Early Bird Gets the Word

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I’ve been in the habit for so long, I can’t recall when it began. Some will tell you that my habit is odious. Some are offended by it. “Why can’t you quit?” someone asked. “Just act normal.”

“But this is normal,” I reply, “normal for me.”

Back when I smoked cigarettes, I used to think it was because I needed the nicotine. But it didn’t change after I stopped smoking. In fact, it may have become worse. I still drink coffee, and while I tell the dogs, when I rise at 3am that it’s just for coffee, that is my way of telling them not to hope for breakfast for a couple more hours.

No, the habit is not connected to coffee, though I enjoy my cup of joe first thing. There was a day last week when my wife asked me to do something before I’d had my first cup of coffee of the day, and I thought, just for a moment, that I’d crack. But I held it together, and didn’t snap at her.

Hard to conceive it is possible, but what I’m discussing this morning is more important than my coffee habit. It is the habit of getting up early to write.

The reason is simple: my mind is clearer first thing in the morning. And since I go to bed early, sometimes as early as 8 pm, I’m ready to roll out of bed and start digging at the word farm before 5 am. And that is what bothers many people. They like to laze around in bed, some of them until 8 am, if you can imagine! And I’ve heard that some people sleep until noon, though I have a hard time crediting it as anything more than rumor.

Recently, I found evidence to back up my claim that early morning is best for what I do. I love confirmation. I feel vindicated. It’s 4:59 am, and I feel like shouting out the window: Get up you lazy slugs, you’ll work better!

But of course, I’d wake everybody up. That will never do. They might find chores for me to do, or distract me with marketing calls, or spam, or post something to distract me on Facebook. No, I prefer to keep quiet when I am up early.

And now, back to writing. – David W. Wooddell

Books Feed Your Brain

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Books: If you want to be a thinker, and know stuff, you have to feed your brain. If you want to convey information that will last, books are the time-tested method.
By comparison, information seen on video is ephemeral, lasting only long enough for the image to resolve and then the camera lens usually passes along to another image, another bit of information, but again it is there and gone. It is more temporary in nature.
Digital information can be solid only temporarily for a matter of years; and is not archival. It has to be refreshed every five to ten years, and then it degrades. It is not a permanent archive such as words printed on paper, which remain the only enduring, and permanent record of whatever information was conveyed on the page. Imagine if all the books at the Library of Congress had to be copied over or reprinted every five to ten years in order for them to be read fifty years from now. 
As a adjunct: Photographs printed on high quality photo paper are the best means of preserving photographic images, especially now that we no longer have the negative film with which to make a new print.
Books. Write one, read one, shelve one, or buy one. Visit them at the library. See them in a book store. See them on a friend’s shelf and ask to look, or borrow, and read.
Your brain will thank you; your culture will thank you; and your life will be richer.
A recent New Yorker article on bibliotherapy speaks to the latter part of why we read books. Can Reading Make You Happier? It’s worth a try.
– David W. Wooddell

Last man to leave the ship

Some years ago, when I worked for National Geographic magazine, I was assigned to do pre-research for a fun story being written by Priit Vesilind. The Steamship Republic had been found in extremely deep water by the treasure hunting company, Odyssey Marine Engineering. The ship went down in a mighty storm after the steam engine stalled. Despite the storm, most of the passengers and crew survived the shipwreck, as did the gold that she was carrying for the banks in New Orleans. One of the heroes who helped passengers survive that day was a young, Union army officer named Louis Caziarc.

I have a love of quirky people. I guess in that regard, I’m like all writers and photographers. We tend to be attracted to the ones with interesting stories. But a problem with that approach to story telling is that such people are not representative of the population at large, so one must be careful about drawing generalized conclusions from the tales of such men or women. That was a corollary of something I’d discovered when I was an art researcher for the magazine: when choosing reference photos of animals, artists tend to pick the photos that show anomalies. That is probably because the animal looks distinctive, or different, and artists, like writers, tend to appreciate the unique. Problem is, those anomalies make poor reference for the population in general. I discovered that on a story about lions in the Ngoro Ngoro crater. I had passed to the artist some photos of lions in zoos, to use as reference, but hadn’t considered that lions in zoos are an inbred population, and they do show unique, or non-representative physical traits.

As I researched the passengers on the Republic when she sank, I came across Caziarc, a young Union Army officer from Boston who was returning to the south from a long, well-deserved leave after the Civil War had ended. He was a lieutenant, and aide-de-camp of General Canby, who was in charge of the Restoration of Louisiana, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

The editorial researchers at National Geographic were responsible for writing a short article for the magazine’s website, to bring to light something extra that didn’t make it into the feature article. I chose Lt. Caziarc because he had some real depth as a person, and as a military officer in the post war years. It helped that he was credited as a genuine hero after he saved lives as the Republic sank. In that regard, he was singled out for praise. Telling his individual story was a way to shed extra light on the story of the shipwreck itself. Was he representative of Union officers who helped the restoration of government and commerce in the South despite the ravages of war? You tell me.

Here’s the original Did You Know (scroll down the page)


– David W. Wooddell