Oddly related

Sometimes, at least in my world, two random things turn out to be unexpectedly connected to each other.

Here’s an example that came to my attention this week. As part of my new blog-authorship project and general goal of improving my writing skills, I’ve been perusing this book. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction was first published in 1976 by William Zinsser, a prolific author and professor at Yale. I find his advice welcoming and accessible, since (although I’ve always enjoyed writing) I have a LOT to learn about it.

And because I especially want to learn more about writing memoir, with the goal of setting down some of the stories of my family members who are now gone… I was drawn to Chapter 24, Writing Family History and Memoir. Look at one of the questions Zinsser addresses: “What will [my family] think?” “…I believe that at some deep level most families want to have a record left of their effort to be a family…”(1)

Zinsser also notes that his great-grandfather had come to New York in 1848, and founded a business making shellac. Over the years, that business has prospered and you can read more about it at ZinsserUK.com.

Zinsser’s surname sounded vaguely familiar… and oddly enough, I remembered a reason. (Yes, my memory is a bizarre source of random trivia. Just don’t ask me a supposedly-easy-to-recall fact such as whether or not I ate breakfast this morning.)

You see, when I bought my fixer-upper house in 2016, every wall and ceiling desperately needed fresh paint. Indeed, the spare bedroom/office (now affectionately referred to as my Chaos Room) was sporting walls and ceiling in a dull orange hue.

Perhaps I’m too traditional as far as ceiling colors go. But that orange ceiling was definitely due for a renovation. I don’t remember how many coats of white it required to make the Chaos Room less resemble a cave… but just for an inside joke, I purposely left a bit of the orange color visible around the edges of the ceiling fan. Why not?

Yeah, the roller slipped and I got some paint on the base of the fan. Don’t judge.

And besides that, here is the fun part. For renovating the fixer-upper’s ceilings, I decided to use this specialty paint that is pink when you apply each coat. Then, of course, it dries to a white finish. And look at the brand name of this paint product!

I’m easily amused by this random connection between my writing instructor, and the ceilings of my home.

William Zinsser (the writer) described how he was the fourth William Zinsser in his family, and was generally expected to carry on his father’s business. Here is what he revealed:

“It was a ready-made future for me, and my father looked forward to the day when I would join him.

“But inevitably a different day arrived, and not long after I came home from the war I went to work for the New York Herald Tribune… He accepted the news with his usual generosity… I was liberated from having to fulfill somebody else’s expectations, which were not the right ones for me.”

Zinsser, On Writing Well, p.296.

And besides learning from Zinsser’s wisdom about how to become a better writer, I feel inspired & encouraged by that particular quote. You see, in my process of beginning to record my version of my family’s stories, I struggle with lots of insecurity and self-doubt. Am I describing things accurately? Is my memory distorted, or have I got it all wrong? Who am I to present myself as a writer, anyway?

I’m slowly learning about seeing my own viewpoints as valid. Maybe I won’t describe events in the same way that others might have, but perhaps “my version” of what happened and what it means, and how things can be connected, will still turn out OK!

(1) Zinsser, On Writing Well, p.286.

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