Typewritten Stories

Dear Malcolm,

I received your handwritten letter in the mail yesterday. It was written so incredibly well. And I wanted to take a moment to write you back. One writer to another.

I wish I had your penmanship. For a fourteen-year-old, you impress me. My writing looks like something that came from the backend of a chicken.

I was excited to hear about your new adopted parents, and how much you love your home with your new adopted siblings. I hope you are happy there. It sounds like you’ve had many good foster parents along the way. I know you miss them.

You mentioned that you recently got a typewriter. I hope you get years of use out of it. I have always been a typewriter man. In fact, the rough draft for this letter is being written on an old Lettera 32. I thought it was only fitting.

So let’s get down to writing business. You asked how to write a story. And even though I don’t have any real advice (since I have no idea what the heck I’m doing) I can tell you a story of my own.

When I was in community college I took a night course with a bunch of military guys. The classes were held on a military base in a double-wide trailer. We were all adults, and I was the only non-military person in the room.

One night our teacher told us to write a five-hundred-word essay about something we found interesting, then we would read it aloud in class.

And I had a private meltdown. Something interesting? I couldn’t think of ANYTHING interesting. My life was not interesting. And to make matters worse, this was a classroom full of military personnel. Some had traveled to Europe, Japan, Hawaii, out west, back east, up north, around the globe. One man had been to Antarctica.

The farthest I had been was Texarkana.

So I got embarrassed when it was my turn to read my ultra-boring essay. Because my lame paper’s topic was—be prepared to yawn—construction work.

I had written about the time I worked on a construction crew, helping to restore an old beach bungalow in Navarre, Florida.

My essay contained thrilling, edge-of-your-seat details about how beachfront construction was different from inland construction. Roofing materials, for instance, had to withstand gale force winds. We installed windows that were built like M4 Medium Tanks.

My essay was the most uninteresting paper ever composed by a human being. When I finished reading it out loud, half the class was either picking their toenails or engaged in restorative REM sleep.

Everyone knew my work was junk. And more importantly, my teacher knew this.

After class, the professor pulled me aside and said, “I’m giving you another chance to rewrite your essay, because I know you can do better.”

I was humiliated. I had written something so terrible that my sweet teacher couldn’t bear to give me the horrible grade it deserved.

Then she gave me some free advice I will never forget. She said, “I don’t wanna know about renovating a beach house. I wanna know why YOU LOVE renovating it. Put love on those pages.”

At first, I was confused by this. After all, this wasn’t nineteenth century French literature we were talking about. I was writing about construction work. My coworkers were men whose definition of true love centralized on Krispy Kreme and Anheuser-Busch products.

But I promised her I’d give it another try. I stayed up all night rewriting five hundred words. I wrote my essay on this very typewriter, which still has a crooked space bar from when I dropped it thirty years ago.

When I re-read my work in class, I almost vomited from nerves. My paper was about the same beach bungalow. Only this time I wasn’t really talking about the house at all. I tried to follow my teacher’s advice and put some oomph into it.

I told the class that after my father’s suicide I had become like an old weather-beaten bungalow. I told them how my bungalow had gone through a few hurricanes, and that I had almost been blown away.

Then, somehow, a kindhearted builder noticed me. He saw me from a distance, there on the shore, and he didn’t see my ratty clapboards. He saw what I could be.

The builder and his crew replaced my shattered windows, and my wind-battered roof. They dug new pilings, so I could be sturdy. They exchanged my rotting clapboards. They repainted me. They made me strong.

And I guess that is why I always loved renovating that stupid beach house so much. Because there is nothing more wonderful being put back together again.

All my life, Malcolm, I have felt like an ugly little house. But it was selfless people who repaired me and made me feel beautiful. I owe everything to them. Everything.

When I finished reading, the first clap started in the back of the classroom. And it trickled forward. Even my teacher applauded. I didn’t deserve it. But it was nice of them.

And I learned a lot from that experience. Sadly, I didn’t learn anything that you don’t already know. So I still have no advice for you.

You’ve been through a lot, Malcolm. You know more about life than I ever will. You’re smart. You’re talented. And you don’t need my help. So I will simply give you the words a sweet old professor once gave to me:

Put love on those pages.

And speaking of love. I sure do love you, buddy.

33 comments

  1. Christina - July 16, 2020 7:06 am

    Sean, we are grateful for those selfless angels who helped build you up. Every day, we are blessed by the love you put into your writings. Thanks for providing this refreshing and lighthearted presence especially in times like these. And you go Malcolm!

