A Mother’s Creative Legacy

Legacy of creativity
Wednesday, June 14, Ruth Suckow Memorial Library, Earlville, Iowa, 6:30 pm.

Living a Legacy of Creativity, with author Mary Potter Kenyon
Growing up, little Mary Potter frequented the stacks of the Earlville library, with the goal of reading every single book on the shelves. By the time she began working there as a teen, she’d come close. With parents who encouraged book-reading, and a mother who demonstrated uncommon creativity in her everyday life, Mary dreamed of becoming a writer and librarian someday. Now, she is both. Potter Kenyon will encourage, inspire, and entertain with a power point presentation on how a legacy of creativity fed a dream that would result in hundreds of published pieces in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and five traditionally published books, including the award-winning “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace.”

I’m working on this power point presentation this morning. I’ll be presenting it at library in the small town I grew up in. With classical music playing in the background, I arrange slides that include photos of my mother’s creative endeavors; the woodcarvings, quilts, paintings, pastel portraits, and even a teddy bear made from a coat I used to wear as a child.

I’m revising the power point I’d designed and presented to a group of homeschooling mothers in early 2012, a month before my husband died.  That presentation was in homage to my mother who’d passed away in November 2010, leaving a legacy of creativity and faith behind. As the “keeper of her words,” I’d inherited some of her notebooks and a Memory Book that made it clear that her greatest desire was for her children and grandchildren to utilize their God-given talents in their walk to Heaven’s gate. It was evident she held no doubt that each of them possessed talent.

That had been the central theme of my presentation to young mothers; the reminder that each of them had talent that could be worked into their everyday life. I’d later present a modified version to a group of women who were of retirement age. The young mothers had complained “they didn’t have time” and the older women lamented that “it was too late,” neither of which is true, of course.  We can make time for what is important to us, and it is never too late.

I had no idea then that I would lose the man who had become the wind beneath my creative wings, or that the outline of my presentation would become the framework for a future book encouraging women, young and old alike, to utilize their own creativity. Nor could I have imagined then that I would eventually form a lifelong learning group for the same purpose, but that’s exactly what has transpired. On my off hours at home, I’m developing a book proposal for a book on creativity. At work, I’m in the midst of planning a “Creativity Circle” that will begin meeting in the Dyersville library in September.

I might have had no idea what was in store, but God did. He went before me, and was with me through it all. I haven’t forgotten the faith part of the legacy my mother left. My walk Home might not resemble hers, but neither of us would claim our respective talents came from anywhere but God, The Creator. In preparing to write my book proposal, I’m immersing myself in dozens of books on creativity. I’m amazed to discover how many authors go to great lengths to avoid attributing talent and creativity to the ultimate Creator, instead talking about the Universe, or the power within.

Exodus 35:30-33 “Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.”

What would Mom do? Top 5 Reasons to Attend a Writer’s Conference

It seems fitting to discuss writer’s conferences on Mother’s Day, because for many years the only Mother’s Day request I had was for time alone to write. My favorite gift from my husband or one of my older children was a gift certificate for a local restaurant, along with a promise to watch the kids while I took myself out for breakfast and wrote for two hours. I was a self-taught writer who’d learned the basics of query letters, manuscript formatting, and book proposal writing from the many books and magazines I pored over. Conferences and classes seemed like what a “real writer” would do, not a mom of eight who clutched madly to what little creative time she could get.

The first writer’s conference I attended was the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa the summer of 2011. I’d been writing for nearly twenty years by then, but it wasn’t until my own mother’s death that I made the decision to take my writing seriously.

When Mom passed away in November 2010 (on my birthday, no less) she left very little in the way of material items. It was her artwork we desired; the quilts, teddy bears, paintings, and woodcarvings that embodied her creative legacy.  As the writer in the family, I inherited many of her notebooks, journals, and several versions of three unpublished manuscripts. In her writing, I discovered two distinct themes; my mother’s strong desire that her children get to Heaven, along with her fervent hope that each of them would utilize their God-given talents while here on earth. Repeatedly, she wrote about her dreams for her children and grandchildren. It was evident that she never doubted for a moment that every single one of them had talent.

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newspaper3.jpgWhile I’d briefly considered attending a writer’s conference one year, the cost seemed prohibitive. After Mom died, I asked myself what she would do if she’d had that kind of opportunity to further her creative endeavors. My interest in the conference was just as much spiritual as it was creative, a way to hone my craft while fueling my faith. My husband not only encouraged my attendance, he insisted it was high time I invested in myself, something that people who believe in us tend to see long before we do. I believed my mother would have said the same thing.

I’ve never looked back. Every year since 2011, I’ve set aside tax refund money and kept the dates of that Cedar Falls workshop open so I could attend. I look forward to it all year long. When I was being interviewed in February for my current job, I made it clear; “The schedule sounds fine, but there’s a week in June when I will be attending a conference.”

Why would I recommend writers or aspiring writers attend a conference or class? There are many reasons, but here are my top five:

To learn more about the craft of writing. I believe in lifelong learning. No matter our level of expertise in writing, there is always something new to learn. Sometimes we have to make a commitment to hone our craft and that commitment might involve both time and money. Committing to a conference or a class could be the first step in taking our writing seriously. Call it an investment in yourself. I tell attendees in my writing classes that paying for a class gives them a reason for taking time out of their busy days to write. “Tell your husband or your kids that you paid good money for a writing class so now you need to write and sell something to recoup your money.” If you take yourself seriously, others will take you seriously, too.

To learn more about the business side of publishing. It’s not enough to be a good writer; you also have to learn about the ever-changing world of publishing. What is a book proposal? How do I write a query letter? How can I build up my platform? Do I need an agent? Where do I find markets for my work? These are questions you can find the answers to at conferences and workshops.

To connect and network with other writers. There is nothing more enjoyable than “talking shop” with another writer who understands the foibles and follies of the world of writing. Writers at conferences and workshops share markets with each other, commiserate about rejections, and support each other’s accomplishments. I’ve made life-long friends at each conference I’ve attended. My world has gotten so much bigger in the last few years. It was at a conference that I met my mentors (and good friends), Shelly Beach and Cecil Murphey.

To meet and network with editors, publishers, or agents. Not everyone who attends a conference ends up sitting next to an agent at a lunch table and subsequently signing a contract with her husband a few months later, but I did. I’ve developed both personal and professional relationships with editors and agents at conferences. While initially the prospect of meeting with an agent or editor was quite daunting to me, I’ve experienced some wonderful conversations with several. I can’t speak for non-Christian conferences but those I’ve conversed with at the Christian conferences have been wonderful. Of course, the easiest conversations are those I’ve had without the anxiety of attempting to sell something.

Amazing things happen at Christian writing conferences. Again, I can’t speak for all conferences as I’ve only attended Christian ones, but I’ve found that if I pray fervently before, during, and after a conference, and keep my eyes and heart open to God, amazing things have transpired at each of the conferences I’ve attended, some so powerful they’re difficult to talk about without crying.

This advice doesn’t just apply to writers; I would encourage all creative people continue learning and honing their craft throughout their life, whether that is painting, drawing, music, or quilting. During some seasons of our life, it might have to be simply checking out library books or subscribing to magazines on the subject, but if time and money permit, a class or conference can be a great jump-start to living creatively!

Maybe the best Mother’s Day gift is a gift you give to yourself; enrolling in a class or workshop.