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Little known facts about nothing (07/05/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
One evening as we sat on our deck, I said to Pat that I think compulsive writing is an addiction of the medulla oblongata. Say what? I don’t know where that came from! Words haunt me! I just happened to have one of my worn dictionaries handy. Pat was less than exuberant to learn that the medulla oblongata is “an inner anatomical structure of the vertebrate brain that is continuous with the spinal cord.”

Like everything else, minds get sluggish and stale. With another tablet scribbled full, flooded by tea stains and melancholy, I plunge ahead and attempt to find a common thread and to make sense of fertile hours spent pondering, which leads to a pain in the neck, literally. My medulla oblongata? Ramblings I revisit, that had initially aroused heart-pounding excitement over my clever ability, usually turn out to be literary kindling.

It’s like naturalist and author Annie Dillard once quipped: “This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.” In other words, it stinks! Back to the drawing board!

Long ago, I remember reading a slim book entitled “Notes To Myself” by someone whose last name is Prather, which led me to the word “prating,” meaning “to talk long and idly.” Anyway, his banter and corny philosophies opened a new world of writing to my gray matter – weird. I have misplaced Prather’s compilation of prating, but I can say a lot about nothing on my own.

Word play is an adventure! This is an example of the prating I find sprawled across and up and down the edges in my used up tablet pages: The souped-up ’57 Chevy, cherry red, glided past me, purring like a kitten. Standing on the busy street corner, my eyes followed it into unyielding traffic. Taillights swallowed by twilight are the only remnants remaining of faded memories. I stepped off the curb…to fulfill the day at hand. My late Aunt Alma was an avid reader, but we couldn’t exchange many books with each other. She preferred dialogue and stories that are “nice,” a little mystery, a dash of romance and heartbreak, and white picket fence families speaking down-home. She used to criticize descriptive, poetic, and metaphorical writing, grumbling, “Why do I need to know the philosophical musings of the characters, the scientific properties of this and that, and a detailed description of someone’s garden?”

Aunt Alma also abhorred that four-letter word, which sadly makes its frequent appearance in the scads of #1 bestsellers by award-winning authors. I would find an exceptionally well written and spellbinding page turner and have to admit to her, “That word is in there, but only twice, spewed out in the heat of tremendous emotional distress.”

My inclination to indulge in books and chronicles by naturalists, with accompanying sketches and photographs, will always entice me to those more informative reads, especially from those who share their personal adventures in the heart of nature, and environmental awareness. Apart from that, my dear aunt thought the reading material I choose is weird, off-the-wall, wreaked with too much fluff, bizarre and eccentric, and gets too deep into the psyche. Traveling off the beaten path is not within everyone’s comfort zone.

Little known facts about nothing can be innuendoes that lead the imbiber of the written word to pensive pondering, soul- searching, and along that endless mile to wisdom.

On second thought, we ravenous readers expect much more. We can nitpick an author or a journalist to distraction. Our critiques fall on deaf ears, however, as we call out in the dead of night…


Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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