Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing with authority, some Hallman snippets

Tom Hallman will be joining us Monday to talk a bit about writing with authority. Here are a few recent examples of Tom's ability to, in a sentence or a few paragraphs, sum up why a story is a story.

Gas stations are society's great equalizer, a place where a guy in a Porsche pulls in behind a woman in a Pinto.

While stations used to represent freedom --Friday night cruising, Sunday drives to nowhere --now they represent uncertainty, a tap on the shoulder that says things are out of control. The attendants, especially in a state where you can't fill your own tank, become the face of the problem.


Memorial Day is made up of moments. Some big, some small. When you consider it, that's what the day is really all about.

The big battles, the glorious generals and the very wars themselves are what have captured and held our collective attention, some of the strands woven to become the fabric that binds us as a country.

And yet when we stand quietly on the holiday, observing a moment of silence as we lower our heads, we find ourselves mourning, remembering and paying tribute to the lone warrior, the stranger, the man and woman who stepped forward.

One isn't more powerful or important or better than the other. Just different.

You always have to have one to have the other.


The children who will arrive here within the hour exist in life's shadows.

At school they're teased. Or, even worse, ignored. They're the kids who ride the short bus, the boys and girls who don't fit in, the ones who struggle down hallways in wheelchairs or on crutches.

They're different.

But only on the surface.

And that's what this night is all about.

The volunteers began transforming the lobby at Portland's Shriners Hospital for Children after Friday's last appointment. They had to get the room ready for a prom thrown for children who've been coming to this hospital most of their lives.

For one night --for at least a few hours --these boys and girls could be teenagers. They didn't have to worry about fitting in. Or being understood. Or being accepted. They could reveal what lay hidden in their hearts and souls.


I t's just a dress. Only a few yards of limp fabric on a hanger. Take the finest, most expensive silk ever spun and there's still no life. And certainly no magic.

What a dress always needs is a girl.

A girl in a dress takes a father's breath away. He turns from the television when his daughter walks into the room and is struck by how quickly the years have slipped away, gone in a heartbeat when he wasn't paying attention to all the changes.

A girl in a dress stands before her mother and they realize --despite all those arguments over messy rooms and dirty dishes --that they share a bond that doesn't need to be expressed in words, only in a glance that says "We're alike."

A girl in a dress stands before a mirror and sees her past and her future, the girl she is and the woman she will become.

A dress without a girl is nothing.

That becomes clear Saturday morning when one sees the hundreds of dresses hanging from racks in a large room at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland. Every imaginable color and size are available.

They have about as much character as towels.


On this Monday morning in March, Hoppe is thinking about money. The $15 million barge project he's overseeing could end up behind schedule.

The barge is supposed to be finished in October. If Hoppe's crew doesn't get the barge in the water --a spectacle that attracts onlookers in the South Waterfront high-rises --when promised, the company faces a $2,000-a-day penalty that's written into the contract.

Hoppe pushes open a wooden door that leads from the hallway to the engineer's office, the last stop before the yard. He flips through blueprints. The 55 pages detail every inch of the 80,000-gallon barge. When done, it will have dedicated tanks to carry jet fuel, unleaded gas and diesel oil from Alaska to ports up and down the West Coast.

"A floating gas station," Hoppe says as he opens a second door and steps into the yard.

To stand in the yard is to visit a time when people built things that could be seen and explained. Look at a barge, you know what it does. How many of us understand how an iPod makes music?


In this mobile world, people move. Neighborhoods turn over, people come and go as they deal with job transfers, divorces and the need for more space or less. Sometimes what propels them is just a kind of restlessness. Something catches their eye over the horizon and they're gone.

And then . . .

There's no way of proving it --it's not like people keep local statistics on such things --but common sense makes it seem unlikely that anyone could stake a claim quite like Cramer's. Except for college and a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he's spent his entire life in one house.

Oh, by the way, the man is nearly 90.


Life's most powerful forces are invisible. How do you begin to explain faith, perseverance and love? The best you can do, at least in this case, is to stand outside a Southwest Portland home in an early morning rain and wait for a 79-year-old woman to start her day.

She limps out --cane in hand, right shoe an inch taller than the left --and is helped into a van that will carry her to a school at the foot of the hill. Although she's in constant pain, she settles into the seat with a smile. Her name is Sister Dolores Doohan. But everyone calls her "Sister D."

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