Email to my son

Your mother has me reading her book club book, Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, taking its name from a Robert Frost poem, not a Robert Frost poem that I know, nor one that I heard him read when he appeared at Stanford when I was an undergraduate.
Wallace Stegner was, when I was an undergraduate, the director of the creative writing program, a figure widely spoken of but never seen by non-English major undergraduates. He was one of two such figures harbored in the English Department, the other being Yvor Winters, a poet and literary critic. Those two were the pillars upon which the English Department was founded. Their doctoral students and post-grads were the people who taught us Freshman English, or at least those of us lucky enough to get placed into Honors English.
As luck would have it, I drew W. Wesley Trimpi as my instructor. He was a disciple of Winters, he wrote some poetry at the time but – I have found out – became known as a literary critic in the years after I knew him. He wore tweed jackets and blue plaid sport shirts with poorly-knotted knit black ties and had the habit of pressing a piece of chalk which he held like a cigarette against his lips as a sort of extra punctuation as he spoke. Reading aloud to the class seemed to give him a special pleasure. I am a little sad that the Wikipedia entry on Yvor Winters lists several disciples but Trimpi is not listed among them. Trimpi stayed at Stanford throughout his career and became professor emeritus. I had him for Freshman English in his second year there; he was twelve years older than me.
The reason for going on like this is that I was reminded of some of the things you said about learning how to write for your professors – in particular writing for journalism versus writing for literary style – and being able to switch gears between classes. I really did have to learn how to write for Trimpi (and, fortunately, I did learn). He liked his student essays without emotion or humor, he insisted that each word had a unique meaning and that only one word could be correctly used in a particular context. Hairs were split, precision demanded. I only ever had to write like I wrote for Trimpi in that class, yet I think that it had a profound influence on everything else that I have ever written.
So maybe there is something about being able to write to specifications that is a good thing to learn.
In any event, here is a Spring desktop background for you, the product not of W. Wesley Trimpi’s English lessons but rather of having had a Brownie 620 Box camera shoved into my hands at the age of 6.

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