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, 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 do 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 art. 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 construction engineer 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 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 noun or 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?

Tanya hurt herself.
Tanya hurt her. (She hurt someone else.)

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
[One number of cases]

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 —> what us are about

Now you know the phrase needs the subject: what we are about

the point of what we writers are about

=======================================

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.

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.

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

The Writing Process II, Part 2: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

RIPWriting is treasure mining, isn’t it? The sifting of options among all that language has to offer. In the process, leave the hollow expressions that lie buried from overkill to rest in peace. Settle on what’s attractive and weighty. Don’t clutter your collection with dry, ossified castoffs of nature that add nothing to your art.

If you’re writing about any of the following, you might wish to tread carefully:

Clouds
Uh oh, yup: here come the tears. Or fluffy cotton. Sigh.

Rain
Please don’t pitter patter. Oh, please. If you’ll die unless you do, just patter.

Soft kisses
*sputtttter* Eww. Wipe off.

Caress
Do you know how many caresses happen to be velvet just like yours?

Something “coursing through” veins (usually passion)
Right. *shudder*

“Take flight”
Driver caution: slippery road.

Whispers of love
*Cringe* I’ll refrain.  Bad enough poor thing made my hit list.

Starlight
This one’s forever Madonna’s: “Starlight, Starbright, first star I see tonight.” Doo roo roo, yeah baby.

The Ellipsis…
It sits in the technical toolbox for a reason. So that we can use it. But all too often it becomes an easy substitute for fuzzy thinking or an attempt to sound deep and contemplative. Let your words – the content – provoke thought. Go back and try removing these emotional markers. Go on. You will sound more crisp, better grounded.

The Holistic Wayfarer’s Lexicon of Clichés includes the exclamation point because it’s often overdone! That point under the punctuation is a drop of neon off the brush! I promise no one will miss your fuchsia, whether it’s your lips or the streak on your running shoes! In preparing to paint our first home to move into, my husband and I delighted in the thumb-sized square of peach pink on the color palette. We went on to secure a tub of the shade from the store and left it in the room for the painter. When he called to report the room finished, we hurried over. Opened the door. And screamed, “AAUUGGHH!” Suggesting itself on a swatch was one thing. Exploding on our walls was another. There was just no way. Husband whitewashed the room, then called me in to present a lovely peach pink trimming around the windows. As he was whiting out the eerie gaudiness, he discovered that just a touch of the color worked like a lovely picture frame in this case and brightened up the room.

Clichés are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the day-old aftermath lie lifeless, asking for the dignity of disposal. They are the makeup as obviously tired as the woman by the time she resigns the bar at four in the morning. I am not saying there is no more room in the literary world for cloud and tears. All right, I’m trying to be polite. But my Bible is right. There is nothing new under the sun. We all grow in the womb, cry at birth to cry in life, fear to love, love to laugh, wonder, hope, do not know, learn, believe, strive, sleep, sweat, dance and trip, birth children and dreams, eat and forget to nourish ourselves, work and work, and expire. But we want to say what is universal in our own way. You don’t need clichés muddied with handprints of the well-meaning masses. Make each your own description.

st r u gg ling artist ii

                    my boy
          i am the shade of his sun
afraid he will burn, but

i am more than the smell of the bosom
          he has learned, 
                             i am the album of regrets and
                       and deficiency and forgiving

the roots that climb deep down parents' omissions

i am the redemption of the years my mother
        pushed through the choices she didn't have, on grit and coffee

                       did you know? korean grandmothers don't
                 have a name but Grandma in korean
           and tradition erased their childhood
    -- no one heard -- their cheerful silence was
their greatest gift to us

i am the epode on the piano
        G major 7 in improv and 
                                  syncopation
while i keep time for my family, i am the   sus pension
                                  that knows to resolve

                                      the heave of jazz
                      i can S C A T

                           i am the cherry blossoms that concede
                     their soul in season, unabashed
         and the ones that could not    hold    on
                          their delicate dance down in death
                                  dust to dust    

                           i don't need self-esteem
                           i know Whose i am
                   but God doesn't have twins and
                   He doesn't make machines
         we are each His masterpiece

         no -- no, i don't need to roar
         that i am Woman

                           i just wish silence --
                  license -- to put to paper my person

              who cares what i am
       but the earnest page
and the memories and dreams that ask not to die

i am the apology that i know what i want
                    and have begun to sing before the cicada's time

                           i am the choices i live with
            am almost the books i wait
                                        wait
                                                 to write.

CherryBlossoms
The Commons Getty Collection Galleries World Map App

A fascinating report on cicadas ran in a number of media outlets 
last year. A certain species remains underground for 17 years, 
surviving on roots, to buzz an intense noise for six weeks upon 
surfacing - only to perish. After months of trying to figure out 
what about these creatures enthralled me so, it hit me in the
writing. Seventeen is about the age kids leave home for college.
 

st r u gg ling artist

                               so   i    decided
i am more than the answer to "what's for dinner?"    
     the unrelenting pile of dishes

     more than the name i changed at the altar,
     and the ways i fail Husband

     more than the boy i nursed 'til i was spent
     and would give my only breath to, more
     than the worry over the
     mishaps that visit children

caught. i feel caught  between
the rock of guilt   and   the hard place of time

as i push push my way through this beautiful life i don't deserve
for a chance to paint the helpless run of words

en route to errands i pop in an audio - Pooh's tales,
then settle back for the story that wants to tell in my head
and catch it on paper when i park the car

i race, i snatch and just the same watch
the minutes fall 
                       through
                                      hungry fingers

i am more than the faith that rose from my dead life
     because we are more than spirit but too, flesh and mind,
     borne of the Living Word that justifies our reply

what does it say of me as Wife and Mother, my grateful honor --

but that i am happiest
     (clap hand over mouth)

when my dreams find their light in the words
that come together, sometimes soldiers
in sharp line or ballerinas
in fluid form?

