Making an Impact – Part 1: Writing and Speaking

Gayle_Cheyenne bookstoreThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Many writers make a big splash, and a big impact. Big fish like JK Rowling, Beverly Lewis, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Mark Twain, even Shakespeare live in much bigger ponds than me. I feel like a small fry compared even to fellow Wyoming writers like Craig Johnson, CJ Box, and Nina McConigley (who won a prestigious PEN Award last year and a High Plains Book Award this year). My circle of influence may not impress many publishers, but yet I believe I can, and do, make an impact, and I’d like to think it a positive one.

Each of the above names has affected generations, audiences, and genres. In some ways, so have, and do, I.

My first book, Sage’s Big Adventure, was published in 2007. During the past eight years, I’ve visited several schools, speaking to kindergarten through seniors in high school. I’ve presented programs at libraries in- and out-of state, in senior centers in my community and beyond, and also to Christian women’s organizations. Public speaking, whether in a classroom, at a library, or for a civic or church group provides ample opportunity to influence and impact. My audiences aren’t huge, but I love the intimacy and connection one garners in a small group setting. On Saturday, I conducted a presentation at a library in a small Wyoming community about 30 miles from Casper. My audience was less than 15, but WOW! what a group! Engaged, discerning, and compassionate – I met a teenager who wants to help dog rescues and to adopt from a shelter or rescue very soon, and a woman asked me how to get her dog certified as a therapy dog, like Mary; both of these ladies can, and probably will, also have a positive impact on others. I love connecting with audiences!

Kids writingAbout 10 days ago I visited an elementary school and spoke to 2nd – 4th graders. We spent some time outdoors and they wrote in nature journals. The program, including the outdoor observations, was connected to my latest children’s book Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. My hope with this book, and with current speaking opportunities in the schools, is to connect and engage kids with nature. The students at this rural school about 15 miles from Casper, their teachers, and I all enjoyed our time together, and thanks to the school district, each child received a copy of Cody’s Cabin… I hope the kids will spend more time outdoors now that they have the book – we live in a beautiful area and our community’s children should be more engaged with nature.

Speaking can also include media interviews. During the past week, I was blessed to be on a local morning news TV show and a blog talk radio program. I only had two minutes on TV, but I was given 50 minutes on the radio program (if you’d like to listen to all or part of interview, here’s the link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/stepintothelight/2015/10/20/step-into-the-light-with-patti-shene. You’ll also find some photos as part of a slide show that I’d sent the host). Whether it’s 2, 10, or 50 minutes of air time, writers can use these opportunities to reach listeners which ultimately can become additional readers of our work.

With each speaking endeavor, I seek to make an impact upon people, to hopefully make life better not only for them through encouragement and inspiration from my writing, but also to positively influence the lives of shelter and rescue pets (as well as encourage better care of the pets people already have). Every year more than 5 million dogs and cats go into shelters in America, and each year nearly half don’t come out – our country still kills more than two million companion animals, many of them adoptable but not adopted. Additionally, animal cruelty is a still alive and flourishing in the forms of dog fighting and plain, pure evil deeds done by humans against animals. My prayer for my life is to help change these sad statistics and situations by influencing children and adults in how they view and treat pets.

Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_CoverWith books available on Amazon, my little pond ripples outward and draws in new readers because my books, and the short stories created and published in various Chicken Soup for the Soul editions, are available to a worldwide audience. My friend Nina McConigley messaged me one day while she was in India with a photo of last year’s The Dog Did What? on a bookstore shelf. Her message said, “Even people in India are reading about Sage!” As writers, especially with Amazon and compilation books, we can influence people we will never even meet in this lifetime. What an incredible thought!

I may be a small author-fish in a vast ocean of writers, but I can make an impact, and, along the way, inspire others to look beyond themselves … or to see themselves better than they do. Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog relates my journey with Sage, my blind springer spaniel. Sage was deemed “less valuable” than other dogs by many humans, including the owners who originally gave her to an animal shelter. People often think themselves as not valuable. That book reminds readers that, though we all have flaws, just like Sage, we are valuable and we can grow and become even better human beings. Some saw Sage as “less than” because she was blind – here we are, what would have been her 15th birthday last month, and she continues to make an impact on people and pets through her life story and through the influence she had on me. Less than? Not valued? I think not! Though I’m not a household name in the literature arena, I can, and do, make an impact. So do you.

Sage_River_MissouriStateWhen I was preparing to speak at the library in Glenrock on Saturday, a message came to the library’s Facebook page. It said, “So bummed I’m going to miss Ms. Irwin! I enjoy her writing and it would have been wonderful to have met her in person.” That short message touched my heart and positively affected my day! As I said, I love connecting with my audience, whether in a speaking setting or through someone reading my stories.

We writers certainly have opportunity to make an impact. We may never have our books become movies or TV shows like JK Rowling or Craig Johnson or win major awards like my friend Nina, but we can make a positive difference in the lives of our readers – and beyond.

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Hero Dog Award signSee others who are making an impact – watch the Hero Dog Awards on Hallmark Channel Friday night, Oct. 30th. As most of you know, pets are my passion and many pets are heroes for the work they do and the amazing things they’ve done. Learn more about the incredible dogs up for these great awards, and the humans who recognize the value of their companion and the organizations benefiting from these awards by visiting this website: http://www.herodogawards.org/vote.

Be a hero yourself this month – October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Adopt, volunteer, donate, and though not everyone can do everything, everyone can do a “something” to help save the lives of companion animals in your area … or beyond. An article at CNN offers seven ideas on how we can help save pets: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/09/us/iyw-help-animals-get-adopted/. Or visit Petfinder to learn about adoption and others ways you can be a hero in the lives of pets: www.petfinder.com.

Part 2: Making an Impact with Your Passions should go live on November 6th. Bet you can’t guess what passion I’ll be talking about?! (smiley face)

Mary_GlenrockGayle M. Irwin is an author, writer, and speaker with a passion for pets. She writes inspirational dog stories for children and adults and her short stories have appeared in five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her latest work is Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest, a children’s story and activity book that encourages kids to explore and appreciate nature. She volunteers with various animal rescue organizations and enjoys sharing about the pet-human bond and the human connection with nature. Learn more at www.gaylemirwin.com.

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Aging and Learning: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Gayle & Mary outsideThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

 

He sleeps on the multitude of dog blankets which we’ve bought for him and spread throughout the house. He stands and his back legs wobble, oftentimes collapse, and he falls and struggles to regain his footing. In dim light, he walks into corners and simply stands and stares, as if confused. His appetite has decreased so we often coax him to eat using hamburger and chicken. Despite the struggles of aging, he looks at me with adoring, trusting eyes and cuddles next to me on the couch as I watch TV.

Cody_PlaidBlanketCody, our 16 ½ year old cocker spaniel, came into our lives when he was nearly 10. Used as a stud dog all of his life, his previous owners declared his services no longer needed and left him at the local Humane Society. I noticed him immediately as I leafed through the “Dogs Available for Adoption” book at the shelter’s front desk, four days before my birthday in 2008. By week’s end, Cody was still in a cage, and the shelter manager, a friend of mine, said, “You know, his chances of adoption are slim. Even though he’s a small dog, his age is against him.” That statement sunk in, and it was “happy birthday to me!” Neither Cody nor I have looked back.

“His age is against him ….” A sad testimony to how we view and value (or de-value) the elderly. Both humans and animals are seen as “less than” after a certain age. True, as we age, we begin to lose functions – in fact, sometimes I’m like Cody: I walk into a room and forget why I’m there (stand in the corner and stare); I’d rather sleep than go out, especially on cold, snowy days; and, my legs aren’t as steady and sturdy as they once were (the knees creak when I go up or down stairs unless I’ve taken my glucosamine). I sometimes forget the word I’m looking for when I’m talking or writing (more gingko, please!). But, with age comes wisdom and opportunity – to learn, to share, to grow and to give.

Gayle speakingDespite getting older, I’m still learning as a person and a writer. My Cody dog – well, not so much! He still doesn’t come when called – but he’s deaf, so that’s a good reason! – and he still raids the cat food dishes if I’m not vigilant (but then, at least he’s eating!). However, he does remind me to take more resting opportunities and that I don’t have to race around like a stock car on the NASCAR track nor do I have to try to do everything myself. Cody looks to me for more help now than he did even three years ago, and I, too, need to recognize my limitations. Yet, my limitations don’t have to include no longer learning. For example, I’m starting a fiction writing class at the community college this week from which I hope to produce that romance story I mentioned in another post. Also, I’m doing more speaking engagements this year, including speaking to a group of seniors today and another group of senior citizens in a few weeks. I have vast experience talking with students in a classroom, but during the past year I branched out and began conducting more speaking engagements with adult groups. I also began teaching a community education class at our local college last year and hope to again next spring, a course on writing and publishing for people 50+ years of age.

Just because we age and things begin sliding south doesn’t mean we can’t do some fun things or learn new things: old dogs can be taught new tricks! So, whether you challenge yourself as a writer, a worker, in a hobby or personally, take those steps to learning something new. You will grow in many ways.

Cody FaceAnd you and I can give back. November (which is just around the corner) is National Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month – maybe an older furry friend can help you along that pathway of learning something or doing something new. After all, studies show people with pets are healthier mentally and physically, so consider adopting a senior pet to help you age more gracefully … and maybe you will help it do the same. With age comes wisdom … and opportunity – make the most of all three while helping a senior pet who just wants a home and love – and gives so much in return.

What new things are you learning and/or doing as you get older?

 

Gayle and Mary at KnowledgeNookGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, Creation Illustrated, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, River Press, and Douglas Budget newspapers. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

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Relishing Summer

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis blog post by Gayle M. Irwin

 

During summer it’s easy to “relish” – watermelon, apples, ice cream, ice tea, the occasional strawberry daiquiri or margarita (or both!): all quench a parched throat, dry from summer’ warmth.

But, there are other things to “relish” as well these days: the season itself with respite from snow and cold; hikes and walks in woodland splendor; laughter of children; companionship of family and friends – treasures of summer’s majesty.

Writers Group at CabinI’ve been fortunate to relish – and revel in – many things this season, like cabin solitude and cabin time shared with family and friends, including my parents, and good friends such as my writer’s group just a few weeks ago; and the spider-webbing of my writing through new magazine and blog opportunities, several of which will be published this fall. I recently received the new copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What? and had my first sales of the book last Friday! I spoke at a library and senior center in a town about 90 miles south of Casper and connected with more dog people, and later this month I travel to Colorado to speak at the Fort Collins Senior Center. I relish these opportunities to share uplifting presentations with a call to action – to help animal rescue groups in the area. During this particular weekend I will continue my travel south to New Mexico, to visit a friend I’ve known more than 35 years, and then drive back north with a stop in Colorado Springs to visit places I’ve not seen, like Garden of the Gods and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I’m also planning to share dinner with Doris McGraw!

TetonsIn July I spent time with another friend, someone I’ve known about 30 years, when he and his family visited Teton National Park, therefore, I was fortunate to return to a lovely part of my state: Jackson, the Tetons, Yellowstone National Park. My parents visited at the end of July, and in September my father and I will visit national parks in Utah as well as the Grand Canyon. I’ve been to a few of these places; my dad never has. At 78 years of age, he’s put this trip on his “bucket list,” and I will “relish” sharing this vacation – and nature’s grandeur – with him.

I relish writing, speaking, travel, knowledge, my pets, family, and friends.

Many people make relish from summer gardens – I remember my mother doing that for years. I am neither a cook nor a gardener so my “relish” is a savoring of life’s sweetness when certain opportunities come my way: enjoyment of friends and family; sharing my passions, talents, and gifts in a variety of ways; and creating memories … and anticipating more in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

What “sweetness” will you be relishing soon? SAVOR!!

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Gayle with book buyerGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the latest dog book The Dog Did What? to be released August 19, 2014. She also writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, Douglas Budget, and River Press newspapers, and she’s had articles published in Creation Illustrated magazine. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. Learn more at www.gaylemirwin.com.

 

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