Finding Human Touch for Mental Illness

I first read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in college, a couple of decades after it was written. I was far removed from the reality of psychiatric hospitals and read it more as a parable about social control than an accurate description of the horrors of mental institutions.,,,

To read more, click on the title below —

“Human Touch and Mental Illness: A Perspective on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

(image above from Anna Memnon in Bookworminess)

Faithfulness to Family and Farming Life: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry

In the rural Kentucky community of Port William, people “do for each other”, in life and in death.  But what about in between – the terrible period when someone you love is dying?  You need to do something, anything, but you can’t be sure what is to be done.

Nathan Coulter and his family face this with their eighty-two year old “Uncle Burley” when he takes sick.  Do they take him to the doctor?  His son Danny thinks so.  Nathan wonders.

“He’s never been to a doctor since I’ve known him.  He said he wouldn’t go.  You going to knock him in the head before you take him?”

Ultimately, they decide to take him to the doctor in Louisville, who declares that Burley is too weak for surgery, that it would be necessary to build up his strength.  They admit him to the hospital, where he becomes disoriented.  His health rapidly declines.

… in the midst of the building of strength and the testing, Burley slipped away toward death.  But the people of the hospital did not call it dying; they called it a coma.  They spoke of curing him.  They spoke of his recovery.

Soon Nathan and the others realize their effort to “do something” for Uncle Burley has proven only to makes things worse.

Loving him, wanting to help him, they had given him over to “the best of modern medical care” — which meant, as they now saw, that they had abandoned him.

Thinking of this, unable to sleep at home in Port William, Danny is compelled to act, to do something.  He drives back to Louisville and rescues Uncle Burley, springing him from the hospital, bringing him back past Port William where Danny cares for him in a familiar barn.

This sets a number of things in motion…

…. a call from the hospital to Danny’s wife Lyda, who admits only that Danny was not there, that he said, “something about Indiana”.

… a call to friend and family lawyer Henry Catlett who advises Lyda to say nothing else, to send the investigating police to him.

… a visit from Detective Kyle Bode, a twice-divorced Ringo Starr look-alike who is weary of dealing with the deception of country folk.

Nathan is drawn into the action and his wife Hannah reflects on the nature of the Port William community –

When she thought of their neighborhood, Hannah wondered whether or not to count the children.  Like the old, the young were leaving.  The old were dying without successors, and Hannah was aware of how anxiously those who remained had begun to look into the eyes of the children.  They were watching not just their own children now but anybody’s children.  For as the burden of keeping the land increased for the always fewer who remained, as the difference continued to increase between the price of what they had to sell and the cost of what they had to buy, they knew that they had less and less to offer the children, and fewer arguments to make.

“Fidelity” explores not only the impending death of an old man, but the pending death of an old way of life – the farming community.

Thanks to the courageous (and illegal) acts of his son Danny,  Burley is able to die with dignity, on familiar ground and to be properly buried and grieved.

But how does a community die with dignity?  And who is left to mourn it?  Who remembers what is lost?

(“Fidelity” is found in Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry)

(photo of Wendell Berry from Jessica Clare {Civetta} in Creative, Eccentric & Talented)

Poor, Mizzling Souls in William Faulkner’s “Shingles for the Lord”

William Faulkner

Rather than do a review of what I found to be one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read, I think I’ll just give you a morsel to taste.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to read the rest.

Pap is late getting to the church.  He was late borrowing the froe from Killegrew, “a seventy-year-old man, with both feet and one knee, too, already in the grave”.  Killegrew had been squatting all night on a hill listening to a fox race (or trying to, since “he couldn’t even hear unless they had come right up onto the same log he was setting on and bayed into his ear trumpet.”

Reverend Whitfield was in no mood to hear excuses.

“You could have gone yesterday and borrowed the froe,” Whitfield said, “You have known for a month now that you had promised this one day out of a whole summer toward putting a roof on the house of God.”

