This Writer May Inspire

While editing our recent Moving People column, I learned about the author and inspirator William Zinsser and couldn’t wait to share a link to his many books with you.

The Writer Who Stayed book coverHere’s an excerpt from one book:

“’We’d like you to give our students some tips that will make them better writers,’ he said.

Tips! The ugly little word hung in the air, exuding its aroma of illicit information. Bookies live on tips delivered, horseplayers on tips received, investors on stock tips, preferably hot, and taxpayers on tips about how to evade the tax code. College-bound students pay for tips on how to pass the SAT test.

The tip is presumed to be based on inside knowledge, giving its recipient an edge in outwitting life’s cruel odds, and never has the tip-dispensing industry been so alive and well, plying us in magazines and books and on television programs with maxims of salvation. …

‘I don’t do tips,’ I told the man calling from the school’s English department. It’s not that I don’t have any; On Writing Well is full of what might be called tips. But that’s not the point of the book. It’s a book of craft principles that add up to what it means to be a writer”

Moving People: A Novel Journey Through Books

Ron Bernas

By Ron Bernas

Artists are always seeking inspiration. To seek is to find, and they find it in the way the sun reflects off a lake at dawn, the sounds of nature or someone else’s turn of phrase. But immediate inspirations are one thing; and to make something meaningful out of them, the true artist builds them on a basis of a long-term philosophy.

As a storyteller, I find inspiration in things that make me look in a new way at something that’s familiar or mundane. If it makes me laugh, too, that’s even better. As a playwright, I am inspired by many writers: Horton Foote for the way he tells meaningful stories that are quiet and powerful, and Moss Hart for the heart around which he builds all his work and George S. Kaufman, for his way with a one-liner. Kaufman and Hart collaborated on, among others, “You Can’t Take it with You,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and has always been one of my favorites. It makes you laugh, it makes you think and it makes you want to be a better person. We should all aspire to reach that bar.

I talked to three artists about the books that have guided them on their creative journeys. Here’s what they had to say:

James PujdowskiArtist, teacher James Pujdowski

“Much like everyone who lives through their 20s, I felt I was going in the right path in education and was in the middle of earningPublished by Important Books an advertising design degree. I was a freelance graphic artist picking up jobs and I thought this was my only life. Then I took a required painting course at Wayne State University and an Instructor suggested ‘The Art Spirit,’ by Robert Henri.

This book mirrored every thought I had about art and life. I could not get enough of this guy and on each page it validated exactly what I felt was right with who I was and how I was going to let art be what my life would be about.
“I re-read the book several times until it became my mantra. When I reflect on the words in the book, I imagine I’m in one of Robert Henri’s lectures or, while I’m working on a painting, he is right over my shoulder guiding my hand. I’ve given copies of the book to choice students in hopes they pick up the torch and find the same aesthetic direction and peace it gave me.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘There are two dates in your life that are important. First, it’s your Birthday. Second, it’s when you realize why you are here!’”

James Pujdowski is a longstanding member of the Michigan art scene. His expressive landscapes and still lifes are drawn from direct observation from his travels around the country and benefit from his imagination and love of vibrant color. His work can be found in public and private collections across the country, and he is in much demand as an art show jurist. James is also a teacher at a private school in Grosse Pointe Woods and at art centers, colleges and universities.

Oneita Jackson

Oneita Jackson photo by Cybelle Codish

Photo by Cybelle Codish

“I’d been taking notes in the back of a book called ‘Foyle’s Philavery:  A Treasury of Unusual Words’ and a woman asked, ‘What do you do?’ We were at a funeral repast talking about the homily, one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in any church, any service. ‘I do words,’ I told her. And there is no one way I do them—I read dictionaries, stylebooks, and English books.

“Writers are the custodians of memory.”
~ William Zinsser, “On Writing Well”

But as a satirist, I refer to five books constantly to ensure I’m doing my best, most honest work when making observations of humanity: ‘Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition,’ for mechanics; ‘Beating Around the Bush,’ by Art Buchwald, to make sure I’m on point satirically; ‘On Writing Well,’ by William Zinsser, for the vision that informs my body of work; ‘A Handbook to Literature,’ by C. Hugh Holman, for technical terms, and ‘The Best of Simple,’ Langston Hughes, for my common-man voice.

