08-24-2017 Tri-City Area History Page

Berrien County Courthouse, St. Joseph

North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing.  The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to info@northberrienhistory.org.

From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal

Where are you, writers?

I don’t know what the significance is, or if there is any, but recently I have had at least three people tell me they want to be writers!  I am heartened to think this might be a trend!  I see so many people going around exercising their thumbs on one of those little computers.  And they are bastardizing the English language!  Example: to make it easier, they will write R for are… U for you, etc, and use their thumb to punch in LOL for laughing out loud.  Too much work to write I find this very amusing!

Harmless, you say… but when it comes to real writing now, many students find it awkward to do that formally.  I know, I know, the English language will change in spite of us curmudgeons.  Back in 18th Century England, a great thinker, Dr. Samuel Johnson, said he was going to fix the English language for all time.  He put together a huge dictionary that would be the standard forever!  And even while he was doing it the language went right on changing.  His writing now seems so archaic to us!

One person I talked to has written a whole book and wants to get it published!  Another has written articles, little stories, and wants to see them in print.  One lady confessed to me, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and when the kids were small, I used to write in a journal what they were doing and how they were progressing.”  Needless to say, I will encourage them in any way I can.

It seems like I have been in this business forever.  I taught writing and literature for over 30 years, and ever since then I have been banging away on this column.  Back in the day(!) I used to say to my students when they first came into my class… “You know, when I see all of you at first, I think… some day in one of my classes I may have another Jonas Salk, Albert Schweitzer, Ernest Hemingway, etc.”  At this point they usually had disbelief on their faces.  Then they sneaked a sideways look at the other kids… could this be true?  Really I was trying to tell them they had something to say.  And each one of them had valuable ideas.

For whatever you are doing, there is no substitute for knowing what you are talking about.  And you cannot fake it… you have to grow into it.  When I was a new teacher, it was hard for me to say, “I don’t know.”  I just lacked the confidence.  After I came to have a solid subject matter background, it was not difficult to say… because I did have a formidable body of knowledge.  There is nothing to compare to the look on a student’s face when he realizes that you are like an iceberg, with 8/9 of what you know below the surface.

How do you get that way?  By working at it!  You have to know more than you are talking about.  Boy, this would be foreign to some people!  When I was very young and working in a machine shop, I marveled at my foreman.  He knew how to run every machine in the place.  That is why he was the foreman.  If you are going to be a writer, you have to make deposits in your mental bank account, so you will have lots to draw on.

I’m sure there have been great writers who had little or no education. One famous novelist of the 30s and 40s, Thomas Wolfe, was said to be schooled so little that his publisher had one expert forever working to get his words into printable form.  Somehow they had seen that in spite of his shortcomings he had something to say!  But I’d not take a chance on that.  Any would be writer should do it as well as he or she can.