Clementine is still a darling

You’ll surely recognize this folk character….

In a cavern
In a canyon
Excavating for a mine
Lived a miner
And his daughter
She was nutsy crazy freaky
And her feet were rather large
But her ducklings they did follow
When into the creek she charged
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
With big feet
Your can’t swim like the ducklings
For you’ve no flippers on your feet.
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
With big feet
You are lost and gone forever
Next in Heaven we shall meet

Did you recognized this poem as a song and thought, the writer has the lyrics all wrong?

Well, it may please you to know that you are right… as well as wrong.

This “nusty, crazy, freaky” version is from a filk song, a sort of rewritten folk song, I think I heard at a science fiction convention in 1987. I even called my ex to see if he remembered the lyrics, but he did not.

The actual folk song, Clementine, has no clear author or copyright status.

Percy Montrose and Barker Bradford have each received credit as writing Clementine in the 1840s.
The 1863 song, “Down By the River Liv’d a Maiden” by H. S. Thompson could also have provided source material.

Author Gerald Brenan attributes the song’s origins to an old Spanish ballad sung by Mexican gold rush miners.
Yet an older version I ran across, hints that the lovely maiden Clementine was a soiled dove.

No matter the origins, many of us probably know just the first part of the song that ends with our sandal wearing maiden drowning in the creek. However, Boy Scouts in the audience may be able to sing you these verses, sans refrain:

Ruby lips above the water
Blowing bubbles soft and fine
But, alas, I was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine

Then the miner, forty-niner
Soon began to peak and pine
Thought he oughta join his daughter
Now he’s with his Clementine

There’s a churchyard on the hillside
Where the flowers grow and twine
There grow roses, mongst the posies
Fertilized by Clementine

In my dreams she still doth haunt me
Robed in garments soaked in brine
Though in life I used to hug her
Now she’s dead, I draw the line

Now you Scouts may learn the moral
Of this little tale of mine
artificial respiration
Would have saved my Clementine

Oh, my darling, oh, my darling
Oh, my darling Clementine
You are lost and gone forever
Dreadful sorry, Clementine
And the final verse of the last part of the purported Scout version:

How I missed her, how I missed her
How I missed my Clementine
Till I kissed her little sister
And forgot my Clementine

Although Clementine’s popularity has dwindled over the years she has not been forgotten. Clementine the school marm was the love interest of one of the Earp bothers in the 1946 film, My Darling Clementine. Cartoon character Huckleberry Hound was known to sing Clementine horribly off-key. Tom Lehr, a 50s Harvard math professor with a bar act, also sang of Clementine, off-key.

Clearly, Clementine is not Natalie Cole, but she is an unforgettable part of the West.

Dethroning the Queen of Distraction

Don’t behead the Queen of Distraction because the siren songs she hears include e-mails to answer, pets that believe they will starve if not fed in the next two minutes, or laundry to move from the washer to the dryer.

A couple of months ago, March 4 to be exact, the Queen of Distraction followed the pattern of lawyers in offices past and present. These suited upholders of legalities and loopholes documented all of their time so that they could bill their clients.

While there is obvious merit to this line by line detailing of minutes spent, minutes wasted and minutes justified, the Queen of Distraction finally realized that she needs to retrieve her former title, the Lady of Lists.

The Lady of Lists once kept a daily to do list.

“My list had baby steps such as ‘call NVM editor’ and broad jumps like ‘WRITE whr story’,” the Lady of Lists said. “It is how I was able to write 6,000 to 10,000 words per week as a reporter. There is a visceral satisfaction to be gained by making a large strike-through on a task completed.”

On one such list, a colleague wrote: “Circle K w/ Erin 🙂 ,” because she said there was “nothing fun” on the to do list.

After being deadline driven for four-plus years, the Lady of Lists never would have thought setting and keeping deadlines of her own would prove difficult.

“The Puritan work ethic my grandparents instilled into my being meant a guaranteed sense of accomplishment at the end of a 12-hour day,” she said. “What I did for a payroll check, I can do for me. Right?”

The Lady of Lists can be a compulsive list maker if she does not carefully guard against her basic nature.

