When I was sixteen years old and realized I had a gift for writing poetry, I wrote a letter to a very special lady. She was the “queen of blog,” before anyone ever knew such a word existed. We used to call it the “personal essay,” and she was Erma Bombeck, one of the funniest moms and writers to ever make fun of family relationships that ever existed, and she wrote back to me! I like to think we were almost neighbors because she lived in the next town over. She was my hero. The male editors of the Kettering-Oakwood Times would have nothing to do with her when she first proposed a regular column, so she did a very smart thing. She contacted their wives! Those wives turned the heads of their editor husbands to allow Erma to write her column! Her column went on to become syndicated in over 900 newspapers! Those moms who stayed home all day with their kids and were so bored sometimes that sticking their faces in the freezer on a hot humid Ohio summer day was “excitement,” for them, loved Erma! She gave them something to laugh about – themselves – when they were so exhausted and stressed out from the kids running through the house and saying, “we’re bored,” because moms in those days were Slip N’ Slide lifeguards, camp directors, music makers, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood all rolled into one. So, when I received her letter, I thought I had died and gone to “writers’ heaven.” She wrote: “You’re on your way at sixteen. When I was your age I couldn’t write my name on my gym shorts! Keep up the good work!” God bless. Erma Bombeck.
I believe it is those “words of encouragement” we get from people throughout our lives that prompt those unexpected journeys of the heart. They give us “wings” and “roots” and places to go beyond our wildest dreams. Erma’s words, as well as thoughts from others along the way, gave me the courage to write many poems, articles, books and screenplays. I had a favorite high school English teacher, Mr. John Kuehn, who not only made me work hard on my senior thesis on Henry David Thoreau, but encouraged me at a particularly difficult time in my life to pursue my dream of writing as I went off to college. So, I did, thanks to Mr. Kuehn. Imagine my surprise when I went to visit him years later, and he revealed to me that he had been using my thesis as the “model thesis,” for his students for the past 25 years!
In college, a journalism professor, Byron Scott, encouraged me to write articles and be part of his staff on our college/community magazine. From there, I entered writing contests and won an honorable mention in Mademoiselle’s Guest Editor Competition. I wrote for the college newspaper and became editor of our literary journal, Sphere. We even had a poetry and fiction writing contest, judged by Daniel Keyes and Walter Tevis.
Encouraging words have led me to take so many unexpected journeys since then, to New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Los Angeles, London and many little towns in between. Words have led me to people I might not have ever met, otherwise: Jackie Parker, the youngest space flight controller at NASA at 19 years of age, Henry Winkler, Andrew Young, John Bainbridge (the head chef on the QE II), Sharrie Williams (the grand niece of Tom Lyle, the founder of Maybelline), Katie Couric, Randall Wallace (“well darlin”), doctors, several actors, more producers and directors, and ordinary wonderful people who had incredible stories to tell. I listened. I wrote. I went on many journeys through the depths of my curious and passionate self. And, at times, when I thought my weary heart could go no farther I remembered something. The best is yet to be. It always is….when you are a writer. As Winston Churchill used to say: “Never, never, never give up.”