Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Robert Frost

Which Do You Want – Money or Happiness? – Quotes about Money and Happiness

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“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf opened a can of worms in suggesting that in order to write, the writer must have already attained a reasonable amount of financial security. In addition, the writer must have time to write. Having both time and money simultaneously is not an easy thing to do. I always say that the American Dilemma is that we can work all of the time and have plenty of money but in doing so, we have no time to do what we want; or we can work at formal jobs as little as possible and have time to do what makes us happy, like writing, but we have no money to do what we enjoy. I represent the tail end of that dream, but by the grace of God, I do have a room of my own, and I have enough money to pay for the most basic needs of my life. For me, that has become enough.

I was able to retire early, and each month, I get a few coins from my retirement. In addition, I work a few hours a week as the storyteller for the toddlers at my library. I also get a few coins from that job. A coin here and a coin there, I survive. What’s wrong with that picture? I was the Valedictorian of my class. I probably should be doing better financially than I am. I should be banging my head against the wall and engaging in daily confrontations with co-workers and clients. I should be sitting at a desk. I should be on the conference call from Hell. I should be rich, but I am not. Yet, by the grace of God, I have enough money to get by, and I have found ways to enjoy the time that my lifestyle allows me.

When I was 20-years-old, I almost died in a car accident. That was long before I had begun to flourish, and that accident changed the course of my life. When I was 20-years-old, I became aware of the reality that life does not last terriby long for anyone, and for some people, life is short. I realized that I needed to spend more of my few remaining hours in this world doing things that I liked, and I never liked the business world or working nine to five in someone else’s office. I tried that route for a few years, but I got out of the rat race early, and many years ago, I began following a different path in life

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Being the arty type, some time ago, I elected to march to a cadence that is different than that which regulates the lives of most of the rest of the world. It is commonplace for artists to choose to live their lives a little differently. In doing so, we creatives tend to make choices that would not be esteemed as the popular ones. By the world’s standards, I have not lived up to my potential, but on the other hand, I have lived a life that has allowed me the time to smell life’s roses along the way.

Because of the nature of my open work week, I have enough time that I can allocate many hours toward whatever goal that I choose. I do work–in fact, my work day is at least 18-hours-long, but I don’t work in a formal job and in an office away from my home. From my own room, I write and I research for more writing. From my own studio, I paint. In my own yard, I garden. I stay very busy, but I don’t get paid dollar bills for 99% of what I do. I work to make enough money to survive, and I pay my bills. I spend most of my days writing and painting and gardening. When night time arrives, I rest my head, and I sleep.

Ashes to ashes–dust to dust–the money only helps us for a short portion of what will be our eternities. After that,  the money  is no better for us than the dust of the rest of our lives. I will not pretend that I don’t worry that when I am old, I will be a pauper. I don’t have everything figured out. To do that, I would have to be much smarter than I am. I have simply decided to live one day at a time, and that is about all that I can handle.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I–I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

©Jacki Kellum September 26, 2016

Some other great quotes about the odd relationship between money and happiness:

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.” ― Groucho Marx

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.” ― Will Rogers

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” ― Dorothy Parker

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” ― Oscar Wilde

Dilemma

Mark Twain, E.B. White, Stephen King, Mary Karr, William Zinsser, and Other Writers on Style

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The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. Mark Twain

John Updike was a Harvard Graduate and a long-time contributor to the New Yorker. He wrote numerous short stories, some of which could be called memoirs, and he also wrote The Witches of Eastwick and many, many other things. You could probably say that Updike’s writing and Twain’s writing were about as different as lightning and lightning bugs, but even Updike, the Ivy League writer, recognized the brilliance of Mark Twain’s Down-Home, River Rat Voice, which would probably NOT be called Stylish. Mark Twain’s voice was filled with a Huck-Finnishness that was “right” for Huck Finn. Therefore, while Mark Twain may not have written Stylishly, he definitely had  Style.