Pap defends himself –

“We ain’t but two hours late,” pap said. “I reckon the Lord will forgive it.  He ain’t interested in time, nohow.  He’s interested in salvation.”

But the Reverend won’t be out-theologized –

“He ain’t interested in neither! Why should He be, when He owns them both? And why He should turn around for the poor, mizzling souls of men that can’t even borrow tools in time to replace the shingles on His church.  I don’t know either.”

Before getting to work, Pap argues with Homer and Salon about how many man-hours have been lost and how many units of work they had promised Whitfield.  Pap snaps back –

What modern ideas?… I didn’t know there was but one idea about work — until it is done, it ain’t done, and when it is done, it is.

They keep going at it about work and how Pap should have hired somebody to work “them extra overtime units”.  Pap says he “ain’t had no WPA experience in dickering over labor.”  Salon proposes that instead of paying cash, he could work a trade, “You might use that dog.” Pap stops in his tracks and looks over at Solon.  Pap didn’t own the hound outright, but had raised it for half-interest.

“So that’s it,” pap said.  “Them things wasn’t work units atall.  They was dog units.

Solon insists it is just a friendly offer – “You sell me your half of that trick overgrown fyce and I’ll finish these shingles.” Pap comes back with talk of six extra units of one dollars.  Solon says no, “I’ll pay you the same two dollars for your half of that dog that me and Tull agreed on for his half of it.”  Pap could bring back the dog tomorrow and forget all about the church roof.

Pap sets there with the maul up over his head, looking at Solon.  Then he begins to laugh.  And without warning, he brings the maul down, “the froe done already druv through the bolt and into the ground while the shingle was still whirling off the slap Solon across the shin.”

They go back at until it’s time to break for lunch.

Over lunch, they continue to negotiate work hours, dollars, and the hound dog, as well as the cost of the shingles.  Finally, Solon takes out his purse and pays pap the two dollars and they get to work, arguing about whether it would be possible for finish the job in a day.  Salon lays down his froe and maul and says –

Well, men, I don’t know what you fellars think, but I consider this a day.

Pap doesn’t skip a beat –

All right…  You are the one to decide when to quit, since whatever elbow units you consider are going to be shy tomorrow will be yourn.

Solon agrees –

That’s a fact, … and since I am giving a day and a half to the church instead of jest a day, like I started out doing, I reckon I better get on home and tend to a little of my own work.

to read more…. check out “Shingles for Lord” in Works by William Faulkner

photo of William Faulkner from Rob Lowell in Repetitive History~ good beauty, bad ugly, ebon ivory.

Do You Have the Time?: A Review of E.L.Doctorow’s “All the Time in the World”

E.L. Doctorow- Contemporay New York City author of novels, short stories, essays and plays-often concerned with historical settings within the United States.

“All the Time in the World” from E.L. Doctorow’s collection All the Time in the World: New and Selected Stories reads more like a guided meditation that a linear narrative.  It works like a really good music video works, complete with colorful imagery, lyrical refrains, and compelling twists.

The landscape of the story is a nameless city with buildings that go up fast filled with naked, dancing ladies.  The narrator is a runner who tries to avoid the confusion of the masses –

To avoid the bent old ladies and their carts of groceries and their walkers and canes and black women helpers taking up three-quarters of the sidewalk, I run in the street.  I mean cars are less of a problem.  In typical traffic they are standing still as I run past the horns blowing their dissonant mass protest, and so I wear earmuffs and I am fine.

Yet, the narrator runs, he reveals, because he doesn’t know what else to do.  He sees no point in going to the movies, “with their filmed stories that I am supposed to worry over.”  He feels out of place, even though there are other runners like him.

The story then shifts to certain meta-fictional, metaphysical questions, such as –

 You may ask how I pass the time when I am not running.  Alone, is my answer — as alone as when I am running.  My only company is the grammarian who lives with me in my brain.

