Monthly Archives: February 2012
Here’s a special post for the day, drawn from my checkered career in elementary school. Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
“I don’t know,” I told her. “Can I go to bed?” I had never asked to do this before.
Musically I enjoy the challenge, but the thing I like most is that we have become a family and I just like being with these guys!
In honor of the snow we didn’t have this week, this poem. Stay safe, stay warm and call us when you get there. Have a good weekend.
My younger brother, Ron, a retired Delta pilot who lives near Atlanta, is not only an Army and Air Force vet and pilot with over 17,000 hours in command: he has undertaken guitar rehab and repair as a retirement hobby. He has always done woodworking and in recent years has turned his efforts to fixing broken guitars. He does a beautiful job, turning cracked broken instruments into beautiful guitars that play as well as they look. Recently he has been sending his projects to a program called Guitars4Vets that gives our wounded warriors a guitar and six lessons. After that, they continue with group lessons and music sharing times. Their website is http://guitars4vets.org/.
Ron is also an incredible writer, and I wanted to highlight that today. We have maintained an email correspondence for years now,and while most of the messages deal with our day-to-day activities, his posts to me are models of style and technique. Not too shabby for a Wake Forest business ad major. Here’s a recent email from him to show what I mean:
… to make up for a disappointing day. The day began with the promise of good things. My Marine Gunny buddy had finally cleared his calendar to allow our meeting for lunch. An eBay buyer had sent an offer for an item that had not sold last week. And, the eBay Ovation repair project still only had my one bid for $79.
Well, my buddy called to cancel, as he had to meet a widowed neighbor at the hospital. She doesn’t have local family, and has been like a grandmother to his kids. Then, the eBay buyer went quiet after I informed him that shipping to Germany for the item would be $47. I did get the Ovation, but two other bidders ran the price up to $97. But, if the German buys the item for $20, that’s the difference. Weird karma today.
At your convenience, could you print out a picture of the back of the Martin guitar with the swirl wood insert? I told Dad about it, and I’d like to get his ideas on how it was done. Maybe I could e-mail Martin customer service and ask for their secret.
Now I need a extra deep throated “C” clamp to work on the Ovation. It has a minor bridge lift, along with the top crack. Nothing I have would work. Stew Mac wants $30 for one, but Grizzly has an identical one for $11. I tried my Rice’s Hardware equivalent, but they didn’t have one.
Oh yeah, the cheeseburger. I waited all morning for the German to reply, so I could mail the box while I was doing errands. Unfortunately, I waited too long, so I couldn’t do any errands. I decided to salvage some of the day by having a decadent Longhorn cheeseburger. It’s called comfort food for a reason.
Most of this message deals with guitar repair and Ron’s sales of some of the instruments on eBay. (Stew Mac is a supplier of guitar repair tools and materials, as is Grizzly. Rice’s Hardware is a local old-fashioned hardware store that I blogged about last week in a post entitled “Breaker, Breaker.”) Notice the level of detail, the relaxed tone, and how he brings it back to cheesburgers at the end. Well-written, bro! And thanks for letting me post this!
Mary Gallagher was my student in creative writing at Robinson High School, Class of 1989. I remember her as a quiet, good-natured young woman with an open manner and a disarming smile. So many adolescents are withdrawn or even surly, but not Mary. She had a sunny disposition matched only by what I came to find was a wicked sense of mordant humor. And write. Oh, my, but the young lady could write like a dream. I quickly put her in the “Tin Man” category of students, which is an allusion to the America (of “A Horse with No Name” fame) song which went in part “Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man/ That he didn’t, didn’t already have…” That is to say that I knew early on in the class that the best I could hope for with students like Mary (and like Emily Mitchell and Roy Jefferson) was that I would do them no harm. They had come to me as accomplished writers and what I could do for them was give them opportunities to share their writing and encourage them in any way I could. That was my role as a teacher: anything else could be damaging.
Mary graduated and then came back to Robinson as an English teacher. I would see her in department meetings and in the halls, but we taught in different parts of the building. I lost track of her and I retired. I heard she went to Mountain View.
Then, as I have with other former students, I reconnected with Mary on Facebook. She commented occasionally on my posts and I on hers, and then one day a notice showed up in my email about something called Black Walnut Dispatch, subtitled “Mossy Fecund Thoughts about Gardening and Nature.” It was a gardening/ landscape design blog and it was by Mary. I was a bit taken aback, but delighted at her knowledge and as ever, impressed by the humor and style of her writing. The posts are well worth checking out at http://blackwalnutdispatch.com/ She covers a variety of topics, and some of them not related to gardening but amazing anyhow.
I asked Mary how she got started in gardening and landscape design ( I knew about the writing), and she responded by sending me an essay she had just sent to Washington Gardener Magazine. Mary always made it easy for me, even down to her married name. Her maiden name was Gallagher; her married name is Gray, and so she is still Mary G. and still the Tin Man. And I mean that in every good way.
Here’s how she got started gardening in her own words:
Just beautiful, Mary. Just beautiful. –DV
Note: Some of these stories have been published elsewhere, but I wanted to put them out there again as part of the Bob Tales. I love that name for the series. I thought it up myself.
