“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know…say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.”   – Rumi

The holiday that I am celebrating today isn’t just Columbus Day.  It is my one year anniversary of arriving in France for a writing school and journey into myself.  The date alone was auspicious: 10-10-10.  I should have known that it would be powerful.

Micheline Cintrat -official greeter of Essoyes, Lena Lonigro-student, Maurice Goyard-doyenne of Essoyes, Karin Doglioni-student, Ann Wildey-student, and me

“And you?  When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”  – Rumi

I lacked confidence in my writing ability, in spite of being encouraged to join a creative writing club by a college professor.  I was in the business field – not the arts – following the well meaning advice of couselors and relatives.  There was no one encouraging me to give writing any serious consideration.  I assumed they knew best. 

“Sometimes you hear a voice through the door calling you…this turning toward what you deeply love saves you.”  – Rumi

But there came a time when I couldn’t swallow another bite of bland – when the color had faded in the tapestry of my life – when the tribal drum beat called out louder than ever before.  The time to find out if I had any talent had arrived.  I jumped off the comfortable cliff of the status quo and leapt alone onto a plane headed for France toward a destiny shared with other students and a teacher I believed in although I had only shared conversations with her through the internet. 

Janet Hulstrand - teacher - second from the right. Lee Isbell - student - on end with Lena, Ann and Karin on left - all students

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.”  – Henry David Thoreau

I didn’t even belong to any social media groups before preparing for this class.  My computer was a ten year old relic with no ethernet port.  My internet service was dial up.  The largest portion of the writing I did was journaling in long hand.  I had written a couple of novels – one was quite horrible but allowed me to get the kinks out and the other had a few issues but I rather liked it.  No one else did because no one – not even my husband – had read it.  It was too close to me – too personal – too important.  I was afraid to have it rejected. 

Pierre Auguste Renoir's place of burial in Essoyes

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

Even in class I had trouble handing my work over to the instructor – writer, professor, editor Janet Hulstrand.  I feared that she would suggest a new hobby – knitting maybe.  But I had to know if there was a shred of salvageable material in my work.  I had to know if I had any talent.  And I was prepared to hear that I didn’t.  It is always easier to hear the bad as opposed to the good.  I would have calmly let it go and enjoyed the beauty of the French countryside.  When she told me that it was good and that it really needed little in the way of editing, I actually cried.  It was supreme validation.

Inspiring doorway in Essoyes

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The other students were immensely supportive and the villagers of Essoyes referred to us as ‘Janet’s writers’.  Perhaps I needed to hear myself referred to as a writer in order to believe it in the deepest cells of my body.  I probably needed to hear it about six thousand times. 

"A writer is one on whom nothing is lost," advised Henry James. I found that the leaf covered table and chairs outside of Janet's house spoke volumes.

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau

But I remember the day near the end of the week, walking through the golden vineyard behind the Hotel des Canotiers – the very field Renoir used as inspiration for ‘Path through the tall Grasses’ – with a few of the other students.  I could see the writer in them and suddenly could feel it in myself.  A voice whispered inside of my own head telling me that I too was a writer. 

Reproduction of Renoir's 'Path through the tall Grasses' in the spot it was painted.

“This is who I am – a writer!” my inner voice

The safe shelter Janet provided allowed a metamorphosis of my beliefs.  Another writer suggested that I purchase business cards to remind me of it.  Being part of a group mirrored my reflection from them – the women I respected.  Once I believed, the path was marked for me by Janet.

“What you seek, is seeking you.” – Rumi

She honed in on my weaknesses and helped me develop them into strengths.  She made suggestions – which I listened to – and allowed ideas to flourish.  One day she even stopped the class to give me time to jot down another plot for a story line.

Street scene in Essoyes

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” – Rumi

I returned home full of energy, excitement, and determination and didn’t want to lose it.  So I started a blog – this very one that you are reading – just to get use to the idea of having my work seen on a daily basis and learning that making mistakes was alright.  There is always a way to edit and correct.  Constructive criticism has helped me grow.  I welcome it.

View from Bridge in Essoyes

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi

Then I sent a short story entitled –What is it About Paris? –  to an online publishing house and have just been notified that it tied for runner up travel story of the year. 

Louvre from the Tuileries Garden

“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

With each success I gained a little more courage.  I sent a travel article to Bonjour Paris about Essoyes and the newly created Renoir Museum which they published.

Renoir Reproduction on entire side of house in Essoyes

“Courage is grace under pressure.” – Ernest Hemingway

And then I entered a contest through Rate My Study Abroad, although I wasn’t enrolled through a university.  It received an honorable mention and I was – and still am – over the moon about that one.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.” – Maya Angelou

Janet Hulstrand remains my friend and adviser.  She recommends books that speak to me, and gently suggests that I try this or that, like finding writers near me for support.  I always follow her advice.  She has a unique gift for discovering what each individual needs and providing it.

Ahh - The cheese cart! Epoisses is the one with the spoons in it.

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy

I am currently working on a children’s book, a novel about friends, and have completed a romance/suspense/mystery novel which takes place in France of course!  And I have had the very good sense to upgrade my computer which makes it all a little easier.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

When I tell you that the Essoyes School changed my Life, what I mean is that it gave me permission to follow my dreams.  There is no going back behind a dark curtain of self-doubt. 

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver