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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Announcing Our Gold Winner in the RosieCentral Inspiration Contest


 

We hope you take to heart, Sara Etgen-Baker's Message:


"...the only thing more dangerous than taking risks is not taking them at all."

 

VICTORY OVER THE FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON

by Sara Etgen-Baker


The Attic

I climbed up the retractable staircase into my parents’ dimly-lit attic; fumbled my way across the creaky wooden floor; wiped the grime off a nearby dormer window letting the sunlight stream in; and glanced around. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling and walls, their architects nowhere to be seen; and dust lay over every surface like dirty snow. Stacked all around me was a maze of discarded toys, old board games, a vintage wooden high chair, well-traveled suitcases, and several sealed boxes.


I sat down on the floor, broke the tape on one of the boxes and lifted off its lid. I rummaged through its contents, unearthing a withered-looking scrapbook and an envelope filled with tattered photographs, many with curling edges and showing their age.


I thumbed through the fragile photographs and was drawn to the faded picture of a young woman standing under an oak tree donned in her graduation cap and gown. I didn’t recognize her at first but soon realized the photograph was one Mother took of me immediately after my high school graduation ceremony. I recalled so little of who that young woman was and what she did, vaguely remembering school room lunches, faddish clothes, the intensity she felt for transitory things, and her love for words. It seemed as if I’d forgotten her, her passions, and her dreams like one forgets a bag at a bus terminal. I wondered if she ever existed at all.


I laid the photograph aside and unearthed a dilapidated shoebox and gingerly opened it, sniffing the yellowed, time-aged paper. I opened the folded pages, recognizing the faded ink of stories I’d written long ago and remembering how my love for words began.



Words, Words, and More Words

When I was a little girl, Mother read the children’s dictionary to me every night before I went to bed. Then there was that magical summer day when she took me to the local library.


“Inside these books,” she said while pointing to the maze of shelved books, “writers have created stories. All you have to do is find one you like and read it. Books will take you to some unbelievable places.”


I stood in awe gazing at shelf upon shelf of books, and became forever hooked on words, stories, and books. Up until the time I went to college, I faithfully visited that library every week and checked out five books, taking them home to read during the coming week. With each book I read, my fascination with words and how they were woven together grew.


During my teen years, Mother helped me study my vocabulary words, giving me tips on how to spell and use them correctly. “Words are like music,” she often said. “When composed harmoniously, they’re magnificent, powerful, and beautiful. Combine them wisely; use them carefully.”


When I was 17, I wrote my first story as part of an English assignment. I remembered that feeling of loosening my grip on my pen and letting it wander about on the page until the story found an entrance. Each word tugged another one along until I wrote one sentence, then more sentences, and then pages. I lost myself in the story that yearned to be told, and I loved creating imaginary characters in a fictional world, striving to make it seem real. To create something from nothing—well there was no other feeling quite like it.


Recognition and Inspiration: A Dream Begins

After reading my story, my English teacher took me aside saying, “You’ve got writing talent. Have you thought about attending college and pursuing a writing career?”


“No, Ms. Carpenter, I haven’t.” I was young and naive and had no idea I could put my love for words to use for any practical means. From that moment on, I dreamed of attending college and becoming a journalist or even a novelist like Pearl Buck.


“I know you have an affection for words, but be sensible,” Mother insisted when I announced my future plans. “Find a dependable, less risky way to use your love for words and writing.” Not wanting to disappoint, I took her advice; discarded my teenage dream; enrolled in college; and majored in English education hoping to nurture a love for reading and writing in my students just as Ms. Carpenter and Mother had done for me. For 20-plus years, I was happy and purposeful in my chosen profession—comfortable and content with the choice I’d made.


The Unfulfilled Dream — A Fire-breathing Dragon


Occasionally, however, my unfulfilled dream gnawed at me, particularly when I advised one of my high school students who, like me, dreamed of becoming a writer but was unsure about pursuing a writing career. “Remember,” I fervently advised, “an unfulfilled dream is like a fire-breathing dragon sleeping in a dark, abandoned cave. It won’t stay asleep forever.”


My dream was no different. It slowly stirred in its lair and awoke one day. I began feeling restless, irritable, and discontent.


“Maybe it’s time to retire your chalk and eraser,” my husband suggested. “Haven’t you always wanted to write?”


“Yes…but,” my voice faltered. “What if it’s too late?”