i realize they are never a burden, a fresh joy each time

i am the song of history and hope
(except the Greatest Women past and present have denied themselves)

i delight through the hard
hard way to get it down    just so
so u can s e e    the art and grace  in the world that thrills me

i know the prince and the pauper are apportioned the same
hours but my time feels rationed

pl e a se, let me finish this thought, but
    -- the but --
                     incommodius conjunction, my dissolution

i am more than the Kitchen i have loved but it needs taming 
Wife and Mother, there i go to 
the unrelenting pile of dishes i am 
more thanApron
I am indebted to my husband, to whom I dedicate this poem, for doing his 
darnedest to leave me to my words.

It’s Always My Fault

Every time I drive by the church where it happened, I still look away. I drown the memory in a parade of new thoughts and have managed to take Hidden Valley with the casualness I run through any other road. That evening six years ago, I was leaving the church with my toddler in my arms and didn’t realize I was about to step off a curb as we neared the parking lot. I thought I was on level ground. When the pavement gave way under my foot, we didn’t just fall. We crashed straight like a tree, Tennyson’s forehead bearing the full weight of my body in the sickening clap with concrete. I can hear him scream.

I am finding this the hardest thing I have written on this blog. The tears aside, my heart pounds with fresh pain and I am clammy with sweat, replaying the tape. My boy was okay (by medical standards, though I knew cells and neurons had their work cut out for them). And as I walked through a doorway the next day wearing him on my back, I didn’t know he was sticking his head out to the side. BAM went his head against the wall along the threshold. Yes, on the same spot.

I was beside myself when I called my husband. Rather than blame me for my incompetence and idiocy, the amazing man expressed compassion. He had only to imagine what I was going through to feel terrible for me. I will never forgive myself the injuries my son suffered that week. And I will shut off the comments if you try to encourage me out of it. Finger on the trigger.

I peer at myself as I would a lab specimen. I am not one of those people who goes around saying sorry. I don’t wring my hands, gush to please and – as much as I pity them – don’t cry for cats that are run over. I am also well versed in the theology of forgiveness and grace, my surety and the cornerstone of my faith. But when I dissect the narratives in my head, I discover so many threads of quiet self-condemnation it’s as though I’m built out of it. The bruises of masochistic abuse remain well hidden. They are more like innocent white noise of the subtext that plays out in my day.

Even now it takes effort to switch off the autopilot on the self-blame when Tennyson comes down with a cold. Why didn’t I dress him more warmly yesterday? I shouldn’t have given him dairy. My mind reels back through the previous few days to puzzle where I’d gone wrong, what I ought to have done to keep him well. I live with the sense of failure for not keeping my home tidier. Tennyson’s math workbook disappeared recently. But I just organized! I marveled. For days I scoured the car, the learning room, the laundry room, family room, office, and then looped back wondering how I could be so inept at the housekeeping so as to lose lesson books. I asked the little man again if he’d seen it. Then when I presented him with the next book in the series I’d resigned to fast-forwarding him to, my sweet child exclaimed, “Oh, I know where it is!” slipping the magic find out of a crevice behind a poster.

Disbelief. He had hidden it so he wouldn’t have to do his math. My son, who’s made no habit of lying.

I swallow guilt every morning I start him with the book while (and so that) I can get back to readers. I should sit with him more. My conscience reminds me that I have yet to teach him piano and the Korean alphabet. What will I do with myself when I come through? Ah, fortunately for me the Holistic Fault Factory runs a tireless operation. Can’t disappoint Korean management. I’ve spoken of the ongoing struggle it is for me as an artist, caught between my writing and the life outside it. A friend shared a bit of wisdom she picked up in regard to time that I have to digest: receive the gift of your limitations.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? Even when freed up to blog, I’ve felt bad for shooting out more than one post in a day, though a new rhythm is something I’ve had to deal with in the fall school year; I’ve hated to bother you. I refrained from writing about myself in any depth for a full year, not wanting to waste your time with stories of my past. I will sometimes disable the likes, feeling bad for getting “too many”. Simply unable to keep up, I’ve grudgingly learned to fall behind on all the blogs to visit back. I’m tapping into followers and visitors from January – not that anyone’s waiting. So trying to make heads and tails out of this strange creature in the mirror, I’ve a suspicion guilt is something we experience in and between relationships. I feel its weight as wife and mother, and even as blogger.

I grapple with it in connection with my body, eating guilt when I don’t do enough vegetables. As a teenager, I didn’t salt my food. I felt guilty for the flavor. Then there’s the chagrin when I ease up on the work-outs in order to write. And the resentment, those other days, in not being able to open the windows of my mind, let my words out, is actually the sorrow of being untrue to myself. I’m crazy. Annoyed every time my mother cries about all the ways she (says that she) wronged me in my younger years, I think people derive a certain pleasure in the self-incrimination. It is possible – God makes it possible – for us to live free from our failings and remorse. Why are we afraid to let these go? Why do we resist grace?