What Matters to Ginny McReynolds

Posted inWhat Matters

Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Ginny McReynolds is a 72-year-old lesbian, writer and longtime community college English, journalism and communications teacher. Retired now, she writes about how women are reinventing themselves and finding new meaning and purpose in retirement. Read her blog at: www.finallytimeforthis.com

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

It’s been said many times before, but I love having written. I actually really enjoy writing when I have an idea and it’s working, but during the slogging portion of writing, I often feel tortured. I feel so happy when something I’m writing comes together as I imagined it might and then readers will comment that they see themselves in what I’ve written. That means more than anything. I also love spending time with my partner, when she is working on her creative pursuits and I am engaged in mine.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I was in 7th grade in 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. At the time, it was such a profound event—the dramatic murder of this man who seemed to my 12-year-old self to be the best president we’d ever had (he was actually only the second president in my life). I was so shaken and disturbed by the event that I wrote a poem about it. I had never written anything like that before, and I’m sure it was more prose than poetry since I am not a poet at all. But the words just poured out of me. I showed it to my aunt, who liked it so much she sent it in to the local newspaper, which was publishing people’s responses and comments following the assassination. The paper finally published a book of many of them, including mine, and the book eventually made its way to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. The experience certainly didn’t change my life, but it planted a seed in me that has remained. It is always writing that I turn to when I want to understand what I feel and what’s happening in my life.

What is your biggest regret?

My biggest regret is that it took me so long to feel brave. For much of my life I valued not making waves or drawing attention to myself over exploration, vulnerability, and simply standing proudly in the world as I am. That lack of courage kept me from applying for certain jobs, living in new places, taking myself more seriously as a writer, and just enjoying who I was all of those years. I’m so much more confident now, and I have to remind myself that it’s not too late to believe this fully in myself.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

In some ways, I think we don’t really get over heartbreak. For me, after days or weeks or months of feeling sorry for myself, or wallowing in loneliness, I realize that I just end up moving forward. But the sadness, the loss, and the what-ifs remain as part of who I am. I have been fortunate to have much more joy than heartbreak, but those very hard times helped me uncover other sides of me and to bring those out into the light.

What makes you cry?

I’ve never been a big crier, and Prozac has made me even less of one, so I know that when I do cry it is such a real feeling. These days, it is almost always something sentimental that makes me cry—an old song, reading my mother’s words in a journal I found of hers after she died, a movie that ends with a twist, something great happening to someone I love dearly.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

In its fullest form, maybe a good 36 hours. After that, I start picking it apart, determining I could have done better. Or, I wait for the other shoe to drop, to learn that what I thought I accomplished wasn’t that great after all. I’m working on being in the moment much more than when I was younger and reminding myself that everything is a kind of accomplishment—that it’s me being alive in the world and thriving. And for that, I’m trying to remember to pat myself on the back.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I definitely believe there is something after this. Sometimes I think it’s just a whole new life experience—in a different place at a different time. Other times I think it doesn’t look anything like this and that we will have no sense of anything except being where we are. I don’t believe it’s good or bad, though, any more than this life is.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I hate it that I have spent a huge amount of time in my life trying to prevent something bad from happening. I grew up in an emotionally tenuous family and it made me watchful from an early age. Even with lots of therapy, it took me years to understand that I couldn’t control things outside myself, that focusing on what might happen is fruitless, and that I will actually be fine no matter what occurs. I still go there with some regularity, but I don’t travel nearly as far down that road as I used to. I practice equanimity now whenever I possibly can.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love that I feel hopeful. I haven’t always. In fact, it almost seems that I have felt the most hope when I gave up looking for it. But I truly believe that things will work out for us all and that means we will survive whatever happens. This seems like a crazy time in the world to hold on to hope, but on a personal level, I believe we are good and that we will find connection when we need it. We really aren’t alone.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

My absolute favorite meal is one prepared by me and my partner and any set of our close friends. I used to hate “potlucks” because they were such a lesbian cliché, but now I love a meal constructed by several of us, with attention to the way the foods connect to the occasion and to each of us. It’s such a symbol of how we have all grown together over the years.