Here a Doodle, There a Doodle

Doodlers of the world, unite! We’ve always known what people say now, that doodling is a healthy outlet for a writer. It enhances creativity, increases productivity, helps concentration, and stimulates areas of the brain that are dormant. Some say that it alleviates stress and calms the amygdala, thereby helping process our emotions.

I don’t know. I just like to doodle. In high school and college, if I could find those noteboks, I doodled all over the pages. Usually it started with drawing borders around important words, but then elevated to symbols and pictures. And when I studied, I think the graphics helped me remember the information.

I remember that my sixth grade teacher told a story about a boy that had been in her class years before. He was always doodling at his desk (which I don’t think she discouraged). Anyway she said she’d just received an invitation to attend an exhibit of his work in an art gallery.

Famous doodlers include Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Claude Monet (who woulda thought?), Marlon Brando, and Presidents Hoover, Eisenhower and Kennedy. I imagine George W. Bush was and is, as his artwork is pretty good.

A squiggle may or may not be just a squiggle. It could be a Freudian slip. It might mean the person with the pencil isn’t paying attention to the speaker at all, completely lost in his own thoughts. There’s even a theory that a doodle says something about the author according where it’s drawn on the page.

I just think they’re fun.


Andy Warhol, sketch. Courtesy of Schulson Autographs.
Andy Warhol
Steve Jobs. Courtesy of Schulson Autographs.

Steve Jobs

Mark Twain
Herbert Hoover
Dwight Eisenhower
I wish I were talented enough to create this doodle. classroom

Information and doodles from:,, alfastudio,com,,,,,,

Developing Story

Behind every story you read, there is another story of how it came to be.

If you think authors open their little notebooks and choose ideas from long lists they’ve been keeping…well, maybe some do.  But unusual and fascinating circumstances have perpetrated many of the tales we love.

When Madeleine L’Engle turned 40, she told herself she would quit writing and pay more attention to her children.  However, she reneged and completed a novel by the end of the year, submitting it to 40 publishers.   They all rejected it.  Then at a tea party she hosted for her mother, she presented one of the guests with a copy of that story (for children) which involved quantum physics.  He liked it.  In 1962 A Wrinkle in Time rolled off the presses.

Madeleine L'Engle


Bennett Cerf, whom some of us remember from the old show What’s My Line,  bet Theodore Geisel $50 he couldn’t write a book with just 50 words.  The result was Green Eggs and Ham; Geisel won the bet, but Cerf’s publishing company won the contract.  Hope he shared more of it with Geisel, whose pen name was Dr. Seuss.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien once flipped a coin to choose new genres to write from.  While  Lewis’s space trilogy was very successful, Tolkien’s book on time travel was not.  Oh well, Bilbo made it up for him.

Successful ad writer Edmund Morris changed his focus and began writing a screenplay about Theodore Roosevelt and his ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota.  He kept finding more information, and more information, filling filing cabinets with meticulous note cards.  The resulting first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1980.  He followed with two more volumes of the biography, carefully choosing which notes to use at the back, which are interesting to read in and of themselves.

Several movies center around the writing process, one of which, All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as green reporters, blatantly shows the guts of how a story comes into being.  Up Close and Personal, also starring Redford, deals with a young woman who becomes a network news anchor, showing how her storytelling expertise is built bit by bit.  The recent Man Who Invented Christmas with Dan Stevens unravels  how Charles Dickens created characters and the plot for A Christmas Carol.  He’d begun with the idea of exposing starved and overworked children in London.

The Man Who Invented Christmas | Kanopy

I meant to write a book called Pure Act (the title from a Henry Adams’ quote) about Theodore Roosevelt, until I discovered what Mr. Morris had done.  So I narrowed my topic to TR’s passion for natural history as a child.  I wrote a beautiful four-page outline and never used it.   I started accumulating notes, like Edmund did — and those sources led to other sources, taking on a life of their own.

I wouldn’t say that stories write themselves.  I would say that the stories are there, though, and present themselves to writers who take time to make the mistakes necessary to bring them to readers.

