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Very Ideas

Posted: Tuesday, Apr. 03, 2012

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

I’ve recommitted recently to turning off devices and sitting with a book.

Just sitting there. Breathing, reading, looking up now and then to stare back at the dog, then just sitting and breathing and reading some more. Maybe even actually thinking a little bit about the very ideas on the page. Ahh….

I remember this now, this communion of words and ideas at once singular and universal, unto moi alone and yet shared with other, unknown readers befriended in the fertile fields of human imagination, not just “friended” in passing amid the chaff of social media buttons. (But please “like” this post, pleeease?!...)

As much as I love me some good Internet time-slurp, I find myself ever more drawn to real print, to experience this unique relationship between writer and reader, words and ideas. It feels real, and free, and fun amid the chaos.

And it is especially fun when the writer is visiting Davidson, as is Thomas Mallon this semester in the role of Davidson’s McGee Professor of Writing.

Mallon's eight books of fiction include Watergate: A Novel; his six books of nonfiction include A Book of One's Own. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, as well as the NBCC award for reviewing and the Vursell Prize for distinguished prose style from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and directs the Creative Writing Program at The George Washington University.

One Sunday afternoon some weeks ago, Dodger the dog and I befriended Mallon the old-fashioned way, on a campus sidewalk.

“Hello,” I said. “Hello,” he replied.

We made small talk about the common experience, unfolding in real time before us, of watching Dodger sprint 30 mph (I timed him once in the car at Lake Campus) and then jump seven feet upside of a tree (estimated) behind a wicked nasty squirrel. Thence, we (Mallon and I) proceeded at a leisurely pace of conversation to larger ideas, and even to laughs over lunch one day last week. Now, we hail one another regularly and vociferously across the green, green grass of Chambers Lawn.

Sometimes we chortle over a turn of phrase in Mallon’s acclaimed new book Watergate: A Novel, which I am currently (sitting and breathing and) reading with gusto. There’s his line about Nixon’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods dancing as fast as she can away from the “lilac dust of spinsterhood.” Or feminist Congresswoman Bella Abzug “bellowing like a cement mixer.” And of course, there’s Mallon’s take on Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Like! Recommend! Thumbs up! Who needs video when you have images like these dancing in your head? A bare light bulb and an open mind can animate the very ideas on a well-crafted page big as life.

For more thoughts on reading and writing, mark your calendars for writer Edith Pearlman, who will offer a reading and conversation at Davidson at 7:30 p.m., Tues., April 17 in Tyler-Tallman Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

At readings I welcome the inevitable question: where do you get your ideas?” Pearlman writes. “My ideas come from musings, from observation, from memory; from reading, from travel, from movies, from anecdotes heard or overheard, faces on the subway and rooms seen through a window. They are invented and borrowed and stolen….”

Pearlman has published more than 250 works of short fiction and non-fiction in national magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and on-line publications. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Prize Collection, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection – Best of the Small Presses. Her fourth collection, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, was published in January 2011 by Lookout Books, a new imprint at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“I am slow,” Pearlman writes on writing. “A sentence often takes an hour to compose before I throw it out. What can you do?”

Just sit, and breathe and wait for the next very idea…..

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