Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Never Too Late to Change a Life (Life Changing Moments Series)

I'm so happy to share Glenda Council Beall with the MNINB audience today. Glenda attended one of my classes at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference last year. What I really appreciate about her post today is the story of how she needed encouragement to fully pursue her writing. While I think a tough skin and inner drive is important to the success of writers, we also need a nice word or two as we struggle along. Glenda grew up in south Georgia and is a graduate of the University of Georgia. She taught children for 15 years and now teaches adults to follow their dreams of writing, whether for themselves, their families or for the public. Her poetry, stories and essays have been published in journals, magazines and anthologies. She lives in the mountains of western NC.


Glenda Council Beall

In 1995, I was a new resident of Hayesville, a small town in the western part of rural North Carolina. I had recently picked up a brochure for the North Carolina Writers' Network. I joined hoping to glean knowledge about the organization through their newsletter. Little did I know that a phone call and an offer from a local poet would change my life.

I had been writing since I was in second grade, however as I grew older I did not share it with anyone. My high school English teacher, Miss Feagan, wrote in red on a poem I'd written in class, "Submit this to a magazine."

The insecure little girl inside me scoffed, "Don't! No way anyone would publish your poem." I never sent it in.

A Rough Start
In my 20s, I wrote a travel article for our local newspaper. The last paragraph was sacrificed for lack of space. Humiliated, I hoped no one I knew would see it.

I had always been shy, never raising my hand in class even when I knew the answer. I grew up with older brothers who teased and laughed at me. I don't remember when the innocent child became the insecure kid. My inability to speak up, to draw attention to myself, became a huge handicap throughout my life. Eventually, I learned to keep silent.

I had been married a few years when I saw an ad in my local newspaper for a creative writing class at the Junior College across town. My husband encouraged me in anything I wanted to do. I had shared my writing with him. Being a musician, he knew the artist in me needed release. I signed up for the writing class.

A short, dark-haired man sat beside a table in front of the classroom. Every seat was taken. He looked at us and spoke, his hands clasped over his rotund belly, "I am going to be honest with you," he said. "We have a full house tonight, but by the end of this class half of you will quit, the other half will be crying."

He smiled at our shocked faces, quite happy with himself. Most of us did quit that night. Why wait around to cry?

I felt like a squashed butterfly. My fantasies of being a published writer dissipated on my drive home. I closeted my writing for another 25 years. Later, we moved to the mountains of North Carolina--into an artist colony, it seemed. But I was not part of it.

An Unexpected Call
You can imagine my surprise when I answered the phone that evening, and it was the poet, Nancy Simpson. She said, "I see you are a writer, and you recently joined the North Carolina Writers' Network. I'm Program Coordinator for NCWN West, and I teach writing and poetry at the John C. Campbell Folk School."

Why was she calling me? Was she going to ask for a donation? Did she have me confused with someone else?

"I'm teaching a poetry class beginning this month. Do you write poetry?"

"Sometimes," I admitted. My pulse raced. Her next words sent my emotions reeling.

"I can offer a scholarship for my class. Would you like to have it?"

To say yes would be a commitment to more than just taking a class. I sensed this was my opportunity.

Old familiar feelings of unworthiness raised their ugly heads. As badly as I wanted to say yes, they said no. "Well, I--I don't write much poetry." I offered as a disclaimer.

Actually I had always enjoyed writing poetry, but I wasn't sure if my work would be up to the standards of my classmates. Nancy assured me the other students were like me--some were beginners. Before I knew it, I had told her I would accept the scholarship. I hung up the phone and tried to deal with my fears and my excitement. Exhilarated that I had been chosen to take a free week-long class, I laughed out loud. I had to call my husband. I knew he would be happy for me.

