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My Mind is a Minefield

by Jay Stempin

What kept my fingers on the keyboard?

Jay Stempin

I started scripting highlights of backyard football scrimmages with boyhood pals when I was about twelve.  My mom let me use her old typewriter: a prehistoric Remington with a metal carriage return, striker bars, one for each alphanumeric character, and a shift bar that clunked like an ailing air conditioner.

Words transported me to faraway lands where no one could find me. I fell in love with getting lost on the page. Yes, I escaped to hidden, grassy plots where I could carve out the landscape anyway I saw fit, planting lovely little mines ready to detonate. Oh, if I only knew what catastrophic mine was about to explode in my face.

In 1990, things got messy. I was twenty-one and loving life in the San Francisco Bay Area, going to college, checking out the live music scene and enjoying the Pacific Ocean. Everything then came to a screeching halt: I was involved in a head-on car collision on Highway One, on Earth Day in Pacifica, California. A demon-faced Chevy Nova barreled across the center-divide and smash-mouthed my Honda Civic. I suffered a traumatic brain injury.  

Lucky to be alive. 

My 1976 Honda: a crumpled ball of tinfoil. 

Apparently I couldn’t keep my ass still, and wanted to show off by having an epileptic convulsion in the ambulance; then, beyond exhausted, I napped in a coma for a week. My collision made the papers. Not sure if it was front-page news, but if this was my fifteen minutes of Andy Warhol fame, I slept through the whole damn thing. The following few years were fogged-over in mist and sorrow and fragmented bits of gratitude.

Being so close to the cold, fresh dirt of a graveyard gave me a new perspective on two things: writing and, well, being alive. My storytelling exploits continued anew as a little winged vampire landed on my shoulder. She, however, didn’t really sink her writing teeth into me until I was in my mid-twenties. This sulky little vamp continued to hang around, and today she just whispered in my ear: “Leave bread crumbs for readers and writers and business owners.” 

Here’s my bread-crumb contact: [email protected]

Fast-forward ten years. 

I was raising my son as a single parent. I recall sitting on a recliner with a laptop resting on my thighs, my son engrossed in video games with buddies. My writing, then, continued to evolve, transporting me into the phantasmagoric realm. Yes, I was thrilled by the pen, driven by some unknown alien force. Dark and mysterious. And I wanted it. It was slippery, dangerous, mystifying. I wanted it all, but wasn’t sure how to manage this invisible beast. Before I knew it, something else was living inside me. I could feel it foraging about and making a nest in my mind; it padded though  neuropathways strung together by misfiring synapses due, in part, to my head trauma; yes, more of those dastardly minefields. 

The Thing living within me had my attention. Some called it channeling; some called it wizard-minded desire; some called it crafting stories by tapping into a treasury of knowledge stored deep within. Whatever it was, I had to get dirty to find myself. But wasn’t my car collision enough dirt for one lifetime?

Zip ahead a handful of years and I earned my master’s degree in education . Soon, I was polishing guest editorials and press releases while writing, mostly for fun, in the realm of fantasy-fiction. During this time, I had been teaching and guiding at-risk students suffering from mental health disorders at a treatment center; subsequently I was employed as a high school teacher helping students with English Language Arts curriculum. I also began to practice tai chi to smooth out some of the stress and sadness that had scarred me. Tai chi brought happiness into my life and fueled my writing flame.

Today, I work as an editor and writer while managing my one-person agency: I also teach tai chi part-time at UNCW, a university in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

Writing is not just a way of life. Writing mirrors my passion for self-discovery through loss and acceptance, success and failure, love and darkness. I am thrilled to be here and remind myself every day: anything is possible, especially when wielding the sharp, bloodied blade of a pen. 

Red ink often denotes corrections to a draft, but this blood-red step in the writing process is as necessary as the blood pumping through your body—one of the most important steps in the publication process. 

Hey, if you’re looking for guidance with your writing, I’m waving at you right now! Can you see me? 

Feel free to reach out if you need an editor or writer or poet or ghost writer, or you simply want to expand your network of fellow writers: [email protected]  

I’ve learned to juggle many hats in life, especially in the writing realm; maybe, just maybe I could have avoided that exploding mine in my Honda Civic if I had been wearing a crash helmet instead of a hat. Here again, probably not. 

Through it all I keep my fingers on the keyboard while watching out for minefields.

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