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How I Became a Writer by Tim Clark

I became a blogger (over five years ago) for reasons I still can’t explain. What drives a person to share thoughts, stories, and, dreams with strangers. Who knows? Working downtown in a medium sized US city provided plenty of fodder when imagination didn’t cooperate.

One thing particularly troubling was the plight of the homeless. A virtually ignored fraction of polite society, they were almost equally camouflaged against the red brick of the old warehouse district, and the grey marble and concrete of the shiny, new downtown proper. Universally ignored, almost invisible. It became a cause, and I donated to the Faith Mission, and handed out snacks and bottles of water to the lost souls littering the streets.

One day I came across an old man, wrinkled, leathery skin, old worn clothes that smelled of a fresh washing. His hands were rough, but clean, he smiled politely as people rushed past. His cane had a seat and he sat by a stack of tabloid style newspapers. We talked and he sold me a copy of Street Speech for a dollar.

Street Speech is a newspaper sold by people who are clawing their out of the despair of homelessness. Vendors can be found on corners all over downtown. They are the very model of a small business person, the American entrepreneurial spirit at the micro level. I began seeking them out. Trying to find new vendors, they all have a story, and they are always good stories. I wrote a blog post about the hope it gave me to see these smiling, friendly faces. In today’s world you don’t often meet people so open, resilient and inspiriting.

On a whim I decided to email the blog to the Street Speech editor. These noble men and women had made a deep impression on me, and I wanted to thank the organization for providing an opportunity for people in need.

She was kind enough to publish it in her newspaper. When I bought that issue, seeing my name in print, it was thrilling. The Pulitzer Prize wouldn’t have been anymore intoxicating. Anybody who has ever had the desire to write wants nothing more than being read. And here I was in a newspaper, my name next to my article.

I bought a dozen copies. Mailed them to family, friends gave them to people at work. Being kind of an introvert, and a bit of an outsider, a dozen was probably too many. Who cares, I was published. And I was a writer! And I was going to scream it as far as first class postage would allow.

It was so wonderful I started submitting my work to different publications. The power of ego is a marvelous thing. Creativity unleashed is treasure, without an outlet though, it is a burden. Bottled up it haunts your thoughts, and leaves you worried, wondering and doubtful. Let it out and control is passed, it takes you places, new places, delightful places, it answers to you. In many ways that first article has made me a much happier person.

One day I was lucky enough to meet the editor for lunch. She is a woman of deep conviction her concern for the people in her organization is obvious.  Her voice trembled when she spoke of the people. She is acutely aware of the problems they face. She is not only the editor she runs the workshop where the vendors write the stories of their own, “Vendor Voices” in every issue.

During our brief lunch she talked about the insidious way homelessness robs a person of self-respect, dignity. Her passion was touching, her pain was terrible. I had the feeling she would never completely overcome that agony. Seeing so much need had touched her too deeply.

Occasionally, they let me write a piece for the paper. I have never really quite gotten over seeing my name in print. Each time it is just as exciting. And each time I buy enough papers to send to everybody who might be interested. And some who couldn’t care any less. As long as they recycle them that’s ok too. It is for a good cause, and I have a byline (writer talk for having your name in print).

During the months that I don’t have anything in the paper I only buy one. You have to buy at least one, the paper is always well thought out, well put together, and she always finds interesting things to publish. However, when I find one of my Street Speech friends peddling their wares I give them a dollar and let them keep the paper. There are people who don’t give them enough to cover their cost. We talk and I move on. I never feel pressured it just makes me feel good. They always seem so grateful.  I don’t really spend anymore, unless you count postage, during the months they include something of mine.

There are other ways to help, my wife and I volunteered to man a charity water booth at a local festival for Street Speech and the local Coalition for the homeless. It was a mob scene, something from Night of the Living Dead. People came at the booth in swarms. We had a blast. And it made for a very popular blog post, people love zombie stories.

Street Speech gave me the desire to write for others. It gave me the courage to try new things. It was the first time I ever really looked at myself as a writer. I had always been proud of my title “blogger” but this gave definition, purpose, and form to the way I thought about putting words in order.

Reading the paper proves there is hope. Some people still care. But, it is proof that the fight is far from over. There is a lot we can do to help. Find a local shelter, donate, volunteer, spread the word. Do it for the needy, do it for me, hell do it for you. Nobody ever changed anything without trying.

 

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