Nancy was a far superior teacher to the mean-spirited little man back home. She gave us time to get to know each other, tell about our writing history, and then began to teach us what we needed to learn about free verse and lyric poetry. When she asked us to read some of our work, I almost bolted from the room. My throat felt as if I had swallowed a dozen marshmallows, and they stuck. But I sensed for the first time that my audience was with me, wanted me to do well, and if my work wasn't that good, no one was going to make me feel bad.

A New Start
Nancy Simpson's phone call and welcome to NCWN completely turned my life around. She was the first person to validate my writing. "Yes," she told me when I handed her some verses on paper, "This is a poem."

I met other supportive writers and poets who have become life-long friends. We critique hard, while still encouraging each other to continue to write. One thing I know now. My writing is for me, and if it is published somewhere, I'm glad. But if nothing I wrote was published, I'd still be a writer. It is a part of me as essential as breathing, and has always been that way. Therefore, I encourage anyone who enjoys expressing himself or herself through the written word.

Because of my appreciation of what NCWN West had done for me, I became a volunteer. Nancy appointed me Clay County Representative. Shirley Uphouse, her successor as Program Coordinator, asked me to serve as publicity chair for Netwest. In 2007, I became Program Coordinator for our ninety-member organization.

My family could not believe the timid, self-conscious person they knew was now standing before groups and making speeches, reading her work before audiences, writing articles for newspapers and publishing her poetry.

In 2009, Finishing Line Press published my poetry book, Now Might as Well be Then.

I opened a writing studio in my home where others and I teach writing and poetry.

I am presently working on another poetry collection and submitting stories and essays.

I strive to support other poets and writers because there are others who, like me, just need encouragement, validation, a push to open the door and share their talent. We all fear opening our hearts to strangers, revealing deepest emotions in our poems, handing over our most precious, most fragile thoughts for others to trample or to admire. But that is the risk we must be willing to take to become a published writer.

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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

10 comments:

Danielle Navonne said...

"..if nothing I wrote was published, I'd still be a writer." I love this statement! When I first revived my writing, I struggled with telling people I was writer because my publishing credits weren't numerous. I felt like I couldn't call myself a writer until I had that. Talking to a friend changed my perspective, and I now share the sentiments of this quote.

Inspiring story, Glenda. Thanks for sharing!

Mark K said...

Sir,

This might be a slight shock to you, or not, but I've added you to a list of writers for 'The Lucky 7 Meme'.

I hope this does not cause offence? Should you feel like taking part, please pop over to my blog for further information.

Thank you for your time.

Mark

Deb Colarossi said...

Glenda?
This made me cry.
I am so happy for you.
And after I follow all the links and get to 'know' you better, read some of your work...
I may just change my profile to say that I am a writer.
Thank you.

Lei said...

Awesome post, to say the least.

My writing is for me, and if it is published somewhere, I'm glad. But if nothing I wrote was published, I'd still be a writer. It is a part of me as essential as breathing, and has always been that way.

Love this. Thank you for sharing! :)

Richard Fenwick said...

I have a very shy side that often hinders that other side of me - the one that wants to become a part of the writing community. I want to thank your writer for this...for me, it's incredibly inspiring.

Lauren Gilbert said...

I loved this article! I totally understand those feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Thank you for sharing!

tipper said...

I'm so glad you finally got to share your work with the public Glenda-cause I sure do enjoy it : )

Great words of encouragement for all writers!

Rebecca said...

Glenda -
I love how much our lives can change when we put ourselves "out there." You joined the NCWN - you took the first step. And look at all that has come since!

I feel so blessed to have been one of your students. I would never have imagined that you - my confident, encouraging teacher - were once scared to read your work aloud.

Thank you for "passing it forward."
-Rebecca

bgabriel said...

Wonderful, inspiring essay. As a writer just beginning to publish, the small dark hours before dawn is when I doubt myself. You are so right in pointing out that "...if nothing I wrote was publish, I'd still be a writer." Thank you for inspiring, teaching and mentoring writers like me.

Carole said...

You might like this quote on it being "never too late" - the author of it was a female novelist. http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/it-is-never-too-late.html