John Prine, Prison, Sex, Religion, Abe Lincoln, Grammar and Happy Meals (favorite Google Hits)

photo

I was inspired by a recent blog post I read to check out the Google searches people have used to find “A Way With Words”.

My overall impression is that Google Search is doing a fine job of directing readers I want to reach my way.  I hope, in turn, they are finding here much of what they are looking for.

I thought it might be a helpful service, however, to directly address a few of the searches I found particularly appealing –

has john prine ever been to prison

No, you are thinking of Johnny Cash, who recorded “Live at Folsom Prison”.  John Prine did write the song “Christmas in Prison” but he did this with his artistic imagination and poetic license (which he keeps in his billfold next to a picture of Fiona in a bathing suit).

the pursuit of happiness sex scene

Hmmm.  I guess I could work in a sex scene between my 70+ year old lead characters, but that would be just, well… gross.

religion is a system of wishful illusions

On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis once wrote – “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

which president is better abe or george and why

Well, according to one of my new blogging buddies, Abraham Lincoln was actually one of our worst Presidents.  I disagree.  While it’s hard to definitively discern history, I believe Lincoln did as good a job managing the worst period in our nation’s history as any President before or after him has done (in much less difficult times).

why is there a place for grammar and mechanics in modern culture

Just as the sun rises in the morning and the moon rises as night. we rely on grammar rules and mechanics to provide anchor our words such that we can make beautiful sense.

how to write an interview on happy meal

Go to the source.  Old McDonald’s Farm.

Who Do I Have To Sleep With To Get Freshly Pressed?: 5 Press-Worthy Posts

Angry_man by Gallivanting Gai

Know this – I am a moralist.  Some describe me as a neo-Puritan (to my face – God only knows what they call me behind my back).

But I am also a pragmatist.  I like to understand how things work so I can get what I want.  I don’t like beating around the bush.  Some say life is a journey, not a destination.  Well, I’m not big on journeys.  Give me a Star Trek teleporter and I’m good to go.

I started this blog – originally called Will Write For Food (and maybe dental) in December of last year.  For fours months, I’ve been slaving daily over this laptop (sitting in my electric recliner, listening to John Prine radio on Spotify).  I’ve been cranking out stories and poems,  book reviews and cultural essays, engaging in writing exercises and linking to intriguing sites.  Sure, I’ve won my share of awards – the Inspiring Blogger, the ABC award, the Liebster (just to name a few).  I’ve received some helpful and favorable comments and been “liked” a great deal.

But….

Not once have I been Freshly Pressed.

So, I ask you – what does a guy have to do?

I mean, just consider these 5 particular posts (quoted below) –

On Becoming a Gay Brit

Why, just the idea of going to the local pub for a pint to cheer on a group of footballers who are really playing soccer and screaming “Bloody, Bloody, Bloody!” (without it really seeming like profanity) would be a thrilling way to spend an afternoon.

“Tantalizing Titles for Top-Selling Books”

Jonathon Livingston Seagull Contracts the Avian Flu

In his pursuit of perfection, Jonathon learns that even adorable fictitious seagulls are only human.  While living in a commune with a gaggle of positive-thinking bird lovers, Jonathon contracts the flu from a flock of chickens.  Within weeks, the community is decimated.  The chickens survive long enough to be made into McNuggets.

Cold War Carl and Democrat Don Diagnose the World’s Problems (Episode One: Mental Illness)

Carl:  Well, I’m just an ignorant Kentuckian with a 6th grade education, but if you ask me, the world has gotten too complicated.  What with all the technology.  People going here and going there.  All stressed out.  I think the Amish have the right idea.

Don:  I don’t know about that.  But it is true that with technology the way it is, the world has become a smaller place.  They’ve got videos set up everywhere.   Why, I’m sure they’re filming us here right now.

Carl:  You bet they are.  It’s the Russians.

Don:  It isn’t the Russians.  It’s the Republicans.

Tuna Fish Friday (a prompted poem)

Are you sure today isn’t Friday?”

We had meatloaf yesterday.

We have meatloaf on Thursdays.

And we had meatloaf yesterday

And Bingo.

We always play Bingo on Friday.

And we just played Bingo.

Are you sure today isn’t Friday?

I’m sure this is Friday.

I’m as sure as I’m sitting here.

I’m as sure as day is day.

And night is night.

Today is definitely Friday.

But this sure as hell isn’t tuna fish.

