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Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014

A birthday gift to remember

Friday, July 27, 2012

During a phone call to my oldest daughter on her birthday I reminded her that when I was about her age she put out the idea for my birthday gift. The family had been suggesting for some time that I write something for publication. My excuse was always the same. I had no education beyond my English classes in high school that would give me reason to believe anything I wrote would be good enough for the public to read. She was determined to shove that excuse into oblivion. That year I received a gift certificate that enrolled me in a Writer's Workshop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

It was the best birthday present ever. I still had a ten year old and two teenagers at home but with the other four launched into the college or the adult world, leaving home to live in a college dorm for a couple of weeks was doable. It gave me time to think seriously about giving writing a try. I had many misgivings as I drove north to the campus.

I talked to myself, out loud, all the way there. "What do you think you are doing? You don't even know what you want to do with anything you learn." The next breath heard me debating the other side of the issue. "Who cares what anyone else thinks about you? You will probably never have to see anyone you meet there again. Maybe the other students will be as stupid about all of this as you are. You can do it." The debate raged back and forth during my drive, interrupted only by a few whispered prayers.

As it turned out, there were only six other people taking the workshop. They were all adults of varying ages. I fit right in. One lady was already a columnist for a locally published newspaper writing about cooking and baking and sharing recipes. I wondered why she would even come. That sounded like she had already reached a goal the rest of us would like to claim.

I loved every minute of my time there. The most fun was when we were taken on field trips and then challenged to write about something we had observed. Our professor gave me lots of encouragement and one thing he said really stuck with me. He told us that we should expect to get rejection letters but that should not hold us back. A rejection from one editor didn't mean there wasn't another one out there who would accept the submission. If you were a writer, you would get rejection letters.

When we weren't in class I was enjoying my free time, too. I was the only student staying on campus and being alone gave me permission to do anything that pleased me. It had been a long time since I could do whatever I wanted without giving a thought as to what someone else wanted to do. I took long walks. I spent time in their Olympic-size pool. The campus is on the outer edge of what began as a Dutch settlement. That is still the predominant background of most of the business owners and the town's residents. That means everywhere I walked I saw neat yards, nicely painted homes and gorgeous weed-free fields. I spent time sitting in the park to read and work on my assignments. It was wonderful.

Back home I began spending whatever time I could afford pounding away on the keys of my electric typewriter. Free time was hard to come by as I still had kids to drive here or there, activities of theirs to attend, meals to make and all that goes with being a wife, mother and homemaker. I did manage to write a couple of stories and send them off to see what would happen. The day I got my first response from an editor, I ran up the lane from the mailbox waving the letter over my head and yelling, "I'm a writer! I'm a writer!" The family thought I had sold my story. I had not. It was a rejection letter, but as my professor had said, if you are a writer you will get rejection letters. This letter was an endorsement that I was now a member of the writers' community.

As we reminisced about all of this during our phone conversation, she told me she had just had an idea for what she wanted for her next major milestone birthday. She wants her kids to send her to a Radio Talk-Show Hostess workshop. That morning she had been invited to be interviewed on a talk show. She is the director of Habitat for Humanity in her area of Kansas. This is a charity that guides volunteers who build homes for people in need. The radio interview was a visit with her about the work of her volunteers. But she found it so much fun and so exciting that she wants that to be her next career. I'll pass this information along to her offspring. Good luck in fulfilling that dream, kids.

By Mary S. Roder
Musing With Mary