Schapiro’s wordsmithing skills on display from abroad

WordsmithBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Earlier this week I sat snugged in my sweater at mid-day with the cool Shenandoah Valley breezes wafting through the open door, reading Richmond Times-Dispatch political reporter Jeff Schapiro’s latest column about his trip to Italy with wife Clare. Clare, by the way, is an accomplished cook and their vacation was for a week-long culinary class. Last year I wrote about her wonderfully delicious Christmas cookies that we added to our annual holiday baking list (see Holiday season brings new cookie recipes and Toffee bars for Christmas).

About halfway through Schapiro’s column (see Flying high above the McDonnell aftershocks), I realized his wordsmithing skills were on full-blown display when I read this sentence describing the journey toward their European destination: “Our hotel in Lecce, opposite a soaring basilica adorned with comic and confounding gargoyles, was a cushy oasis with intermittent Internet service.”

Holy moly.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between a journalist and a blogger, in my opinion. If I wrote like that —if I could write like that — it would take hours of thinking and searching for words like “comic” and “confounding” to describe the gargoyles, and what about that “cushy oasis” that provided only intermittent Internet service?

My writing is far more informal, a conversational style as if talking with someone sitting across the table. “Comic and confounding gargoyles” just doesn’t roll off my lips as a natural phrase in a sentence … perhaps something more like “decorated with scary-looking gargoyle statues.” You think?

Schapiro wrote of typing a column on his iPhone with limited Internet access and feeling the pressure of being out of the country as the McDonnell verdict broke. I cannot even imagine attempting to write on my iPhone. I find communicating on Facebook and  Twitter through my phone to be cumbersome and tedious — anything more than three words is a huge pain in the rear end trying to squeeze fingers onto that tiny keypad without losing my train of thought while searching for the correct characters. And he wrote an entire long column?

Ugh.

With his work successfully filed back in the States with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Schapiro wrote flourishingly about his dinner party: “Over many glasses of negroamaro, the potent local plonk, they posited — while wearing amused expressions — that I may have succeeded in salvaging a career otherwise scuttled for putting hedonism ahead of journalism.”

At first I thought, “He wins,” in the wordsmithing department but then realized that we all bring a variety of talents to the table. Just as  carpenters offer different skills, writers do the same. Some are more technical or clinical or studious while others are more flourishing, informal, or personable. Who’s to say one is better or worse than the other?

One thing for sure: I enjoy reading Jeff Schapiro’s political analysis — even though I disagree with him much of the time — and I even respect the fact that he makes me hunt through the dictionary to improve my wordsmithing skills. Now if I could find a twenty-five dollar word that means “well done.”

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