Friday, May 28, 2010


“He stumbled, bumbling and crumbling through the closed door strutting through the mattened crowd with his very good, handsomely good looks, looking like some mallianable mallard hen on the make, but in the end, after all was said and done with, so everyone else knew he wasn’t much more than just a shark of whom was wearing wolf’s clothing.”

Wow. Really? I mean, a well-turned simile and metaphor are great tools in the writers toolbox. And I’ve been known to intone a good piece of assonance as well. But, really? There are just so many things wrong with that first sentence. So many things.

I was giving a workshop on literary terms and devices in creative writing. It was for adults. Adults. Grown-ups who already considered themselves writers, but who were looking to improve their skills.

We worked through them all, from allegories to zeugmas, with examples of both good and bad usage. We talked through the question and answer segment, and it seemed everyone understood everything we had covered.

The final exercise was to write an opening sentence, using a few of the devices we had explored.

And someone, I’m assuming seriously so, turned in the sample above.

Yes, really.

An adult … who considered herself a good writer. Or as she might say, “a goodly woman with competence of writerly skills for which I consider myself to have them.”

So let’s start at the beginning.

“He stumbled…” is okay.

“…stumbled, bumbling and crumbling…” is actually a nice piece of assonance (i.e. – repetition of vowel sounds). And someone could stumble, bumble and crumble, although I’m not a big fan of the crumbling in this instance.

“…through the closed door…” presents a conflict for me. One can go through an open door, and one, upon finding a closed door, can open it to then go through, but how does one go through a closed door, except perhaps by crashing through or breaking it down?

“…strutting through …” seems contrary to stumbling, bumbling and crumbling. Can one really simultaneously stumble and strut?

“… the mattened crowd …” is either misspelled or misunderstood. I’m assuming she meant to say the “maddened crowd,” although it is more familiar to say the “maddening crowd.”

“… his very good, handsomely good looks …” is obviously redundant.

“… mallianable …” is not a word. I’m not sure if she is trying to say mammalian, or inalienable, or malleable, or what.

“… mallard hen on the make …” has suddenly switched from a he to a she? A hen is a female duck while the male duck is called a drake. It would have been so much nicer if she had said, “a drake on the make.”

“…but in the end, after all was said and done with, so everyone else knew he wasn’t much more than just …” is just wrong. Stop it.

“…a shark of whom was wearing wolf’s clothing ...” is a really weird mixed metaphor, but is somewhat intriguing. If she were intentionally using the mixed metaphor, she should have said, “a shark in wolf’s clothing.” I know, it really should be “a shark in sheep’s clothing,” but I actually like the notion of a shark in wolf’s clothing.

And did we mention that it’s a run-on sentence?

So let’s review.

Re-read the first line.

Follow this advice: NEVER WRITE LIKE THAT !

Unless you’re giving an example of how NEVER TO WRITE.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


“Could someone please turn off the world, I’m trying to think. Thank you.”

It was the unmistakable voice of Jimmy, a rather intense eight-year-old who was never shy about expressing his thoughts or feelings. And he was the most unusually passionate kid I had ever met. When he played, he did so with remarkable enthusiasm, as if it were the last game he would ever play. When he was reading, he seemed to get absolutely lost in the pages of whatever world was waiting to invite him in between the book’s covers. And sometimes it would take minutes for him to re-acquaint himself with the real world when he was done reading. It was as if each experience was for him, something to commit to and savor.

Except for nature shows, he eschewed television, making him even more unusual, but in a very admirable way. And he loved storytelling, whether it was his to tell or someone else’s to listen to.

To say his imagination was fertile was like saying the sky was full of stars. His drawings were as full as his writing, but never cluttered or unwieldy. He seemed to exhibit an uncanny awareness of balance and boldness.

I always looked forward to telling stories in his classroom, because of his simple yet deep appreciation for my humble offerings. It was as though he could really see the pictures I painted with my words. Even the pictures of words unspoken, but part of the story nonetheless.

So I was deeply saddened when I heard that he had died, the innocent victim of a gang shooting.

Deeply saddened.

And I wondered what the world would miss because of his absence. But I realized it didn’t matter, because to Jimmy, it wouldn’t have mattered.

