In Search of the Right Words, Again.

Retreat by the Sea Fall 2015

Even though I am older now and more cynical, I can still be beguiled: The words, retreat by the sea, conjured up something. I would go out of curiosity. If it was crap, I could stare out of the window at the ocean, like I used to at school.

Oh god, there are only six of us. I thought there would be more and someone is late. Someone is always late. At least there is another guy in the room. We all sit around a table, like family—a family of strangers at the table of knowledge. Let the lessons begin.

I like groups. Not only can you learn from the instructor but if the mix is right, you learn from each other.

The first exercise is challenging, fun, and interesting, writing a poem with a partner—alternating one word each. I am surprised and elated with the result. Maybe I’ve made the right choice. Rod, don’t be stingy, you have made the right choice.

We write and share, learning from each other, guided by Kathrin. I came to learn. I am learning. I am happy.

I can’t pin down Kathrin down. She doesn’t fit slots I know. She understands things about writing and shares them eloquently. Tells us something and backs it up with examples. She is gregarious and distant, knowledgeable—vulnerable, informs and receives, part actor—part instructor, cautious and plunging. Who is she? It doesn’t matter. I am learning about writing.

The sight of the rolling sea and swish of the waves falling softly upon the beach charm us to write better. I am in the company of writers. It is ok to risk, to write and to read. Kathrin says it is so and so it is.

We sit outside for lunch and are surprised to sea a humpback whale swimming by, 40 yards off the beach. The giant tale rises majestically out of the water several times on its leisurely way past, punctuated by loud puffs of air. We gasp.

“Look, look, it’s so close.”

The course is becoming magic.

“Each chapter should have a purpose, a climax, build and end in a new place.”

“All writing can be tested for flow by reading it out loud.”

“’Write as though it were happening in the present as much as possible.”

Reading these things is okay-good; but when discussed with new writer friends, teased along by the lively Kathrin, they stick in my brain.

I got what I came for, in the retreat by the sea.

In Search of the Right Words—1


                                The Beauty of Truth, Revisited.

Mr. Pearson, our math teacher, always wore a green tweed suit and a red tie. If I concentrate, I can still hear his Yorkshire brogue, “The beauty of math is truth.” I didn’t like Mr. Pearson. He was an OCD nit-picker. I didn’t like math either and, as a lazy 15-year-old, wasn’t much sold on the value of truth.

After explaining a concept to us, he would set us to work announcing, “While you are working on this, I don’t even want to hear a pin drop.” One day, as his words still echoed, a dropped pin rang loud and clear on the parquet floor. A tormented grunt flew out of a Mr. Pearson. His face flushed crimson and he propelled himself rapidly up and down the aisles between us, looking for the errant pin so he could pounce on the perpetrator. Eddie Hubbard swiveled his foot two inches to cover the pin. In the whole year, it was the best thing ever to happen in that math class.

If Mr. Pearson had been aiming for truth, he was using the wrong discipline. It’s English not Math that contains the beauty of truth Mr. Pearson. Numbers do not appeal to the emotions, but truthful words inspire, capture a clarity, reconnect us to the threads of life.

Half a century later, the truth became more valuable. I am writing—re-writing, winnowing through the written words — sifting, separating, sorting, sweating a change — cutting, cussing, and burnishing. I delete, quit, drink tea, start afresh, and if lucky, distil some paragraphs, which finally ring with the clear bell of truth. Once found it’s unmistakable, like the singular din of a pin falling on a hardwood floor in a silent room.