my own instincts about my writing. He has been a muse of sorts and gave me the support I needed to get my first book in 10 years published. This started an avalanche of creativity for me and I am currently writing some of the best poems I have ever created in my life. This is a gift that has no price. Love is a powerful feeling. It is motivating. I had a poetry reading at our local bookstore, Card Carrying, and this was the first time I had done something like that in my own hometown. It really gave me that feeling of community connection.

This summer I found myself on the board of directors for Corning Public Theater. We put in some sweat equity on a building that had been empty for 20 years, a landmark in our community that we hope to make a gleaming jewel again. I can’t wait to see where this project takes me and all the lives we can make better through the arts.

This fall I had a series of events that led me to start creating Durable Goods again after a long hiatus. It is a micro-zine that used to feature poets in the small press, but in this incarnation it features abused children in a small Missouri town. I couldn’t feel any better about a project than I do this one. I love the idea of giving these kids a platform to share their work, to see that they matter in the world of writing even if they feel like they don’t matter at home. This is a limited print run series because it involves a lot of labor. If you are interested in one of the 75 spots available for next year’s Durable Goods: The Missouri Collective then you can email me at aleathiadrehmer@gmail.com. Barring any postage hikes, it is generally $6.50 for US and $13.00 for international. These prices are also dependent on the size of the class. It could be more or less. But, if you are interested in supporting these kids on their journey through writing you can contact me. Thank you Scot D. Young for jumpstarting this project with me.

This year I went on a three day, 22 mile hike in the Finger Lakes region and nearly died. It was great. This has been a year of breaking down conceptions of myself and seeing the truth. It was a lesson in pride and ego, a lesson of survival, a lesson of trust. Thank you Lisa for sharing that journey with me. It was life changing in so many ways. I can’t wait to do it again, but without the almost dying part.

Now it is time for a little roll call. I want to thank all of the presses and magazines (online and print) who took a chance on my work this year:

South Shore Review, Ambrosial Literary Garland, Red Penguin Collective, Heroin Love Songs, Anti-Heroin Chic, Impspired Magazine, Open Skies Quarterly, M 58 Poetry, Piker Press, Spillwords, Cajun Mutt Press, Pub Poetry, Fixator Press, Rusty Truck, Rasputin, Roadside Raven Review, Mollyhouse, and Red Fez.

I still have a few outstanding submissions I am waiting to hear from but this is the main group.

This year I read 34 books. I didn’t quite make the 50 I was hoping for but over the last five years reading long works has been harder for me. I do believe I have developed a little adult onset ADD. So I will take the 34 books because it was more than last year and the year before. I won’t list all of them, but here are a few of the ones that still roam around in my head from time to time:

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
The Beekeeper of Aleepo by Christy Lefteri
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD
Educated by Tara Westover

I read a lot of poetry this year and the two stand out collections that made me cry and feel angry and think so much I had to put the books down were:

Lord of Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
Bone Moon Palace by Paul Corman-Roberts

This is long so I will wrap it up. It has been a year of contemplation, self-discovery, and trust. It has been a year of friendship building…I love you Mattea, Lisa, and Stephanie. These are the most powerful women I know, each in their own way, and they lay the foundation for me to become a better person. It has been a year of preparing to let go, to at some point in the next year, be an empty nest. Sending your baby out into the world is the hardest thing a mother can do, but it is also the best thing. I wish you all happy holidays and a bounty of success in the next year.

Read. Write. Support small press.


Writing: Maiden Voyage: Hiking the Finger Lakes Trail, Part Three

Photo by Chelsea Kehrli

I awoke around 5:15 a.m. to a hard wind in the trees and the smell of rain. Since I was first up, I had to get the rest of the group moving. The weather report had called for rain by 9:00 a.m., and we didn’t want to end our trip hiking out in a storm. We prepared our packs with a rain fly just in case and left our raincoats out. All of us ate oatmeal and chugged some coffee. The night before we had gathered plenty of water to make it the final six miles out. We left the camp before the man and his son were awake so we didn’t get to say goodbye. I was able to pee again before we left and I felt I had turned the corner on a critical situation.

