Bill Lyon, a legendary sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who retired in 2005 after 33 years with the paper, returned to writing for the Inquirer again this month, but this time chronicling his experiences dealing with Alzheimers, which he was diagnosed with in February, 2013.
So far he has written four articles in the series:
I’ve read all of them so far, and found them humorous, thought-provoking, honest, and hopeful. And of course, well-written.
It is today’s column that sparked the idea for my blog today.
Bill talks about how he has taught a class in creative writing for the past five years at a local community college. He notes that while there is tremendous diversity in the background of the students, they all share the same yearning: Somewhere along the way they wondered if they could write.
Here is an excerpt from his column:
They have come to the right place, because my intent is to nurture and encourage, to foster an abiding respect for the English language (which is under relentless siege from those little handheld computers that limit social intercourse to 144 characters, leaving us with a bastardized vocabulary and the slow erosion of literacy – please forgive an old man his rant).
The course lasts 16 hours total, over eight weeks. It is limited to nine students, thus ensuring that each student has a turn every week. The first class is orientation, a couple of my readings, introductions, and this assignment:
There’s a knock on the door, and it is opened to reveal a fabled creature, the Man from Mars.
I bolded the last line, because right after I read that, I thought I want to try that exercise, and so that is what I am going to do in this blog. So hold on for a second; I am going to get out my stopwatch and time myself for 20 minutes to see what I can do.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
I try not to stare at who, or what, is at my front door.
If I’m lucky, he is just here trying to collect signatures and money for some environmental cause, and decided to dress in costume to highlight the dangers of not heeding the warning signs that are all around us.
But the outfit, if that’s what it is, is so lifelike. His oversized head and green, extra long pointy fingers are frightening to look at. I try to think what kind of environmental disaster could cause damage like that, but I’m drawing blanks.
If my worst fears are realized, this is someone from another planet, here to destroy everything and everyone he meets.
All these thoughts flashed through my mind in the span of two seconds, and then I noticed he had extended his hand out to shake mine.
I returned the gesture, and I noticed not only the strength in his grip, but the smile that seemed to come to his face.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jim,” he said.
I’m not sure how he knew my name, but that was the least of my concerns.
“My name is Marty, and I come from the planet Mars. Our planet has been following your planet’s Presidential election, and at first we were amused, but now we have become quite concerned. We have picked up a great deal of chatter from your country, with many people wondering if this is the best the United States can do.”
“So my planet has sent me on a mission to become your next President. We know it is late in the game, but we have ways of catching up very quickly and getting my name out in the public. And that is why I am at your door today, asking for your support. I need 1,000,000 signatures by the end of the week to get on the ballot at the convention.”
It took me a few minutes to compose myself, and all I could ask him was how many he had already.
“800,000”, he replied, “and that has only taken me about an hour”.
I had so many questions, but when he told me that the basis for his platform was kindness, I was all in.
Ok, so my 20 minutes ended about 10 seconds after I finished that last sentence.
I found the exercise fun and challenging, and I had no idea where it was headed when I started. The idea of bringing in the Presidential election came to me about five minutes into the writing.
I was hoping to use some humor, but I realized how hard that is to do in such a short time period and with such a topic. (I guess that’s what improv is all about.)
It would be nice if Bill somehow had a chance to look at my story and offer some feedback, but I know that’s a long shot. Based on his writing alone, I have the sense that Bill is a wonderful teacher, passionate about sharing his gift with the world.
And he is doing this not only for his students at Delaware County Community College, but for all his readers as well.
Bill has referred to Alzheimers as “death by inches”, and has given his disease the name “Al”.
Despite knowing that Al is undefeated and has no known cure, he states in the first article in the series that he would “very much like to kick Al’s ass.”
That seems to be the right attitude, and I wish him the best in his fight.