Creative Careers in the Arts



Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Pat Conway: Poet, Photographer, and Librarian

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated June 9, 2018


I am interviewing the talented poet, photographer and librarian Pat Conway. This busy lady loves the outdoors, and has been a bird-watcher for most of her life. She is also an experienced bee-keeper.

By a strange coincidence, we used to be neighbors, and her daughter Ellie is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I had lost touch with the family, but we were reunited when Ellie found me through Creativity Portal. Even as a girl, I dreamt of being a writer — little did I know, there was a poet living right next door!


Q: What was your first job as a young woman?

A: My first paying job, I remember well. I was hired as an x-ray technician assistant at a local hospital. I liked the job. I loaded x-ray cassettes and developed x-rays in a dark room. It took some getting used to working in the dark, but in a few days I adjusted to it. My boss was a stern woman, but we got along well.

Q: Remind me a little bit about our shared past on Cornell Street, and the way we re-connected.

A: We moved to Colorado Springs in 1987. We were a military family stationed at Fort Carson. My children were about eleven and five. We moved next door to the Anderson family. Their children were about the same age as mine. There were two boys, Noah and Eli. Noah was my son's age. Eli was the oldest boy and Molly was the same age as my daughter, Ellie. Molly and Ellie became inseparable and played together a lot.

My daughter e-mailed me several months ago to tell me that she had somehow found you on the internet. I e-mailed you and got a quick reply. It was like walking back in time remembering. One of those great happy moments in life!

Q: What do you remember most clearly about me as a girl?

A: I remember you as being very serious and studious, but you had a wonderful sense of humor when it came out. You were always reading and I remember that you said you wanted to be a writer someday.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

A: I think the most rewarding thing about being a librarian is that every day I have the opportunity to help people find answers to their questions; whether it be helping them find a book they read when they were a child or helping them with research papers, genealogy, or answers to medical questions. My reward in finding a treasured childhood book for patrons is seeing the smile on their face and the nostalgia in their eyes. Especially since all I have to go on is that they remember the book was about a duck and it had a white cover with red letters!

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of working in this field?</p>

A: The most challenging aspect of working in this field is public relations. There are many different kinds of people and in my work, I have to tactfully deal with everyone.

Q: How do you balance your work as a librarian with your creative writing and photography? Tell us how you broke into the world of writing and art.

A: I haven't given up a regular job. I write because writing is in my blood. It is part of who I am, and incorporates well with the job I've had for the past seventeen years.

My husband died of cancer in Colorado Springs in 1990. After his death, my children and I returned to Pennsylvania, my childhood home. It took me two years to return to the work force.

When I was ready, I entered a class called New Choices, which helped me get my confidence back to re-enter the workforce. I took several correspondence courses to brush up on my skills. I also took a Civil Service test at that time to become a Park Ranger but that didn't pan out. I had two interviews but they wanted me to take a firearms course that required me to spend time away from my children and I didn't want to do that.

I heard that there was a position open at the public library where I live and applied for it. I didn't get the job then, but I got it some months later when the person they hired left unexpectedly. I felt like it was the right place for me, since books and writing were always my passion.

I met another writer there who encouraged me to attend a writer's workshop in Mercer. I went with her that year, and have been going to it ever since. It is now a writer's conference. My poetry has won awards at this conference over the past fifteen years, and I've gained a wealth of information from attending the conferences.

Several years after I attended the Mercer Conference, I started a poetry contest at our library. I thought, "I can do that." It has encouraged our local poets to come out of the closet and get their work out there. This will be our thirteenth year coming up. It's been a great success. Some of our winners have had their poems published, which makes me happy.

Q: As a young mother, was it tough to find time for creative work? How did you cope with these stressors and keep writing?

A: Time is one of the biggest challenge, I think, for all of us. I'm a night owl, so most of my creative writing I did at night when the kids were asleep and the house was quiet.

Sometimes, it's also difficult to make others understand the importance of writing. I've found over the years that people don't think writing is a "real" job, or consider it less important than other types of work. I've heard this complaint from many of my writing friends and my brother-in-law, who writes healthcare administrative textbooks. When you're in your office or computer room, people think it's okay to interrupt you because you're just writing. It can be frustrating.

Q: When you look to the future, what are your goals and dreams? Tell us a little bit about any special projects you're looking forward to.

A: I have written a book about my experiences with grief and loss, which I think would help people. I'd like to have it published. A co-worker and I (who I found out is a distant cousin) have joined our talents and are making greeting cards using my photos and her sentiment. We are in the process of finding a market for our cards.

Q: Good luck with that! I know you'll do well, your photos are gorgeous! Talk about your experiences with self-publishing your work.

A: My daughter asked me to compile a book of my poetry for her, so in 2000 I spent several months working on it and made a dozen copies for family and friends. I had them spiral bound at Staples. I didn't actually go through a company or publisher to do this. I did it on my own.

