“You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings
Learn to use them and fly.”
I have a secret.
It is perhaps not the best-kept secret, but a secret nonetheless. And no, I’m not pregnant (at least, I hope not), and I’m not going to be a grandma (at least, I hope not). I haven’t discovered a really nifty way to eliminate calories and fat grams from all things chocolate (I’m getting close, though–I know it!), and I haven’t figured out how to stop worrying about all those events that will most likely never happen (I would lie and say I’m getting close on that one, too, but no one would believe me).
And I haven’t sold the movie rights to the book I haven’t written. When that book is finally written, I’ll give the movie rights to my three talented sons and let them work their magic–as long as that magic includes convincing Jennifer Aniston or Michelle Pfeiffer to play the part of me. (And if not, then Betty White and Doris Roberts can mud wrestle for the winner-take-all opportunity.)
No, my secret isn’t as dramatic as any of those possibilities, but it is every bit as exciting.
Three days from now, while most of the people in my little corner of the world are still sleeping soundly, I will be making a five-hour drive north to Kansas City to make a three-hour flight east to a place I’ve never been . . . Washington, D.C. To say that I’m excited is an extreme understatement; I am giddier than a junior high girl who just found out (via triangle-folded note) that the boy she likes this week likes her back. Twinkling eyes, goofy grin, high-pitched squeal threatening escape . . . yep, giddy.
And here’s why:
When I decided almost two years ago to retire at the end of this year, I knew I wanted to focus the next stage of my life on writing, with the ultimate goal of someday–someday!–writing a book, but I also knew I needed help in reaching that goal. Where to begin? I started looking for writing conferences to attend, places I could go to learn from other writers who had already “been there, done that”; unfortunately, most of the writing conferences were remotely located, extremely expensive, and quite intimidating. And then in December I came across an inexpensive, one-day workshop with writers, editors and publishers in Washington, D.C., in the middle of cherry blossom season. Let me repeat: writing conference, Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms–a chance to scratch off three items on the bucket list in one big swoop–perfect!
Now, I realize to some of you attending a writing conference would be the epitome of mind-numbing, shoot-me-now boredom, but for this geeky gal it’s the first spark of a dream that has been almost 40 years in the making. You see, I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since the third grade when my short story about talking mushrooms was selected over all other entries (even the sixth graders’!) to be featured in the school district newsletter. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since high school when some of my essays and poems were included in the literary magazine and my position as newspaper editor allowed me to write all the editorials that no one else cared to write. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since college when my English major fueled a passion for good literature and my journalism major sparked an interest in investigative reporting and feature writing. I dreamed of writing for a major magazine, seeing my words in print and my byline at the top of the page.
But then I got scared. Magazine writing was fast-paced, aggressive and competitive, and I was afraid I just wasn’t good enough. And so I added education hours to my transcript and chose teaching instead–a safe alternative that would allow me to share my passion for literature and writing with young people, and then maybe some of them would be good enough and courageous enough to pursue my dream (and some of them have been). Teaching has brought me tremendous joy and fulfillment, and I have never once regretted my decision to follow that career path. But now that this first career is coming to an end, I’m back to where I started–with perhaps with a little more courage this time around. I have been knocking (timidly, but still knocking) on a few doors of opportunity, and the doors have been swinging wide open.
A dream postponed is not a dream forgotten.
But I digress. Back to my trip:
By January I had done all my research, and I was ready to approach my husband with my idea of attending the conference and building in a couple extra days for sight-seeing. I knew (and he knew) that I didn’t need his permission to go, but I did want his blessings–and he kindly gave them. He didn’t want me traveling alone, though, and insisted I find someone to go with me. At first I was offended; I mean, good grief, I’m a big girl, capable of hopping on and off a plane, hailing a taxi, and mapping routes from a hotel to sites of interest. But the more he insisted, the more I realized he was probably right (I hate when that happens); a travel companion would provide good company, increased safety and decreased expenses. It had to be someone else who was interested in photography, though–someone who wouldn’t roll her eyes or sigh heavily or fight to contain her boredom as I stopped to take 50 pictures of every structure from 50 different angles.
And so I thought of Patty–a former student who is a fantastic photographer and who has also dreamed of someday visiting D.C. She was thrilled by my suggestion, her sweet husband gave his blessings as well, and we were set–and then our dream trip got even better when our mutual friend Jamie, who lives outside of D.C. and is an amazing photographer himself, graciously offered to be our host and tour guide. Since that original offer, he has mapped out our entire stay, which will include Friday visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the various memorials and monuments, the National Mall, the Smithsonian Museums and U.S. Botanic Gardens as well as a Sunday drive through the Virginia countryside and a tour of his friend’s winery (Barrel Oak Winery). This is so much more than I could have ever hoped to accomplish on my own, and allowing someone else to take care of all the sight-seeing and transportation details has been a huge relief (maybe I’m not such a “big girl” after all).
With one big worry tossed aside, I can now focus all my worrying on a few less significant but no less troubling concerns, most of which revolve around the fact that I will be hanging out with people a “little” younger than I am: 1. What if I snore? I swear I don’t, but my husband swears I do–what if I’m so loud they can corroborate his story from their adjoining rooms? 2. What if I get leg cramps in the middle of the night and wake them with my blood-curdling screams? Will I scare them senseless–and will they forgive me? 3. What if I’m so worried about the first two possibilities that I can’t sleep at all–and then doze off on the metro, mouth wide open and slobber dribbling down my chin? 4. And what if they realize within mere hours that even though I might be funny/interesting/silly while chatting on Facebook, I’m actually pretty quiet and boring in person? Will they try to “accidentally” lose me in the crowds at the National Mall? It wouldn’t be that hard.
And of course, this small-town girl with the southern Missouri accent has a few worries about the big-city writing conference she’ll be attending on Saturday. What does one even wear to such an event? (I doubt that it’s currently hanging in my closet.) Will all the other writers already have published works to discuss? Will they turn away in horror when they realize I am just now (at my age!) starting on this journey–or turn up their noses in disgust when they discover I’m a mere blogger (a blogger!)? And if I share with them some of my recent recognitions or the opportunities already appearing on my not-so-distant horizon, will they be less likely to sneer? Perhaps most intimidating of all will be meeting with the attending magazine editors and small-press publishers and having them critique samples of my writing. I’ve never opened myself up to such judgment, and it’s a frightening proposition with potentially painful consequences–but also a necessary one if I’m ever going to take the next step toward turning that dream postponed into a dream fulfilled.
In my 30 years on the job I have never taken off three days of work to do something just for me–in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a personal day at all–but this opportunity was too good, too enticing to pass up. Because of this year’s early spring weather, most of the cherry blossoms have come and gone (which just gives me a reason to go back sometime), but no matter–I will still be challenging myself with the writing conference, and I will still be seeing and photographing some beautiful, awe-inspiring sites while in the company of two great friends. I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m grateful, and I’m just a little bit scared.
But most of all, I’m giddy.
- Early morning at the Arlington Memorial Bridge and just one of the many shots I’m hoping to capture. Photo by my friend Jamie L. Adams. To see more of his photos of the Washington, D.C., area, please visit his blog, The Laughing Bunny.