Writing Ten Years Hence?
Because I am in the December of my life, any further writing for me in ten years’ time is highly unlikely. One task that might have remained would be a memoir; however, I started writing my reminiscences some years ago, publishing them privately in 2014, because I wanted my grandchildren to have a chance to read them while I was still alive and to discuss any aspects that interested or puzzled them.
This memoir is called The Fair Adventure. The following three paragraphs are the introduction to the book:
The title for these reminiscences is from Shakespeare’s King John: “The day shall not be up so soon as I / To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.” And, because I am ever mindful of ways to try to write beautiful English sentences, I want to point out that this quotation is a perfect example of the so-after-a-negative-in-a-comparison usage: “not so soon as I.” I have often toyed with the idea of writing a booklet on usage, using literary quotations to make the point. For example, “He cursed himself for making believe for a minute that things were different from [not than] what they are” (The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf). “What a pity he has forever vanished from the hard and dusty paths of life—unless Donatello be actually he [not him]” (The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne). There, we’ve cleared up those syntactical issues first off.
When I was about ten or eleven, The Fair Adventure was one of my favorite books. It features Serena Page McNeill, the youngest of a big family: Alison is married with kids; James is a professor; Robin is in law school; Jean, newly engaged, is just finishing nursing school; and Page is graduating from high school. She lives in a small town in the South—the town where her father is a beloved professor at the local college—but aspires to attend a women’s college in the East, Van Welmar, where she can study art and live in an ivy-covered dormitory. She passes the college boards well above average but does not score high enough to win a scholarship. Her doting Scottish father (who, like our father, quotes Shakespeare at the dinner table) cannot afford to send her away; thus, off she must go to Middleton, the public college where her father teaches and all her high school friends are headed. At the end of this particular summer, each unit in her family joins together to contribute something to a “scholarship fund” to enable her to attend Van Welmar after all. The principle? From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need [as Karl Marx wrote in 1875].
The point of using that quote as a title for my memoir is that I was the youngest member of my family, and I never felt, for one minute, that my parents and my two elder sisters were not rooting for me, were not there to help me in any way they could, to mourn over my disappointments and to cheer for my successes. At the same time, I would have done anything for them—thrown myself under a bus, if need be, or donated a vital organ. And, all in all, life has been a fair adventure for me, a series of engrossing jobs teaching, writing, and editing, experiences living and working in foreign lands, serious challenges and choices, loyal friends, endless reading, and, best of all, a loving and demonstrative family of my own.
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The third paragraph of my memoir above may contain the seeds of my absorption with my job at CWE. Perhaps our writers are my new family—my nieces and nephews, or, more accurately, my grandnieces and grandnephews—with whom I want to share my lifelong experience with writing: thinking through and building on the structure of a sentence; relating it meaningfully to what comes before and afterward; savoring words before choosing the appropriate one; experimenting with figures of speech; seeking specificity not vagueness; being as clear, cogent, and honest as possible; and trying to communicate an idea or an image that is unique because it belongs to them.