Some factual information from and


Two Authors, and the History of Two Centuries

This post is the complete opposite of my last one about an old time Christmas celebration, which came easily and took a short time to write.  A month’s wave of procrastination does not change the will to begin it.

You may notice, while you’re reading, that these words exist in a slightly more streamlined format.  This is I suppose in part due to the style of someone I’ve been thinking about for many weeks – a writer whom I admired greatly – Sylvia Jukes Morris.

Image result for edmund and sylvia morris

The Morrises chat with President and Mrs. Reagan in the 80s.  (NY Times)

It was a shock to learn in early January that she had passed away at her sister’s home in England,  only eight months after her husband’s death from a sudden stroke.

Sylvia was the author of three definitive biographies, one volume on Edith Roosevelt, and two on Clare Boothe Luce.  The latter, of the twentieth century elite, is probably not a household name, but her life story embodies the society and politics of the time.

Sylvia was married for fifty years to Edmund Morris, Pulitzer Prize winner and prolific biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, Ludwig von Beethoven, Ronald Reagan and Thomas Edison.  Like his wife, he found the research on Roosevelt too much to present in a single book, so ultimately he composed a trilogy.  The sum of their work adds much to our knowledge of the 1800s and the 1900s.

Sylvia and Edmund were a team unequaled in talent, poise and personality.  They invited my daughter and I to their Manhattan home in 2006.  We were doing research at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, and I’d asked for an interview.  It helped that my husband had created a model of Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt family home, for Mr. Morris.

I remember a spectacular, monochromatic apartment with stairs leading up to a bookcase-lined mezzanine which overlooked Central Park.  The couple pulled some of their books and autographed them for us.  My daughter identified a modern artist whose original painting hung on their dining room wall, with Edmund complimenting her,  “Good eye!”

We saw them again at a Theodore Roosevelt Association book talk in New York City a few years later.  “Margaret!” she said warmly in her beautiful British voice.  I was pleased she remembered me, and we told her we’d seen her recently on C-Span’s Book TV.

I was hoping very much to go to a book signing when Edmund’s Edison was published, but it was not to be.  The first bound book was delivered to their home in Connecticut shortly before he died.  Then, I hoped we could see her after her period of grief subsided, but that was not to be, either.  “It doesn’t get better – it gets worse,” she told a friend in the fall.

They were so close.  And perhaps it was merciful that she didn’t have to face her first Valentine’s Day without him, but instead join him where their marriage had been made.

A moving tribute to Sylvia may be found at this link:


Or, The Trouble With Blogging

There are aspects of blogging that really bug me.  For example:

  • In the interest of scholarly research I try to cite sources, especially for photos and graphics.  But some of the best ones are on Pinterest, which directs you to someone’s blog.  Often the author doesn’t tell where it originated from.  Aarrgh!
  • The mechanics of the program I use set the first version in stone on notification emails.  This petrified original photo and blurb don’t change if I find a mistake and correct it, which Facebook will update.  So if you get an email message about a new post on either of my blogs, and something looks out of whack, I probably corrected it.  At least let’s say I did.
  • When I share my blog on FB, sometimes I forget to change the audience to “public” and only my friends can see it.  I WANT the public to see it.  I’ve received several messages from people in groups I’m in saying my attachment is unavailable, which prompts me to change the setting.

blogging firm  (Whomever you are, I appreciate and attribute this fine graphic to, you.)

  • And then there’s blogger’s block.  Same as writer’s block, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.  Blogger’s block.  That felt good.  Sometimes I think there are no more interesting subjects to write about.  Then my brain gets going again after a meeting I attend, a conversation I have, a movie I watch, a book I read…  And yes, sometimes a random Google search for something else gives me an idea I hadn’t thought about before.
  • I would really like to have a nice, hard copy of my blog year by year.  As yet I know of no one that provides this service, aside from printing and binding it myself.  If I were rich and employed a secretary, I’d have him/her do it and throw the cost to the wind.

