Monthly Archives: March 2012

It’s Friday! And a Few Tidbits About Me!

My Fave Music:

My favorite song in the whole world is It’s Friday by Rebecca Black! Her voice sends me in a tailspin of confusion, while the lyrics keep me glued to my seat in awe. The first time I heard the song, I was so taken aback by its rave sound that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

My Fashion Sense:

I’ve always had one, and a very strong one, at that. I’m pretty much known by my friends as the fashion goddess. They’ve long taken my lead in the loose-look hairstyle and what color of western shirt matches best with flip-flops. For the last twenty years, I’ve also been a leader in colorful pen and chopstick accessories for the hair. In fact, I’ve even designed a line of gorgeous pens and pencils that can be worn in the hair while sleeping!

Since wearing these hair pieces, I’ve accomplished amazing acts in the bedroom! Often, I wake up to find haiku scribbled on my pillowcase! Here is the one I found this morning:

It’s Friday, Friday!
Tomorrow is Saturday!
Yesterday was Thurs.–

My Poetry:

This goes without saying! I’m an award-winning writer of avant-garde haiku!

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The Major and Minor Notes of Sentences

My life is full of language as a helium balloon is full of helium. I almost said, “. . .the way a balloon is filled with hot air.” But regardless of what light, airy simile I choose to use, the law of buoyancy still implies that I rise like a cork in a basin of water when I immerse myself in language.

The other day, I shared what might happen if students aren’t allowed to write their essays in heroic couplets. They might never turn into hunchbacked little men who are able to translate ancient Greek documents into English (see Alexander Pope). Alas, I discovered another consequence of leaning too heavily on the five-paragraph essay format. Students might never understand how to write in complete sentences. I learned this while researching samples of full-point SAT essays, all of which used perfect five-paragraph (or four-paragraph) essay format, and many of which used fragmented and run-on sentences for the sake of bad communication.

Let’s study sentences for a moment. At essence, a sentence is a group of words. A group of words could contain any type thereof. Jellyfish, sword, and beanie-baby. is a group of nouns followed by a period and, therefore, a sentence. One verb might also do, just to destroy the idea of group mentality [who needs groups, anyway? I’m a loner!]: “Swim?” Or, perhaps, a nominal group [a group in name, only, of course] would fit the bill: “Swimmingly happy jellyfish.” Some sentences involve best friends: “Lucy and Jane.”

Sentences are, more essentially, expressions of verbal or written language. They don’t even have to be composed of words. Who’s to say that

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again”
(from A. Pope’s Essay on Criticism)

is better than

“when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring”
(from ee cumming’s 67)

is better than

“Skit skat skoodle doot, flip flop flee” (from Martin and Archambault’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom).

If the words or sounds give you that squeaky, helium, lighter-than-air feeling, then what’s the problem? The problem is a lack of communication. Now, I understand that Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a child’s book, a picture tome, and its purpose is to be silly and create slapdash rhythm. In the silliness sense, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom achieves its intended purpose. But it achieves no other. Who could possibly learn the alphabet from it, or understand why letters climb coconut trees? And why do lowercase letters sneak out at night, thereby disobeying the capital ones? And why do I have to read this drivel to my young children? Why? Why?

The ultimate purpose of the sentence is communication of some kind [Yes, I figured that out all on my own]. In the case of the banal five-paragraph essay, it should intend to simplify complex ideas into readable points. If the writer fails to pen major sentences, the writer has failed at the primary, intended purpose of the condensed essay form. What is a major sentence? Since I’ve broken down sentences into their most basic forms, now we must differentiate between grammatical sentences and ungrammatical ones.

While you could call my examples above sentences, even the one verb–Swim?–you couldn’t call them major sentences. They are sentences that hit minor notes, sentences that adhere to the barest of definitions. Begin with a capital and end with punctuation, and you will create a sentence. Wow! (This is a minor sentence.) That’s neat! (This is a major sentence because it also contains a noun and a verb.)

Swim! Why? The swimmingly happy jellyfish are headed this way! What a relief that we finally graduated to the majors. I wouldn’t have liked to suffer a jellyfish sting. Remember–my goal is to float like a cork to the top, not sink like a punctured balloon.

The jellyfish will sting you on the toes,
So–swim!–my child, away from language woes!

Thank you, but Pope would have despised my not-so-heroic couplet.

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The Ultimate Essai

A few years ago, I read an article in a home-school journal on writing as a subject. According to the author, who taught at the university level at the same time that she homeschooled her children, the only important writing skill to pass on to students was the ubiquitous five-paragraph essay. In this theory of hers, poetry was unimportant because “children could just learn it on their own.” Creative writing of any sort was relegated to the child hobbyist. Only the didactic, robotic five-paragraph essay would rescue a seaworthy child and carry her through the heaving waters of college.

The article infuriated me and, as I usually do, I wrote a rebuttal letter in my head that I never sent. In the last several days, I’ve pondered what it means to write memoir and, in so doing, I recalled that little piece of editorial oddness. I asked myself the typical ranting, blood-letting questions [in which my mind bleeds out from lecherous frustration]: did that home-school teacher/professor not study history? Did she not understand rhetoric? Did she not understand that poems, in their more traditional English usage, could be called essays? If Alexander Pope had time-traveled to the oughts through a Newtonian Time Telescope, he might have had a thing or two to explain to this so-called educator.