The narrator paints a picture of physical, emotional, and spiritual aloneness – a purposeless existence that is random and unguided.  When not talking to the grammarian in his brain, he uses the speed-dial on his cell phone:

You may ask to whom I think I am talking.  I say I am talking to you.  And who may that be, you say.  And then I recognize who it is.  It is my mother.

You have all the time in the world, she says.

Until what?

Until something happens, Mother says.

What can happen?

If we knew, she says, and breaks the connection.

The story then moves to the weather, from running in the rainwater, to the warmth and humidity of the sun.  Some trash is blowing in the street and the runner picks up “a handwritten letter on blue vellum, feeling it was meant for me.”

The ink of my letter runs like tears as I read, while rising to my floor, the grief of an abandoned lover.  She can’t understand why he has left her, she needs to see him, come back, she says, come to me, for she still loves him, she always will, and it is all so sad, so sad, so sad, and I don’t know who threw the letter away, he after reading it, or she after writing it…

The story circles back and forth…

… to the naked dancing girl

…. to speed-dialing (his father, his therapist)

… to sadness

The call to the therapist is particularly revealing of the narrator’s frustration –

Yes?  To whom do you think you are talking?

Dr. Sternlicht?

You got him.

I’m having that feeling again.

That is to be expected.

It’s like I’m living in exile.  I’m lonely.  I have no one.

That is to be expected.

Why? Why is it to be expected?  That’s all you ever say.

No.  I say other things.  I say you are in a rut.  I say change your lifestyle, expand your horizons…

You might say “All the Time in the World” goes no where, but the it uses the time it takes to get there well – in describing the futility of modern attempts to make sense of the world – being stuck in traffic while Buddhist monks in saffron robes dance in circles, running until his heartbeat becomes irregular, then calling his internist who says, “You are just frightened.”

Desperate for meaning, the narrator winds up in a confessional.  Even there, he finds no consolation, but jargon instead – “the corporeal illustion”, “the gender identity.”

Doctorow weaves a hint of hope in the last two paragraphs of the story, as he looks at the deep blue sky and welcomes the springtime.  He seems to suggest there is some hope in nature that can not be found in civilization, even  if only a “reverberant hum, as of some distant engine.”

The story doesn’t take us to any Promised Land, it only suggests that there may be a better place out there, but all the avenues we currently follow only leave us in exile.

Not to worry, though, we have “All the Time in the World”.

(image of E.L. Doctorow from Christopher Korbel in All Kinds Of Writers)

A Dream Life in “Short Easter” by John Updike

John Updike



John Updike has been one of the most celebrated American authors for over 50 years.  He has published more words than some people ever speak.

The National Endowment of Humanities website sums up his life and work (so far) in this way —

His pen rarely at rest, John Updike has been publishing fiction, essays, and poetry since the mid-fifties, when he was a staff writer at the New Yorker, contributing material for the “Talk of the Town” sections. “Of all modern American writers,” writes Adam Gopnik in Humanities magazine, “Updike comes closest to meeting Virginia Woolf’s demand that a writer’s only job is to get himself, or herself, expressed without impediments.”

When asked to describe his own work, Updike has said –

“My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me—to give the mundane its beautiful due.”

I first encountered Updike’s writings when I read Rabbit, Run where he masterfully narrates the story through Harry Angstrom, a former high school basketball star, now 26, looking to escape his conventional middle class existence.  I don’t remember much of the story, but remember Harry to be completely self-absorbed and obsessed with sex (basically an all-American male).

Today I decided to explore one of Updike’s short stories – “Short Easter” (found in The Afterlife: and other stories).


Fogel, the 62-year old main character, is not looking forward to Easter (this year shortened by Daylight Savings Time).  In fact, it’s hard to say just what Fogel is looking forward to, as he basically rails against modern life and all things in it.  Updike describes Fogel’s road rage –

If Fogel’s stately Mercedes had been equipped with a button that would annihilate other vehicles, he would have used it three or four times a mile.  Almost every other automobile on the road – those that passed him, those so slow he had to pass them, those going just his speed and hanging in his side mirrors like pursuing furies – seemed a deliberate affront, restricting his freedom and being somehow pretentious about it.

