Monday, July 4, 2022

Two 1812 Overture Memories for the Fourth

I'm grateful to my parents for an early introduction to classical music. When Mom took us to church, Dad stayed home, reading the newspaper and listening to classical music. I've written a little about that chapter of my life here. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was on one of these albums. 

Photo: DesignEcologist on Unsplash
Of the two other memories associated with this piece of music, one occurred in high school and the other while we were living in the Midway in St. Paul after our return from Mexico in 1982 and before our move to Forest Lake in 1984. 

One of the teachers who made an impact on me when I was in school was Mr. Harris, my senior year English teacher. I have several meaningful memories from his class, but for now we'll stick to our theme, the 1812 Overture, which had been written to commemorate Russia's confrontation with Napoleon in that year.

What he did was have us listen to this piece of music and then write a story inspired by what we heard. Disney, of course, did visual storytelling inspired by classical music in his film Fantasia. Ours was simply a writing exercise with a musical prompt. For people with imagination this kind of thing is fun.

If you are familiar with the 1812 Overture you'll recall the sense of mood swings, a back and forth between lighter and more ominous themes. At the time I doubt that any of us knew it was about a conflict between Napoleon's army and the armies of Russia. Though I don't remember anything I wrote, I do recall a vivid sense of imagery and felt quite energized as I penned my thoughts on paper.

Photo courtesy Zibik on Unsplash.
THE SECOND MEMORY took place on the Fourth of July when we were living, as I noted, in St. Paul. We'd gone to the State Capitol to see the fireworks on a beautiful midsummer evening. The crowds were spread out on the grass on the south side of the Capitol with a full symphony orchestra on the apron of the Capitol grounds. I can't recall how long they performed, but as the twilight turned to dusk the Capitol shone white and bright, illuminated against the dark but clear night sky.

At a certain point it began, the 1812 Overture. It's a fifteen minute piece of music whose energy rises and subsides, like breathing or the tides. As it approaches its famous climax there's brass and spectacle and, famously, cannon fire. 

And right on cue, as the cannons boomed the fireworks filled the night sky shooting up from behind the Capitol dome. That dramatic experience of Tchaikovsky, symphony, fireworks and celebration has never been equalled in my life. Ever since that time, to fully appreciate a fireworks event I have to simply not compare. 

Actually, the boom, pop and sparkle of fireworks never ceases to invigorate, except when it's the neighbors and you have a dog that is terrified of the booms. Fortunately, it's only once a year, whereas the memory of that night at the Capitol is fresh every time I think of it.

Happy Fourth of July to you, wherever you might be. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Powerhouse Chicago Tribute Band DTA Puts On A Show at the West

In addition to being a wonderful venue for movies, the West Theater on Central Avenue has also become a very special musical venue. On Thursday evening we were treated to a fantastic concert by the DTA (Duluth Transit Authority) performing the music of Chicago. 

When I was a teen we lived next door to a musical family, the father a professional trumpet player. The eldest son was likewise an excellent trumpet player. Young trumpet players immediately key in on songs with brass. Kenny drew our attention to the trumpet part in the Beatles's Penny Lane. And he was a super big fan of the Chicago Transit Authority, whose hits included Saturday in the Park, 25 or 6 to 4 and many more. 

I can't say enough about
Marshall and Manny.
These kids have a future
if they play it right. 
The DTA proved that they were not only exceptionally talented, but also super tight. What impressed me was the range of ages, from 18 to 84 (just kidding, but somewhere in the late fifties or thereabouts). What also struck me was how the young people in this band were getting some truly great experience as regards how to work in a band, how to entertain a crowd and how a band leader keeps everyone in sync. 

When I spoke to Paul Lemenager, lead singer on many of the numbers, he said that was a deliberate part of their schtick. The experienced members are consciously mentoring the younger.