Q: What do you do when the Muse takes the day off? If you're feeling stuck in the muck or just uninspired, how do you re-charge your creative batteries?

A: I love nature and solitude. I have to have it or I'm no good to anyone. All I need to do is take a walk in the woods with my binoculars or camera and catch a glimpse of a warbler or hear it sing; this helps me to reconnect with the Creator. I also enjoy sitting by a campfire and staring into the flames. There's something soothing about it. I just let my mind empty out and relax. I guess you could say that nature is my therapy!

Q: Talk a little about the healing power of creative work. I know you've faced some tough times and I greatly admire your strength and grace in the presence of sorrow. How does your work help you to persevere through dark times?

A: Writing and the passing of time has probably helped me more than anything in times of grief. At the age of ten, my best friend died from a gunshot wound to the head. I remember that my family didn't know what to do to help me get through this terrible time in my young life. I closed myself off, and wouldn't go anywhere or do anything but play instrumental music on the stereo. I started writing poetry at that time. Through subsequent losses; my first child, my husband, dear friends, and family members, my poetry has come forth. Some of my best poems were written out of grief and recovery from it.

Q: What is your greatest source of inspiration and joy?

A: My greatest source of inspiration and joy are my children. They love me unconditionally.

Q: What makes you giggle, shine, and glow inside?

A: A good stiff drink! Seriously... when I accomplish something that is successful, people like it and I know I have done my best.

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure? How do you spoil yourself?

A: Getting off by myself where nobody knows where I am and the phone isn't ringing. At this time in my life I am mainly responsible for my parents welfare . They are in assisted living, but I manage their financial affairs, health needs, and care for their property, plus my own house and a job. Sometimes, I spoil myself by sleeping in and turning the phone off or reading a good book.

Q: If you could travel back in time to visit your thirteen year old self, what advice would you give her?

A: Treat everyone you meet with respect because you never know when you may run into them again down the road of life. (Like you, Molly!) Cherish and nurture your friendships. Help someone every day. Live a life of integrity. Take time to have fun and enjoy what makes you happy, be flexible, and always have a plan B.

Q: What keeps your creative juices flowing? How do you stay inspired, fresh, and full of ideas?

A: I carry a small notebook with me. If something amuses me or stirs me I jot it down to use later. I did this when my kids were little and they get such a kick out of reading about themselves now.

Q: How do your spiritual beliefs inform your work?

A: My spiritual beliefs are interwoven in my poetry and prose. I believe in God.

Q: Who forms your support system? Many creative souls would be lost without the help and support of family, friends, and other artists.

A: My family has been very supportive of my writing — my children, Ellie and Patrick, my two sisters, Kathy and Jane, and my Aunt Naomi. Friends from Alaska, Karen & Bob, Ginger, Iris, my writer's group, and my co-workers. It would take a whole sheet of paper to list the friends and family who have encouraged me over the years to do something with my poetry. They have all cheered me on over the years. Kudos to them all!

Q: Describe a typical day at work, so we can really get a feel for how you craft your day.

A: A typical day at the library is busy! I am the interlibrary loan librarian for our public library. If a patron needs a book that we don't have, I find it for them on our Pennsylvania database. Sometimes it takes a larger search of the whole country. I also answer the phone, wait on patrons at the front desk, help people with internet questions, shelve books, manage the vertical file and 101 other tasks that might come up. No two days are the same at a library. It is always a challenge..

Q: How and when did you discover that this is what you wanted to do with your life? Have you always been interested in writing and art?

A: When I was a child, in the attic of our house, I would sit in front of an old wooden desk in a broken swivel chair and pretend that I was a writer. I pecked at an old black typewriter, long disregarded. I would have to say that is when my desire to write began. My interest in writing and art (photography) has never diminished. The following poem, written in 1968, was inspired by that memory:

A WRITER

Oh, to be a writer, it must be really grand,
to sit behind an oaken desk with pen and ink in hand.
To mark upon the paper that lies upon the desk,
the memories and moments that you have loved the best.
Yes, to be a writer is what I'd like to be.
But I could write much better just sitting by a tree.
There I'd have my pen and paper perched upon my knee,
gaze into the bright blue sky, and write my reverie.

Q: What is your favorite way to relax, recharge, and revitalize your creative soul?

A: My equal love to writing is bird-watching. Escaping into the country with my binoculars is how I recharge and revitalize. I never tire of watching birds in their natural habitat. I also greatly enjoy seeing people bird-watch for the first time, spotting their first bird through binoculars. It is such a joy! They usually say, "Oh my," or " I never knew birds were so beautiful!" They're hooked after that.

Q: You mentioned a project that allowed you to combine your passions for writing, photography, and watching birds in their natural habitat. Tell us more.

