|photo by Michael Stidham|
As a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, I was part of a group working with the SB art museum. Like most museums, they are not the most welcoming when it comes to people of color and people who are not part of society's uppercrust. Lots of people are intimidated by art museums. Even more people allow art to make them feel stupid. We were there to help the staff find ways to embrace the community in a more inclusive way.
At one point, we were on the sidewalk in front of the museum writing in journals. I was wearing a T-shirt from a creative writing camp. An elderly man (in his 70's? 80's?) came up and started a conversation with me when my "beacon" of a shirt reeled him in.
He said, "I think you might be interested in this," and then pulled a page--one that he had been saving--out of his satchel. It was from a book on writing, and had some interesting thoughts.
Since a copyright of 1949 was noted, I voiced my assumption that the book was out of print. When Russell confirmed that was correct, I wrote down my name and address and asked if he would send me a copy of the page. (He refused the dollar I tried to force on him to cover the cost of the printing and postage.) We had an extended conversation about writing--he had always wanted to be one, but had never taken the leap--in any way.
As soon as Russell left, one of my colleagues came up and teasingly said, "Did you make a new friend?" I teased back, "Yes, a man thinks I'm hot, but it's only ones in their 80's who think that."
The next day a couple of us went up into a church tower; a native of Santa Barbara had tipped us off...the view was spectatular. While we were up there, basking in the beauty, a woman approached me. (I was wearing a writing shirt--a different one. I am civilized enough to change my clothes daily when I travel.) Her son--who was with her--wanted to be a writer, and I advised him to find or form a writing critique group.
Writers are beacons. They're lighthouses. If you wear a shirt or button or hat that proclaims you're an author, a writer, others are drawn to you. Everyone has a story to tell. And even though they might not have taken the time or had the courage to act on it yet, they're drawn like moths to a flame to those who do.
Russell said he has several penpals. He even pulled an unopened letter from one out of his bottomless satchel. How will I respond if he sends a letter to accompany the book's page?
Write, Russell. And if you want a penpal, there's always Lynn Obermoeller.