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Because Life Is Amazing (and Grammar Is Not)

February 2, 2012

Some people, more than one and fewer than a thousand, have asked why I haven’t updated this space in such a long time. It’s nice to hear, like having someone ask why you haven’t been cooking. Perhaps my guests are polite, but if they ask for seconds I know that they either really like my work or really like me. Either one is good, both is best. (Or they’re gluttons, but let’s not go there.)

the business card

I haven’t abandoned “cooking.” No, I’m just slow. This post reflects about two three four hours of research and thinking and writing. Usually in that order. Next, I didn’t intend this as a chronicle of my quotidian mundanity, let alone my tiresome vocabulary. My initial question was whether I could write. “Could write” doesn’t mean string words together nicely. A while ago I decided to shelve that issue based on the gracious compliments I’ve collected like fortune cookie aphorisms in my wallet. (One of the best: “Like a drink of cold water,” from a law school teaching assistant in my mandatory writing seminar. And he was a gruff former drug cop at that.) Just, can I do it? Not by dumping personal history, which fatally confuses streaking with sharing. No, I’m mostly at peace with my (weird) past, challenged by the present, and cautiously intrigued by the future. If you can do it, the best reason to write is that you want to write. The payoff of doing well is thrilling, as in when you nail something in a good piece. You can’t force it. No amount of perspiration will get you inspiration, but patience helps.

I’ve been writing a lot, more and better than in years. Yes, I’m pleased. And bemused (why now?). My young adult novel is nearly done at around 85,000 words, which is half a million keys pressed (many more if you count editing) to make a fairly average length two to three hundred pages. I also just sent in a science fiction short story to a competition for not-yet-professional writers. Six thousand words was the limit and I wrote 5,918, which in editing meant picking and choosing individual words, like walking around a house with a ceiling that’s too low and trying not to smack your head. I have a lot of other shorts variously submitted or in the works, including one that sold last fall for a whopping $50. Most of all I’m calling myself a writer, a really difficult transition for me for fear of mediocrity. This is not writing for its own sake, a masturbatory exercise. If it were, I’d rather do something useful. (I am not fishing for compliments! Any given will be severely scrutinized and/or excoriated. Hey, that you’re still reading is the real compliment. Would you like seconds?)

Now, instead of writing on writing, which is about as interesting as the physics of gruel,1 (I’ve already blown about 500 words here), I do have something on point.

I recently added something to the tag line in the site header above: “because life is amazing.” Though that’s a bit giddy for me, it’s not the product of a passing mood. I believe it. I’ve always felt it, but it wouldn’t have occurred to say it or would have seemed a tad too ironic before I upgraded my life to color. As a general matter, I’m not taking up writing to complain. Some people are strangely startled that I explain I feel it’s a privilege to be hear here. [Sigh, f#*&1#g typos.] Not because “it beats the alternative”—and what a stupid expression that is—no, it’s that it’s a blessing, and the only path possible to all that is good for us. I want to make more of it. What makes me emotional is not to dwell on all the years lost, the career ruined, the slow grind of daily life; but on the loves and opportunities I am blessed to have, however fleeting some may be. Buddhism seems to grasp this, in meditating not on why life sucks but why life is.

It feels good to get out a little more. I started volunteering occasionally, began knocking off long-stale home improvement projects (this is not small stuff, see the last post), and started taking piano lessons (at 44, mind you, he will learn a new trick). I’m alive again, most of the time, three-dimensional versus flattened into a picture frame to watch everything through a gauzy camera while eating stale potato chips and trying to ignore the cold.

I’ll always write about and contemplate and dip into the sadness. Some things about it are actually enlightening (see Buddhism, above). It provides contrast, but neither the memory of it nor freedom from it are reasons for me to feel blessed. I’m not here to dump a lifetime of miseries and resentment and then quickly tack on a caboose about uplifting recovery. That’s streaking. And, worse, boring. The ultimate yet tentative beauty of life is sharing. In being permitted to enjoy life, I’m not grateful, I just am, and before I wasn’t. And I mean wasn’t.2

I hope to write about all this someday in that memoir thing. These posts are glimpses. I’m not racing towards that challenge. It will find me.

Soemthing I read in 1980 in a tech manual:

An Admonition to the Fault-Fynder

If many faultes in this book you fynde,
Yet think not the correctors blynde.
If Argos heere hymselfe had beene,
He should perchance not all have seene.

—Richard Shacklock, printer (ca. 1565). The spellings were probably OK at the time.

xkcd on strunk

XKCD: let’s not take Strunk too seriously

1 Unless you’re a wannabe geek about these things, try starting with Strunk’s The Elements of Style (ignore maybe half, esp. White; memorize the rest) and The Chicago Manual of Style on mechanics; and me, someday, on content. The regular grammar geeks already know these things.

Grammar is important and can even save lives: “Let’s eat Grandpa” versus “Let’s eat, Grandpa.” But I regret all the times I corrected people on petty matters of grammar, worse so because a lot of the rules turn out, on a second look, to be specious or wrong, the foibles of a pedantic martinet. (A friend volunteers the Finnish sobriquet pilkunnussija.)

Split those infinitives. Write sentence fragments. Dangle your prepositions until they gasp for air. And tell anyone who thinks they’re superior for pointing out niggling errors rather than elucidating content (guilty) to go get a better job. Or f**k themselves; that works, too. Put, your, commas, wherever, you, goddamn, want.

As I’ve said often, the first sin of writing is to be boring. Not to be unable to define gerund.

I do want to look good. I was crestfallen to learn a few weeks ago that none is plural—usually. Who knew? Not the 1959 revision of Strunk. Usage note in the New Oxford American Dictionary:

none | usage: It is sometimes held that none can take only a singular verb, never a plural verb: none of them is coming tonight, rather than none of them are coming tonight. There is little justification, historical or grammatical, for this view. None is descended from Old English nān, meaning ‘not one,’ and has been used for around a thousand years with both a singular and a plural verb, depending on the context and the emphasis needed.

Of course, the only thing this says for sure is that the traditional rule is a mistake. To heck with the high-horse prescriptivists, let them polish the silverware. I get it now.

2I’ve already gotten a couple of messages from friends that this notion of gratitude connected with things in their present tense lives, making them appreciate their own corner of the world a bit more. It’s not that you’re happy because you’re better off than someone who is sad; it’s that the event makes you stop and realize what you take for granted. It’s like finding an extra present under the Christmas tree. (Or gift-giving tradition of your choice.) A little karmic windfall is a good thing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    February 5, 2012 14:54

    So glad you are back at it. This inspired to me some of your past ones again. Thanks Andrew. You are a beautiful writer.

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