As far as I am concerned, precisely two things of note happened in 1976. The country turned two hundred. And I was sent to live with my grandparents while my mother and father sorted out the aftermath of their marriage. I was five.
There is no easy way to put this, so here it is full-out. My grandmother was a raging alcoholic and while it’s true that she never hurt me physically, it’s also true that I did not come through it without scars. Her binges were terrifying and life itself was unpredictable. But I do not believe in wallowing in the past. And it was not all bad.
Somewhere in the early eighties, she gave me a gift. She sat me down at the dining room table one rainy afternoon and placed a battered Underwood typewriter in front of me. A roll of paper appeared and a stand was rigged so I could produce a sold stream of words. I was given a bologna sandwich, a glass of Koolaid, and set free.
I typed until my fingers ached. It was a manual and I was small and I recall vividly that each letter was a concerted effort. Slam down the key. Slam down enough of them in the right order and words appeared. It required thought. And concentration. And effort.
This became a regular event in my life; sitting at that table, feet swinging, keys banging, bell ringing at the end of every line. I wrote about my cousins and our playhouse. I wrote myself into the books I was reading for school. I wrote to escape.
Decades later, I still write. But saying “I believe in writing” is too simple. Those days with the Underwood were more than escape, more than words on paper. They were trips inward and they taught me that I have the power to create–that I am capable of shaping my own world. They taught me that thought and effort and sheer force of will produce results. This is something that I believe everyone should know. You have within you the power to create. By exercising your will, your thought, your effort; you are capable of shaping worlds. Your world. Our world.
I believe in the power of the written word. And I believe in the power of knowing one’s self. They are connected: spinning tales from inside and manifesting them on paper is literally making something from nothing. That act of creation is grounding; is powerful. It ripples outward into the world. It changes things, changes you.
Life is unpredictable. It requires thought. And concentration. And effort. Just like pounding the keys of the Underwood. I believe the best sort of strength comes from within. I believe knowing you are capable of shaping your world leads to knowing that you are also capable of shaping our world. I believe everyone can pound the keys, can shape worlds.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.