Here are the members of the band, stage left to right front (band POV):

Tanya Moore, vocalist, keys
Julia Collins, vocalist
Paul Lemenager,  vocalist
Greg Moore,  keys, alto sax
Joe Anderson,  bari sax, flute
Will Collins, trombone
Steve Siegel, trumpet
Jacob Burkhart, trumpet

Second row, left to right rear:
Ian Hopp, drums
Tommy Kishida, Conga
Manny Eisele

Marshall Dillon, guitar

The energy displayed was impressive. It bubbled out from within the performers and flowed over the audience. The song selection was perfect, too, as the opened with a Feeling Stronger Every Day that you couldn't help but smile to.

Paul, flanked by Tanya and Julia.
Other songs on the playlist included Saturday in the Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, We Can Make It Happen, Wishing You Were Here, You Are the Love of My Life (My Inspiration), Only the Beginning and many more. It was interesting that they incorporated Vehicle into the playlist, by the Ides of March. 

If you were a Chicago fan when you were young (that is, if you're old now) then you really appreciated their skill and versatility. And if Chicago was before your time, well, this was a truly great introduction to one of the classy bands of 50 years ago.

Kudos to the band, and to Bob Boone for his renovation of this classic venue.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Memory Lane: A Life Lesson from Chinese Handcuffs

Remember these? When I was a kid they were called Chinese Handcuffs. 
What I remember is that the harder you tried to pull your fingers out, 
the more they tightened their grip. Escape was easy if you knew how. 

How many of our own problems are like these simple finger traps?

While pondering this matter of "Chinese handcuffs" as a metaphor for many of life's problems, I decided to Google "Chinese handcuffs as metaphor" and discovered my idea was already incorporated into a therapeutic application. The first article I found is titled "What you can do when everything you try makes things worse."

The solution to many of our problems, according to this source, is ACT. That is, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Julian McNally writes: The Chinese Fingercuffs Metaphor is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) intervention we use to help you approach that kind of problem in a way that can make a lasting difference – a transformation of the way you see the problem – not just a solution to it.

In 2013 the Portland Psychotherapy website published an article about these Chinese Finger Traps. Their article was titled "Chinese Finger Traps: What a Novelty Item Can Teach Us about Acceptance." As it turns out, this psychologist also practices and teaches Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. 

Near the conclusion he writes, When we accept, we let go of the struggle against what we’re feeling—in this very moment. In the next moment, we get a choice about what to do next. Acceptance frees us from the struggle with pain and allows for new possibilities. 

* * * 
For the record, there are other kinds of handcuffs that aren't so easy to escape from. You can see photos of some of these on my blog post  titled The Handcuff Kings.

Meantime life goes on... 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Universities: Their Decline and Fall

This past week I read an article about the current state of England's universities. I'm sure that an American author could write a similar article on some of what has been happening in our own universities. The article was published in The Unherd, which I've been periodically reading for a year or so. What I like is their in-depth stories and non-aligned views. That is, they publish articles that would likely annoy "both sides of the aisle" so to speak. That is what I like about Reason magazine as well. 

The article that caught my attention was titled How universities were corrupted. The subhead is: Vindictive protectiveness has re-shaped our institutions

The essay by Matthew Goodwin begins like this:

When are we going to do something about the state of our universities? We must surely by now be familiar with the symbols of this unfolding crisis. Philosopher Kathleen Stock, who was harassed by students and staff to such an extent that she was forced to leave her position at the University of Sussex. Noah Carl, the promising research fellow, who was chased out of Cambridge. Tony Sewell, the government advisor who oversaw the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities before suddenly finding his offer of an honorary doctorate at the University of Nottingham withdrawn. Tim Luckhurst, the Principal at Durham who invited Rod Liddle to speak at a dinner and was then suspended after students demanded he be disciplined.

The big concern, and what seems to be at stake here as well, is the pressure being put on schools to move away "from their founding mission to search for truth through free inquiry."

Maybe it has always been this way to some extent. Bertrand Russell's lecture and booklet Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Thought did address this last matter a century ago, but I get the impression that it has been exacerbated in recent years for a variety of reasons. One of these is spelled out in Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt's The Coddling of the American Mind.

* * * 

In a related critique of today's universities, William Deresiewicz sounds a wake-up call to American universities and institutions in an opinion piece titled American education’s new dark age . The subhead tells the story: Colleges have abandoned real learning for wokeism.

