Shared Stories: How Did I Get Here?

Responding to an open-ended writing prompt in class, Charlene Farnsworth reflected on her experience with writing throughout her life and her participation in the Norwalk class. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Charlene Farnsworth
Throughout my school years, I struggled with writing. I believe this was because I was very shy and fretted about having to make presentations in class. This troubling thought always hindered my creativity. 

I enjoyed a secure home environment. There was much love shared among family members and friends. Upon occasion, I have pondered: Can one really be too loved or too secure? That surely is not possible! However, I definitely felt less secure when I attended school.

Invariably, I was woozy the first day of a new school year and, somehow, hid this from my parents. I waited until they were out of sight from dropping me off at school before I gave into my discomfort. When I told Mom later about this ritual, she responded, “I really thought I knew my kids better!” I guess I wanted to appear brave and all grown up.

Shortly after my 17th birthday, I entered college. Most of my classmates were far wiser and more mature than I. It was difficult for me to make new friends, and I often spent break time and lunchtime alone. I continued to struggle with my writing assignments, always worrying about presenting my work in class.

On June 30, 1959, I began what would become a 33-year career in the aerospace industry. This was to be a temporary position during the summer. I then planned to return to college to pursue my forever goal of becoming a kindergarten teacher. 

I was privileged to have a teacher/student relationship with my first boss. He was a supervisor in a large Purchasing Department where much documentation was required.

I enjoyed taking dictation from him relating to purchasing contracts negotiated throughout the country. Through his patient tutoring, I became more comfortable interfacing with people of all levels.

Having labored with writing for so many years, it is ironic that it became a big part of my career. My job duties were expanded to include the preparation and maintenance of secretarial procedures and departmental budgets. Although I was never comfortable with the attention I drew from my various creations, I did enjoy the personal satisfaction and monetary rewards.

One day, I had to brief department personnel all day, with approximately 50 employees at each session. I expressed my concern to my boss about turning crimson in front of my audience. He wisely replied, “Miss C., they’ll be thinking about what you have to say and not what color you are!” His valuable counsel helped me through many future presentations.

Over the years, my writing also included personal journals, eulogies for dear ones who had passed, and poetry in the form of tributes and thank-you notes. 

Upon retiring, my activities were primarily focused on caring for several family members and my favorite English teacher. Documentation then mainly related to appointment schedules and medical/financial history. This, too, was a rewarding time in my life, for I felt I was contributing to a better quality of life for others.

On July 23, 2009, I joined Bonnie Mansell’s Memoir Writing Class to concentrate further on various writing techniques. I rarely miss a session and, this week, am beginning my tenth year attending Bonnie’s most enjoyable class. I continue to reap more personal rewards, not only in my writing but in making many new friends.

Through Bonnie’s instruction and encouragement, I am very close to completing what is probably the biggest undertaking of my life, penning my 300+ page book of memoirs entitled “La-La’s Life.”