In a Paris Review interview, Updike said the following about Mark Twain’s voice and his authentic use of language–or his Style:

It comes down to what is language? Up to now, until this age of mass literacy, language has been something spoken. In utterance there’s a minimum of slowness. In trying to treat words as chisel strokes, you run the risk of losing the quality of utterance, the rhythm of utterance, the happiness. A phrase out of Mark Twain—he describes a raft hitting a bridge and says that it “went all to smash and scatteration like a box of matches struck by lightning.” The beauty of “scatteration” could only have occurred to a talkative man, a man who had been brought up among people who were talking and who loved to talk himself. I’m aware myself of a certain dryness of this reservoir, this backlog of spoken talk. A Romanian once said to me that Americans are always telling stories. I’m not sure this is as true as it once was. Where we once used to spin yarns, now we sit in front of the tv and receive pictures. I’m not sure the younger generation even knows how to gossip. But, as for a writer, if he has something to tell, he should perhaps type it almost as fast as he could talk it.

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“When a prisoner of style escapes, it’s called an evasion.”
― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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“To achieve stye, begin by affecting none.”
― E.B. White, The Elements of Style

E.B White was another person who wrote for The New Yorker, and he was the co-author of The Elements of Style, which is the quintessential guide for writing correctly. White’s book Charlotte’s Web is considered to be the perfect junior fiction novel, but he wrote other things equally well. His essays are beautifully written. E.B. White could have affected in words any style that he wanted, but he realized the futility of affectation. E.B. White was satisfied writing as himself–in a style that William Zinsser calls Breeziness.

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“There is a kind of writing that sounds so relaxed that you think you hear the author talking to you. E.B. White was probably its best practitioner, thought many other masters of the style–James Thurber, V.S. Pritchett, Lewis Thomas–come to mind. I’m partial to it because it’s a style….The common assumption is that the style is effortless. In fact the opposite is true: the effortless style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining. ” Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, pgs. 232-33.

 In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser said the following about the importance of a writer’s voice:

“I wrote one book about baseball and one about jazz. But it never occurred to me to write one of them in sports English and the other in jazz English. I tried to write them both in the best English I could, in my usual style. Though the books were widely different in subject, I wanted readers to know that they were hearing from the same person…. My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page….” Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, p. 232.

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“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. [p.117]

”Remember that the basic rule of  vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word…but it won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.”― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 117-118.

King continues:

“Must you write complete sentences each time, every tie: Perish the thought. If your work consists only of fragments and floating clauses, the Grammar Police aren’t going to come and take you away.”  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 120.

King listed some of his pet peeves: “That’s so cool,” “and “at the end of the day.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 122.

“You should avoid the passive tense….Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although ‘was carried’ and ‘was placed’ still irk the shit out of me…. What I would embrace is Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa. Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It’s dead, for Christ’s sake!”  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 123.

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For 30 years, Mary Karr has taught memoir writing at Syracuse University, and in her book The Art of Memoir, she offers some great thoughts about the importance of the writer’s voice and his style [Note–Karr’s advice is good for writing in genres other than memoir, too]:

“Each great memoir lives or dies based 100 percent on voice. It’s the delivery system for the author’s experience–the big bandwidth cable that carries in lustrous clarity every pixel of someone’s inner and outer experiences. Each voice is cleverly fashioned to highlight a writer’s individual talent or way of viewing the world. …It may take a writer hundreds of rough trial pages for a way of speaking to start to emerge unique to himself and his experience, both carnal and interior experiences come back with clarity,and the work gains an electrical charge. For the reader, the voice has to exist from the first sentence. [p. 35].

“Because memoir is such a simple form, its events can come across–in the worst books–as thinly rendered and haphazard. But if the voice has a high enough voltage, it will carry the reader through all manner of assholery and tangent because it almost magically conjures in her imagination a fully realized human. We kind of think that the voice is the narrator. It certainly helps if the stories are riveting, but a great voice renders the dullest event remarkable.

“The secret to any voice grows from a writer’s finding  a tractor beam of inner truth about psychological conflicts to shine the way. While an artist consciously constructs a voice, she chooses its elements because they’re natural expressions of character. So above all, a voice has to sound ike the person wielding it–the super-most interesting version of that person ever–and grow from her core self.

