“It’s only words, and words are all I have, To take your heart away.”Song lyrics, “Words” recorded by The Bee Gees 1968
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“Your words are perfect,” a friend commented recently about something I had written. The comment humbled me. I don’t accept compliments very well. And perfect? That’s a tall order in the realm of writing.
It wasn’t that long ago when someone asked me how I found writing as my calling. Calling: another lofty word with connotations. Whatever you call it, I must admit it wasn’t a direct path, but one with many crooks and turns. There were clues along the way, but I was a long time learning the difference between those so-called left brain and right brain concepts. You’ve heard about them: people described as left-brain thinkers are told they have strong math and logic skills, while those described as right-brain thinkers are told that their talents are more on the creative side of things.
Through the educational process, my grades in math and science were lacking, for lack of a better word. But my grades in English, literature, and related courses were good. That included my junior year at East Texas State University. Four semesters of English were required for all disciplines, and a passing grade on the dreaded “Junior English Usage Test” was needed to escape another semester of training in the proper use of the Queen’s English before being released into society.
No easy hurdle, that “Junior English Usage Test.” Requirements allowed only a Blue Book, a small commonly used notebook for writing essays in college back when handwriting was still taught, and a ball point pen. Nothing else. Test takers were given simple instructions: write an essay on one of the three topics supplied. Granted, the topics were not terribly difficult because subject knowledge was not as much a criterion as that of word choice, sentence structure, organization of thoughts, and penmanship.
That was in about 1968 or ’69. As a side note, in 2021, I’m wondering … why did we ever let those communication concepts escape the educational process?
My passing grade garnered heckling from my circle of so-called friends. They wondered as to what kind of crazy I must have been signing up for additional English and literary pursuits not required instead of things like archery and trampoline P.E. courses. Oh wait, I took those, too.
Admittedly, my weekends then were filled with hot rods, race cars, and other activities not commonly associated with wordsmithing. Despite that, I still had a propensity for sticking words together to express my feelings, and some of those efforts in poetry and short stories made their way into an ETSU literary publication. Were they good? Not really, but they were my introduction to what was to come.
After five of the best years of my life spent in college classrooms taxing both sides of my brain, I escaped with an education preparing me to educate others. Unfortunately, even that did not tap enough of my right brain to achieve satisfaction. So I left that profession in search of … well, that was my next problem. I wasn’t sure what for.
That’s when longtime friend and newspaper mentor Morris Craig at The Monitor in Naples said, “I know you can take pictures; why don’t you come work for me while you make up your mind about what you want to do.” So, I guess this is the place to interject those well-worn words, “And the rest is history.”
Words are assigned definitions by people working for companies like Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Random House. They can be arranged in a variety of random patterns to get one’s point across. But words begin to touch other people when penned with inspiration.
Inspiration can come from memories, life experiences, friends, family, love, or heartache: the source for inspiration is unlimited. But when your words move someone to feel as though they are perfect, maybe — just maybe, you’ve found your calling.
(Photo at top of the page: My first words printed on newsprint (for a paycheck). “The Final Shuffle” about the every afternoon gathering of domino players in Naples, Texas. Published in The Monitor in Naples, April 3, 1975.)
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