Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

Appreciating Cate

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Cate On Stage With Sister Starla

I imagine that almost everyone on the Peninsula recognizes the name ‘Cate Gable’ – for sure you do if you read the Chinook Observer.  Perhaps you have even been featured in her weekly column, “Coast Chronicles”.  Or one of your friends has.  Or, perhaps, she has written about a situation or event near and dear to your heart. Or… the opposite.

Sometimes, in a sort-of role reversal, I get to be the one who puts something in the paper about her.  Like this morning.  I just submitted a very short article about the upcoming Oysterville Schoolhouse Lecture Series – an announcement, really about Cate teaming up with Mary Garvey in a sort of reprisal of their last year’s presentation as singers of stories.

Cate’s Column

That event will occur on February 15th and it was as I was putting my thoughts together that I came face-to-face with the fact that Cate, once again, is putting herself in the background. When I asked her, for instance, what their program would look like, she said:

“We’ll sing, we’ll talk about the process of writing songs and, we’ll talk about our location and how this very place informs and inspires songwriting.  Also, I intend to talk about Mary as a contemporary Marine Shanty songwriter.  The fact that she is writing songs about current history is remarkable and unusual.  Many have been recorded and are being sung by others.  I have no doubt that they will continue to be sung long after we are dead in the tradition of folksongs everywhere.”

Is it just that she’s so used to putting others in the spotlight through her column that it’s automatically the way she thinks of things?  Take her poetry, for instance.  Even though she has been writing poetry for decades and has recently received her MFA in Creative Writing – magna cum laude! – from Pacific Lutheran she has arranged for several local poetry events featuring others with herself only tucked in around the edges.

New Graduate, 2016

And her teaching career –  years working in classrooms from Hawaii to mainland Indian reservations.  Or her own musical background and a lifetime of singing and composing.  Her talents and contributions go on and on but she seems to be fully committed to the hide-your-light-under-a-bushel way of life.  That and making all the rest of us look good!

Thanks, Cate!

It needed a comma. Period!

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I just love it that the serial comma has finally received the recognition it deserves.  At a cost of $10,000,000 mind you!  After fifty or sixty years of copy readers and editors removing those last-in-a-line commas of mine, all I can say is “nyaa nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa nyaa!”

In case you haven’t kept up – since time immemorial (at least by my standards) the Oxford Dictionary has said “yes” to the final comma in a series.  So… “The colors of the flag are red, white, and blue.”  Wrong says the Associated Press.  “The colors of the flag are red, white and blue.”  Most editors of U.S. publications follow the A.P. rule – no comma at the end of a series.  Even in the State of Maine, drafters of legal statutes are specifically instructed not to use the serial comma!

Some editors say “no” to the final comma unless it is needed for clarity.  The classic example goes something like “This book is dedicated to my parents, Dorothy Parker and God” which gives the author an unusual set of parents, indeed.  Add a comma after Parker for clarity.

Which brings us to The case of the Maine milk-truck drivers who, for want of a comma, won an appeal against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, regarding overtime pay (O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy) has warmed the hearts of punctuation enthusiasts everywhere, from the great dairy state of Wisconsin to the cheese haven of Holland, according to the March 17, 2017 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

The magazine goes on to say: According to Maine state law, workers are not entitled to overtime pay for the following activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

The issue is that, without a comma after “shipment,” the “packing for shipment or distribution” is a single activity. Truck drivers do not pack food, either for shipment or for distribution; they drive trucks and deliver it. Therefore, these exemptions do not apply to drivers, and Oakhurst Dairy owes them some ten million dollars.

There were some other subtleties that the drivers had going for them such as the use of gerunds in conjunction with nouns causing difficulties with the rule of ‘parallel usage’.   Got that?  Bottom line: the truck drivers won!  And editors everywhere are on notice that the final comma in a series is not only proper… it may be worth ten million bucks!

Journal, Diary, Daybook, Blog

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

My First Blog, March 30, 2010

Every once in a while, I am made aware that my readers don’t know how to characterize what I write – especially when it comes to my daily “Oysterville Daybook” which appears on my website and, also, on Facebook. Usually it is ‘published’ (as in communicated to a third party) first thing each morning in time for people to read it online with their morning coffee.  But, readers may run across it anytime – sometimes months or even years after its original posting date.  My understanding is that each posting will be in “the cloud” (whatever that is) forever, available a finger-tap away.

