Thinking Out Loud-In Memoriam – Jerry Wermund

Jerry with book #3

On July 15, 2020, at the age of ninety four, an extraordinary man died. He wasn’t a flashy kind of extraordinary. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He had vision and insight. In short, he was the kind of man who made humanity better.  His name was Edmund “Jerry” G. Wermund.

I came to know him because I joined a critique group for writers of children’s books many years ago and there he was, writing poetry about rocks and earthscapes for kids. They were uncomplicated gems. Jerry had studied land formations as a geologist for decades. Retired, he wanted to write about them. The poetry poured out of him. They didn’t pedantically explain earth formations. No, they hinted at their mystery so kids might be inspired to learn more. Here is one:

Fjord

Drown a glacial
valley flowing to the sea
you get a fjord

He sent batches of poems to editors in New York. He pitched them to editors at conferences. No one could see what he saw. No one believed that these poems had a market with children, teachers or librarians. No one saw, like he did, how to make earth science come alive for children.

Eventually, Jerry self-published his books. Four, in total. When they arrived on a pallet from China, he wasn’t content to let them sit in his garage. Nope, Jerry loaded them into a U-Haul and drove all over the United States, to schools and libraries. That’s right. After a full career as a geologist, he began his career as an author in his sixties and kept at it well into his seventies and eighties. Whenever I saw him, he said he was having the time of his life.

In July 15, 2021, a year after his death, his son gathered us together for a memorial at the Zilker Clubhouse overlooking the city Jerry loved. It was a stunningly beautiful day. Several people spoke. A colleague. His son. Two great nephews. Kathi Appelt who read his first stories. A bridge partner from the senior residence. Each one gave shape and substance to this kind man’s life.

Sometimes, I despair about dying. Rather, I despair about not having done something significant in my life, something that will matter after I am gone. And then I think about all the people who have touched my life and shaped me. It didn’t matter if they were globally famous or not. What mattered was the story we created by knowing each other.

Like Jerry.

He lives in me. His sincerity. His kindness. His yes to life. His love of nature. He nudged the clay that is me and made me a better person. Forever.

The band of people touched by Jerry
(Frances Yansky, Kathi Appelt, Meredith Davis, Julie Lake, Mark Mitchell, Lindsey Lane, Chris Barton, Cynthia Levinson, Jane Peddichord, Brian Yansky).

 

 

 

 

Writing Tip #13-Drafting: How Do You Get The Manuscript Out Of Your Head And On The Page?

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click here.

Drafting is difficult for me. I can get maybe a hundred words on the page before my critical mind, who looks like Jabba The Hut by the way, starts asking, “is this the best word? Will this scene matter?” You get the idea. All judgment. No fun. So I’m always interested to hear how other writers draft their manuscripts. My friend, Anne Bustard says that drafting should be like playing in the sandbox. Kacen Callendar says that they draft late at night when their critical mind is too tired to make any comments. Jason Reynolds says he drafts very quickly. A whole novel in six months. What all of those tips have in common is that you have to get your critical mind out of the way so you can capture little bursts of brilliance while you’re exploring this new world. And having fun. How do you do it? Well I think it’s truly different for everyone. My tricks are doing long repetitive tasks that absorb my conscious mind so that my subconscious gets freed up. Taking a walk, a shower, a long drive. Sometimes vacuuming or washing dishes works. The point is to allow the subconscious mind, the bearer of story, the freedom to whisper, uninterrupted, to you. And then yes, write it down. Or record it. The minute Jabba appears, I stop. He’ll get his chance when it’s time to edit.

Thinking Out Loud – Random Bits

Over the years, random quotes have come to me through articles, letters or madly copied notes at conferences. I kept them because when I’ve read them or heard them, I felt that marvelous confluence between my heart and mind. Kind of like an ‘Aha.’ But also like an ‘MmmmHmmm, oh yes.’ What it feels like is my heart gets more open and softer, and my brain catches on fire with recognition and insight. Confluence. Heart and Mind. Art and Science. As far as I know, this confluence occurs only in humans. The result reminds us of our humanity.

“Trust is built in the small moments.”