Photo by Monica Larkin

The initial part of the trail was a steep decline and then a reciprocating incline before it flattened out into something more gentle. It was a blessing because my legs were so tired and the rest of the group was definitely feeling the previous day’s trek. But with each incline my hamstrings and glutes revolted, and slowed me down, so I put myself at the back of the pack. I kept catching a lot of roots on that trail and stumbled a few times. I was worried about falling and paid closer attention to where I was stepping. When we emerged from the forest, it opened up to a dirt road that would serve as our last mile or two of the hike. I love a good home stretch and savored every step of this walk to the finish line. The pavement was like a re-entry to society. We were stepping back into life as we know it. Back to jobs and bills and soft beds. Part of me was ready for this, but part of me had a hunger for more.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

We all hopped into Chelsea’s car that we’d left at the end of the trail. Sitting on something soft felt like a luxury that I had taken for granted in my life. It was a short drive to drop off Mo at her car where we made plans to meet up for breakfast on the way out of town. The drive to pick up Lisa’s car moved us through the valley of the two ascents we had climbed. Lisa pointed up to an open swath of land and told me that was where we’d eaten lunch the day before. 

I started to cry thinking about what this human body could do. I’m crying now because the hike was challenging, but I had no idea exactly how high I had climbed. That moment changed the perspective on what I had achieved personally. Then Lisa turned and pointed to the other side of the road and showed me the second hill we climbed, the one that almost killed me. Though I realized at the end of the hike how unprepared I was physically, mentally, and emotionally for this trip, I greatly appreciated what my body did and what it could do again.

After we picked up Lisa’s car, we ordered breakfast to go from Caruso’s in Naples. We all smelled terrible so we ate our breakfast on the ledge of the library windows next door. I had a cinnamon raisin bagel with maple walnut cream cheese and real thick cut bacon. I could’ve cried over how delicious this tasted and how much I needed that moment of joy in my life. Less than five minutes later, the thunder and lightning started. We made it back to our cars just before the deluge. It was a blinding rainstorm and we could barely see the road. In every sense of the word, I felt thankful for my life. Every decision we made on that trail got us out of there before the rain.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

What I Learned

I learned hubris has no place on the trail. Before I left, I’d thought this hike would be no big deal. I was never more wrong in my whole life. I needed to be more mindful about how my body would handle this kind of exertion. It could have cost me my life.

I learned that sometimes it is okay to trust strangers. Despite the fact that I was the most inexperienced hiker on the trip, none of the women ever made me feel less than. They stopped to help me and taught me many lessons about hiking along the way. Even the strangers we met at the last camp were gracious, and gave us extra food and packed out our trash.

I learned that this body has a limit of about 9 miles with a 20+ pound pack (mine was 30-32 lbs if I’m honest). Not following the guidelines that Lisa gave me to only pack 20 lbs was a mistake that could have seriously injured me. Again, a point of hubris for me. I’m an avid disc golf player and my disc bag weighs at least 25 lbs. I had imagined that another 5 lbs wasn’t going to slow me down, but the difference was distance and elevation.

I learned I am one of those people that benefits from a higher carb to protein ratio for snacks and food if I am going to have enough energy. I’d packed mostly proteins and fats, which did not help when I had rhabdo on the second day. My body was carb and salt starved in the worst way. In all things, balance. I had not remembered that.

I learned that sober living is what I want to do. I’d chosen sober living after a series of drunken boyfriends in which I took on their environment of drinking. It stripped away everything about me I loved—my creativity, my drive, my energy, and writing. I’ve had one drink in the last two years and I regret nothing about staying sober. #LaCroix4ever

I learned I am stronger than I think I am on so many levels. 

I learned I can be my authentic self and people still like me. 

I learned that community and teamwork are everything.

I learned how isolated I’d become over the years, building up distrust for those around me because I was afraid of being hurt again. 

I learned there is a lot of healing still left to do. 

I learned I can call upon my ancestors for help and they’ll listen when I need it most.

This was a life changing journey that I am still feeling the effects of. My muscles were weak for over a week and I still have been tiring easily. I’m listening to my body for a change instead of the voice inside my head that tells me to push everything to the limit, even when the outcome will be bad. There were so many valuable lessons on this three-day trip. Still, so much to unpack mentally, but I’m here for it.

Thank you to Lisa, Chelsea, and Mo who supported me on this journey. My life was better with you in it. Thank you all for reading this incredibly long series of blogs. I hope you get out there and hike. The fresh air will do you good. Stay safe.