However, the life of a freelance writer is ever a learning process, so as the Queen of Distraction and the Lady of Lists merge minds they have made The Confine Distractions List:

1. Check e-mail first thing, but only respond to writing gigs
2. Work on client A’s project for at least three hours (I love paid assignments.)
3. Kiss sweetheart (Ah, the joy of working at home.)
4. Work on client B’s project for at least two hours (Did I mention that I love paid assignments?)
5. Feed pets and water plants
6. Work on client C’s project for at least an hour (Money is a nice thing to have in one’s wallet.)
7. Write fiction – one hour (One day soon, this will replace working on client A, B and C’s projects.)
8. Then, answer e-mails, return phone calls and work on non-paying assignments, bill clients per contract
9. Check in on blog, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter Sundays and Wednesdays
10. Surf net

The Queen of Distraction and Lady of Lists are imperfect sides of the same personality equation (an equation possible for writers, not mathematicians). Both outlooks have merit when getting it comes to getting the job done, knowing what it costs in time, and being able to live well.

On that note, item Number 3 should have a repeat clause. Just one. Even Puritan work ethics can be derailed.

Check out Cory Doctorow’s excellent article  Writing in an Age of Distraction for more advice.

As WKD would put it, shameless self promotion…

Not only is it fun to win, it is quite the energy boost. The ATM machine ate the lovely check APW gave me for sweeping the contest right up.

Here are the rest of my awards from the
2009 Arizona Press Women Communications Contest

Columns – General
First Place
“Popa watch me fly”
“Purses are just modern bags of infinite holding”
both The Rim Review, both headed for national competition

Special Articles – Travel
Second Place
“Kilimanjaro hike brings brother adventurers closer together”
Rim Country Gazette, print edition, July 24, 2008

Publications regularly edited by entrant – Non-daily newspaper
Second Place
Rim Country Gazette (RCG)

Personality Profile – More than 500 words
Second Place
“Carl Backus’ Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial” and “Tour of Duty for Lt. Backes”

Third Place
“A Pretty Girl and a Wild Lad Fell in Love”
Payson Roundup Newspaper (PRN)

Honorable Mention
“Young singer songwriter balances college and her art”

Special Articles – Physical/mental health, fitness, self-help
Third Place
“The dawn of running therapy for six Payson women”
“A man and his dog”
both PRN

Effort vindicated with Outstanding Writing Award

When Jeff Vandermeer returned from a tour of duty in Iraq to surprise his younger brother at graduation I was the lucky reporter assigned to the story.

“Brothers reunite at graduation”  was the last story I wrote as a reporter for the Payson Roundup Newspaper. Graduation ceremonies ended around 10 p.m. on a Thursday and was in the office until about 1:30 a.m. Friday crafting the story for the front page.”

This past evening, the story was given a mere Honorable Mention by a judge for the Arizona Press Women 2009 Communications Contest.

I admit my heart sank as I believe “Brothers… ” is one of the best feature stories I have ever written. The unknown judge wrote: “The extended stage/play metaphor is a bit labored and doesn’t really fit the occasion that well but the story has some nice moments.”

While I believe the judge was dead-on with comments on some of my other entries, and it was nice that the judge took the time to comment, “didn’t fit the occasion” made me bristle.

Payson is a small town and one of my beats was school activities. I knew the school. The judge did not. I met the younger brother Steven Vandermeer while covering another story. I was there. The Judge was not.

At the end of the evening I was stunned when the contest chair announced  “Brothers reunite at graduation” was recognized by the Arizona Newspaper Association  for the Arizona Press Women Communication Contest with the Outstanding Writing Award.

Kristin Gilger, Assistant Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications wrote of “Brothers…” in an e-mail to the contest chair:

“What makes this simple story compelling is the way it is constructed. The writer sets up her story like a stage play… Telling the story this way draws the reader in, gives the piece a dramatic narrative structure and also helps to capture the drama and fun of the event…. The author’s voice comes through, but it does not overwhelm the telling of the story or the real heroes–two brothers who are happy to be reunited.”


So although the story won’t be going on to nationals, I am delighted.

My journalism training was in the newsroom, and while my first editor, Jerry Thebado, told me “writing news stories is not rocket science, ” it is nice to hear from someone whose job it is to know that I am quite capable.

Kudos to photographer Andy Towle for staying up late to get the picture and editor Tom Brossart for the assignment. And, thanks to the Vandermeers for the flowers.

I also won the Outstanding Writing Award in 2007 for “Happy ending.” you can read it here: