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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Rebekah K. Powell

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Rebekah K. Powell.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

I've been affiliated with many organizations in the past. The roles that I have enjoyed the most and have been the most passionate about have been: librarian at York County Public Library; piano teacher at Centerstage Academy; parishioner at Grace Episcopal Church; and stay-at-home mom and homeschool instructor to my three children. Throughout all these different roles, as I assumed new ones and let go of others, the passion that has remained consistent, and that has sustained me throughout my life has been writing.

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I've been writing literally as long as I can remember. Before I could form letters I was "writing" by scribbling on the lines of composition notebooks. Then, I'd "read" the stories out loud, telling them differently each time! I used to keep my little sister entertained before bed and on car rides by telling her made up stories. Nowadays, I do the same thing for my daughters. My first actual poems and short stories were written when I was four or five. At about that same age, I started keeping a journal, and I continue to journal to this day.

In middle school, I developed an interest in fantasy literature, and my stories began to reflect that. I continued writing fantasy short stories in high school, in college (where I majored in creative writing), and during the ten years since! This year, I have finally started putting together a short story collection that I hope to publish.

Writing defines who I am. I don't know who I'd be if I didn't write! So, it's hard for me to say how I got into it. I think what drew me to it is its sheer importance and necessity. Story-telling is a fundamental part of being human. Humans are social creatures. It is in our nature to communicate with one another -- to connect over shared experiences, to emphasize shared values, to express emotions, to teach others about ourselves and be understood. Story-telling is universal to people of all cultures and time periods.

Telling stories is like eating food -- we all do it, but we all do it differently. It's a celebration of our individuality as people and our unity as humans all at once. I love getting to express myself in my own way through my writing, while knowing I am a part of the ongoing human journey to explore and express ourselves and one another through words.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

I've lived in Yorktown all my life.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

The best advice I can give anyone who wants to be a writer is to read and to write. The more you read, the more you will be exposed to different writing techniques. Then, you can decide which ones resonate with you, and which ones you don't, which ones you want to imitate on your way to developing your own style, and which ones are better left alone. Mary Shelley writes dialogue very differently from Stephen King. Shirley Jackson uses specific details in "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" to create imagery, whereas Jean Rhys, in "Wide Sargasso Sea" relies more on the rich, but vague, impression that mentions of color and light can create. It's quite thrilling to come across a new way of doing things to experiment with yourself. Reading can also help when you're blocked. Sometimes, reading something else will inspire you by giving you a new idea for a character conflict or a plot twist. The more you write, the better you will get at it. Writing is more a craft than an art. It does not necessarily require genius, but it does require practice. So write! Constantly! If you can't think of anything to write in the sense of a story, start journaling about your day. It's amazing how quickly that alone can help you become unblocked. Just getting some words out onto paper can be so heartening. And, oftentimes, what's going on in your life can have you too tangled up to be creative without your even knowing it. Working that out in a journal can help liberate your creative powers.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as a professional? In what ways?

Having children definitely impacted my writing. I can't sit down in peace and quiet for four to six hours at a time to work on it anymore. Sometimes even two full, uninterrupted hours is hard to come by. It can be frustrating. On the other hand, finding out that my oldest child also loves to write has brought me so much joy. Just like I did as a little girl, she has filled countless notebooks, sketchbooks, and word documents with illustrations and stories, and she keeps her little sister and brother entertained on car rides with her story telling. It's like seeing that your child has your eyes or nose -- it's a little point of connection between you, a constant happy reminder that, no matter how different you might be, you wouldn't be you, and she wouldn't be herself, if you didn't have each other.

What has been your greatest challenge and what have you learned from it?

I think the greatest challenge wasn't just making time for my writing, but letting go of the guilt I felt when I did so. As a mother, my first priority is my children, so I invest most of my time and energy in them. After that, I felt that my second priority ought to be my home. After all, my children live in this home. It should be beautiful, and clean, and well-organized, right? Skipping the laundry or the sweeping to get two hours of writing in while my children did their screen time felt unforgivably self-indulgent. I felt not only that I was shortchanging my children of the perfect home they deserved, but also my hard-working husband, who had nowhere clean and peaceful to relax when he came home. It wasn't even as though my writing brought in an income, like his work did. I would punish myself for writing by accusing myself of being lazy, selfish, and spoiled, but, when I didn't write, and focused on the housework instead, I wound up bitterly resentful -- which wasn't very good for my husband or children, either.

I went through several cycles of self-reproach for writing, and then anger while not writing, before I was finally able to let go of the guilt. I realized that writing isn't merely a hobby to me. It's the way I process my emotions and the world around me. When I don't write, the inability to process, sort through, and work out emotional and mental stimulation leaves me agitated and tense. It's as necessary for my psychological well-being as going outside in the fresh air and sunshine is. Do I reproach myself for meeting my physical needs by drinking or eating? No (though, I will admit, it often is a last priority). Then why am I reproaching myself for meeting my psychological needs? And why was I letting the value of what I did be determined by how much money it earned?

Once I let go of the guilt and self-hatred, I was free to be happier, more energetic, and more loving. It was amazing, the emotional "space" guilt and self-hatred took up. I had valued these emotions because I felt that they kept me accountable about what I accomplished, and stopped me from being complacent about what I was doing. But they weighed me down a lot, too. It was a relief to thank them for the part they had played in my life, and then release them from their service. Suddenly, that "space" was open to receive and give other emotions.

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