Writing: Taking Pause

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

I’ve been gone a month. A lot can happen with one doctor’s visit. It changes the landscape of an entire life. The end of August I got a new doctor, one that was local and in walking distance. During a basic exam she noted the large number of moles on my back and briefly scanned them, then asked if I had any more.

On the right side of my face between my ear and eye there has been a mole that I thought may have changed size. She immediately sat down and made me an appointment to see plastic surgery about this mole. I went and had a punch biopsy which returned positive for melanoma in situ. If you have to have cancer, this is the best one to have.

Yesterday, I had a wide excision of this mole that left a quarter size crater in the side of my face that they did not want to fully close in case they needed to remove more. Then we talked about skin grafting. Then I sat in my car alone and cried. The hope is the cancer is removed from that spot, but then there are the hundred other moles on my back that now need scrutiny.

I am not a sun worshiper. I do love the outdoors and have for many years sported a “farmer’s tan” from playing disc golf, hiking, walking and mowing the lawn. I never stay out in the sun for more than a few hours and wasn’t a big fan of hats or sunscreen. I wasn’t opposed to them, but I never thought they were necessary. Where I live, most of the population lacks sufficient vitamin D levels and I used the summer sun as a bolster to that. I never considered that I would get melanoma.

The last month has been full of not knowing. Questioning whether it was cancer or just a wayward mole. There was a lot of hoping for the best, but deep inside I knew what the answer would be. I’m a realist at heart. I know too much not to be. What I have learned is how surrounded by loving people I am. My friends have been uplifting even when I didn’t seem receptive to this. Knowing they are out there wishing the best has been helpful.

I’ve had to do a lot of pausing due to biopsy and surgery and in this I found the proper beginning to the novel I had finished in March. There has been a revitalization to my writing and maybe this comes with the fear that life is fleeting. Don’t waste time on thinking you’ll get to things later. Get to them now. Live robustly…but with sunscreen. #SPF100 for life

What This Pandemic Has Taught Me About Life and Writing

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

This new website was created to be less about personal life and more about a writer’s life. But yesterday I realized that these cannot be separated. Not if you are doing it right. Yesterday I was able to participate in a workshop put on by Shuffle Collective during their Weekend of Words. This has been a free event of poetry and writing. It is something to connect us in this time when we all feel physically and mentally disconnected from our surroundings. Allie Rigby spoke about writing from a sense of place, from the environment that you belong in, and it started me thinking (more than I had already been).

This pandemic has affected me in more positive ways than negative, and I consider myself lucky. It has taken out all the busyness of my life and pared it down to what matters the most. There has been time to start a new job, to complete projects, and to finish my novel. I have had the opportunity to get closer to my child in a meaningful, more adult way. This mother’s day I was treated to an insightful letter from my eighteen year old. I’m amazed at how far they have come in the world.

In this time, I have become closer with my two good girlfriends. This has always been a challenge for me. Women have continually stabbed me in the back my whole life. But these women have given me pause. They accept me with my array of faults and eccentric behaviors. They don’t mind that I’m a forgetful hummingbird most of the time. They lift me up when I can’t see myself in the mirror and let me know that the warped image I might see is not real.

For poetry month, I did something different. I jumped on an acquaintance’s prompt train because I was determined not to write a month of death poems for my mother. Not this year. Not ever again. He has always been a poet that I admired and one that I published when I was in that capacity years ago. Every night for a month, we wrote poems as a call and response. I had never done this before. I had always gotten a prompt and had to dig up, sometimes painfully, a poem that I only 40% liked.

This was different. Everyday, I collected random lines from the world. Things from nature or memories that floated into my head. The worries about pandemic and fragile loved ones. The grief of losing a way of life I didn’t realize I had established. At the end of the night, I would take his prompt and construct a poem from what I collected. It was an organic feeling. It was beautiful. What a gift to be able to see something new about yourself and your craft. I’m forever grateful to him for this. Along the way, we found a friendship too that is more deep and centered than I might have expected. 

I’m not sure I have ever felt more whole in my entire life. All the years of grief and death. All the losses and terrible endings. All that suffering feels washed away with spring rain. This pandemic will change us all. Some in good ways and others not so much, but I think perspective means everything. This is a time when nature and universe has given every living being the opportunity to look inside themselves and see what they are made of. You owe it to yourself to do this instead of grasping at what was or what should have been.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women I know who are loving their kids, other people’s kids, fur babies, and lifting other mothers with their compassion. It’s a great day to be alive.