Show, Don’t Tell

The month of September came to us in a blaze of glory. The weather was absolutely outstanding. Warm sunny days, and cool evenings, the kind you can sit outside in to shoot the breeze with friends over drinks. Then something changed and we now find ourselves in a cool spell with grey rainy days. My mood has changed significantly. I find it hard to be my usual gleeful self. Morbid is the word I would use today to describe mood.

Yesterday’s post reminded me of an english teacher I had in college. His last name was Walsh. I can still see his face and hear his voice. He was what I will call a dandy. His background before teaching was the US Military. How he survived twenty or thirty years with his effeminate manners and speech I cannot fathom. Nevertheless he was a great man. He must have liked me because he often used my writing as an example of what he liked in a piece. His likes, however, never got me more than a “C” grade.

One thing his encouragement did for me is to foster a notion that I could write, and tell a story. He never mentioned the current teachings of “show not tell” the story. When I read books today, I take particular note of how the author shows me what he is writing about. At first I didn’t understand what was meant by show. Now, I understand it, and recognize how it is done. Showing does make a story more readable, and more easily understood. Seeing a scene in your mind makes the story more compelling. Telling a story is often blah.

I rationalized that telling a story takes a bit of drama, but I didn’t understand that even when telling a story it is better if the listener converts what he hears into a picture in his mind. Seeing that picture makes things come alive for the listener. Of course the whole thing changes if one is writing non-fiction. In non-fiction the narrative is based on facts. I suppose it is possible to also include a show aspect to describing COVID-19 statistics in a dissertation on how the virus affects a body. It never hurts to spice up the numbers with gory scenes of internal mechanisms gone awry.

As an engineer I wrote many reports on experiments I conducted. Often I had to compare design A to design B. It was common to use third person in the narrative. Terms like “the sample was tested” or “the sample-A was conditioned.” My grammar checker always pointed out that using third person narrative was not as effective as using first person. That may be true when writing fiction, but I don’t think is is as effective when writing lab reports. First person narrative implies that you are in the act of doing something while third person describes what was done. It took several years for me to get out of the habit of writing in the third person narrative, and now I can’t write a very good lab report anymore, but I will never have to write another lone again so what does it matter?

. . . that’s all I have to say about that.

In Over My Head


I visited Mendel High School once before I signed up. They held an open house in the winter.  Mom and I took the tour and got to know the place, or so I thought.

On my first day, entering the main hallway, was very exciting.  All of a sudden I didn’t know where anything was.  The letter I got said to report to room 103 for home room.  “Where is room 103”, I asked myself.  I climbed the stairs up to the main floor. There were people everywhere but no one to help.  I walked the main floor looking for 103 but couldn’t find it.  I finally broke down and asked.  By this time my heart was pounding fast because it was getting closer to the 9:00 a.m. start time.  A loud bell rang and then shut off.  That scared me.  The bustle of activity in the halls was even faster now.

Room 103 was on the ground floor downstairs.  Whew!  I got into the room with a minute to spare.

The bell ruled my life at Mendel.  The idea of a bell ringing to let us know a class was over or beginning was totally new to me.  Getting up from your desk at the bell seemed disrespectful to the teacher.  AT OLH we stayed in the same seat all day, we got up when Sister told us to.  We would never think of getting up and walking out on her because the time was up.

My home room meant that it was the very first class of the day, and that is when the teacher took the roll call. My home room teacher was Mr. Mills;  he was also the football coach.

Another strange new practice was the ‘announcements’.  When the principal or a school leader wanted to talk to us, he’d turn on the public address system.  Each room had a speaker and we listened to the announcements during our home room session.   Once roll call and announcements were completed, Mr. Mills started teaching General Science.  This subject fascinated me because it covered all of the practical things in life, like water seeking it’s own level.  I’d learn much later that General Science was basic physics.  Physics is the foundation of engineering.

It always seemed like we just got started in General Science when the bell rang and class was over.  The next class was Algebra, taught by Mr. Magee, the assistant football coach.  He came to our room to teach the class.  I never heard of algebra before and wondered what it would be.  Once he started, I loved it.  The whole idea of algebra was fascinating.

Being in a Catholic school meant we always had a class in religion, which, for the first time in my life, was taught by a lay person.

After lunch on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I had woodshop for two hours with Father Hennessy.  There was also English and something called Social Science.  Of all the classes, I hated English and Social Science the most.  What do they have to do with being an engineer? The question haunted me.  Yet, in looking back over my years as an engineer, those two subjects were an integral part of my life and work.  So many times during school, both high school and college, I would ask myself the question “What does this subject have to do with engineering?”  The answer was always ‘nothing’.  The simple truth is that subjects like Social Science, Art Appreciation, Philosophy and Religion may not directly be a part of engineering, but they are a huge part of life. Knowing about many things makes me a better person all over.  I didn’t believe it or understand it back then.  I did know that I wouldn’t graduate with the credits.

Credit is another concept that was new to me.  In grammar school, everyone learned the same things, but in high school the kids in a home room could be learning along four different tracks.  At Mendel, it was Pre-engineering, Scientific, Business or General.  All of the curricula were preparing the student for college, but each one had slightly different subjects to learn.  Each subject carried credit hours and to graduate I needed a certain number of credit hours completed successfully.  Credits made it easier for the school and student to know how close one was to graduation.  Oops, the bell just rang; it’s time to go to the next class!