He was not concerned with his legacy or making his mark or uncovering the ultimate purpose of life. Jimmy was concerned with living in whatever moment he was in. If he got angry, he was angry in that moment and when it had passed, for Jimmy it was over. If he laughed or cried, it was felt intensely and shared loudly, but again, when it had passed, it was over. He played, and learned, and touched lives always in the moment. And then it was over. He moved on, leaving only his footprints for someone else to see and remember.

So here’s to you, Jimmy. Someone turned off your world here, leaving you to explore and think in the next. And knowing you as I did, I’m confident you’ll explore your new world with remarkable enthusiasm and live in each and every moment of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


“Hey, can I have your spare money?” he asked, hand outstretched in anticipation.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“Your spare money,” he said. “Can I have it? I saw you pay for that $1 cup of coffee with a five dollar bill, so I know you got change. I need it to buy some food.”

“But if I give my change to you, what will I use to buy my lunch?”

“You got more man,” he said. “I know you do. People like you always have more money.”

“So where do you work?” I asked him.

“Work?” he repeated. “Man, who you kidding? I don’t work. That’s why I’m out here asking people for their extra money. If I was workin’, you think I’d be here doin’ this?”

“So why do you think no one wants to hire you?” I asked, the answer standing right in front of me.

“I don’t know man,” he said with growing frustration. “You gonna give me your spare money or not?”

“I think the reason you don’t work,” I began, “is because you don’t really want to. Your clothes are as dirty and rank as your body. Your teeth look like they haven’t been brushed in ages. You reek of alcohol, cigarette smoke, urine and wet dog. Your attitude sucks and the way you beg is downright offensive.”

“F#ck you man,” he angrily shouted at me, as he approached another potential contributor.

I don’t usually confront street beggars like that, but there was something about him that triggered it. Usually, I either look them straight in the eyes and simply say, “No,” or I’ll give them a buck or two.

Sometimes even ten or twenty bucks. It all depends on how ripe the money tree is that day. Because people like me always have more money, right?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010



File:Atlas New York.JPG

Atlas was tired. Very tired. And in a moment of either supreme strength or weakness, he shrugs. And the world … goes on.

Oh, not the metaphorical Atlas of the Ayn Rand novel by the same name, but the mythological Atlas Telamon, who, as punishment for supporting the Titans against the Olympians, was made to hold up the heavens.

There is of course, no mention of Atlas really shrugging, but in terms of what the phrase means to those enduring souls who feel the weight of the worlds upon their shoulders, perhaps it’s time these Atlases shrug.

How many of us know someone who carries the weight of their world. Day in and day out, they prevail. Yet every day they grow more and more weary. For the weight of their real worries is as heavy as the imagined weight of the heavens.

And it is time to let them shrug. In fact, to encourage them to shrug. To let the weight of the world roll off their shoulders. To let them stand straight once again. To let them run. And dance. And do cartwheels.

Let them feel the warmth of the sun upon their shoulders. Let them twist and turn. Wiggle and giggle. Walk and talk. All unencumbered by their former burden.

For the world will indeed, go on.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Over this weekend, I had about a dozen things on my to-do list. I got all but two of them done, and a few extras that were not on the list, also done. And it felt good.

But as I prepared for bed, I found myself worrying a bit about the tasks left undone. So I started to plan for the next day, making sure that I included those undone tasks at the top of the priority list. My tomorrow seemed all in order and ready to tackle. And it felt good.

As I began to drift off into sleep, I was thinking about all that I would get done tomorrow.

I was planned, I was prepared, I was pumped for the morrow. But just as the last flicker of awareness was fading into restful sleep, WHAM !

But what about today? I had yet to give appreciation for all the good things that happened today. Yes, there were the dozen and a half projects that I checked off my list, but weekends, and life itself, is more than things done.

There was the laughter I shared with my wife over some silly remark. There were the hugs I got from my daughters. There was the new tidbit I learned about cooking onions (they’re better sautéed in butter than oil). There was the gift we gave to our pastor and his wife (I assume quite unexpectedly on their part). There was the cool breeze on a near-90-degree day, that felt so-o-o-o-o-o good. There were the girls down the block selling lemonade that we didn’t really need, since we had our full water bottles in the car, but we bought nonetheless because it’s never too early to support young capitalists. There was that parking space right near the store’s front door that blessed us. And so much more.

As I began giving thanks for all the good things that happened over the weekend, I felt more and more relaxed and good about life.

Yes, to-do lists are an essential tool for the accomplishments of living, but equally important are the to-thank lists. May yours be at least twice as long as your to-dos.