“Oysterville Daybook” is a blog – defined by Merriam Webster as a website containing a writer’s experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites – and you are reading it right now.  I think of it as an online journal or diary.  In my “Oysterville Daybook” I try to convey my experiences and observations accurately, but at the end of the day, they are my opinions only – biased, to be sure, to the extent that it’s my world view that my blogs reflect.

Yesterday’s Blog, September 1, 2017

The term ‘weblog’ was coined in 1997 to describe a log written online, and  the term was soon shortened to “blog.” Numbers of blogs began to emerge in the late nineties coinciding with the advent of web publishing tools which made posting web content easy for non-techies like me. I began my “Oysterville Daybook” in March 2010.  I don’t know how many blogs were being posted then, but by 2011, there were 173 million blogs worldwide!

There are all sorts of blogs – political, business, military, school, sports, how-to and on and on.  I would characterize “Oysterville Daybook” as a ‘personal’ blog that deals with a variety of topics of interest to me.  It is named for the place from which it emanates (i.e. where I live) and from the name of one of my all-time favorite ‘memoirs’, The Daybooks of Edward Weston. I think some blog writers are paid for their work.  I am not paid – except in the kind and enthusiastic comments by my readers.

Today’s Blog in Progress – September 2, 2017

Of course, my blog is not the only thing I write.  I began it to draw attention to those other things – specifically to build readership for my books which are mostly about the history of Southwest Washington.  Little did I know that the “Oysterville Daybook” would take on a life of its own.  And little did I know that people would confuse my blog writing with the journalistic writing I occasionally do for our local paper.  Just yesterday, I was asked in angry tones why I hadn’t given “both sides of the story” in one of my blogs.  The short answer: “because it’s a blog.”  If you are confused by that answer, begin reading this particular blog again.  From the top!

Convoluted Connections

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Willard and Dale, 1914

I’ve been thinking of Willard lately.  Willard Richardson Espy, my mother’s “twin” – well, they were 11 months apart but for all of his 89 years, Willard would write mom on her November 13th birthday and remind her that they were now identical in age until December 10th when he would become a year older than she.

Willard was not only my uncle, but was also my Godfather.  When I once challenged him about having fulfilled his duties in that regard, he archly asked, “Are you not a moral, upstanding woman of good character?’  When I answered in the affirmative, he said firmly, “Then I have done my job.”  I never questioned him on the matter again, though I did occasionally wonder how he thought he had accomplished that triumph of my development, especially considering that we lived on opposite sides of the continent for all of my formative years.

Willard and Sydney – 1938 in Oysterville

As I approached middle age, though, and Willard edged closer to his golden years, we had opportunities to spend more time together.  I had moved to Oysterville and Willard was spending about half of each year in his little red cottage here.  He had always been my role model with regard to his career.  I, too, had visions of working for a newspaper and of spending my life writing and hobnobbing with the literati and the sophisticates of the world. And, once we began spending more time together, he also became my mentor, encouraging me to complete my book about his oldest sister, Medora, and offering to write the foreword, though he would not live to see its publication.

Red Cottage 1984

So, fast forward to my here and now at Emanuel Hospital, eighteen and a half years after Willard’s death.  I think of him almost daily here – not for reasons you might think.  I think of his all-consuming interest in words – in their derivations, their meanings their misinterpretations, in the way they look and all the weird and wonderful things about language – ours and others.  He was called “The Wordsmith” and, though those of us who are aficionados of Oysterville, love his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, out in the greater world he is known far better for his fifteen books on words.

Willard, 1981

Yesterday, the discussion between patient, cardiologist and surgeon concerned a blood clot that has formed in the left ventricle appendage.  That’s a new situation and before surgery to correct his mitral valve can take place, they are trying to dissolve that clot.  It isn’t yet “organized” we were told.  Which means, it seems, that the blood has gathered and has coagulated to a gelatinous-like consistency but has not yet clotted – not fully organized.  That’s a good thing, apparently.  Willard would have been so intrigued…

Just Call Me “Queen of the Sidebar!”

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Sidebar in Jailhouse Stories

If I were to be known for a particular journalistic style, I would choose to be called “The Queen of the Sidebar.”  Not the sidecar with a ‘c’; the sidebar with a ‘b’.  The ‘c’ kind is a drink – made with bourbon, I think, and, not being much for alcoholic beverages, I could care less about sidecars.  (And if this WordPress blogging program would allow it, I’d insert a sidebar right here to give my readers the history of and a recipe for a sidecar.)