“My Top 10 Anti-Resolutions for 2013”

9.  I will not go to the Super Bowl, sit behind the goal post and wave a placard with ”Habbakuk 2:16b” on it.   { ”Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed…”}.

8.  I will not personally disprove the Big Bang theory.

6.  I will not petition the Vatican to make folk singer John Prine a saint.  He has been divorced and remarried (at least once).  He is not Roman Catholic.  And neither am I.

3.  I will not comment on a blog post written by a woman grieving the sudden death of her husband by correcting her grammar. {“i (I)  m (am) so sad(.) he (He) wus (was)my life.}”   I will also not ask her out on a date.

So, who do I have to sleep with to be Freshly Pressed?  Those of you who have been there, how about you?

(image above “Angry man” from Gallivanting Gai)

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)

 

 

 

All Is Not Lost: An Example of Good Grammar in High School

girl writing

Earlier, I posted about the “fruits and vegetables” of good grammar in a balanced writing diet.  As has been my habit of late, I wanted to follow up with examples to illustrate my point.  Usually, I search WordPress blogs.  I can spend the better part of a day browsing and reading (someday I’ll have to get a real job).  Today, I decided to ask my cousin Leah to send me some of her daughter’s writings.

Leah’s daughter, Kelsi, is a senior in high school.  She plans to attend a college or university next year and study English and perhaps Japanese.  Her current vocational goal is to become an editor.  I knew she had done some creative writing of her own and, while I had not read any of it, suspected it would be good.

I was right.  All is not lost.  There is still at least one high school student (and I’m sure many more) with a command of the language and a concern to use it well.

Below is an exerpt from a piece she wrote called “Remember”, which I’m posting by her permission.  I think many of you who read this blog (young and old) can identify with the dilemma she describes so well.

… Occasionally, my brain and my mouth make a connection, usually unwarranted. What is it that I remember which needs to be blurted out right this minute? It’s typically some random observation, some obscure fact that no one else would remember, something that happened this morning that I’d forgotten about until now, something that happened on page 625 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Oftentimes it’s a song. I find myself singing the same lyrics over and over, sometimes at the top of my voice. But now and then I’ll get halfway through a song and a lapse of memory will plague me again. It’s gone.

Just as often, something else occurs to interest my easily distracted mind. As soon as I turn my attention to something else, whatever thought I had is out the window, and when I look back to find it again, it’s already on a train to Timbuktu. So I move on to the next thought, the next distraction, back to the spinning vortex, the organized mess that is my mind. . .

Now what was I talking about?

(image “Student writing in her workbook” from www.primeeducation.com.au, some rights reserved)

The Mechanics of Good Grammar (or, “How to Balance Your Diet by Diagramming Sentences”)

So we let grammar slip from the curriculum.  And forty years on we live with the consequences. The teachers who might teach it know too little to even begin.  Though it’s true that you learn most of what you need by living inside the language, still, you don’t know what it is you know. You have no language to speak of the system and its parts. You cannot name your mistakes when you feel you have made them; nor, therefore, can you fix them. When your car with its fancy engine — which is to say, when your sentence — breaks down, there’s not a thing under its hood whose function you understand, whose name you can name. You couldn’t even talk usefully to the mechanic who came when you called, if there were such a person.  (from Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick)

Now, I could go on a rant about the misuse and abuse of the English language over the past several decades.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll shift Tredinnick’s analogy (above) from cars to food and share a little story of how I came to enjoy the “fruits and vegetables” of good grammar to encourage you to try a taste.

I am 48 years old.  When I started elementary school (actually called “grammar school” at the time), I was taught the basics of “reading, writing, and arithmetic”. True, I was not particularly fond of the diet of “Dick and Jane” readers, or being graded on “penmanship” (Orwellian for “obsessively neat hand writing”).  Yet, I now look back on this time as training, like doing dribbling, passing, or running drills to become a better basketball player.

Fast forward to high school.  I had moved from a low-ranking consolidated school to a competitive one in the suburbs.  There were two basic educational tracks – one for college prep and one for vocational skills.  I tested high in math and was put on an advance track.  I bombed the English test, however.  I blame my Kentuckian heritage – English is a second language in my household.   So, I was put in with remedial students, learning such things as distinguishing nouns, verbs, and adjectives all over again.  Fortunately, my teacher quickly saw that I had mastered the basics, and she gave me additional assignments (and even had me correcting papers, which didn’t sit too well with my peers).

