The joy of being with other writers

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The festival folder and my scribbly notes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love being with other writers. They inspire me, challenge me, and rally me.

That’s one reason I belong to the Killbuck Valley Writers Guild, a small band of area writers devoted to honing their skills at the craft. We meet weekly, though I can’t always make it. We read, we write, and we share. It’s the writing process personified.

I also like to attend writing conferences on occasion. Doing so helps me keep up with what’s going on in publishing, and in today’s world of instantaneous information, there’s a lot. Time and experience have given me that perspective.

As a youngster, I took my writing ability for granted. I thought everyone could write. It took me a long time to realize that wasn’t the case.

In college, I chose to major in journalism, in part because I enjoyed writing, and because I had experience writing for local newspapers even as a teenager. I can thank the late Hymie Williams for that opportunity. Williams was a sports writer for The Plain Dealer, and got me started writing for the paper at age 16.

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Raymond Buckland is a driving force and a valued member of the Killbuck Valley Writers’ Guild. Having written 70 books, he serves as a mentor to the group’s members. We just call him Buck.
But an internship at a major metropolitan newspaper showed me the inside out of the publishing business, and I didn’t like what I saw. Instead, I turned to my first love, helping children. After my 30-year career in education ended, however, the ink in my veins still flowed.

I began my second career in marketing and writing, working for two local, successful businesses extolling the virtues of their products and services. I began writing my weekly column about the same time.

Now in my retirement phase of life, writing has finally become the priority it should have been all along. I greatly enjoy sharing stories week to week. But I also recognize that I still have much to absorb about writing.

When I learned about the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I signed up for the three-day deal. My wife and three other friends who also love to write accompanied me. I could not imagine what a wise decision we had made.

It was pure joy to mingle with people who know and love the printed word as much or more than I do. I was grateful for the chance to learn, grow, and improve my writing by attending workshops, listening to speakers, and joining informal breakout groups.

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The campus of Calvin College.
I had been to other writing conferences, and found them to be very helpful. But they did not compare to the breadth and depth of the offerings at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Held on the campus of Calvin College, the hospitality shown by the staff and volunteers, and even students that I encountered, was generous and gracious.

To be able to hear the personal stories of noted authors like Richard Foster, James McBride, Anne Lamott and Rachel Held Evans was simply amazing. To have the opportunity to speak briefly with them was icing on the cake.

These were real people, with real life issues, not much different than you and me. Hearing them, seeing them, conversing with them gave me renewed hope, and encouragement to keep writing.

The conference was a reminder that we all have stories to share. Attending the Festival of Faith and Writing inspired me to keep telling your stories, my stories, and to continue pursuing my dream of one day publishing a book.

For me, the conference affirmed three points. Writing is hard work. Having a circle of trusted friends is critical for effective writing. And I need to accelerate my writing endeavors here and now. Time is fleeting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

From strangers to friends

By Bruce Stambaugh

We had never met this couple before, or so we thought. All we knew was that they were across the street neighbors from our long-time friends who live in Kitchener, Ontario, and this couple was vacationing at Amelia Island, Florida at the same time that we were.

Our common Ontario friends knew what they were doing. We made arrangements to meet these strangers one afternoon at a Fernandina Beach coffee shop, not knowing we had already “met” them the day before.

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Our initial meeting at the coffee shop.
What unfolded was nothing short of amazing. Don and Gail were already seated when Neva and I arrived. We joined them at the table, and it was like the starter’s flag had been dropped at the Daytona 500.

In speech, they weren’t your typical Canadians. Gail’s native Queen’s English accent was lyrical. Don couldn’t hide his Bermuda brogue if he wanted to. He didn’t. Don and Gail were kind enough to accept our Midwestern twang without comment.

Our conversation lasted longer than our afternoon tea. It turned out that we had much more in common than mutual friends.

Don and Gail were attracted to Amelia Island because of its laid back lifestyle, and her friendly people reminded them of their beloved Bermuda, an island country nearly identical in size to the barrier island. Neva and I said the same thing about the residents of Holmes County, Ohio, where we have live all of our adult lives.

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Neva, Gail and Don shared a laugh in the condo we rented.
Gail and Neva both rambled on about children and grandchildren. They discovered that Gail knits Linus blankets, and Neva knots them.

Don and I quickly discovered two shared interests. We both love photography, and we both served as volunteer firefighters for several years. Shoot. Don and I even wore the exact same kind of shoes, although I paid far less than he did.

Our connections went far beyond the Kitchener link. Neva and I traveled to Bermuda in 1995 to follow our son in a golf tournament. Gail and Don knew several of the people we had met there. They even knew the home where we stayed.

We arranged to meet Don and Gail for lunch at a local seafood restaurant on the pier, and then invited them over to see our rental. We talked and laughed for hours.

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Like me, Don enjoys photographing landscapes and wildlife.
That’s pretty much how it went for the next four weeks. Gail and Neva went shopping. Don and I went birding, hiking, shooting pictures all the while.

We went out to eat together. We explored the area’s many lovely state parks. When some of our friends from home visited, Don and Gail joined us, and the guests bonded with them as quickly as we had.

Here’s the kicker about connecting with this gregarious couple.

The day before the coffee shop meeting, the town held its weekly local farmers market. We checked it out with the intentions of buying locally raised produce and homemade bread and pastries.

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Don and Gail enjoyed playing dominoes with us.
As is my habit, I carried my camera. I took picture after picture of the luscious strawberries and the vibrant vegetables. Of course, I couldn’t help but include some people in the shots, too.

I review my horde of photographs from time to time to thin out the pictures I don’t want to keep. As I scrolled through the pictures, I couldn’t believe what I found. There behind the red, ripe tomatoes and assorted, leafy greens were Don and Gail.

I had taken their picture the day before we formally met. Mere coincidence? I doubt it.

One of my vacation reads was Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies.” Lamott considers traveling mercies as events or people put in your path for specific, often unforeseen purposes.

I photographed strangers at a street market. Traveling mercies easily transformed them into extraordinary friends.

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Don and Gail making a purchase at the farmers market the day before we met.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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