Fogel is angered about getting old.  He is angered by a wife who is not his mother.  He is angered by lost opportunities.  Reflecting back on a failed love affair, he reflects –

One small side-effect still rankled: their affair ended in the springtime, and his former mistress declined to invite him and his family to an Easter egg hunt she and her family annually gave.  His children’s feelings were hurt, and for consolation they were taken out, after church, to eat at the International House of Pancakes.  Heaps of pancakes, Fogel remembered – buckwheat, buttermilk, blueberry – that seemed, soaked in syrup, almost unswallowably sweet.

Lost in his anger at perceived slights, stuck with people who don’t meet his needs, getting sore in body and mind, Fogel goes through the motions of doing some yard work (after being shamed into it by his wife).  Even digging in the leaves, though, he can’t escape his dissatisfaction –

One of his fantasies was a kind of ray gun that, directed at a plant or tree, would not only kill it, but vaporize it to a fine, fertilizing ash.  Agricultural labor, this endless plucking of weeds and replowing of fields, had always seemed to him the essence of futility.

After some yard work, it’s off to a neighborhood brunch which “was also pointless”.  (So why bother to review it.)

He comes home and wanders into the room of his son, who left for college ten years ago.

His mother liked to keep the room as he had left it, as some fanatical religious sects keep a room ready in case Jesus returns and asks to be a guest.

Fogel is weary from the labor, from the gin, tomato juice and champagne, and likely with his miserable post-middle age existence.  He lays down across the bed and falls asleep.   As he sleeps, he comes to life –

He dreamed in the deep colors of true weariness. Electricity wandered through his brain, activating one set of memory cells and now another.  A wash of buried emotion rounded these phantoms into light and shadow, and cried out tears and outcries of indignation from Fogel’s phantom self; he presided above the busy lit stage of his subconscious as prompter and playwright, audience and deus ex machine as well as hero.

Suddenly, Fogel wakes up full of fear, curls up in a fetal position and looks around him.

Everything was in its place, yet something was immensely missing.

On this Easter day, there is hope that Fogel will rise from his self-induced tomb of anger and regret and light up the stage with new life.

Or was it only a dream?



(image of John Updike from Kim Zoph in A Portrait of the Artist)







To Thine Own Self Be True: “Dimensions” by Alice Munro

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

As I go about writing “Life”, I’ve decided to engage in a reading discipline as well.  Taking a page from Julie Israel’s blog, The Read Room, I will be reading some of the best short stories I can get my hands on and reflecting on them here.  Julie was able to complete 31 in 31 straight days.  My goal is 25.

Today’s story:

“Dimensions” by Alice Munro from Too Much Happiness


The story opens with Doree (who now goes by Fleur), a spiked-haired chambermaid from Blue Spruce Inn taking 3 buses to an unnamed ‘facility”.  She is jittery and tries to settle her nerves by picking words out of signs (from “coffee” – “fee”, “foe”, “off”, “of”).

The narration hops back 7 years, to when Doree was 16 and she met Lloyd while visiting her mother in the hospital.  Both Lloyd and Doree’s mother were “old hippies” and they reminisced about “the outrageous people they had known, drug trips that had knocked them out, that sort of thing.” Doree’s mother dies of a embolism and she moves in with Lloyd.  Before her 17th birthday, she gets pregnant.  They move to the country and Sasha is born.

Back to the present, we meet Mrs. Sands who is anything but an old hippie.  Monro masterfully describes Mrs. Sands’ attire –

“Her large, kind, impersonal sobriety drained all assaulting cheerfulness, all insult out of those clothes.” 

Mrs. Sands and Doree have a conversation about Doree’s visits with Lloyd – his appearance, his manner.

