We are celebrating our first birthday with pride, relief -- and a bit of amazement.
"I Am Woman, Hear Me Write" has come full cycle, and what a year it has been. We set out with this as our mission statement: "We'll be writing about regular women doing extraordinary things. We want to make you laugh, cry, talk and think. We want to nudge each other out of that proverbial box. We will celebrate, commiserate, and sometimes take a critical look."
Today, looking back, we've done all that and more these past 52-plus Sundays. So when most of our "Dirty Dozen" writers reconvened recently in downtown Bradenton to hash out, "Do we forge ahead?" that part was surprisingly easy. Everyone assumed we were there to talk instead about who else we can bring into the fold -- to diversify, to broaden our reach, to find new phenomenal stories from women of all ages and walks of life.
The feedback from readers, sent to the Herald and to our columnists, has been overwhelmingly supportive, welcoming and rewarding. When I originally planned to write today's birthday column, I thought those comments would be what I'd share. But then I started re-reading all our columns, and realized how much they have meant to me personally this year.
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Another piece of our platform:
"We can provide a support group, of sorts -- 'I'm not the only one who went through this'..."
One year ago, when we launched this column, I had no idea how this would prove so personal to me. These women are teaching me bravery when I most need it.
I never thought I could write these words, knowing the ink would make it all too real. But columnist Victoria Horstmann made it possible. There's no such thing as a bad hair day, she declared.
When that column published, I had just gone through two surgeries for breast cancer. It helped knock down walls of fear three months later, when my husband. Jim. and I sat in our kitchen, getting our heads shaved by neighbor Ted. We laughed, cried and read that column again.
"It's important to have someone there when your hair starts falling out. When my hair began falling out, I became unglued to the point of recognizing this cancer as my reality," Horstmann wrote.
Now, as I began to write today's column, Jim was sitting next to me at Moffitt Cancer Center for the penultimate chemo drip. As Victoria taught me, "I quickly learned that it's important to have someone sitting in the chair next to you as the vile substances drip for hours into your veins. I learned that you need someone to distract you and make you laugh."
Stay positive going forward
Ashley Brown threw out the gauntlet to "keep moving forward and do something positive every day" to my life. Sound easy? Ah, no more so than her insights into losing her job, only to find her real self. Both helped me place my workdays and beloved journalism career in better perspective with the most important new chapter started in my life this year: marriage!
When Kameron Partridge Harmon wrote about becoming a mom for the first time, it was all about learning balance of career with new family. Having a husband to come home to is an amazing "I-wouldn't-have -it-any-other-way" predicament. Admitting we might not know how is half the battle, don't you think?
And I bookmarked Rose Carlson's column on retirement, knowing I have at least a few more years but will face the same separation anxieties:
"The hardest part of retiring is that I miss the special relationship I had with my employees. Those who know me know I loved my job, and particularly loved the special people who worked with me for so many of those years ... I attribute the growth and success of our business to the heart and soul they put into each day's work."
That's a true testament of success to strive for.
Then there was the column that went viral: Susan Timmins asked, "What if you could stop being negative? Imagine ..." And Yoko Ono responded via Facebook!
"Susan, thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me know this. I am very happy that you will probably try again. Promise: when you have tried until you were over 90, and you still couldn't make it, let me know and I will give you a hug conceptually -- that is, if you let me ... You made me smile. And then for no reason I choked up. I remembered why I love us human beings. We try." -- Yoko
OK, another bookmark: There have been times when just saying the word Botox brought scowls of ridicule from my friends. Ya gotta love columnist Laurel Lynch for declaring herself:
"I like who I am. I also like to look good, so I too have made the decision to have the occasional injection, to smooth the lines on my forehead and look a little less world-weary."
I immediately splurged on some Lancome -- for now.
Mary Ruiz wrote a bit more altruistically about aging, and how to share the best child still in you with the children in your life. What a joy that has proved with my new extended family.
"Each year, I feel more optimistic and less reactive," Ruiz wrote. "This helps me maintain calm in chaos. My brain might be rusty on the word recall, but it seems more prone to creativity and daydreaming for play. I am more open to the wonder of the world."
When Becky Canesse wrote about one of her first horses saving her from a childhood scare, she revealed a lifetime of building blocks of faith. In God. In people. In her family, including all her four-legged children. "Knowing the world can be dangerous and some people want to hurt you for their own selfish reason is troubling, but discovering that there are good people all around you ready to stand up for you is a heartening realization
"Celebrate your ability to survive," she wrote. That has become my 11th commandment.
Back to another gauntlet thrown by Timmins: "Let's dance!" After 35 years of intimidated avoidance, Susan is taking dance classes.
Oh, how the Smith-Krauter wedding party ripped up the dance floor, surrounding two just-married dancing fools under a full moon. Thank you, Susan.
Ideas for Year Two?
So I might feel a tad selfish drawing so much from these columns that arrive in my email every week, ostensibly to be edited but instead filling me with hope and mission. As we launch Year Two, stay tuned for new ideas, new story-telling methods, new faces from millennials to octogenarians -- all from our home town and invested in this community. Please reach out if you're interested, or if you have some ideas we might tap.
As we closed out our recent birthday meeting, I offered a toast to these "amazing women who are fabulous writers." In a unified voice, they replied, "Just 'amazing women' -- that's enough to tell our stories."
Joan Krauter, Herald executive editor, can be reached at 941-745-7070. Follow her on Twitter @JEKrauter