The Floor I Couldn’t Reach

Elmhurst was really a town back then, not too fond of change though the quiet was punctuated by noise you’d expect of a New York city. Depending on who your neighbors were, you got the occasional Mariachi outside your window or the Mexican bass throbbing under your feet. Elmhurst housed people in boxes, brick apartment buildings that stood like giant file cabinets. Our life filed under 1D, then 5H, before we settled into the roomier one-bedroom 3F. To get from one apartment to the next, you got in another box, the elevator. The door opened to hit you with the smell of the last occupants. Cigarette, curry, musky cologne. As a little girl I was afraid of the thin black space I jumped over to step in. I imagined somehow falling into the scary unknown.

It was a recurring dream I had as a kid. I pressed three in the elevator and hit the fifth floor, then watched helplessly as the numbers lit their way down. Past three. The door opened, but I didn’t live on first. I landed everywhere but the place I wanted to get to.

The funny thing is my house three decades later on the other side of the country is ostentatiously rectangular. Nothing to complain about with all the space I ever hoped for. But I wonder if the architecture of my childhood is why I’ve fancied homes with circular form and spiral stairs. Perhaps in such a house I would stop living the unwelcome dream. I long for progress in certain areas of my life. How I hate the offhand, “How are you?” because I’m always struggling, eyeing the place I can’t reach. I have been many things: tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, thankful, disappointed, hopeful. But never unmotivated in the blogging, never uninspired in the writing; it’s just these four walls of time. Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, weaving – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility. Press publish and I watch the numbers climb. I’m not deposited in some dreamer’s purgatory. Ceiling defers to sun and clouds heavy with promise, such air as I’d never tasted. This sky is the floor I could finally reach.

CloudsBlueGrey2

The Writing Process II, Part 3: From the Grammar Mafia

Godfather2Those who might have thought the Wayfarer congenial up until now must know The Godmother from New York has taken over this leg of the trip (see Uncle?) and California Girl’s backseat, engrossed in a book.

Last I checked, blogosphere was a beautiful democracy. If you are offended by what follows, remember you are free as the wind to check out or unfollow this blog. My point today is simple: learn the basics. Please.

I am not speaking of the innocent blue-moon typo. This proof of human fallibility is why we’re thankful for the saving grace of the edit. I’m not speaking to those whose native tongue is a language other than English. I’m talking to people who publish anything blissfully careless in the basics. You who faithfully streak your blog with words missing apostrophes or a whole letter as in your vs you’re, unabashed at the moments you regress to the achievements of a second grader. Before we get to the grammar, I’m talking about the mechanics that school drilled into you every darn year, third grade to middle. Do you know how to turn on the headlights so you’re visible to oncoming traffic? How’s the rear view? It’s the preliminary stuff the driving instructor wants to see you know before you pull away.

What have you to say of your intellectual laziness? Why would you give yourself license to be sloppy, to reduce your art, vandalize your presentation? If you were to take offense that I came over and markered your work, it would be curious irony given that’s what you’ve done yourself. You owe it to yourself not to look less intelligent than you are. You owe it to your readers to be clean on paper and screen. Pave their way, shovel off the stones and debris so it’s that much easier for them. Why do you not show up to the office in slippers and the shirt you slept in – even if everyday were the Casual Friday it is in the Sunny State? An inkling of social protocol, respect for the boss. A hassle to learn once for all, you say? Honestly, it is doable. If fourth graders can get it, so can you. The mechanics are just a hairsbreadth up a notch from the alphabet. I’m not talking about complex constructions, style, voice.

Many of you have published. Tell me, would Doubleday or Bantam put out your final copy with the strings of indifferent technical blotches in your story? Okay then, would you self-publish that way? Then why in — name do you blog as you do? So you never claimed to be a writer. You’re here to share your hobbies and talk about your cat. Or showcase your artwork. If you’re going to put out more than two sentences and want anyone besides Nana and your best friend to see them, retain a measure of self-respect and file and sand, please. Ah, but you mean only to encourage others in their faith. Well, Scripture enjoins us to pursue excellence in all we do, and rewards the endeavor. “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings.” Proverbs 22.29. God-fearing Mafia, you must know. You’re not wired for the screws and ratchet of language; you’re a genius Right-Brain who’s busy being creative. It’s the (professing) artist who believes there is no harm in exchanging blue for purple. What musician would shrug a B for C? They might be only a note apart but a single note changes the chord, Bach lives on to say through his arpeggios of precision. Please don’t insult me. Would you be as satisfied as the guy who wasn’t so worried about the details to the foundation of your house? But he was preoccupied with the layout and paint. The rigorous Left Brains get this. You might be easy about donating a penny to the Ronald McDonald House but see how happy you’ll stay with the accountant who doesn’t believe numbers must be accurate. Don’t gyp your readers.

