Toys In the Attic
One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading to me from Little House in the Big Woods. If I close my eyes, I can still see the Garth Williams artwork that was on the page when I told Mom to hurry up and turn the page.
“I’m not done reading it yet,” she told me.
“But I am,” I said.
I was four years old, and I realized two things that day: that I knew how to read, and that I wanted to be a writer. Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I got my first typewriter not long after that. It was a toy, but it worked like a real typewriter. It was made out of hard blue plastic and it came with its own sturdy carrying case. I took it with me everywhere I went, and I pounded out stories and poems that probably gave any readers a severe case of bleeding eyeballs.
By third grade, I had worn it out, but that was okay because I learned about quotation marks and discovered that my little typewriter didn’t have a key for those. I figured out how to type two apostrophes together to make my own, and I expanded my vocabulary as other keys began to wear out. I learned to find words that didn’t include the letters “g” and “r” but finally had to admit defeat when I lost the letter “e”.
It took less than a year to blow out the next toy typewriter. Aunt Marian referred to my method of typing as “Hunt and Peck”, but Mom said I was using “The Bible Method”, otherwise known as the“Seek-and-ye-shall-find” method.
By the time I went away to college, my “toy” had been upgraded to an IBM Selectric. That thing must have weighed fifty pounds, and it came with a corrector cartridge that was supposed to simplify the process of using Liquid Paper or White-Out. I had taken an actual typing class by then with the oddest teacher my school ever employed (“My name is Frakes and it rhymes with brakes, and I won’t put the brakes on your typing speed!”).
I used that IBM Selectric to get through some pretty tough college classes, and even used it to hammer out my first query letter to Amazing Heroes magazine. I knew that no one ever sells an article on the first try, so I wrote the letter as a practice exercise with no thoughts of actually writing the article. I nearly passed out when I got a letter from editor Kim Thompson a few weeks later calling me a “copacetic young lady” and giving me the go-ahead with a very tight deadline.
I looked up “copacetic” and gave up eating, drinking or sleeping for a few days as I wrote “The Forgotten Reader” about what it was like to be one of the few female fans of comic books in those days. I scrambled for a pen name—for the record, I was writing as “A.J. Lee” before the wrestler by that name was born—and thought my writing career was really taking off when I got my check for $35.20.
The magazine ceased publication not long after that.
There have been a lot of detours since then. A few articles here and there, some really egregious poetry, and a lot of self-indulgent attempts at “literary” fiction. The Selectric eventually went the way of the two toy typewriters, and I now go back and forth between a tiny Asus Netbook and a “real” computer at a desk with my ergonomic chair to support my neck and shoulders. I have access to things like spell-check and beta-readers and will most likely never again have to breathe the scent of Liquid Paper at two a.m. while chugging cans of tepid Tab and wondering why in the hell I ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.
In a way, I’ve come full circle from the days of that poor old blue typewriter. It doesn’t matter if I type on a toy or scribble on the back of an envelope with a two-inch pencil stub with a gnawed-off eraser. I’m a writer. Always have been, always will be.
And I owe it all to Laura Ingalls Wilder and a little toy typerwriter.