I blogged about beach reads (i.e., anything read at the beach) in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I was in the Rocky Mountains in 2017, and we all know what didn’t happen in 2020. But here’s this year’s take on what people actually read at the beach. These 16 people are ages 12 to 90, and 8 are female. FYI, some raved about their reads; no one said, “Don’t bother.”
Here, in the order people wrote them down, with writers’ comments where noted
And this doesn’t even include the 7 books bought the last afternoon before leaving!
And some people don’t choose what they’ll be reading at the beach. Work demands, school demands, parenting demands… Does reading the newspaper count as pleasure reading or required reading?
Student papers to grade
Reports for work, if the internet connection cooperates
Legal something-or-other for an upcoming court appearance
Coursework for Continuing Education requirements
Comparing textbooks for homeschooling
Manuscripts to edit
And there you have it folks: 16 people, 25 books (and other reading materials)—plus turtle viewing, boogie-boarding, brewery touring, thrift shopping, sewing, story telling, cooking, euchre, dancing, cribbage, Mexican Train Dominoes, hair, makeup, nails…
Bottom Line: Yep, lots to do at the beach—but don’t leave home without at least one good read!
Yep, I confess to being an unabashed logophile (lover of words). (This seldom-used word comes from Greek roots: logos, meaning speech, word, reason; and philos, meaning dear, friendly.)
Some people are logomaniacs—i.e., obsessed with words. I may be borderline, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet! On the one hand, I do have more than five full shelves of dictionaries, from general ones like Random House and the OED to specialized ones for everything from slang and historical periods to non-American English (e.g., Australian and South African). On the other hand, I can go whole days without even opening one!
Still, I’m gratified to know (according to the Cambridge English Dictionary) that gobby means talks too much. Closely related—but with different nuance—in American English, gabby means excessively or annoyingly talkative.
Recently, I began posting a word a day on FaceBook, just the word, no definition. The only criterion is that it strike my fancy on a given day. But maybe I should theme it.
Flurch: a multitude, a great many (things, not people)
Gutterblood: people brought up in the same immediate neighborhood
Hipshot: strained or dislocated in the hip
Leg-bail: run from the law, desertion from duty
Nicknackitarian: dealer in curiosities
Noggle: to walk awkwardly
Overmorrow: the day after tomorrow
Prinkle: tingling sensation
Rooped: hoarse, as in bronchitis
Scruze: squeeze, compress
Smoothery: medicine or salve to remove hair
Tazzled: entangled or rough, untidy head of hair
Thenadays: in those days, times past
Thinnify: to make thin
Words That Are Seldom Seen—or Heard
I just like them.
Rantipole: a wild, reckless, sometimes quarrelsome person; characterized by a wild, unruly manner or attitude.
Solivagant: rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering.
Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil. True of many (most?) people, and of all good villainous characters!
Noctiphany: something that happens only at night.
Skice: to frisk about like squirrels in spring.
Lethologica: when a word is on the tip of your tongue.
And when it just won’t come in time, you can substitute. Here are some words for an object, event, type of media, abstract concept, or person whose name is forgotten, unknown, or unmentionable. There are regional variations, but some of these seem to be universal.
Doohickey: object or device
And then there are the nuances of words to consider. By this, I mean words that can objectively mean the same thing but create different impressions of age, social class, education, gender, etc. Some words are essentially unintelligible to people outside a particular social group. This is where a good thesaurus comes in handy (or Urban Dictionary). A few examples:
There are many reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name. Particularly fancy authors might even use a nom de plume.
To Share Credit
My first attempt at writing fiction was the Chesapeake Bay MysteryDark Harbor. The plot required a lot more knowledge of sailing than I possessed, and so I started working with a coauthor, Lawry Gulick. Most fiction books are not (obviously) coauthored, so we took the pen name Vivian Lawry.
When I started submitting short stories, I asked Lawry whether it was okay for me to use that pen name. He said, “Sure. This is the only fiction I’ll ever write.”
