Monday, May 4, 2009

Then and Now: Staying in Touch

When I was stationed in (West) Germany, my peak income as a sergeant was $5,000 per year in 1979, the third year of my deployment. At that time the only options for staying in touch with America were phone calls and snail mail. I phoned my family once in a while, but mail was the only real option. Compared to now, calling home cost a fortune: a ten-minute phone call cost at least $5 when most of us made less than $100 per week.

Now I call landlines on Skype from here in the Middle East and half the time I am charged nothing. Phone cards have rates around 20 cents per minute for a call that is as reliable as calling in the states. Email only costs the access fee for internet, same with Facebook and every other electronic means of calling/writing home.

I am very happy to be able to talk to every member of my family every week. I also call friends and co-workers just on a whim because it is cheap and easy. This blog allows me to stay in touch with a lot of people without clogging their email InBoxes.

But no Blessing in this life is unmixed. I learned how to write on my deployment to Germany. I joined the Army a High School graduate who had no aspirations of going to college. Seeing the beauty of the German countryside, talking with Germans, training with British troops, flying to France in a helicopter for a War Memorial ceremony all were experiences beyond pictures. I wanted to tell my family and friends about them.

I don't know how it started, but a few months into the deployment, I started writing several drafts of the same experience as letters. First I wrote to my Mom. She mostly cared that I wrote, not what I wrote, so she got the first draft. Then I would write to Frank Capuano, my best friend from high school, or someone else who I wanted to tell about simply being in a foreign country. Sometimes I would write another more letter, same story. But the last letter in the series would be either to my sister, Jean, or my uncle Jack. They were the best writers I knew personally so I by the time I wrote their copy, I was 4 or 5 drafts from my first thoughts.

A year later when I got a job on the base newspaper it was because of all that practice writing. Even though I write every day now, the process is not the same. I write, I hit the PUBLISH POST button and never revise.

Of course, if I were writing five drafts of each post, I would be posting a lot less. But I have no doubt that I learned the craft of being a writer by those laborious rewrites. I will be writing other posts on this subject--in one draft.

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