By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Picture if you will what I must have been like in the fall of 1970. I had come across The Pond from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was enrolled as a student at Harvard, and as soon as I arrived in Oxford, I was swept up into the happiest of situations.
Literally minutes after I hit Oxford, I knew at once like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. My dear friend William Powers Ingoldsby picked me up at the train station, scrutinized me carefully, then he flung out his instructions like a general barking orders. “Your hair must get cut! Your clothes are suburban American and absolutely unacceptable! You need black tie for a party I’m taking you to tonight.”
The race was on. Could money and just a little time succeed in taking away the paltry East Coast veneer and turn me into an English gentleman? What a challenge! Oh yes, and one more thing. He handed me a copy of “Brideshead Revisited” (1945) by Evelyn Waugh. In this book, a classic, Lord Sebastian Flyte tootles around Oxford in an ultra chic sport coupe accompanied by his teddy bear Aloysius, for all the world to see, lounging in the back seat of the car… giving appropriate levels of greeting to his particular friends, snubbing the rest.
Ingoldsby looked at me upon arrival and demanded “Where is your teddy bear?” I was abashed. Having been somewhat spruced up, I was taken to the residence of Mrs. Margaret Macmillan. As a distant cousin, she took it upon herself to tutor me in the why’s and wherefore’s of a system designed to be esoteric and eccentric. Yes, designed to trip up all those who could not maneuver all the arcane boundaries and conditions.
Upon arrival at Mrs. Macmillan’s residence, we found a summer collation was awaiting. A few minutes thereafter, I had a vision which has remained with me always. Her name was Lady Harriet Bligh, daughter of the Right Honourable Earl of Darnley, in the 3rd creation.
She was lovely, absolutely lovely and I adored her on sight, not just for how she looked, but how she talked. All good aristocrats specialize in creating language that hoi polloi can never master. She swung into the dining room like a perfume touched breeze, expecting to be noticed, expecting to be loved, and I loved her on sight.
Lady Harriet, however, did not have eyes only for me. “I’ve just come back from Rome,” she trilled. “I lived with three gay boys in an apartment on the Spanish Steps. It was such fun… the parties never stopped.” I was now smitten, sure that I would never see anything more beautiful in face or words than she was.
Mrs. Macmillan pulled me up sharp. I was not there to pick up aristos. I was there at her behest, so that she could teach me about The Family.
Thus my hostess began moving quickly to her insights into my distant cousin Harold Macmillan (1894-1986). He was the head of the family Macmillan and had fulfilled an exalted destiny. He had served over and over again in top government offices, including Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and more, moving steadily up the ladder towards 10 Downing Street.
Finally, in 1957, he became Prime Minister, serving until 1963 when medical problems intervened. It is stated that he had a prostate problem, which may or may not have been benign. In any event, he stepped down when he did not need to do so. Upon his retirement, he became the Earl of Stockton… the last British Prime Minister to receive a hereditary peerage.
His achievements were laudable and universal. For instance, on February 3rd, 1960 before the South African parliament in Cape Town, he gave what became known as the “Winds of Change” speech. In it, he told the world that the winds of change were blowing over Africa with such turbulence that the British Empire was destined, and quickly too, to melt away, as the independence of Ghana had already shown in 1957. And that, as a result, the great colonial enterprises of France, Portugal, and Belgium would soon be gone.
It was one of the most important speeches ever given to humankind. For Harold Macmillan was saying most of all that this great transfer of power involving millions of people could be done without massacres, massive dislocations, or rancor; that it could be done, and honorably for all concerned.
Mrs. Macmillan touched on the high points of Cousin Harold’s achievements, but what she particularly expatiated on in a whisper with a touch of malice was the scandalous menage of Macmillan’s wife, Lady Dorothy Cavendish (1900-1966), Robert Boothby (1900-1986, later Baron), and himself, the cuckold.
Nothing shows us more clearly the difference between England and America than how this top level affair was handled for utmost discretion, minimal public notice, and embarassment.
Lady Dorothy Cavendish came from the richest family of the English aristocracy. Her father was the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The noble house had started on its way through the astute manipulations of Bess of Hardwick, one of the shrewdest women in history. Bess often married, always game for another matrimonial knot, so long as the lands that accompany the deal were broad, fertile, and rich.
Over the course of centuries, the Cavendishes gobbled all. Their touch was infallible. The grandeur of their possessions, breathtaking. The Cavendishes had everything, and thought they always would have. Like many women in such positions, her actions were more like a man’s than a woman’s, and when she wanted something, she got it.
What she wanted during this period of her life was the amorous embraces and caddish behavior of Robert Boothby. He might have been Prime Minister himself. However, he preferred Lady Dorothy’s adulterous clutches, but not to the extent of eschewing a string of macho men. Of these, the principal was Ronald Kray, a gangster who (allegedly) supplied Boothby with young men and arranged orgies in Cedra Court, receiving personal favours from Boothby in return. What a muddle.
So let us be sure we understand the players and their complicated relationship to each other… a description like this certainly helps. First, there was Cousin Harold, of the internationally known publishing house Macmillan, the family business. Then, the almost fantastic jump for this descendant of impoverished Scottish crofters to the perfumed sheets and ostentation of Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the only daughter of the 9th Duke.
Thence to her indiscriminate paramour Robert Boothby, who was called “the Palladium”, because “he was twice nightly.” He was gifted with prodigious energy, and no discretion whatsoever. He brought into the picture Ronald Kray, gangster and the good friend who happily took time from his illegal endeavors to assemble a daisy chain of young males whose high spirits always made Boothby happy. In return, Kray received personal favors from Boothby.
Error or destiny
Mrs. Macmillan, British lady, would not, I know, have pulled back so much of the veil. Her task was to see what kind of Macmillan I was, not to dig deep in the cesspit of aging lovers and their startling concupiscence. Was I to be a member in good standing of the Macmillan clan, or just a young man who passed on the horizon en route to another destiny altogether?
That’s when I had to make a life changing decision. You see, I was in those dim distant days English to the very core, quaffing her culture, her manners, her mores, every aspect of her affairs, glorious or tawdry. And in this euphoria, I ran for the most important office in the Student Representative Council in St. Andrews, Scotland, where I resided for a year in 1968. That post was representing The Faculty of Arts, the largest part of the University.
My victory was astonishing and overwhelming, and immediately opened the discussion about whether I should become a British subject. I knew I could gain election to the House of Commons. And being an American, I knew I should become a national figure in record time. What should I do?
The pressure only increased when I was elected to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, another feather in my cap. It is hard for me today from this distance from the event to know just how I felt. But I know this: I might so easily have become a Member of Parliament, even a peer of the realm. Heady thoughts, indeed.
Of course, I went back to America where in short order I graduated from Harvard University with a history degree, well aware that I might have made my own history. Sadly, I never met Harold Macmillan, which would have been so easy to do. Today, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment… but there was some residual shyness which I must acknowledge, though I do not like the notion at all.
However, Cousin Harold entered my life yet again in a very interesting way. After he became Prime Minister in 1957, he appointed Margaret Thatcher to her first ministerial portfolio as the Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. It launched her on her startling world career.
When Britain went to war against Argentina in the Falklands War in 1982, she called upon her mentor, Harold Macmillan, to advise her on how to make war. He did. She did. The victory made her.
That I think was the reason why, when I was invited to the unveiling of her official statue for the House of Commons and told her Harold Macmillan was my cousin, she drew herself up to her full height of 5’5″, straight and unyielding as a ramrod, only to say “He gave me my first ministry,” a pronouncement followed by a kiss… and may I say, it was not a kiss of symbolism or politeness, but a true kiss, immediately followed by her pulling my head to her shoulder.
The hundreds of people at the London Guild Hall could not believe their eyes, for the Iron Lady’s kiss she gave was not the kiss of peace, but a true and authentic one. I owed it to Harold Macmillan.
