After many months of writing this column, I received, in separate emails, an identical suggestion from two of my friends. Their names are Bob and Chuck.
These two gentlemen do not know each other. One is tall. The other is not. One is handsome. One is not.
These two armchair critics recommended that I attend a writer's conference in order to better master this lucrative craft. Both friends offered to pay my expenses to attend such training if I would speak well of them in my articles. It seemed like bribery to me.
That led me to shamelessly use my power of attorney to withdraw money from my grandchildren's savings accounts. What else could I do? To my way of thinking it was more ethical to “borrow” from my grandchildren than to be bribed by alleged friends.
So I attended the Sewanee Writer's Conference at The University of the South. Each attendee submitted writing samples and received individual critiques from a faculty member.
The instructor assigned to me was overheard offering to take two of another instructor's students if she would work with me. Apparently she had seen me or my writing or both. She said something about preferring a root canal. In any event, she declined.
One day my instructor and I were seated on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee Valley. The area is very scenic. To borrow a phrase from Norman Maclean, a river runs through it.
My instructor said, “I assume you are married.”
“Well,” I replied, “is it that obvious?”
“Lucky guess,” he answered. “I noticed that your writing samples refer to a 'Becky.' Have you considered writing something nice about her?”
“Hmm. Like what?” I asked.
“OK,” he said. “This may take longer than I thought. You do realize this is only a two-week conference?”
Then he suggested, “Give it a try. Write some nice things about her. For starters you could praise her for doing the laundry and folding your clothes. Would that be so difficult?”
“Yes, it would be difficult.” I said. “Becky refuses to fib and tell Aunt Thelma the sweaters she gave me were shrunk in the dryer. Those sweaters have made me the object of jokes in our annual Christmas photos.”
“Also,” I said, “Becky keeps trying to throw away my favorite socks just because they have a hole where the big toe goes. Now what do you think of her laundry service?”
The instructor saw I was on a roll so he let me continue.
“What if Becky elbows me in the middle of the night when she sees a smile on my sleeping face? Isn't that rude?”
My instructor stayed silent so I continued. “What if Becky says it is raining and the dog needs to go on a walk? Even the dog understands the implication.”
“What if,” I asked, “it is a beautiful spring day for golf but Becky says 'Remember, you said on the next pretty day we could go mushroom hunting?' ”
I looked the instructor in the eye and politely but firmly asked, “Can I write about those things?”
His eyes glazed over. I wanted to shake him. I think I heard him mumble something about retiring.
“Do you need more examples?” I asked. “Can I write that Becky does not squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube?”
“What about when, as I am going out the door to the supermarket, she tells me not to buy nacho chips? She knows that comment will cause me to be obsessed with chips and unable to leave the store without buying a couple of bags ... which she will gladly help me eat.”
Finally I stopped to catch my breath and my instructor spoke.
He asked, “Do you mind if I use some of that material for my next Christmas newsletter?”
Then he rose from the bench and began to walk away.
As he left, he turned and said over his shoulder, “I got letters about you from guys named Bob and Chuck. Their handwriting is very nice. Their grammar ... not so much. They offered to pay us to keep you here another two weeks. Those are what I call real friends.”
The instructor did have a valid point, though Bob and Chuck have never offered to do my laundry.
Frank Hill is a Fort Wayne resident.