First of all, he might have explained that poetry has a long and beautiful history. Poetry takes many forms and involves the use of complex thought and movement, all wrapped up in smart rhetoric and carefully meted rhythm. Next, he might have whipped out a copy or two of his poetic essays: Essay on Man or Essay on Criticism. When the educator inevitably shook her head at him, she might have cried, “But the author asserts opinions! And these opinions aren’t in five paragraphs! I can’t even count how many stanzas there are. And what do you call that rhyme scheme?” After the expected faint of the modern woman, Pope might have thought her unworthy, but, still, he might have given her a rundown of heroic couplets, because, after all, the author of them must have been heroic, himself.

“But who are you–you hunchbacked toad?!” the professor might have spluttered.

And it really might have been been Pope who shot through the Newtonian Time Telescope, but what if–instead–an aged Montaigne had approached a young Galileo and said, “Say there, Sonny, would you transport me to the late 17th C with your totally awesome quantum kinematics?” And then, perhaps, it might have been Montaigne who flew through time and space via the Newtonian Time Telescope [once he’d landed in Newton’s cave and introduced himself].

I’m certain Montaigne would have immediately set pen to paper and ascribed his personal feelings, musings, and ideas on 21st C life. Then he would have pronounced them essays. And why do I think he would have done such a preposterous thing? Montaigne invented the term. Back in his day, the 16th C, he called his attempts to understand the world essays [which, in his language, meant exactly that–essai, attempt].

What is my point in all this, aside from discovering how many times I can use the brand name Newtonian Time Telescope™ in as short of space as possible? Isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway–compression? In our modern education system, we’ve compressed the definition of essay into a tight, five-paragraph box that doesn’t simply contain condensed language, but condensed or compressed ideas. The landscape of ideas should involve expansion, feeling, rhetoric, and maybe even rhyme. When we insist that our children stop writing their essays in heroic couplets, as they are wont to do, we are limiting their thinking powers [all right, I did this when I was in the 8th grade, but only once, and the teacher completely ignored my rhymed lines. Or maybe she didn’t notice–and so much for my hard work].

This was meant to be an article on the nature of memoir, which, to me, resembles the original essence of essai. How Alexander Pope worked his little hunchbacked frame into it, I’ve no idea, but probably it was through the Newtonian Time Telescope. The Galilean Quantum Kinetic machine was pretty much the opposite of de rigueur by Pope’s time [so sue me. I couldn’t think of a stylish antonym].

Good memoirs are connected thoughts–essays–of a unique person’s experiences. In a well-written memoir, the reader sees the world anew through the eyes of the memoirist, through a narrative that stirs the heart and awakens the mind. And for that, I love memoirs, am, in fact, addicted to them. I have no desire to write them for publication because this blog is already the chronicling of my mind. This is it. This is my memoir, world! I’m holding to the Montaignesque tradition with my little corner of the internet. I’ll leave the five paragraph jobs for yawning professors.

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Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Change

This is a story of numbers. This is the story of a girl who couldn’t understand story problems to save her life, who melted to the floor in a fit of tears and frustration at the conundrum, the cryptic-bestiary, dark-world of language. This is the story of a girl who couldn’t understand the language of math to save her life.

Soy yo. I am she. But I’m also a person who has harbored a secret obsession with numbers for as long as I can remember. During my school days, I counted things. I counted them until the numbers drowned out every other thought in my head. When people spoke, I counted their words rather than listening to them, and I made numerical calculations on the value of words based off the number of lines and whorls that formed them. I counted ceiling spots, and made elaborate attempts at removing the square footage of light fixtures from my totals. I counted squares on the floor and lines on the furniture and walls.

Now that I’ve admitted this, it should come as no surprise that I was a walloping failure in school. I never listened, not ever. Fast forward to my first job, and imagine for a moment an ancient cash register. Imagine the ching-ching, the whoop-whoosh of the credit card machine over carbon paper. And you can bet that the idea of counting prices in my head mesmerized me, especially to the symphony of ancient technology. Yes, I had to punch the prices into the register. However, it was gratifying to find that my calculations agreed with the machine. Furthermore, management forced the cashiers to count back change to customers so that the till would ring out exactness, down to the penny, at the end of each shift. Oh, what joy beyond measure!

By the time I took my first job at a coffee shop, tills did the work for the cashiers, although management still encouraged the counting back of change for precision’s sake. Now, this is a lost art, and it’s more usual for cashiers to give customers a blank look before shoving a fistful of money their way [Cash, what’s that? Only terrorists use that stuff].

Needless to say, I continued to count prices in my head and count back change without checking the digital readout on the register face. Numbers are beautiful. Numbers won’t steer you wrong. Prices are fixed quantities that only have so many variations. And I began new counting habits, too. I counted ounces. I understood the ounce variation of every cup we used, from paper to ceramic. I made cappuccinos to precise measurements of espresso to milk to foam. Torani shots–those had to be exact, or the customers would pucker from the sweetness.

