Lighting the Corners of the Mind

Pappy_Bosse

Memories are strange things. Malleable by time and easily lost, but among our most cherished possessions.

That first time driving on our own. The moment we look at the one we’re dating and know with certainty that she is the one. The birth of a child.

The death of a close friend. The embarrassment of double-flunking a college term paper. Bitter words and arguments. Rejections. These are the snapshots our minds take and file away for later comfort, self-beratement, or reflection.

As we age, we naturally lose bits and pieces of ourselves as if our brains are a large computer and we’ve about maxed out our storage. This is an expected process.

Memories stripped

But then there are the evil—there is no other word—diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s that strip away, image by image, the memories that make us who we are leaving those who suffer from those ailments reduced and often isolated and their family members bereft.

My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s. And now his wife and his children, including my wife, are walking through a process of slowly losing each other. But more than that. He is also losing himself.

Daddy, as my wife calls him, has always had a sharp mind and muscular intellect. We have spent many family dinners, holidays, and euchre games engaged in debates—my family would call them arguments, but we were raised differently—about issues of the day.

Pappy_Bench

Enjoying the gift his class gave to Bosse High School.

Those days are now reduced, though not gone entirely. But recently my wife and I enjoyed the opportunity of accompanying Daddy and his wife to his 65th high school reunion in Evansville. Throughout his life, he has talked about his days as a Bosse High School Bulldog and we knew this trip would be important.

We did not attend the actual reunion with him, though by all accounts it went well. However, we arrived in Evansville early enough to drive by his childhood home on Iowa Street. Not only is the home his parents built when he was five still there, but it is in great shape having been well maintained.

A rare opportunity

Pappy_House

Outside the front door of his childhood home in Evansville.

The plan was to drive by the house and see it. But as we sat reminiscing in front of the home, a woman drove up, got out of her car, and headed to the back of the house. In this day and age, seeing four strangers appear on your doorstep can be concerning and we didn’t want to alarm the woman, but the opportunity was too great.

At first hesitant and guarded, as we talked in the driveway she began to engage. It turns out the home belongs to her daughter and she was there to visit. After checking with her daughter, she invited us in.

Entering that front door with Daddy was emotional. It was clear what the trip meant to him. Changes had been made to the interior, of course, though looking at his eyes it was clear he was seeing the memories of his childhood, rather than current day.

“Oh look,” he said, pointing to the right. “That was my bedroom and Mother and Dad were in that room.”

He told the story about how he once broke a basement window with a baseball. He shared about how he’d had his picture taken on a pony in the front yard—where now a new front porch exists. But I’m pretty sure he saw the pony and the little boy, not the porch.

Letting us in their home was an unbelievably gracious gesture by the young woman and her mother, but it is one that will never be intentionally forgotten. Combined with the reunion and a visit after the reunion to Benjamin Bosse High School (pictured above), the trip lit several dark corners of my father-in-law’s mind where he still has those “misty, water-colored memories” of the way he was.

But it also created memories—snapshots—of our own for my wife and I. Images and impressions we will treasure long after Alzheimer’s takes him from us and long after, even, his departure from this world.


Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the author of “Big Love,” a novella within Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection, he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Quote It! Ray Bradbury

Ray_Bradbury“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

— Ray Bradbury, recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Renowned author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. (1920-2012)

I don’t think it’s possible to underestimate the importance of reading–not only for personal growth, but for the benefit of our society-at-large. Saw some disturbing reading statistics from 2012 today:

  • 56%: Young people who claim they read more than 10 books a year. (That’s not even one a month.)
  • 33%: U.S. high school graduates who will never read a book after high school. (Never. As in no more books their entire life.)
  • 42%: College students who will never read another book after they graduate. (It’s getting worse.)
  • 80%: U.S. families that did not buy a book this year. (Can it get worse?)

If you are a reader, good for you! According to the same study, if you read only 15 minutes a day you expose yourself to 1 million words annually. All of those words help keep your brain nimble–and a nimble brain is a good thing!

What are your thoughts on reading and our culture?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

In The Edit! Peter Leavell

In 2011, Peter Leavell was one of five finalists for the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest with his manuscript, Songs of Captivity.

Peter Leavell, author of Gideon’s Call

Over the next nine months or so, as I watched him navigate the waters of publication (his novel won the contest and was renamed Gideon’s Call by Worthy Publishing), Peter has become a good friend. He told his story to the world with an article in ACFW Journal, the member magazine of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and subsequently gave his testimony at the organization’s conference last weekend in Dallas TX.

He has let me use his Journal article for In The Edit, and I’m happy to introduce you to Peter today.

Read his original, unedited article.

Peter’s edit

When Peter sent me this article, I knew few of the details he shared. When I read it, my jaw dropped—but that’s not unusual when I read personal stories of how God shows up in our lives.

After picking my jaw up off the desk, I read the article again. That’s when I first started seeing things I could do with it that would increase its impact. For this article, the three main areas I’ll focus on are:

  1. Clarity and consistency
  2. Extra words
  3. Emotion

See my edit in Track Changes mode.

Be clear, be consistent

You don’t have to get too far into this article to find some clarity and consistency issues. Look at the first sentence.

  • I stood between two towering infernos.

First of all, get past the idea of Jerry B. Jenkins and Byron Williamson standing there on fire. I’ll admit, I giggled. Since I read all of the way through the piece before beginning to edit, I knew that later Peter refers to the two men as giants. So, for clarity and consistency, I extinguished the infernos.

Clarity is not just about word choice, however. It also pertains to focus. Reading Peter’s article it was clear to me he was communicating his writing journey as it connected to his spiritual journey. While the information in the sixth graf about how driven he is was interesting, I thought the bit about running 15 miles for fun and writing 10,000 words a day (seriously? C’mon, seriously?) detracted from the overall point he was trying to make—which was how he learned to rely on God.

Trim the fat

Back to the top of the article. In the second graf, Peter plays up nicely the image he’s already given us of being placed between two literary giants.

  • “Standing tiptoe to see over the top of the check, I smiled.”

But then he describes for us what we can see in the photo. When he does that either the photo or the description becomes redundant.

I chose to cut the description. As a result, I was able to move the reader more quickly to the “money line” of this introduction.

  • “Three months earlier, I thought I was going to die.”

Other examples:

  • “Even writing an email was difficult.” He already said he couldn’t write.
  • “…even to my wife and children.” We already know he had little to say.
  • “…leaving me alone in the house. If they’ve gone off without him, then he must be alone.

Each of these cuts clipped unnecessary information and improved the pace of the story.

Make me cry

In personal stories like these, the purpose of the piece is to make God known. To give God glory. But a secondary purpose is to break down walls in others’ lives so they can more fully experience God.

One great tool for that is emotion. Sometimes this means adding something, sometimes it means cutting. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Before:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will, a sad thought at age 35.”
  • After:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will—at age 35.”

We all know death at an early age is sad—heck, death is always sad from a human perspective. But by telling us it was sad, Peter short-circuited the emotion by not allowing our brains to jump to the connection.

  • Before:“My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me, leaving me alone in the house. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.
  • After: “My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.”

Not only was the cut material unnecessary, but it also killed the emotion of the graf’s closing line.

See the article as it appeared in ACFW Journal.

Peter, thanks for your friendship and for letting me use your article on my blog.

Would you like to see your writing In The Edit? Send me a short sample. If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a discount on my freelance editing services.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line