Vail Daily column: Sorting out the words
Ryan Summerlin October 4, 2013
During the past 24 hours, it has rained a humongous and very loud amount. At the same time, the wind has gusted in excess of a very loud and scary velocity. This storm has been a good time for me to hunker down and do some house cleaning in my office on our island. I have spent the past four years coming to terms with my life and narrating my story in print. I guess a lot of people would call it an autobiography or biography in that it is sort of a record of the ups and downs of the yo-yo pattern of the life I have led or followed so far. Maybe a memoir is a better word, I guess.
In cleaning up my desk I have uncovered a lot of dead flies and a few dead yellow jackets as well as a couple of spiders. But more important to me are a couple of questions someone wrote and asked me about and I know I have never answered them:
Q: How much do you have to tell when you write?
A: I don’t know, but the publications that I am writing the stories for spells it out in an agreement: How much I will charge and when it has to be in their hands. But I just like to write around things and let the reader use their imagination.
After skiing in 4 feet of snow in Yosemite in 1947, we drove the 800-plus miles to Sun Valley, where we would spend the winter living in our small trailer in the Challenger Inn parking lot. We were very surprised to find less than 2 inches of snow around the lodge.
Exhausted after the two-day drive, we climbed into or sleeping bags and were almost instantly asleep. Two hours later, we awoke to loud, heavy rain beating on the roof of our small trailer.
The next morning, we discovered it had rained two-thirds of the way up Baldy as far up as the Round House, and the temperature had dropped to 11 below zero and it would stay below zero for the next two and a half weeks.
It is up to the reader to finish the story of parking lot living and skiing every day.
Q: How do you describe the recent America Cup sailboat races in San Francisco?
A: They were held in sailboats that attained speeds of 58 miles an hour. You almost have to invent new words to adequately describe this new high-speed phenomenon.
Q: How much do you leave to the readers’ imagination?
A: I use as few words as possible and give the reader the credit for filling in the blanks with whatever knowledge about the subject they already have.
Here is another example of leaving things up to the readers’ imagination:
I know they call it dancing with death when you ski in potential avalanche conditions. I had just started making my second turn in deep untracked powder snow when suddenly there was a loud crack and the entire slope started to accelerate under me as 10 billion snowflakes disengaged from each other at the same time. It is up to the reader to finish the paragraph and fill in the rest of the story.
Q: Where do you do your writing and when?
A: I am very lucky because I have two offices. One is on a small island in the Northwest overlooking the sound and the other is on the side of a ski slope at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. In the many years I owned and operated my film company, I woke early and worked late. These days, I sleep late and cut off early. My writing days are interrupted by crab season and sunny golf days, but when I am cranking out a story, sometimes I will spend a dozen or so hours nonstop pounding the keys of my computer. Sometimes writing sessions are more than six or more hours long.
My biography, however, is now more than four years long.
Q: How do you get in the mood to write?
A: I don’t know. The question I would put right up there with it is ‘How do you get in the mood to eat lunch?’
Being a self-taught author, I consider myself a very lucky person because of the many years I traveled with my camera and my skis. That camera was a very powerful magnet to attract interesting people to make turns for my movies. Often, their appearance in front of the camera led to lifelong friendships that continue today years and years later.
Q: How computer literate are you?
A: Illiterate. This is partly because of bad eyesight and my wife is great at it and fixes most of the problems I get myself into. I would say I can send and receive emails, and I still have my slide rule from college, but it is not used very often and I have forgotten most of the functions of it.
I don’t think I will ever run out of things to write about even when I pass the hundred year mark.
When I was using that slide rule in college, my astro-physics professor said, “Nothing will ever escape the gravity of the Earth,” and yet we have landed a back-hoe that is digging up top soil on Mars as I write these words that you will read in an article in some place like Kalispell, Mont., two days later.
When I think back to high school, I know I did so poorly in my English class that I had to take Bonehead English in college. Not only once, but twice, before I passed it. I think that was partly because I never did understand how to diagram a sentence and never memorized what a dangling participle was and what one was for. I do not even know what a participle is much less what a dangling one does or is.
My writing can be summed up by me handing you a dictionary and asking you what you think of the story I am in the process of writing. The stories in this book just required that I sort out the words. I have been sorting out those words since I wrote my first essay in a junior high school English class. I received a failing grade on it and probably have not improved much since then.
I disagree with the skipper of an America Cup boat, after he defeated the New Zealand challenger when he was asked, “Now that you have won the America’s Cup trophy, are you going to write a book about it?”
His reply was, “Everything that is known about sailing has already been written. All you have to do is read all of those books, develop total recall and you can win sailboat races as I just did.”
If I have not made myself clear on all of the above, sometimes that is my objective (or, as my wife sometimes says, just a good excuse for not me making any sense!).
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.