“We write to fill the holes in our hearts, to discover the truth, to be brave.”

“When a heart is empty, it is blind to the struggles of others.”

“Loneliness is the space between what we have and what we want.”

“Captivity is an inside job.”

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

“Death is very likely the best invention of life.”

“Love consists in this: that two solitudes protect & touch & greet each other.”

“Anger is the guardian to fear.”

“I hope I never become so used to the world that it no longer seems wonderful.”

“Where there is a will, there is a won’t.”

“The unexamined life is not worth living; The overexamined life cannot be lived.”

“Something is worth only how much it cost you.”

“Once you confront the truth, you can allow yourself to be with it.”

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

“I take pleasure in a job well done, a word fitly spoken, kind gestures made or received.”

“When telling the truth, tail wagging explanations are not needed. In fact, they are kind of distracting.”

(I have not ascribed authors to these quotes. Sorry. If they are famous (and some are), you can look them up. I don’t claim any as mine but each has meant something to me at different times.)

Writing Tip #12 – Side Writing is Real Writing

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click here.

Full disclosure: I used to hate side writing. I had this belief that side writing took time away from the real writing. Not true. Side writing gives you insights into the characters and plot which will fuel the so-called real writing. So what is it? Side writing is a series of exercises you can do to explore the world of your story. First, I make a list of all the things I want to explore in the story. My character’s favorite place. A floorplan of their home. A letter from one character to another. An interview of one character. A character’s treasured object. Don’t hold back. Then I put all those things on separate pieces of paper and drop them into a hat. The next day, I set the timer for five minutes and pull one of those pieces of paper and write. When the timer goes off, I pull another piece of paper. And another. I don’t stop until I’m tired. Then I make a new list for the next day. Meanwhile if I have some big picture thoughts, I jot them down. What you are doing in side writing is building insights into your world which will make it richer and deeper. Side writing is real writing.

Thinking Out Loud – Dear Zoe

I wanted to say something to you after the grand opening of Women & Their Work’s permanent home but I didn’t want to come off like a pontificating adult talking down to a teenager so I let it go but these thoughts keep niggling at me so here goes…

I watched you watch all the goings on at the celebration. Lots of people talked about how amazing it was that a lot of money was raised during a pandemic in an insanely short time but I wondered if they conveyed that this home, this commitment to women’s artistic work—painting, sculpture, dance, words—flew in the face what is typical in a patriarchy. I wondered if you knew that what you witnessed was heroic.

Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. I wanted to share with you why I thought the establishment of a permanent home for women’s art was beyond brave.

When I moved to Austin in 1980, Women & Their Work had just started. I was aware of it but I didn’t think too much about it. Actually, that’s not true. What I thought was W&TW must be a lesbian organization because I didn’t understand that I had any work so I must not be the woman in their version of women.

Yeah, limited thinking. Cringeworthy, really.

I grew up in a family of women. Three older sisters. More aunts than uncles. Grandfathers who died long before grandmothers. An all-girl prep school. I was literally surrounded by women most of my life but the notion of women and their work was foreign to me. Women’s work. Was it a job? Was it being married and running a household? I didn’t understand that women’s work is expressing ourselves in the world. In my twenties, I couldn’t fathom that my work was unique and important. Simply, I didn’t understand the commitment and vitality and vision of Women & Their Work.

Now I see how important it is never to forget that a women’s view of the world and our place in it is what makes this world our world. It took a while to see that an organization like Women & Their Work (whatever our work is) makes that inclusion possible.

In a way, I’m glad if the celebration was No Big Deal for you. Like ‘Oh Yeah, women make art. Women express themselves. I knew that.’ That’s the beautiful thing about heroic destiny. People come together to change the way things were and, when we look around forty years later, that change is simply the way things should have always been.

Which is why I’m writing to you. As you stand on the permanent ground of Women & Their Work, know this one thing: every relationship, every artwork, every word, every creation stands on the last creation, the last action. There are other acts of heroism ahead of you. I don’t know what they will be. But if you look back to this moment, you can remember what a few women, with a daring vision that flew in the face of the norm, accomplished. You can know what is possible.

Anything.

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