Several months ago, B. W. Shultz tweeted to me the suggestion that —please don’t take offense, but I would probably benefit from a certain eighth grade English textbook. I decided not to take offense and I ordered it. Why can I not find it now? Did I give it to Rochester’s youngest reporter, a young man of tremendous gumption, but who—well—attended the city schools? I offered to, but the book never physically changed hands. Did I toss it because Mrs Harley thinks the house is too cluttered already with books? It drives me nuts. You would think I would have kept it as a reference.
I did order it on eBay as almost an impulse item, and I do remember cooling on the idea that I needed it—for the most part, where my language is sloppy, it is not because I do not know any better but because I do not bother. I know, for example, that you do not end sentences with a preposition (I remember a writer playing with the idea of how many he could string at end of sentence: “New York City is a bad place to get something in your eye in,” and even “New York City is a good place to get something in your eye out in) and when I take advantage of Covid time to review Dear Mr. Putin, I say of parts, “oh, my—what a mess!” and make corrections. About 80% of the book has now been gone through with a fine tooth comb. I cannot testify that there might be a comma in places where none is needed, but for the most part, it is okay.
Alas, I favor long and intricate sentences. I flatter myself that I am being like Paul, and I take comfort that he is dead and is not going to call me on it. Maybe that is Shultz’s message to me—“learn to write sparsely, can’t you?” Yes, I mostly know what to do, but still colons, dashes, single and double quote marks, and even commas drive me nuts in all their variant settings and I wouldn’t have the problem if I kept my settings more manageable. I know it—but I get carried away.
His writing is far more disciplined, and even his tweets are at times hauntingly beautiful—maybe not uniquely so—maybe I just have that impression, because he is on my radar and others aren’t—‘confirmation bias,’ the learned Bernard Strawman calls it. There is a place for sparseness, because everything you say dilutes everything you have just said—extra writing doesn’t always magnify—it just as frequently dilutes. Shultz is given in tweets to chronicle the ordinary—his own health, for example. His niece did that, too.
“It takes patience to sort my pills for the day. And when I've recovered from pill taking, it takes more patience to put the medicated cream on my poor legs. I'd rather have ice cream. ... email from grand niece. Such plans ... I was full of plans at that age too. I guess.“
“Back in 1986 I bought a new, but previous years model deVille. Wife wanted to drive it home. When we got it home, she announced that henceforth it was her car. She complained whenever I drove it.”
And, of course, he tweets of his research:
”Mostly fruitless research day. You'd think these dead people would have realized that 150 years later I'd like to read their letters and such. Such ungrateful dead people!”
He is altogether not a bad follow at all. He used to pop up in my feed frequently. For some reason, Twitter now seems to be squelching him in favor of some firebrand brother who can hardly see a reference to a church without appending something about ‘false religion’—with everything there is a time and a place, and I am reminded both of how Jesus had to reign in the Sons of Thunder, and how a certain circuit overseer used to distinquish between ‘winsome words’ and ‘wincing words.’ There are people who eat ‘Bible sandwiches’ and they fail to understand that most people don’t.
Shultz didn’t became active on Twitter until after de Vienne died. He expressly states that he steers clear of Facebook and Instagram for all the “idiots” on it, but he allows that Twitter is a nice distraction—it is like the background chatter in a coffee house.
There was a time when I thought neither of them liked me very much, but I have since come to think it was just due to their being no-nonsense researchers who think that humor in research is an abomination, and note that I have no such aversion. Moreover, my “research” is mostly pulling stuff off the internet. It’s not nothing, but it is pretty close. He is steadily warming. In answer to my post about Woodstock and how it was held during a pandemic, he tweeted that he and his “antique wife” were pulling the leg of his nephew, giving the young man to believe that they had been there, apparently toking up with rest of them. He then threw in the unnecessary detail—but completely expected of a historian—that he later fessed up and told the truth.
de Vienne wrote that when she submitted the final Volume I to Bethel of Separate Identity, via mail I suppose, they received it without comment. She speculated about this and one possibility she advanced was that they ‘were incurious about their own history.’ In the main, I think this is true. They don’t look back all that much at Bethel—they look forward.
And it is also true of me. It is not that the past history does not interest me. It is that so many things interest me more that I may never get around to it, even though I would like to. I read the book rather quickly because I told her I would write a review of it, which I did. Maybe someday I will come back to it more thoroughly.
One other reviewer wrote of the authors’ “almost fanatical attention to detail.” That was also my general impression and it makes me suppose the book is probably the foremost authority on what it writes. They don’t appear to have any agenda at all, other than illuminating history—unlike almost everyone else who weighs in on the subject. He will not be charge as Emily Baron* was—of writing a hagiography—the worst of all possible sins for an historian for its lack-of-objectivity connotation.
*See Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, chapter 1.
See ‘Separate Indentity’—Volumes I and II. It is easy searchable online.