Finding Community

I’ve been calling myself a writer for less than a month now.  To tell the truth, I feel more like a poser than a writer.  Just say you’re a writer, and POOF, you’re a writer?  Surely it’s not that simple, though I suppose other people have found acceptance anointing themselves with labels much more controversial than “writer.”  To give myself a better sense of belonging, I have attempted to participate in activities with other writers, the kind who actually publish works, earn money, provide instruction, and the like.

Today, hoping to feel more a part of the writing community, I participated in Automattic’s online “wwwp5k.”  This worldwide event is taking place this week, October 26th through November 1st with writers and other creative types charting their own courses then blogging and sharing photos of their experiences.  Here’s mine:

I had originally planned to stage my personal 5K at the beach this weekend, but the combination of an altered work schedule and a soggy forecast convinced me to take advantage of today’s amazing fall weather closer to home.  I decided to take my usual route at a local jogging track.  I walk there sometimes, rarely thinking much about what I see or hear, but today was different.  Today I needed to see through the eyes of others, listen with the ears of others who wouldn’t be present themselves.

The mile markers at this track are a collection of boulders mounted in concrete with metal plaques to label the type of rock and the distance from the starting point.  I’m not sure how this idea came about, but I imagine a local geology professor with these enormous specimens in his garage.  Then I imagine his wife, less fond of the rocks than he is.  Maybe he chose to donate them to share his knowledge and passion and to make peace at home.  Maybe not, but it’s a good story.

rock marker

Like many tracks, this one surrounds playing fields for various sports: soccer, baseball, softball, even ultimate Frisbee.  It’s fall now, however, and this is Texas, which can mean only one thing: football!  The stands are filling with parents, grandparents, and siblings who have come to cheer on these tiny NFL hopefuls.  Loud music blasts from the speakers, but even so I hear the coach bark into the huddle, “Gentlemen, I will not tolerate losing today!  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir!” they respond in unison.  I feel intimidated, threatened even, but they seem to take it as just another part of the game.  I continue my walk wondering how I might have responded to that kind of “encouragement” at age 8.  I’m pretty sure I would have cried.

fans    football

On the far side of the football field, toddlers play on the “Big Toy.”  They spin, slide, and swing showing off their physical prowess to proud parents who stand at the ready just in case.  A man passes by with his German shepherd on his way to the dog park.  Walkers, runners, and joggers approach me from behind, pass, and are gone.  On most days I keep up a little better, but today I am busy capturing images on my phone and in my mind.

big toy

I meet a friend walking the opposite way on the track.  Normally we would stop briefly and chat, but today she is talking on the phone, so we just wave.  I stop to check on the community garden.  Flowers bloom, and vegetable plants are laden with peppers and cucumbers.

peppers more peppers

I take the fork in the track that circles a pond where I stop to watch a stack of turtles lounging on a wooden platform.  They seem oblivious until I take their picture.  Once they notice me, they leave their perch, one by one, diving into the murky water.  I feel bad for disturbing them.  The last part of the track leads me across a small bridge then past the statue honoring a hometown hero.

N Ryan statue

This hometown isn’t mine.  I consider myself a visitor here.  On this day, however, while trying to make my way into one community, it seems I have found my place in another.

shadow

As I approach my “finish line,” the sun has begun to set behind me.  My shadow is long and narrow, two words that would not normally describe me.  In the distance I hear the football announcer.  The home team has scored a touchdown and the extra point.  There is more loud music and plenty of cow bell.  Everyone is happy.  Except maybe the turtles.

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Dudley Johnson, Storyteller

texas stories

“Big Magic” happened again.  If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been participating in the Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge.  Sunday’s assignment was to interview an expert for a blog post.  My initial reaction was, “On a Sunday?  Are you kidding me?  Where am I going to find an expert on a Sunday?”  Almost immediately, I dismissed the idea as impossible, at least as far as it happening on Sunday.  Even if I did pursue the idea, I was pretty sure I would need to define “expert” differently than most people might.  And that’s exactly where I left it.  Or at least I thought I was leaving it.

On the way to church I mentioned it to my mother.  Again, I questioned, “Where am I going to find an expert on a Sunday?”  She didn’t have an answer, of course, but she listened as I processed my idea of “expert.”  I didn’t think I was really ready to contact a writing expert, someone who earns a living in the writing/editing/publishing world.  That seemed far too intimidating, and I knew I would have a lengthy wait for a response.  If I was going to maintain momentum in this challenge, I needed it to happen quickly.  So, I shifted my focus.  Since my blog is really a “stage” for stories, maybe I could find a storyteller, someone local who could share something of interest with my readers and me.  I even had a couple of people in mind.  And that’s where I thought I was leaving it again, because, “Where am I going to find an expert on a Sunday?”

