Called to Be Creative, contest, Debbie Macomber, giveaway, writing

Happy Blog Birthday! A Gift for You~

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I began this blog eleven years ago, in June 2009. I was 49 years old. Four of my eight children still lived at home. The youngest would turn six that summer and my oldest had yet to turn 30. My husband David had survived cancer and our marriage was the best it had ever been. Determined to write another book before I turned 50, and spurred on by a supportive spouse, I’d made the decision to chronicle the history of couponing and refunding, a topic I had lived and breathed since 1979. Aware of the importance of a “platform,” I  began blogging. The original title of this blog was “Mary Potter Kenyon: A Housewife Writer Dishes on Writing.” That somewhat old-fashioned, probably politically-incorrect housewife moniker was abandoned a few years later. A month after my initial blog posting, on July 4, 2009, encouraged by my husband to “begin already,” I spent a good ten hours at my kitchen table, frantically writing while drinking copious amounts of coffee. I completed an outline and what would become the first two chapters of  Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession

Three years later, failing to have sold the completed book, I would lose the man who inspired it. Three days after coming home from the hospital following a heart stent surgery, David died sometime during the night.

Signing a contract seven months after his death, the book that had been his idea in the first place appeared in our local Barnes & Noble window in the summer of 2013. Which just goes to show you; dreams can come true, but not always in the way or the timing we’d choose. Still numb with grief, I was devoid of emotion when I first spotted the display, valiantly attempting to feel what I was supposed to be feeling as an author whose book had just been released.

barnes and noble

Occasionally, I succeeded. I am reminded of this when I see photos of me taken at various book-related events; when my smile is genuine and reaches the eyes.

I signed five more book contracts in the ensuing six years. Coupon Crazy had been my husband’s idea. Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage was our love story; a marriage revitalized by caregiving through cancer. Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace chronicled the losses of mother (2010), husband (2012), and grandson (2013) in the space of three years. It was just as much a story of faith as it was of grief. Neither of those books would have been written without my relationship with David, or the loss of him.

Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, co-written with my long-time friend Mary Jedlicka Humston, was a turning point for me as an author. The subject matter, female friendship, while not directly related to grieving, still included details of how our friendship dramatically changed following my husband’s death.

At times I felt like I was a spectator, watching her enjoy what I had not been able to with the release of each of my previous books; books that would not have existed without David. It felt like both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because, as a co-author, I could vicariously enjoy what I had missed. A curse, because what I’d lost became all the more obvious, the loneliness heightened as I observed what it was to share one’s success with a spouse. When her husband Jim graciously brought flowers to both of us at a reading, I had to turn my face away lest he see the tears that were not his doing.

Expressive Writing for Healing: Journal Your Way From Grief to Hope, was a perfect companion to the expressive writing for healing workshops I began doing five years ago. While it’s debut in April 2018 fell through the cracks of my increasingly busy life (I was working on another book, looking for a new job and about to face a big move), I can honestly say it was the first book released since 2011 that I’ve experienced no residual sadness upon it’s release, which is interesting, considering the topic was, once again, grief-related.

So we come, full-circle, some eleven years after this aspiring book author’s feeble attempt to build a platform. A sixth book to be released since that day in 2009 when I began blogging. A book that began as a file folder labeled “Creativity” in early 2011, has come to fruition nine years later. And while grief does make a cameo appearance,  (creativity is proven to be a healing tool), I feel nothing but excitement for the book that #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber endorsed this way: “I devoured this book. Each chapter is filled with encouragement and inspiration. If you’re looking for something to feed your creative soul, this is it.”

FM - Called to Be Creative - Cover_r3 (1)

Called to Be Creative is for anyone looking to reignite that tiny spark inside of them and invite creativity into their lives through simple, everyday practices. A certified grief counselor and a Program Coordinator for Shalom Spirituality Center, Mary Potter Kenyon walks you step by step through the process of exploring your true potential in this inspirational guide to embracing your innate creativity. With in-depth research from the most notable creative authorities, insight from creative pioneers, her personal experiences, and small activities to kick-start your own creative revolution, Kenyon offers you everything you need to live a more creative life.

This book feels every bit the celebration my blog anniversary deserves. And there are two ways my blog readers can join in on the celebration. One way is to enter a drawing for a free signed advance copy of Called to Be Creative. To enter, simply comment beneath this blog post. One winner will be drawn on July 28

The other way is to enter a Goodreads giveaway for a copy. You can actually do both, to up your odds of winning.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Called to Be Creative by Mary Potter Kenyon

Called to Be Creative

by Mary Potter Kenyon

Giveaway ends July 20, 2020.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Called to Be Creative, creativity, death, faith, grief

Remember the Best. Erase the Rest?

eraser pencilSorting through my vintage pencils yesterday, I came across this interesting specimen that sports an eraser as long as the pencil itself. What a novel idea, though I’m not sure how the length would fare with actual use, the rubbery tip giving with any pressure. Surely it would break off? My first thought was to search eBay for more of the same, to give out at writer’s workshops. “Erase the Rest. Go with the Best,” is perfect advice for writers. Rough drafts are…well, rough… They aren’t meant to be submitted. I always advise edits and revision. Reading pieces out loud to hear rough spots. Making sure the final manuscript is well-edited before submission, and even then, setting work aside until morning and looking it over again. Good writers only submit their best work.