We’ll see if the time between writing and publishing this post is proportionate to the number of “blirksome things” I think of.  I bet not.  There are some pitfalls, but more benefits, to writing a blog.  I like it.

Any of my fellow bloggers have a pet peeve?


Who Sez?

When the Worldwide Web came on the scene, teachers had to start new classroom discussions about reliable sources of information.  We used to explain the difference between a published book or encyclopedia with a copyright and decent author, and your mother’s friend on the phone.  “A lady called this morning before school and said the college burned down,” or some such statement from a fifth-grader would result in an impromptu talk, and of course there were the formal lessons on how to conduct research for a report in English class.

But whoa!  All of a sudden there were speedier ways to look up facts and more of them.  Commercial websites, Wikipedia, and the Google search engine presented us with information faster than we could switch on the computer.  The trouble was, who was trustworthy?  How did we know if what a website said was true?  If we found two opposing facts on the same subject, which was correct?

Generally, we told the kids, look at what comes after the dot in the URL.  The ending “.com” stands for commerce, which means there is money involved somewhere.  Better sources have endings “.org” for an organization, “.gov” for government and “.edu” for education.  Those writers are likely to check facts closely and have more background knowledge on their subjects.  Scholars at universities probably trump (no pun intended) web writers used by governmental agencies, at least for me.  Also, for documentation, researchers must find the name of the author.  If it is cite-worthy, someone needs to be the “go to guy” for it.

Then there’s Wikipedia.  Its authors are whoever the heck wants to add a few words.  Now sometimes those accounts are accurate, and sometimes they are not.  They usually carry footnotes and give a general idea of what you really want to look at another source for.  But you’d never quote them in an article for a professional journal.

There’s also the dilemma of primary sources.  I love them.  When I had Theodore Roosevelt’s boyhood journal in my hand at the Harvard library, I was in heaven.  “Theodore held this when he was observing birdlife on Long Island,” I kept thinking.  I literally kicked myself to see if I wasn’t dead.

But we must also be wary, because the accounts and photographs from particular eras in history were filed by real people who had biases and opinions, too.  A classic example: the eyewitness accounts of the Lincoln shooting at Ford’s Theatre in 1865.  Members of the audience were interviewed soon after the horrible event, and meticulous notes taken.  Not surprisingly, all of them were different.

It’s a percentage thing, like many others.  You do the best you can with what you’ve got.  If you find the same information in at least three places, they told us in Reporting Class at Ball State, it’s probably right.  Just remember that there’s only One who knows all of the truth in human events, and He’s not talking about them right now.


Image result for appositives


How much do you want to read about things you know?  How much about things you don’t?

I think twice before using an appositive, a phrase bookended with commas, (by the way that was one) wondering if I am telling the reader something unnecessary, or courteously letting him in on a few words that will help.

For example:  In World War I the British had to resort to conscription, or the draft, to replace the thousands of men being lost.  Not too long ago, I hate to admit, I didn’t know the what word conscription meant (perhaps because I never had much of an interest in wars).  I even think I first learned the term from the movie Braveheart.  Pitiful, I know.


Image result for appositives

Above: an elementary lesson in appositives.  We all need these from time to time.

A friend who reviewed a compilation of my grandparents’ letters asked, “What’s a bob party?”  I guess I thought everyone knew.  A sleigh ride.  Only today we don’t call them bobsleds.  One case in point.

Most times I try not to assume people know anything.  That doesn’t sound right.  I try not to assume people know everything.  I have shared before my writing motto, “Don’t underestimate anyone’s intelligence, or overestimate his memory.”  (Also good for relationships.)

I think instead of, “When in doubt, leave it out” such as when you’re not sure about a fact, the rule should be, “When in doubt, leave it in” when you are.  You never know when a reader needs a little extra information.  It may be trivial, but then again, it may be part of his pathway to understanding.  Gaps in the floorboards of knowledge can always be filled with the sawdust of appositives — or a little figurative language!

