This is a picture of me, age five. I’d like to say that I’m busy writing my first short story. My mother typed it up for me and helped me submit it to Highlights, the children’s magazine, which is distributed nationally. I won a prize of $100, a treasure of a sum to me. It was way more than a year’s worth of the weekly 10 cent allowance I earned by ironing my father’s linen handkerchiefs. None of that happened – except the 10 cents and the ironing.
I suspect in the photo that I’m pretending to be a secretary taking notes. I was given a book that profiled jobs that big girls could get: secretary, teacher, nurse, or stewardess. This would just be a job for after college until you got married. At five, given those choices, I probably wanted to be a secretary. By the next year, I fantasized about being Della Street, secretary to the famous TV attorney, Perry Mason (based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s fiction).
When I was a few years older, I rode the bus downtown after school to go to ballet lessons. I remember a glossy colorful cardboard sign inside the bus that read something like this “f u kn rd ths, u kn gt a gd jb” I knew what it said right away and took comfort that, since I could read it, when I was old enough, I would be able to get a good job that would include speedwriting.
After my freshman year in college, I returned home to Ohio and begged my mother to let me drop out and become a stewardess – we didn’t call them flight attendants yet. I wanted to see the world. Mom convinced me to go back for another year of college and by the end of my sophomore year, I liked college. I liked being a student so much that I continued on and earned two masters degrees. Now, the career book I had as a child had not included a career as a student. It’s really not a good idea unless you start with plenty of money as it requires a lot of money and most people end up with debt when they finish, me included.
As a teen, I wrote diary entries and, in college, I called them journal entries. There were also the love letters to my first boyfriend and when these ended, I wrote love letters to my first girlfriend. Then I wrote a story or two, a book of fiction that never made it past the first draft, a personal essay that was published in an anthology, now out of print.
On a whim, I entered a contest and wrote and wrote until the deadline when I sent my entry in. I fit it in around a full work week and the commute. I edited on the BART platform and on the trains, woke up early to pen a few paragraphs before the work day started. The weekends were a gift of time. I didn’t win and wasn’t in the running but the experience helped me realize that a deadline was the best motivator for me.
I found a writing coach, entered another writing contest and was a finalist. I went to a writer’s conference, I took a writing class. I started a blog. Now I don’t stop writing for long.