Oneita Jackson is a Detroit cab driver who studied English at Howard University. She was a Detroit Free Press copy editor for 11 years and wrote a column called “O Street,” which received a Free Press Columnist of the Year award in 2008. Her latest writing project is the “Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome,” observations of a cab driver in awkward situations. Find her on Facebook at Oneita Cab Driver.

Chris Emmerson

Chris Emmerson “I love German author Herman Hesse. He has so many great books. ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ is great, and ‘Steppenwolf’ is, too, but my favorite is ‘Siddhartha.’ It’s all about the spiritual growth of a man and I Siddhartha by Herman Hessefind that so inspiring and motivating. He really understands the multiple nature of good and bad in each of us. He explores the many different aspects of people and uses really cool imagery.

I read this at the same time I was getting into yoga, right about the time I read Gandhi’s book and the works of Rudolph Steiner. Still, ‘Siddhartha’ really gets right to the heart of the themes of personal enlightenment that interest me so much. Stories like this are important to me because I view life as a spiritual journey and I’m always intrigued by how people can have different beliefs and ideologies and achieve growth and enlightenment from different paths.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Chris Emmerson has been a fixture on Detroit’s rock scene for more than 10 years, playing at many of the city’s most popular venues. He started playing guitar at the age of four and started his first band in the fourth grade. Gigs with his father led him to a career as a professional musician. He released his first album, “It’s So Easy from Far Away,” in 2014, playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and percussion in addition to laying down all the vocal tracks. His second album, which tends toward the pop rock genre, is due out this year. In addition, he’s also a popular yoga instructor. His work can be found at chrisemmerson.com.

___

Ron Bernas, who compiled this post, is a freelance writer, editor and former reporter. He is the author of the screwball comedy-inspired play “A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody,” which has been performed around the world. He reads nonstop and is the author of Ron’s Bookshelf, a blog about books and reading at ronsbookshelf.wordpress.com.

©Ron Bernas and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Ron Bernas and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Summer 1975 – Part 2: The Barbie Doll Trial

Have you ever witnessed children whose energy is so contagious you cannot help but soak up their joy? They sing and bounce happily in their seats in the grocery cart; they smile and wave at passersby because a returned smile is all the affirmation they need that all is right in tiStock_000000869552_Smallhe world. I was that child. I skipped down the street to Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”  But then something changed.

I’m not sure who appointed the judges and jury or how I came to sit in the defendant’s corner on the Lee brothers’ front porch. Yet there I was, standing trial for “doing it” with David, the 10-year-old boy next door.

A wise-faced high-school kid pounded his makeshift gavel, calling court to order. First up was Angela, who eagerly provided her testimony. “I stopped because I heard them doin’ it,” she said. I wondered how she could lie so easily, so convincingly. She kept going, “Then I looked in the window and saw David on top of Leslie. They were naked. They were doin’ it.” The other kids giggled.

As David stood to give his testimony, a hush overwhelmed the children. They listened as he detailed horrifying particulars of how we “did it,” describing events I did not believe possible. I wasn’t that girl. Sure, I liked boys but I didn’t even kiss them — not yet. My stomach tossed and churned as I searched for someone in the crowd who would come to my defense; yet no one did.

“Get up,” I thought. “You don’t have to stay here for this. This isn’t real. Get up and go home.” The path was clear.

All I had to do was stand up and walk across the porch past the potted flowers and the kids with their biting grins, get down the stairs, down the street and back to my home where Snoopy and Teddy the Bear where waiting for me in my purple room.

But my friends were not my only betrayers that day, my body turned against me as well. Root bound, I remained planted on my concrete perch like a tree jutting from the sidewalk of Manhattan. I looked to the judge, a large boy with warm eyes that seemed to say, “I’m sorry but this is the justice system and you are a necessary victim of it.”

“I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Finally, I got my chance to speak. “They were dolls,” I said unconvincingly. “David was playing with the dolls.” And that was all. Why? Fear of public speaking, fear of what the other kids would think if I said something wrong?