The blitzkrieg of analogies isn’t to browbeat the point as it is to bring home the simple reminder that the fundamentals remain nonnegotiable in every area of life. If you’re going to take up the dignified name of writer or poet and need some work with the simple Dos and Don’ts, do retrain yourself – once for all. I begin with the epidemic glitches which happen to be the most elementary and move up to high school for those who care:

THE APOSTROPHE
1) Before you throw it in there, make sure it’s a possession (Sarah’s bag) or contraction (it’s = it is) you want to express. That apostrophe stands for something.

You’re book
Your book

2) On this one matter of words ending in s, I dare to disagree with the Writers’ Bible The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White: The authors favor the possessive with the additional ‘s (Charles’s friend) and go on to differentiate the times you tack on the apostrophe by itself (Moses’ staff), but the distinctions are just too much. Stick to the smokers’ room. The book has been out fifty years. Language favors elision over time, likes the path of least resistance. If it can drop something, it will.

3) The pronouns its, yours, hers, theirs take on no apostrophe because they already indicate possession.

its own ethic
song of yours
they took hers
that lodge of theirs

OBJECT PRONOUN
The preposition between takes objects, not subjects.

between he and I
between him and I
between her and I

between him and me
between her and me

ALL RIGHT
The law of elision, i.e. the law of human laziness, will eventually canonize alright. But all right stand as two words.

A LOT
alot
Also two words.

REFLEXIVE PRONOUN
Use the simple subject pronoun.

Cary and myself arrived at the lake.
Cary and I arrived at the lake.

The reflexive pronouns like myself, himself, yourself need a pronoun in the sentence to reflect back to.

I congratulated me.
There’s the I, the referent.

I congratulated myself.

I’m fine.  And yourself?
There is no you the yourself can hearken back to.

I’m fine.  And you?

SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT
The numbers must match.
1) Each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone call for a singular verb.

Everybody thinks they are cool. (Here, they refer to the subject everybody.)
Everybody thinks he is cool.

2) When none means not one or no one, it takes a singular verb.

None of them are going.
None of them is going.

3) Either and neither take a singular verb.

Neither of you are coming.
Neither of you is coming.
Do you know if either of these is used?

4) It’s one number.

A number of cases have revealed that
A number of cases has revealed that

MISPLACED MODIFIER
You can only think when writing.
You can think only when writing.

In the first instance, the only thing you’re doing is thinking because the only modifies whatever act follows. What you meant was to qualify the circumstance that allows you to write.

SUBJECT OF A PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE
the point of what us writers are about

The underlined phrase modifies of and behaves as one noun. Try “the point of the story.” When uncertain between the object and subject form of a pronoun, cover the distraction and you’ll hear it:

what us [writers] are about

Now you know the phrase needs the subject.

the point of what we writers are about

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If you’re still here, feeling positive that I wrote this just for you, I assure you it is not personal. How I would love the luxury of time to be able to keep track of who violated which writing law when. Maybe if I drew up a hit list of bloggers…

If you’re gun-shy at this point, you may breathe: I’m giving it back over to the Wayfarer. Decided on the hate mail? Send it to me. She’s a sweetie. I wish she were tougher. The girl refuses to police grammar in readers’ comments. Oh, homeschooling calls: Holistic Godmother goes off to teach her boy the ways of the Grammar Mafia.

Until next time.

Money in My House

Math lesson: “Mom’s money is Mom’s money and Daddy’s money is Mom’s money.”

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Boy: Counting, recounting the money he earned folding laundry this month. Saving for a tablet. “$7.50. I have a long way to go to get to $200.”

Mom bites lip, looks up at ceiling. He doesn’t know she borrowed the $120 he made as a child study in a psychology program (last year).

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Tonight

Daddy: “Daddy’s sad because he lost his wallet.”
Boy: “Oh, that means will be poor now.”

But He, Being Poor, Has Only His Dreams

TapestryWmMorrisHe Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Published 1899. William Butler Yeats, Irish poet.

 

Contour
The poem runs line to line, one long thread, on patterns of sound and rhyme. The single period shows we are not meant to stop at the end of each line until the end. The first cloths physically slides right off the tongue onto the enwrought. (Try it.) The silver light finds its rhyme mate night one-and-a-half lines down. In other words, Yeats is embroidering his words. He breaches a vigorous dictum of mine, to avoid word duplication, with a masterful reiteration of rhymes and words like light, feet, dreams. They unfold in a rhythm that carries us one line to the next as they intone a lover’s yearning.

