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Monday, March 20, 2017

Breslin and Berry


Here's what famed New York newspaperman Jimmy Breslin once said...

"Pick up any newspaper in the morning. Count the words in the lead sentence. There will be at least twenty-five in all of them: Guaranteed. The writers just want to tell you how many degrees they have from this college or that university."

  


He was the king of simplicity. Beautiful, succinct, telling words that could cut through you and cut through to the heart of the story. Try this on for size, a column he wrote about the gravedigger for a fallen leader...

"...he hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment o he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy." 

While every other reporter covered the main story of the funeral for JFK, Breslin stepped away from the pack and wrote the best, truest story of them all. Simple and unforgettable. 

Breslin died at the age of 88. A long life of telling great...simple...stories. 


And on the day before his death, another great left us. Chuck Berry. He was 90.

Here's what John Lennon said about Berry...

"One of the all-time great poets, a rock poet."

And what was Berry's approach? Simplicity. 

Yes, he taught every guitarist how to plant their feet in the middle of rock-n-roll, but his lyrics were groundbreaking. Not in the Dylanesque way, but think about it...before Berry who ever wrote a song about the agony of paying bills? Simple; to the point. 

Runnin' to-and-fro,  hard workin' at the mill
Never fail, in the mail, comes a rotten bill
Too much monkey business
Too much much business for me to be involved in.


Hemingway is always touted as the one to emulate when it comes to simple prose. But truth is, Breslin and Berry may have collectively touched more people with their clean style and observant eyes. Breslin was likely the greatest newspaperman of all time. Berry was likely the greatest rock-n-roller of all time. Both laid foundations. Both told it like it is. Both knew how to touch the Everyman. Both were heart, guts, and soul. 

And they did it with simplicity. 


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Work in Progress

I can't tell you how many times I have fiddled with the title...

Home. The search for a place under the stars.
Finding Home. One man's search for his place in the world.
The Consequence of Stars. A memoir of the eternal search for home.  

And on and on and on. Variation after variation.

Then there's the structure. Straight memoir? Book of essays? A memoir-in-essays? And there's the preface. Or is it a prologue? What's the difference anyway? And how about a book description? Let's write that now so that I can focus the theme and keep in the boundaries of my plan of attack. I've rewritten it over a dozen times, shifting its center, mining for meaning. And despite all of this work, I'm sure I'll end up doing it again...and again.

When we work on new writing, art, music, something of our own, do we ever really think it's done or is it always a work on progress?

I contend works of art are forever works in progress.

I have a colleague, a very good writer with a well-received new book out, who insists that every word, every sentence, every nuanced thought in her manuscript is exactly how she wanted it. When she reads it now it is complete. It is fined-tuned to the very best she could have made it and she'll apparently never second guess a word of it.

Then there is me.

I consider--as da Vinci did--every work as a work in progress. Well, maybe more clearly, a work that is never truly finished. The quote attributed to Leonardo is "Art is never finished, only abandoned." It's believe he meant that every work can be refined...forever...ad nauseum.


When I am in the creating mode, I tend to let it all flow. But when I'm in the drafting mode, the editing process, I can endlessly tweak. If I go back to a piece of writing every single day after believing I have "finished" it, I will change a word, move a comma, rework a sentence over and over. Making it better? I hope so. But at some point you have to give it up. You have to say, "This is where is stops." You must abandon the work.

Maybe writing, the ideas that fuel the writing, are simply too transient to be pinned down. Maybe writing and any work of art is constantly evolving, like us. One day we do it this way....and another day we feel differently and it influences what we write, how we write it, what we think is good. Maybe this is the same reason some of us give up on the creative process or never start it. Creative work  is too nebulous, too ephemeral.

What do you believe? Is your writing ever really done?