All of this came back to me today when I placed my newest Macmillan object. It is a thank-you note from Harold Macmillan and the now Lady Dorothy Macmillan, dated April 21, 1920, their wedding day.
The frame I selected for this marvelous piece was purchased at Shreve, Crump, & Low in Boston. The piece is autographed by two famous people committing to a marriage that was impossible for either to keep, and which was only maintained because of the acute discretion and care of the British political and newspaper establishment. It’s a beautiful little piece, don’t you think, a gem?
I was lucky to find this double autographed memento of two people connected through the vicissitudes of DNA to me, the guardian of this dazzling, lustrous objet d’art. It all came alive for me today, when I looked at this splendid piece and thought how completely unpredictable destiny and deoxyribonucleic acid can be.
The music I have chosen for this piece is “Bye Bye Love” (1957), written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and performed by the Everly Brothers. Its lyrics are telling no matter your social standing.
“Bye bye love
About the author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally for his trenchant and lyric articles, now over 1,000 in print, along with 61 books. He brings you inside the story and makes often dull events come alive with color and significance. Be sure to sign up for his list so that you can receive regular information and special offers. You can do so by going to www.drjeffreylant.com.
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Author’s program note.
When we left the Dolphin Seafood Restaurant that evening in 1981 it was pouring buckets. The car was blocks away; we had no umbrella; not even a newspaper to cover our heads. Within just seconds, we were soaked. Decisive action was necessary… and fast.
Any port in a storm. Dramatis personae.
There are just four people in this tale. First Chris Welsh, major league pitcher. His beautiful girl friend. Me, tale teller. And you, the immediate and ultimate beneficiary of this incident, now part of the literary repertoire and dinner party conversations everywhere. Let’s get down to specifics…
It all started with a phone number and my desire to have my prospects call me any hour of the day or night. Thus, my direct “call me now” message was plastered on everything from my pens, calendars, brochures, ads, proposals to my business cards (unrepentedly flashy with my count’s coronet in real gold; I kid you not) tee-shirts, envelopes, memo pads. Get the picture?
I liked cool cash and needed copious amounts given my (admittedly) lavish tastes. Keeping the telephone red hot with calls from “I want a piece of you and your brain, Dr. Lant,” prospects was an essential part of my international Master Plan. And get this, the more times I put my moniker and phone number on every bloody thing under the sun, the more responses I got…and the richer I got. It was oh so sweet… and even my fiercest competitors were forced to admit, I was one cool dude.
Then one fine day, I got a friendly call from a guy named Chris Welsh. Didn’t know him. But he wafted some salubrious incense in my direction; lathering me with schmaltz sufficient to choke a horse. Of course, I liked him from that very first compliment… for Chris had all the persuasive moves and that all-important gift of the gab; perhaps a Kindred Spirit.
“The Unabashed Self-Promoter’s Guide.”
As it turned out, Chris was in Cambridge for an important family event. He had a few hours to kill and decided to spend them judiciously in what was then my favorite bookstore, Wordsworth, a grand place which allowed me (and the rest of their fiercely loyal clientele) to hang out, find a chair and thoroughly check out a potential purchase, or sit oblivious on the floor, no offense taken if bottom nudged by others immersed in A Book, a thing of telling force and compelling language. It was an incredible place…
… Not least because it stocked my books and placed not merely one order but, over time, many, many more. What’s not to like? In this place of tales, dreams, reveries where the best and most lyric words were to be found all around you, just fingertips away, Chris Welsh found… me! And (never underestimate this key point) he also found my phone number along with this ultra clear, ultra important message: “I am standing by to hear from you RIGHT NOW. Call me and see for yourself.” I meant every single word of this resonant declaration… and Chris, feeling the force and power of my adamant statement, knew it, too.
He told me he was on Brattle Street, at Wordsworth, and had just purchased a handful off my (weighty) tomes. Could he drop by and have me autograph them; a request no real author, no matter how eminent and renowned, can ever resist… because they know the power and importance of people like you… and so do I. Customer regard is essential for success, cannot be duplicated, and is always welcome, always and whenever.