I’m about to complete a project begun seven years ago, transcribing and editing letters of two young people in the years before they were married.  There were over 300 of them between 1916 and 1919, and they tell another “amazing” story.  It took a fair amount of research for me to learn, relearn, and process the events going on around them.  I figured others reading them might appreciate what I looked up so I added paragraphs about world and American history.  I didn’t mean to write a short textbook, but unless you’re a WWI historian or teacher and constantly read about it, you forget: things that happened, why they happened, and what happened because of them.

I guess you could call my notes a great big appositive.  I hope they help explain the times and the lives that were lived.  I have found the story of Jesse O. Covell and Margaret E. Beck both heartening and fascinating.

(Are you still trying to figure out what the paint at the top has to do with the article?  I just had to give my subject a bit more color.) 




Out of Sorts

It started when I put a few items in my closet together according to color.  My clothes had become far too jumbled and unorganized, and in a few choice moves looked much better.  As I was musing whether to put something purple on a purple hanger instead of the yellow blouse it held, I decided to continue sorting, but things made of paper rather than cloth.

(Not my closet, by the way)

So, rejuvenated by the 20-minute closet transformation, I swept downstairs to attack THE STACKS.

I don’t pay much attention to keeping notes together when I write.  Then mail comes in, and since most of it is flat, gets piled in with the notes.  And various letters, birthday cards from six months ago, and a few three dimensional items that belong in the junk drawer.  There are also the paint samples I brought home from Lowe’s.

Feeling obligated, I put them up behind light switches to determine whether the living room could best be brightened by Silky White, Aged Beige, or Burnished Clay.  I think I’ll go with the second one because I’m partial to rhyming words…

Plastic tubs lately cleared of old holiday tags and embellishments were waiting to receive pages in their categories.  I started filing like a poker dealer.  Notes, bills, family records.  Notes, bills, family records.  Notes…

Then the phone rang.  Or I guess I was the one who speed dialed.  Everyone needs to inform a sister about an exciting moment of high industry.

Later, I continued the distribution.  Ten minutes in I was hungry for lunch.  Never mind that it was 9:30 — nutritious fresh fruit (plus a few Christmas chocolates) would provide new energy for cleaning.

It ended up being a two-day deal.  Did I say two?  I mean three…well, the tubs are half filled, and my stacks of paper are half the size they used to be.  I found some interesting stuff which I’d put aside last summer to use in writing projects. (It is?)

I also discovered coupons, leftover fuzzy photos from my daughter’s high school graduation scrapbook which I triumphantly finished before Christmas (she’s 38), and a multitude of bills that had already been paid.  I filled a trash bag and took it to the garage.

I figured the experience would make an inspiring blog topic because every writer needs to be well-organized.  Just wait until I get a real office instead of a dining room table.




I’d a general studies understanding of muckrakers in the Progressive Era, including Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle.  His novel led to the Pure Food and Drug Act, which in turn made food safer for all Americans to eat.

I’d a small memory of reading about a woman writer in this group, so labeled by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Her work helped bring down Standard Oil Company.

Ida Tarbell.

Born in 1857, Ida grew up in a comfortable home in northwestern Pennsylvania.  Her father developed wooden tanks for storing oil, and then became an independent refiner himself.  When John D. Rockefeller made secret deals with major railroads, most of the competition in the area were forced to sell out to him.

Not Tarbell.  But his business partner committed suicide, and things were rough for the family.  In the meantime Rockefeller repeated his tactics in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York, building up the Standard Oil monopoly.

Ida was the only female in her freshman class at Allegheny College.  After graduation she taught science, quitting after two years (I imagine most teachers entertain the same thought).  She became a writer for a magazine called the Chataquan in her hometown.  Then she left to live in Paris as a freelance writer, where she met Samuel McClure.  He asked her to join his new magazine’s staff in New York.

Something happened next which typifies her career in journalism.  Remembering from childhood the effect of Lincoln’s assassination on her family and community, she wondered if there was more information about his life yet to publish.  His former secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, had used access to his papers and their personal memories to write a well-received, multi-volume biography.  Was there anything left to be found on Abraham Lincoln?  So she went to see Nicolay.

