Budding Writer, 1979: Nothing to lose

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Crocuses make an early start on spring on March 15, 2020, in Southbury, Connecticut. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Ding letters and failed assignments reminded this aspiring freelancer that he still needed to eat and to pay the rent, so my journal from 44 years ago shows some new strategies:

Weather reverting to winter. Nothing worthwhile to report. Finished Handy Grammar Reference, put in about 3/4 page of “Wenceslas”, went into town to investigate my response from the Dean of the Faculty’s office, and punted. Well, I did enjoy chatting and eating at the house, but I got bored, and was glad to come back.

This assistant position might be a bit more than I had expected. I haven’t the experience or the business inclination they seem to be looking for, but I am a good writer, and that’s the #1 criterion. So I’ll go for it. I’ve nothing to lose, after all …

… Tri-Town News called me today; I’ll go in tomorrow to see about going on the air to get some food money during the interim. Might even be fun …

Journal, Volume II
15 March 1979

The Handy Grammar Reference was undoubtedly Robert L. Shurter’s “guide to better English,” not exactly light reading. I’ve linked to it in the Internet Archive in case you want to check it out. I wasn’t punishing myself. I was trying to learn my craft.

The progress I was making on “Good King Wenceslas” seems glacially slow, in retrospect. It was only a short story, not the Great American Novel. The modern-day editor also notes that the comma should have been inside the quotation mark on that sentence. The reader also deserves another translation from campus dialect: the verb “to punt” meant “to waste time.” By then, I was an expert at punting.*

We’ve already discussed the “Baby Dean” position and why it wasn’t the greatest fit. But I was indeed a good writer (which I proved by knowing the difference between the singular criterion and plural criteria.) And for the hashtag generation, in those days # meant number and @, though little used, meant at, as in 5 #2 pencils @ 10¢ = $0.50. Unlike today, when cents make little sense, typewriter keyboards actually had the ¢ symbol on a key with the @. How cozy!

*The Dartmouth, the campus daily, once ran a contest for best example of punting. The winner: Wedge a pencil eraser under the open lid of a dorm laundry machine to trick the shut-off switch. Then put a quarter in and watch it run through its entire wash cycle with the lid open.