I learned to read at a very early age. I was younger than 4, believe it or not. I was a solitary child, living in a household with elderly grandparents, my parents, and my imagination. My father believed it was important for me to learn to read and write early. His way of starting this process was to take the dictionary each morning, open it to a random set of pages, and expect me to be able to read all the words and definitions when he returned from work at night. I was happy to oblige, because it made me feel good to please him, and powerful to think that I could conquer all those words on those pages. Heady stuff for one small girl child in the 50’s.
My grandfather, who lived with us, was blind. His needs dominated the day-to-day flow of the household by necessity. One passion he refused to surrender was his love of baseball. He adored baseball. He didn’t care what team was playing. He just loved to listen, day after day, to the radio. He listened to the play by play when the game was on. He listened to the sports shows with recaps when there was no game. He was cranky and in withdrawal when the season ended until Spring Training started. His passion had to be fed.
Grandpa was a curmudgeon. He had specific habits he never changed. For example, he refused to use a cane. Everything had to be in the exact same place all the time, and no toys or stray shoes could be left anywhere he might stumble over them. This made playing in the house a challenge. Very little I wanted to do would be ideal for a hazard-free environment.
As the youngest in the household, I was nominated to watch him and entertain him as much as possible. It kept me out of trouble, and saved everyone else from the duty. First, I learned how to help him care for his coin collection. He would take out the coins, and I would read the dates and mint marks, clean them and help him arrange them in their display cases. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was teaching me to add and subtract by working with me and his coins. When I learned to read, it became my job to read the sports pages to him from the newspaper every morning after his breakfast. I learned how to tune out what I was reading, even as I worked my way through page after page, dry statistic after statistic. My days were filled with meaningless words.
My escape from the daily routine of reading baseball, hearing baseball and dodging Grandpa as he made his way through the house was to imagine stories. I would imagine all kinds of scenarios, make my own paper dolls, and play for hours on end. But a small child isn’t always careful, and I had a tendency to forget where I left my playthings. One day, Grandpa tripped on my toys, and my play time was banished to my room and what I could do without ‘cluttering’ the house.
The safest thing to do was to imagine. But I would forget my train of thought, and have to start over. I figured out that I could keep the story going if I wrote it down. I would get scraps of paper from the wastebasket next to my Mother’s desk, and write long, rambling stories that I would ultimately act out with my ponies and dolls. The more I wrote, the more I was out of everyone’s way, and the happier they were with me. The words in my life were no longer without meaning. I had discovered another route to power and peace – writing and being unseen.
When I went to school, my love of writing made homework that much easier. I could read my assignments, and could write my homework so easily that it made getting good grades a snap. That brought me approval and more peace in my day. I thought I had conquered the world!
Fast forward to my teen years. Adolescent angst was my constant companion. My crazy household was impossible to escape, except in my imagination. I wasn’t interested in being a druggie – I hated the thought of losing what little control I had over my life. So I wrote endless pages in endless journals. School was still easy when I bothered, but unless it was a subject that included writing and reading, I was uninterested. Good grades were no longer a way to get approval at home, and sometimes even negative attention was better than no attention at all. I was a typical sullen teenager, pouring out my fears on paper as a way to make sense of my world.
When I started working, I again found that my ability to write was an asset. I became a secretary, and could write letters for my bosses without having to get more than the basic tone of their message. I made their lives easier, and I advanced. My career grew, and I learned how to write ad copy, I designed print ads, developed marketing campaigns and mastered new forms of communication that relied on being able to write. It was the way I earned my living, kept a roof over my head, and it worked.
Fast forward again, about 25 years. The intervening years were hormonally challenged – and fraught with peril. My ex, my husband’s ex, even the children – all had their individual axes to grind against our raw, bleeding nerves while we tried to juggle three girls the same age in our blended family. His twins were used to one set of rules, my daughter was used to another set of rules, our exes hated our rules, and as the girls became teenagers, they hated our rules and us too. Losing my temper was not an option. I worked at writing online documentation, technical documentation, developing Intranets for companies, still using the written word to feed and clothe me, as well as soothe me. I still filled pages of notebooks with my unspoken fears and frustrations. Somehow, putting them down on paper made them less fearsome – as if making them real took away their power. I used my pen to keep the brakes on my life as I felt it careening down a slippery slope.
Then, suddenly, the kids were gone. My children were grown. My job vanished with a friend who ran the company into the ground and left us all standing there with “Kick Me” signs tacked to our backs. In the space of 6 weeks, my father died, my daughter moved out, and the rug was pulled out from under me. Even writing didn’t help me find answers, couldn’t feed me or comfort me. I shut down, put my pen down, no longer believing that I could write my way to clarity in a world that was changing faster than I could understand.
As it happens, old habits are very hard to break. Slowly, like a turtle poking its head out of a shell, I started to put my thoughts on paper again. I would see a news story, and I would be filled with the desire to Be Heard. Be Relevant Again Somehow. And I would submit Letters to the Editor that were published. I began to trust my inner voice again, and I could still type! I wasn’t ready for the scrap heap! I wasn’t invisible, discarded, useless or helpless.
Even as I reinvented myself with a sewing business, I used my writing to advertise my products, talk my way into juried shows, and find new interests. I met amazing people who believed I had talent. Not just in creating lovely things to wear, but lovely things to say.
Once I started hosting my own Internet radio show, the genie was out of the bottle, as they say. I was writing my scripts, and that led to the hunger to say my piece and be heard in ever widening circles. Once I published my first blog posting, it was like a rock thrown in a lake. Each ripple made me long for the next one. And unlocked the words that had been tumbling about in my head like a gerbil in one of those spinning things in a cage. I had to write to feel alive.
I believe everyone has a need to be heard. I believe this is why there is such anger in the world. I have found that the new outlets in Cyberspace give me the ability to be an astronaut of sorts; a pioneer among middle aged average women. I have found my power after all these years. I can discover new worlds, even if they are Earthbound. I can meet wonderful people, and learn from them with the same excitement I felt as a small child, while still ‘playing’ in a safe environment. My age has given me wings – physical ones I hide every chance I get. Writing has given me mental wings. This is me, flapping them as fast as I can!
Sandi Tuttle is the host of the Blog Talk Radio show “An Average Woman in a Superwoman World” (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sandi-tuttle).