I never dreamed that I would find myself at a writer’s workshop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in October 2002. First of all, I didn’t think I was good enough at writing to put up the tuition of $400. To go to a writer’s workshop such as that I thought meant I not only needed to be serious about wanting to be an author (which I was) but be able to hold my own with other writers in the classes. I didn’t have one bit of confidence in myself, but Keystone Nursing Care Center did. For the administrator and board giving me such a wonderful opportunity I will be always grateful.
Here is what lead to my going to that workshop. The organization that many Iowa nursing homes are a member of had an essay contest each year and a photography contest. The essay had to be 500 words about a resident in the nursing home without mentioning the resident or nursing home. In 2001, I and others at the nursing home wrote an essay. The nursing home’s Senior Advocate committee had to pick a winner. I won so my entry went to the essay contest. Out of all the state entries, I won with "Floating Feathers Of Yesterdays". The head of the organization came to Keystone to present me with a $100 check at a reception the nursing home had for me. My essay was in several of the local newspapers.
That win gave me the incentive to try again the next year. So out of the essays submitted at the nursing home mine was again picked. "A Woman For All Seasons" is about a woman who had lived on her small farm, taking care of her cattle for as long as she was able. I admired her for how she had lived her life her way. While I was entering contests, I thought I might as well enter the photography contest. So I picked the woman I wrote the essay about as my subject. In the spring for years, I’d take a lamb and goat to the nursing home to show the residents. That year I took along a bottle of milk. I set the lamb in front of the woman’s recliner and handed her the bottle. In the picture, we could see the pure pleasure she experienced while feeding that lamb. The picture title said it all — "Bottle Full Of Memories".
The contest results call came one evening while I was working. The nurse had okayed it with the administrator to break the news to me. She mumbled that I had won the contests. Figuring the nurse wasn’t too up on what I had entered, I said, "Which one?" She just grinned at me. Suddenly her choice of plural "contests" hit me. I squeaked, "Both of them" "Yes!" The contests were judged blind so the judges had no way of knowing that I submitted both the essay and the photo until after they picked the winner. Nor did they realize right away that I had won the essay contest the year before. This was all cause for excitement at the nursing home.
Also, the double wins brought on another reception. A newly hired communication director came from West Des Moines to present me with certificates and a check for $200. I had the woman in my essay and photo up front to be with me. I presented her with a bouquet of flowers to thank her for being my subject matter. She was delighted to be the center of attention until she asked what time it was. She’d already missed five minutes of "The Young And The Restless" and nothing was more important that that soap opera.
For winning the contest I was about to receive a gift from the nursing home. I could not believe it when the administrator gave me the information that the board wanted me to pursue my writing and work on getting better. They paid for the Writer’s Workshop as a gift for winning the contests which is good PR for the nursing home. I was excited and nervous all rolled into one and had several weeks to worry about what I was getting into.
The communication director said when she presented me the certificates that I was a very good writer. She was impressed. With that to encourage me, I said if I could find another resident that was essay material I’d enter again next year and try for win number three. That wasn’t to be. Months in advance, I came up with an essay and polished it. When the contest rules came, a new one had been add. Last year’s winner could not enter. (I had prewarned the communication director.) The next year I again had an entry ready to go and found the contest had been dropped. Maybe not enough participation. That didn’t stop me from writing my essays about the residents. One became a eulogy at a resident’s visitation and funeral. A story about my mother was purchased by "Good Old Days" Magazine. Quite a few of my essays have placed in other contests. Best of all, I gave the residents a copy of the essays. Their families were delighted to read a story about their loved one.
Update: The National Novel Writing Month contest is over. I only had about half the 50,000 words I need to enter. I loved the challenge but just didn’t have the time to stay at the computer. Now I’m looking forward to next November. I’m ready to try again.
Now come back Thursday. I’ll tell you about the Kirkwood Writer’s Workshop.