Or, I’ll be your typewriter zombie.As culture continues its inexorable downward slide, the value of the well-written word escalates: A clever turn of phrase goes straight to the heart, where it beats forever. I’ve spent four decades writing about people, bands, cities and essential home furnishings such as the Ottoman, always with grace and humor.
People pay me to write stories. Like early in the summer of 2010. A woman called me and asked if was interested in writing about her stepfather. Just your standard old carpenter, 93 years old, had lived through the Great Depression, Prohibition, four marriages. A beloved championship sailor on Lake Erie. Sounds like a great guy, I said. But not a great story. Until….
“He was in World War II,” she said. “His ship was sunk.”
“What ship?” I asked. She didn’t know the name. Started with the letter V, she thought. “A warship?” I asked. “A freighter? A tanker?”
Plenty of American warships were sunk during World War II. But not too many with a name that started with the letter V. I do read a lot – that’s what being a 21st Century Renaissance Man is all about – and I remembered one ship that I’d come across in my meanderings through the history books. Vincennes, one of four cruisers lost in The Battle of Savo Island, the worst open-sea defeat in the history of the U.S. Navy.
So I met with the old man, we hit it off, and he confirmed what I’d suspected. He’d survived the sinking of Vincennes. More than 300 of his crewmates did not. And now we had a story to tell. We’d contrast the beauty of Ernie Coleman sailing on Lake Ontario with the horror war. Chasing the Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor was self published by the family, and it came out beautifully. Check out the Fresh Produce: Buy a Book! page on this web site if you want a copy. I’m proud of that book.
That’s what I do. I tell stories.
Questions and Answers with Jeff
Q: Lots of people write real pretty. Why bother?
A: From the composer Alec Wider, Letters I Never Mailed: “I believe we are living in an age without style, virtue, dignity or honor. And worse than that, one in which the new is equated with the excellent…. I believe that a creator’s obligation is to filter and reflect and present in an orderly, disciplined fashion his own being. I do not believe he should attempt to reflect his time, which, by the way, may be better reflected aurally by opening a window in any large city.”