Before I graduated from high school, I was doubling up on English classes so I could take both Creative Writing and Classic Literature courses.  Still, when I took the SAT, I scored nearly 200 points higher in math than in  English.  My guidance counselor just shook his head when I told him I was pursuing English rather than engineering (but he didn’t question me likely because his wife was one of the passionate teachers in the English department).

So I studied English literature and creative writing at a small, private, reasonably respected liberal arts college – Hanover.  I bought a t-shirt that read “Hanover – The Harvard of the Midwest” which I wore proudly until I saw a friend from high school wearing one that said, “Depauw – The Harvard of the Midwest”.  I guess there was a close-out on “Harvard of the Midwest” shirts that year.

As an English major, I read a lot and I wrote a lot.  In some classes, we were asked to keep journals.  We were graded more on reflective thought and creativity than grammar (in fact, I’m not sure our grammar was even corrected).  Yet, in nearly all my courses, we did weekly theme papers.  The grammar was corrected and, if it was poor, your grade was marked down.  In some cases you had to write it again.  It was not pleasant to see the red markings on the page (only one of my professors had adopted the more “psychologically correct” color green).  But, it was good medicine (sort of like an herbal compound) to learn good grammar so I could better express myself.

One of my favorite college courses was entitled “The History of the English Language” taught by Dr. Jonathan Smith.  For much of the course, we learned about the origins of spoken and written English, the way the language has evolved, adapted and adopted features from victors and victims of takeovers.  There was even a section of the course where Dr. Smith had us collect slang words and phrases currently in use, which he had been collecting in all of his 75 years of teaching (Just kidding, Dr. Smith.  He only recently celebrated his 75th year of teaching.  He was in his 20s when I was there).

A portion of the course, though, was set aside to diagram sentences.  That’s right.  English majors in their junior and senior years, some heading to pursue Ph.Ds at reputable schools, drawing lines denoting nouns and verbs and adjectives.  It was bit more complicated than what I remembered in grade school – like doing a black-and-white puzzle with only a hint of a fuzzy sketch to guide you.  But I enjoyed it.  And, it helped me become a better writer.

The purpose of good grammar, as Mark Tredinnick points out in Writing Well is to keep the engine of sound sentences running smoothly.  Again, to shift to my food metaphor, learning the basics of grammar is like eating your fruits and vegetables so your expressive life (both spoken and written) can be more healthy, bountiful and abundant.  My hope is that, instead of abandoning the nutritious whole foods of good grammar and adopting a diet of artificial abbreviations that will leave us malnourished and misunderstood, we can “taste and see” the goodness of writing well.

fruit and vegetables

(“Fruit & vegetable basket” from muammerokumus, some rights reserved)

My Top 10 Anti-Resolutions for 2013

10.  I will not eat the food left over in my refrigerator from our Thanksgiving meal.

Time to clean out the work fridge.

(from akeg, some rights reserved)

9.  I will not go to the Super Bowl, sit behind the goal post and wave a placard with “Habbakuk 2:16b” on it.

 { “Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed…”}

8.  I will not personally disprove the Big Bang theory.

church sign

(from mikecogh, some rights reserved)

7.  I will not hide shoes behind books in the Goodwill store so I can get them for half-price on the first Saturday of the month.

goodwill sign

(from revger, some rights reserved)

6.  I will not petition the Vatican to make folk singer John Prine a saint.  He has been divorced and remarried (at least once).  He is not Roman Catholic.  And neither am I.

john prine

(from wfuv, some rights reserved)

5.  I will not react so enthusiastically to my discovery of what “meggins” are that I go out and buy some.  (see Matt Robb’s post)

tight pants

(from Tricia Wang 王圣捷, some rights reserved)

4.  I will not enter any writing contest where the entry fee exceeds the top prize.

writing contest

(from thepocnews, some rights reserved)

3.  I will not comment on a blog post written by a woman grieving the sudden death of her husband by correcting her grammar.  (Or, asking her out on a date.)

i (I)  m (am) so sad(.) he (He) wus (was)my life.

2.  I will not use parentheses excessively…

(unless I absolutely must whisper something in the reader’s ear.)

1.  I will not pursue a Marketing Internship for the Hoosier Lottery (though I may submit the slogan “Be a Real Loser – Play the Lottery” for free).

lottery

(from chicagogeek, some rights reserved)

 

(Inspired by a writing prompt from Today’s Authors)