Tonight I read about a man who carried his Smith-Corona around with him for years, but did not use it for a very long time. When he finally did, he discovered something about himself, indeed a few things; things he wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t lugged that ancient typewriter around with him like talisman.
My first typewriter was a Smith-Corona. I was not so attached to it. When a proto-version word processor/typewriter came out, I ditched the old Smith-Corona. It probably sits in some landfill somewhere, though the romantic in me would like to believe that it has all these long years since graced a dusty corner in an old shop selling the sewing machines, typewriters, irons, and such from decades ago, as a sort of mascot of the place.
Ironically, when I got the Smith-Corona, though I knew how to type and was fairly proficient, when I did write, I wrote longhand, in pencil, in spiral notebooks, each notebook devoted to one of the characters whose exploits filled the pages. I was indefatigable as a writer. In the calendar year spanning my sophomore and junior years of high school I wrote dozens of stories comprising more than 100,000 words total.
I’m tracing the memory-associations here, because this is not about a Smith-Corona typewriter, nor is it much about the stories I wrote that one prolific year. It is, rather, about burials. You see, it was not more than three years later that I took all those stories, some dating back to my seventh grade year, and in a completely misguided attempt to demonstrate some sort of religious commitment, I threw all of the stories in the trash. I then dutifully walked the trash down to the dumpster. From there I’m sure they went to the landfill, ultimately to be buried under rotting garbage and toxic refuse over the course of the next years.
As I say, it was done in answer to a sadly deformed and misplaced sense of faithful zeal. God help me. Because what I was really doing was burying myself. Don’t misunderstand. I continued to write. But not really. There was, of course, the writing for my college courses, but the real writing, the writing that filled me with life and joy and intimacy with God was gone. What I wrote was plastic, cardboard, flat and lifeless. And so I didn’t do much of it. Essentially, I shut down. I buried myself.
Trouble is, I wouldn’t die. After a couple of years of bland and fake writing, some of the rotting ground I’d thrown myself into was wiped away, here and there, freeing this hand, allowing me to lift my head. I began to write again, lines and lines of blank verse and essays. And it was invigorating. But here’s the truth of it: It was only marginally more real than what I had been doing. It was better, to be sure. And I’ve kept these things. But it was missing the very things I had written less then a decade before. No stories. No narratives. No fables.
It is no surprise, then, that only a few more years, and finding myself on the other side of some poor life decisions, the writing got buried again. And a whole lot more of me got buried. For twenty years, the shovels did their work. Deeper and deeper it went. Occasionally, I would write a poem. Surprisingly, a handful of stories were spit out of the darkened earth in which I had sunk.
But the grave into which I had cast myself, thank God, was, I now see, more like a womb. Having reaped the whirlwind, when the dust settled, a good Samaritan bound up my wounds and by words and love sat my fanny down in front of the keyboard. I began to write again. There was poetry, to be sure–a romantic always has some drivel in him–but for the first time in nearly thirty years there were stories. Real stories. They had at last been unburied.
Tonight, for the first time ever, I cried over those thrown away stories, my thrown away self. I had lamented the loss, but never grieved it. It felt good. I gave value and life back to those stories, back to myself.
I am a writer. It’s that simple. I do not know if I will ever publish a book, or whether I will ever make any money from any books I might publish. I could care less. (Well, okay, I could care a little bit.) What I have found is my self, that life, that gift of God, that thing that when I do it I am more real, more myself, more a child of God than at nearly any other time of my life. Writing is nearer to me than any lover, sweeter to me than any passion, more harsh and more demanding than the cruelest master. It has taken many, many years to unbury it. It’s staying with me. I will lug it around like an old Smith-Corona, in dozens of hand-scrawled spiral notebooks. And never ever again will I bury it in the ground. That’s not a fate I will want to suffer. It may not yield a double return. But such as it will yield I will offer.