People more often than not mispronounce and/or misspell Makosky anyway. My professional (psychological) publications are by Vivian Makosky, and using a pen name for fiction allows me to separate the genres.
By the time Dark Harbor saw the light of day, I’d published numerous short stories as Vivian Lawry. Publishing the novel as Vivian Lawry would feel like plagiarism, as if I was claiming to be the sole author of the mystery. Hence, it ended up being coauthored after all, by Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick.
Little did we know that shared pen names have been around for awhile.
Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper, shared the pen name Michael Field, as well as what appeared to be a lesbian relationship for more than forty years.
Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch shared the pen name Magnus Flyte.
Yes, there is a downside. If one chooses to keep two (or more) writing names, and to keep them separate, it multiplies the workload: separate blogs, separate websites, separate social media accounts…
And one can’t handily promote the other!
For those of us who have a “private” name and a pen name, visibility is often lost: people know me as one or the other. In spite of leakage over time, personal friends and family members sometimes forget my pen name, and often haven’t “liked” Vivian Lawry’s Facebook page. Thus, they don’t keep up with publications, talks, etc., even though they might be some of the best word-of-mouth advertising.
Bottom line: Think carefully before taking a pen name.
January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. He’s depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. In any event, this is the customary time of year for people to take stock of what was and what’s to come.
In the most basic terms, we do know some things about 2021 for an absolute certainty. 2021—MMXXI if you’re particularly old-fashioned— will be a common year (not a Leap Year) starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. This is the 2021st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 21st year of the 3rd millennium, the 21st year of the 21st century, and the 2nd year of the 2020s decade.
2021 Chinese Zodiac Predictions
In the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be a year of the Metal Ox beginning on February 12th (2020 was a Metal Rat). According to custom, the Ox is very hardworking and methodical. In the year of the Metal Ox, we should all focus on relationships of all kind (so let’s hope we don’t have to keep social distancing too much longer).
The Ox is also associated with hard work and responsibility, so expect lots of that in 2021 as well. The repercussions of previously made decisions will hit this year (oh boy!), but at least all our hard work will be rewarded.
2021 Angel Number Predictions
Angel Numbers are a branch of numerology based on the idea that groups of reappearing numbers or sequences of numbers are coded messages from angelic protectors.
The Angel Number 2021 symbolizes faith, whether it be in your guardian angels, your relationships, or your own intuition. Don’t doubt that your angels have good plans for you and that allowing change will bring progress. Seeing Angel Number 2021 indicates that you need to control your thoughts more, as they can affect your reality.
As per the Numerology Horoscope 2021, this year will be good for you financially. You will have a balanced and flourishing family life. Though you may face some stressful situations in the middle of the year, you will gradually overcome those challenges with your understanding and wisdom.
What about 2020?
In general Numerology, 2020 is like 1616, 1717, 1818, and 1919, because the first two digits match the second two digits. Being alive in 2020 is special because it is the only year you are likely to live through wherein the first two digits will match the second two digits—unless you believe in cryogenics or reincarnation.
The energy represented by the number 2020 has a resonance of focus and relationships. It also resonates with conscientiousness, pragmatism, and teamwork.
Apparently, the Angel Number 2020 was telling us all to be prepared for what is coming our way. Guardian angels were telling us that extreme changes were about to enter our lives. Had we paid attention, perhaps we would have been more prepared, both mentally and physically.
“The year 2020 ushers in the Universal Year 4 – a number representing stability, organisation, industriousness, convention, and a mini-wealth cycle,” said Gracy Yap, a Singaporean numerologist and author of Secrets Of Golden Numbers. Jan 3, 2020
It seems everyone said 2020 would be a year of healing and big changes. Well, that was half right.
Interestingly, no one foretold the COVID-19 pandemic or the upheaval surrounding our presidential (and other) elections. Massive wildfires in Australia and California, murder hornets, flesh-eating bacteria in Mississippi, swarms of locusts in Africa, and wide-spread civil unrest in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, America, Hong Kong, and Sudan… none of these were mentioned in all those 2020 predictions.