Munro moves back to the family narrative.  When Sasha is 1 1/2, Barbara Ann is born.  When Barbara Ann is two, Dimitri comes along.  Dimitri is colicky and the La Leche lady encourages her to continue breastfeeding, not to supplement.  Doree has already started supplementing, but she doesn’t tell Lloyd.  She tells him her milk is dried up.  Lloyd

“…squeezed one breast after another with frantic determination and succeeded in getting a couple of drops of miserable-looking milk out.” 

He calls her a liar, and a whore like her mother.

As the story enfolds, the tension between Lloyd and Doree escalates.  He calls her friend Maggie,  “Lezzie” and demands to know what they talk about.  He tries to convince Doree that Maggie is trying to separate them.

“She’ll get you over there bawling and whining about what a bastard I am.  One of these days.”

Lloyd’s words, as paranoid as they are prove prophetic as Doree does leave for Maggie’s late one night when she is unable to “scare him out of his craziness”.  This sets the stage for the climax of the story which is both quite believable and haunting in its stark detail.

One Great Line:

“She was even allowed to laugh with him, as long as she wasn’t the one who started the laughing.”

A Spiritual Reflection:  (from Lloyd’s letter)

“What I know in myself is my own Evil.  That is the secret of my comfort.  I mean I know my Worst.  It may be worse than other people’s worst but in fact, I do not have to think or worry about that.  No excuses.  I am at peace.”

[Note:  If you have a short story to recommend that I read and review over the next month, I would appreciate you leaving word in the comments.]

image above JY Besle in Worlds Within Words { meanders and intricacies of my essential Sadness }

The Music and Language of Good Drama: Reflecting on “The Poetics of Aristotle – I”

Aristotle by Nick in exsilio

About a week ago, I messaged a former professor of theater from Hanover that I was completing a short story I thought could be adapted as a play.  He offered me some helpful recommendations – one of which was to read “The Poetics of Aristotle” (Butler translation).  Through the magic of the Internet, I found it for free as an e-book at The Project Gutenberg.

I was also pleasantly surprised that this classic work is divided into 26 easily digestible sections.  My plan is to reproduce them here, adding brief reflections on how this wisdom might impact my work and close with a few questions for you to consider how it might influence yours.

The Poetics begins…

I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each; to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry. Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.

“Poetry” here equates more broadly today to drama on stage or screen.  The principles contained in this work could equally apply to a play, a movie, even an operatic production.  They will certainly help me as I consider adapting my short story trilogy into a script and/or screenplay.

Poetics continues –

     Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic: poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects,— the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.

A few definitions would be in order here for those who either haven’t studied theater or, like me, can’t remember what they learned 30 years ago.

Epic Poetry – long poems, typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation.

Tragedy  – A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the worse

Comedy – A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the better

Dithyrambic (adj. form of dithyramb – a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, especially one dedicated to Dionysus; a passionate or inflated speech, poem, or other writing.

As I reflect on these, I would say my story is a tragi-comic epic poem (that may have dithyrambic elements).  It looks like I have my hands full.

Back to Aristotle –

For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of colour and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony,’ either singly or combined.

Thus in the music of the flute and of the lyre, “harmony” and rhythm alone are employed; also in other arts, such as that of the shepherd’s pipe, which are essentially similar to these.  In dancing, rhythm alone is used without “harmony”; for even dancing imitates character, emotion, and action, by rhythmical movement.

I’m no musician (though I did write part of a country song that appears in the story), but music plays a central role in the trilogy – from beginning to end.  You will find there everything from Biblical psalms to country classics (gospel and secular), to early rock-in-roll, folk, 80s alternative, and contemporary Christian. I have sketched out at least one dance scene and I may have some live musical performance.

More than just music in the conventional sense, however, the rhythms and cadence of the language need to harmonize for the piece to gel.  I’m happy to say with a little research today, I found just the right Bob Dylan lyrics to match the action of the scene I was writing (it wasn’t too difficult – Dylan has written more than Moses and Paul combined).

