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In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory

Johnnie Brigman
July 24, 1929 – April 27, 2010

In the rush to plan a funeral last week that would be the most fitting tribute we could offer my Dad, I had no time to write a letter to him as many other family members so thoughtfully did. While it's personal in a way that will be uncharacteristic for this blog, I want to honor his memory by posting mine here.


Today I read the letter you wrote me when I left home for college. You worried that you'd failed to tell me how much you loved me, when feelings ran "too deep for words." You and I shared our love for words, but we understood their limits. Still, I always knew how you felt. Your love for me was there, in every lesson you taught me, as you guided me in your quiet way, setting an example I can only aspire to emulate.

You gave me poetry - in the childhood books you read so tirelessly, the thousands of songs that lulled me to sleep, the French language you loved, the hymns you hummed throughout the day, the mountain lore you collected, and the novels we passed back and forth as adults. It'll be awhile before I'm able to listen to the tapes we have of your sermons, with spontaneous prayers so beautiful and genuine. The verses you wrote me for special occasions - from the day I was born - were the inspiration for my own work that you read so eagerly, your tired eyes glittering with pride.

We loved words, but sometimes we didn't need them. That night you heard me crying on the porch because your new church assignment would require me to begin my senior year in a high school far from home, you came and sat with me – just as we'd sit together those years when Mom was battling cancer, and last year in your hospital room when you fought off pneumonia to give us a little more time with you. We knew your great heart couldn't go on much longer; you'd given so much of it away in fifty years of ministering to others. No one ever loved his fellow man more, or judged others less.

The writings you left behind show such loving attention to every aspect of your children's and grandchildren's daily lives; no concern was too trivial to merit your prayers. Your journals will remain on your desk - a testament to your active spiritual life and the quest for intellectual stimulation that continued until your final weeks on earth. We worried at first we were invading your privacy in reading them, but I know you were a writer with an appreciation for an audience . . . and that your diaries are part of your plan for continuing your gentle teachings, setting the standard for our adult responses to joy, sorrow, pleasure, and pain. Your past experiences offer wisdom for the years ahead.

You summed up your credo so eloquently in the letter you wrote me so many years ago: "I hope you will never forget the importance of work well-done, the deep satisfaction that comes from giving yourself to others, the value of self-respect and integrity, the sustaining quietness and confidence that comes from the Lord when things get rough, and the wonder of God's creation about us. Never surrender your faith in the loving providence of God and the essential goodness of the human spirit." No matter what befell you– and your trials were many – I saw these ideals in the way you lived your life, and in the way you embraced your death.

You are dearly loved, Daddy, and you will be deeply missed.

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Posted in May, 2010


Why They Write

Last week's blog focused on Why We Write - in general, so I thought it might be fun to make a list of a few former students who've chosen careers (or are building careers) that center around their writing talents. i'd love to take credit for their mad skills, but most of them came to me with some pretty impressive creative chops. I like to think they found rewarding outlets for self-expression in my class, and maybe improved their fluency with lots of practice - but they are amazing writers in their own right.

This list is dedicated to current students whose parents are cringing over their offspring's choice of English as a major. It's a tip-of-the-iceberg list (of first names only since i didn't ask their permission.) There are lots of others out there, so maybe you can help me add to it. It makes me happy to picture my fellow word enthusiasts at their keyboards each day.

Ben M. – screenplays in LA
Megan M. – comedy sketches for Neo-Futurists in Chicago
Geoff E., Ryan J., Rose D., Andy H. – sermons for Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist and Jewish services
Sarah Beth G. – books on economics and Georgia politics
Shaw B. – content for Comedy Central's website
Noel S. – editing for research institute associated with Harvard
Allison D. - news programming for WHNT
Ashley T. – marketing blog at Auburn
Audrey H. - blog about mission work in China
Sally C. - blog about Kiribati and Pacific culture
Sarah N. - director's notes
Kathleen J. - magazine articles
Tim K., Scott H. - sports blogs
Josh M., Kellyn E. – environmental lobby appeals to Congress, environmental issues papers
Paul M., Brian H., Ian C. – music
Nick S., Emily M., Dena S., Caroline M., Chris W., Walter F., Ryan P. – lesson plans
Mike F., Suzanne R., Drew D. - film projects
Patrick R. – started online editing business at Princeton
Shekira D., Emily E., Drew M. - website design
Sarah B. – editorial assistant with NYC publisher
John B., Graham B., Ani R., Alyssia H., Sarah S., Matthew H., George R., Cynthia G.- legal briefs

. . . and too many dissertations for grad programs to mention.

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Posted in April, 2010


Names from the Horse’s Mouth

Don't you HATE stumbling over the pronunciation of authors' names? And then you finally see a pronunciation guide and you make an effort to commit the correct pronunciation to memory - only to see ANOTHER website later that shows a totally DIFFERENT "correct" pronunciation. Raise your hand if you've heard "Elie Wiesel" pronounced at least three different ways by fairly knowledgeable people. Wanna take a stab at Louis Sachar? And which of you brave hearts wants to try Justine Larbalestier?

