where life's not empty, it's restless.

The Un-cool Writers’ Club

1003375_10204029713357348_4120200472773550975_n-1 If you aspire to be a cool writer, then whatever you do, don’t hang out with me. I am your worst nightmare. Here’s why: for starters, I am old, so old I may as well tell you how old. 58. Fifty-eight! This would be acceptable if I had published many volumes by now. But no: I just published my very first book. And my book is a memoir. This might be acceptable if I was a recovering addict or had escaped the Taliban. But no: I am the daughter of a beautiful, smart woman who drew an unlucky card called younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and that is what I wrote about. Worse, my current work-in-progress is also a memoir, on an equally unhip topic: faith and doubt.

There’s more. I did not get my Master of Fine Arts degree until I was 53: enough said. And I have another career, which confuses people. IMG_0871It’s a reasonably cool career—documentary filmmaking—but alas, I’ve never had a film at Sundance (which would vault me right into the category of Permanently Cool). And I make films with my husband, which is way less cool than if I were doing it solo. Speaking of my husband: we’ve been married 27 years. Yikes! Just call us Ward and June!

And then there’s my lifetime issue of not wanting to be mean. In fact, right now, writing this, I’m uncomfortable with the whiff of snarkiness I detect; the implication that I don’t like cool writers, because I do. I like many cool writers. But that is not my point. My point is this: over my 58 years, I have learned, sometimes reluctantly but ultimately with relief, how wonderful, how freeing, it is to live life as not only an un-cool writer, but an un-cool person.

My education in un-coolness started early. There were painful drills, there were pop quizzes. But I faced my first big exam at the beginning of 9th grade at Seattle’s Eckstein Junior High School. All the aspiring cool girls, my sad self among them, hoped to be selected for something called “Girls Club,” which involved wearing special scarves and blouses once a week and engaging in lightweight service projects. Really, “Girls Club” was a sanctioned clique. My best friend—the one with whom I’d bought journals and real fountain pens and candles and browsed for old-fashioned children’s books at David Ishii’s bookstore in Pioneer Square—made the Girls Club cut. I did not. She dropped me with stunning speed.

When I came up for air after a good long cry, I realized what a great gift this was. I had been spared all the stress and effort it would have taken to retain my status as a Girls Club girl. I was free! Free to be my un-cool self. To keep on writing in my ink-stained journals; to keep on riding my bike to David Ishii’s or the Arboretum or anywhere else I could curl up with a book, undisturbed by cool people.

My junior high years coincided with my parents’ divorce, which, in that long-ago era, was definitely not a cool thing. But it was my Goddard College MFA advisor, Victoria Nelson, who helped me understand, decades later, how the divorce contributed to my liberation. Arlene and 6 kidsAll those hours I spent babysitting my younger brother and sisters while my mother went back to college gave me freedom to continue on my un-cool, future-writer path: unsupervised by adults, unseen by cool peers, I could write my fervent, un-cool poems and journal entries and read, read, read while my siblings watched cartoons or played. Sometimes we played school, with me as teacher. Or pioneers, or explorers. So not cool. I loved it.

And now that I’m a late-blooming, un-cool author, I’m more grateful than ever for the un-cool path that got me here. Not much I can do about my age. Nor my attraction to the wrong subjects. Nor my love of memoir writing, the actual hours spent writing, for which I credit my first Goddard advisor, Michael Klein, who taught me that memoir writing could be part poetry, part journalism, part essay: a hybrid, a blend, not unlike documentary filmmaking. Not unlike the way my restless brain has always worked.

The path of the un-cool writer is unpredictable. It’s more likely to result in rewards that can be measured in moments—conversations I’ve had after readings, emails from long-lost friends—than in big royalty checks or New York Times reviews. But it is the path I’m on, and I am grateful every day.

Upcoming readings: April 1, 7pm: St. James Cathedral Parish Hall, Seattle.  April 30, 7pm: The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, North Carolina.


Buy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.




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10 thoughts on “The Un-cool Writers’ Club

  1. This is beautiful.

  2. Ann, you are anything but uncool. Your accomplishments are recognized and celebrated by many, including this “uncool” 58 year old. Funny, I don’t even remember Girl’s Club, which obviously means I missed the cut too. Thank you for this wonderful message. As someone who has been trying to write a book for years, your words are music to my ears!

  3. A good post. Just bought your book on Kindle. (I am uncool as I am a man in Memoir. 😉 Only man in my memoir class)

  4. Well put, my dear. Again, as I said, you-know-who’s premise wasn’t even true. Look at all of the publishing and producing Goddard graduates have done. I’ve told you in the past I wanted to be you when I grew up so apparently I’m uncool too. Hugs.

  5. Right behind you, I hope. You were my role model at Goddard, and in many ways after.

  6. I’m an uncool writer who’s even older than you, HOWEVER, I started writing my book two-plus years ago when I was MUCH younger. My novel focuses on a fictional family’s Alzheimer’s journey, especially as family dysfunction gets thrown into the mix with sibling rivalry to boot! I’ve received 9 rejections thus far out of 50 queries – thus far – and I know I’ll have many more queries to add to my Query Tracker Spreadsheet. My hope is that I get published before I qualify for Medicare. I loved your book and am looking forward to your memoir on faith and doubt, a concept about which I can relate. Irene from Redmond, Washington

  7. Irene, I have learned in the last few days that this is a club with many members. Stay uncool and keep writing!

  8. Ann, I’m with you all the way. What’s cool? I dunno. Ice cream. Snow. A breeze. A cucumber. Kool Aide. Everything else is uncool, especially that sun up there, which I hear is one of the hottest things going.

  9. sirenaross on said:

    Everyone in the Pacific Northwest is cool. It’s our default setting. I enjoyed this.

  10. I’ll be attending Goddard for my MFA this June. I’d love to hear about your experience, and I can’t wait to check out more of your writing. Thank you for sharing.

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