In the Spotlight: Dorcas Smucker

5:07 PM

   I have been wanting to pick Dorcas' brain for quite some time now, as she is both a self-published author and blogger, and has a vast array of experiences and wisdom to share that I would love to garner from.  Oh and she's also Randy's aunt.  It's nice to keep it all in the family now and then.

   I'm no professional reporter or anything, and mainly, I just wanted to gather some wisdom from her about some topics that were of interest to me.  So this whole thing will be a bit casual.  The things I was most interested in were how she got her start in writing and what that journey has been like for her.  What I found out was this:

    She has been writing since childhood.  At the age of 15, she wrote a column in the Budget, which is a newsletter of sorts that circulates largely amongst the Mennonite, and Beachy Amish.  Correct me if I'm wrong, people, I actually don't know much about it at all.  Years passed and she continued writing, mainly in letters and also participating in a family circle letter of sorts, which was then passed around so others could read it on account of her good writing.  As a result of this, there was a close family friend who always pestered Dorcas about starting a column.  Dorcas, married by this time and having small children, did what many of us would do and shrugged off the idea.  Until one day, reading the Register Guard, she realized that if anyone sent an article in and it was good enough to stand out and be selected, they would publish it.

So she gave it a try.

They published it.

   Not much happened after that, but a few years later she tried it again, and again it was published.  This time, she sent a copy to the family friend who'd always pestered her, as if to say, "Ta-da.  I did it."  Well, this friend wasn't quite satisfied.  She took it upon herself to write the editor and start pestering HIM to publish Dorcas more often.

He thought that was a good idea.

  And so here we are, 13 years later, and Dorcas has a well-read blog, 4 books in publication, and has been writing a monthly column for the paper ever since. WOW.

   Now this story might not seem that remarkable to you, but you have to realize....writing columns and publishing books and blogging are not topics they cover in "Mennonite Housewife 101."  In fact, it seems such a rarity amongst Mennonite women, (particularly those who are also wives and mothers) that one can start to feel a little strange for having those interests.  I know I have.  And I have not even achieved a fraction of the things Dorcas has.  But our interests are quite similar, and I know what it feels like to wonder, "Am I the odd one around here?  Shouldn't I be canning something right now?  Or learning how to sew?"  (Incidentally she can do both of those things as well)  My point is, her story is unusual, whether you think it is or not.  Glad we got that ironed out. (Ironing, that's another thing I should probably be doing instead of blogging.....)

   If you're wondering how the books came about, she was making her humble contributions to the column for a mere 2 years before fans started asking if she had a collection of them. "Hmmm", she mused, "I suppose I could write a book."  And that's how Ordinary Days,  Downstairs the Queen is KnittingUpstairs the Peasants are Revolting, and Tea and Trouble Brewing were born.  I think I got two of those switched in order of appearance, but I was copying the links off of Amazon, so blame them.

   So, I don't know about the rest of you, but I am so inspired by her story.  In some ways, it seems as if she stumbled upon success, and it all sort of fell into her lap.  But before you go and think that, realize that she has worked for what she's received.  With every drop of sweat of anxiety over another monthly deadline for her article, or pressure from her publisher, or that scary blank slate of a white page staring back at her, she had to work.  She had to push herself beyond the boundaries of the things "normal Mennonite pastor's wives" do, and she had to be willing enough to be vulnerable to share her story for what it was.  Whether it be glamorous, humbling, silly or sobering, she was willing to just be real.  And that, is the true key to success.

    Some of the most treasured bits of wisdom I took from my chat with her:

1.  If a door opens, go through it, no matter how small.  They will accumulate.
2.  Taking opportunities as they come along is a far cry from pressuring yourself into living up to idealistic expectations you place on yourself.  If all that you can be right now is a wife and mother, than just be that.  But if other opportunities come and you're able to take them, then do.
3.  A college education does not necessarily = more success as a writer.  What you need is lots of practice writing, and lots of feedback.

   Those were not direct quotes, but paraphrases of things that she said.  I warned you, I'm not Katie Couric here.  Maybe by the next time my next interview rolls around, I will be much better prepared and armed with lots of quotes and such, but for now, you just get a bit of an "impression" of our interview.  Oh and I have one, that's right, one photo from the whole time, because someone forgot her camera.  Somewhere, Barbara Walters is weeping.

   Yes, they even offered me tea and scones.  Which was SO lovely and generous and really quite fitting after the birth of the royal baby and all.  Is it just me, or does George suddenly sound like a nice name?  What are the odds?!

   And every (or almost every) time I eat scones, I am taken back to my bridal shower, in which I was nervously opening every. Single. Gift. in a silent room with every. Single. Eye. on me (why do they do it that way??!) and I was trying to appear properly excited and exuberant about every single one, but you know, a girl only can endure so much.  And then it happened.  You knew it would.  I opened a set of wall sconces and I loudly proclaimed, "Oh how lovely!  Wall scones!"  And everyone laughed.  And I turned quite red.  The gig was up, my secret was out, I didn't have a clue what wall sconces were.  But they were (and are) quite nice, and are actually on my wall right now.  So whoever gave them to me, thanks.

   There they are, beside the mirror.  Housing burnt-down tea lights that need to be replaced.  And there is my husband's awesome feed bag, proudly displayed on the wall.  He's local, makes the best feed around, and so if you need some, hit us up.  O.k. so now this post is turning into all kinds of random.  Where were we again??  Ah yes, Dorcas.

    So thanks again Dorcas, for taking out time from your hectic summer schedule for a young, aspiring writer who only dreams of one day being able to do some of the things that are now probably old hat to you.

   Thanks for daring to dream outside-of-the-box, and for shattering stereotypes of Mennonite housewives the whole world over.

   Thanks for being brave enough to use the gifts God gave you in a way that has blessed so many, and will continue to inspire and bless countless more.

   There is so much more I could say, and so much I never even got to ask.  There is more material than would ever fit in a single blog post, but could fill an entire series....her many public speaking opportunities, their missionary adventures in Thailand, their son's adoption story, and much, much more.  So maybe her next book just needs to be an autobiography!

   Alas, I need to wrap this up because I hear my napping children rising and really, we dreamers have to live in reality every once in a while too.

Mrs. Smucker, I tip my hat to you.

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  1. Her writing has inspired me to try to take notice of regular life and keep record. For now it is a blog, with it I hope to help encourage people to adopt older, special needs children. I don't have the nerve to tackle controversy, but just keep a journal of real life... My problem...I hear a "quote of the day" and when I sit down later to write it, I forget what it is...must be my age!

  2. Great post! Laughed out loud at the wall scones. Why DO we do it that way??


    It's good to remember that cultivating your gifts and following your dreams, grandiose as it sounds, is actually made of lots of little, brave, commonplace steps


  3. This is fantastic. I look up to Dorcas as a writer and a human. She's an awesome lady.

    Those edible scones look delicious and the wall scones are pretty. :)



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