The sidebar, on the other hand, is 1) a short news story or graphic accompanying and presenting sidelights of a major story, or 2) something incidental to the essay’s central theme.  To someone who writes about history, they are one of the most useful journalistic tools imaginable.  There are invariably related bits of information, not necessarily germane to the main thrust of the story, but interesting and illuminating. nonetheless.

I use sidebars often.  In fact, I’m a bit of a pain in the tush sometimes about them.  I used them liberally in Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years and, as I remember, their use sometimes posed layout problems for my wonderful editor at Washington State University Press.

Several years later, my History Press editor for Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula flat out told me that they “didn’t do sidebars.”  I argued like that proverbial Dutch Uncle and finally convinced them of the necessity for sidebars in my book.  They may have even changed their policy a bit after our ‘go ’round’ because there were no questions asked when I submitted my sidebar-filled manuscript for Jailhouse Stories from Early Pacific County.

Article and Sidebar in 8/9/17 issue of Chinook Observer

At the present time, I’m finding sidebars to be a marvelous way to illuminate my “Stories from the Heart” series in the Chinook Observer. Through them, I can present some factual information and insights through interviews with knowledgeable community members and experts in particular areas – so far, a neighbor, an employer, a teacher, a priest.

I’ve been surprised, though, that readers who comment to me about the series don’t often realize that the sidebars are also written by me and are an extension of the main stories.  I believe the lightly colored background for each sidebar, as well as its adjacent placement to my bylined story is an effort by the editor to indicate that the sidebar is part of the whole.  But, if you are among those who have been confused, perhaps this explanatory blog will help.

So Much for Feeling Smug!

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Sydney Works Against Deadline, 1970

It doesn’t pay to relax for a minute.  Not for me.   Not when my writing is concerned.  But, it seems to be a lesson hard to come by and, once again, I am reviewing those same old Words to Live By – “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Or, in this case, until the paper comes out.

It’s Wednesday, August 2nd.  The first Wednesday of the month.  It is the day my column has been published in the Chinook Observer for the past five years.  It’s not a big deal, a once-a-month column.  Not like having a deadline every single week. (Or, god forbid, every day like in the Big City.)  With a month in between each column, I have the leisure to think about what I want to say and I have plenty of time to meet the ‘deadline’ which is the weekend before publication.  I usually try for Friday or Saturday and for half a decade all has been well.

Dinnertime at Emanuel Hospital 7/25/17

For this week, I chose to write about Pacific County’s proposed zoning change for Rural Residential and Rural Lands.  My column urged readers to attend tomorrow’s hearing on that issue – 6:00 p.m. at the Long Beach County building.  The decision that will ultimately be made will affect every single resident in Pacific County and I wanted to express a few words of concern.  In my column.  In today’s paper.

I wrote the column last week while sitting at Nyel’s bedside at Emanuel Hospital in Portland.  I had lots of time on my hands and it seemed a good way to use it ‘wisely.’  I even had the opportunity to research parts of the zoning proposal I was feeling fuzzy about and ‘talked’ (via email) with an expert or two.  I fine-tuned, found the perfect illustrative photo in my files, wrote a caption, and turned it all in on Saturday morning.

Matt Winters by Damian Mullinex

Imagine my surprise (as they say) when I received an email from the editor yesterday saying that there had been a mix-up and Ruth’s column was being used instead.  Mine will go in next week, he said.  When I went in to see him, a bit later, I asked him to pull the column permanently.  Depending upon how the hearing goes tomorrow night, I’ll rewrite it for next week.  Or not.

Life Lessons revisited:  #1 Never Feel Smug and #2 Think Twice about Time Sensitive Material Destined for a Weekly Paper.  Oh… and that old standby (which should probably be #1 in this household):  #3 Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch!

See you tomorrow evening at the hearing!  And do read Ruth’s column.  Far more interesting than mine would have been.

H is for… Hospital!

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

When you spend as much time in the hospital – especially the same hospital and in the same unit – as Nyel has this year, you begin to make friends with some of the staff.   Once in a while, you get a little glimpse of life on the other side of the hospital bed, so to speak… as in this story that happened shortly before we arrived last week:

It seems there was a guy in another unit (had a broken leg or two and an eyepatch) who commandeered a wheelchair and speed-raced to a nearby convenience store.  There, he bought an ‘adult beverage’ and concealed it in a paper bag, and proceeded to drink it on his leisurely return to his room.  Another convenience store customer (who happened to be a hospital employee) saw and reported the episode…  Busted!  Immediate discharge.

I’ve always thought that those scenes in the movies where old guys unplug their IVs and sneak out in a load of laundry (“The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman comes to mind) were just figments of the silver screen.  Not so, apparently!  And those aren’t the worst transgressions.  There’s also the matter of civility and just plain good manners.