The Poetics goes on to say a little about “prose” (which, I believe, would be like a technical treatise today) and distinguishes it from “poetics”.  It then concludes this section with –

There are, again, some arts which employ all the means above mentioned,  namely, rhythm, tune, and metre.  Such are Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, and also Tragedy and Comedy; but between them the difference is, that in the first two cases these means are all employed in combination, in the latter, now one means is employed, now another.  Such, then, are the differences of the arts with respect to the medium of imitation.

Since my work is principally tragi-comic, I take from this that I need to employ three essential ingredients  – rhythm, tune, and metre.   Yet, I can focus on them one at a time.  Again, at the risk of being pedantic, some (modern) definitions –

 rhythm- the effect created by the elements in a play, movie, or novel that relate to the temporal development of the action.

tune –  manner of utterance : intonation; specifically, phonetic modulation.

metre/meter – systematically arranged and measured rhythm in verse.

Thus far in my writing, I have focused on dialogue (with only a few gestures and setting comments added) and background music.  While I may want to add more description later, right now the dialogue is driving the action.  I’m not sure I understand the significance of the “tune”, but I by setting the story in mostly Southern Indiana within my lifetime, I have an ear for the dialect.  As for meter, I am intentionally repeating particularly meaningful phrases (like refrains) to connect the story together.

Now, it’s your turn….

How are you demonstrating “poetic” elements in what you are currently writing?

(image above – “Aristotle” from Nick in exsilio, some rights reserved)

Sentencing: Who Does What in “Writing Well”

Every sentence names something and says something about it.  This is the secret of the sentence — the short story it tells.  If that story is clearly told, the sentence will work; if not, it will not.  (from Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick)

I was chatting with a former theater professor this week about the prospect of turning my upcoming novella into a stage play.  He asked me,  “What makes you think it would work as a play?”

I replied, “Well, as it develops, it is about 90% dialogue.”

He cautioned me that plays need to be driven by action, that “talky” scripts make for boring theater.

I was at first discouraged, but as I went on to tell him about the story, I realized it has a lot of action –

In the very first chapter, the main character’s wife of 43 years leaves him for a lottery winner.

Soon thereafter, he goes to stay with his daughter’s family where his son-in-law tries to convince him of the curative value of positive thinking.

There is a worship scene at a trendy seeker-friendly mega-church recently renamed “Happiness Haven”.

He goes to work as a Walmart greeter where he has a confrontation with a runny-nosed 9-year old demanding a whole roll of stickers.

All this happens in the first 1/3 of the story.  Admittedly, there are no stabbings or sex scenes or vampires, but plenty happens.  It’s just described in dialogue – simple sentences spoken by one character to another.

Stories are built on sentences.  And, as Tredinnick points out, each sentence must tell a story in itself if it is to further the story as a whole.  Each sentence should explain “Who does what…” – in a clear enough fashion that the reader should not have to go back through the sentence several times to pick up its meaning.

In classic grammatical terms the “who” of the sentence is the “subject”, and the “does what” is the predicate.  Subjects and predicates may be single words – as in “Rain (subject) falls (predicate).”  Or, they may be complex phrases –  “The purpose of all good writing (subject) is to educate, inspire, and inform (predicate).

Tredinnick goes on to identify three moods – indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.  An indicative sentence is one that simply tells a fact – I wrote one chapter today.  An imperative sentence gives a command – Read this chapter I wrote.  A subjunctive sentence (more rare) suggests a hypothetical situation – If you read my chapter, you would understand what I mean.

Tredinnick offers a good summary as he writes –

Every sentence, no matter how long or short, how simple or convoluted, must do the basics soundly. No matter what else it attempts, a sentence must say plainly who does what…

When each sentence in a story plainly tells you who does what, you can move from one sentence to the other – like steps on a journey – and get to where the story winds up taking you.


