The Ol’ “Show, Don’t Tell” Thing
by Jennifer Paros
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
~ William Wordsworth
I’ve never given a lot of thought to the ol’ show, don’t tell directive in writing because I thought it was easily grasped. Instead of saying “She was sad,” I should describe my character staring out the window with tears in her eyes. Instead of writing “The dog was frantic,” the dog could be shown running in circles barking. But recently, my sixteen year-old son put another spin on it.
I was (admittedly) nagging him to brush his teeth, though I am very aware of his anti-convention, anti-establishment, anti-rules penchant. He lodged the electric toothbrush in his mouth, acquiescing to my request while, in garbled elocution, he argued his position. As I listened, occasionally interjecting the familiar case for regular teeth brushing, I was aware of both the rightness and imperfection of both our positions.
As the contention waned, I noticed his shirt was too small (he’s recently grown to almost six feet and I haven’t thoroughly weeded through his clothing). I went and searched his closet and was about to tell him to change when instead I just draped the new shirt over the back of his desk chair and went on to my own business.
Minutes later, he emerged, apologizing for the discord, and then mentioned how I had clearly noticed his undersized shirt and kindly left another for him. He added that that’s the way to do it. “Show, don’t tell”, he said. Even with this admonition, his appreciation was obvious. If, as he’d said, I’d “told” not “shown,” he wouldn’t have recognized my true intention, which was to help, not harass. more...
What’s More Important Than “A Room of One’s Own”? This.
by Lisa Brunette
I was standing there under the fluorescent lights, sniffling a bit from the inherent and persistent dust hanging in the air, and I saw it: the desk of my dreams. It was a hulking mass of heavy wood, sturdy as the hospital from whence it came. Built in the 1940s, this desk was as fat as a Volkswagon bug, with a file platform that slid out and then accordioned upward on a huge, spring-loaded metal arm. The drawer handles were made of Bakelite, and I didn’t mind that two of them were busted in half, hanging from the drawer like forlorn commas.
For the low, low price of forty bucks the desk was mine. It had been reclaimed from Tacoma General Hospital by an organization that works to divert construction waste from landfills. Most of their stock was the stuff of both institutional construction projects – bowling alley planks, massive window casings, high school lab tables – and residential – ductwork, bathroom tiles, and odd bits of old lumber. So the desk was a rare find, even here. I was convinced that, sanded down and repaired, it would be worth hundreds.
But more than its monetary worth was its emotional value to me, as a writer who’d worked so hard to get her own writing space. This was the first real desk I’d picked out and bought for myself, you see. Having what Virginia Woolf called “a room of one’s own” was important to me as a woman writer, and it was something that I’d always had to finagle around to get.
Growing up, I never had a desk or other place to work in the family home. There were always four of us kids divided between two bedrooms, and my parents were single-income – my father a military enlistee – so there was never money for anything so frivolous as a desk. I’d used moving boxes as bookshelves wherever we went. You did your homework at the kitchen table, which was a challenge with the TV blaring in the next room, or even in the same room. more...
My Father's Grin
by Richard Cass
Like all people who love their work, I seek to establish an integrity in it, to make what I love to do and what I have to do one and the same. And like all superstitious beings, I need amulets – objects of power – to add magic to whatever conscious effort and thought can make possible. The largest of these charms is the writing desk I brought home from Oregon, built from red madrona wood. It is the field for the other things that carry me to work.
My father’s grin
On the back left corner of my desk sits a photo of my father. He stands in a small boat off Cape Cod, holding up a very small bluefish he’s caught on a fly rod, his first ever. He’s seventy-two years old and the grin under his MIT fiftieth reunion hat is as goofy and beatific as a boy’s on his first bike. This photograph reminds me there is no more blessed attitude than that of the amateur, the person who works for love. It tells me to take on things for no other reason than love, the love of something new, the chance to try something you don’t already know how to do. My father’s grin reminds me that while mastery is potent, a wide and seeking love is more so. He reminds me that each task has intrinsic value, and to accept the grace in that.
My mother’s quilt
On the wall in front of my desk hangs a red and white flying-goose pattern quilt my mother sewed for my wife and me. A daughter of the Depression, she still finds it difficult to believe in the abundance of this world, though all her generosities – unspoken and (by her preference) unattributed – belie that part of her history. The quilt and quilter sit with me every day to remind me that, even when I feel I have no more resources, when I feel most poor, I can always afford to give something away through my work. And that will make me better. more...
The Difference is the "M"
by Cherie Tucker
We all use whoever and whomever when we don’t know who did something or whom we’re talking about, but sometimes we don’t know which one is right. Just last week I saw two wrong whomevers in the paper’s “RANT & RAVE” section. One began with “To whomever put . . .”; the other began with “To whomever left . . .”
Whomever, like the word him, can’t put or leave anything. Whoever, on the other hand, could have put something or left something. When you’re not sure which to use, try substituting the word he. If he works( there is no m), you need who or whoever.
See how that works? If the subject is doing something, it has to be who, just as if the subject were he. You would never say, “Him went to the store.” I hope.
Conversely, whom and whomever, like the word him, end with m and can’t do anything. They aren’t the subjects of the action; they are the objects. Things get done to them.
You’re going to tell him he’s fired?
You’re going to tell whom he’s fired? more...