I need to do some serious work on my elevator speech for Dave in the Shack, namely writing one. The realization that I have no coherent description of what I’m doing here came about this way.
I was at a fundraiser for a local candidate and was introduced to one of the women that urged the candidate to run. My friend introduced me as “a writer. Dave writes a blog. He’s going to write about (the aspiring and emerging politician.)”“Oh really? What’s the name of your blog?”
Apparently sometimes the name of the blog gives one a clue as to what it’s about. Food blogs, political blogs, travel blogs, all descriptively and discreetly named.“Dave in the Shack.”
“So what do you write about?”Pause.
“Whatever I want.”She looked puzzled.
“Fiction or non-fiction?”Pause.
“Well it’s typically based on things that happen. But I take license. And sometimes I write straight fiction. Creative non-fiction might describe it.”Not a single spark of understanding appeared on her face.
“Do you write about politics?”“From time to time. I spent some time in Springfield directly working to increase funding for kids and families. So I’ve been involved in the process. But I write about a lot of other things.”
She looked at me blankly.“Yeah. Well I’ll have to check it out.”
My guess is she hasn’t. Nothing I said would have made her want to. My elevator speech, a succinct one minute summary, never materialized.So what is Dave in the Shack about? Good question.
It’s written in the first person and that person is me. The opinions expressed in Dave in the Shack are mine. I think you all know that. A friend once asked if I have a long list of things I want to write about and check them off one by one.Nothing could be farther from the truth. I generally write about moments I recently live which seem meaningful. I try to explain them to you, hoping they may also be meaningful to you. I admit that once in a while I do things deliberately so I can write about the experience. I describe people I meet, conversations that happen, things I end up thinking about. Still pretty non specific isn’t it? Let me try again.
I started this blog while I was the director of a youth service/child welfare agency. At that time it was named YSB update. I had a pretty clear purpose then. I wanted to write in a way that would create empathy and understanding, perhaps support, for the children we served and their parents. Along the way I wanted to illustrate how hard my staff worked, what good members of my volunteer board did to help our cause, how much public policy on the state and federal level affected people in the communities we served. I tried not to swerve too far out of that lane, although I admit I got personal at times.When I retired I began writing Dave in the Shack. It was liberating. I was not longer the spokesperson for an organization, I was a guy writing from a shack about anything he wanted. On the blog page I say “writing from a small place in a changing world.” I suppose I try to note change, convey the struggles of working to keep up with a flood of news and information, in a world which we know so much more about but understand less. But there’s more to it than that.
Although I’m retired and work, for money that is, barely at all (as an election judge I am paid each time there is a local election.) I’m still doing things. I volunteer, directly and as a board member, attend church, live in a community. I have time now to think about what’s going on around me and observe life and its interactions in, sometimes in detail. It’s a good thing to do. I recommend it.And as I live that life I encounter people, events, experiences, that are so touching, or important, I think they should be recorded and shared. Not forgotten. Things that can be used to inform others, you, my readers.
And so that is mostly what I write about. Noteworthy aspects of everyday life.I remember overhearing staff in the kitchen at YSB in the 90’s talking about TV shows. I rarely watched TV then, or since. They were talking about “Seinfeld” which I had heard of but never seen. Naively I asked a question
“What’s that show about?”
They all started laughing. Apparently, there had been an episode that revolved around just that. One of them managed to say“Nothing!”
and then they laughed again. “Seinfeld” was a comedy that centered around the everyday lives of a group of people living in New York apartments. The episodes could be and were, about seemingly everything and in turn nothing in particular.I hesitate to say Dave in the Shack is about nothing. But then again, it can be about anything. “Seinfeld” was at least always funny. This blog has been about music, food, social work, making peanut brittle, road trips, politics, farm life, animals, whiskey, you name it. Sometimes it makes readers laugh and sometimes cry.
Sometimes I write a blog and from your comments, I find my readers react to something else. Last week I wrote about a tender moment between siblings. I was cooking eggs to order in the local homeless shelter and in the course of interacting with two kids, who could well have woken up to their first morning in a public shelter, one of those moments happened. As I talked to them, coaxing an egg order from them, the younger, a little girl with shy eyes, pulled on her brother’s sleeve, cupped her small hand around his ear, whispered into it, and settling back to watch me. Her brother reluctantly but dutifully did her talking for her, asking me if his little sister could have orange juice.It reminded me of the orphan in Oliver Twist who asked for more porridge. It was the look in her eyes, her quiet but determined way of getting what she wanted under tough circumstances., that touched me. I wanted to capture that moment and share it with you, with as many people as possible.
Instead, you thought I was the hero. The comments praised me for being there in the first place and helping the homeless people. I was just the cook. It wasn’t supposed to be about me, but them, homeless people and their humanity. But you can’t win them all.On the other hand, I asked for egg and orange juice donations and a guy reported that earlier this week he donated a gross of eggs (a dozen dozen) and a case of frozen OJ. So in that sense, it worked just fine.
In conclusion I don’t know what Dave in the Shack is about. Ernest Hemingway among others, and I find no one gives more advice to writers than writers, said this:“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
I try to do that in a way. I would change it though to read“Write hard and clear about what’s true.”
It’s therapeutic to write about what hurts, but readers don’t always share that pain. However, I think you have a great appreciation for what’s true. Some things, written well, hit home and resonate. That’s what I try to write. Maybe you know what I’m doing better than me. Let me know if you can. Thanks for reading all the way to the end.
P.S. - If you receive a link to Dave in the Shack via e mail you may be getting it from a new e mail address. My only e mail contact is now firstname.lastname@example.org. You may want to put it in your address book. And as always, to comment on a blog received via e mail, just go to the e mail message and hit reply. I’ll get it every time.