I’ve got a rotten head cold. The best medicine for the post-holiday blues and a head cold is a box of books on your doorstep. Though this box seems to be holding an awful lot of paper products.
“What were you thinking?”
I imagined my husband’s reaction. Heard his voice in my head when I opened up the box containing my latest win on eBay; 600 vintage advertising pencils.
You read that right; 600 pencils. (And the husband’s voice, despite his death nearly eight years ago? If you’ve never heard the voice of your dead father, mother, or other loved one who has passed away maybe you just aren’t listening close enough.)
What was I thinking when I ordered 200 pencils before Christmas? Whatever possessed me to order another 600?
What was I thinking? This:
Legacy of the Magic Pencil: Engaging power point presentation on reconnecting with your innate creativity, this workshop serves as a jumpstart to the creative life each of us was designed for. Presentation includes a brief background on creativity research and a reflective writing exercise that encourages looking back to childhood interests for clues to our true passions. Attendees will receive their own “magic pencil,” as a reminder that sometimes all it takes to succeed in our writing is for a single person to believe in us; our own self.
With my book, Called to Be Creative, coming out in September, I’m looking ahead to hosting workshops and presentations on creativity. I’m planning at least two trips in late 2020 and early 2021 that will combine pleasure (visiting daughter Emily in CA and sister Joan in FL) with business (promoting my book). Each person who attends one of my workshops will leave with their own magic pencil.
But these can’t be just any pencil; they have to be genuine vintage, in decent shape, with an interesting name or place imprinted on them.
Not all of the first batch of 200 met that criteria, and less than half of the 600 will. In fact, I was initially disappointed when sorting through them to discover the majority were actually art pencils; pastel, watercolor and charcoal. At least I was disappointed until I tried a few, and then I was in awe of the deep, bold colors. It suddenly seemed fitting that much of the lot I’d purchased in honor of my artistic mother consisted of art pencils. It also seemed fitting that inside the box I discovered a single thin Stanley advertising pencil identical to the one that prompted the topic of this book in the first place:
After the last of my mother’s things were removed from her house, I walked slowly through the rooms, checking for missed items, dusting every bare surface. My three youngest daughters trailed behind me. The inventory check and last-minute cleaning also served as a delay to saying goodbye to the home I’d grown up in. The house had become a refuge for me in the previous months while I’d treated it as a private writing retreat. It was hard to let it go. It was the final day before we’d close the house for good and turn the keys over to a realtor.
Running my dust cloth along the windowpanes of the front porch that had served as Mom’s workroom, I contemplated all the hours she’d spent in there. My fingertips hit an object that gave a little, sliding across the sill of one window. It was an extremely thin pencil emblazoned with advertising. I held it aloft for my daughters to see.
“Look. One of Grandma’s magic pencils,” I teased. “Just think. This is a pencil she probably used to draw rough sketches for what would later become a painting.”
The girls were well aware of Grandma’s talent, impressed by her wood carvings, her barn board and canvas paintings, and the quilts and teddy bears she’d crafted. They considered her a bona fide artist. Their mother? Not so much. Scribbling down words hardly seemed a creative endeavor in comparison to painting, drawing, or wood carving. They’d never even seen the thin folder I kept hidden away in a cabinet: quirky sketches and pastel creations I’d saved from the art classes I’d loved as a teen. I’d always been enticed by creativity in its many forms, skipping the more useful home economics classes for art, drama, and creative writing.
That afternoon, I sat at my kitchen table, my mother’s pencil in hand, a sheet of plain white printer paper in front of me. “I used to enjoy art classes,” I thought wistfully, wondering if I’d retained any artistic ability. As a teen, I’d labored over sketches depicting the bare bones of winter trees, with looming trunks and spindly branches, never quite having mastered the leaves. My art teacher had praised those drawings.
I began sketching, pleased to see a tree taking form on the paper. I hadn’t noticed eleven-year-old Katie approach. I looked up when I heard a gasp, my eyes meeting Katie’s incredulous pair. I smiled at her apparent shock, holding up the pencil with a flourish.
“You drew that?” she asked. “You can’t draw! It really is a magic pencil. Can I try it next?” — From Called to Be Creative, Familius, Sept. 2020
The pencils that satisfy my criteria will nearly fill my leather-look tote-bag with the map design, the one I plan on taking with me when I travel.
I can imagine it now; the inevitable hold-up at airport security when the noise of rolling pencils in the bag attracts suspicion.
“Open it up,” one of the airline security workers will order, and I’ll do so, revealing hundreds of sharpened pencils.
His eyes will narrow. His lips tighten. He’ll call one his co-workers over. They’ll lean in for a closer look. Whisper to each other. Finally, they’ll look up from the tote, shaking their heads, and one of them will say it:
“What were you thinking?”
I vividly recall that June day in 2011, standing outside the door of a building where a writing conference was being held, steeling myself for whatever, or more accurately whoever, was on the other side. I’d heard about the annual Cedar Falls Christian writer’s conference the previous year but doubted it was meant for someone like me. Though a Christian, my writing wasn’t targeted for Christian markets. Despite having a book released by a small publisher in 1996 and hundreds of published clips, I still didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer. Surely everyone in the room would have had multiple books published, likely by big Christian publishers. They’d be making a living off their writing, spending hours every day honing their craft. Conferences weren’t for people like me; a stay-at-home mom writing to maintain a semblance of creativity as I struggled to raise children and make ends meet.
It took every ounce of courage I had to walk through those doors into a room filled with people I was certain were more prolific than me. It had to be God’s providence that I sat next to a woman whose reply to my “What do you write” query was that she penned handwritten letters as a ministry. I relaxed. Maybe I did belong there. I would soon discover the surge of creative energy that happens in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I learned, and am still learning, about the publishing world from more experienced authors. Simply put, I found my tribe, netting mentors and friends in the writing community.
Nine years and some six published books later, I’m firmly entrenched on the other side of that door. Convinced we are all here to help each other fulfill our God-given potential, I’ve taught workshops at that same conference every year since, and at community colleges, libraries, and my workplace as Program Coordinator at a spirituality center. Inevitably, I hear that familiar lament “I’m not a real writer.”
“If you’re writing, you’re a writer,” I insist as I strive to encourage other wordsmiths to believe in themselves, half the battle in defeating writing angst. Learning the trade is important too.
Shalom Spirituality Center will be hosting a writer’s conference Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15. Twila Belk, also known as the “Gotta Tell Somebody Gal,” will be keynote speaker for the Faith Writers Writing Conference. Twila is the author of seven books and directed the Quad Cities Christian Writers Conference for eight years. Her newest book, The Power to Be: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous, is a 40-day devotional from Broadstreet Publishing.
Other presenters include fiction authors Shelly Beach and Patti Stockdale, nonfiction authors Mary Potter Kenyon and Linda McCann, UNI professor Doug Shaw, Loras professor Kevin Koch, and Dubuque poet Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff.
Attendees can choose from presentations on writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, marketing and book proposals. Whether a seasoned or aspiring writer there will be workshops to choose from, along with inspirational messages and opportunities for networking with professionals in the writing industry. Follow the Faith Writers Facebook Page for updates.
The conference will be held at Shalom Spirituality Center, 1001 Davis Street, in Dubuque. The cost of the two-day conference is $100, which includes lunch both days. An overnight option that includes a room, lunch both days and Saturday morning breakfast is $150. Partial scholarships are available. Register & prepay by Monday, February 10. Call 563-582-3592 to register. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to apply for a scholarship.