Slough May 6, 2018


Amy Lynn Reifsnyder

May 6, 2018


There is always a space between an assignment and the beginning of an essay or article where I go through the Slough of “I Can’t Do This!” It’s an awful place, full of small, biting remarks – memories, if you will, of nasty comments made by people I no longer associate with: “You can’t do this.” “You’re never going to be able to make a living from your writing.” “No one will buy your work.” “No one even likes your work.” “Your too wordy.” And other such discouraging platitudes.

Take this morning, for example.

No, wait, let’s start a few pages back.

Several years ago, I started an online Master of Arts English program with Southern New Hampshire University. I took courses while traveling – which I strongly suggest you not do – and passed/failed/passed/failed/passed regularly. I took this past year off to re-evaluate my purpose. I am tired of failing.

I am on this endeavor for several reasons.

Reason #1. While I have a degree in Spanish, and have taught Spanish successfully, I have always felt like a poser. I am a white woman of German heritage who grew up in an English- and Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking community. I can read Spanish (and German), write Spanish (and German), and speak Spanish (and German). But when I speak Spanish, I sound exactly like a white girl who knows textbook Spanish. In a country where Spanish is becoming a semi-official language, there are millions of native speakers who should be teaching the language, not me.

Reason #2. I taught Reading in a high school several years ago. I was required to teach from a scripted text (“While holding the green card in your right hand, walk to the left and say …”) which all of the students had placed into based on standardized tests scores. All of the students had placed into this level repeatedly. Some of them were there for the fifth time. I was dismayed. Obviously, they hadn’t had a decent teacher. Come to find out, for several years, they didn’t have any teacher at all! In many schools in Arizona, the teacher shortage means classrooms full of students sit the hour with one another and have no instruction due to lack of educated and certified teachers.

Vanity of vanities, I thought, I taught English at the community college level. I’ll get my degree and certification in English and go and teach the joys and wonders of dangling modifiers, parallelism, subject/verb agreement. I will be able to knowledgeably discuss literary techniques, and impart this glorious wisdom to my students.

I’ll also meet and get to read and write and chat with other geeks like me … OOoohhh, the joy …

Ah, hem, I was saying:

Reason #3. I write. And, while Arizona and other Parts West may be willing to hire a teacher in her late 50s, at some point, I may want to stay out of the classroom, and actually finish any number of stories, screen plays, essays, etc., which I have started. I think it would be nice to have my work published, my films produced, my poetry engraved somewhere. I figure, nobody will care if I’m a wrinkled old hag pounding away on a keyboard, as long as what I write has merit. Taking writing courses will improve my writing style, teach me the jargon of ‘the business’, and maybe I can meet some folks along the way who will offer more encouraging support.

So, here I am, Sunday morning, with an essay due by 11:59 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time. I have homework. An essay explaining the difference between reading like a reader, and reading like a writer. I can do this. I’ve even taught this. So, why, at 6 a.m. am, do I wake with fear and dread in my heart? Why, considering, all the times I started and stopped and started and was stopped and started again, ad infinitum, do I feel like a Whack-a-Mole who should Just Stay DOWN!?

I won’t, of course. Despite – or because of? – the agitation, I’ll do my homework. I’ll work to improve my writing style. I’ll finish the film script by the competition deadline. I’ll tutor and teach writing classes. I’ll continue to grow. I just wish I could do this without plowing through the morass of “I Can’t” when I know I can. Drives me nuts.


I took the dog for a walk, and somewhere between the pond and the juniper, began composing what I’ll write later today: “A comfortable chair, a rainy day, a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book are sometimes all you need ….”

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