Wordsworth being just a hop, skip and a jump from my crib hard by the Cambridge Common, Welsh was punctual to the second. I liked that too.
Chris Welsh, charmer, purveyor of my first and only signed baseball card.
Before continuing my tale, I need to make what my many friends would regard as a completely superfluous and unnecessary mea culpa: namely that I don’t know a baseball from a grapefruit, even if my (much valued) life depended on it. There, now you know the worst. Excoriate me, condemn, disdain, but remember I could have taken the Fifth… but chose brutal honesty instead.
Chris Welsh and me, Kindred Spirits.
Chris and I got on like a house afire. Born April 14, 1955 his (comparative) youth allowed me to tower over him, big brother like. More to like and more still when he asked to see all my books and bought all the ones he didn’t have. Like I said, what’s not to like?
And then The Big Announcement, namely that Chris Welsh, born in Wilmington, Delaware, was one of the gods of creation, a certified, real baseball player with teams and colleagues who were all household names. Now at this point, our burgeoning kindred spiritship could have crashed and burned. But it didn’t, not by a long shot. Why? Because I never condescend to merit, whatever field it’s in and I have known all my life that my ears are my most important marketing asset. I wanted to learn; he was glad to teach me. And so the only major league baseball lecture of my life commenced.
Dinner at the Dolphin.
Given my complete and utter lack of knowledge and interest in major league or any other kind of baseball, I have to tell you I was proud of myself; my questions practical, short and to the point, the better to camouflage my sad relationship to the Great Republic’s great past time. And so we passed a useful, companionable hour or so. He then invited me to dinner, ordained the cuisine and asked if he could bring the lady of his life along. Of course, for I am of “the more the merrier” school of entertaining.
And so the night progressed, the lobsters just so, the Chardonnay crisp, the conversation witty, sharp, with that necessary dollop of malice the best raconteurs use to turn conversation to a practised art form.
“”I Love A Rainy Night.”
But all good things come to an end… but not always when, how or where we might suppose. Thus I return to that moment of aquatic superfluity along Massachusetts Avenue in a storm that wouldn’t quit. My new friends said they’d drive home as they were, a pair of drowned rats. I wouldn’t hear of it.
And so we walked home, Gene Kelly like, not missing a single puddle. In Harvard Square, we bought pounds of cheap candy, the kind you only share with your very best friends. Thus we arrived chez moi… with a problem.
“Showers washed all my cares away.”
We were all wet, very wet, needing to do something right away. And so each in turn retired to my Roman-style bath, the better to doff their sodden clothes and wrap ourselves like so many enchiladas in big fluffy towels. Thus did our unexpected evening pass in high good humor and too much sugar for all, until it was time for Chris Welsh and his inamorata to get up, dress and depart.
That was when he autographed one of his San Diego Padres baseball cards and handed it to me with a grin and these immortal words: “Five hours ago you were just a name on a book cover, now my girl and I are getting out of your bed”.
All true. And that’s why I shall never ever take an umbrella to any restaurant on a rainy night and why I whistle Eddie Rabbitt’s 1981 tune, “I love a rainy night,” as a kind of incantation summoning serendipity.
“Well, I love a rainy night… You know it makes me feel good.” I hope it always will.
Chris Welsh pitched for the San Diego Padres (1981-1983; Montreal Expos (1983); Texas Rangers (1985-1986); Cincinnati Reds (1986). Known as “The Crafty Left-Hander” because of his distinct style, he has been a sports commentator for the Cincinnati Reds for many years. He remains as charming and affable as ever.
About the author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style. To see all of his works go to www.drjeffreylant.com.
Author’s program note. This is a story about a fruit so rich that once you start thinking about it you cannot rest until you are eating some… popping them into your mouth as fast as you can, crushing them… letting the richness of its sweet, sweet juice drip down your chin… glad to have all you can eat… joyfully careless about what you waste… for there will always be strawberries enough for you… you are absolutely sure of that!
