A few weeks ago when I was heading to the CityBeat office I encountered a woman who changed my perspective on many things. It was one of those "Everything happens for a reason, even if you don't know the reason yet" moments.
I parked in the Elm Street lot, paid the machine my $3.50 and walked towards Race Street as usual. It was cold outside and my hands were full with coffee, a notebook, my lunch and purse.
I was running late — also as usual — when a woman approached me. Looking back now, I can’t even recall how she sounded or what she looked like.
Our conversation went something like this:
"Would you help someone in need if you could?" she asked.
"I'm selling my poems for $2 so I can have extra money to pay for my son's birthday."
"I don't even know if I have $2, hold on. I'm kind of in a hurry...Oh, wait…Here, I do have it."
I had three single dollar bills in my wallet and I handed her two of them.
"Thank you, God bless you," she said. We made our transaction and parted ways. Her poems were typed, printed and covered by a clear paper protector. She continued up Elm toward Vine Street as I turned the corner.
As I waited for the elevator, I began reading her poems. That's spelled wrong, I thought. That needs an apostrophe." I picked out a laundry list of grammatical and technical errors and immediately dismissed her work. I looked at her poems, but I didn't actually read them.
A few days later one of the ice and snowstorms hit the Tri-state area again. I wondered if anyone was out in this weather because I was certainly not leaving the comfort of my bed for any reason.
I don’t know why, but I began thinking about the woman who approached me on the street earlier in the week. I wondered if she was out there, in that terrible weather, selling her poems. Had she needed the $2 that badly? Did she ever get to have her son’s birthday party?
All of these thoughts washed over me. I pictured her, the image I had created of her, sitting at the library typing up the poems she had written while her son was at school.
I pictured her taking her last few dollars to buy the transparent paper protectors at the dollar store and preparing them for the next day when she would hit the streets to sell them.
A feeling of shame had overcome me. How could I dismiss what she had written because of a few errors that had no real effect on the message of her poems?
This woman had already probably sold more of her writing than me, and that’s what I am paying thousands of dollars in tuition for: to sell my words.
One of her poems is titled Determination, which is what she has and I was too blind to see that at the time we met.
I might have some of the editing experience now, but when I first started writing those were skills I didn’t possess or even care about.
I didn’t care if I needed a comma here or there, I didn’t care if I used the wrong form of “to” or ended a sentence with a preposition. I simply wanted to write.
I lost the passion behind my own words because I’ve been so worried about being technically correct all the time. And trust me, I never even end up being technically correct all the time.
That woman, whoever or wherever she is now, showed me that you don’t need a college degree to have determination. You don’t need to have the perfect sentence or know every grammar rule to express how you feel.
We, as humans, judge people all the time whether we want to admit it or not. We judge people by appearances, by the way they talk, or the way they write in this case.
She signed her name at the end of the poems, a signature that I can’t make out very well, but I want to thank her for showing me what real determination is.
Cincinnati prides itself on the local artists, musicians and writers that are bred here. We celebrate them and award them for their talent. I don’t know where this woman is now, but she, and the others just like her who might not be at the open mic nights or in galleries, deserve recognition as well.
To her I say: That was the best $2 I ever spent.