Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Avoiding Personal Pronouns in The Deacon's Abridged Biography

After some mind-bending and provocative thought in this aging brain, perhaps it's time to diverge from the well-trodden path and explore a different trail. For this entry, anyway.

The moniker 'Deacon in Blue' was chosen in homage to a favorite Steely Dan tune, and also because the uniform of local transit operators happens to be blue. It came quickly as the question of what pen name to use as the first blog entry was written. Now that it's been about a year since that initial foray, we can take a look into why the Deacon writes. Although he can sound a bit preachy at times, the term 'deacon' isn't linked to any one religious identity. Information here is put forth for your entertainment as well as practice for even more industrious future wordplay. Hopefully it is interesting, sometimes finds you laughing or at least mildly amused. If not, hopefully you will voice opinions of this nature and chastise the author for boring you.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on the 'Deacon Blues'

This will be a tough exercise, for the task today is to refrain from referring to the author in the first person. It can be said that someone who prefers to use the ninth letter of the alphabet too much is a bit vane and/or literarily lazy.

Having toiled at several diverse occupations, they have merely been a means of gathering material for the Deacon's true purpose. Since the tender age of eight, writing has always come naturally to him. Words dance into view and are plucked out of space, clicked to life on a keyboard and transmitted to you. Here. There. Wherever the reader happens to be. Once upon a time, these fingers clumsily clunked and clanged one-fingered exercises on a 1920s Smith-Corona typewriter. Yes, an old-fashioned relic then and antique now, it was a fascinating piece of machinery. Typing class in high school offered a chance to be one of four boys amongst 25 young ladies, and this was truly alluring. With the realization that none of these lovely girls would entwine their digits with mine came the epiphany that typing class had a deeper meaning. The skill these fingers learned propelled an aspiring wordsmith into a career of journalism and then typography.

While the young poet scribbled his lines with a pen, the journalist began in that form but his final product was typed. As typing speed increased, the quality of written material did as well. The words developed in the mind and were transcribed much faster than if they were handwritten. To this day, handwriting remains a slow and laborious practice reserved for thank-you notes and other items requiring a personal touch.

Back in the late 1970s, the college newspaper was produced in several steps, as opposed to current methods. Reporters would research a story, interview various people and take handwritten notes. A rough draft would then be typed and submitted to the editor, who would usually dissect it with a red pen and send it back for revisions. This pen could be wielded ruthlessly as to make the ink resemble bloody stab wounds in the reporter's proud creation. They would re-write the piece adhering to the editor's strict notes and submit a second and hopefully final draft. Once approved, all stories would be estimated for length and assigned column inches in that edition's design. Headlines would be crafted, photos would have captions created, and advertisements designed. Then the whole batch would be sent to the printer to be set in type. Photos would be re-imaged as "halftones", which meant the pictures would be transformed into an image that was a series of dots; the more dense an area of dots, the more ink would adhere to the paper in the printing process, creating shades of black, gray and white into a composite image the human eye sees as a photograph.
When the printer had finished the initial pre-press preparation, the galleys of type, halftones and finished ads would be sent back to the newspaper staff. At this point, "paste-up" would occur at the college newsroom. The pages would all be laid out to specifications of the editor. Columns of type would be proofread again and cut out of the galleys. Wax would be applied to the back, and the stories and ads would be affixed to a sheet with corresponding headlines. It was very precise work that required an artist's eye for use of white space and different page design. Important stories were allowed large headlines and prominent placement, while others might only require one column and "below-the-fold" obscurity. Careful attention was given to the layout, as baselines had to be straight and perfectly aligned to adjacent columns. Sometimes it would be necessary to cut between paragraphs to add space to a column so they aligned properly. If color ink was to be used in the edition, a "mask" was created for each page, where holes were cut on an overlay to show only the areas to be printed in a color. It was very time-consuming, but also rewarding to produce a clean, professional newspaper. Once all the pages were pasted-up, they were proofread a final time by two or more staffers before being shipped back to the printer for the final pre-press work and printing.

