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November 28, 2010


“A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, 
self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. 
This is too much of a temptation for the editor.”
Ring Lardner
            Many of us write. Some of us, at best, are mediocre, turning out prose with all the zip and bounce of a bowl of gruel. Others of us are able to rise above that, writing stories and essays that are at least acceptable, occasionally rising to the level of very good. A few  (and I no longer say “of us”) rise to great heights, writing in ways that make the rest of us (there it is!) shake our heads in envy, frustration and admiration. This kind of writing is a gift, but it’s a gift that these writers have worked at  cultivating, usually for many years. Pinpointing precisely what it is that makes these writers so very good is impossible. For one thing, their talents are uniquely different, one from another. For another, there are so many ways in which writing can rise to the level of greatness.

             Some years ago I read Adam Bede by George Eliot, followed by Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dust Tracks on a Road. In these three novels I found at least one element that helps boos a writer from the merely “good” category to “great,” and that’s spice.

As an example, a good cook regularly turns out tasty, appetizing dishes; occasionally she’ll put a little something different in her stew or casserole, something unexpected that makes the diner sit up and say, “This is great!” Great writers do the same thing. Here are some “spices” served up by Eliot and Hurston. Enjoy:

From Adam Bede:

• Adam’s father has drowned in the creek and his mother is saying, “But if thy feyther had lived, he’d ne’er ha’ wanted me to go to make room for another, for he could no more ha’ done wi’out me nor one side o’ the scissors can do wi’out th’ other.”

            • From Mrs. Poyser, the wife of a tenant farmer: “Ay, it’s ill livin’ in a hen-roost for them as doesn’t like fleas.”

            • Mrs. Poyser, talking about the fuss made over someone after they’ve died: “It ‘ud be better if folks ‘ud make much on us beforehand, I’stid o’ beginnin’ when we’re gone. It’s but little good you’ll do a-watering last year’s crop.”

            • Mr. Poyser has just come into the house to find the old Squire, his landlord, talking with Mrs. Poyser. “As he stood, red, rotund and radiant, before the small wiry, cool old gentleman, he looked like a prize apple beside a withered crab.”

            • Mr. Poyser entered “ . . . warm and coatless, with the two black-eyed boys behind him, looking as much like him as two small elephants are like a large one.”
            • Lisbeth, Adam’s mother, telling a young woman (Dinah) why she’d be better off marrying Adam instead of his brother, Seth, who is much like her: “The runnin’ brook isna athirst for th’ rain.”
            • And finally: “Mr. Craig was not above talking politics occasionally, though he piqued himself rather on a wise insight than on specific information. He saw so far beyond the mere facts of a case that really it was superfluous to know them.”
Zora Neal Hurston – from Their Eyes Were Watching God
She throwed de door wide open and stood dere, lookin’ outa her eyes and her face. Look lak she been livin’ through a hundred years in January without one day of Spring.
You, behind a plow!? You ain’t got no mo’ business wid uh plow than uh hog is got with uh holiday!
You cannot have no town without some land to build it on. Y’all ain’t got enough here to cuss a cat on without getting yo mouf full of fur.
An her with her hair jus’ as close to her head as ninety-nine is to a hundred.
You don’t know dat woman uh mine. She got ninety-nine rows of jaw teeth and git her good and mad, she’ll wade through solid rock up to her hip pockets.
From Dust Tracks on a Road
Like snowflakes, they get that same look from being so plentiful and falling so close together.
I felt as timid as an egg without a shell.

A few posts back I lamented my inability to draw (or, at least, to draw something on purpose). I have, however, come up with dozens of ideas for great cartoons. Here are a couple of more.

Cartoon #18: Smokey the Bear is sitting on a couch in his living room. Across from him sits his wife who’s saying, “Smokey, I want you to stop fighting fires with your bear hands!”
Cartoon #22: A dog being walked by its owner is commenting to another dog on the other side of a fence, “Yep, I’ve got a new leash on life.”

This must be why we don’t keep cows
as indoor pets.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2010 5:20 pm

    >I see your predictions of more bad cartoons from a previous week's blog have been fulfilled. I guess it proves that a pundit of rumor has punned it with humor. Glad to see that I am back, as I missed last week's comment.Spike Swichnic

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