Dadeville, Alabama—Lake Martin. Long ago, I once visited this magnificent Alabamian wonder after a major university pooped on me.
Let me explain:
I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to do something that mattered. I wanted to not feel like an adult loser with the IQ of a room-temperature pumpkin. I wanted to write.
After I finished community college, I applied to the aforementioned university. I made arrangements in a new city. I rented an apartment near campus. I placed one thousand bucks in a landlord’s hand.
That same week, I moved a vanload of furniture into the ugly apartment. My buddy, Lyle, strained his hamstring moving a sofa-sleeper that weighed more than a ‘64 Buick Skylark.
My wife hung curtains, I shampooed carpets, we painted, I stocked the fridge. I even bought two masculine, yet moderately floral-scented Yankee Candles.
My wife and I spent the night in that small apartment. I told her I was nervous about my first day of class—I was a grown man, going to school with a bunch of teenagers.
“Relax,” my wife said to me. “Your turn’s coming.”
The next day, on the way to my first class, I passed kids carrying backpacks, covered in tattoos, with earrings embedded in various parts of their facial structure. I wore a button-down shirt and khakis, like Mister Rogers on his way to communion.
A kid on a skateboard shot past me. He hollered, “Whoops! Sorry, professor!”
Before I got to class, a man met me in the hall, he had a grave face. I knew something was wrong. He told me the university had rejected my application.
“I’m sorry someone didn’t notify you,” he said. “They should’ve never let you register for classes.”
I was embarrassed. I explained that I’d already paid a lot of money for an apartment, bought books, and I even brought up the scented candles.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The next day, I moved out of the apartment. I took drapes off windows. I left food in the refrigerator for the next student. I lost my deposit. My buddy pulled another hamstring, RE-lifting the same sofa.
Only, this time the sofa was heavier because I was on it, curled up, sucking my thumb.
Not long thereafter, my wife took me to Lake Martin to get my mind off the academic disaster. We stayed in the same cabin I’m at right now.
And back then, before cellphone-based entertainment, I read a lot of paperbound things. Occasionally, out of boredom, I would even read my wife’s home-decorating magazines.
I sat on a dock, listening to water lap against pylons, reading. An article in my wife’s magazine caught my eye.
It was a column nestled between an exposé on “How to Cure Clinical Depression with Area Rugs,” and “Ten Ways to Rearrange a Laundry Room That Will Ignite Your Lovelife.”
The article was about a young man who had never been to college, but became a writer anyway. He was a guy who managed to be himself in the fury of life’s tornado. This man was sort of like me—a blue-collar grunt. And he took a real shot at life.
It gave me a shiver. A good one. I set the magazine down and started writing a story, right then. I used a legal pad and pencil.
The story turned into a novella. The novella turned into a novel. And that novel turned into a piece of work I’ve been fooling with for several years. In fact, I am still working on it.
That was also the same month I started this column you’re reading now—if you can call it that.
Something happened to me on this lake. I still haven’t figured out WHAT happened, but something. The point is: one tiny story did that to me. A few hundred words.
Right now, I’m on this water, watching it hit the shore. I’m writing. I suppose I’m writing to a person out there.
Whoever you are, you’re special, friend. I don’t care if they kick your shin and spit in your eye, or boot you out of a major university.
You’re the real thing. And you’ve got a big day ahead of you. So read a magazine. Buy a scented candle if you can. Get ready.
Your turn is coming.
Van Mitchell - August 6, 2018 5:31 am
If you are on Lake Martin…..you are near Camp ASCCA……you NEED to go there….. God bless you. …..
Donna - October 2, 2018 12:12 pm
Yes, Camp ASCCA, the happiest place on this earth!
Elaine - October 2, 2018 12:48 pm
Van is right! If you have never visited Camp ASCCA on lake Martin, you must. That place is heaven on earth for kids and adults with physical disabilities. Everything is accessible! A place they can go to be kids. Do things other kids do! My son started at 4years old( hardest thing I have ever done in my life) at 12 he was counselor in training, and he and his wife to be worked there the year before they married. All those summers helped him become the strong, independent compassionate man he is today. Such a special place,well worth a visit!!!
MJ - August 6, 2018 5:32 am
LindaD - August 6, 2018 5:35 am
I sure hope it wasn’t Auburn that did that to you. If so, they really, really need to review their admissions standards. You would’ve been a wonderful addition to their alumni base after vgraduation.
theholtgirls - August 6, 2018 5:38 am
Thank you, Sean. I know some people who need this message today, and I’ve already shared it. You sure know how to bless people!
Susan Jacobs - August 6, 2018 9:10 am
Thank you. This fitted me to a T today.
Nancy - August 6, 2018 9:49 am
Thank you Sean! We’ve been waiting for something to happen in our lives and you’ve just reconfirmed that God does have a plan and our turn is coming! Love you!