The question I am asked most frequently is “Was Bob a real person?” Yes, Bob did exist, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t kept up with him. I’m calling him Bob Bolt, although “Bolt” is a pseudonym. As to the question, did all these things happen as Bob described them? Answer: Who can tell? I never bothered to find out. I just enjoyed the stories and hope you do, too.
We assume, I think, that children like to dress up and wear costumes and pretend, and indeed most do, but there are a very few who don’t. We knew one little boy (I forget his name or what family he belonged to) who hated dressing up as someone else by the time he was six or so. His mother put him in little Halloween costumes until he was that age, and then he absolutely balked at trick or treating as Casper the Friendly Ghost (vinyl edition). He told his mother (she later told me) that he would forgo getting candy rather than wear a “stupid costume.” She asked him who or what he would like to go out as, and he said himself. She sighed and told him to pick out some clothes he typically wore and come back out to go visiting the neighbors.
He went in for a minute and came back outside wearing the same clothes. He spread his arms wide. “Here I am!” he pronounced. “It’s me.”
He proudly went from door to door, easily telling anyone who would ask who he was supposed to be: “I’m me!” I think that confounded most people into giving him more candy than he would have gained otherwise.
Sometimes it pays to be yourself. Except when it doesn’t.
I was wearing what I call my “Indiana Jones outfit” one day last week since it was a bit chilly out. I didn’t deliberately set out to dress like Harrison Ford in the movie role: it just all came together. I got myself a leather flight jacket for a retirement present eight years ago (at Kohl’s–how unlike Indy is that?), and I was wearing some cotton khakis with my boot like brown shoes. I checked out and put on a random blue shirt from the closet but did bring along my Indy-like brown hat. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror before I left and thought, surprised, man, I look like Indiana Jones. All I needed was a bull whip…
I headed for the CVS and strode in from the parking lot. As I was about to go through the automatic doors, a little boy about eight years old was coming toward me with his mom. He caught sight of me, stopped dead in his tracks and with a voice full of wonder, exclaimed, “Are you Indiana Jones?!?”
I hesitated a second as his mother looked at him and then back at me and then at him with an expectant smile on her face.
I thought, I’m an adult and adults shouldn’t lie, especially to little kids. And so I said, “No, I’m not.”
I regretted it instantly. His face fell and he reached up and took his mother’s hand. She gave me what I thought to be a mildly reproachful look that I didn’t understand until I thought about the situation for a bit.
I crushed that little kid’s sense of belief and wonder. It would be as if he saw Santa Claus walking out of the store carrying a gallon of milk and asked him if he were Santa and the elf replied, “Nope, not me, kid.” Of course he isn’t Santa, but what would it hurt to say he was? It would be the thrill of a lifetime for a little kid.
Later on, I was telling a good friend about this encounter. She said, wisely, “You should have said, ‘Yeah, kid, that’s me,’ and winked at him.” She is also honest. “You blew it.”
“And I could have said, ‘I hate snakes'”(which I do).
“Now you’re getting the idea,” she returned. But it was too late.
Sometimes it pays to be yourself. Except when it doesn’t.
A Mr. Shakespeare on line 1…
Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
Which, like two spirits, do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colored ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell.
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
I see by the light of the computer monitor that William Strunk’s little book on writing, Elements of Style, is still with us, now in its fourth edition. It’s also available in a 50th anniversary edition and also in a 2010 version for those who want the latest in great advice on writing. I can’t vouch for the later editions because I used the first edition, which came out in 1959, although I didn’t get my copy until 1964 when I was a lad. Or actually a senior in high school. My copy of the book featured a foreword by one of the finest essayists in the universe, E.B. White (Besides writing great books ostensibly for children about spiders and mice, White was an incomparable writer of essays who worked at the New Yorker for years).
(From Wikipedia:) Not long after The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White would submit manuscripts to it. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to magazine editor and founder Harold Ross that White be taken on as staff. However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office, and further weeks to convince him to agree to work on the premises. Eventually he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.
James Thurber described White as being a quiet man, disliking publicity, who during his time at The New Yorker would slip out of his office via the fire escape to a nearby branch of Schrafft’s to avoid visitors whom he didn’t know.
He published his first article in The New Yorker magazine in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927 and continued to contribute for around six decades.
In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English had been written and published in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr., one of White’s professors at Cornell. White’s rework of the book was extremely well received, and further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999; an illustrated edition followed in 2005. The illustrator, Maira Kalman, is a contributor to The New Yorker. That same year, a New York composer named Nico Muhly premiered a short opera based on the book. The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes. The complete history of The Elements of Style is detailed in Mark Garvey’s Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
I cannot find my copy of the Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (it’s here somewhere), but no matter. I have internalized its principles and rules over the years and have some of them by memory.
Principle 11: Use the active voice. (‘Nuff said. Just do it!)
Principle 13: Omit needless words. (This sentence is an absolute model of the principle.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences…
Any writer would be well advised to get this book, study it, and put its principles and rules into action. E.B.White quotes William Strunk telling his classes, “Buy the little book! Buy the little book! Buy the little book!” Good advice, that.