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Are verbal images part of our creativity tool set? April 14, 2009

Posted by jeffyelder in Uncategorized.
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I’m a journalist, and when I was the age of the other students in this class, I used to write a lot of obituaries. I was a cub reporter at a small-town afternoon newspaper, and it was grunt work for a junior member of the staff. I spoke with a lot of family members, trying to get a sense of what kind of person their loved one was. One day I was talking with a man whose father had just died, and he told me a story to illustrate that his dad was a down-to-earth person.

The family had a lot of kids, and not a lot of money. So on Saturday nights, his parents would round everybody up, and buy a big five-pound bag of peanuts, and drive a little ways outside town. “And then we would just sit on the hood of the car, and eat peanuts, and watch the trains pull into town,” the man told me. “That was a big Saturday night for us,” he laughed. 

I can see that image so clearly in my mind: Two parents talking, kids goofing around, everybody tossing their peanut shells on the ground. Big, coal-smudged freight trains rolling into town, like a simpler time slowly passing by.

I’ve mentioned that image to people a time or two since I wrote that obit 20 years ago. It’s still on my mental clipboard. It’s part of how I see family, and lower middle class. Verbal images and stories, and the feelings and thoughts they convey, are valuable to me. Special effects are common these days in Silicon Valley. Common little stories sometimes seem to have a special effect.

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