Kelly - August 6, 2018 9:55 am
Thank you Sean. I am in a waiting time with my job right now and needed these words this morning. God has a plan for every one of us even though sometimes we have to move a heavy couch twice! Thank you.
Janie's Jottings - August 6, 2018 10:33 am
It is never too late to pursue a dream. I was 62 when I decided to challenge myself to finally start my blog. Writing is like therapy for me. I’ve forgotten most everything I learned in school about the rules of composition but I write anyway. I totally get this column. I’m sorry you were so disappointed by that college not accepting you but I’m really, really happy you succeeded anyway. You are my go to read first thing every morning.
Max Horton - August 6, 2018 10:39 am
I too am on the water. The twisted road of life has many unexpected turns. I will be 74 in a month and my wife are leaving Florida to move to Texas to help our son open a hardware store. If you’re ever I. Cut-N-Shoot, look us up. You’re going with us in your column.
Camille - August 6, 2018 10:41 am
You have piqued my curiosity. I want to know the Ten Ways to Rearrange a Laundry Room That Will Ignite Your Lovelife!
Trina V. - August 6, 2018 10:51 am
You’re in my neck of the woods, except I’m pretty much right in town. We moved here almost 26 years ago. It is a great little town to live in!
Steve - August 6, 2018 10:51 am
I read your column this morning as I prepare to come out of retirement, go back to work,and to help support a charity I’ve gotten involved in… great read and just what I needed!!
Jo Brooks - August 6, 2018 11:08 am
Wonderful words of hope. Thank you.
Jeanne Butler - August 6, 2018 11:12 am
I am so glad you started writing. What would I do without you every day. My world would be so much worse. Love you Sean
Connie - August 6, 2018 11:28 am
Thanks for sharing, Sean. You’ve blessed my day.
LeAnne Martin - August 6, 2018 11:55 am
You are a blessing to so many people, Sean. I’m thanking God that you didn’t let that heartbreak stop you from sharing your gifts of writing and story-telling.
Jack Darnell - August 6, 2018 12:28 pm
Yep, you are right. This drop out’s time came when I was 40. I have enjoyed about 40 years of ‘My time’. Others that smiled at me are gone. Some still wonder about me, I sure do!
Paula Link - August 6, 2018 1:01 pm
Thank you. I needed your encouragement today. Bless you.
Joy - August 6, 2018 1:04 pm
You always inspire me Sean! thank you so much…God always has something in store for His children. I am glad you write these columns daily! God bless you!
Pat McCutchin - August 6, 2018 1:07 pm
You are the “real deal” Sean! I’m so glad that the Establishment didn’t get you to suck the creativity out of you and mold you into their version of a successful writer. Your stories get to the soul of your readers; that’s a rare & sacred gift. Keep being yourself; we support and love YOU just the way you are!
Harriet - August 6, 2018 3:37 pm
My sentiments exactly, Pat.
Betty Foster - August 7, 2018 11:46 am
Thanks for your reply, Pat. You put my thoughts into words for me.
ponder304 - August 6, 2018 1:12 pm
Amen….I think I know a writer this article is for….it has been a lifetime coming! Thank you my friend that you never knew!!!!
Julie Y - August 6, 2018 1:49 pm
I got goosebumps reading your column today. Thank you.
S Brown - August 6, 2018 1:51 pm
Sean, who you are comes from your heart not for a textbook. Your heart is bigger than any textbook found in any college class or library. More people are touched by your writings than you’ll find in any classroom or graduation ceremony. You, Mr. Sean, are a successful writer and human being.
Betty Foster - August 7, 2018 11:47 am
angelseyes71 - August 6, 2018 2:39 pm
I needed to hear this today! Thanks for opening up and sharing. And for not giving up on yourself.
Pat - August 6, 2018 2:54 pm
Sometimes the most simple of things have the MOST impact on us!
Sherry Saunders - August 6, 2018 3:02 pm
I’m so glad you did not give up on yourself Sean and God never gives up on us! Everything happens for a purpose and not exactly or necessarily when we want it to. You Make My Day Everyday Sean. God’s riches blessings on you and your wife! You sure touch my heart with every word you write. Life is Good!
Joyce Treadwell - August 6, 2018 3:18 pm
AMEN, Sean! Moving on after a major disappointment is extremely important & necessary! Have read your wonderful articles in Southern Living. God is good ALL the time! Blessings to you & your wife!
Jeff - August 6, 2018 3:21 pm
You are a daily inspiration to me. I can’t thank you enough for sharing you stories and for being so kind to those you meet along the way. Makes me want to be a better person
Minnie Bourque - August 6, 2018 3:58 pm
You are so amazingly inspiring, Sean! It seems as if when I need a kick in the butt, I read one of your articles and I get up and kick someone else in the butt!
Thank you for your words, your inspiration, your compassion, sincerity, etc.
Love your writings! Continue!! You have so much to offer to others!
