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a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Grandpa Had a Writer’s Notebook


This past week, I opened up a box of papers my mother and I had gathered from my grandpa’s house after he passed away.  I hadn’t returned to the box since my mother and I initially browsed through its contents in my grandpa’s attic a couple of years ago.  I knew it held cards, letters, certificates, newspaper articles, and some things my grandpa had written.  I just didn’t know exactly how much writing he had done and how much it would mean to me. 
Sifting through my grandpa’s words was like an archeological dig into my own writing history.  And I’ve only just begun to uncover it. 

Some things contained in the box were special because they were gifts of writing my grandpa had given my grandma.  One was a valentine’s telegram and another was a New Year’s Eve note.  My husband and I got engaged on New Year’s Eve and I’ve always wanted to capture the magic and romance of that time.  This note, which my grandmother opened on December 31, 1938, does just that. 

The other message to my grandma was sent in the form of a telegram.  Isn’t a telegram just one of the most romantic notions there is?  Maybe it’s because it reminds me of one of my favorite books of all time, The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, which is a coming of age story about a young boy who delivers telegrams in the United States during World War II.  Maybe it’s because telegrams evoke images of simpler times.  Maybe it’s just because my grandpa didn’t strike me as such a romantic, but this moves me.

Another thing that interested me was the paperwork from a correspondence course in writing that my grandpa took in the 1960s.  It is from the Newspaper Institute of America and was meant to teach him to write well enough to be published in newspapers and magazines.  The paperwork includes the assignments (which generally consist of newsworthy scenarios to write articles about), the writing he did in response to the assignments, and the feedback he received from the course instructor.  He received scores in the following categories:  English, Accuracy, Style, Imagination, and Sense of Dramatic Values.  I am not sure what to make of that, but I am just fascinated by it. 

It seems my grandpa had been interested in being published since he was young because I also found this little article he had sent in as part of a contest.  He won, his article was published, and he was paid a dollar.  That was only the beginning of his article submissions.  The box also contained a copy of an article he submitted about winning the dollar.  He had hoped to win the dollar in the contest to get a new tire for his bicycle during the Depression.  However, when the dollar came in the mail, his mom marched him straight to the bank to deposit it into a savings account.  However, when the banks failed, he lost his money.  He said it was not as big a loss as others suffered, though, because his parents did end up buying him a new bicycle tire.  As an adult, he ended up writing a column in a local paper about local news events, but he never gave up writing and submitting his words for wider audiences.

I saved the best for last.  The one thing in the box that excited me the most was this envelope.  The envelope is one from the Newspaper Institute of America, but it did not contain papers from the correspondence course.  Instead, my grandpa had written in ink on the outside of the envelope “New Story Ideas.”  It is my grandpa’s version of a writer’s notebook!  The contents of the envelope include funny newspaper clippings, like one about a man who kept trying to start his car, to no avail, but when he walked away the car took off at top speed on its own.    There are also lists of story ideas, beginnings of stories and complete drafts (including evidence of his editing and revising).  

These papers are rich with fodder for writing mini-lessons and having them is like having my own personal muse from the past.  My writing world is that much richer.

12 comments:

  1. How cool is this???? It brought tears to my eyes thinking of you discovering all this wealth from your grandpa. You are truly blessed!

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  2. What a gift and inspiration...and what wonderful memories. I can't imagine what other treasures you'll find as you go through his work. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  3. I am completely fascinated and wish I could take a closer look at these things. I am so, so, so glad you shared them and included photos--what a gift! You are so lucky to have these things.
    By the way, my husband and I got engaged on New Year's Eve too! :)

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  4. Wow...this is incredible. I love how you documented it here. What a cool attitude -- your own personal muse. It'll be cool to see how this influences you in the future.
    Happy writing, Ruth

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  5. Lucky you to have such a treasure! Thanks for including the pictures. I wonder if some future grandchild will find my writings? Hmmmm. . .

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  6. It makes me wish I had been the one to go through my own grandparents papers. Beautiful sentiments, and the photos really bring it home

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  7. I found the letters my dad wrote to my mom from June when they left college til September when they were married. One every day they were apart.

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  8. Thank you for sharing pictures and your comments about the treasure. You have a writing gene in your DNA.

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  9. Ohhh! How awesome! I have goosebumps -- it's just so cool for you to learn a little bit more and more about your grandpa. It makes you appreciate him more today and I'm sure you wish you had the chance to talk to him about his writing. Read and listen to the words he created . . . you will hear him. Enjoy your reading!

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  10. I hope to read your responses to your grand dad's prompts. It would be interesting to see how what tickled his pen, twitches yours.

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  11. What a special "find"! Great pictures, too. Thanks for sharing a part of your history. Very well captured. Could it be a book someday?

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  12. It's so nice that you shared this with us, too. What a wonderful gathering of memories for you, & I wonder, too if it could make a book, published for your grandpa, from his writing? The telegram is special, you're right. Thanks for the pics!

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