But as Deana Carter knows, the lush abundance of strawberries is not unlimited… and so she twangs her tale of high summer, desire, a taste so sweet it maddens you and never satiates… producing a wine you can never get enough of… a strawberry wine… a wine that you can never forget… though sometimes you wish you’d never come to know.
And so, I have selected for today’s occasional music “Strawberry Wine” by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, released in August, 1996. Nashville record companies found the song overly long, controversial, and not memorable enough. But when Carter sang her heart out about the summer, the boy… the strawberries and their wine… the record won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. Go now to any search engine and listen to it. You’ll find yourself remembering… you’ll find yourself craving… you’ll want their taste again… the berries always see to that…. for they are an imperious fruit.
Her Majesty’s strawberry.
On a picture perfect summer day one August I was in Scotland, in the Highlands, at Balmoral… a country castle conceived by Prince Albert, the beautiful German prince loved obsessively by Queen Victoria. For an American used to the White House with its layer after layer of security, Balmoral comes as a rather unnerving shock. “Security” consisted of a single guard, unobtrusive, reading a newspaper. There might be, there must be more… but that’s all I ever saw. He barely looked at us.. smiled… and waved. Thus does Her Britannic Majesty tell you she is beloved of the people and doesn’t need a legion of centurions to protect her… unlike the president of the Great Republic who always needs more… and more.
And so in due course, my friend and I found ourselves in the magnificent park, expansive, serene, as lovely a place as Earth provides. And in the park I found a kitchen garden… the Queen’s garden… and in this garden I saw a strawberry, huge, perfectly ripe, ready to be eaten. And so I reached down to pluck it and enjoy… whereupon I felt a strong hand pulling me up and heard my friend’s voice, no longer amiable, but commanding, imperative, stentorian: “Do not touch that strawberry…. that is the Queen’s berry!” And I realized what being a subject of the Windsors meant, whilst I was the child of revolution and lese majeste/. And so the uneaten berry remained… for the delectation of the Queen.
Even dukes get only leaves.
I was crushed but as my friend was driving I had to give way, and gracefully, too – or else.
Then I had a thought that cheered me up. Even the grandest members of the nobility couldn’t eat of the Royal fruit with impunity. They had to make do with the strawberries’ leaves. And no, I am not making this up. A duke’s coronet proves my point. When a man becomes a duke (and there are only 24 such people in the entire realm of Great Britain) he is entitled to a silver-gilt circlet called a coronet. It features eight strawberry leaves — not one more and never a single one less. Thus does the sovereign elevate ambitious members of the aristocracy… and keep her strawberries for herself.
Other gentlemen of high rank and title are also entitled to strawberry leaves on their coronets. And here there is a most curious conundrum: marquesses who rank just below dukes in the peerage of the realm are entitled to four strawberry leaves… but earls, who rank below marquesses, get eight. What can this mean? For peers, as you may imagine, are protocol mad… and scrutinize their inferiors for any indication that they are claiming rank and privilege to which they are not strictly entitled. You can be sure there’s some fiddle going on here… but if the marquesses are in a pet of high indignation, they have but to look far down at the viscounts and barons who have not a single strawberry leaf between them… and that’s just the way these marquesses mean to keep it — “Honi soit qui mal y pense.”.
Strawberry leaves mean strawberry tea.
Fortunately, there is more you can do with your strawberry leaves than wait for the Queen to make you a duke. That, after all, could be a long time coming since the last non-royal duke was his grace of Westminster, in 1874. It’s true that her present majesty when a young woman offered to make Sir Winston Churchill duke of London… but he declined and there the matter rests, perhaps forever.
And you’ll agree, this situation could be more than irritating for those who every morning see in their looking glasses, not milord this or the right honorable that but… His Grace the Duke of… resplendent in ermine and strawberry leaves.
These men, well bred for hundreds of years, offer the correct aquiline features, the correct pedigree, with generations of the right fathers and acquiescing mothers, masters of every arcane procedure, the right words and impeccable cravat, these men I tell you are smoldering with rage, aggravation, frustration, worthies all marooned in the wrong time. For them, each of them only the calming propensities of strawberry leaf tea will do… poured in a fragile cup of Minton, delivered by Nannie who always knows just what to do. “Have some more sugar, ducks. There, there, it’ll be all right.”
