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“The young writer will be drawn at every turn toward eccentricities in language. He will hear the beat of new vocabularies, the exciting rhythms of special segments of his society, each speaking a language of its own. All of us come under the spell of these unsettling drums; the problem, for the beginner, is to listen to them, learn the words, feel the excitement, and not be carried away.” – – An E.B. White Reader

 

Have you heard the beat of new vocabularies? Nouns turned into verbs are used all over. We google subjects and we tweet, though we aren’t birds. We text and snapchat each other, but our communication is often abbreviated to words without vowels; we have a new shorthand to meet the needs of a fly by friendship.

I am familiar with several special segments of society that have a language specific to its members. One of these is the field of education, a world full of acronyms and oft used terms. Overuse certainly kills the charm of some words. I can think of some that need to be retired, or at least put on the back burner. Some of these would be: partner (as in ‘partner with’, not ‘Howdy, Partner!’), relationships, ownership, mission statement, intentional, and unpack. Contemporary religion also has its share of overused expressions, such as authentic, relevant, passionate.

The best point White made is to “not be carried away.” Words are wonderful and repetition has its place. But like a parent who threatens “if I have to tell you one more time”, frequently repeated words lose their appeal and begin to fall on deaf ears.

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Enthusiasm

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Since it was 41 years ago today that I graduated from high school, I’ve been walking down memory lane all afternoon. It’s the only exercise I’ve had all day.

I found the newspaper clipping with a few quotes from our commencement speech, given by a Dr. Paul Mori. One thing he said was,

“Enthusiasm is more important than professional skill.”

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I think he must have both, because when I googled him, this is what I found:

Dr. Paul Mori Jr, MD is a radiology doctor who practices in Jacksonville, FL. He is 92 years old and has been practicing for 69 years.

That is just amazing to me! To find your calling and passion and stick with it for 69 years must take a whole lot of enthusiasm and commitment.

He also said:

 

“The single most important tool you have is the knowledge of the English language and the ability to communicate.”

 

I feel like I left high school with this tool dull and rusty. Over the years I have tried to sharpen it and use it so it would not stay rusty. I don’t think it was just me from my school, but many students in many schools in the seventies graduated without a lot of fundamentals. Today I can skillfully use verbs like google and tweet, but I wish that I’d been more like Napoleon Dynamite back then. I wish I’d followed my heart into journalism.

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Instead, I headed off to college to major in marketing. Eventually, after four kids, I graduated with a degree in education and had the joy of sharing my knowledge of English with children. Now, however, I’ve come full circle, back to where my heart was my junior year. I write. I don’t do it for a living, but I do feel enlivened and purposeful when I’m writing.

 

I don’t remember Dr. Mori’s speech. But, I think we all went out into the the world that afternoon enthusiastically. Oh, to go back 41 years and grab some of that now!

Verbs and a Villanelle

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Photo by Suat Eman

I’ve loved ABC books and A-Z lists for quite a while. This post is one in a series on writing, with the subtopic of poetry.

“Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.” Janice Fitch, author and teacher

You just can’t write without verbs! So, you might as well use the best! Choose active and precise verbs to get your point across and to paint a clear, vivid picture. Instead of saying “The ball was hit by James”, say “James hit the ball.” The first example is a passive verb, the second is active.
Precise verbs give more information. Instead of saying walk, you might say stumbled, skipped, lumbered, or strolled. Verbs can not only tell an action, but also give insight into characters. What kind of person lumbers? Why would a person stumble? Think about good verbs, then remember your thesaurus.
The poetry focus is the villanelle, a nineteen-line poem with a very specific rhyming scheme. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. An excellent example of the form is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”.
Here is my attempt:
Khaki Heart

His was a khaki heart
Waiting, a blank slate
Hers was a world apart

Somewhere inside a work of art
If only she would wait
His was a khaki heart

His a world of folk art
She wanting the ornate
Hers a world apart

He with so much to impart
She not willing to wait
His was a khaki heart

She was ready to depart
His world too sedate
Hers a world apart

She could have made a fresh start
He would have been a loving mate
His was a khaki heart
Hers was a world apart