“Pretty much all the great memoirists I’ve met sound on the page like they do in person. If the page is a mask, you rip it off only to find that the writer’s features exactly mold to the mask’s form, with nary a gap between public and private self. These writer’ voices make you feel close to–almost inside–their owners. Who doesn’t halfway consider Huck Finn or Scout a pal?

“The voice should permit a range of emotional tones–too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it’s shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader00from cool and diffident to high-strung and close. The writer doesn’t choose these styles fo much as he’s born to them, based on who he is and how he experienced the past.

“Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The [p. 36]  writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life–someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say.  Also, we naturally tend to superimpose our present selves onto who we were before, and that can prevent us from recalling stuff that doesn’t shore up our current identities. Or it can warp understanding to fit more comfortable interpretations…..

“However you charm people in the world, you should do so on the page. ….Charm is from the Latin carmen: to sing.  By ‘charm,’ I mean sing well enough to held the reader in thrall. Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page….You’ll need both sides of yourself–the beautiful and the beastly–to hold a reader’s attention…. [p.36]

“All the good lines can’t be the memoirist’s. Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 35-38.

“Unfortunately, nobody tells a writer how hard cobbling together a voice is. Look under ‘voice’ in a writing textbook, and they talk about things that seem mechanical–tone, diction, syntax. Dho, the writers says with a forehead smack. Diction is merely word choice, what variety of vocabulary you favor.  Syntax is whether sentences are long or short, how they’re shaped, with or without dependent clauses, etc., Some sentences meander, others fire off like machine-gun runs. Tone is the emotional tenor of the sentences; it’s how the narrator feels about the subject.  Robert Frost said anytime he heard wordless voices through a wall, tone told him who was angry, who bemused, who about to cry. For me, psyche equals voice, so your own psyche–how you think and see and wonder and scudge and suffer–also determines such factors as packing and what you [p. 45] write about when. Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 45-46.

“…voice grows from the nature of a writer’s talent, which stems from innate character….e don’t see events objectively: we perceive them through ourselves. And we remember through a filter of both who we are now and who we once were.
So the best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 47.

“…a memoirist can’t help but show at each bump in the road how her perceptual filter is distorting what’s being take in. In other words, she questions her own perceptions as part of the writing process…..

“The noise each makes speaks his character into being. …

“But how dare I speak of truth in memoir, when it’s common knowledge that the subjective, egoistic perception is a priori warped by falsehood–perhaps mildly so in self-serving desires, or wildly so in hardwired paranoia?…

“…the self-aware memoirist constantly pokes and prods at his doubts like a tongue on  a black tooth. [p. 48].

“The goal of a voice is to speak not with objective authority but with subjective curiosity. …

“To chirp my story like some bouncy cheerleader would be to lie. That grimness has to make it in. …

“A quest for self-knowledge drives such a writer to push past the normal vanity she brings to party dressing. She somehow manages to show up at the ball boldly naked.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 45-49.

“A quest for self-knowledge drives such a writer to push past the normal vanity she brings to party dressing. She somehow manages to show up at the ball boldly naked.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, p. 49.

In summary,  it would seem to me that a writer who has style is one who is not trying to be stylish. He is simply a person who talks to his readers, and his words are recorded on a page. He is also a person who is honest about who he is, and he is able to communicate with that honesty. To quote Mary Karr again:

“Any memoirist’s false selves (plural_ will take turns plastering themselves across his real mouth to silence the scarier fact of who he is. Writing as directly as possible out of that single  ‘true’ core…will naturally unify pages. Otheri=wise, there will be inconsistencies that read as fake.

“False choices based on who you wish you were will result in places where the voice goes awry or the details chosen ring false. If Helen Keller wrote from the viewpoint of a nearsighted girl rather than a blind one or if May Angelou made herself [p. 151] an orphaned paraplegic or a light-skinned black girl who could pass in the Jim Crow South . . .  well, you can see how their stories would’ve been bled of raw power.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 151-52.