Deresiewicz's piece begins with his sharing his own wake-up experience teaching at an elite college in Southern California. "I assumed that they’d arrive with a fairly good idea of how to make an argument with an academic context and that I would be teaching them how to apply those skills to a very different set of rhetorical occasions," he writes. But he was wrong.

They not only didn't know how to construct an argument, they really hadn't learned how to read, or write or think. A little further along he realizes what led to this situation.

To understand how this predicament came to pass, one needs to understand how students manage to get into places like Harvard or the Claremont colleges in the first place. It is not by learning how to read, write, or think. It is by jumping through the endless series of hoops that elite college admissions offices have developed over the decades to winnow down their skyscraper stacks of application folders.

Not only are grades important, but involvement in a dozen extracurricular activities is essential to creating a solid, well-rounded candidate for the Ivy Leagues and other elite schools. In order to also get the sleep one needs, students learn to excel at skimming.

The author states outright that this kind of lifestyle does not produce intellectual engagement. Curiosity and passion must be suppressed, he states. The expertise students master has more to do with how to beat the system rather than learning anything.

Oh yes, they can pass tests. That's the new form of education, teaching to the test.  Don't surprise them by forcing them to think. They don't have time for that.

He goes on...

If that’s the kind of education students have received by the time they get to college, do things get better once they arrive? Not usually. Old habits die hard. Elite students, already competing for the next prize, continue to conduct their lives at the same frenetic pace. At the large mass of institutions below the level of the elite, the problem is less apt to be misdirected zeal than sheer indifference. Courses are a bother; campus culture runs to sports and beer.

 * * * 

The appeal of Wokeism is that it offers relief from the unsustainable emptiness of post-modern cynicism. Wokeism gives people something that appears to me meaningful to believe in. 

You can read the full story here: American Education's New Dark Age.
Comments welcome.

EdNote: I'm interested in your take on these articles. Are they overly harsh and critical, or fairly astute? Please share in the comments.

Related Link

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Your Organizational Culture Matters More Than You Think

Over the course of my career I have been blessed with periods in which the work environment that I was in was uplifting and even motivational. Those seasons in which workers thrive and feel energized cab sometimes last years. I have also seen how workers can become demotivated and their joy be siphoned away. I've experienced it in both blue collar and white collar contexts and, sadly, when I hear people tell how much they love their work I inwardly think, "When you have that, cherish it. It doesn't always last."

Here's the beginning of a short guest blog I wrote for Audacity Human Resources. 

* * * * 

Your Organizational Culture Matters

The Gallup organization has been polling and writing about employee engagement for decades. One reason this is important is because employees who love their work and are fully invested are less likely to be seduced away by other opportunities. If that is not a compelling reason to think about your employees, then consider this. According to Gallup data, business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.

At a time when businesses are scrambling for workers, you don’t want to be vulnerable to losing more members of your team, especially the key ones making a contribution.


Monday, June 27, 2022

Love and Adventure Meet In Newlyweds Afloat. A Fun, Insightful Read from the Editor of Business North

For the past four years I've been writing a marketing column for Business North, a regional business publication here in the Northland. I've also tackled some journalism, which had me working more closely with the publication's editor Felicia Schneiderhan. When I learned that she'd written a book called Newlyweds Afloat, I immediately checked out a copy from our library, and guess what? It's a really good read. 

The full title of the book is Newlyweds Afloat: Married Bliss and Mechanical Breakdowns While Living Aboard a Trawler. The word Newlyweds in the title should tell you it's a story with romance in it. Afloat can imply a couple of things. First, "barely keeping your head above the water," as in the way I did the dog paddle across the pool when I was eight in order to earn the right to jump off the diving boards. Second, as in living on the water in a boat as opposed to the solid foundations of dry land.

