I have a story about me and my transformation from babbler to minimalist. Unfortunately, it was a painful experience. But those are often the best kind.
At the high school I attended near the Canadian and Montana borders, we had an English teacher by the name of Edna Danielson, who was phenomenal at a couple of things: She excelled at teaching English and she was an expert at putting anyone and everyone who deserved it in their place.
She could sense arrogance, cockiness, laziness and unruliness from miles away and that, in combination with her ability to see out of the back of her head, molded her into nothing short of an authoritative artisan.
Students foolish enough to engage in horseplay in her queendom suffered the repercussions of her very sarcastic and embarrassing verbal wrath, to the point that they’d never consider engaging in that or even a semi-similar exercise.
As for me, my life-changing moment, involving Mrs. Danielson, came about in English class after she had given us a topic to write about and then granted us the class period to do so. We were required to hand-in the completed assignment for overnight grading.
I don’t remember the topic, but I do remember that I felt like I was drawing water from a dry well. The inspiration, at least that day, was just not there. However, that didn’t prevent me from scratching out a page full of nonsensical diatribe.
The next day our graded papers were returned to us and at the top of mine, handwritten in red ink, Mrs. Danielson had this to say: “Kevin, you can say less with more words than anyone I know.”
At first glance, I took it as a compliment, until I saw the grade next to it. Then I quickly realized that I had been artistically dressed-down in a life-changing, crossroads kind of way.
How was it possible for someone to say so much, cover so much ground, and at the same time alter the course of a life with one simple sentence, I wondered? Now that’s power.
From there, I went on to the University of North Dakota, where my freshman English class was good, but it was a step down from that which I’d just experienced in high school.
Years later, I was living in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and I had just heard Jim Tracy, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, being interviewed for television. In the process, he babbled on and on and, in the course of doing so, said nothing of consequence.
It prompted me to write a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, telling about how Tracy’s interview reminded me of the time my English teacher told me that I could say less with more words than anyone she knew.
The letter was published in the Los Angeles Times; I tore out the page, circled the letter and sent it to Mrs. Danielson back in North Dakota with a note that said, “There, now you’re in the Los Angeles Times.”
What’s the moral of that story? You can never predict how far the waves from one little stone thrown in a pond might travel.