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Jean's Got The Write Stuff!

Something happened last Tuesday that just made my day! (No, it wasn't the Chocolate Fairy leaving something under my pillow, but it was almost as good!) You see, I actually got a letter in the mail about my column! A fan letter!

I so rarely get mail about my column that it's sometimes hard to know what people think of it. Not that that should be so important, but it's nice to know when you're making an impact. (If you're wondering about hubby Rick's opinion of my column, I'd tell you if he had one! The only two things he ever reads are price stickers on new pickup trucks and phone-sex ads!)

Anyway, the letter writer's name was Patti, and she said she always looks forward to my column, because I write about familiar things in an easygoing style that people can relate to! (That's me–I aim to please!) Then she said something that really touched me: "With all the bad news in the world, and all the sex and violence and cruelty and swearing, it's nice to have a weekly dose of your smiling face and positive attitude."

Well, I just about bawled! Kind words like that make all my years of hard work writing this column totally worth it!

Patti ended her wonderful letter by inviting me to speak at her writer's workshop sometime to share my tips on writing good personal essays and breaking into the newspaper business! She said the workshop meets every Saturday evening in the basement of First Congregational Church, and I knew where that is right away because it's across the street from the Pamida. I called Patti to thank her for her kind note and told her I was definitely interested!

By the way, I wound up spending about two hours on the phone with Patti. It was like I'd known her all my life! Turns out, Patti's 37 and divorced, and graduated just a couple years after me from the same high school! She teaches English for adult and continuing education at the local vocational college, and formed the workshop a few years ago for people who are more accustomed to using a pen to take down restaurant orders than to write stories! I think that is soooo neat!

But I must say, driving to the meeting, I had some pretty bad last-minute jitters. The last time I'd spoken in front of a group was in 10th grade, when I had to give a speech in my social-studies class! (And I got a C-minus!) I really didn't know what I was going to say about writing. To tell you the truth, I've never really given my writing much thought. It just kind of comes out of me! It's like this special gift I have, and if I try to explain it, I just get all tongue-tied and mixed up!

What's more, I'm scarcely an authority on grammar, and I can hardly type. (In fact, I hand-write my columns on this pretty scented stationery I found at McWhimsy's Cards & Gifts! I think it's sooooo much more personal and heartfelt than typing!) As I pulled into the church parking lot, I decided the best advice I could give the writers is to just follow their hearts. That realization made me feel a lot more confident, and my nervousness melted away as the workshop began.

The workshop started with the half-dozen or so participants taking turns reading the things they wrote over the past week, and then giving each other feedback. I must admit, I felt a little over my head, because a lot of the things they wrote were poems, and I'm not too familiar with poetry. But I have to tell you, some of the verses were so good, those writers could do greeting-card inscriptions or lyrics for Celine Dion! I couldn't believe people could be so talented and not be rich or famous!

My favorite poem was written by this woman named Sheila, about her kitty. Now, as you know by now, your old pal Jean is a sucker for anything kitty-related, but Sheila wrote just the prettiest poem! And it made you think, too! I can't recite the whole thing, but it had phrases like "the stealthy, emerald-eyed little nocturnal watchman of her sleeping mistress at night." It alternately described her kitty as both a magical, mysterious creature and a lovable little critter that always gets caught up in balls of yarn!

After people read their stuff, we all took turns giving feedback. And I had no criticism at all–everything was soooo good! The workshop had such a positive, encouraging atmosphere, it made me feel like I belonged. It was truly a meeting of like minds!

The only thing I didn't like very much was this one story by this old retired man. It was about a secret agent who had been captured by foreign soldiers and was being tortured for his secrets. Apparently, it's an excerpt from a novel he's been working on for years, and he's tried to get it published without success. That's understandable, seeing as how it didn't make much sense. (Although I'm not really into war and spy stories, anyway. Me, I prefer the kind of book that has Fabio on the cover. Rowwr, rowwr!) We didn't say anything negative about his work, though. He'd been working on it a long time and seemed to really believe in what he was doing, and that's all that really matters anyway.

Finally, it was old Jean's turn to speak. I decided to begin my talk by asking the group if they had any questions for me. The first question was, "What's a good asking fee for a writer who's just starting out?" and I said I didn't really know, because my newspaper's never paid me.

The room was silent for a few seconds. Then, I heard a kind of raspy snort from the back of the room. It was the old man, and I couldn't believe what he said! "I wouldn't pay one lousy red cent to you or anyone else in this room," he sneered. He said that we had no reason to write anything because we've never had any real-life experience or true suffering. Then he said that if he'd known that he fought in Korea and watched his best buddy get killed in action and to this day live with half a pound of shrapnel deep in his leg just to preserve our right to write about rainbows and cats, he would have blown his own head off back in Pusan with his M1 rifle.

Then he turned to me and said, "Looks like you could spend a little more time watching your weight and a little less time writing about your silly female preoccupations."

Well, I was so shocked by his outburst, I didn't know what to say! How could anyone be so mean? I could feel my eyes filling with tears, and I must have been turning several shades of red as I ran out of the church. Why did that old man have to ruin everything? I mean, we should all appreciate what veterans have done for our country, but we can't think only about suffering and dying. There's good things in life, too, like flowers, clouds, music, babies and, yes, kitties! (I think that old man needs to take a chocolate pill!)

I slept very poorly that night, because the old man's awful words kept going through my head. I felt ashamed for not standing up to the old meanie, too. (Hubby Rick provided no shoulder to cry on that night, let me tell you. He'd gotten blitzed at Tacky's Tavern and came home at bar time smelling like a brewery. Then he passed out on the waterbed like a beached whale! I thought I was going to be seasick!)

The next morning, Patti called to apologize. She said that after the meeting, she took the old man aside and politely asked him not to come to the workshop anymore. Apparently, he'd been disruptive before, and several writers had dropped out of the workshop because of old Mr. Crabby Pants. I thought that was very sad! He'd wrecked their self-esteem, and because of it, they'd probably never achieve their dreams!

But Patti was very sweet and understanding about my running out on the meeting. She invited me back again to talk, or even to join the workshop outright and share ideas with the other writers every week.

I was touched by her invitation, and I'd like to speak there again. But I don't think I'll be going regularly, because Touched By An Angel is on at the same time, and I hate to miss it. Sorry, Patti! (Maybe during rerun season!)

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