As I entered the sanctuary at church, I was greeted by a fellow congregant who eagerly announced to all who entered that another church member, Dudley Johnson, had written a book.   Exciting news to be sure, but then I saw the title, Collection of Texas Stories!  Not a novel.  Not a self-help book.  Not a memoir.  Stories!  I had found my expert.  On a Sunday, no less!

It was clear from the beginning of our conversation that Dudley was not comfortable with the idea of being an expert.  He made sure I understood this was his first book.  “Expert,” it turns out, is a relative term.  I reasoned that if he had gone through the process of telling those stories from first thought to hard cover, glossy dust jacket, name-on-the-front, book in his hand, then he was much closer to being an expert than I was.

While he was not too keen on his sudden elevation to “expert,” Dudley seemed just fine with helping out a fellow writer in need of material and graciously agreed to an email interview.  Here’s what he had to offer about his own storytelling, writing, and publishing adventure:

IBG: Tell us a little about yourself and your careers other than writing.

DJ: I was born in Karnes County, Texas.  Karnes County is about half way between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. I grew up in the farm and ranch business.  My father put me on my first horse when I was 18 months old.  Over the years I did just about anything you can do using horses.

My life in the petrochemical industry started at the bottom and worked my way up the ladder to being a pipeline consultant with customers in Europe and South America.  The last “big” contract was to commission an ethylene pipeline in Brazil. The line is 300 hundred miles long.  I hired a business friend of mine that developed a new process of commissioning ethylene pipelines.  We had no way of knowing if his process would work.  It did, and we were the first in the world to use it.  Today everyone in that industry uses that process.

IBG: Do you consider yourself a writer, a storyteller, or both?

DJ: At this point I consider myself as a story teller that cannot speak due to being a throat cancer survivor.  So I write.  It isn’t as pleasant as sitting around a warm camp fire with a good cup of coffee on a chilly night at deer camp telling stories.

IBG: How did you become interested in storytelling and writing?

DJ: It has been my ambition to write ever since high school.  There was never enough time to write raising a family and working.

IBG: Share a little bit about how you developed that interest into the beautiful book I held in my hands this morning.

DJ: I love Texas history and consider myself very knowledgeable about early Texas.  Also some of these stories are based on things that I have been involved in.

IBG: You told me you always write two books at once.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that and/or anything else about your writing process?

DJ: I decided early on in writing one story that when I would hit a time that the story just stopped, I would walk away and come back later then start again.  I compare it with working a jigsaw puzzle.  Sometimes you have to walk off and come back later to find the right piece. It is the same with putting words on paper.

IBG: What are you currently working on?  What can we look forward to next from Dudley Johnson?

DJ: The next book will have two short novels. They are longer than the short stories and more detailed than a short story.  I have completed another novel that is about finding a Spanish Galleon that is overloaded with gold and silver that sunk off the coast of Florida. The story starts with the beginning of the ship leaving Spain going to the “New World.” It ends with modern day treasure hunters looking for it.  I am also working on a historic novel about a family that came to America during the time of the American Revolution.  I have just finished the second generation and am planning on the third generation as the family moves across the American frontier.  Right now I am editing the last three books.

I enjoyed getting to know Dudley Johnson, and I am looking forward to purchasing my own copy of Collection of Texas Stories. You can get yours too at Xlibris.com, Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com.  Hardback, paperback, and ebook are all available.

Don’t forget, if you have a story to share, please do so in the comments.  It can be short, long, sweet, funny, sad, with a moral or without.  Every story deserves to be told!

Affirmations

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was pretty, I would have exactly one dollar.  Thanks, Mom.  –as seen on Facebook

This quote reminds me of my mom, except it’s really the opposite of my mom.  When I was growing up, little girls wore dresses pretty much everywhere except to play.  Any occasion was a dress-up event, and I was always decked out, frequently in dresses my mom had made.  I loved those dresses and was so proud to wear them, especially when I had helped pick out the pattern and the fabric.  When I got in the car after school or church or a birthday party, my mom never failed to ask, “Did they tell you how pretty you are?”