Shape
The stanzas take on the shape of their metaphor: rectangular patches of cloth. The lines average nine syllables. Though soft, the embroidery is tight.

9 Had I the heavens’
9 Enwrought with
9 The blue and the
8 Of night and light

9 I would spread
9 But I, being poor,
9 I have spread my
10 Tread softly

Texture
This poor man could have declared, “If I had the heaven’s embroidered cloths…I would spread [them] under your feet.” But opening with h builds the poem upon a sigh, the sound of breath. We feel the dreaminess in the echo of soft consonants.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

The sounds knit smooth, silken cloths.

Attribute
The repetitions accentuate the simplicity of the poem that reflects a man with only hat and heart in his hands. Without means, he offers his beloved his best. An embroidery of words, as delicate as his hopes.

My Husband Threatened Me

Mr: I’ve had these thoughts on death. If I ever blogged, it would be a post. I think death is necessary because “….” What do you think, honey?

Mrs: Nod. Hmmm.

Mr: So can I guest blog on your site?

Mrs: Without missing a beat. Nope.

Mr: What did you say?

Mrs: Nope. (Writing’s not exactly his forté, as good as he is at everything else.)

Mr: Well, with the WordPress password you’ll be giving me, when you die I’m going to put up all sorts of poorly written posts with bad grammar.

*PROGRAM UPDATE*
So no one’s getting my password. I’d rather die and leave A Holistic Journey a sealed vault of aspiration than let anyone spill a careless word in it. If you don’t hear from me for three months, know that I’ve been dining with CS Lewis. I’ll be looking over your shoulder as you blog. Keep those standards up or I’ll get mad and rattle your window.

Related post Ode to My Readers

My Obituary

When she was young, she lived on her last dollar and books and dreams.
She worked as though her life depended on it.

She watched and smiled, said yes I’ll marry you.
She died and birthed her boy.

She played her heart on that piano and her husband heard
and loved her again.

She questioned, ate disbelief. She wept.
She prayed and prayed. She received.

She slow danced with ideas

She was frail, a leaf the wind turned over, and
a rock you couldn’t move in her convictions.

She sang blues and hymns and dreams.
She struggled to get off ground some days, and
wrote her way into the clouds, drank their rain.

She asked God for one more day because she erred, wounded, and grieved.
She loved deeply. She didn’t love enough.

She hoped her life was enough.

 

Comments all yours if you’d like to write your own here.

Paper Bag Treasure

We had recently moved to a better part of London to ensure that my brother and I could attend a decent school. Dad was a London cabbie, the kind that drove one of those large black London taxis in the era before the Uber invasion. He would usually drive off early in the morning and return home well after dark. After dinner, I remember that he and my mother would frequently close the frosted glass door to the kitchen and talk earnestly in hushed, worried tones. I sometimes sat silently at the top of the stairs, straining to catch any intelligible words that seeped through the kitchen door. When I did hear them, they usually had something to do with money: bank, bob, savings, tanner, tip, quid, fiver. The down payment on the house had exhausted my parents’ savings and the mortgage was a heavy burden, so my father’s tips determined our daily solvency.

These financial worries made a lasting impression on me. It was as if my new school, my new friends, the new house, all could disappear at a stroke. However, one evening my slipper fell down the stairs and as I skipped down to retrieve it, I felt a small lump under the carpet I had not noticed before. After carefully pulling out a flat package wrapped in a brown paper bag, I tore it open to find a thick wad of five pound notes, a king’s ransom to a seven-year-old boy with a vivid imagination and a penchant for adventure stories.

It was, I speculated, accidentally left there by the previous owners, maybe the proceeds of white slave trading. Or the sale of goods on the black market. A grin spread over my face and a glow suffused my body as I imagined the delight on my parents’ face when I announced that I had discovered a hidden treasure, the solution to our family’s problems.

I leapt to the floor and rushed into the kitchen breathless with excitement, screaming, “Look what I found!” and threw the paper bag onto the table. My mum and dad looked at the bag, looked at each other, looked at me, and then burst into laughter. The money was simply Dad’s earnings for the week, tucked away until he had time to go and deposit them in the bank.

I have never forgotten that things are not always what they seem and that “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. I also have never completely shaken off the fear of losing everything. It has shaped my life subtly in different ways. I regularly go backpacking in the wilderness for days on end, not only for solitude and enjoyment, but also to prove just how little I need to survive. I practice stoicism to inure myself against unforeseen losses, and try to arrange personal and business affairs to limit risk while still allowing for upside surprises. Sometimes I still sit on the stairs and listen.

Malcolm Greenhill at Malcolm’s Corner