Mary Potter Kenyon, an 18-year veteran homeschooler, applies the principles of lifetime learning to her own freelance writing. From the years of scribbling rough drafts on legal pads in snatched moments while her babies slept, to branching out on the Internet and acquiring an agent, Mary will discuss what she has learned in her 20 years as a writer. Mary’s writing has been featured in magazines, newspapers and anthologies and she is currently working on a non-fiction research book about extreme coupon users.
Sounds like something I might like to hear.
Oh yeah, it’s me.
When I was in high school my dad used to tell me that I had two obvious talents; writing and talking.
I’ve been practicing and refining the writing portion of that equation for the last 20 years.
The speaking, not so much.
I was in drama and speech in high school, and did quite well, winning blue ribbons and medals at speech contests and playing some major roles on stage, including Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I did a few more speeches in college. While I didn’t make speeches as a columnist for a newspaper, I did conduct interviews and attend meetings where it was necessary to talk to mayors and school board presidents. And then for a good ten years between 1998 and 2008, I lived in the country and kind of isolated myself. I still wrote, continued to get published, but for days on end the only adults I spoke to were my husband or the mailman, and maybe the butcher at the local Fareway. It doesn’t take long for the conversational ability to atrophy. I will never, ever, forget the night I took Michael and Rachel to a rural 4-H meeting to see if they wanted to join. It must have been around 6 years ago. One of the leaders asked me to introduce our family. I told the group our names. Another leader asked where I grew up, and I answered. She asked what my parents had done for a living, and a little flustered, I replied that my dad had many odd jobs, including working at the local gas pump, cleaning, and security at the Super Valu store in Manchester.
“And your mother?”
“My mother was an artist. She carved wud, er wud,” my voice trailed off and my eyes widened as I realized I was mispronouncing the word WOOD. Everyone was staring at me, waiting for me to finish.
My hands felt clammy, my heart raced. How could I not be able to say WOOD? What was the matter with me?
“She is an artist,” I finished lamely, blushing furiously.
No one spoke to me the rest of the night as they went on to conduct the meeting. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair and felt devastated for my two children who had only wanted to join something. We were all excluded from the remainder of the meeting and no one tried to stop us when we left early.
The car was quiet on the way home, until Michael snorted in the back seat. “Wood, Mom? Were you trying to say wood?” Then Rachel started laughing. Before long we were laughing so hard our sides ached and tears poured down our cheeks. It turns out the kids hadn’t wanted to join anyway, the minute they heard the members saying they were going to bring lima beans and canned beets to the next meeting for the annual Thanksgiving drive for the poor. Lima beans and beets? Weren’t they missing the point of generosity and compassion? And then they had the gall to laugh about it and think of other nasty food they could bring. Yet the leaders never intervened or chided them for their behavior.
In hindsight, isolation did little for either me or my children, and moving into town has been good for all of us. Besides giving me an opportunity to see sisters regularly, even walking and talking with them, I’ve found myself having regular conversations with adults and even making speeches and doing presentations before various groups, and getting better at it each time. My voice carries well and I never experience what I’ve heard some people talk about: a fear of public speaking. On the contrary, I actually look forward to it, especially when I am talking about something I am so excited about: writing. My friend Mary’s PEN women group is on the roster next, August 21,and I’ve been working on that speech the better part of this week. I’m confident I’ll do fine.
As long as no one asks me what my mother does.