“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”


“What if writing is just a foolish teenage pipe dream? What if I have no writing talent? What if I fail? Then what?”


“But what if you succeed? Then what? You’ll be great!” He reassured me and punctuated it with an encouraging hug.


I hesitated but eventually heeded his advice, registering for an online creative writing course after which I wrote and prepared my first manuscript for submission. “Fingers crossed!” I exclaimed, clicking the online “submit” button then waited for a response for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, a reply came.


“Congratulations!” read the editor’s email. “Your story is well-written and ideally-suited for my anthology.” Months later a printed version of the anthology arrived in my mailbox, and the positive comments I received from the anthology’s readers were unexpected and overwhelming.


I was overjoyed and my confidence soared! Without further delay, I resigned from teaching, resurrecting my teenage dream and passion for writing, once again losing myself in stories that longed to be told. In just a few short years, I found my writing voice and a place in the writing world.


Dreams Require Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Was leaving the comfort zone that was my secure, predictable job easy? No, absolutely not! There was doubt and risk involved, risk that was both invigorating and terrifying—invigorating in placing emotion at the center of my life and writing from a place of insight but terrifying in having my work criticized, routinely rejected, and occasionally disliked. I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable, but those feelings were part of the risk and price I had to pay. Despite the vulnerability and risks, I haven’t changed my mind about being a writer. The risks were well worth the price, for I leave behind little pieces of myself in the words I commit to paper and in the stories I tell.


Risks or No Risks

My experience taught me that the only thing more dangerous than taking risks is not taking them at all. We’re supposed to step out of our comfort zones, reinvent ourselves, and say yes to life. I’m glad I took the risk and reinvented myself, for I’m unbelievably content being a writer—the type of soulful contentment that comes from embracing my passion and fulfilling my lifelong dream.


 

I hope you'll take my message with you:

"...the only thing more dangerous than taking risks is not taking them at all."



 

Sara Etgen-Baker with her Prize - Thai Silk Journal

About Sara Etgen-Baker

After retiring from full-time teaching, Sara began pursuing her teenage dream of becoming a published writer. Since then she's written over 100 memoir vignettes and personal narratives and is combining them into a yet-to-be-published book, Shoebox Stories. She's also written her first novel, Secrets at Dillehay Crossing, that she's currently editing and preparing for publication. When not writing, Sara spends time walking and gardening with her husband of 40 years.

 



Be Sure to Return

Next WEDNESDAY

for our Silver Winner Story


I'm Not Old -- Are You?

By Constance Lieber


Sign Up Below This Post and We'll Be Glad to Send You a Reminder and Link


Upcoming Stories:


SILVER WINNER: Second Place

Constance Lieber

I'm Not Old -- Are You?


BRONZE WINNER: Third Place

Mairi Neil

Passion to Make a Positive Difference: A Sense of Purpose


RUNNERS UP


Marilyn Janson

Road Warrior


Susan Payne

The Edge of Wild


Patricia Hollinger

I Am the Master of My Fate


Ann J. Bennett

Inspiration for an Ordinary Life


Julie Catagnus

Just Us Guys


April Hamilton

A Purpose for My Pain


Nancy Julien Kopp

Keeping Family Alive


 

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8 Comments

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annjbennett
May 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Sara, thanks for sharing your inspirational story, and encouraging us to take risks. Writing, in particular, is a scary thing for me, because when I put my thoughts into words and they're out there, I risk being criticized. You've reminded me that it's okay, and that in taking that chance I may encourage someone or provide a chuckle, or even, maybe, inspire them, as you have inspired your readers.

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docach8
May 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

A wonderful, uplifting story for oh so many of us who are just beginning our writing adventures as seniors. You are an inspiration to all of us. Thank you.

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mairi
May 07, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Congratulations Sara thank goodness you pursued your dream, took the risk, and achieved well-deserved success! Your writing had me in the attic with you and following your journey. Love the title for your memoir and good luck for your novel. You truly are an inspiration.

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Guest
May 04, 2023

This Blog is awesome!

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Janet Brantley
Janet Brantley
May 03, 2023

Congratulations, Sara! I'm so happy to see you living your dream. So often we put off taking the plunge that will lead us in new directions, too insecure to make a move. I'm so glad you are doing what you're meant to do.

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Guest
May 03, 2023
Replying to

thank you for your congratulatory comment...you're right about new directions.

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