Bottom line: We have every reason to believe that 2021 will be a good year, new president in place and COVID vaccinations injected. But don’t count on it!
Most medical professionals agree that a reading habit is much healthier than a cocaine habit or a heroin habit (the ones that don’t are the same dentists who don’t suggest brushing your teeth). For one thing, reading is good for your physical and mental health. You probably know at least some of these benefits of reading every day, but just to review briefly:
Improves brain connectivity
Readers are more able to empathize with others
Aids sleep readiness (if it’s a physical book)
Lowers blood pressure
Lowers heart rate
Helps reduce depression
Reduces cognitive decline with aging
So, everyone should read, and it should start at an early age. According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, parents should start reading to/with their children from infancy through elementary school years.
Builds warm, happy associations with books
Increases the likelihood that kids will enjoy reading in the future
Reading at home boosts school performance later on
Builds good communication skills
Physically strengthens the human brain
Builds attention span
What Should You Be Reading?
Whatever you can get your hands on! Even before they know how to read, children will learn reading habits such as which way to hold a book and finding familiar pictures or letters on a page. It’s important to expose kids to books both above and within their current reading ability, in a wide variety of genres.
If you want some guidance on what is age-appropriate for children, you can get advice on-line and/or in actual books. Each grade level in school typically requires students to pass reading skill tests before passing to the next level. Libraries are an excellent resource for book suggestions for children of any age or reading ability.
Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Whether in real life or in your writing, it is entirely too easy to limit children by expected levels or shame a child for not conforming to expectations.
Types of Readers
When it comes to reading habits, to each his or her own. To use a biology analogy, the “family” of readers includes numerous “genera.” In some instances, there are even “species.”
Just about every reader belongs to more than one species to a greater or lesser degree. Many people adjust their reading habits as circumstances allow, changing when children are born or a job change requires a different commuting style.
High Need-for-Achievement Readers
These readers read almost exclusively within their professional area, e.g., mathematics journals or business publications or medical research papers, etc. These readers may or may not enjoy their reading, but they read nonetheless. Some professions, such as teachers and paramedics, require continual study and testing to maintain up-to-date certifications to practice.
If you start a book, you finish that book, no matter what. Anything else feels like failure. For more information about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder and quirky fixations, check out this post I wrote about the character possibilities of each.
Although this group includes those who read (and study) the Bible, it also includes anyone whose goal is spiritual enlightenment and growth. Many Muslims read and recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan every year as a form of meditation. Writings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh are widely read by people of many faiths.
These readers want someone to talk with about their reads—which can be more or less academic. Depending on how books are chosen, they are likely to end up reading things they would never have chosen for themselves, which can be good—or not so much. Book groups often have a specific focus, such as current fiction, or botany books, i.e., anything from the genre preferences.
Much like a book group, except it’s whatever one’s bridge buddies, neighbors, family members, et al. are reading, recommending, and/or lending. Depending on the interests of friends, this can lead to a very eclectic reading list. Reading what friends recommend or enjoy can strengthen social bonds by encouraging discussion of books read in common.
These readers are up-to-the-minute at the water-cooler and/or cocktail hour. They often operate on the presumption that if it appeals to enough people to be a bestseller, a book will appeal to themselves as well. The traditional gold standard here is The New York Times. The Times tracks the following categories:
Combined print & e-book
Paperback trade fiction
Combined print & e-book
Note: These bestsellers divisions take account of readers’ format preferences and allow for combining with one’s genre preferences.
These people know what they like and stick to it: a genre is characterized by similarities of form, style, or subject matter. Accordingly, pretty much any category of book is a genre—and I’m probably missing some here, but you get the idea:
Often read more than one book a day, limited to a specific genre, sometimes a limited number of preferred authors. Genre Junkies tend to prefer genres in which a plethora of books are available. A fan of books about Arctic Circle Siberian reptile varieties is likely to run out of material much more quickly than a fan of paranormal dystopian romance fantasy books.
