I’ve often said in the writing workshops I teach that I make the mistakes so you don’t have to. Learn about my journey as a writer here:
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.
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.”
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.
As a writer, I’d been looking for that perfect word to describe these last three months as I’ve worked from home, experiencing social distancing and isolation. The initial fear, the continued anxiety. Heightened loneliness. That pervading sense of uncertainty. I most definitely was not comfortable. I valiantly searched for ways and tools to navigate this unknown: journaling, reading devotionals and inspirational writing, taking walks, keeping busy with work-related tasks, and yes, some unhealthy ways too…binge-watching too much television, imbibing in more comfort food.
But mostly, I’ve been waiting…
Waiting for what? For things to get back to normal? Some days, the uncertainty of that can feel paralyzing.
As a writer, I am used to doing a certain amount of writing- if you count journaling and letters, daily writing. Yet two unfinished essays sat on my desktop for the last three months, and I’ve wondered why.
Oh, I’ve still been writing: Monday morning meditations for my workplace, working with my editor on my upcoming Called to Be Creative… an essay here, a blog post there.
Then a friend casually mentioned how my writing was a break for me, and I recoiled from those words- a break? Everything in me screamed NO…writing is my passion! It’s not a break; it’s my work, work that doesn’t feel like work. My other job. Taking an afternoon walk; now, that’s a break.
Until I suddenly realized she was right. I had been treating writing as a “break” these last three months. And maybe that is okay during a pandemic, but maybe I’m also missing out on the benefits of this period of time, whatever we call it. Maybe I should STOP WAITING for everything to go back to normal, because all indications are that “normal” isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Even with businesses gradually opening up, things are still going to look very different.
So I asked myself then: what am I waiting for? Is someone else going to finish those essays? What can I be getting out of this period of time that I haven’t already?
Then I read about liminal space.
I’d never heard of it before, so I looked it up.
Liminal Space: The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – a point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.
Yes! That’s exactly what this time is; we don’t know what August or September or October will bring. We have no idea how long we’ll need to wear masks or practice social distancing.
Here’s the thing that fascinated me most about this description of liminal space.
Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we let it form us.
Author and theologian Father Richard Rohr says it like this:
“In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. . . .
Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times.”
This is our today, what we are experiencing is our now. Am I going to let a little thing like a pandemic stop me from an opportunity for transformation? Now you know I’m being facetious here…. A pandemic is no little thing, but it is what is happening now, and maybe part of my discomfort has been because I’ve done something I wouldn’t normally do, and let unfinished essays sit on my desktop, mocking me.
Here’s what else Fr. Richard Rohr said “But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation.”
This really had me paying attention. What if this can be a place and a state of creativity? Of course it can, and for many of us, it has been; in learning new things like Zoom meetings and using technology in different ways. Maybe we’ve ordered groceries online for the first time or discovered online learning for ourselves or our children. We’ve “made do” when we would have bought new, or read more, played more, prayed more, or taken up walking.
If writing is my passion and my mission, then I have to put in the work. With that in mind, on Saturday I sat in front of my laptop for a good eight hours. I forgot to get dressed. I forgot to eat lunch. I did what makes me come alive, and I wrote. I finished those two essays and submitted them. And while all this creativity was banging around in my head, I went one step further and reworked a poem I’d written months ago and submitted it to an anthology that was looking for religious poetry.
It was, indeed, a transformative process, a feeling of being back to what God created me to do.
What about you? What’s holding you back? What can you take away from this liminal space? What unfinished project can you finish in this pandemic?