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Dancing with Daffodils

by Charles Miess

 

 

In the summer of 2003, I was approached by Susan Johnson, a co-founder of Word Worth®. She was a manager in the large aerospace company where I worked as a design engineer. Susan had seen several articles that I had submitted to the company newsletter and thought I might be interested in contributing to Word Worth. In effect, I would be replacing her because she would no longer be able to assume an active role with the online magazine. I was reluctant to tell her that my new-found writing ability might not hold up in a more academic setting.

 

Susan arranged for me to meet Dr. M H Perry, the publisher of Word Worth. I was already aware of the stellar reputation of Word Worth and of the impressive credentials of Dr. Marion Perry. I remember driving to that meeting at a local coffee shop feeling as if I were going to a job interview even though I expected no monetary compensation. I recall a slight sense of intimidation and was particularly concerned that I would use the word hopefully too often. Some people can’t get through a sentence without saying ya know or basically; my Achilles’ heel was hopefully. I should not have worried. Dr. Perry turned out to be both charming and non-judgmental. We were soon on a first name basis. I had brought a few samples of my work and she seemed pleased with them.

 

With Marion’s editorial help, I began a transition to a mature writer and an evolution from a newsletter hack to a professional columnist. We met each month at her home to discuss my current submission and things such as the mechanics of writing, eloquence, poetry, politics, truth, and social justice. In between face-to-face meetings, we continued our collaboration via e-mail. I felt as if I were a student with my own personal professor.

 

Nevertheless, it was not a one-way street. I remember being greatly flattered when she asked me to review her work. At first I served as a second pair of eyes on the lookout for typos. Later she welcomed my suggestions on things such as style, syntax, and the logical flow of ideas. Although she and her website had already received several prestigious awards, I was proud to add a few of my own to the Word Worth collection. One was an Apex Grand Award. The greatest honor, however, was a ceremony that she arranged at a local upscale restaurant to recognize me for that distinction. She invited my friends and family. Marion was as excited for me as I was for myself.

 

I had started out as a columnist and eventually earned the additional title of editor. I was grateful to be on the front lines as Word Worth grew into a world-class online magazine. But all good things must come to an end, and after nearly five years I reluctantly left to pursue other interests. I have continued to write, albeit at a more leisurely pace, following that difficult decision.

 

Often when I remember my time with Word Worth, I think of a poem commonly called “Daffodils” by, appropriately enough, William Wordsworth. The first time I heard it, I was a teenager in my high school English class. The teacher had assigned a poem to each of us to read in front of the group. One of the macho males—a football star, in fact—was asked to read “Daffodils.” I tried to hide my snickering and snorting as he blushed his way through that “sissy” poem. It wasn’t until much later in my adult life that I realized the poem was metaphorical rather than a simple exposition on a pretty flower.

 

In the first few stanzas, Wordsworth talks about a stroll in the countryside near the bay of a lake. He suddenly comes across a field of beautiful daffodils. He talks of their immense numbers, their golden color, and how they fluttered and danced in the breeze. He describes them as sparkling in waves of glee. Then in a couplet at the end of the third stanza he says:
 

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought
 

My interpretation (and this could be mine alone) is that he knew he had witnessed something of profound beauty, but was unable to fully appreciate it at the time. Perhaps there were other stressors and distractions competing for his thoughts. That revealing couplet is followed by the final verse:
 

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 

To me, this stanza—beautifully and eloquently—implies that those things recalled in tranquility are sometimes more pleasurable than was the event itself.

And so, Marion, I still remember our first get-together in the coffee shop, our exchange of ideas during our monthly meetings, the awards ceremony at the Old Orchard Inn, and so many other interactions that cemented our friendship and helped make Word Worth as great as it was. I can now recall those events in tranquility. And they give me great pleasure.

The Cool Colonnade

 by Susan C. Johnson

 

The Poplars are fell'd, farewell to the shade
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade…


Photo by Wayne Johnson

The first two lines of William Cowper’s “The Poplar Field” play over and over in my mind when I think of Word Worth ending its 20-year tenure.

For some, the poem is about death.

For me, it’s about the end of an unvarying civility - the loss of a privileged haven where reason and logic and thoughtful consideration always prevail.

If ever a person, and their intellect, could embody the welcome refuge of a cool colonnade, it is Marion Perry, the founder and editor of Word Worth.

I knew her first as Dr. Marion Perry, one of my mentors at the Oxford-style Empire State College.

All of the college’s classes were one-on-one, intimate arrangements where the professor had clear access to a student’s comprehension, or lack therof.

There was no hiding.

During one of our early sessions together, we discussed the poet Sylvia Plath.  I was firmly opposed to studying Plath’s work, considering it tainted by the author’s subsequent suicide.

My bias was emotional and rigid and righteous. 

It didn’t survive. 

It couldn’t survive.

Marion’s gentle, but persistent, application of logic unarmed its defenses, exposing it for its ignorance.  (Marion would probably be kinder – calling it naïveté, but ignorance it was.)

And that was her unfailing approach to all of our discussions, no matter the subject.

It was also her approach as the editor of Word Worth – one that made writing for her such a pleasure.  

Every piece that I submitted was far better for the changes encouraged by Marion.  Sometimes it was only a word here and there, or an awkward phrase, and other times it was entire passages.  Sometimes, it was only one of the finer points of punctuation.

However big or small the edit, every suggested change was an act of kindness on her part, made in order that the best possible result would reflect on the one whose name was on the byline.

She nurtured those of us who were her writers and artists in a way that none of us are likely to ever enjoy again.

There are so few places left in this world where a path winds through columns of aspens, existing only to provide beauty for visitors, and a leafy respite from the harshness of the world. 

Too soon there will be one less – though those of us who relished its refuge will remember it always.

Farewell Word Worth, and thank you….

 - See Arts page for Wayne Johnson Photo

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