Writing with Purpose

Writing with Purpose

The first thing I recall writing was a Shel Silverstein fan fiction piece, written by hand with pencil and paper when I was nine years old. It was my child-like effort to spin the selfless one-directional morality of The Giving Tree into something relevant to the world I lived in at the time. When I wrote it, I was living with my sister in a foster home in East Los Angeles with Mr. and Mrs. Lara. There was a writing contest at the Eastmont Elementary School, and the winners from each grade would have their entry published. I wanted to submit something, but I didn’t know where to begin. On the last day before the entries were due, I tearfully asked Mrs. Lara for advice.

“What should I write?” I asked her.

“You have so much to say.” she said.  “Just write something.”

I don’t know what the story was called, but I do remember that it won the contest for my grade that year and got published in a book of stories and poems by the children of the Montebello School District. Mrs. Lara was conspicuously proud of me. For a month, she carried a copy of the little book with her and told everyone that her Tomás would be a great writer someday. Though that was never to be, the positive impression that her pride left on my young heart was permanent.

The Laras were a Mexican couple with gigantic hearts, nearly infinite patience and no inclination whatsoever to spare the rod. They were my 5th or 6th set of foster parents in the years between 1970 and 1976. They were also the last set of foster parents I would ever have. But that’s another story. I remember Mrs. Lara more than her husband. She was loving and stern. I could run to her for protection and comfort and yet quiver and cower when I incurred her wrath. She would often pull me in close and hug me, and kiss the top of my head. She would occasionally whisper something in Spanish when she was hugging me. I asked her once what she was saying, and she told me “I’m praying for you, child. I always pray for you.” When I had done something egregious in her eyes, she would sometimes twist and pull my ear and yell at me in Spanish; or grab an inch-thick layer of skin and meat on the back of my arm in a vice-like pinch as she escorted me to my room.

I don’t recall ever thinking this was abusive. Whether it was acceptable punishment or not isn’t an issue with me – it was effective discipline. I was a nine-year old boy from an incredibly broken home; I had been neglected by a promiscuous and genuinely abusive mother, and I had nothing more substantial than nebulous, wistful memories of my father. I was prone to acting out, and I was still wetting the bed. I played with matches, and liked to salt my conversations with an unhealthy amount of profanity. It was a different time, and I was immersed in a different culture. The Laras were exactly what I needed then: they genuinely loved me, and they wouldn’t tolerate any behavior that might lead to delinquency and failure. They made it clear that it didn’t matter where I had come from; they were (in their minds) obliged to guide me someplace better. Ultimately, they helped me understand that my life is not a predestined trajectory. It was (then and now) possible for me to make corrections in my course, and to end up somewhere better than where the odds might otherwise place me.

For me,  the time I spent in the care of Mr. and Mrs. Lara will always be tied to my love of writing. It makes sense to me that my first blog entry should reflect my abiding gratitude to them. It makes even more sense to me to dedicate my efforts to rekindle my love of writing by naming my blog after the best piece of writing advice ever given to me. I don’t know what the future holds for me as a writer, but for the foreseeable future I am going to get up every day and just write something.

Thank you Mrs. Lara. I don’t know what you prayed for when you prayed for me, but I hope you are still proud of me.

3 Replies to “Writing with Purpose”

  1. I was telling your brother last night that reading this made me tear up a little.

    I know you guys had to deal with a lot of terrible stuff growing up, and it makes me so happy to see who you are now.

    Glad you’re writing, dude. I need to get back to it, myself. <3

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