The thread of one’s life (pretty corny, huh?)

The Maddeningly Meticulous Wordsmith

The Maddeningly Meticulous Wordsmith

Sixteen of my students will appear in my office today for individual conferences on the direction of their research and writing for the final research project the course requires. The subject in general is a comparison/ contrast of FDR’s “Date that Will Live in Infamy” speech and a speech by Sen. Robert A. Taft, “Let Us Stay out of War” from 1939.

I assign this topic because I am fascinated by presidential rhetoric in general and specifically the rhetoric of war and peace. My students will ultimately write, based on their research, an essay arguing the importance of Americans’ ability to understand presidential speechifying. The other two writing subjects for the semester, by the way, were the Gettysburg Address and Reagan’s Challenger Address.

Writing is, and always has been, my passion.

When Prof. Robert Nelson, then teaching creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas where I was a doctoral student in the humanities with my concentration in creative writing, asked in a class if I had written that morning and I said, “Yes,” he said, “Then you are a writer.”

I write because I can’t not write (it’s my passion as well as a trait of those of us with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy—see Alice Flaherty’s book, The Midnight Disease; my version is the 4 o’clock in the morning disease). I also write because I grew up in a household in which words were the stuff of every day work and wonder. My father was a scholarly Baptist preacher, and a (maddeningly) meticulous wordsmith both in writing and in speaking. (How I ended up with a West Nebraska twang and somewhat slovenly patterns of speech is a fit subject for the study of the conflicting influences of one’s parents and their families.)

Writing has always been my (sometimes ignored and dormant) chief means of self-fulfillment (go ahead and laugh at the cliché).

I won’t recount the path by which I came to study music (I earned a Bachelor of Music—not Arts—with a major in Organ Performance) instead of writing in college and launched myself on a career in church music for which I was not particularly well suited, by either temperament or talent. Suffice it to say I was seduced by praise at a time when I was terrified of my limited intellectual abilities and of my socially unacceptable sexuality (I graduated high school in 1963).

Yesterday one of my students in conference asked me how I, a musician, ended up teaching Discovery and Discourse (the latest fancy name for first-year English composition) at SMU. Obviously the real question is how I, a writer, spent so much of my life pursuing a music career that could, at best, be competent but never brilliant.

Competent but never brilliant

Competent but never brilliant

I do not mean to imply that I would have been any closer to brilliant in a writing career. I would, however, have had (perhaps) and easier life, and might have been more stable and “successful,” whatever that means.

But I don’t mean to pout or second-guess myself, or to imply that I regret my choices. On the contrary, I have been able to be with, perform with, live with, travel with a lifetime full of remarkable talented and interesting—and, I must admit, attractive—people. I have worked for half-dozen faith communities, people whose understanding of “God” I have never quite been able to comprehend but whose love of music gave me always the opportunity to plan, direct, and perform wonderful music, without which I cannot imagine having lived—or without those people.

But this is not my point.

Perhaps I’ve come to see that for each of us there is a strand, a path, a direction—I don’t know what to call it—that, if we discover how to follow it, will lead us to where we are supposed to end up. This sounds so corny, so “inspirational” to me I can scarcely bear that I’ve written it. And, for once, I’m almost embarrassed to upload it even into my personal blog, the space where I can say anything I damned well please and no one can stop me.

But here I am, sitting in the home of my inamorato early in the morning, watching a Texas downpour, writing because I simply must, and thinking positively—a highly unusual event for me—about the fact that I’m doing what I want to do, pursuing the activity that gives me the most satisfaction of anything I might occupy myself with. And realizing—because I had to think about an answer to a question posed by a nineteen-year-old only now beginning to form his life—that this was where I was headed from the beginning.

No grand finish here.  Merely a bit of self understanding.
A former life

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