    Reply
  2. Beryl - July 16, 2020 8:21 am

    “Put love on those pages.” Love is the language of the heart-all hearts. I can hear the synchronistic beating. Thank you for sharing these words.

    Reply
  3. Deborah Lockard - July 16, 2020 10:24 am

    We all need your “love letters” Sean, especially in these times. Thank you and God bless you.

    Reply
  4. Jan - July 16, 2020 11:49 am

    Thanks for following your teacher’s advice – you put love in every page you write. Both you and your writing are a blessing. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  5. Robert M Brenner - July 16, 2020 11:51 am

    Yes, I did shed a few tears at the end of your story today! Thanks for loving that child and making him a little more sturdy! ❤️

    Reply
  6. Becki McCallum - July 16, 2020 11:56 am

    Wow. Definitely one of your best Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. D Moore - July 16, 2020 12:10 pm

    Awww Sean….so nice. May he continue to write love on his & others’ pages.

    Reply
  8. Cathi Russell - July 16, 2020 12:26 pm

    Your advice to Malcolm was spot on. Thanks, Sean, for being the kind of author who writes back!

    Reply
  9. Steve - July 16, 2020 12:36 pm

    Once again, so very good. Man o man.

    Reply
  10. Donna - July 16, 2020 1:34 pm

    This moved me to my very core! A friend who is helping me after a hip replacement shared your blog. I am enchanted.

    Reply
  11. Lori Hardee - July 16, 2020 1:37 pm

    Sean, I couldn’t love this more. Thank you for sharing your heart. Please ask Malcolm if I, too, can read his story. Love, Lori (Auburn, AL).

    Reply
  12. Ala Red Clay Girl - July 16, 2020 1:40 pm

    Beautiful story & wonderful advice!

    Reply
  13. turtlekid - July 16, 2020 1:46 pm

    Feelings!! They are not tangible, but more powerful than anything! Love, anger, despair, sadness, and appreciation. When we find words to put emotion to our feelings, we have written a song worth singing!

    Reply
  14. Phil S. - July 16, 2020 2:15 pm

    Great message to Malcolm and us all. I hope I am right about who that kindhearted builder was – a master carpenter from many years ago; and who his helpers were – people he assigned to come and rescue you. All because he loved you and saw in you what you could be and how you could be such a blessing to so many. That community college teacher was one of his helpers who must have sensed something special in you, too. Keep pecking away on that old Lettera 32, and be careful not to drop it again.

    Reply
  15. thouse1001 - July 16, 2020 2:25 pm

    Truly the difference between a simple text essay, and a real writer’s story! Well said, Sean…

    Reply
  16. Tom - July 16, 2020 2:29 pm

    You got my eyes leaking again- great advice-wisdom. Malcolm, keep you head screwed on straight and you will do well.

    Reply
  17. Becca, Columbiana, AL - July 16, 2020 2:44 pm

    Awesome! God has blessed you with the love, wisdom and talent to truly uplift everyone who writes to you as well as everyone Who reads this column! God bless!

    Reply
  18. Sandy - July 16, 2020 2:51 pm

    WOW !! What a story !! Thank You, Sean, for all these special stories. I look forward each day to read about. I’m sure you have helped this wonderful young man, and he’s pounding away on his typewriter !! Have a wonderful day….

    Reply
  19. Deborah-Zenha Adams - July 16, 2020 3:05 pm

    This is by far the best advice about writing that I’ve ever seen, read, or heard. I always enjoy your work, Sean, but this particular post is outstanding.

    Reply
  20. lindadykes4557 - July 16, 2020 3:11 pm

    Dear Sean, I have a major complaint. I can no longer read your posts at work. They make me cry at least 50% of the time. I’m supposed to be a hard-ass, and it’s difficult to maintain my reputation if I’m seen blotting tears with an old paper towel. I’m not sure I can blame it on allergies anymore. Why don’t you write something terrible so I won’t feel anything? All kidding aside, thank you for what you do — making us feel something. I know it must be difficult to do every day. Bless you. Linda

    Reply
  21. Helen De Prima - July 16, 2020 3:28 pm

    This is one of your best (thus far) and speaks to me on so many levels. After I spent eight months back in Kentucky caring for my aunt in her last days, I tried to write about returning my childhood home, this time as the parent. It didn’t work for shit, so instead I wrote my first novel, giving my aunt the adventures she always craved and gave up to raise me. I’m only sad she never got to read it.

    Reply
  22. Julie - July 16, 2020 3:33 pm

    Wow, Sean, what a wonderful, well told story!
    May we all aspire to be those “builders” you describe.