A day or so ago, when one of our nurses learned that I am a writer, she told me about a project she was working on – a little three-fold brochure for incoming patients.  “Basically,” she said, “it points out that this is not a hotel, nor is it a prison.  It gives patients a little idea of what to expect while they are here and a few guidelines for how to behave.”  I was amazed and all ears.  I had no idea that people would need ‘instructions’ on hospital etiquette.  And I had no idea that the need has seriously escalated in the last two years.  Here, like in every other public venue, people seem to feel empowered to show their ugly sides.

“Would you be willing to read our first draft?”  Absolutely! I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at the patient-friendly, cleverly illustrated leaflet I was shown.  It reminded patients, directly and kindly, about all manner of hospital do’s and don’ts from the ‘no smoking campus’ to the possible necessity for dietary restrictions.  It described the special services that could be accessed and how to call for help – even reminding people that the use of profanity or racist comments is not acceptable.  I found it well-written (one typo only!) informative, and totally inoffensive.

Yet, I was saddened that basic public etiquette has to be written out these days.  Especially for those whose lives may depend upon being here.  No wonder staff members, from pharmacists to housekeepers, tell Nyel what a pleasure it is to deal with him.  We had no idea!

Looking for 2014

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Day-to-day life went on hold in our household when Nyel had his quadriceps ‘transplant’ in the fall of 2014.  Life has never totally returned to normal (whatever that was), partly because Nyel’s recovery took a complete year and partly because full recovery lasted only a few months.

Lots has happened, health-wise, in the interim – heart surgeries and procedures for Nyel, mostly,  Plus that old clock tick-tocking our youth and energy away for both of us.  During these many months, some of the routines/chores of our lives have been relegated to a position of ‘On Permanent Hold’ – like the garden and my office.  Not completely, of course.  We’ve managed to hire the mowing done at times when Nyel couldn’t even manage the rider mower and I haven’t been arrested yet for the non-payment of bills.  Otherwise, though…

Spreader at the Ready

So, somehow, this has become the Summer of Catch Up.  The dining room has been given over to the piles and piles of ‘stuff’ that have accumulated in my office – documents to file or re-file, detritus to sort through, much of it saved for scrapbooks that had never been begun.  Bit by bit, I’m clearing off desk and counter tops and discarding, consolidating, organizing.  That’s what I do in the mornings these days and am determined to continue until I’m caught up.

In the afternoons, it’s the garden.  Three hours at a stretch is my limit when it comes to weeding, clipping, trimming, baiting, and general garden bed maintenance.  Fortunately, I’ve made passes at some of it now and then over the past few summers.  I can’t even imagine what trouble we’d be in if ‘neglect’ had been the operable word all this time.  Even so, I can only think one chore, one patch, at a time.  Otherwise, it would overwhelm me completely.  I would not be able to face those plant people who are trying to overtake the human and chicken habitations on our property .

Rain and the Greening of the Lawn

This week I’ve been using the spreader to fertilize and de-moss the lawn.  Our garden comprises about an acre and pushing that little full-to-the-brim spreader back and forth, across and over, time after time sets my thighs on fire and leaves me gasping, I can tell you.  I consider the process (and all this other garden maintenance stuff) my exercise program.  I still have the croquet court area to go.  It’s a chore Nyel used to do four times a year – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving week.  Yikes!

Today, it’s raining.  Whatever time I have around the edges of a dental appointment in Long Beach and a doctor’s appointment in Vancouver I’ll spend in the dining room on the hunt for 2014 – and every year from then till now.  Plus, I’ll be watching the lawn (except for the croquet court) green right up!  And all the while, resting my poor old aching legs and all the other parts connected with my summer exercise program.  If there’s time, I may even take a nap!

“The Mighty Franks”

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Author Michael Frank

By the time we arrived, the room was a-buzz – probably thirty-five or forty people, glasses of Perrier or wine in hand, milling around with one eye on author Michael Frank, the star of the evening.  Michael moved easily from group to group, dispensing handshakes and hugs and looking for all the world like the sophisticated host of a cosmopolitan cocktail party.  We’ve seen Michael in that role many times before — whether or not he is hosting and whether or not there’s a party.

No, wait!  Not a ‘role’ at all.  It’s just Michael! To the manner born, you might say.  It doesn’t even seem surprising that his first book, a memoir, is taking the world by storm.  Yes, the world!  “The Mighty Franks” was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, just two or three weeks ago – published simultaneously in five (count ‘em five) languages!  It has received high marks from the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and on and on!

