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Rheta Johnson: Notes from a corner

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

 

 

 

FISHTRAP HOLLOW-- I work in a corner of my bedroom. My desk is an old, dark wicker one, about three feet wide and two feet deep. Its small size keeps mess at a minimum. 

 

There is a window to my right, and I try not to look out when I'm supposed to be writing. When I part the curtains to stare, I see yellow daffodils on a drab March landscape, yellow butter on dry toast.  

 

On the wall in front of me are things to admire. There is a pastel drawing of my niece Chelsey when she was about 8, all shiny hair and bright eyes, a small gap between her two front teeth. That photo helps me remember to write well. Someday she might read these words. 

 

There are two cards of French buttons held by thumbtacks to the flowered-y wallpaper. One says "Boutons de Paris" and the other "LaMode, since 1877." They are the pastel of Easter eggs, far too pretty to put in a drawer. 

 

Also from a French flea market, I have a cardboard wheel that conjugates a single French verb, "rougir," which means "to blush." I bought it for the illustration, a French boy in a big hat kissing a shy girl in an apron. 

 

For some reason, I have lots of signs that people have given me. One, a gift from friend Terry, says, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." How true. Another, from Barbara, says "Write your own life story" and has a photograph of an old manual typewriter. I write my own life story daily -- on the installment plan. Can't wait to see how it ends. 

 

One of my favorites is a greeting card from cousin Marilyn who lives in New Mexico. It has a photograph of a sheep standing behind a picket fence with a sign that says "Beware of the Sheep." It features a Mark Twain quote: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to reform." 

 

Whenever you hear a brilliant saying, it usually was uttered by Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain or Willie Nelson. 

 

Besides the drawing of Chelsey, I have two more originals -- a framed copy of an Arlo and Janis comic strip, my favorite, and a Joanne Camp watercolor of the little red house in the hayfield. 

 

I have a postcard from Villedieu in Provence, a village I stumbled upon after seeing its glory in a painting in a fancy gallery earlier the same day. I sat in an outdoor cafe in the center of the small village, marveling at coincidence and watching French farmers on tractors pulling open hampers of grapes to the wineries. It was harvest season. 

 

After I returned home, I contacted the gallery and bought the watercolor to surprise my husband. It did. 

 

On my desk itself I have a laptop computer, a Toshiba entering its seventh year of service. I dread changing computers, and I've had fewer in a long career than Elizabeth Taylor did husbands. 

 

I also keep Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," third edition, with its 85 pages of indispensable advice. "Very. Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves." 

 

Now that everyone with a computer fancies himself a writer, I think "The Elements" should be required reading. A daily devotional of "don'ts." 

 

Now you have "seen" where I write, or don't, as the case may be, two dogs on mats at my feet. 

 

 

 

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