by Duane Dailey
April 15, 2015
I read obituaries. The joke is as old as vaudeville: "I look at obituaries to see if my name is there."
I notice obits get more personal these days as ages of the subjects get younger. More accumulated fewer years than me.
The stories hit closer when more are people I know. People I expected to know forever just up and leave.
Often the obits bring news that makes me say: "I wish I had known that about him (her)."
I find surprises in people I kind of knew, but not well enough. And, then there are stories of people I never heard of but I wish I had known and sought their wisdom.
Then there are those furthur removed who I appreciated and felt I knew but never met.
For example, The New York Times reports the death of Ivan Doig, author. He's in that younger group at age 75.
I am awaiting his new book coming out. It's an autobiograghical novel: Last Bus To Wisdom.
It'll be a "riding into the sunset" story as Doig was a wonderful western writer who told of Montana. The first of his books that I read, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind was written in 1979. Then I found he fit into a network of writers important to me: Wright Morris, Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry and more in their galaxy.
I liked westerns by Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. But, Doig was a notch above, with writing more profound.
He's quoted: "I came from the lariat proletariat, the working-class point of view." He preferred not to be called a regional writer.
"I don't think of myself as a 'Western writer," he put on his website. "To me, language-the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose-is the ultimate 'region' the true home, for a writer."
The obit reveals more. Doig started as a journalist before switching to books. In between, he earned a doctorate in American history. Not bad credentials for a writer.
A nugget: He wrote 16 books, but his only goal was to write 400 words a day. That indicates a lot of honing.
Now, back to obits. Every one should get their name in the paper a couple of times. When they were born and when they die. The first is a one-liner. The second should be a story of substance.
Here's what should happen. Everyone has a story. If a reporter doesn't come seeking you to write it, you should take that assignment.
Newspapers need good stories. Start writing.
Everyone has a book in 'em. It might be "how-to-cook book" which wouldn't be just recipes. Or, it could be "How to Care for a Cow." That would be about the caring, not the cow.
My daughter, who is a good planner, sent a book--a blank book--when I was laid up with a broken leg. It's for things to write before I die. One of them is an obituary.
A terrific idea, but it causes writer's block. However, I tell students that's no excuse. The cure for writer's block: "Put your butt in a chair in front of a keyboard (to word processor) and start typing." I know that works. It has all my writing life.
I have a new writing idea: When school supplies go on sale, buy a 39-cent spiral bound notebook. Use the Doig goal of writing 400 words a day. Fill it up, then buy another notebook. Your life story will be preserved.
The goal isn't lots of words, but to gather vital, fact-filled words. Feel free to add bit of poetry under that prose.
That's another column: Poetry. I'm not talking rhynmes but words that feel good on your tongue when read out loud. That's different.
Journalism deserves a future column as well.
Send prose to firstname.lastname@example.org or 511 Worley, Columbia, MO 65203.