And so does Nanny, who loves you best, goes out with wicker basket on her arm, to the places she knows well, where the fresh wild strawberries grow or the sweet woodland berries. Take 1 tablespoon of dried rose petals, 1/2 teaspoon of yarrow, 1 teaspoon of strawberry leaves, a pinch of mint or blackberry leaves. Add 1 cup of boiling water and allow to steep. Choler cannot long exist in the presence of such determined coziness.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).
It was perhaps in pursuit of these ingredients that Emily Dickinson, mistress of opaque language, stepped out, “Over the fence” …
“Over the fence — Strawberries — grow — Over the fence — I could climb — if I tried, I know — Berries are nice.
But — if I strained my Apron — God, would certainly scold! Oh, dear, — I guess if He were a
Boy — he’d — climb — if He could!”
So, let’s leave it like that, for as Deana Carter sang, “It’s funny how those memories they last. Like strawberry wine… (when) The hot July moon saw everything” and the strawberries were there, bright and beckoning, just over the fence.
‘I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON MY REWRITE, THAT’S RIGHT.’ AN OPEN LETTER TO A YOUNG FRIEND WHO WANTS TO BE A SCRIBBLER.
#writer #aspiringwriter #artofwriting
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I really looked at you in that disconcerting way I have.Your eyes, that fleeting look offered nothing less than the first real confession of your young life. And it was nothing less than a revelation and best kept under cerebral lock and key for infrequent reminding.
You saw that picture of me and understood, if only for a minute, that I had once been as young as you are today, as young and determined, fortified by ardor and bold audacity. You saw me… and thought about yourself, as one does. It was no longer my photo on that cover… it was yours and the magic of the photographer’s craft mixed with the total fire power you packed into that glance made for an image to make the indolent world sit up and take notice. You had arrived… you were ready to astonish and awe… you had something to say and the words to say it… and were determined the world should hear it.
And then you heard your so decent, ever practical father say, “Look at the electrical outlets, son. Dr. Lant was just telling me they’re solid gold.”, and he gave one of them a good smart tap reiterating the words to ensure you understood what he’d said. Words per se might mean nothing to your dad, but words that produced the dazzling ostentation of gold electrical outlets were well worth the understanding. The man who could throw away good money on self-indulgent lavishness was a man worth knowing, and that’s a fact. And so I was…
…and so I did what folks blessed with the riches of knowledge must do to justify their existence… they must share, and not just insipid platitudes either, but as much naked, undeniable truth as their youthful auditor can stand, and even more.
For in such a conversation we elders transfer our civilization and learned achievements to the only people who matter at such a time, our successors; the people we must instruct or lose the best of who we are. And so I, notoriously brusque and impatient. resolve to speak to you slowly, with care and thoughtful consideration, but mostly and above all else with the unvarnished truth, so help me, God.
A curriculum for young scribblers, things no one but a successful writer can tell you. Every word in this intimate and necessary epistle between the present and the future which will, and all too soon, be the present some day, is vital. Every word is honest and such may disconcert and even affront you and your painfully young and ill-informed ideas. We must both understand that I know far more than you do; a thought you might not like or even acknowledge…
… this could be construed as arrogance and crippling conceit… on your part. It is certainly insensitive. Still we must both recognize that there is an urgency about our need to understand each other and a deep fear almost palpable, that I (or any writer of my generation) shall forget to tell you something of significance or, worse, that having told you something of such significance, you will not heed it, to the detriment of each generation’s master plan for keeping the whole thing rolling along and of constantly increasing utility and knowledge.
I now take this opportunity to introduce you to another writer, brilliant lyricist, heart touching songster, a master poet, hence meticulous word handler. His name is Paul Simon (born 1947), and if you are round about my age (70 this year) you would have grown up with his shibboleths, whimsies, condescensions, cleverness, never convenient truths, admonitions, larks and bombastic, hummable moralistic rages all just a radio dial away, always master of the searing truth so difficult for so many to see and acknowledge, but critical if we are ever to inhabit the Promised Land, or even find the direction to it, staying thereafter on the adamant and always challenging path.
