Helen’s SLS Theme prompt for today is ‘soul,’ but because it’s Veterans Day (old Armistice Day), I’m going my own way with a poem which has had many beautifully-set musical adaptations.
This famous poem was composed by Pilot Officer (and Poet) John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He wrote it during August or September 1941, three months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Magee wanted to be a poet and he emulated the writing style of Rupert Brooke, for whom Magee wrote The Sonnet to Rupert Brooke. The famous poem, The Soldier, was one of Brooke’s most inspiring World War I poems.
Magee was born in Shanghai, China in 1922, to missionaries. His father was American and his mother was British. He came to the U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940, he enlisted in the RCAF and was graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941, where he wrote the poem High Flight. On December 11, 1941, Magee’s Spitfire collided with another plane over England and Magee, only 19 years of age, died in the crash. His remains are buried in the churchyard cemetery at Scopwick, Lincolnshire. (Bio & photo courtesy of USAF)
High Flight, a gift from my wife the day I earned my wings when she was married to a lieutenant almost a third my age, has hung on my office walls for 45+ years. It is a nicely decoupaged (by her) script on a carved wooden plaque.
The High Flight video takes less than one minute and sounds great.
High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
“Up, up the long delirious burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
(This poem is in the public domain.)
Happy Vet’s Day.
Look both ways and check six.
Mind gaps with your head in the clouds.
It may be just another from there-to-here story, but it is mine.
Officially, I haven’t written in my memoir for about two weeks. Sure, I typed over 50-thousand words for Nano in November, but so what? This isn’t just the telling of any story, it’s the recording of a part of my life. That first whack during Nano (something less than a 1st draft) is like putting primer on the wall before painting or prepping a canvas.
When I tried to make an outline, I ended up with a list of events somewhat out of order. Each time I had a memory or an idea, I quickly added it to the list. I now have a list of 165 items, memories, or events. There are a few duplicates, some ideas aren’t useable, and for some I still have no idea what I was thinking about or why I added it to the list.
I’ve glossed over a few how to write a memoir books. Now I’m slowly reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. I just finished Writing is My Drink, a memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor. Giving all this thought to autobiographical writing has enlightened me that I prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer autobiography to biography, and specifically memoirs. I like history. In fiction, I prefer real life/real world stories to Sci-Fi or fantasy. It’s complicated. I like them all. Anything done well is better than my favorite genre not so well done.
I’m even considering changing last year’s novel to an autobiographical novel, and rewriting it from third to first person. But that’s for later. For now, I want to keep working on this memoir. While I’ve not recently written much in it, I have been working on it. Organizing both it and meh-self has taken a bit of time.
About 80% of my writing is rewriting, and if you know how Nano goes (thou shalt not edit), that effort will require mooch-o rework. It’ll keep me off the streets, out of the bars, and out of most trouble for a while. I enjoy rewriting, editing, correcting, and improving my own work more than writing the first draft. Maybe that’s cuz I don’t have to create (think) and spell simultaneously.
I’ll be right here, in my 11×11 spare room. This is my work-space, set up with folding tables that I can take down to turn it back into a bedroom when we have visitors. While I sometimes find other locations to write, I prefer this one. I got all meh stuff around me. And look at these post-it notes behind me. Each one has one or more of the topics contained in my memoir. Those written in pink or orange highlighter are yet to be written. It’s how I’m organizing the thing until I learn Scribner.
Below is my view from the chair at my computer. The sock monkey on top is the kind that rolls around and laughs, in case I need a lift, or someone walks in here and asks me what I’m doing. A couple of windows to my right provide an uninspiring view of my neighbor’s rooftop. But I want to know when it’s raining — pluviophile, remember?
Here is a little snippet from my memoir. I was 17, would soon graduate from high school, and was Air Force bound in a few months. Shirley was my sister and Danny’s meh big brudder.
As a senior in high school, my guide and advisor regarding entrance into the military was Shirley’s husband, Jack M. This hard-core, active-duty, career Marine gave me all the advice he could – more than I could assimilate. Jack was a highly decorated First Sergeant (Sergeant Major to be) and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He would later complete two tours in Viet Nam, and he would resent being denied a third.
Sergeant Major M. was a true warrior. He was the guy you want on your side in a fight, but not necessarily the man you wanted in any situation requiring sensitivity, grace, or political correctness. Despite this, Jack was a boisterous and friendly Italian-American from Ohio who seemed to be liked by everyone.
Jack and Shirley were both Catholics, but were married by a Justice of the Peace because Jack was divorced. Eventually they were married into to the good graces of the Church, which seems strange because they never practiced their religion, or if they did, not for long.
One day Jack and I were browsing through a hardware store so he could tell me what to buy and what was good stuff. This was back when hardware stores had everything or knew where to get it.
Jack pointed at some hunting knives in a case, “Yer gunna want a good knife. Your own. Not too long, but you want good balance, feel, and steel that won’t break on bone. In the Marine Corps, everyone has a knife.”
I looked at him, “Jack, do you think I should join the Marine Corps and not the Air Force? It’s not too late to change.”
“Oh Jesus, no. First off, yer Mom would hate me, if not kill me. But I gotta tell ya, Billy. Yer Air Force material. The Marine Corps don’t work out fer kids like you. Shit, the Marine Corps is not for you.”
Jack was right. The Corps had not worked out well for Danny. Why would it for me?
Jack picked up a knife and pointed it at me. “But, this knife here looks like a good one. It’s Solingen steel and I can tell ya, the Krauts make good stuff like this. Feel it and see how it fits ya. How’s the balance?”
Jack bought the knife as a gift for me. It had a straight, one-inch wide, thick steel blade. The handle was black plastic inlaid with a red and white diamond symbol, and a black metal sheath. I soon realized that Marines have many more good uses for knives than Airmen do.
Note: My Air Force career spanned over 45 years; 22 active duty, the rest civilian. In my last job before retirement, I worked on Eglin Air Force Base for a Marine Corps Colonel. I enjoyed telling him this story.
Only you can tell your story.
Just mind the gaps and look both ways.