I like the pressed look of a suit just out of the dry cleaners. This morning I awoke very early, because my morning hearing in downtown Dallas required me to get an early start. My green-ish suit slid on as if it belonged on me. My four-in-hand tie tied perfectly, with all hands all a-four.
In my twenties, I insisted upon trying to iron everything myself. This resulted in nothing ever looking crisp. I raised the rumple to a largely unappreciated art form. I was more a saw horse than a clothes horse. Now I have the cleaners fold my shirts rather than put them on hangers. I love to delicately unfold them, and affix them to my imperfect frame. The result is not always sharply stapled-on, but perhaps it is less like smeared Elmer's paste.
All these little rituals of dress affect us. I used to love a picture my mother had taken in Amarillo, Texas, in which I was dressed as a cowboy. The hat, the bandanna, and the little faux chaps all conspired together to give me a charm and joie de vivre no subsequent picture captures.
The little rituals of living extend beyond matters of dress and habit.
In high school, my 11th and 12th grade teachers focused on the five paragraph essay. An introductory paragraph--first sentence, broad statement of theme, three sentences describing one topic each, a closing sentence. Three intermediate paragraphs, each devoted to one topic. A closing paragraph recapping in the format of the opening paragraph.
I used to write everything in five paragraph essays. Legal examination writing uses a kindred but slightly different construct, the IRAC formula (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion). Legal brief writing is something like Summary of Argument, Facts, Argument and Authorities (with individualized points) and Conclusion. Five paragraph essays in essence got me through every academic subject not involving math. Had there been a way to use them in math and science, I believe I would have invented a fuel cell or a cure for cystic fibrosis.
I've thought often how grateful I am to my teachers in 11th and 12th grade for teaching me this secret mystical ticket to communication.
I saw my 11th grade teacher the last time I was in Arkansas. She teaches yoga now, which is, I must relate, not a common profession in small town Arkansas.
I told my 12th grade teacher a year or two ago how much use I had made of her instruction in essay-writing. I told her how this over-simplified essay structure not only got me an A in almost everything I wrote in college, but that also proved an invaluable way of thinking that I used to learn the very "elements of the cause of action" way of analysis common in law. If you can reduce the world to simple structures, you probably can't discover the meaning of everything--but you can write a good essay about most things.
A pressed shirt and an essay style, like a long debate with an old friend, become familar and comfortable and entirely happy things.
I have come to learn to live in gratitude for the people, such as my parents and my friends and my teachers, who gave me so much.
A day or two ago, on vacation in Alaska, my 12th grade teacher unexpectedly passed away. I was not in year-to-year contact with her, but had only seen she and her very nice husband a time or two in the past few years. She was a good friend of one of my aunts.
When people pass away, other people spring from the woodwork to claim some special kinship or connection or relation. I can claim none of those things. Other people were close to this fine teacher, and I was very much her long-ago student rather than her mentee, her friend or someone who knew her very well.
Yet in my daily finery, I have the things she taught me, which I use today, and for which I am grateful. Teachers make such a difference--and good teachers make a tremendous difference.
I am this evening lost less in grief than in gratitude. My own finery includes the things she taught me about writing--simple, useful things--for which I am grateful.
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