A: It has been twenty-five years since the State of Pennsylvania published a breeding bird atlas, documenting every bird species that breeds in the State. Four years ago, The Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, Pennsylvania undertook the monumental task of compiling another atlas (The Second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas), backed by The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Pennsylvania Game Commission, the U.S. Wildlife Service, Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology, Audubon Pennsylvania and the National Park Service.

I have been a member of the Seneca Rocks Audubon Society, Clarion, PA, for over fifteen years and a birder most of my life. I was asked if I would like to participate in this project. I said, "Yes." This year has been my fourth as Regional Coordinator for one of the sixty regions in the State. My job is to record every breeding bird in my region, which is approximately three hundred square miles, I think. I have a wonderful group of volunteers who are helping me. We get up before the chickens and cover blocks on scheduled days, searching for birds. It's a lot of work, and fun at the same time. Our reward will be our names in the book as contributing citizen scientists. I also write articles for The Drummer, the Seneca Rocks Audubon Society's monthly newsletter.

A FAMILIAR PLACE

There's a place that's so familiar
it's often in my dreams,
I travel there when cares of life
would tear me at the seams.
I wander over rolling hills
and sit in fields of clover,
watching monarchs flit and dance
and kestrels flying over.
Sometimes I pause beside the stream
and watch the crayfish scurry.
Cooling waters bathe my feet
for once I need not hurry.
Winds whisper through the swaying pines
and gently blow my hair.
This place that's so familiar
leaves my mind without a care.
Tea berries and arbutus spread
across the meadow green,
While deeper in the forest
the whitetail lie unseen.
A man and wife with silver hair
greet me at the door.
I'm totally accepted,
I could not ask for more.
This place that's so familiar
is a world set apart.
One thing that never changes,
a constant in my heart.
I'm thankful for these memories
now that I am grown,
I return there every chance I get...
to my familiar place called "home."

— Patricia Jackson Conway, 1993 For Mom and Dad


LOVE ON A LIMB

Two silhouettes I often saw upon a lofty limb,
they cuddled so, I couldn't tell if it was her or him.
Each morning I would sit and watch as they came down to feed,
searching, ever searching, to find the choicest seed.
I often thought, "How lucky, are these birds to have each other,
for life is so much better when you share it with another."
"They have it made, all day they rest, and coo upon the stem."
How could they know I envied and wished that I were them.
Then, one wintry morning as I watched from safe inside,
a silent shadow crossed the yard, they had no time to hide.
The stalker struck a fatal blow as feathers floated down,
all at once sharp talons held her lover to the ground.
In disbelief I watched the sight I could not bear to see,
and somehow felt a link between that little dove and me.
She sits alone now on the limb, while there beneath the snow,
are bits and pieces of her love, lost not so long ago.
The other birds have stayed away, afraid of shadows now,
but she sits waiting patiently for his return somehow.
With perseverance I await the day when I, too, shall see
the one I loved smile tenderly with open arms to me.
Unlike the dove, I realize my love cannot return,
but as I see her sitting there, my heart begins to yearn.
In vain she waits, the little dove, upon her lofty limb,
not knowing he can't come to her, now she must go to him.


THE WOOD LOT

The tanagers are in my woods,
I heard their song today.
As daylight broke I heard one call;
It took my breath away.
I walked into the sunrise,
The warmth spread over me.
Despite the cares of daily life
Creation I could see.
In each and every dewy leaf,
In every clump of sod;
I felt the very nearness
and handiwork of God.
From absolutely nothing,
He fashioned what we know.
As I held a tiny bud
I knew that this was so.
A warbler sang three-noted songs
high in the canopy.
When I reached the meadow's edge
I stopped to watch a bee.
All around me nature sang,
In volumes to my soul.
I walked back to my daily life
Feeling well and whole.


AS IT SHOULD BE

Across my meadow monarchs flit and dance upon the upturned faces of the Queen-Anne's-Lace.
The trees along the meadows edge stand regally attired in red and gold and flaming orange.
Goldfinch peck at ripened seeds from the bowed heads of sunflowers and twitter to each other.
Honeybees work frantically to gather the gold from the goldenrod before the air turns cold and they must rest or die.
I turn my face towards the autumn sun, close my eyes and let it warm me.
A crow caws in the distance and is answered by its kind.
Invisible, a soft breeze bends and blends each stem and blade upon my meadow. The meadow bows beneath the fingers of the wind, as if in prayer.
I close my eyes again and let the breeze caress me.
The trees, the grass, the lace, the birds the bees and I, we blend, bow, sway and pray together.
This moment, life is as it should be.

Note: This poem won third place in the 2007 Mercer Writer's Conference "Advanced Poet" category.

Next Interview: David Duggins: Writer and Publisher

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.