As computer technology advanced, this particular college purchased its own phototypesetting equipment. All type needed for the newspaper could be produced in-house. The editor often would write directly on the computer, negating the need for initial typewritten copy. Eventually, separate consoles could be added to allow several reporters the same luxury. Fast forward to today, and each reporter of a newsroom has a separate computer that feeds copy directly to the editor who designs an entire edition on-screen and can even go directly to press from there, eliminating all the steps once employing several people along the way. Evidently, the Deacon's college no longer produces a printed newspaper. This is becoming a trend, as newsprint gives way to the electronic age of websites.

Having found journalism in the professional world to limit creativity, the Deacon left that world. It also didn't help that he made a goofy mistake which got him fired from his job as a reporter. (Telling another how much one makes when it is more than the other, more experienced reporter is paid, results in an embarrassed and angry boss.) Somehow, it became more interesting to work in the pre-press and printing area, leaving the writing to people who didn't mind that mundane world of city council meetings and sewer projects. The Deacon found himself a typographer who could accurately keyboard at 100 words-per-minute with very few mistakes. It was very creative and technically challenging, and paid well. Writing became less a priority while earning more was vital as a young father. Short stories and personal letters became the Deacon's literary exercise.

As he found himself inching toward middle age, he found inspiration in the pages of Stephen King's book 'On Writing' and began creating his own GAN (Great American Novel). Some 16 years and 970 pages later, he hasn't finished this expansive semi-autobiography. The first 700 pages were produced in the first few years, while the remainder has come in fits and starts, coughs and burps. He wonders how so much time passed so quickly and whether his life experiences since he began the project have altered the mindset present at the book's launch.

There have been inspirations for funny stories, sad times of eulogies and self-reflection, happy times of love and growth. Each person has a story within, yet few find their voice to express themselves. Some think if they lack grammar skills, their story shouldn't be told. Balderdash and bullshit! That's what editors are for. Just write! Write what you know, as they say. Avoid agonizing over planning a story. Just write it down. Fix it later.
One might wonder what the Deacon did in addition to journalism and printing careers, but a smidgeon of mystery is healthy in the reader-writer relationship. Suffice to say, a series of fortunate events led to the creation of this blog. Along the way, he created a few pieces that have yet to be offered in this or other venues. He often questions whether he has "what it takes to succeed" in the literary world. Simply having the ability to write isn't enough; one must have the creativity necessary to hold the readers' attention. For this old boy, time is running fast. From the Driver Side is good practice, but he often wonders if those who read this find it interesting enough to afford his venturing forth with bolder offerings to publishers. The 4,700-odd page views are encouraging, but most who read mostly opt out of leaving comments. There have been readers who bump into the Deacon here and there, and he is surprised to find a few followers. Yet the true purpose of this exercise is to stretch and practice. Worrying too much about what one thinks about this blog is counter-productive.

Thanks again for reading. I'm happy we've had this time together. (Oops!)


  1. Your stories are a great to read; they often make me remember the start of my journey. I'm one of those who often read but doesn't comment; it often depends on how much time I have.

    Keep writing. Keep sharing your experiences. They're enjoyable to read.
    I'm waiting eagerly for the next one!

    1. Thank you Anon! After the past 3 days driving i will be back in a few days with some stories to relay...

  2. Deacon- Well you've still got me as a regular reader. Keep the postings coming!

    I found a lot of the mini runners had interesting occupational stories since so many of us were bus operators as that last job before retirement. The range of previous careers was amazing.
    Re. the extra board- back in my day (four years ago) that was a potential path to financial gain because of the overtime hours you could rack up. Is that still the case? Or, has the management attitude towards extra board and OT changed?

    1. Hey Nedwell that is true about career diversity here. Many of my classmates are my age and we all share interesting backgrounds. When the Great Recession hit, a lot of people were our of jobs and we found ourselves middle aged and unemployed, which is not a good thing. I tried going back to school to learn Radiography, but my 4.0 GPA dropped to 3.79 when I got pneumonia and they didn't let me into the program. At that point, the government in its infinite lack of wisdom decided I could no longer go to school. So then I had to find a job or end up with my family on the street. So since I've loved driving since I was 10 it seemed a good match. Now I have a LOT to write about! Wait'll you see the next blog entry! Anyway thank you for your comments and I appreciate your readership.