A Gathering of Writers

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This fierce Towson tiger acted as welcoming committee to the Baltimore Writers Conference on Saturday. The event served as a splendid inaugural writers conference for me, and I’m already looking forward to future conferences. I’ve read about the importance of these events for freelancers, often for the purpose of networking. However, I definitely underestimated the impact Saturday would have on me, both to instruct and to inspire.

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We had four sessions over the course of the day, each offering seminars on a variety of topics, ranging from technique to business. For example, I took a session on improving dialogue, and on how to get your novel or memoir to Hollywood. The conference came as a result of a collaboration between faculty from several Baltimore Universities, and the speakers were several best-selling authors, a Hollywood producer, and writing faculty as well.

Being the good little academic enthusiast that I am, I freaked out about choosing the right  the classes and took copious notes.

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Despite all the incredibly helpful instruction, the biggest takeaway came in the form of inspiration from the keynote speaker. MK Asante is a brilliant writer, artist, filmmaker, whose best-selling memoir, Buck, tells the story of how writing changed his life. After hearing his keynote address, I heard him speak on a panel about turning life stories into memoirs. I am still blown away by his story, and so excited to see the positive influence he will have in the future. The trailer for his book is below:

An Acceptance Speech from 1996

This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but my former roommates will attest that I love a good awards show: the gowns, the celebrity spotting, the general survey of cultural popularity, and, as a general rule, any awards show wins bonus points if it involves Neil Patrick Harris.

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With the exception of a few dance numbers from the Tonys, I wouldn’t usually have any reason to revisit an awards show once it’s past and probably wouldn’t even give it another thought. However, in a recent moment of discouragement and in desperate need of a pep talk, I found myself returning to the 1996 Oscars via Youtube in search of one clip in particular.
I was still a little girl at the time, but old enough to start thinking about what growing up to be a young lady would look like. Too old for princesses, I found inspiration in the heroines of movies literature-based period films like Little Women, or Gwyneth Paltrow’s in Emma. I’m pretty sure I aspired to be Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma at some point. Or I maybe I just aspired to be married to Mr. Knightly.
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Sense and Sensibility came out that year, and I already knew lead actress and screenplay writer Emma Thompson from Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V.  Naturally I was thrilled when the film was nominated for several academy awards, including Emma Thompson for best actress and screenplay writer. She did not win for acting that year, but she won for writing the screenplay. This movie was her first screenplay, and she was the only woman nominated in her category.  I watched her speech with rapt attention, but I wouldn’t realize until years later how much of an impression this made on me. As I thought about what kind of lady I wanted to be when I grew up, all the glamorous red carpet outfits or the pretty Jane Austen dresses seemed less important. Here was a pretty, young, talented actress whose wit and storytelling ability had beat out all the boys, and become the first person to win an Oscar for both writing and acting (having won for Best Actress in 1993).

Watching that Oscar victory was a subtle moment in my life’s history, but I found myself thinking back on it I started writing seriously and realized how much courage it takes to bare your soul in words and then put yourself out there, and take a chance that you might fail and might be rejected. Maybe its silly to look up to a celebrity I’ve never met, but Emma Thompson has continued to inspire me today as she has gone on to write books, screenplays, direct, leave the limelight to raise a daughter, return to the limelight as if she had never left, travel to the arctic, present an award with a martini in one hand and her shoes in the other, and act brilliantly per usual.

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So here’s to you, Ms. Thompson!

Here’s her speech:

News Flash

Part-time teaching is not a thing. Cue chorus of justified “I told you so”s from anyone who noted: “hmmm your schedule seems a tad full for part time.” You were absolutely correct, because part-time this fall has also involved soccer coaching, some freelance administrative projects and a few advising positions. The biggest culprit for non-part time teaching, though, is that regardless of the “teaching” hours scheduled on paper, it quickly becomes a labor of love.

The ratio of school-related time to freelance writer-related time begin to blur together, and flip flop in priority. The amount of work involved in any class is certainly a factor, but it’s easier to leave work at work and keep part-time hours when the roster of students consist of faceless names. One quarter into the semester, however,  and the names have become delightful faces, personalities, and idea-filled minds. The school-related time seems to slip away, as it so often does on this adventure of learning that takes place every day. Writing time hasn’t all been together lost, but it has slowed considerably, and I’m okay with that.

Here’s what has taken place on the writing end:
-My first phase of novel edits and revision has been completed, and is entering into query writing and agent-finding time.
-Some encouraging progress with two articles, which I hope to sharing more specifics about soon
-This little blog is back on its feet after being eaten alive by soccer season a brief hiatus

Exciting things ahead, and meanwhile I’m learning to budget time and brain space and heart space, and greatly enjoying the journey with the new young scholars in my life in the process. I will conclude with a passage from the Hobbit that has recently inspired me and sums up what I believe is at the heart of education.

This passage takes place when a hobbit Bilbo has been commissioned to accompany a troupe of dwarfs and the wizard Gandalf and act as burglar when they take back a treasured gem and family heirloom from a dragon. The dwarfs and Bilbo himself both doubt Bilbo’s capability to complete this task. Gandalf response with these words:

“‘You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let anyone say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal.’ He scowled so angrily at Gloin, that the dwarf fell back in his chair and when Bilbo tried to open his mouth and ask a questions, he turned and frowned at him and stuck out his bushy eyebrows, till Bilbo shut his mouth tight with a snap. ‘That’s right,’ Said Gandalf, ‘Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may possibly all live to thank me yet'”–The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien

The rest of the book (spoiler alert) shows the process of Bilbo stepping into this role that Gandalf assigned for him. Certainly it may have taken many chapters and pages for him to grow into it, but Gandalf’s predictions for him were absolutely correct.

The most influential people in our lives are always those who see more in us than we see in ourselves. This idea shapes my prayer for myself as an educator: that every day my eyes will be opened to see those young scholars, not for who they are in the moment, but who they are capable of becoming. Accompanying them on even one leg of the journey as they become the heroes in their own stories is a privilege and a joy, and I am so very thankful for the opportunity.