Thursday, February 3, 2011

Putting Our Lives Into Words and Our Words Into Lives

I am, by turns, both thrilled and terrified by writing.

I feel compelled to "use my words"  – I find the process exhilarating – but even as I post my carefully constructed phrases and meager manic ramblings, I cringe, bracing for the worst. The criticism. The discovered typos. And the nagging fear that no one is reading.

Yesterday marked the birthday of James Dickey (1923 – 1997). You may know him as the author of Deliverance. Or, as one the great poets of 20th century America. To me, he was more. Author and poet laureate James Lafayette Dickey was my first college English professor.

With his massive 6’ 3” frame, Professor Dickey was imposing even before he unleashed his booming, raspy drawl. There were about 10 of us in the class – 10 slack-jawed, sleepy-eyed, wildly unappreciative 18-year-olds.

I was, by turns, both thrilled and terrified.

I can’t recall ever feeling so inspired – or scared to bits.  I came to tears listening to him recite Randall Jarrell's "The Death Of A Ball Turrett Gunner."  I dreaded handing in assignments. My eyes watered to think of Professor Dickey critiquing my ill-conceived, dashed-off essays.  Some days, I couldn’t even bring myself to cross the classroom threshold.  I couldn’t bear the scrutiny.

Like a moth, though, neither could I stay away.

I thought I was sufficiently stealthy, until on one assignment (which I’d turned in late), he wrote, “STOP standing outside the door during class. It doesn’t matter whether your paper is complete; it matters whether you are present.”

I was, and still am, dazzled. Exposed, to be sure, but dazzled nonetheless.

Writing can be soul-baring, and unlike the spoken word, once we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, our written words become permanent, immovable, memorable and susceptible to judgment. Which is why I so admire anyone willing to put fingers to keyboard and share their story.

Last week, Cougar Bait’s 22-year-old son packed his bags and set off for Costa Rica. Sure, he’ll be back, but it could be a few months. It’s a sweet story – one we’ll all want to remember – which may be why CB took the time and made the effort to put it down in words.

No, CB doesn’t aspire to be a novelist or poet laureate or even a regular blogger. Like other writers, he just has that need to share and willingness to risk scrutiny by writing it down for everyone to see. If you’d like to take a peek, here’s the link: A Tale Of Two Boys.

I was, and still am, dazzled.

Fried Potatoes
I believe the phrase I used most often with Son and Darling Daughter when they were little was, “Use your words,” which may be why I was so gratified one recent evening when, instead of merely saying “thank you for dinner, “ Darling Daughter said, “Those potatoes were great! How did you make them and when can we have them again?”

4-6 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 3/4" dice
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teasoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients is a large, nonstick skillet with a lid.  Bring to a boil, put lid in place, and reduce heat to medium low, until potatoes start to get tender.  Remove lid, increase heat to medium high, and cook, stirring or shaking frequently, until the liquid cooks off and only the oil remains.  Keep shaking and stirring until potatoes are well browned and crispy.

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