by Amber Hemmerle
Posted In: Commentary
at 12:23 PM | Permalink
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
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
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. It’s
"to," not "too." 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
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
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.
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
To her I say: That was
the best $2 I ever spent.
1 Comment · Thursday, January 3, 2013
It’s pretty widely accepted that creative
types — the kind whose work is meant to disseminated — share a common
trait: swollen, bulging egos that must constantly be nursed with
attention, positive or otherwise. The writer writes, of course, because
he likes the sound of his own voice.
Larry Gross writes about everyday people doing everyday things
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The subtitle of Larry Gross’ latest independently published book says everything you need to know about its content, which largely consists of his Living Out Loud columns for CityBeat: “Adventures, Discoveries and Conclusions Made While Exploring a Life — Namely My Own.”