The next statement is one I've made so often that it's almost cliche. If most readers are like me, they enjoy reading well-written stories about people whose lives or experiences are totally foreign to one's own. It's that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous effect. It's why we enjoy reading memoirs by people whose life experiences are foreign to our own.*

One feature that makes Schneiderhan's book work is her extreme candor, which begins on page one. Another aspect of the book that makes it an enjoyable read is the vivid imagery and splashes of original (i.e. non-cliche) ways in which she presents ideas or describes things. For example, here's a description of heading out onto Lake Michigan away from the city: "Watching the downtown skyscrapers shrink to chess pieces..."

There are little gems like this throughout the book that I would have highlighted if it weren't something borrowed from our library. (Book ownership is nice because you can write in the margins and highlight passages ad infinitum. I read that John Adams filled the margins of his books with notes and scribbles. One book he owned had five thousand words of notes!)

The promo copy on Amazon describes it like this: A young woman meets an amazing guy, falls in love, and they move in together. Straightforward enough, right? Except he lives on a boat—a thirty-eight-foot trawler, docked in Chicago. Their relationship is intensified by living in a tiny space, and by the never-ending quirks of the boat, who becomes a third party in the marriage. There are electrical failures, pump failures, big waves, and freezing winters . . . not to mention the attack goose. Felicia Schneiderhan has a fine literary sensibility and manages to be both funny and deeply serious in writing about boats and love and relationships.

I admire her bold candor about many facets of the story. It brings this book into a serious level and not just a melodramatic romance account. Her honesty about alcoholism, her Catholic background and the challenges of living in small spaces gives it a realism readers can relate to.

If you live in Duluth, you can borrow the book from the Duluth Public Library, which likes to support our local writers by carrying their books on their shelves. (A couple of mine can be found there, fwiw.)

If you don't live in our neighborhood, Schneiderhan's book can be found here on Amazon.

I'll close here with a couple of good quotes. The first is from Annie Dillard. The second is from Guy de Maupassant, which Schneiderhan uses to open her story.

"The writer of any first person work must decide two obvious questions: what to put in and what to leave out." -- Annie Dillard.

"My curiosity had been aroused, that curiosity peculiar to all who travell over the water, which makes you want to see everything, watch everything closely, which makes you passionately interested in the slightest things." -- Guy de Maupassant

* * * * *

* For example, Nevada Bob Gordon's 50 Years with the Wrong Woman

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Unusual Items You Might Find at the Vintage Hideaway Marketplace

I don't recall the full backstory, but a group of entrepreneurs in the Duluth area and outskirts have created a fascinating little getaway destination for people who like souvenirs from the past and tasty items from the present. The building is located just off the Midway Road just south of where it cross the Hermantown Road. (Actual address: 3850 Old Midway Road, Hermantown) I believe it's only open Thursday thru Saturday. One reviewer wrote, "Love this place! It's like going to a junk hunt every day of the year! Products change often and they have such a wide variety of stuff! They are always so welcoming and friendly here as well! My new favorite store!!"

Yes, they are friendly folk, the Minnesota Nice variety. Here are photos from my hour of exploration during the early afternoon yesterday.

My grandfather had a pipe rack like this.

Every home needs one of these.
When I asked what that was I was told it's a mantrap.

If you're not in our neighborhood here but happen to be just west of Nashville, 
here's another Hideaway you would very much likely enjoy:

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Four Kinds of Regrets

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes has been made into at least three Hollywood films. The first, in 1972, was so mediocre that a second effort was filmed in 1983 starring Jason Robards. This was a better effort but it failed to make half its money back. In 2018 Hollywood made another go of it and this one got worse ratings than either of the previous efforts. Perhaps the theme is too dark. I myself found the 1962 novel to be both vivid and disturbing. Perhaps Hollywood just can't compete with the images a good creates when mingled with our imaginations.

The story is about Mr. Dark's traveling Pandemonium Circus that upends Green Town, Illinois like a furious funnel cloud. The tag line for the film sums up the main point of the story: "After he fulfills your deepest, lifelong dream... he'll tell you the price you have to pay."

For me, I have no memories of the film at all except one. Jason Robards, the father, gets lost in a Hall of Mirrors where he is weeping because it is a hall of regrets.