Walk along the Glacier by @Doug88888


(“Walk along the Glacier” from @Doug88888, some rights reserved)

“The Metamorphosis” and Euthanasia

On a recent visit home, I asked my daughter Grace to share with me some of her writings.  Grace is a prolific writer, but she can be very private about her work.  She has several drafts of works in various genres: historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction… and I’ve read snippets, but when I asked if she would share them, she replied, “They are not ready.”  My sense is that Grace is an even more ruthless editor than I am and, unlike me, is leery about giving birth to a piece of writing before its time.

But she did agree to share with me some writing she is doing for a course she’s working on at home.  The subject is “20th Century History”.  When she told me the course title my first thought was, “The 20th century isn’t history!  I lived through it.”  The course design is to read some of the best fiction and non-fiction books depicting each decade.  She then writes theme papers on certain books and summary papers on each decade.  Grace agreed that I could reproduce her work on my blog.  The following is one of her essays.

The Metamorphosis and Euthanasia

By Grace Roberts


Week 7

The Metamorphosis was one of the most interesting books I have read in a while.  Also, one of the most disturbing.  It reminded me a good deal of All Quiet on the Western Front – perhaps the similarities are due because both were written in German around the same time; and the content is disquieting.  Both do not hide unpleasantries. Both are superbly well-written.  Both deal with death.

Which brings me to the reason for this paper.  It was my assignment to tie The Metamorphosis with euthanasia.  While the story doesn’t directly deal with “mercy killings”, it brings up a side of death that is not nice.  What should happen when someone is unable to enjoy life anymore? When their sufferings have become too great?  What about if they are also a drain on society?  And they are dying anyway?  Should they be endured, or “put out of their misery”?  When is it mercy, when is it killing?  Is there a way to tell?

Franz Kafka did not seek to answer any questions, only ask them.  I myself don’t know the answers; it’s a topic that is beyond me.  But God has been pretty clear on some major things.  He created life.  It is sacred, not something to be taken lightly.  He is also love.  His way of loving is completely opposite of our preconceived notions.  We seem to think an object of affection must have value to be desirable.  God doesn’t think that way.  He calls the things that are not as if they are.  He gives value.  He tenderly takes care of things that, if we could see what He does, would be repulsed.  He endures with everlasting patience and love.  We need to keep that in mind when we talk about the sanctity of life.

franz kafka

Franz Kafka
(from, some rights reserved)

Don’t Scratch Your “But” (4 grammar rules made to be broken – sometimes)

professor typing


When I was in grade school, I was taught four grammar rules that I should absolutely never violate.

1.  Never start a sentence with “But” or “And”.

2.  Never start a sentence with “Because”.

3.  Never end a sentence with a preposition.  And (oops!) –

4.  Never split your infinitives.


Mark Tredinnick in his book Writing Well offers good reasons why there are exceptions for these rules.

1.  Consider these sentences –

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry; and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day.

Where do these sentences come from?  The King James Bible – “the Bible Jesus preached from as he walked along the shores of Galilee” (as one radio preacher said).  Not only is it okay to begin a sentence with “But” or “And”.  It’s almost a divine imperative.

2.  “Because” is sometimes the most natural way to introduce a phrase or clause.  Tredinnick gives this example –

Because this is a complex sentence, I can start it with “because” if I want to.

Sometimes (though not always), it is more awkward to replace “because” with “due to the fact” or “as a consequence of” just to satisfy an archaic rule.

3.   It is often a good idea to keep your prepositions in the midst of sentences (not at the end), but occasionally this creates worse grammar than it fixes.  Tredinnick tells the story of Winston Churchill, which I heard in a slightly different version.  Once Winston Churchill was challenged about ending a sentence with a preposition in one of his speeches.  He quickly replied,

 That is a comment up with which I shall not put!

4.  Tredinnick points out that the rule not to split infinitives is a carry-over from the Latin language.  Where would Star Trek be without the split infinitive

“to boldly go where no man has gone before”?


Rules are made to be broken.  Even grammar rules.  Still, this does not excuse us from learning what the rules are and only selectively choosing to violate them when it makes for better writing.


(image “Professor nils is aan het werk… ” from De Vleermuis, some rights reserved)