Back when I stood about four-foot-three, I opted out of fitting in.
I was a scrawny piece of work. Painfully short. Lots of flyaway hair the color of burnt toast. And front teeth that took up every available space in my mouth -- which I put to good use mangling my fingernails.
Some grownups said I was athletic (and very brave). So, in an effort to increase my overall body length, I'd pivot feet above head and settle my toe tops to hang upside down from a 2-by-8-inch wood frame someone had long ago whacked nails into with
the intent of erecting a child's swing. Except there was no swing dangling from that board. Just me. Stretching. And thinking. Always thinking.
And praying to the goddess of height. Upside down.
The blood rush must've given me a sort of a-ha moment, because one
day when when I was about nine, I suddenly gave up on the idea of ever
getting tall. (Spoiler alert: The goddess was listening, after all. But
I wouldn't know about it until much later.) So, instead of praying anymore,
I figured I'd do something more worthwhile for fun. I'd keep busy by mowing
other people's lawns. For 25-cents a pop. Right there in
Mosquito Capital, South Florida. Not far from where my all-time, still-now
favorite hero Lt. Horatio Caine locked up bad guys.
Thus began my first entrepreneurial venture.
The year I
mangled my nails,
hung upside down,
my first business.
The original goal of my landscaping profits was to fund my roller skating addiction. Which, for two reasons, was scary at best. First scary reason: my father would have killed me if he knew I was borrowing his precious rope-cranked lawn mower. And, second scary reason: Except for the time spent at school, I wasn't supposed to leave the yard when my parents were gone. Which was all daylight hours and most of the night. They were always at work, or sitting at the beer joint down the street. So their rules were illogical if my grass-cutting business was to prosper.
All I knew is that I wanted to skate. Because when there are eight wheels under your feet clickety-clacking across maple boards in the neighborhood rink, and a 6-mph breeze waifs across your face, creating quiet time to dream and solve life's mysteries, well, that's reason enough to break a rule or two.
During all this skating, thinking, analyzing, and chatter-boxing my way into big business is when I grasped that my verbal fluency could be a gift . (Or a dreadful nightmare. Depending who you asked. Teachers loved it. Siblings, not so much. Mom just grinned, proud-like.)
By the time I was 15, my willowy wishes had come true. Now 5-feet 8-inches tall, with joke-worthy, out-of-proportion legs (all that stretching), put me in the middle of what's now called bully-bait. I tried to focus on the pros: track, jumping hurdles, future supermodel material, reaching high shelves.
At 15, just after the
prayed-for growth spurt.
When that phase passed (or maybe it was at the same time, all I know is the bullying passed), my teachers started giving me more-appealing titles. Like voice artist, visual idea-maker, storyteller, and authorpreneur. Yummy stuff that gave me ideas for a resume, which got me hired by the local printer to design pictures, paragraphs, and dangling participles. At 16, and a high school senior, for $25.00 a week, gross pay, minus the government's share, brought it to $19.98 net take-home; minus the $15.00 my father took so I could keep the job [huh?], I produced a full-page syndicated column called Gi-Gi's Page. My portion of the week's work was $4.98. (Oddly -- and for reasons I go into in my memoir Riddle Crimes from Father Goose -- when I wrote that column, I had never actually read an entire book all the way through. It was my childhood experiences that inspired me to devote my career to advocacy work.) Even though I craved reading books, and came out tops in my graduating class, teachers didn't know that the homework assignments turned in had been quickly scanned during study hall before the bell rang -- and partly made up. But once I was on my own, free to read and write and draw -- and get paid for it -- my previous print-word starvation developed into an unquenchable love for books that pushes even Amazon's inventory to the limit.
With blessings from no one but the tiny voice in my head (and the goddess of all-things-good), a whirl-wind career opened doors. I've delivered massive public addresses for ridiculously high praise and huge sums, sat through law school, founded several nonprofits for nurses, disabled and disadvantaged children and adults. Let's throw in an over-lapping 7-year stint as professional private investigator and skip tracer. And fun stuff like creating and building furniture art. Even ran for the Florida Legislature (where I learned things I was better off not knowing). Then I switched to the quirky combo of licensed RN and artistic dance roller skater, sewing my own competitive costumes, while stashing medals, trophies, and hospital name tags in a closet full of dust.
Now I run the nonprofit for kids I founded a decade and a half ago. And teach.
Always I write. Day in. Day out. Morning, noon, and all through the night.
Hope you enjoy my website and blog. Talk to me, and I'll try to keep up.