No, he told her.  They’d covered it all.

Well, this is one reason I’d a liked Ida.  No one can say they’ve covered it all, and she knew it.  So she began to look.

She visited Robert Todd Lincoln.  He had the earliest known photograph of his father, a daguerreotype which had not been circulated outside the family, and was pleased to share it with her.  She dug deeper, finding Lincoln’s first published speech, and his and Mary’s marriage license.  Hay and Nicolay had missed both.  She interviewed many others who had known Lincoln, putting together a picture of his early life in Indiana and Illinois which led to different conclusions.  Though his childhood on the frontier had been rough, it was happy, and had encouraged traits that led to his presidency.

Ida’s investigative reporting turned into a Lincoln biography serialized in McClure’s.  It raised the magazine’s circulation substantially and was published in book form.  Then she began a five-year project on something else she could never forget: the business practices of Standard Oil.

Ida interviewed lawyers and employees of the company, including a senior executive.  Methodically, she read public records.  She took a lot of time studying court documents.  “One of Mr. Rockefeller’s most impressive characteristics is patience,” she wrote.  There was “no one who could dare more while he waited…”  She used the same patience while compiling her her massive notes.

When “The History of Standard Oil,” was published in installments in 1902 and 1903, it caused an uproar.  She also published a character sketch of him in 1904, describing him as “the oldest man in the world.”  Rockefeller refused to comment, saying she was misguided.  Ida Tarbell’s writings led to a lawsuit against Standard Oil via the Sherman Antitrust Act, and the eventual breaking up of the company in 1911.  “They had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me,” she said.

She had a talent for finding information and presenting it to the public.  “A mind which really lays hold of a subject is not easily detached from it,” was another of her frank observations.

President Roosevelt had coined the term of muckraker with his 1906 speech, “The Man With the Muck Rake.”  It was derived from a character in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, someone who was always looking down and stirring up what the animals had left behind.  The individual he was referring to at the time was David Graham Philips, who wrote for the Hearst magazine Cosmopolitan.

Correspondence survives from 1911 and 1912 between Theodore, a contributor to the Outlook magazine; and Ida, who had become the part owner, editor and writer for the American.  On April 28, 1911, he asked her to share his disappointment with colleagues whose article appeared alongside hers.  Soon after, on May 6, he dispensed with a formal salutation and began with: “Oh!  Miss Tarbell, Miss Tarbell!  How can you take the view you do of the Herald!  You compare it with the Tribune…”  She had criticized his magazine for printing an advertisement that looked like a regular news piece.  But friendly letters from the next year show that the two met occasionally for a business lunch.

She did not agree she had been one of the muckrakers, and wrote in her autobiography (not long before her death at age 86 in 1944), referring to

this classification…which I did not like. All the radical element, and I numbered many friends among them, were begging me to join their movements. I soon found that most of them wanted attacks. They had little interest in balanced findings. Now I was convinced that in the long run the public they were trying to stir would weary of vituperation, that if you were to secure permanent results the mind must be convinced.

I need to take more time with some primary sources to find out why many books and articles still lump her into the same category with them.

Sources: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,,,,,  The University of Michigan site offers a fascinating article from a 1998 issue of the Journal of Abraham Lincoln.  For an excellent, well-rounded account of early 20th Century journalists and politicians, see Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bully Pulpit (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Depth of Focus

A long time ago (in college) when I had a borrowed camera on which the knobs were so hard to turn that my thumbs were always red, I learned about aperture and depth of focus.  One had to do with light and the lens.  The other was the ability to transfer an object into a sharp image on paper.

I suppose, in a general way, depth of focus could also be used to label how much a body knows about something.  For me it is the growing up years of the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

I didn’t narrow to that topic at the beginning.  I was just interested in “the biggest character in American history,” as a recent biographer has described him.  I knew something of his Rough Rider personality, but not much about the rest of his sixty years, even what he’d done a hundred years ago as highest elected official in our country.

