The Year That Changed My Life

“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



      1. Arindam, thank you for that. I haven’t shopped my novels around yet – back to the confidence thing I suppose – so they are not yet available. I’ll post it here first whenever one is available.

  1. Oh Renee, this is lovely. As was your article. I still have trouble saying I’m a writer. After all, nobody’s ever bought my work. And writing my blog was a huge step for me. But as my friend told me yesterday, “you ARE a writer. Everything that happens to you forms another story in your head. You never stop.” And maybe I am. I just wish I had the courage to ‘send something off’ as you have. Then I could say “I’m a writer” with authority!

    There’s no stopping you now, Renee!

    1. Delana, Essoyes is “just around the corner” for you. I think you’d love Writing from the Heart. The fall session may have started now, but look for future versions.

    2. Thank you Delana. And I share your friends assessment – YOU ARE A WRITER! I love reading the perspective from which you allow your experiences to live again through your blog. Keep writing!

  2. I tear up now at the telling, even as I did at the moment that Janet gave you that affirmation as a writer. I can’t even think of the words to tell you how, well, gangbusters you are going with developing your talent. Keep it up!

    1. Lee,
      I think we had the most special class ever! I get chills sometimes when I think about how we were so different, yet so alike. It was an honor to share that time with all of you and I hope we will all be able to do it again.

  3. Renee, One of my life’s privileges was to have been in the room when Janet affirmed you as a writer. Wow, what a moment. And then to have spent the week with you and the other women in Essoyes was over the moon as well. Keep writing. Think reunion!

  4. Renee,
    This is such a beautiful tribute to your writing path. I enjoyed how you incorporated perfect quotes to fit the segments of your journey. Right around my fortieth birthday I felt the same way. As you say, “But then came a time that I couldn’t swallow another bite of bland.” I know…It felt like it was almost rising up my throat. I ended going to night school and taking writing classes and from there I was hooked. Not quite as glamorous as Paris, but it got the job done. Congratulations on your books and the travel articles that have been published. That is truly terrific! I always love reading your posts.

    1. Annie,
      I think this is happening to so many people at the age range of 40 – 50. I have two friends in Bangladesh. They retired and accepted teaching jobs abroad. Another friend is singing with the NC Opera Company. It’s like we’ve all suddenly gotten a shot of courage and decided we had nothing to lose except our own self-respect. You have a lot of talent and I enjoy reading your blogs very much. I’m glad you went for it too!

  5. Renee…your writing! Oh my gosh…Just fantastic. I will look around here more after I finish leaving a quick comment.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment, now I know “where” you are! 😉
    In addition to all else, I love the quotes you included here – some really spoke to me.
    Best wishes on your writing/publishing.

    1. Hi,
      Thank you for such a nice comment. I’m glad you found some quotes you liked on this post. They are some of my favorites – which I guess you could tell. I’ll definitely be checking out more of your posts. They are lovely!

  6. Love that Mary Oliver quote 🙂 Great post you wrote. Why is it so hard for writers to call themselves such? I have read numerous posts where writers say they found release in saying it aloud. Janet sounds like a kind soul, and it’s a good thing she didn’t suggest knitting! Although, I am learning that, and it’s pretty darn tough if you ask me. Thank you for stopping by my blog!

    1. Thank you for the comment. I’m impressed that you are working another hobby into your schedule. My grandmother was a knitter and a crocheter and although she tried to teach me, a long scarf would be the best I could ever do. And even that wasn’t very good because the tension of the stitches wasn’t even. You are so right about it being harder than it looks.

      Janet is a kind soul and wonderful teacher and I’m so glad you got that from my post.

  7. Hello lady. I’m so glad you stopped by to visit me and that you left a comment. What a breath of fresh air this post was. No I am not French although I grew up in France and two of my three siblings were born there. My parents still live in Hierge which is up on the boarder of France and Belgium. However I grew up in the Paris region. They moved after I left. I totally related to this post as I have little confidence in my writing ability. My friend and neighbor Elisa has kept pushing and pushing me to write, and I am now preparing a short story book that she feels will do well. I am hoping to have it completed by November. I will definitely follow you as truly I see the value of your words. Thank you for this post and know it was, for me anyway, inspiring.

    1. Hi Melynda,
      I knew there had to be a French connection with your lovely header. It sounds as though you have had the good fortune to have lived in a few different places, which is such a gift for a writer. I bet you have a lot of good stories and a great perspective from which to tell them. I can’t wait to read more!

  8. As I reader your journey to becoming a writer, I thought about how fragile we writers are. Why is it that artists and musicians are usually so confident? They do their work and if the public or critics fail to respond, they simply proclaim whithering denunciations of the public’s stupidity. We writers quake at the thought of public or critical feedback. We need it, but it is so terribly frightening. Strange, we writers are.

    1. I love that analogy to artists and musicians. You are so right! I have never thought of it that way before, but they do have much more confidence in their work than writers do. The only exception may have been Ernest Hemingway. I think he declared himself the best damn writer ever long before the accolades arrived. Now we must channel our inner Hem!

  9. It is incredible how much one can learn in such a short time and the confidence that can be gained if one has an inspiring teacher such as Janet. Good luch and bon voyage on your writer’s journey!

    1. Yes, it definitely inspired me to reach a little further than I would have without Janet’s guidance and confidence in me as a writer. Thank you for the well wishes. I’ll be following facilitutors and wish you the best with that new venture.

      1. Thank-you and if i can help at any time, if you ever want to come to France for a learning vacation, I’d be delighted to help.

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