AND SO when I stumbled across the title of an article on The 4 Major Kinds of Regrets, it grabbed my attention because like many people I have carried with me regrets from my past.  It never occurred to me that there could be different kinds of regret, so I was curious. Here are the categories, according to this article in Psychology Today.

Foundation Regrets
These regrets pertain to a failure to be responsible, conscientious or prudent. Things like getting old without having saved for retirement. Or regrets about having neglected your health. Or your teeth. 

Boldness Regrets
I'm guessing that this one pairs up with the proverb about good intentions. For example, an opportunity that came our way passed us by because of our inaction. Why didn't we say something, or do something? Why were we so passive?

Moral Regrets
This is when we choose the low road rather than the high road. There are a hundred ways we can fail ourselves and our ideals.

Connection Regrets
This, researchers say, is the largest category of regret. It happens when we neglect people who are important to us, when we allow fractured relationships to remain fractured.

* * * 

Some of my biggest regrets revolve around things I've said. I'm ashamed to admit that there were a few times when I deliberately said something hurtful. And there were other times I unintentionally hurt people by stupid things I'd said carelessly. What's painful is that there is often no second chance.

The article goes on to examine how people respond to their regrets. Some say, "I have no regrets." Others, and I count myself among these, say, "I  have regrets but I have learned from them."

Life is for learning, through all our experiences, good, bad and ugly. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Motivations in The Glass Menagerie

Wednesday night I finished reading Tennessee William's powerful play, The Glass Menagerie. I referenced an article by Williams this past Saturday and have been drinking the story like a daily nightcap since. You can feel the tension ebb and flow throughout as you ache for Tom and Laura. 

There are four characters in the play--five if you count the absent father whose influence hangs like stale air over the family's apartment. Tom is the narrator, Amanda his mother and Laura his handicapped sister whose life now revolves around her collection of glass figurines, and the "Gentleman Caller" who waits in the wings till the climax of the play.

Tom works at a warehouse, supporting the family with a meager income. In the evenings he goes out. Amanda from the start needles him about his smoking and his late nights. Where does he go? He says he goes to the movies. 

In Scene Four Amanda asks, "Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom?"

"I go to the movies because--I like adventure. Adventure is something I don't have much of at work, so I go to. the movies."

* * *
What struck me about this statement is how it parallels a central theme in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a mid-1950s bestseller that, along with The Lonely Crowd, said a lot about the shadows that hung over our nation's post-war years. 

The central characters in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit are Tom and Betsy Rath. This Tom had been in the service during the war, and now that he was back in the States in the daily grind of the corporate world, he'd begun to feel himself unable to just accept the drudgery of his working life compared to the adventures he'd experienced abroad. It's interesting that the author, Sloan Wilson, gave his central characters the name of Rath. 

* * * 
In The Glass Menagerie, the character of Amanda is a smothering overbearing presence throughout, micromanaging the lives of her two grown children. Tom escapes into the night, in part, to escape Amanda's perpetual needling and the stifling atmosphere of the apartment.

From the outset we're made aware of the walls Laura has built around her self, the "safe place" that allows her to function. This is another area of tension in the story as Amanda glosses over Laura's interior fragility, sees her daughter in an unrealistic, idealized image. Tom has no such illusions, but out of duty brings home the "gentleman caller" that Amanda desires for her daughter.

Amanda's primary motivation is security. Her husband went rogue a long while ago and her fear is that Tom will abandon her as well. What she doesn't see is that instead of love being her motivating principle, it is fear that impels her to smother the joy out of everything as she compensates with a fake cheer and fake caring. 

The message Amanda needs to take to heart comes from the pen of Robert Burns:
O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us
to see oursels as others see us.

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
Source: To a Louse

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Our Local Forging Community

When I say FORGING, I mean people who make or shape metal objects by heating in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it. Think blacksmith. Except these folk make all kinds of things from gates and grills to cooking utensils and weapons. Here are some photos a recent visit to our local forging community which currently meets in the Armory Annex.

