Entirely incidentally, a little-known fact about Shakespeare is that his father moved to Stratford-upon-Avon from a nearby village shortly before his son's birth. Had he not done so, the Bard of Avon would instead be known as the rather less ringing Bard of Snitterfield.
~ Bill Bryson
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The Blue Shoe
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MY OWN THING--WHATEVER THAT IS!
8 July 2004
In my younger days, when I was a stay-at-home Mom, and then when I took on a part-time night job, I aspired to be Erma Bombeck. Bombeck was my hero, her humorous look at life matched my own and I figured I just needed an outlet where I could let my witticisms flow onto the printed page and sooner or later I, too, could be discovered and end up trading jokes with Johnny Carson.
My first part-time job was working for the aforementioned newspaper, The Argus, whose editor was intent on presenting a leftist view of the political scene. He could care less about witty observations by the stay-at-home Mom at his layout table, but he did agree to let me write a weekly column.
I called it Airy Persiflage, which comes from a quote by Ko-Ko in The Mikado ("is this a time for airy persiflage?"), and I set about becoming Davis answer to Erma Bombeck.
Not surprisingly, I discovered that it was a lot more difficult than Erma made it look.
I wrote several columns over the life of The Argus and I think there was perhaps one out of all those columns that I didnt hate and wasnt disappointed in. The one that I liked was like Bombeck on a bad day.
I gave up trying to be Erma Bombeck and just continued to do my own thing--whatever that is.
My then-friend Phil introduced me to John Steinbeck. I think I read all--or most--of Steinbecks books, back to back to back. Whenever I was immersed in Steinbeck, my writing improved. I was so taken by his rich use of imagery and his descriptive passages, that I wanted to learn how to describe things with the insight and love that Steinbeck was able to convey. I still cant drive through the Salinas Valley, between the Gabilan Mountains and the Coast Range without thinking of the beautiful passages in East of Eden.
The further I get from my last Steinbeck, the less rich my writing becomes. It has been years since I finished my Steinbeck orgy and I am back again to doing my own thing--whatever that is.
I started reading Bill Clintons book when it came out, but that is going to take me a long time since its not exactly riveting prose, so I am supplementing with other books. At the moment, for example, I am reading Anne Lamotts The Blue Shoe, which my sister-in-law had brought to Santa Barbara and gave me after she finished it. It's a lightweight book, but its held my interest enough that I nearly finished it on the ride up to Sacramento yesterday.
However, the book I brought with me and devoured throughout the weekend was Bill Brysons Im a Stranger Here Myself, his reflections on life in America which were written for a British audience after he returned to the States after living in England for 20 years.
I adore Bill Bryson. I first stumbled across him when I read his The Mother Tongue, a book on the development of the English language which is more entertaining than many novels I have read. I loved The Mother Tongue so much that when I found it remaindered at a local bookstore one year, I bought every copy they had and give it to everyone that year for Christmas.
On one of our trips to England, I found his Notes from a Small Island, a work he wrote while touring around England for one last time prior to his move back to the States. We were, at the time, touring around England, visiting many of the locations mentioned in the book and it was a better tour guide than Fodor. It made the whole area come alive for me.
Prior to my trip to Australia, I read his In a Sunburned Country, his takes on travel around Australia. I knew that I would not be visiting most of the places he mentioned, but still it gave me the flavor of the country and I loved it, though was disappointed that he seemed to give Perth short shrift in comparison to the rest of the country.
After I returned from Australia, I went back and re-read the parts on Western Australia and discovered that his Perth and environs section was actually much better than I remembered and I enjoyed reliving the trip all over again, seeing things through Brysons eyes. Bryson had visited many of the places Peggy and I explored and it was fun comparing his experience with our own.
I grabbed Im a Stranger Here Myself on a whim as we were headed out the door on Friday, figuring that it would be some nice light reading. And it was. But I felt the old "bonding wheels" clicking into place as I read. He has such a marvelously humorous way of looking at ordinary everyday things that had me giggling and reading huge chunks of the book aloud to Walt and his mother on the drive down, probably boring them to tears.
By the time I finished the book, I didnt want to be John Steinbeck or Erma Bombeck any more--I wanted to be Bill Bryson.
Driving up the Central Valley yesterday, on the way home, I was composing things in my mind--wonderfully witty observations on the landscape around me, searching for little things to include in my description when it finally got put down in print.
Unfortunately, the thing is that there is more to being a humorous writer than just observing and finding a clever way to phrase it. You also have to remember all those bon mots that come to mind at 65 mph which you are certain you are going to remember when you get in front of a computer screen.
My piece yesterday was OK. It contained some of the things I wanted to say, but it was stilted and not nearly as funny as Bryson would have made it.
I guess the lesson Im learning is that its a lot more difficult to be the new Erma Bombeck, the new John Steinbeck or the new Bill Bryson. All I can be is the old Bev Sykes--whatever that is.
Walt and his mother, taken at lunch yesterday.