I counted money, ounces, seconds, minutes, hours. I counted the number of words I had or hadn’t written on my days off. I counted out my syllabics, as well as the feet in my metrics. I counted customers, the in-and-outs, and those who stayed for hours. One famous customer–I’ll call him Michael because that’s his name–could drink twelve double shots of espresso over the course of an eight-hour shift.

I counted the books and words of the intellectual customers, who rarely allowed me to be one of them. In fact, one old academic coot regularly teased me with his avant-garde ways and his shocking literature. He would bring me books and chuckle at me, smirk at my lingering stoicism after having studied the sentiments of time-travelers who carried on incestuous relationships with their great-great grandparents.

This being Southern Oregon, many of the intellectuals were libertarian males who studied history and knew more about the constitution than any constitutional lawyer. Among them [albeit a minority] were the stereotypical survivalists who preferred women to keep quiet and birth children but–woe to those who gave suck in those days! I frequently caught that lamentation, especially after I was pregnant with my first child. And, yes, these survivalists were intensely academic and not of the Hollywood stupid-ass redneck variety, although I rarely tuned in to their words to find out. Rather, I counted the men, their cups of coffee, their books, their multitude of words, and just how many minutes past closing they lingered.

One time, a free-thinker among them assumed I was heeding their debate with rapt attention and asked me for my opinion. I told him I didn’t have one, since I was a woman [which was a lie, though not the part about being a woman. I didn’t have an opinion because I wasn’t listening].

And later, much later, the old coot intellectual of the incestuous literature shocked me when he handed me a sheet of numbers and asked me if I would make sense of his bank account and budget for him. He said he could tell I counted things. Wide-eyed, I agreed to do as he asked. But how did he know? How could he have known?

The title of this memoir is change because I did. I changed. After spending years calculating the ounce measurements of every cup in my kitchen and falling apart if somebody mistakenly drank from my cup of water–how am I to count ounces with undetermined swallows?–I stopped. Occasionally, I still catch myself counting things, but I’m firm with myself these days.

The world can’t be quantified this way. Behind the numbers, I hear no ching-ching, no symphony of order and harmony. And most of all, I can’t quantify myself this way. Jill is a simple name that isn’t worth much in the cosmos. It means girl. That sounds countable, but it isn’t. I’m one in several billion, a being so disordered that you might as well stop attempting to count the hairs on my head right now.

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Shoehorns With Teeth


My thoughts are scattered. In them, I see a sort of pattern, a coalescence of ideas that I’d like to gather in one net, into my basket of stars or fishes. Yes, I’m fishing for ideas.

Sadly, my thoughts don’t want to be caught. In fact, I don’t want to be caught. I want to slide out, slip free, hold onto nothing. But it’s a curse of humanity to want to capture and categorize. Ever since we gave sense to sounds by giving them meanings, we’ve defined the world according to a shaky order of ideas. Why do the symbols l-o-v-e come to be pronounced in one phonetic pattern (that actually doesn’t follow the phonetic order), and where does this phonetic pattern obtain its abstract meaning?

I have no idea, but I accept the meaning and sound of love for the sake of the linguistic history of my own idiom. But what I can’t accept are others forcing their barbed definitions onto me. You know how it feels when somebody chooses to make sense of you by expressing an all-encompassing definition. And you’re hurt by the callous, if not false, meaning attached to your core being. You aren’t a “right-wing nut-job” or a “bleeding-heart liberal” or a “strident feminist” or a “wannabe writer” or a “conspiracy theorist”–not by the narrow definitions given for those terms. Rather, you’re a complex human being who may have thought long and hard about what it really means to be a feminist or a writer, maybe even what it means to be a Christian.

But, hey, the master of definition says, if the shoe fits, wear it, even if the shoe has been forcibly worked onto your foot by means of a shoehorn with teeth.

The expression shoehorn with teeth comes from the chorus of a They Might Be Giants song. The next line says, People should get beat up for stating their beliefs. The genius of this pair of lines [He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth. People should get beat up for stating their beliefs] is in its reversal of meaning. It works both ways. The “he” of the song is an immature adult who believes in his own right to batter others for giving their opinions. But it also works against him because the next time he shoehorns his opinions on others, he might be the one to receive the divine karma.

Now I’m back to my scattered thoughts and the coalescence of ideas. Over the last several days, I’ve read internet debates on feminism, on politics, on self-publishing. Yesterday, I began reading a memoir, in which the meanness of the writer is so grating, so covered over with bumper sticker labels that I felt I was being pinned down. I was an insect on a board, a fish caught in a net, a star defined by a narrow definition of hydrogen and helium. And by the very nature of this memoirist’s status in print, she becomes the master of definition. She’s an authority. An author.

/s-t-a-r/ /l-o-v-e/ /s-h-o-e-h-o-r-n/ /a-u-t-h-o-r/ /b-e-a-t-i-n-g/. Pronounce the phonetics with me: beating, bashed, hurt, wounded. I know we can make sense of these sounds as they correlate to physicality. What about the abstracts, though? What of those? What does this mean?–> LOVE.

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