In the final book of the Vallian Trilogy, Larry Wahl’s story is completed by his wife Sharon, describing, from her perspective, their 53 years together and providing an eloquent finish to the serpentine journey of his geometry and patented invention.
This narrative weaves through their exuberant life experiences, Larry’s persuasive essays, and his mystifying geometric theory, adding to the remarkable episodes of his earlier experiences documented in Books I and II of the Vallian series. Two strong-willed people building a life together resulted in many clashes, but the love, caring, and respect they had for each other peppers the pages; illustrative anecdotes describe the crises and successes arising from the intention and energy each contributed to this incredible journey. Larry’s renaissance talents are displayed in pictures and drawings and elaborated in his many included writings.
Written in a direct and occasionally succinct manner, Sharon shares her most intimate feelings about the beginning, middle, and end of the life with this brilliant man that she never could have imagined, yet welcomed. Despite the pain suffered along with Larry as he grieved never receiving recognition for the extraordinary contributions he made to the discipline of geometry, there remains the joy of the paintings, drawings, and writing he left behind.
Dr. Sharon Wahl has had a 55-year career as a professional nurse and educator, which has been interspersed with her love of writing and helping others to write. She started writing at nine years old with a four page “newspaper” and hasn’t quit yet. In between, she has published numerous articles and book chapters, mostly in her favorite field of medicine, pathophysiology. This latest editing and writing project has spanned nine years as she assisted her husband to organize and publish the first two books of his unusual autobiography–The Vallian Trilogy–only to be left to complete the third book of the series after his death. She will continue the story with an upcoming book titled, A Journey without Larry: Suffering and Surviving.
After living all of her life on the West Coast, she now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her cantankerous tortoiseshell cat Pauline and near her daughter and son-in law Jill and Tim Grove. Son Eric Wahl currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.
[from Chapter 15–The Books: From Zip Disc to Publication]
I have no idea when Larry first conceived of putting his life to paper; I don’t even remember how I came to know there was a book to be published. Larry was very forthcoming about his activities, and he had requested my grammarian’s assistance with many of his publications, including his patents, so I’m sure that he mentioned writing an autobiography. I do know I had some of his initial writing, dating from the 70’s. He refused to call it a memoir: he insisted that the events he wrote were not remembrances; he was there as he wrote his life experiences. In Book I, he talks about having eidetic memory (marked by or involving extraordinary, accurate, and vivid recall of visual images): his experiences were relived as they originally had occurred. I find this fascinating since my memory, especially of my childhood, consists of a paucity of occurrences, actually only those that were in some way dramatic or life-threatening. . . .
Larry was a storyteller; thus, I had heard many of his anecdotes. As I read what he initially called “The Vallian Chronicles,” I jotted down the events I was familiar with that were not documented in his current writings. I developed a strategy to deal with those omissions: I would wait until we were in a quiet location and had space in our schedules, then I would say, “Can you tell me about the time you worked at Westinghouse or North American or etc.?” That was all it took: out poured the tales, complete with excruciating details, comprehensive conversations, and descriptive locales. My main problem was being able to write fast enough to keep up with his narratives; it wasn’t too long until I began to type “the dictation” directly into my computer. And in the process of spinning out the particulars, he added enough other tidbits that would help me to locate that story’s position on the emerging timeline. If I fell behind and didn’t remember what he said, I could count on him to repeat it accurately—a talent, unfortunately, I do not have!
To begin the organizing prior to editing, I gathered up all the napkins, pieces of notebook paper, and typed material from a dot matrix printer—these I would later type into Word—and, thank goodness, several Zip disks with the events, written in no particular order. The first thing I did with the Zip Disks was print out everything so I could try to order the episodes in a way I thought would make sense to our potential readers. . . .
I thought a lot about how to start the book to catch the reader’s immediate attention. At one point, I thought about beginning with one of his more dramatic CIA assassination incidents. I tried out that idea on another friend whose partner was an editor and had heard Larry’s stories first hand, but they discouraged that. And I didn’t really want to start with “I was born at 1:00 in the morning. ” I finally decided to use the brief, poignant episode when he was first taken to a Catholic children’s home, where his mother dropped him off because she felt she could no longer care for him. Then it was easy to transition to his birth story. From there, using the timeline we had developed as a guide, I was able to order the rest of the stories in a loose chronological order. However, he had included a number of essays that I took out, saving them for another book—maybe this one?—and I hadn’t even begun to review all the handwritten material. . . .
From what I have described of our process so far, it sounds like I did it all by myself—where was Larry in all of this? The truth is, in my usual, control-freak style, I did try to—do it all myself, that is. But with this initial draft, Larry taught me another lesson in the art of editing. As I previously described, Larry has many words, sophisticated words, and many more than I do, but he has a tendency to use too many of them, especially adjectives. So part of my editing process was to trim down the wordiness and limit the number of adjectives assigned to any noun. I also would sometimes change some words if I thought a sentence was not clear. This was me not being a good editor!
Remember, Larry had an eidetic memory: he knew every word I eliminated or changed! And, that I had not consulted him. After he called me on the carpet, to coin a phrase, I realized that I had literally taken over his writing project. Not only was I correcting punctuation and some grammar, I was rewriting his stories. Not OK!
From then on, with his permission, I continued to correct his grammar and put in and take out commas, but when I wanted to change something or remove adjectives, I asked permission. Even though we occasionally got into shouting matches over something I wanted to change because I couldn’t understand his particular description, after the dust settled, I would ask him to continue explaining what he was trying to describe until I could paraphrase it in a way that was acceptable to him. And I read every chapter to him as we proceeded. This took longer, but ended up with a much stronger and mutually satisfactory document. Either of us could discover sections that didn’t flow or had gaps between ideas. Not only did I learn to be a much better editor, our already “not bad” relationship, grew from this intense, but actually fun, interactive time; it created a new kind of intimacy. We had never thought that we could work together—too headstrong—but there we were, not locked in combat but dancing a graceful waltz of mutual love and respect.
Silently reading what he had written was one thing; reading it out loud had a very different effect: dramatic! I would find myself having trouble reading some of the passages to him because the pathos was so powerful that I would cry. It’s hard to read when you’re crying. Then other times, specific sections were so painful for Larry that he would have me stop reading partway through. But, Larry also had a well-honed wit that frequently graced his pages; this humor delighted us both. Sometimes his metaphors were so deliberately absurd that I would have to quit reading because of our laughing-tears. So, while the reading out loud was very useful in catching errors or missed punctuation or incomplete sentences, it was a mixed effort, slowing down the editing process. However, that technique, developed as a result of our working together, has provided an excellent strategy that I now use with individuals with whom I’m editing; that and asking permission before making changes are now valuable tools in my professional repertoire.