Monday 19 February 2018

Off Piste

This is not my usual type of blog post but I hope you'll bear with me, even though it might be a bit wordy... depending on how fast I type! A few weeks ago I signed up for a free on-line Winter Writing Workshop with Do What You Love for Life. Despite having kept this blog for over ten years, written a pantomime, edited our village newsletter for the past year and  having always written diaries I don't think it has ever crossed my mind to consider myself a writer. But I quite liked the idea of the challenge of a week of writing prompts. On day five we were looking at the value of critisism and rejection which included watching Oprah Winfrey interview J. K. Rowling. Our writing challenge for that day was then to write a 30 minute* blog post on "What Oprah Winfrey has taught me"

To be fair we could choose another public figure we admired but I liked the challenge of writing about Oprah Winfrey, especially as until last Saturday I don't think I had ever thought an awful lot about her. I knew she had been a tabloid style chat show host with a hugely successful show, but beyond that I knew very little. The only time I've ever seen her before was in the film "The Colour Purple" in which she gave an excellent performance gaining an Oscar nomination but I could hardly claim that had taught me anything. 

But I thought her interview with J. K. Rowling was totally captivating and it had me fascinated for the entire conversation. She showed such a connection, empathy and genuine interest in her guest that I was determined to find out more and so I did what all good writers should do and that was some research. I was  surprised by some of the things I discovered. Oprah was born into poverty in rural Mississippi in 1954, to an unmarried teenage mother. She was raised in turn by her maternal grandmother, her mother and then her father. She suffered abuse in her childhood and became pregnant aged just fouteen but her only son died in infancy.

Whilst still at school she got a job in local radio and despite all her disadvantages she excelled at school and won a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Her career in local media took off and her meteoric rise to host the most popular TV talk show ever, was rapid. She has gone on to write books, produce, act and has become a media proprietor. Not only is she cited as the richest African-American she is also ranked as the greatest black philanthropist in American history, supporting numerous educational causes and relief efforts. There is no doubt her life has courted much controversy but I was struck by her openess and generosity of spirit. She has risen from her own disadvantaged background to show strength, overcoming adversity and going on to help others do the same. So to answer "What Oprah Winfey has taught me" I think it is that despite where we come from, despite our mistakes and our flaws, we can constantly learn and grow aspiring to be the best version of ourselves possible. In her own words "Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create". It has also been a lesson not to make judgements without being informed. I  could have quite easily dismissed Oprah Winfey as just another over-hyped celebrity... I would have been wrong.

So that was my blog post for this particular writing exercise and I would be interested in your feedback, because it feels a bit scary going off piste like this and away from the safety my usual subjects like cake and knitting! Are there any public figures you admire? Who would you have written about?

* This actually took longer than thirty minutes but I was too absorbed in the process to stop writing.


  1. Love this post! I read a little about Oprah a while back and found it really inspirational. It's always good to hear a story of triumph over adversity. I remember writing a little piece about Dame Ellen MacArthur a while back. She saved her school dinner money to buy her first boat. I loved how someone who was not from a wealthy background made it in such an elite sport by learning everything she could, always being the best and never giving up. Glad you enjoyed the writing workshop, and you must definitely consider yourself a writer. CJ xx

  2. Fascinating post. I felt the same about Oprah until I learned more about her. She seems to be a very strong but warm person who has made it to the top, in spite of everything.
    The only people I can bring to mind right now, are those who have already been written about. I would have to give it much more thought. Enjoy your writing.

  3. Interesting post. I know, or knew very little about Oprah and wasn't particularly interested until your post. A very motivated woman.

  4. Again I knew very little about Oprah until reading this...great post Gina!

  5. Like you, I knew little about Oprah until recently when I heard a Radio 4 profile prompted by a speech she had made. I can't say she has taught me anything. But the fact I only knew Oprah as a tabloid chat show host and occasional actor has taught me not to judge celebs by tabloid headlines. I think most people who hit the headlines have an interesting and often hardworking back story but sensationalist and shallow reporting just highlights a tiny facet of the person's life.

  6. I am a better person for reading this post Gina. So often I take people at face value, but you are so right that they often have a back story. I bet you enjoyed the research for this post and the writing course too. Loved reading it. Thank you. B x

    1. Thank you Barbara. What a lovely thing to say x

  7. There used to be a slogan, 'Blogging without Obligation" so there's never a need to explain a new or temporary change in direction as a blogger in my book. Variety keeps things interesting. I used to watch Oprah many years ago on her chat show and I always felt then that she was honest and empathetic when talking to people. It's true that many people in the public eye are villified in the press rather than hailed for the good work they do away from the cameras.
    I am guilty of making snap judgements about people, to my shame, and even though I'm aware of it it still happens. Women like Oprah and Tina Turner have influenced me to be stronger but it took 50+ years to find myself.
    I think you should keep up with writing especially if it challenges and absorbs you. So much of it involves research which can take you anywhere.

  8. Our headline culture makes it difficult to see past the surface and consider celebrities in a more human way like we would for example a new neighbour. I am guilty of dismissing many celebrities as shallow persons and it is good to be reminded that they are people with a history, just like you and me. It may of course be a more or less interesting history. I really enjoyed reading about Oprah Winfrey, I knew next to nothing about her other than that she recommends books to read and has a chat show, which I have never seen.
    I read Barack Obama's first book, published in 1995 I think. It was a bit of an eye opener also, his family background is most interesting, as is his upbringing.
    Anyway, must not make this comment into a blog post :-) Keep on writing, I really love anything you write about! x

  9. Great post Gina and you are most definitely a writer as well as a fab mother, grandmother, homemaker, friend, embroiderer, baker, poppy maker and most importantly a super star inspirer. We love you x

  10. Years ago - my niece used to prompt me to - watch Oprah - she's talking to ... about ...

    PS you write well - that is why we read your blog

  11. I'm glad you wrote the post Gina. It is good to see the other side of people and having empathy even if they are of celebratory status is so important and you captured it beautifully. The people in my life who have made the greatest impression on me, have also been very empathetic people, despite their well-known status, albeit in the circles I moved in. Each would acknowledge all others as equals - or at least that is what it felt like and I think they were genuine. Some folks like to strut their stuff, but these folks didn't.

  12. Excuse the belated comment Gina, I'm catching up on blog reading - I really enjoyed this post, and I too would have been inclined to dismiss Oprah as a celebrity yo-yo dieter - so this post has been very interesting. As for a similar revelation - I listened to an interview on a Saturday breakfast programme when a man with a lovely voice talked about caring for and nursing his sister who was dying of cancer. He sounded like a lovely generous kind man - and then it turned out to be Greg Wise, handsome husband of Emma Thompson. He said several profound (but down to earth) things that made me think. Worth a listen if you can get it on iplayer radio.


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