“The Mighty Franks”

Already Michael has done book talks and signings in Los Angeles and San Francisco to say nothing of a fabulous ‘book launch’ at the home of a friend in New York City.  If all the attention has turned his head, it doesn’t show a bit.  As we entered the room and he spied us across the way he gave a wonderfully surprised greeting – more hugs and exclamations (You came all the way from the beach?!!) and made sure we had something to drink and connected with his brother, Dan.  The best host ever — as always!

Then it was “show time.”  Michael was introduced, took center stage, eschewed the mic, and told us about the book.  It centers on members of his extraordinary family – some of whom Nyel and I have known almost as long as we’ve known each other.  Michael and his two brothers and his parents were all at -ceremonythe 3rd Annual Oysterville Croquet and Champagne Gala (a fund-raiser we put on in our garden for 19 consecutive years) in 1987.  At that particular event, two important things happened – Nyel and I were married in an unannounced-until-then-ceremony, and we first met the Franks. “The Mighty Franks” as it turns out — or part of them!

Elliott Bay Book Company

During the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Michael how he was feeling about all the attention he and his book are getting.  Michael’s response was along the lines of loving it but it’s only been two weeks so it’s too early to tell.  I made a mental note to ask him a similar question in August after some of the dust settles.  He and his immediate family (who live in NYC) will be in Seaview then for their annual family get-together.  “I’ll call you,” he said.  “I want you to come to the house for dinner.”  I didn’t say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. By then you’ll be too famous for the likes of us.”  Actually, I didn’t even think it.  I’m pretty sure Michael will always be Michael – a mighty Frank, to the manner born!

I Stand Corrected!

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

From the June 7, 2017 Chinook Observer

I was expecting a call from my friend Linda so, when the phone rang, I answered with a little bit of a goofy-sounding “hello-o-o.”  (It could have been worse!)  Imagine my surprise when a pleasant sounding male voice said, “Sydney Stevens?  This is Sheriff Scott Johnson.”  Actually, he may not have said the “Sheriff” word but there was no question in my mind who he was.

There was also no question in my mind concerning why he was calling.  The Observer came out yesterday.  And, since it was the first Wednesday of the month, my column was on page four in all its glory.  “Is Pacific an ersatz* county?” was the title and it was poking a little fun (I thought) at a few of the more peculiar (in my opinion) occurrences, historically and recently, in Pacific County.  I might also mention here that the asterisk referred readers to synonyms for ‘ersatz,’ some of which in the context of Pacific County might not be too politically correct.

Right at the start of the conversation (which, I hasten to point out was friendly, low-key, and almost enjoyable), the Sheriff said he’d like a chance to talk to me and offered to take me to lunch.  I don’t know exactly how I responded, but I demurred and he went on to other things.  Mostly, we talked about the MRAP which Scott (I think we are now on a first-name basis) pointed out was all about the safety of his officers – a point I don’t take exception to in the least.  But, when the County is poor-mouthing and raising taxes, I do take exception to spending 8K on a war surplus vehicle that might be too heavy for certain of the 62 bridges of our county.


Aaahhh!  There was the problem.  Scott told me that he was unaware of that problem (I right away declined to reveal my sources, though truth-to-tell he didn’t ask) and went on to explain that he’d been around dump-trucks all his life and many of them, when loaded, weigh more than the 18-ton MRAP.  I thanked him for pointing that out.

We went on to talk about the problems, logistically, of law enforcement coverage in the County.  And we established some ‘mutual points of agreement’ (for lack of a better description). He told me how he had driven through Oysterville just recently (“with my window down”) and how he had finally met Dan Driscoll (“seemed like a nice guy”) at a meeting at the Ocean Park Firehall.  For my part, I told him of the years I was involved in the D.A.R.E. program as a teacher in the Ocean Beach School District. And I told him how, a long time back, Nyel and I had hosted a community gathering in our home for then Sheriff John Didion and Deputy Ray Harrison to talk with us about better coverage here – the idea of neighborhood watches etc.

Sheriff John Didion – 2003

The conversation ended with Scott saying I’d given him one concrete idea: he intends to add a bit of information about the MRAP to other subjects in future talks with the community.  I’m not sure if he said he had no idea people were interested in the vehicle or if he was indicating that he wanted to straighten out any misinformation about it ‘out there.’  Probably a little of both.  He also reiterated his lunch invitation.  I can’t imagine ever taking him up on that but, as they say… never say never.