Archive for July, 2016

It never ceases to amaze me how a writer’s use of words or clever phrasing can make me sit up and take notice of even the dullest subjects. I recently came across an article in AARP magazine about Alzheimer’s (“Speak, Memory”, Tim Kreider, Feb/March issue of AARP magazine) that riveted my attention all through the three pages of the essay about dealing with this disease. As we all know, the topic has been written to death. From every possible angle we’ve heard the stories, mostly heart tugging, or from the health professionals, the dry and boring facts. We know there is no cure and we know that taking care of a relative with it is an emotionally draining situation. But it’s Kreider’s use of the English language to describe the hell his friend is going through and the happiness, yes, “life is good”, that the friend’s mother with Alzheimer’s feels, is what makes this a great piece of writing.

Granted, I neither have nor know anyone who has Alzheimer’s so I’m not on the “front lines” so to speak. I could read the piece from a detached perspective. Kreider intermingles musings about his own memory problems with his account of his friend’s caregiver trials and tribulations (being so close to the problem, Kreider own natural memory lapses start to send up red flags that perhaps he, too, is going down that road). I loved this one that he wrote: “…that I’d kept a journal, as if that would have saved the days from evaporating like alcohol wicking off the skin.”

He also quotes his friend’s clever use of a simile: “…says Zach, ‘in which case, memory is pretty much dryer lint.’.”

However, it’s his own musings on this insidious disease and how it changes our view of existence that grabbed my attention. Here are a few of what I consider the best use of language to describe an intractable situation:

“…not all the sadistic genius of the Inquition or the Gestapo could have devised a subtler, more exquisite torture than to strip people of their memories, ransack the jewels and heirlooms of the mind and scatter them underfoot, giving victims just enough sporadic reprieves of lucidity to be able to understand what is being done to them.”

“It would be nice to believe that somewhere in the holocaust of memory will be the ashes of those moments so vivid and pungent that they continue to have the power to thrill us or turn our stomachs, ashes that seem not past but present…”

“…booster rockets corkscrewing into a deep blue sky in the blind trajectories of madness; the universe of a human brain blasted into mist.”

If you want your writing to explode off the page, take a page from Kreider’s playbook and chose words that paint a picture. Use phrasing that, like fireworks, will twinkle, sparkle, and explode, lighting up the world of dull and boring.

Quote of the Week

Posted: July 19, 2016 in Quotes
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“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Anonymous

If children see phones and the Internet as magical places, can books hold the same magic in answering their questions about the world around them?

Jon Mooallem’s response, excerpted from the January 2016 issue of Wired Magazine, question section, to a reader’s inquiry, “When my 5 year old asks a question, is there a difference between looking it up in a book and just using my phone?” gets to the heart of this question.

He says, “To a 5 year old, phones are magic. The Internet is magic. An older kid might be able to understand the technology and infrastructure involved, the nature of Wikipedia, and so on, but for a child so young, the answer just appears, miraculously, like a playing card yanked from a bystander’s back pocket (in a magic trick). Leafing through a book together, by comparison, is a more collaborative, tactile, self-evident process. It’s a journey toward the answer, one that your child gets to go on.
What I’m talking about it the difference between learning and being told, between answering a specific question and getting a child excited about answering it on their own.”

In this day and age of technological wonders where answers to any question is at the tip of your fingertips, learning how to find an answer on your own is not only a valuable skill but also teaches the child how to place trust in their own intellect and ability to discern what is true and what is not!

“We’re trying to stay within the zip code of the era.” – Rich Talauega as quoted in the June issue of Vogue magazine’s article, Hop to It, about the TV series The Get Down which describes the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx circa 1977.

A friend of mine has become interested in training her dog some tricks. The poor creature is up in years and not really that obedient to start with. I recently spent the greater part of an hour watching my friend try to get her dog to understand commands such as: to sit, to heel, to roll over, to jump. All to no avail. I finally chimed in “maybe you should just ask her ‘to snuggle’?”

This encounter got me to thinking about verbs. I realized that dog training relies almost exclusively on the use of verbs! It became an invitation to pay attention to the verbs, the everyday words, which are part of our lives.

Verbs are the workhorses of our sentences. They are the actors that propel the elements of a sentence forward. No wonder that children, when learning sentence structure in school, are told that verbs are “action words”. To hug, to cook, to drive, to exercise, to teach, to learn, to work, to play, to rest, are just a few of the thousand in our language that come to mind.

For example, some of the richest language is found in the Bible and verbs play an important part especially in the Psalms. God strengthens, satisfies, proclaims, blesses. This describes one heck of an active God, always moving to bring good.

Secular writers, in whose books characters come alive, also know how select and make the best use of verbs. Thumb through your favorite book and see how it was the verbs that gave the story momentum and the characters color.

Verbs enrich not only our speech but also our lives. Let them start you on the path to paying attention to words. Then like training a dog, you will be training your mind to focus on the beauty of our language. In an abbreviated world of text messages and tweets we easily can miss that beauty. We try so hard to cram communications into the shortest possible structure that instead of building a palace we create a dilapidated doghouse!

Quote of the Week

Posted: July 5, 2016 in Quotes
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“I love being surrounded by books. For me, they’re like art, little pieces of sculpture placed all over the house, reminding me, always, of the power of the written word. Just looking at them brings me the purest kind of joy.”– Oprah, July 2016 issue of the Oprah Magazine