Simon’s song “Rewrite” (from the 2011 album “So Beautiful Or So What”) should be required reading (and immediately accessible posting) by every writer, aspiring or otherwise. It is about a young writer who confides in the auditor just what his version of the writer’s craft is all about. “Every minute after midnight, all the time I’m spending/ Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right/ I’m gonna turn it into cash.”
But Simon knows, and we elder statespeople of the writer’s craft know, that Simon’s writer is delusional. He’s not a writer, he is a seeker after big bucks. If he can’t conjure what he needs from “where the father has a breakdown”, he’ll do it by substituting “a car chase and a race across the rooftops/ Where the father saves the children and he holds them in his arms. “This isn’t writing.” master stylist and writing pioneer Truman Capote once sniffed. “It’s typewriting,” that is to say bogus, facile, insincere and superficial.
If you’re destined to be a writer, you must do better, lots better, and I am doing you the favor to tell you what that is.
Memorize the dictionary.
Your writing is laboriously assembled and crafted from the words you know. The more words you know and use, the better and more completely you can render human reality… and, make no mistake about it, that is what all writers do, good, bad, or indifferent. We tell what happens to humans… everything that happens; their struggles, their dreams, their aspirations, their love affairs that end in misery, the ones that end in tears and tribulation, the ones that start in love and end in sublimity and awe.
Every word we master and use enables us to tell the more complete and accurate truth about the reality we know and can, in nuanced measure, describe more accurately once we have the words at our command, when we finally understand what love really is and can do.
We can, we must work to do this because it is only when we have the words that we can even attempt to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth…and, it is only when we have truth that writing transcends the mundane and allows us to approach God who is the embodiment of truth and the ultimate destination of every writer whatever story he tells.
On your dawning love affair with words… and the truth they reveal and convey.
How many words do you know today? To the extent to which you mean to write, the correct answer is “too few, far too few.” This is not merely a fact; it is a declaration of immediate commitment and lifelong purpose. If you mean to write, you must here and now pledge yourself to words, for only then can you succeed in achieving your objective.
Thus, pledge yourself to learning just three new words every day. “Just that?”, you say Yes, just that, which means just this.
Open the dictionary (whether online or off; I use both).
Take a 3″x5″ card and write the word you have decided to embrace.
Put it on your tongue, taste it, savor it with the understanding that if you can incorporate it into your very essence you will be a better person, a smarter person, a person with yet another puissant tool, the better to achieve your objective, and ultimately your grand goal. This is how you craft yourself. This is what you must do to be the world-changing eminence you can become… leaving the rest behind, those who might have been but without such effort they will never be.
Now use the word in a sentence or two. Do not just have the word, employ the word. The actual word and its part of speech should go on one side of the card; its definition on the reverse. These are now your flash cards. Treat them with the importance they deserve.
You have now taken the first step. You have told yourself what you mean to do… and you have begun to do it. Now continue. If this is your avocation, your mission, then do it, and it must become your destiny.
Too often #PaulSimon has come across as sanctimonious, condescending, hectoring, superior, aloof and dismissive, but not in this song or this album, to which I listened with the felicity of an open mind and ear. Now in his late sixties, he sounds like an engaging and completely charming adolescent, and for that I say, ” ‘Thank you/ I’d no idea that you were there’ pleased to meet you’ “. Go to any search engine and listen to him all over again.
Musical Note: I have selected as the music for this piece, Paul Simon’s song “Rewrite (So beautiful or so what).” Click on the link below to listen and if you are a new or aspiring writer, listen carefully and never-ever include a car chase in what you write. It’s the certain sign that you have a long-long way to go before you are entitled to the honorable name of “Writer”.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known internationally as the author of over 1000 articles and over 60 books. He is arguably the most well-known author of his generation. He has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide with his inimitable prose style.
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