Thursday, February 4, 2010

What We Give Back
Peggy Webb

I had intended to talk about some of my most interesting book signings, but last Saturday evening I changed my mind. While attending a charity fundraiser for the Northeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, I had a chance to visit with a former student of mine. Viv is her name. She’s a lovely, vivacious woman who always came to class smiling.

“Class” was a six-week night course I taught last fall under the auspices of the Continuing Education Department of Itawamba Community College. I seldom take time from my own work to teach anything except the occasional hour-long writing workshop at conferences, but the time seemed right. After twenty-five years as a professional writer, I have a body of knowledge I wanted to share.

And so began my journey with twenty eager students, some of them young (in their twenties), some of them entering the golden years, and some of them full-fledged professors seeking a different creative outlet. I’m an off-the-cuff speaker, and I decided to teach the same way, first finding out the needs of my students and then tailoring my class to meet those specific needs.

All that sounds dull and technical, but let me tell you, it was anything but! I taught them as one writer to another. We learned and shared and laughed a lot. In fact, we laughed so much the custodian whose job it was to close the building at nine after our class often hovered in the hall so he could eavesdrop. He had so much fun with us that he not only made a pot of coffee for our breaks but came into the class to serve it!

I loved my students. Their eagerness and hope and talent – some lovely and raw, some already well-honed - energized me. I wanted to take them all home with me, sit on the front porch and talk about writing for days on end.

My students gave me phone numbers, crayfish (I’m not kidding), invitations to dine, offers to help (Travis, I still have your number in case I get stranded in the Atlanta airport again!), and a glorious sense of giving something back.

Through the years I’ve had a wonderful support group, from booksellers to fellow writers to family and friends. It felt wonderful to turn my dreams around and let them flow back into the community that helped me make them come true. I’m certain there is a more sophisticated way of saying that, but this blog is not about sophistication and sounding erudite. It’s about sharing hope. It’s about giving back. It’s about having a former student come to me at a charity event and say, “You turned my life around.”

Viv told how my students eagerly awaited each class, how it was the “highpoint” of their week, how they appreciated being treated with respect and how I helped them learn to love writing. Her praise was better than all the writing awards hanging on my office wall.
I’m sure many of you have experienced this same satisfaction, either as a teacher or a student. I’ve love to hear from you.


Callie James said...

Hi, Peggy! The most inspiring person in my past was an enthusiastic, creative writing teacher I had in high school who told me I was a good writer. I had never thought of myself as anything much before that, and at the time I wanted to become a doctor. Instead I became a writer and I've never looked back. I can't imagine loving anything more.

Wonderful blog. :)

Tammy R. Lynn said...

Peggy, I know how you feel. Even though my bookstore has been closed over a year, people in the community still tell me how much they miss it and how much they loved it. When students stop me in Wal-Mart to tell me that they're still reading for pleasure because I helped them pick out books they REALLY liked, it makes me warm and tingly all over.

This weekend is MURDER ON THE MENU in Wetumpka. Even in this economy, we're a couple of tickets short of selling out. What a humbling feeling to know that our community loves my "baby" so much that they're still digging deep to purchase tickets and attend.

Giving back is actually a very selfish act for me...cause it makes me feel really GOOD!!!

Peggy Webb said...

Thanks, Callie. Your comments - and Viv's - make me aware of how many lives we touch when we give a speech or teach a class or write a book. Whether I'm at the podium or at the grocery story, I always try to follow my daddy's wise advice - practice kindness. He lived what he taught.

Peggy Webb said...

Tammy, I can see why everybody misses your store...and why you had such a positive impact. Your joyful spirit shines wherever you are!

I'd love to come to Wetumpka again sometime. Invite me back!

Peggy Webb said...

Make that "grocery store." Hehehe Only a writer would say "grocery story."

Jeanie said...

Peggy, this is such a lovely post. My mother was a high school English teacher for 42 years and made such a huge impact upon her students' lives. How wonderful it must feel to have impacted others the way you did with that class! I am still struggling in my own writing career, but if I am ever lucky enough to get published I will remember your wise words.

Carla Swafford said...

Having been in one of your presentations, I know how much they enjoyed every minute, soaking up every word.

Peggy, the truly talented writers like you have no fear and willingly help those open to learn.

I hope I can do the same some day.


Peggy Webb said...

Thanks, Jeanie. Your mother and teachers like her are saints! I credit my love of words and books to my paretns and my amazing fifth grade teacher, Cynthia Pickens, still remembered and beloved after all these years.

Good luck with your career. Just write for the pleasure of storytelling and let the career unfold.

Peggy Webb said...

Thank you, Carla. I look forward to sitting in the audience someday soon when you're talking about your latest book. Meanwhile, keep writing because you love it and the career will follow.

Hugs right back.

Vicki Hinze said...

Peggy, this is a wonderful post. As writers we spend so much time alone and we don't often get to see responses to our work or thoughts about our work. This is fabulous--and a blessing to you and your students!


Peggy Webb said...

Vicki, thank you. You are so right about the isolation of our profession. I wish I had time to do more teaching. I've always loved it.

Hugs to you.

JLC said...

I think I know how you feel, though I'd give more than you know to have been on the receiving end of your "lectures." I once had a few students in high school English classes who made me know they'd read differently, maybe for the rest of their lives. Now I try to make people who have a right to make judgments take me seriously as a writer. If only I could meet you!

Deborah Carr said...

Hi Peggy - Thanks for sharing this. I just found my way to your website through a variety of links...and several hours of browsing.

I have been writing professionally for 10 years and have recently begun giving writing workshops. I'm enjoying it immensely. I am continually amazed at the quality of work that emerges from just a little encouragement.