Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday--5:30am--Writing and Me.

Karma wondered what in the world was the matter with me! :):)
I discovered an email right after I finished blogging yesterday. I couldn't believe what I was reading! I read it again...and again. Tears. Laughter. Puffs. I've been kind of floaty ever since!
Well--here's what I read:
Dear Rita,

It gives me the greatest pleasure to inform you that your entry, "Baby Girl", has won First Prize of $2,000 in the 2009 Tom Howard Poetry Contest.

Please accept my heartiest congratulations on your splendid achievement.

From around 1,800 entries received, the judges, after much effort on their part, finally ended up with a Short List of twenty-eight entries and twenty names. (One contestant had three entries on the Final Short List).

You'll be interested to know that your entry was always listed among the top three. Some entries did not stand up to constant re-reading. At this stage, the judges are looking for even the most minor flaws. But your entry always shone with utter perfection. A beautiful poem, superbly told, with not a word out of place.
Now--the most amazing, angelic part of this is that (I think I mentioned this on the blog?) an author I met online, Barbara Carpenter (has published three books!), loved my poem Baby Girl so much that she wanted to pay to enter it for me in this contest!! I was so afraid she'd be wasting her money, of course, but she was so confident and encouraging...Dagan and Leah said I should say yes, so I agreed.
I had forgotten all about it, to be honest. When I saw this email with an unfamiliar name and the subject of "Baby Girl" I thought somebody had read it on my stories blog and was making a private comment or that possibly it was a very bad coincidence and it was some college girl with a web cam calling herself Baby Girl--hehe! No lie! I am always a little leery of opening anything with a name I don't recognize...but...
...talk about being blown away! As a writer--you couldn't hear anything better!! All those wonderful things he said. I still can't read them without pause and tearing up. WOW! Talk about humbling!!
Barbara was right!
I haven't even heard back from her yet. But--I thank you, Barbara, from the bottom of my heart!! This really is a path changing event for me. I don't even know how to ever repay you! I know--I know--you told me you didn't want a dime if I won anything...but what you and those judges have given me is much more valuable than cash or any award.
Let me explain about writing and me.
I haven't done any of what I would call "writing-writing" since I left college in 2005. My hours are so limited anymore.
Well--I should go back to the beginning. When I was about nine years old I discovered sinking into thoughts on paper and being outside of time. I don't know how many times in my life I have been shocked to hear the birds waking in the trees and had to reluctantly put down my pencil...my pen..shut down my computer.
I had basically two levels of writing. How I write most of the time in this blog--basically thought to hand--or in head out mouth. And then there's what I think of as diary or journal type writing--the deeper, more personal, spiritual stuff. Soul level thoughts, you know? That diary/soul level is how I started writing when I was nine--pondering and hashing things out on paper with my angel over my shoulder. If I wrote around and around something long enough--questioning--remembering--wondering...I'd eventually find that higher perspective--answers--my right path. At first nobody ever knew my soul side. But over the decades I gradually shared more and more. (Some people would say I was more open than most to begin with--ROFL!) I have sometimes gone to this other level on the blog, but not often. But this past year I have had definite nudgings about opening up more online. I started posting the stories from college and the cogitations--hehe!
Okay--speaking of college--injury landed me in Concordia college in 1999. Required English classes altered my path. Started out thinking I'd become a social worker. My first English writing teacher almost hounded me to enter the freshman college writing contest at Concordia. I won first place and $25.00! You never forget the first time you are actually given money for something you wrote. :)
Of course I thought I only had a kind of "life advantage" because all the kids were 18-23 years old, you know? I was 48. There were so very few adults going to college at Concordia that students always assumed I was a professor--even when I was sitting in a desk opening my back pack!
Anyways, in college I learned about this new level of writing that I call "writing-writing". Real writing--for strangers! I had almost 40 years of consistent grammatical errors, dashes, and misspelling under my belt. My only saving grace was probably that I had also been a reader all those years. My advantage--I had 40 years of storytelling under by belt, too. :) Verbal and written. I am a born sharer--communicator. Or motor-mouth, some may say. Apparently I had developed my own "voice". But this was work! Writing and rewriting and rewriting until it felt truly polished. Searching out the perfect words. Cutting away what wasn't needed. More professional--finished--polished. Written so that total strangers would understand what I was trying to say.