    Reply
  23. Elaine Walizer - July 16, 2020 3:47 pm

    I thought I would share some advice about writing that I gave out…. I was a big reader from early childhood, and I aspired to be a writer. I made some stabs at fictional short stories, and though my family liked them, the editors to whom I submitted them did not. Ironically, when I did finally get published, it was my nonfiction work that got accepted. I told my daughter that I had discovered the most important thing one needed in order to become a writer…and I asked her if she could guess what that was. “Well, a big vocabulary,” she suggested. “That helps, but it’s not the main thing,” I answered. “Hmm, how about grammar and syntax?” she asked. “Those are important tools, but not the most essential,” I responded. That was the limit of her patience, so my daughter said, “Well, then, maybe it’s gray hair.” (Ouch! LOL) So I shared my discovery: the most important thing to have is *something to write about.* When I found a sense of mission in sharing our story and experiences, I became a writer.

    Later, another mom of a HS senior told me her daughter wanted to become a writer; she was headed off to Emory University and debating whether to major in English or Journalism. My advice: she should find a field that intrigued and stimulated her, and major in that–be it biology, engineering, or (ugh) economics. Whatever floats her boat…. Then she will have something to write about!

    Reply
  24. Betty - July 16, 2020 4:17 pm

    You deserved every hand clap that day. That was a beautiful story.

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - July 16, 2020 4:43 pm

    If I wrote or typed stories, I would call myself “Linda of the LIFE”, with LIFE, itself, always being in all caps. Sean of the South takes everyday LIFE and turns it into more. But don’t worry about Blog competition from me (as if!) I’m too lazy to start a Blog or whatever kind of thingies that might attract up to 70,000 fans and followers. The time of my LIFE reading Sean of the South is enough for me. And this comment is love to Mr. South and family!

    Reply
  26. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - July 16, 2020 5:06 pm

    Funny what your stories can bring to mind. I took an electronic class in high school. Probably the first time I became interested in anything worthwhile. Taught by an old military guy who steered me towards the Navy.
    After high school I took a night class at technical college. There were 5 of us & the other 4 were Viet Nam guys going on GI Bill. Of course I had a gazillion military questions.
    2 months after that class I was in Orlando in Navy Boot Camp. A decision that changed my life forever & certainly helped make me who I am.
    I love everything you write.
    Steve

    Reply
  27. Thomas Wallin - July 16, 2020 6:10 pm

    Sean, I have to agree with Sandy above that I look forward to reading your stories every day. Thanks for doing them each day and the effort it takes. But I do have a complaint about you. I wish you would stop saying you are not much of a writer. You are the best writer I have ever read. Just see all the people and their hearts that you touch every day. You are us since you have gone through what we are going through. Thanks and we all Love You too. Keep banging that old typewriter for all of us. Thanks again.

    Reply
  28. MAM - July 16, 2020 6:14 pm

    That is so sweet. And extremely useful to that young man. Put your love on the page and people WILL applaud. You couldn’t hear me, but I joined in the applause for your story today (with leaky eyes!)
    !

    Reply
  29. Barbara whisnant - July 16, 2020 11:33 pm

    You are unbelievably talented, for which I am eternally grateful.
    Everything you write has meaning for all who read your words.
    Thank you for helping to make my days better by just reading what you have written.
    You have a gift and it is you.

    Reply
  30. Jess Rawls - July 17, 2020 12:22 am

    Reference: cursive handwriting. I take it that your penmanship isn’t the best of all times. At least thirty years ago, maybe longer, someone looked at my handwriting and told me, “Gee, you write just like a doctor!” Since I wasn’t writing a prescription, I knew exactly what she meant. In the following thirty years my handwriting has only gotten progressively worse, that’s why I use a word processor for all my writing.

    Reply
  31. Linda Foshee - July 17, 2020 8:14 pm

    Beautiful story. The quote on my Page-a-Day Cat Calendar (wish you could see the expressions on the faces of three kittens sleeping together in a much too small basket) is appropriate here: “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of everything.” —Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire

    Reply
  32. Joy Taylor-Lane - July 18, 2020 12:31 am

    Thank you for sharing your humanity, and love. Right now the world needs that. We always do, but it seems even more so today. It was nice to hear you mention my favorite beach too. We are still trying to keep it a secret, so shh- tell us some more about Destin. 😁

    Reply
  33. Sandi. - July 18, 2020 8:29 am

    Sean, what gr8 advice you freely gave to young Malcolm, and best wishes to him in his writing endeavors. I think your encouragemnt is just what he needed!

    Reply

Leave a Comment