Related Link: Bob Dylan and Gates.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Duluth Guards Against Indecency on the Stage

While doing research for a story about historic Duluth theaters I came across these clippings which I thought you might enjoy. Here's the first:

Here's a little more of the text from this story:


Rather to guard against a situation that may arise as the city grows in population than to meet any actual viciousness in the character of its theaters today, the City of Duluth has passed an ordinance designed to prevent the production of indecent theatrical performances. This legislation is due to the efforts of the Women's council representing all the women's clubs. It is framed after a careful study of the ordinances of fifty-three cities, and aims to retain only those features of each which have been found to be of practical use fulness.

The framers feel that their ordinance is the high-water mark in just and effective control of theaters and public entertainments. It affords the public 'moral protection and at the same time safeguards the theatrical interests. In fact, it is felt by some that its ultimate effect will be materially to increase the revenues of the playhouses and motion-picture theaters, as the local theater manager or owner need no longer be subject to the orders of the promoter, a thousand miles away, but can promptly fall back upon the ordinance, and demand, on the unequivocal ground of self-protection, that objectionable features be cut out.

It requires that no "show, exhibition, circus, moving-picture show, public entertainment, public play, amusement, game, or concert, or any theatrical play or performance" whatever shall be presented except under license. It also provides for license fees except for performances for religious or charitable purposes.

* * * 

The second "story" that caught my eye was a 1925 letter to The Herald pleading for a theater in the Lakeside area.

Interesting. That was a year before the first talkies. There was no radio, no television, no cable, no smart phones, no streaming media. How did they manage to survive?

Monday, June 20, 2022

A Nice Review of My eBook Newmanesque

At one time I wanted to make a living as a short story writer and novelist. Unfortunately, I also had to put bread on the table for my family and there was no assurance of success in that compartment of my life. 

I do feel a measure of pride for many of the stories I've created, though I also have a few regrets, primarily two. First, that I didn't try harder to get my work published in journals. Second, that when I finally decided to publish my stories in a set of three eBooks, I rushed it and failed to take my time in the proofing. 

The feedback on my stories has made me feel they deserve a wider audience. Hence, I'm thinking of assembling an anthology along with a few new stories I've written since publishing these in 2011. 

I suppose there's a third regret gnawing at me on this particular title. I called it Newmanesque because someone said my stories seemed Kafkaesque. 

If interested you can find it here on Amazon. 


If “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection,” as Michelangelo said, then it seems writers and artists must constantly strive toward perfection to engage in “true” art. It’s a never-ending struggle, and a struggle captured in Newman’s stories, particularly “The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston.” The protagonist, John Urban, struggles to regain his voice as a writer. In an effort to recapture his muse, he stumbles upon the almost mythical Richard Allen Garston and his collection of unfinished work. The story’s excellent pacing and poignancy evoke The Dialogues of Plato or the Book of Job. Our lives are like stories, Newman seems to be saying, and in the end, one character strikes out to finish his while the other doesn’t. What will we do?

“A Poem About Truth,” a shorty, punchy story, shows us the process of creating art, in this case a poem written by a French chef, can elicit derision and scorn from the world. Those who don’t understand the truth mock the chef’s work and relegate him to history’s shadows. Art (truth), however, outlasts its pallbearers and lives on. It offers a nice balance placed between two longer stories in the book.

"Terrorists Preying" may be the crown jewel of the book. Its bleakness and modernity seem to fit an age such as ours. The story seems to be attempting to answer the age-old question, What is Art? Les Garnet provides an answer many won’t like. Yet, can an age that rejects moral truths really condemn Garnet? Who are we to define what he’s doing as anything less than art? The story shows, intentionally or not, that we may not be able to begin to answer the question without appealing to fundamental moral principles many of us are loathe to entertain. The story ends as Mike, Les Garnet’s old acquaintance, prepares to paint his masterpiece, as it were. Do we cheer him? Deride him? Read for yourself and see.

This is a nice collection of thought-provoking stories worthy of appearance in any literary journal. My only criticism is that Newman should include more stories in the book. I highly recommend the book.

Dear Reviewer:
You are correct. There should have been more stories. Thanks for the kind words.