Fairly often, the answer was yes.  Lots of people admired those pretty dresses.  Sometimes, though, no one mentioned my appearance.  When the answer was no, Mom always replied, “Well, those crazy people!”

People don’t dress up much anymore, at least not the way we did when I was a child.  Dresses are no longer expected, much less required.  I still enjoy wearing pretty dresses, though.  I wear them to church and to the theater and other special places.  When I’m dressed up and feeling especially pretty, I like it if someone notices.  If they don’t, I just think, Those crazy people!

It may seem like arrogance, but that’s not the case at all.  It isn’t about being a “diva” or thinking I’m better than anyone else.  It’s more like an affirmation in reverse, a way to call up strength and confidence.  It has served me well, and I have generalized its use to other qualities beyond my appearance.  If someone doesn’t recognize my value in any given situation (you know, like group projects in school or committees at work), Well, those crazy people!

I know I’m fortunate to have a mother who thinks I’m pretty, smart, and worthy of her love and attention.  Not everyone has that.  BUT, I think any one of us can create a similar influence on those around us, and if need be, we can do the same for ourselves.

If you’re old enough, you might remember Stewart Smalley from Saturday Night Live.  This Al Franken character hosted a talk show called “Daily Affirmations.”  His opening always included this now famous affirmation: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! Although Stewart Smalley was a parody meant to make fun of an emerging mental health movement, his words are valuable and timeless.

It’s difficult to think about affirmations without hearing the voice of Viola Davis, “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  In The Help, Davis’s character, Aibileen, knew how necessary it was for Mae Mobley to grow up knowing her worth.  She also knew no one else was going to guide Mae in that direction, so she took it upon herself.  We can do the same for those around us.

My friend, Edna, is good at showing others how important they are.  Her morning greeting might sound something like, “Good morning, Ida, Princess of the Rising Sun!”  I have to admit, this usually elicits an eye roll from me.  It’s a little too early for such exuberance in my opinion.  She is not discouraged, however.  She simply prompts the “correct” response from me, and I repeat it dutifully, “Good morning, Edna, Goddess of the Fading Moon!”  The day begins with both of us feeling like royalty.  Who couldn’t use a start like that?

So, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was pretty?  I might have more money than I have right now, but it doesn’t matter.  Either way, my life is rich.

If you need an affirmation for yourself or to pass along to someone else, feel free to borrow one from this post.  If you have an affirmation that works for you or that was taught to you by someone special, please share it in the comments.  It’s always good to spread the wealth.

Stories

You should write a book!  People tell me that a lot.  I don’t disagree, but I also don’t write books.  Or much of anything, really.  I should.  Writing is something I enjoy, and other people seem to enjoy reading what I write.  I guess it’s like a lot of things.  When I have more time… When the house is clean…  When I retire…  Finally, in the waning days of September, just as October approached, the stars aligned.

I retired a little over a year ago which means I have more time, and my house is clean, or at least as clean as my house ever is.  To tell you the truth, I probably still wouldn’t have sat down to write except for two emails that showed up, one right after the other.  The first one announced a “platform challenge,” a month-long, task-a-day roadmap to creating a writing platform.  It sounded like the very thing I needed to get me moving from thinking about writing to doing writing.  The second email was an advertisement for 40% off the new Elizabeth Gilbert book, Big Magic.  Even though I don’t write, I do read about writing, and the subtitle, Creative Living Beyond Fear, was the second kick in the pants I needed to get me to this point.  Apparently, Gilbert is some kind of writers’ psychic.  She managed to list every single excuse, fear, doubt, and imagined roadblock I had ever thought or uttered, from, “I’ll write when I have more time,” to “I’m too old to start.”  Coincidence?  Serendipity?  One of Squire Rushnell’s Godwinks?  Gilbert’s Big Magic?  Whatever you want to call it, those two emails moved me to action like nothing else ever has.

So, there it is.  The story of how I became a writer of material for public consumption with encouragement from Elizabeth Gilbert and step-by-step instruction from Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest.  It is unremarkable, maybe even a little boring.  But that’s okay.  It is a story just the same. And stories are important.  They give us insight to others, ourselves, and the world around us.  They preserve our history, reveal our humanity, and provide shared experiences we might not have otherwise.  They entertain us, soothe us, and inspire us.   

I hope this blog will become a place for stories to live.  A place where those who need a story can find one to read and those who need to tell a story can do so knowing there will be an audience.  So, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine if you prefer, and let’s share some stories.