TR speaking in 1902 (

After tracking the places he’d lived, people he’d known, and jobs he’d held, I asked more questions.  Why was he interested in nature?  How could he have learned so much on his own?  I looked to primary sources for answers.  Mostly, I just kept reading.

I’m still amazed at how much one can learn independently by taking the time to read (Remember the Birdman of Alcatraz?).  Reliable websites instantly cough up facts for us, but sitting down with a book and reading it from cover to cover is crucial to our understanding.  Bits and pieces add up to information.  A book adds up to a conclusion of some kind, even if it isn’t the author’s.

William Henry Harbaugh artfully tells of Roosevelt’s political life.  David McCullough reveals family and social influences on a sickly little boy who metamorphosed into a leader.  Edmund Morris meticulously chronicles his drive to accomplish, but lets you make up your mind about which factors influenced him most.  Another earlier Pullitzer Prize winner, Henry Pringle, seems to have dipped his objectives in acid wash before he started to write.

There are more who used honey.  Some were TR’s contemporaries who could call upon their own memories.  Since then others have added to the list, among them Stephan Lorant (who assembled a photobiopic), Paul Cutright, Carleton Putnam, Nathan Miller, Kathleen Dalton, and Candice Millard.  The thirty-five books Theodore Roosevelt authored himself, including his autobiography, and the subjects he chose, say a lot about him, too.

Theodore at sixteen (Harvard University photograph)

I set out to tell more about “Teedie” between the ages of eight and eighteen than they had (and came pretty close).  New leads about his boyhood friends gave me more of the story.  Isn’t that true of our own friendships?  In the Houghton Library at Harvard University I read a cache of papers from the boys’ nature club which had never been published.  I also located photographs of the house he lived in from 1872 to 1884, which no one else did.

With Theodore’s life as the connecting wire, I’ve spiraled a notebook into other worlds  — of days gone by and of the outdoors — which you can see in my blog posts.  Birds are an obvious tangent.  Due to my research, I can tell you scientific names, songs, habits, and the danger they’re in today.  Looking closely at movers and shakers of the past, particularly presidents, has been enlightening.  It is much easier to remember people and events when you have stories to go with them.

The Lilly Foundation of Indiana continues to give grant funds to teachers like me to make physical searches into all kinds of things — under the headings of history, science, art, music, literature, which also adds to the sum of understanding as we pass the experiences to others.

I discovered much about an interesting American and kept looking.  Theodore Roosevelt not my idol, but he is my hero.  Looking through any lens, we need more of those.

Worn-out Phrases, and Long Engazes

Ha! You thought I was going to talk about unrequited love, or maybe the legacy of the Mamas and the Papas.  I just tacked on the last three words to throw you off.

Trite! Tired! Overused!  Can you spell C-L-I-C-H-E?

Expressions that have been written or said too many times should draw a penalty of some kind. A reader’s refusal to go any further? Termination of employment? Hanging by the thumbs in a newspaper office?

I’d better stop drinking this Nicaraguan coffee and slow down.

It is irritating, to some degree. to hear the same things over and over.

“Ya think?  From the get-go.  Long story short.  At the end of the day.   Don’t go there.  Too much on my plate.  Note to self.  That being said.  Quick question.”  (There never should be such a thing.)

“Not so much.  Twenty-four/seven.  Back in the day.  In the mix.  Outside the box.  I, for one.  Touch base with.  As well.” (That’s the worst.  I push for “too” and that’s it.  Would you agree, too?)

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Expressing ourselves means we should probably make an effort to think up our own way to say things.  At least most of the time.  A future rumination here will center on the commonplace use of templates.

I do disagree with three “clichés” noted by one source.  They were (1) “Thank you.”  (2) “Let me get that for you.”  (3) “Please, you go first.”  When society starts classifying manners as cliché, we’re all in trouble.

If you don’t have something original to say, don’t say it.  Maybe I’d better rephrase that.

I’m thinking.