And the scariest part--well--if I was going to write, I usually found that I wanted to write from that soul level/diary place. But that meant writing your private thoughts for the unknown public. That was a brand new, third level of writing for me. And only a few pieces I have written have felt like they came together and were truly finished to the best of my ability. Baby Girl is one of them, I must admit.
Sophomore year I was blessed with a writing mentor, Doug Carlson. I wrote Soft Breaths in his creative writing class. He encouraged me to enter the English Department's writing contest. I won in nonfiction and got $60.00! (Last time I saw any money from words--until now!) Doug told me where to look to find places to submit the story to literary magazines. With his encouragement, I did--sent it out to 30 places. Soft Breaths was published by Inkwell Magazine and a few months later by Troubadour's Lantern. And it got an honorable mention in a national contest. God On The Bus was published in Afterworks--the student lit magazine at Concordia, too. But you never forget the first time you are a published author!! I felt like I was heading in a new direction. Became an English Writing major.
But all the while my health was deteriorating badly. I had started school run down and with mono from working two jobs in Minneapolis--and I never seemed to get well. I caught everything that went around at the school. Was attending classes and working part-time with bronchitis, walking pneumonia, and a pretty constant sinus infection. I was secretly convinced I was dying of something. I hurt to the touch--anyplace on my body. Felt like I had the flu all the time--and was so tired I thought I had mono again. So, I finally went to the doctor. Spent a summer getting tested for this and that--and was diagnosed with (among other things) fibromyalgia. I had never heard of it.
I had already quit working part-time, but I was having a harder and harder time keeping up with classes. I ended up making a tough decision. Transferred over to the state college where I could go to classes part-time and still get funding. (Couldn't do that at Concordia.) Struggled along--failing health--for two years at MSUM. Even with the professors and fellow students helping me as much as they could (extensions, class notes, etc), and me being a stubborn Swede who truly believed I could push my way thru, mind over matter, and graduate...it was impossible.
My body won.
Took over my life.
Soft Breaths was published a third time in MSUM's lit magazine, Red Weather. And shortly after I landed on my (sore) feet in Fargo, I Mourn My Body Past won first place in a local over 50 writers contest and was published in the Fargo Forum newspaper. I never actually saw it in print or got a copy because I don't get the paper. That was in 2005.
My "writing-writing" life came to a dead stop. Even my regular writing was curtailed. My physical life had altered drastically. I thought maybe a laptop could give me more writing time. (I have had to stop and take breaks three times--so far--writing this.) But I never seemed to find one that was user-friendly for this old dog. Ended up keeping one around just as back up for when my computer has problems. I seriously doubted that I could write anymore if I can't get lost in the process and have a dang timer cutting me off. I tried kind of half-heartedly. Gave it up.
Then, all these years later, Barbara finds me on Facebook! I had met her online back when I was in college--writing. Said she had always remembered Baby Girl. Wanted me to send her a copy so she could read it again. And...well, now you know the rest.
My life has always been guided. Even when I didn't know it or refused to believe it--hehe! And this is a path-altering event in mine. Like the Universe giving me a big old knock over the head or kick in the pants, you know? Find a way! Find a way!
So--with the winnings--I plan to re-invest it in my author side. I want to see if I can find a really nice powerful laptop that will be truly user friendly for me. So that I can hopefully stretch out some more good time out of my days--typing in my comfy chair. I have this unexpected opportunity to be able to afford to even try this at all--so how can I not, right? Scary to invest that much money in something that may or may not work out. (This prize is almost a quarter of my yearly income!) But the practical side of me says that, if all else fails, I will be able to keep up more with all my online activities, right? And they are very important to me and so positive in my life. :)
So--of course--I went back and altered my 2010 Goal List--ROFL!!
If you made it to the end of this--thanks for listening! :):)
Happy dancing in Fargo!!


Intense Guy said...

Oh my!! That's wonderful!!! No, that's more than wonderful!!!

Wow!! and Yehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!!!!

