My muse is an elusive thing. Sometimes it swells my chest and comes out through my fingertips, but most of the time, it stays locked in a box at my feet, only occasionally making a surprise appearance. It’s hard to pin down what inspires me to write—what makes my muse come out of its box—but in thinking about it for this blog, I remembered a chance encounter I had when I was eight years old.
I was sitting in a laundromat while my mom and I waited for our clothes to wash. I’d brought along my spiral notebook, and I was furiously writing the next chapter in my Adventures of Stacey book. There was a lady next to me. Blue housecoat, chubby cheeks, big Afro. She asked me what I was writing.
I remember how proud I was to tell her I was writing a book. She asked me to read some of it to her, which stroked my ego even more, and she seemed genuinely amazed at my eight-year-old skill. She kept asking questions about the story—questions I was more than happy to answer—and then she asked me something I’ll never forget. She asked if I would teach her to write her name.
Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that an adult might not know how to read or write, but this lady made me realize that being uneducated wasn’t necessarily a choice, that given a chance, most people want to improve themselves. But first they had to be given a chance.
All these years later, I can’t remember if her name was Sandra or Sandy, but I do remember how grateful she was for my help. For the first time in my life, I had something worth giving back.
Is it any surprise that I became a teacher before I became a writer? And that I taught adults, not children? And that I also became a tutor for adult literacy and disadvantaged adults? It’s amazing how many of my life choices stemmed from that one encounter.
So when people ask what inspires me to write, I think of that lady in the laundromat who had the guts to ask an eight-year-old girl to teach her how to write her name. It’s people like that who inspire me to write. Real people with real problems. Flawed people who want to do better. All they need is a chance, and it’s my job as a writer to create flawed characters and then give them a story they can journey through to reach their goals. Whether or not they succeed on that journey is up to my muse.