I finally finished the book “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. I normally read a lot faster than this, but this little book had a lot going for it. I read and reread some sections several times. I even considered putting it under my pillow to see if, through osmosis, I might absorb the material better. This is not to say that it was all new material to me. There were gems of wisdom just scattered throughout the text and unless you read through it you missed the point or the intent of the authors. Try as we might, we cannot write like other people. Each person has their own qualifying way of writing that is particular to them. We might be able to write in “the style of” for a short time, but our own thought processes, our own experiences, even our own mannerisms bleed out into our writing. Often our historical classical writers wrote in a manner that was so distinguishable, we can pick out who wrote it in just a few sentences.
I start to wonder how my past experiences are woven into the fabric of my writing. I remember one night in middle school I was going to a school dance with a number of my girlfriends. My father had volunteered to drive. As it was the 80’s, I’m fairly certainly I spent a great deal of time making sure my hair was perfect. My Dad had this penchant for Hawaiian music, in particular Don Ho. He was playing it for my girlfriends on the way over to the school, and I was overcome with embarrassment as he went to drop us off. There was an entire crowd of kids standing outside waiting to go in. Before I opened the car door to step outside, I asked my Dad if he would turn down the music. I remember him looking at me incredulously. I must admit, that up until that moment I knew all the words to all the Hawaiian songs we owned. You do have to understand, however, that this was a school dance – and I was very cognizant of popular culture of the time. Needless to say, Hawaiian music was not it. I’m sure I was not altogether kind in my request, but my Dad did put his hand on the dial and turned the music down. As I stepped out of the car feeling so very mature and surrounded by my friends, my Dad cranked up the music. I was horrified. I was stunned into inaction. I tried to run away, but I stumbled on the curb as I was moving. My friends, at this point, were not going to own the fact that they had been in that car, had anything to do with that car, or anything to do with me for that matter. My Dad had a self-satisfied smirk on his face, and I became livid with anger. I slammed the door shut and turned my back on him.
I don’t necessarily see myself as angst ridden at this point in my life. I don’t feel particularly scarred by this incident, although the details of it seem to be burned into my memory. When I have broached this night with the friends who were present, none of them seem to be affected by it – other than it nearly brings them to their knees with laughter over the memory. I don’t punch hula girls on sight, or avoid Hawaiian culture at all costs, but somehow, someway, this event has enough of an impact to affect me. In “The Elements of Style” it states: “Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation – it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”
This is why I enjoy reading and writing so much. In reading I feel a connection with another person, whether it be through the character in the novel or the author themselves. In writing I am being me, what you see is who I am. I have often told people I am an open book, and apparently I am making that a reality. It no longer scares me to let my innermost thoughts out on paper. Who knows – maybe there are some others out there with similar embarrassing incidents that have gone on to become relatively normal adults. If so, I would love to get to know you.