I don’t know if every child wants to be a writer, but I did. Beginning with stories published in the Aunt Elsie children's section of the Oakland Tribune, I graduated to filling out a mail-in advertisement for a writing correspondence course. When a salesman dressed in a suit and tie rang our doorbell, asking for the Susan Lundgren who wanted to be a writer, my mother was not amused. She sent him quickly on his way.
My next venture involved poetry. Mom bought me an inches-thick rhyming dictionary, so I spent a little time creating. Still in elementary school, I submitted my first-ever poems to the New Yorker, which sent me a polite but firm rejection.
Since my urge to write emerged again during high school years, I signed up for a summer internship with the then-weekly Contra Costa Times. Each morning reporters scoured stories in the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. If a local angle was discovered, the story was rewritten, occasionally adding new information through follow-up phone calls. There was still a Society Section in those days, and I vividly remember the sole writer, with hat on her head and white gloves in her hand, carrying a camera to appropriate functions. If snapshots weren’t the quality she desired, a thick black pen was used to cross out whatever appeared unseemly, such as too many teeth, or an out of place hand.
My first assignment? An in-person obituary interview with the local butcher for details about the death of his son. Looking barely twelve years old, I stared at him over the counter, both of us surrounded by large bundles of uncooked meat, as I asked him questions about one of the most painful times of his life.
My biggest assignment? A feature article on a Lafayette-based craft workshop for those with limited intellectual capabilities. It was a front page article, but I never bothered to look to see how it turned out. By then, I’d lost interest.
My A.A. and B.A. degrees were in English, chosen only because I liked to read and knew I’d do well in those classes. My real passions were political activism and movies. I addressed the first by attending San Francisco State University during the Vietnam War, and the second by minoring in Film History and Theory. I wasn’t inclined to make movies, I only wanted to watch them. There was a lingering thought of becoming a film critic; I never tried.
After college I briefly taught Language Arts to third graders, then pursued two human services-related graduate degrees, culminating in a doctorate in counseling and educational psychology. My career path turned collegiate and academic: personal and educational counseling, teaching lower division classes in psychology and women’s studies, and graduate courses in career development. My peers turned to me to edit their writing, but my only other related work was a brief sabbatical stint as a book reviewer for Plexus, a monthly women’s newspaper. It wasn’t a big-money gig, averaging about $10 per submission, but at least my work was deemed worthy of publication.
Still, I knew I would eventually take writing more seriously, and my closest friends remind anyone who listens that I always do what I say. Retirement has given me this opportunity. Classes by Norma Watkins and Marianne Villaneuva encouraged me to keep writing, so I am.
Next step? I’m working on a children’s picture book, with numerous other projects rumbling around in my head. Like most writers, if only I could find more time…