by Suzanne Sherman
When I was 10, kittens were born in the wall hamper outside my bedroom. I counted them as they entered the world, documented the births in my new diary. I wrote that Debbie’s mom took us to May Company and I bought opaque tights. It thrilled me. That same day I wrote that my mother took too many pills and went to the hospital. A few days later I wrote that she was coming home, she was feeling better. The only entries for the rest of that year were a few sentences, but the new friendship—writing to myself—quickly grew.
Through junior high I wrote in three-ring binders so I could add pages as needed, and I needed a lot of pages now. I chronicled scenes of talking to crushes, or not talking to them, catching their eye in the hall, I wrote poetry about my aching heart, wondered what life was all about, longed for love, pined for a friend who moved away. In high school the writings went deeper as I tried to find “home,” chronicled my fervent resolve to change my ways so I could stay with my father and step-family. I took poetry classes in high school, majored in creative writing at college, wrote short stories, a novel, graduated into publishing, and missed writing more than I could have imagined.
At 26 I led my first writing workshop, at my dining room table. When I left two years later to move across the country, one longtime student wrote me a note: “Thank you for seeding a new tongue to flower.” I keep that note still on my bulletin board. At 36 I was hired at the local junior college to teach memoir writing for older adults. I have done it since 1996.
Some days there is nothing else I would rather do. Other days I think I should be with people in the middle of their life story, not those gearing up for its final chapters. On one of those mornings a few years ago, a small woman was walked into class by her attendant. She was stooped, folded in on herself. Students of that class were the most lucid ones at the assisted living facility where I taught for the summer, the ones who could write about their lives for the half hour I gave them every week. I’ll bet she doesn’t even know why she’s here, I thought. I greeted her and gave her my name, she gave me hers–pronounced very carefully–”Alma,” and then her attendant seated her at the far end of the table opposite me. When she was settled, she announced, “I’m hard of hearing.” I suggested she move up next to me, which took her some time, but she did it. I welcomed and introduced her, and she repeated her name: “Alma.”
I said, “Your name is unusual. Where is it from?”
“It’s Latin,” she told us. “It means the soul.”
Everything around me lit up then. Of course. Thank you, Alma. Thank you for reminding me how important it is that every tongue find its flowers.
Suzanne Sherman is a writer, writing consultant, editor, and writing teacher (including SCN online classes). http://www.suzannesherman.com