Related Link
Eight Books by Ed Newman

Sunday, June 19, 2022

A Father's Day Memory About My Dad

My father was a chemist. He worked in the paints division for a major corporation that had a variety of divisions. Eventually they got into multiplication and subtraction. (JK)

Because I excelled in math, science, and English he hoped I would go to college and become an engineer. Though accepted at an Ivy League school I was on a waiting list and instead went to Ohio University in Athens.

My interest in becoming an engineer was slim to none at that point. I had burned out on math. Instead I took an interest in philosophy and art. The latter had been part of my internal fiber since early childhood, though probably the former had as well because I can remember at an early age swinging on the swingset pondering why it was that most animals concealed where they lived whereas humans had bright houses out in the open, not hidden at all. Over time I slowly moved toward pursuit of a fine arts degree.

The interesting thing to me is how much my father supported me in whatever endeavor I pursued. As I got involved in painting in college, my dad provided me with pigments to mix my own paints along with a five gallon pail of high gloss emulsion. Very early on I was able to paint larger canvases at no cost for supplies. It says a lot about my dad that he accepted my rejection of the path he envisioned for me, and actively supported my endeavors and dreams. And when I veered to another direction, he accepted that as well.

The photos here are of cans of pigment he gave me 50 years ago when I was in college. Some have dried out, but others are surprisingly still good. Thanks, Dad.

Happy Father's Day to Dads Everywhere.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Long Sentences Are Just Fine (If You Can Pull Them Off)

Illustration by the author.
When I first became deliberate about becoming a writer I read every book on writing that I could find in the library and bought the ones I thought best so I could study them. More than one of these books wrote about sentence length. Most urged writers to use short sentences. Most also suggested that writing is more interesting when we vary sentence length. One of these authors, if I recall correctly, stated that we shouldn't write sentences longer than 17 words. 

Like many young writers I took these instructions to heart. Hemingway famously wrote short, punchy sentences, right? Wasn't Raymond Carver a "short sentences" kind of guy?

So I was mildly amused the other night as I read an article by Tennessee Williams about how his life had been changed through the sudden fame garnered by his play The Glass Menagerie. The article first appeared in The New York Times. It drew me in immediately, despite the absence of short sentences. In fact, I really wasn't paying attention at all to sentence length because the storytelling was so engaging.

Now check out this sentence.  

No, my experience was not exceptional, but neither was it quite ordinary, and if you are willing to accept the somewhat eclectic proposition that I had not been writing with such an experience in mind--and many people are not willing to believe that a playwright is interested in anything but popular success--there may be some point in comparing the two estates.    

63 words. A paragraph with only one period. But what struck me was the 68-word follow-up paragraph, another single sentence. 

The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.   

The only reason I noticed these two sentences is because I'd listened to a series of lectures on writing longer sentences. The written language is an art form and once you know the rules, it's OK to make your own rules. 

No, that's not the whole of it. I noticed these sentences because I could relate to what he was saying. 

As for Hemingway, he also knew how to vary sentence length. Check out this 125-word sentence that I bookmarked the last time I read For Whom the Bell TollsThe sentence appears at an intense moment in the story. As you read it, there is a feeling of breathlessness as the motorcycle ascends and the sentence ascends with it. 

And as the motorcycle passed the high gray trucks full of troops, gray trucks with high square cabs and square ugly radiators, steadily mounting the road in the dust and the flicking lights of the pursuing staff car, the red star of the army showing in the light when it passed over the tail gates, showing when the light came onto the sides of the dusty truck bodies, as they passed, climbing steadily now, the air colder and the road starting to turn in bends and switchbacks now, the trucks laboring and grinding, some steaming in the light flashes, the motorcycle laboring now too, and Andrés clinging tight to the front seat as they climbed, Andrés thought this ride on a motorcycle was mucho, mucho

For the record, Faulkner has a couple sentences that are more than a thousand words each. 

Are you a writer? Do you restrict yourself with rules about sentence length? What other rules do you bind yourself with? It's never too late to learn a few new tricks. 

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