The fondest memory I have of my relationship with the written word is when my father encouraged me to write my stories and then took the time to read each one. I believe I was nine years old and was an avid bibliophile in the 4th grade. Books were friends and companions for me and allowed me to journey to places like Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard and to discover humanity, to gain my voice, and to write even more stories that my father read when he returned from his business trips.
My earliest memories involve me lying on the floor in my upstairs bedroom, Big Chief Notebook spread out on the floor, No. 2 tan pencil in my hand, and my imagination taking flight. I wrote an imagined story about the Irish Potato Famine and a shortage of French fries in 1974 Jefferson City. I wrote a coming-of-age story about a young girl who lived with her older siblings in a posh New York high rise. I think I was about ten or eleven when I imagined that world full of rich dialogue and heroines with a purpose to right all the wrongs of the world.
Those early stories are long gone now, lost in a basement flood that always seemed to plague our house on Gordon Street whenever it rained. It seemed to not matter that we lived on the top of a hill and water should be running down, every rain meant we were lugging out the Rainbow vacuum cleaner to suck up two feet of water that made the boys’ room and the rec room a built-in swimming pool. It was in one of those rains, us kids all moved on, I was living in Chicago at the time, when my stepmother sadly informed me that all my “stories from when you were a kid” were washed up, soggy, moldy pages now. She just “had to throw them away.”
When I learned my writing was no longer in the universe, I felt a tremendous sense of loss and sadness, despite not having laid my eyes on those pages for twenty years. The mere fact that they existed were reminders that the innocence of my early years also existed, that I did create something magical on those old Big Chief Notebooks. It also gave me a resolve to try to keep all my writing from then on.
Adulthood, marriage, divorce, moving, and choosing meant that once again, some of my writing did not make the journey with me. I wrote a very moving poem, Ntozake Shange style, when I was a freshman in college, it is long gone, as well as some of my early attempts at poetry, lost to a boyfriend who had my heart.
I am almost fifty now and I know now what I wish I knew then – words are worth preserving, worth protecting, worth remembering. I now create most of my work online because it is eternal and will be protected from basement floods, out-of-state moves, and old boyfriends. I think I type, even with carpel tunnel, because at 80wpm, it is at the speed of my thought. Poetry, letters, cards, and my journal are still written in longhand with a very special hand carved Cocobolo wooden pen. It is when I write in longhand that I connect back to my ten-year-old self and the wooden floor of my upstairs bedroom. I can close my eyes and see the dormer window curtain fluttering and the top leaves of the big oak tree. Downstairs, I hear my father’s booming baritone and feel myself wanting to hurry up and finish so my long skinny legs can jump two-at-a-time down the stairs and run to the long dining table where I know he will be sitting, sipping coffee, writing his sermons, and listening to Dan Rather.
Words and I, books and I, writing and I have been companions for four decades, together we have grown in understanding of each other and the needs we share. I am more comfortable with my voice and am assured that I have something important to contribute. I write under a pseudonym to honor my late parents, it is a special name my father gave me and a connection back to my fore-mothers.
I write because I am, I exist, and I do not fit into a box. I have married myself, my writing self, my expressive self and have given her room to breathe through black type and pink ink. I have given my ten year old self the space and time to grow into her almost fifty year old self and to be brave enough to share her thoughts with more than just her big, tall daddy who would shower her with praise and encourage her to write more. I write because I breathe.