More testimony poured forth from indistinct forms and voices ominous. Each child’s words are vapors to me now, just cookie-cutter lies the collective was anxious to devour. The trial lasted Payback. Internet Concept.either ten minutes or four hours after that before the jury — comprised of some older children whom I now assume were acting out their high school civics lessons — gathered to deliberate. As they pondered, something occurred to me: David and Angela set me up. This was revenge for his missing teeth.

Before I could speak up, however, the jury declared they had a verdict. When I replay the scene even now, I see myself refusing to stand, arms folded across my chest, when the boy-judge called my name. “You have been found guilty,” he said, “by a jury of your peers.”

I did not cry or scream of my innocence, then. It was done. Instead, I went home and played on the swings in my backyard, played HORSE with my brother, and put the Barbie’s back in the closet where they belonged. Still, I took the verdict to heart. Obviously, I did something wrong, I thought. It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand silence is a form of acceptance. I was guilty, alright, guilty of inaction.

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

— Albert Einstein

The world we navigate as adults is not much different from the playground or the school lunchroom. There are bullies, liars, vengeance seekers, and the lemmings that follow them. There are also confidants and earthly protectors. I met the latter when my parents shipped us off to see our grandfather.

Missed the first story in this series? Read Summer 1975 – Part 1: Kung Fu Fighting

Read “Summer 1975 – Part 3”

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Summer 1975 – Part 1: Kung Fu Fighting

“Jaws,” Jimmy Hoffa, and the Barbie doll trials: That was 1975, the year I learned to pretend to let go.

Pretending, of course, was a skill I had been honing since toddlerhood when I was queen of the hill and the class bully my serf, when Brussels sprouts were Martian heads and I did the earth a service by devouring them, when a car wash was the belly of an angry sea monster and I lived to tell of its defeat. I was a master fantasizer, a fiction writer in training. I was imaginative and precocious. Most of all I was content, and then summer came.

It started well enough: Temperatures were conducive to plenty of driveway kickball games, front yard TV tag, and backyard chicken with friends on the jungle gym. My brother and I got along better than usual: Meaning, neither of us was trying to kill the other. In fact, I was his secret weapon on the football field (aka our backyard). I was fearless, fast, and fairly strong, not at all like the typical girl, which was good. Calling me “typical” was as bad to me as me calling the dog a “little m—-f—’er” was to my parents. But one day, the game was a bit rougher than usual and resulted in the injury of one of my neighbors.file7841289514020

I say this in the passive (“resulted in”) as if I had nothing to do with it. Perhaps I was over-exuberant. Perhaps it was time for his baby teeth to fall out. Perhaps he should have sucked it up and not cried in front of everyone, again. Or, perhaps his mother should have held her tongue. Still, I question the cause and effect and feel the need to assign blame.

Here are the highlights as I recall them: David* — the youngest of two, older, playboy brothers and two sisters — had the football and running swiftly toward the goal. My brother told me to get him; so I leaped, surprising myself by knocking David face first into the dirt. But there was no rejoicing in my victory. Instead, David sobbed miserably as he unfolded himself from the earth. As he raised his hand to his mouth, someone howled David’s front teeth were gone. The boy’s sobs grew louder, and it wasn’t long before his mother came running from the house.

She surveyed the damage, asking David what happened. When he mumbled something only a mother could decipher, she looked at each of us accusingly until her eyes settled on me. Then things got worse. For all the neighborhood boys to hear, she declared: “You can’t play with Leslie anymore. She’s too rough for you.”

It was the 1970s, and we were in Detroit. Machismo was rampant. KC and the Sunshine fordBand’s “Get Down Tonight” topped the charts; President Ford declared America done with the Vietnam war and survived his second assassination attempt; Carlos the Jackal attacked OPEC; and “Three Days of the Condor,” “Rollerball,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” were a few of the year’s top films. Men were called dudes and “Man” prefaced or ended every sentence. “Man, did you see that dude down at the car wash? He seemed a little light on his feet, man.” Or, “Man, that dude was Mac, man. He was pimping that ride.”

So, you see, David was humiliated. He was punked by a girl, a very small girl.

My scant friendship with David ended that day on our imaginary football field with him running head down into the house and his mother giving us one last reproachful glance. But it would not be my last interaction with the boy next door.