Edna B. - August 6, 2018 4:14 pm
What more can I add? You are blessed, especially when that university turned you down. You did not need them. They needed you, but did not know it. God has a plan for all of us. You have a wonderful gift of reaching out to people and giving us all hope and inspiration to be better people. God Bless you and you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Max Smith - August 6, 2018 4:18 pm
Excellent! And I can relate to the candles. Masculine, lightly scented! I love your articles. It makes my day. Thank you.
Kathy Lee - August 6, 2018 5:13 pm
Loved your post today! Lake Martin has special healing powers, I grew up going there and continue today at age 57. I love reading your posts thanks for writing!
Shelton Armour - August 6, 2018 5:18 pm
Congratulations on living your dream, Sean. Carry on and God bless.
Linda Safford - August 6, 2018 5:46 pm
Thanks, Sean. This one hit me on a personal level today. I’m 57. Finished my AA this past spring. I looked at the diploma and said, “Now what?” I searched the web for a BA or BS that might interest me. It needed to be totally online. Then finally after my mind was blown over price, I said, “Remember that time you yelled at the sky and said, ‘All I want to do is write!” Well, here I am. I’m “just” writing. And I’m fine with that — even without credentials. I appreciate your daily posts. You get it. Credentials or not. Again, thank you.
Barbara Schweck - August 6, 2018 6:42 pm
That particular University is the Biggest Loser!! You didn’t and don’t need them. You are an absolutely amazing writer whom (or who, I don’t know, I am not a writer) that we all love. You write from the heart, see the best in people, and make our day. Thank you for being you.
Rebecca Souders - August 6, 2018 7:36 pm
What a fine voice you have! And so many hear it, despite that absurd experience with academia! Thanks.
Jack Quanstrum - August 6, 2018 8:05 pm
Inspritional story! Thank you #
Celeste Sheppard - August 6, 2018 8:06 pm
I love you Sean! You make my day. It just so happened that I went to the Yankee Candle outlet store and bought four scented candles! Now I feel like I can take in the world all because of you! Please don’t ever stop writing❤️
Jacque Kochak - August 6, 2018 8:59 pm
I’m going to make sure some Auburn admissions officers see this…
Arlene McCarthy - August 6, 2018 9:07 pm
I loved your article and I think it was very well written
Pat Bice - August 6, 2018 9:40 pm
I love your writings and am so looking forward to hearing you speak on the 25th of Aug. I have lived full time on Lake Martin for 35 years. Love the lake.
edshunnybunny - August 6, 2018 10:35 pm
Your writings are always a blessing, and they help make my day. I’m so glad you didn’t give up on your dream to become a writer because you are very good at it!
Judith Pierce Croxton - August 7, 2018 12:21 am
Another great read!!!
Michael Hawke - August 7, 2018 2:05 am
My first college English professor told the class the only way to get an A in his class was to be the next William Faulkner. And he were the next William Faulkner, you had no business being in his class or even in college. Probably that same major university. Thank you for sharing your stories.
Pamela McEachern - August 7, 2018 2:42 am
We love you…just the way you turned out.
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Susan Swiderski - August 7, 2018 4:06 pm
I’m a first-time reader of your column, but this won’t be a one-and-done. Like Arnie said, “I’ll be Bach.”
I think a lot of would-be writers think they have to have a degree, especially an MFA, before they dare attempt any actual writing. Embracing that attitude is little more than another excuse for procrastinating. Those with a life-long love of language and a dream of telling their own stories should do just that… tell them! Write! A dream is only out of reach if a person refuses to extend some effort.
Your writing is natural and a pleasure to read. You didn’t need that school; it needed you. Finish that book!
Janet Mary Lee - August 7, 2018 11:48 pm
Amen! And do finish that book!
Beau - August 7, 2018 5:50 pm
I have to agree with you Sean. A college degree does not a professional writer make! Love You!
LARRY WALL - August 7, 2018 11:40 pm
“DISAPPOINTMENT ONLY SERVES TO SWEETEN THE ULTIMATE VICTORY.” I can’t give attribution because it was ‘Anonymous” when I found it but it struck me at a time that I really needed it and I never could get it out of my head. Later I found out that it was so true. Persistence is its own reward and will serve the owner well.
Great posting, Sean.
Kim Stumbo - August 8, 2018 11:46 am
Sue Riddle Cronkite - August 8, 2018 1:20 pm
Great encouragement. I’m a retired journalist. I’ve always wanted to write Southern fiction. Now, I’m doing it. Hard to sell, and if someone doesn’t want to publish it, I’ll revive the publishing company I had in the 1990s, go through Create Space, and do it myself. The main thing is, don’t ever give up on the dream. Never.
Melanie - August 11, 2018 2:34 am
you just never know…?
Amy Easton - October 2, 2018 10:35 pm
And I’m certain “that” university regrets that decision. Sean, you didn’t need no stinkin’ degree to write! You just needed a beautiful setting, an inspiring article and a very supportive wife. “But God…” You’ll never know how many folks you’ve blessed with your unique style and way of touching hearts through the written word….write on! ??