Sunday, April 13, 2008


I. A Nation of Contrasts

Mike Peterson sent me this picture of his place yesterday:

You can tell it's spring in Maine, because there are places where ground is exposed, not covered in snow.

I took some stuff to the recycling center today. This is a picture of the Ft. Harrington pickup at the facility:

... and this is a picture of its thermometer at the center (if you can't make it out, it's registering 92 degrees fahrenheit -- the temperature on the deck at Ft. Harrington was only about five degrees cooler):

(This is unusually warm for April in the Santa Cruz Mountains.)

II. Explosive Vegetation

Two floral varieties popped out their first blossoms today in response to the sudden warmth, and in such proliferation that, if only I had been listening closely, I probably could have heard them unfolding:

... lilacs in the full daytime...

... and in the gloaming (above)...

... and wisteria by the gazebo.

III. Casey Rose Vickers...

... is home. No more news yet, but she's just fine, and her Dad is still on the ceiling.

IV. Sherwood's Writing

In the comments stream for the previous SherWords post, Adam urged me to write professionally, as he voices professionally and as tiny Kiana can model professionally. Brian, also, has urged me to "write more" from time to time.

I am just walking on air that people I think of so highly actually like to read what I write here. I'm tempted to say that it's a Sally Field moment, but that would demean the opinions of those whose opinions I value. But it is a very, very happy feeling.

But I need to point out a few things on the record:

1. A long time ago, in a galaxy actually pretty close to home, I did a good deal of writing for publication that Adam would have been too young to remember now. Not much of that remains, since it was done before the World Wide Web existed, but there are a few relics floating around. The most readily available is still for sale through the Astronomical Society of the Pacific: Tours of the Night Sky, a series of four introductions to stars and constellations of the seasons with recorded narration. (That combines voiceover with writing, Adam!) Mike Peterson has actually listened to those ancient tapes. A few other relics of that era of my writing have also been preserved in the ASP website, including this tour of nearby stars (which, handily enough if you live in Zagreb, has been translated into Croatian.)

I also co-wrote a weekly newspaper column on astronomy that was syndicated by the San Francisco Chronicle, but all of that really was a long time ago, and my writing calluses have withered, and any claim I might have to be anything but an amateur writer has long since vanished.

2. I do remember that writing is hard work, and that people who can do it well day in and day out (like Mike Peterson), or who can do it in ways that help revolutionize an ancient medium (like Brian Fies -- and I absolutely mean that, Brian) probably wince at the notion that a tyro can just "turn it on" if prodded to do so. (Adam , just about everyone who reads this blog is a highly-accomplished wordsmith; check out the links on the blogroll. I’m tickled giddy that they even read my stuff at all; presuming that I could walk with them almost seems to be hubris. But, yeah, I can, probably. I’ve still got a little brashness left.)

Writing is hard work, writing well is even harder work, and writing on a schedule is grindingly hard work. I'm not sure I have that in me, certainly not while I have an actual job! So, like many before me (my Dad and Diane's Dad, for example), I'm thinking that retirement is a time where I might do some more serious writing.

3. Even if I accept the idea that I can still write pretty well, I'd need something to write about in order to justify the effort of, say, a book. Ability used just because it exists leads to things like the Space Shuttle (famously, in the business, "the ultimate solution in search of a problem.") There is one topic I'm itching to work on: the Parsons family, and that may well be something in my future. (And/or Brian's: I haven't forgotten the "Fire King," Mr. Fies!)

4. This blog is writing for publication! Even though very few people read the entries as they are posted, the posts remain, they don’t disappear. I’m saving them in backup form, and the main aim is to preserve a record of who we are and what we think and what we do for Grace and all the others who will follow in this astonishing extended family. I’m happy enough with that aspect of blogging that I feel guilty when I don’t post for a while. And especially guilty when I don’t post the kind of thing that my regular readers actually ask for: astronomy stuff. (I will do more of that sometime soon, really, honestly, I promise!)

5, and probably most significant in the short term: Adam, your appreciation of my writing and wishing for its wider circulation is a wonderful parallel, one generation later, to what I felt about your Granddaddy’s writing. He left a huge trove of work that needs to be digitized and posted before the paper it’s on now disintegrates, and I should get to work on that. I won’t have to re-type everything, thanks to OCR software. (One of his stories has already been OCR’d and published here on SherWords, along with illustrations by Brian Fies.)

So here’s what I’m going to do: start a third blog (in addition to SherWords and PicShers) for his great stories from the first half of the 20th Century. I’ll probably get that up and running in about a month; look for the announcement here!

Doug, Adam, and Lynn Harrington, circa 1975.

V. The SherCircle

Parallel time flows produce some disorienting eddies when they lurch into one another. In his comment on the previous post, Adam called himself "
the newest member of the SherCircle."


Given death's meandering through our family, Adam, you are the oldest (in terms of time of service) member of any SherCircle I can think of. Really. I can't think of anyone I interact with at all any more who pre-dates you.

That realization brought me up a little short. Maybe it will you, too.



Dann said...

Hi Sherwood,

"Good writing" is not necessarily a subset of "professional writing" or "paid writing". You can switch those around in any order and achieve the same results.

There are many bloggers that possess writing skills well beyond those of paid/professional writers.

Fortunately for me, you are one of them.


Anonymous said...

I'll bet most of the greats considered themselves "amateurs" at some point.

The Parsons project would give you an excuse (and write off?) to do research on the Emerald Isle.

I'll bet you have loads of "big-bodied Holstein" stories stored up in that noggin of yours.

With countless Bob Elwoods to fill them.

Adam Harrington

Mike said...

Speaking for professional writers (all of them), there's nothing wrong with good writing from amateur sources -- until it turns into a book sold at a cocktail party we weren't invited to.

However, it's best done and not talked about. Decades ago, I came across a quote, allegedly from Tolstoy, that I've never found again and didn't write down then ... something about how, if someone said, "I don't know if I can play the violin; I've never tried," we would laugh at him, but there are any number of people who say roughly the same thing about writing a novel with no sense of the ridiculous.

There is a large element of truth in that, but mostly to the extent that there is a gap between talking and doing that is larger than the gap between having or not having the necessary talent. This, you will note, is not confined to writing.

And I do wish Adam hadn't used the phrase "Parsons Project" before I had a chance -- wasn't he the fellow with the ancient telescope on his property? Yes, the eye on the sky. But I guess Adam could read my mind ...

Sherwood Harrington said...

Please, don't anybody suggest that I might be able to play the violin. I've got enough people laughing at me already.