But what about memories? Should we attempt to erase bad memories, concentrating only on the good? At first glance, that seems sound advice. It stands to reason that if we only think happy thoughts, we’ll be happier. Science supports this platitude. I discuss the elements of happiness and creativity in my upcoming Called to Be Creative

“More grief?” someone commented two years ago when I shared I was working on another book. She didn’t attempt to hide the derisive tone or the eye-roll. The words stung, long after her quick apology.

For the record, I’ve written about couponing, refunding, saving money, friendship, and caregiving. I’ve had hundreds of articles and human interest pieces, unrelated to grief, published in magazines and newspapers.

But, yes, it does seem that grief sneaks into my everyday conversation.  Thanks to this morning’s Facebook’s “Memories on this Day” app, I can say with some assurance that it was eight years ago today we discovered my young grandson’s cancer had returned. According to a heart surgeon later that month, it was also the date my husband’s evening shoulder pain indicated the first in a series of small heart attacks.

Those aren’t pleasant memories by any means, and some might wonder why I even address their “unpleasantness” on my blog.

Those memories are part of me. I am who I am today because of them. As much as I wish my husband had not died that March, or my grandson the following year, they did. I can’t erase the truth, nor should I, considering how those losses changed me.

“Interest in how trauma can be a catalyst for positive change took hold in the mid-1990’s, when the term ‘posttraumatic growth’ was introduced by pioneering scholars Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Posttraumatic growth occurs when a person utilizes hardships and life trauma to grow in their interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and yes, creativity. This proved true for me on all fronts. I’m no longer the person I was before I lost mother, husband, and a grandson in the space of three years. In the seven years following my husband’s death, I signed six book contracts, coordinated an annual grief retreat, became a public speaker and workshop presenter, established a large network of mentors and friends, and developed a personal relationship with God in the process. My husband foresaw the professional achievements, but no one who knew me just ten years ago could have predicted either the spiritual or the relationship changes, least of all me.” — from “Called to Be Creative”

While it’s true my next book is about creativity, loss and grief do make several cameo appearances. How could they not? The death of my mother in 2010 prompted the idea for the book. If a woman raising ten children in a poverty-stricken household could manage to create, wasn’t there hope for the rest of us? If she left behind a creative legacy in a masterpiece of a well-lived life, how could we do the same? For two years, I delved into research, interviewed people who were living a creative life, and formed two different creativity groups to test my jumpstart activities on. The result is a book that is meant to educate, inspire, and ignite the latent creativity we all carry within us. Grieving my mother was the impetus to write the book.

“The creative process is far too often inspired by our most painful experiences rather than our most inspiring ones. It would not be a stretch to say that for many artists, authenticity and tragedy are inseparable,” Erwin Raphael McManus writes in The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art.

If I could erase the bad memories; the moment the doctor closed the door after informing my daughter her five-year-old son had cancer, the sight of my husband in a hospital bed after stent surgery, the five long seconds of disbelief when I discovered him unresponsive in his chair— would I? Would I delete those moments? After all, it is those vivid memories that bring a piercing ache to my chest, a single sob choked back, the threat of tears in a public place.

Perhaps my latest creative project answers that question. When I decoupaged the top of an old desk, I chose photos, newspaper clippings and words that inspired and lifted me. I glued the word Miracle next to my grandson’s photo, not because we were given a miracle healing, but because his presence in our life, however short, was the miracle.

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God was there in all of it…in every single moment. While I thought my heart was breaking in two when my husband died, it was actually breaking wide open, allowing me to become a different person. In those dark months that followed, I knew instinctively what I needed, and I turned to God. He walked before me and with me.

I revel in the good memories of those people who have gone Home before me. I am grateful for the loved ones who are still here. I count myself blessed.

But no, I would not erase a slew of bad memories to risk losing even one good moment. Those memories made me who I am, they are a part of me, and I will not apologize for mentioning them.

 

artist, Called to Be Creative, creativity

What Were You Thinking?

“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?

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My first lot of 200
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600 “vintage” pencil lot, those to the left of the box are actually art pencils, to the right, definitely NOT vintage. Sorry Hannah Montana, you don’t fit the criteria~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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These are the kinds of pencils I’m looking for! The Stanley Home Products one is identical to my mother’s “magic pencil” mentioned in my book.

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.

bag

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?”