Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What the Heck?

During my sophomore year of high school, my English class term paper assignment was to write about an American author or poet. For whatever reason (it was forty years ago and the reason eludes me), I chose Ogden Nash.

For those of you who aren't English majors (PC, Angel and Lynn may let their minds wander for a few moments), Ogden Nash was best known for his light, funny verse.

A good example of his writing is this parody of Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see
a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Another of his famous observations is

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Okay, PC, Angel and Lynn can tune back in now.

I did my research, and believe me, there's not nearly as much info on old Ogden as there was on Longfellow or Poe. But I persisted.

And then one day I found a research book with an old address for Mr. Nash and thought "What the heck?" I penned a short letter and sent it off thinking I'd at least done everything I could to get as much information as possible.

Imagine my surprise when a letter from Ogden Nash arrived at my house. The man himself wrote and gave me some info I'd not been able to find anywhere else. And in the bibliography I was able to cite "Personal letter from Ogden Nash to Marilyn Lyerly, November 22, 1966."

Boy oh boy did that earn me brownie points with my English teacher. Heck, I even got to take it and show it to the head of the English department, who was also duly impressed.

What if I hadn't thought "What the heck?" and hadn't written? I'm pretty sure I'd have received the same grade, but that little added bonus of the letter made a big impression on my teachers. They knew I was willing to step out and take a chance, which was a big step for someone who'd lived most of her life in fear -- fear of trying, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of succeeding. That letter gave me a little extra self-confidence to try something bigger next time.

I still struggle with all those fears, but I've learned to step out and say "What the heck?" and ask a well-known author to guest blog or do an interview for the website. Our mantra here at the Playground is "All they can say is no."

What's your "What the heck?" moment?

P.S. Yes, I still have the letter. See below.


Problem Child said...

I'm totally impressed. Very, very impressed.

Here's my favorite Nash poem:
The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks

Which practically conceal its sex.

I think it clever of the turtle

In such a fix to be so fertile.

And yes, some chances are worth taking. I like our "The worst they can do is say No" mantra. It's given me a lot of courage to step outside my comfort zone.

Problem Child said...

And the letter is great!! Be sure y'all zoom in and read it.

I like how he read bad unsolicited manuscripts...

Your letter to him must have been pretty good, PM. We all know how brutal the slush pile is and how hard it is to stand out!

Playground Monitor said...

I have often wished I'd saved a copy of my letter to him. This was of course waaaaaaaaaaaay before the days of computers. Today a copy would be on my hard drive for posterity, right there with my resignation letter from 11 years ago and the obituary I wrote for our first cat.


Nini said...

That is just so cool!!! I'm very envious!

When i turned 30 - someone, can't remember who, sent me this because i complained about getting old:

Unwillingly Miranda wakes,
Feels the sun with terror,
One unwilling step she takes,
Shuddering to the mirror.
Miranda in Miranda's sight
Is old and gray and dirty;
Twenty-nine she was last night;
This morning she is thirty.

Shining like the morning star,
Like the twilight shining,
Haunted by a calendar,
Miranda is a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl,
Draw the mirror toward you;
Time who makes the years to whirl
Adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you;
Calendars for the human;
What's a year, or thirty, to
Loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then--
How old is Spring, Miranda?

I don't complain much about age anymore.

Nini :)

Rhonda Nelson said...

Here's my favorite Ogden Nash poem:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one.
But I cna tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

PM, how cool! What a wonderful letter!

Jen said...

PM, that is awesome! I'm very impressed. And I'm going to adopt the "worst they can say is no" attitude. :)

Jen said...

Oh, yes!! Do zoom in and read the letter. It's just delightful and it made me laugh aloud.

Angel said...

I'm beginning to embrace our "the worst they can say is no" philosophy. This year I stepped out of the box and approached some authors about participating here at the Playground, which was really hard for me. I don't like to put myself out there unless I know what the result will be. :)

I had a few lukewarm responses, more enthusiastic ones, and no nos. Great response, and I was very proud of myself for inching out on that limb.

Of course, I couldn't have done it without the Playfriend's encouragement (and push). But I could wax on forever about how much I've grown since I met them.


Instigator said...

The only book of poetry my parents own is a slim red book of Nash's poetry. I remember loving that book growing up. It just looked old, worn and loved. I don't remember specifics but my favorite poem was about a cow (although I don't think it was the purple one). I do remember taking the book to school for some project and thinking I was so important because my parents had let me take it.


Kathy said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and wonderful letter, PM! I want to say I'm not familiar with Mr. Nash's work, although some of the poems mentioned above do seem familiar to me somehow. I'm impressed with his ability to laugh at himself and the world.

I had to learn to put my foot in the door at a very early age. When you move every 2-3 years, if you don't speak up, lend a hand, or ask, you won't make any friends or meet interesting people. Life is all about taking chances. Too bad I've gotten out of the habit. :-) Thanks playfriends for helping me remember that's really important especially in this business.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Whoa, I am totally impressed too. Amazingly impressed. PM, that is the COOLEST! I loved the letter. It's just like his poems, really, a bit self-critical but completely honest and unpretentious. I love how he was reading bad poem slush when he decided to play around with language again.

It's hard to settle on a particular poem of his as a favorite, but one that always makes me giggle is The Firefly:

The firefly's flame

Is something for which science has no name

I can think of nothing eerier

Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person's posteerier.

Hubby and I often lament how we don't see as many fireflies as we did when we were kids. The fields used to be alive with twinkling and now, nada.

I like the Playground philosophy. I'm working on that. My what the heck moment is actually more of an aha moment.

I am married to an outgoing, funny, extroverted man who can give speeches in front of big crowds and have a good time doing so. He also strikes up conversations with strangers and has always done so. It's driven me crazy for years to be standing somewhere, like a grocery store, wanting to leave and having to endure this.

Not too long ago, our waiter at a national chain restaurant actually pulled out a chair and SAT down with us to talk. Grrr.

But, it occurred to me one day when I was alone that my husband never misses an opportunity to learn something new about people. I'm a writer and I love "living" different lives as I write. But he talks to the cop or the engineer or the waiter and he learns what it's really like to do these things, to be these people. He doesn't do it like a writer searching for information. It's not clinical, I guess.

So anyway, long story getting longer, I had this aha moment that if I didn't talk to strangers, just strike up a conversation with someone, I might miss learning about things that enrich my life and writing.

I have learned to put myself out there and talk to people. I initiate conversations with strangers now, not nearly as often as hubby does, but it has benefited me more often than bored me.

Smarty Pants said...

I'm ashamed to admit I've never heard of Nash. Probably because I never studied poetry in high school and CLEP'd out of english in college. Pity, though. Fertile turtles, purple cows...he sounds like the kind of poet I'd enjoy. I do remember the candy/liqour line from Willy Wonky and the Chocolate Factory. Bravo to you for writing him.