“No matter how much you’re gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle…..The best you can hope for is to rip off each mask as you find it blotting out your vision.” [p. 153].

“We each nurture a private terror that some core aspect(s) of either our selves or our story must be hidden or disowned.”  Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 153-54.

©Jacki Kellum September 21, 2016

Stylish

I Grew Up Beyond Where the Sidewalk Ends – Along the Road Less Traveled – Jacki Kellum Memoir

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I remember when Shel Silverstein’s book of poems Where the Sidewalk Ends was published. I had been married for a couple of years and I was not technically a child, but Silverstein’s book of poetry was perfect for me, regardless of my chronological age. In fact, when I read his poem The Invitation, I felt as though he had written it just for me. I still feel that way. To this very day, 42 years later, The Invitation is my favorite poem, and its words have become my mantra, and such is the power of great words. In 50 words or less, Shel Silverstein had convinced me that there was at least one other adult who was the same kind of dreamer and hope-er and magic bean buyer as I have always been, and he had assured me that it was okay.

I never thought about it before, but I actually grew up  just past where the sidewalk ended. I am saying this in both a literal and a metaphorical way. When I was very young, my street was one street behind my town’s main street, which was actually a state highway that ran through my town. Until I was about 10-years-old, my street was not paved. I grew up on a gravel road, and vast cotton fields began to stretch four houses beyond my house. As a child, I had the best of both worlds. I lived in a little town, but the country was only a stone’s throw away from me. I grew up with my feet in both worlds.

Probably when they paved my street, they also added a short stretch of sidewalk, but my house was always just beyond where the sidewalk ended. Because I grew up with a unique set of parents, this was true in more ways than one. My dad was known as the town’s cartoonist. He actually took a cartooning course that was offered by an outfit known as The Famous Artists. While other kids’ dads farmed, my dad drew cartoons, and believe me–in a small, rural town, that reality set my family apart.

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When I was a child, the Famous Artists Courses were advertised in magazines, and my dad was the kind of magic bean buyer who would purchase a course like the one offered by Famous Artists. Back in the 1950s, $275.00 was a lot of money–especially for country folks to spend on an art course, but I grew up in a home where the fluff was deemed important, and not surprisingly, that was instrumental in my becoming who I am.

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Even though my dad had already purchased the cartoon course that was advertised in the magazines, I grew up taking the drawing tests, too. I drew every one of the test subjects–the pirate, the cowboy, the pin-up girl, and many other things. I was a child who grew up in a tiny cotton town that was hundreds of miles away from the nearest city, and it was during the 1950s. When I was very young, color television had not been invented, and everything about the Famous Artists Course was exotic to me. You cannot tell it in the photographs, but the books were massive. Yet, when I was still a still a little girl, I would drag out the books and do my very best to copy what I saw. Needless to say, one of my college degrees and master’s degrees is in art.

On the other side of the coin, my mother was always interested in writing. She actually wrote articles and stories and sold them to magazines. My mother has always been a private person, and I do not remember reading what she was writing, but from the time of my earliest childhood, I recall my mother’s writinIng, in her spare time. That also influenced me, and I also have a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in writing. I cannot stress how unique my parents were, especially compared to the other adults in my tiny town, and because of my parents’ uniqueness, I felt that I had permission to become who I am today.

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When I read Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, I tend to puff out my chest. I am aware of the fact that I have followed a different path than most other adults–especially compared to people who grew up during the 1950s and in little country towns. And Frost’s poem validates me. Like Shel Silverstein, he says words that ring true to me. I know that I have taken the road less traveled by, but when I honestly examine my life. I was actually BORN on the road not taken. At least, I grew up on the road not taken by most. I was a child of hope-ers, dreamers, and magic bean buyers. Both literally and figuratively, I grew up beyond where the sidewalk ends, “And that has made all the difference.” Some people might think that this was a curse, but I view it as a blessing. I love the way that I live my life. Thank you, mom and dad.

©Jacki Kellum September 3, 2016

Sidewalk

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