If you've been in this boat with me, here's a life raft you'll like - a site with authors pronouncing their own names! Not only will you learn the correct pronunciation for tricky ones like Neil Gaiman (Gay-man or Guy-man?), you'll also learn some cool facts from the horses' mouths - like Walter Dean Anderson's adoption of the name Dean to honor the foster family he grew up in, and Maya Angelou's becoming Maya when her brother couldn't say Marguerite and thought ancient Mayan tribes were cool. Interesting Anderson facts: Laurie Halse Anderson's middle name rhymes with "waltz," and M.T. Anderson uses Tobin in "real life" but claims he liked the ability to disavow authorship of any book people happened not to like - besides which a book called Thirsty by a guy named M.T. (empty) was too much fun to walk away from. If you're a poetry fan, you'll learn that Naomi Shihab Nye's middle name is her maiden name, which means "shooting star" in Arabic, and Sherman Alexie will answer folks who think his name doesn't sound Native American.

So have fun. Names are important to "word people." It drives me crazy if I ask a student how to pronounce his name and he says, "Either way is fine." Either way is NOT fine. I pride myself on working hard to get it right, which can be challenging in a high tech town with people from all over the world - and I do love my Dahagham's and Dasarathy's and Adeshiyan's. I mangled Heidi Siegrest's once, but I apologized profusely, and i think she forgave me ("sea", not "sigh.")

If I can just learn Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, I'll be happy. Thank God for abbreviations.

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Posted in April, 2010


Why We Write

-To earn passing grades: Let's face it, most of our early writing is not voluntary. I've wrestled enough research papers from hostile juniors and seniors to know that for many, the ONLY motivation – at least in the beginning – is to graduate from high school and be done with writing.

-To stay connected: Even though most of us don't hand-write long letters any more, we e-mail our friends and relatives and keep up with huge numbers of contacts through FB, Twitter, etc.

-To entertain: Whether it's a quick comment on FML or Texts from Last Night, or a detailed account of a crazy weekend in emails or on blogs, we all love a good story, and sites like reddit keep us in the loop.

-To remember: We write events of our lives in journals, memories from the past in letters to old friends, homework assignments in tiny notepads or on slips of paper that get lost, and To Do lists that don't get done. Writing is our cue to our future selves about important stuff.

-To make sense of tragedy: How many times have you heard someone tell the story of where they were on 9-11? Or when the big tornado hit? We cope with tragic events by retelling the stories.

-To organize our thoughts. We pull together large amounts of information to find common threads and relationships between ideas.

-To satisfy creative urges: Whether we're writing novels, poems, plays, music, speeches, legal briefs, or sermons, there's something immensely satisfying about matching what's in our heads with the hard-copy that will help other people understand our thoughts.

-To find our voice. How can we know what we think until we see what we say? Only you can express the particular thoughts that are in your unique head in your own personal style. Writing's a great journey in self discovery for those with the courage to experiment.

-To earn money: Just kidding. That doesn't happen. . . Well, not much.

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Posted in April, 2010


A Greatly Exaggerated Demise

You've read the doom and gloom predictions that books as we know them will soon cease to exist. I'm gonna ask the obvious question here:

I like movies at the theater AND on my TV.

I listen to music on my iPod, car radio, AND my computer.

I read newspapers and magazines online AND in print.

And I think there's PLENTY of room for E-BOOKS AND TREE BOOKS!

(Yes, I'm yelling. This whole "demise of books" thing gets me riled up.)

If you haven't embraced e-books, you WILL because it's awesome to :
-read in bed without disturbing your roommate
-read in a dark car (when you're not driving, please!)
-download at book at midnight when you finish reading another one
-travel for weeks without lugging heavy books
-save trees; books are destroyed when no one buys them
-save money by downloading e-books at a cheaper price
-obtain full texts of obscure, hard-to-find books - in seconds
-find thousands of classics for free through Project Gutenberg
-search for a word or passage easily
-find your place in an instant without keeping up with bookmarks
-change the text size or font or background color
-read in line at the grocery or in traffic - on your handy cell phone
-save your back by not lugging six heavy textbooks through the school halls (hopefully, one day)

But we will NEVER give up PAPER BOOKS because we LOVE:
-the satisfying heft of the solid binding in our hands
-the ambiance of libraries and the smell of books
-the emotional connection to memories of being read to as a child
-the pleasure of browsing favorite books stores and discovering new ones
-the beauty of a well designed cover and the tease of the back cover text
-the company of shelves of our favorites surrounding us in our homes
-turning pages and the sense of closure in nearing the end
-reorganizing them by genres and author's names (embrace nerdiness!)
-finding a "bargain" at a used book store or an extra to share with friends
-the joy of handing a favorite to a friend, the anticipation of his response
-the security of knowing you can read when the battery's dead and the power's out
-the knowledge that we'll still have our books even if B&N, Amazon, and all the others go out of business.

The synergy I've discovered is that I like Kindle for "come and go" books - books I'm reading for information or for examination of literary craft. But if it's an fun read with a fast-moving plot, I need to turn pages. And when an e-book turns out to be a favorite, I always buy want a hard copy for my bookshelf. Each has its value and its rewards and for me, it's always gonna be a 50-50 split. How will your reading habits change . . . or will they?

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Posted in March, 2010

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