:) :) :)

I remember reading Baby Girl a while back and being blown away. It is quite powerful!

Oh man! I'm doing the snoopy dance over here on the east coast!

Donn said...

Thanks, Rita, for sharing your story. Such a moving one. And again, Congratulations on your first place....well deserved over and over again.

Intense Guy said...

Link to Baby Girl


Leah said...

Again, congratulations!!! It's truly wonderful! I'm so excited for you! :D:D:D

Thank you kindly,

Rita said...

Iggy! I am so amazed! Thanks so much for the snoopy dance--hehe!

You have a gift of writing from the heart also, my friend, and your own voice. I think you may know of what I speak concerning the levels of writing, right? I've wondered, so this is the perfect time to ask you--have you ever been published?

Thanks for posting the link, too. What a promoter! :):)

Rita said...

Hi Donn!
Yes--you have been so kind and encouraging over and over--CBP group, here, and email! Thank you! Thank you so much! :):)

Rita said...

Leah--I know you are both happy for me and that means so much. I knew HOW happy when you said I could have called you at 4:30am when I discovered the email--hehe!

I am looking forward to some snooping for a laptop with you guys in January. ;) See you tomorrow! LY

Intense Guy said...

To answer your question, "Yes and no." I've been published 2 or 3 dozens of times in work-related professional magazines, a number of software user manuals, and several ever-so-dry trade journals but with the exception of one poem, never for any "from the heart" writing. The poem was written a long time ago and was quite horrible. :) I don't even know if I have it around anymore.

I'm content to write to the blog. But I know the thrill you speak of - I've gotten a couple photographs published and I was tickled pink and as pleased as punch!

AliceKay said...

Wow...such great news. That has to be such a thrill for you. Congrats on winning First Prize. I look forward to reading more of your writing. :)

(thanks for linking it, iggy...will go read it now)

Rita said...

I think writing the professional trade journal type writing must be somewhat equivalent to when I had to write papers for college classes. I did well with that type of writing, but it is much more intellectual/cerebral and I didn't enjoy it in the same way--at all--hehe! Not that is wasn't exciting to get a good grade, of course--but it was less personal. Much "safer" writing--hehe! You know what I mean. I know you do. You open your heart on your blog sometimes--and that has to feel very different for you than when you do one of your excellent historicals or when you had photos published, right? Kudos, fellow author! And photographer! ;)

Rita said...

Thanks AliceKay!!
I think my guardian angel has his hand on my back! ;)

Judybec said...

Congratulations Rita!!!!
your "baby girl" poem is really wonderful!
I saw your post in the Chineese brush painting group -- which I follow quietly -- lurking ....I suppose it's called : ) )
It's a well deserved award!!!

Serena Lewis said...

OMG, Rita!!! I got goosebumps and welled up with tears when I read this post. I am SOOOOOOO happy for you though I can't say I'm surprised....your writing touches my heart. LOVE IT! Congratulations on a prize well-deserved, my friend! xo

Jenifleur-de-lis said...

Rita - I am so happy for your awesome accomplishment as a writer! When I read your facebook status, I swelled with pride for you! Many of your writings that you shared in poetry class at MSUM and in our writer's group inspired me as a writer. You are a great storyteller, friend! Please keep it up!

Love ya!

Rita said...

JudyBec--Thanks so much! I am mostly a lurker in the CBP group lately, myself. I haven't been painting for such a long time, don't know much aa a newbie, and have been busy with other things lately--so I don't have much to say and more to learn by listening. :) I hope to get back to it for a while this winter. Thanks again!! Most appreciated! :):)

Rita said...

Hi Serena!
Such a shock!! Makes me sit back and ponder, that's for sure. I hope to find a way to get back to the writing-writing in 2010. Where there's a will, there's a way, right? :) Thanks so much, Lady!!

Rita said...

Hi Jennifer! Aha! Did it bring you back to our fantastic poetry class and then our writing group meeting in my Moorhead apartment? Have you written anything lately? You know I haven't been writing since I had to leave MSUM. I guess this is definitely a sign, eh? ROFL!! Thanks so much, my friend! Who'd a thunk it!!?? :):)