Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Sometimes you need quite a few potential first sentences, as many as seven or eight, to get the idea mounted on the horse and out of the corral.  You are thinking of what journalists call the lede, that intriguing approach to a story encompassing dramatic action or irony—possibly even both.  Something to get the functional idea on the horse and out of the corral.

The process is straightforward enough in theory, but you have your doubts that primitive man, upon seeing a horse for the first time, said, “You know, I could ride that.”

This is why experience is necessary, if at times adding to the confusion most writers in most media experience when setting forth with a project.  A friend of yours who is a gifted scientist shared one of his techniques for writing grant proposals.  Josh sets right out with a grabber of a lede, describing some of the things the study can provide if it is successful.  The technique worked so well, he tried it with a book, which you have seen in bound galley from Oxford University Press.

Since you began with a metaphoric placement of an idea on a horse, you could consider the title for this “Writing as Rodeo,” which is intriguing and suggestive, but in the long run not profitable because you don’t care for rodeos.  Too many regrettable things are visited upon the animals who participate and if we were better able to gauge their sensitivities, we’d discover that they don’t like rodeos either, for that very reason.

There have been numerous times in the past where starting out was pretty much like another metaphor, this one the metaphor of the sullen teenager.  Thinking about your own experiences as a teenager, particularly those of junior high school, you have concluded that teenagers have every right to be sullen and dissatisfied.  They are done to in many ways as the horse is done to in rodeo.  Since you dislike rodeo and junior high school, you could see the title for this investigation “The Junior High School as Rodeo,” or, from the animal point of view, “The Rodeo as Junior High School.”

You’d had experience with all these things in numerous ways, including sitting in newspaper offices trying to get a handle or lede on a story, sitting in various rooms trying to breathe life into a story, sitting in numerous classrooms of junior high schools, trying to make sense of being trapped in a teen age body in a junior high school with a faculty as dour and unenthusiastic as the ones you had.

You’d read about other places where the faculty was different, and you’ve wondered at some length about the equipment you bring to learning at any time.  None of these were uppermost in your mind when you began, but you’ve had enough experience with beginnings to know that if you stay with them long enough, they will take you somewhere, provide you with an attitude that begins bringing forth the images and the feelings that go with them.

What it comes down to every time is the need to have had the frustration and ache of not being able to get started, and the memory of at least one time where, with perseverance, you were ale to beat the restraints.  

As you were romping away not long ago, you had the company of the memory of those junior high school teachers who were a part of the reason you had such strong feelings about the entirety of the experience.  You did not, to you credit, think to yourself at any time then, When I’m older, I’ll be a better teacher than they are.  Nor, to your continued credit, did you think, When I’m in the university, I’ll be a better student than I am now.  Fair is fair.  You have to take some of the heat.

As this is written, you have for a few moments, achieved peer ranking with the junior high school teachers of your youth.  Mr. Todd.  Mr. Hunt.  Mrs. Shinn.  Mr. Engberg.  Miss Ballard.  For a few moments, they were with you, doing what neither they could accomplish when you were their student nor you accomplish when you were their pupil.

It was a dreadful time then and you have made it better now by putting it to use in a way you could not have possibly anticipated then, so anarchistic and rebellious were your adrenals and inchoate passions for getting the words and sentences to behave.  If you could not, how could they?

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