A small, blue Smith Corona typewriter in it’s own case and a box of typing paper—that is what was under the tree the Christmas when I was fifteen. It was an invitation, a longing, a magical box that would coax out of me all of the things in my head and my heart that struggled to be felt. I wrote poetry and hid it from my mother. I wrote letters to my father, who wrote back in long, swirling penmanship. I left home with it a few years later and then lost is somewhere along the way. I probably abandon it in one of the love-hate battles that I have had with myself and writing my whole life, but it never left me. Instead it hung around my neck–sometime like a shiny, beautiful pendant and sometimes like a dead bird. I knew that it was mine forever.
Spiral journals came after that, more poetry and lyrics to songs, short stories about my parents divorce. I swooned over Anis Nin and May Sarton; fell in love with T.S. Eliot and Yeats. Discovered Margaret Atwood and imitated all of it in notebook after notebook. I signed up for classes at the Adult Learning Center and got to be the best one. I sat around writer’s tables and dove into short stories, had lengthy conversations with a man old enough to be my father who gave me books and encouragement while I dreamed of sleeping with him. These were my touchstones– The Smith-Corona tumbleweed that blew across the landscape in my head.
In classes at UCLA, I sat in the back. I didn’t want to be seen or heard. The professionals around me who held degrees and were important intimidated me. At my job the writers all had masters degrees from writing programs. My job was to type for them, to read and summarize for them, but I wasn’t one of them. They were well-groomed flowerbeds, the kind that people slow down to look at when they are driving through expensive neighborhoods. I was the bright, yellow mustard seed that grew in vacant lots next to old tires and beer cans. I was the wild weed between concrete sidewalk slabs. You can yank it out by its roots, but it always comes back.
A minister told me, inspired me to go to college for real, not just extension classes here and there. I did. I followed that old blue Smith Corona to community college then to a Buddhist College where I sat and then wrote then sat some more. I was never a good meditator, but I did it anyway. I never found peace or enlightenment, but I did develop a sense of humor and I did come to understand that I was meant to write.
I am in my sixties now. Sometimes I teach creative writing. I teach in jails and halfway houses. I teach in senior centers where the stories are rich and ripe. I teach because it’s a way to give away the gifts that I learned from the Smith Corona that opened me and made my life richer. It may be too late for me to write a book, to gain public favor with what I have shared of this heart and mind in reams of journals and Word documents. I am the president of my own company. I have a good, long marriage… but no matter what I do or where I am, I write. I would say to any young writer, write because you have to, be true to the Smith Corona or whatever it was that threw water in your face and told you to wake up to the world and write. Don’t be afraid to be the wild weeds in sidewalk cracks. Sometimes those weeds are the only things beautiful in dry, ugly lots…sometimes they inspire hope in someone who may be walking by.