Exactly what it sounds like. These people often skip meals and sleep when a book is particularly hard to put down. Accomplished binge readers may even learn to walk, dress, cook, and feed the dog without putting down the book in their hand.
Reads anything and everything: blogs, poetry, nature, non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi, or whatever. An interesting book from thirty years ago is no lower on the list than the absolute latest best-seller. Eclectics are often bright, inquisitive, and frequent readers.
Some readers have multiple books going and bounce back and forth among them. The bedside book, the lunch break book, the evening book, the boring book they know they should read for some obligation but just can’t seem to make it through… I haven’t seen any formal studies on the subject, but I would imagine that ping-ponging readers would be very good at multi-tasking.
Some people have such packed schedules, they can seldom read for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A person who is able to keep track of characters and plotlines despite snatching only small doses has to have a pretty-good memory.
Generally caretakers or parents, some readers have to wait until their charges are asleep before picking up a book. Parenting and caregiving are both stressful occupations, and reading during naptime or after bedtime can provide absolutely necessary stress relief for Night Readers.
Some people use reading as a form of reward, much as others might promise themselves a piece of chocolate or pair of shoes for completing an unpleasant task. Anyone who enjoys reading could be a self-rewarder: a doctor can only read the latest sci-fi bestseller after reading the latest medical journals; a parent can only read after finishing the laundry; a binge reader has to put the book down until dinner is finished.
As a visitor to a blog about writing and reading, you are probably someone who enjoys reading on some level. However, reading is difficult and not enjoyable for many adults. Some researchers estimate that 1 in 7 adults in the US are functionally illiterate; dyslexia, disrupted schooling, dyspraxia, and many other reasons could lead to a person reaching adulthood with only enough reading skill to be able to function in society.
Besides what we read, our reading habits include when and where we read.
Transit readers: they read on planes, trains, automobiles, and subways. Very careful transit readers may be able to read while walking; audio books make this much easier.
Bed-time readers: exactly what it sounds like.
TV readers: while one’s partner/house mate/family members watch something unappealing on TV, they hang out companionably and read.
Vacation readers: weekends, holidays, and vacations, kicking back with a good book.
Not recommended because it isn’t daily.
Boredom readers: any waiting room or line that goes on forever.
Last but not least, how do we read? Today there are more options than ever. There’s no reason not to read every day! The three basic options:
Physical books: the traditional option, most researched, with best/most positive effects on health
E-books (available on devices from smart phones to tablets to computers to dedicated devices such as Kindle and Nook). Often the choice of people with vision issues (any book can be LARGE PRINT), frequent travelers (who once went abroad with a dozen books or more weighing down the luggage), and anyone who likes having a light-weight, portable library at hand.
Audio books: the choice for someone who wants to do something else simultaneously (e.g., go to sleep, knit, make dinner). Can contribute to distracted driving, so don’t do that while behind the wheel. Audio books are also indispensable for people with impaired vision.
Do other formats have the same health benefits of physical books?
A study by Beth Rogowsky at Bloomsburg University “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” using e-readers—and the test was limited to comprehension. It’s too complicated to get into here, but you can check it out. By and large, the effects of reading physical books daily are well-documented. E-books offer some but not all of those benefits. Audiobooks are the great unknown.
Bottom line: develop or nurture your daily reading habits. There is much evidence that it’s good for you, and no negative side effects on record.
I was looking up something entirely different. When I’d entered “history of” several (presumably popular) topics showed up, one of which was “history of eating gold.” At the risk of revealing just how out of the food loop I am, eating gold was new to me. So I read more.
According to Wikipedia, pictures of foods with edible gold are all over social media. (So maybe it isn’t just the food fad loop I’m out of!) Apparently this fad started as a viral phenomenon in Dubai, and now there’s a worldwide proliferation of restaurants and pastries using edible gold, including more accessible (i.e., less expensive) cafés and restaurants.
Putting gold on food requires a very similar technique to putting gold on fancy furniture, musical instruments, books, paintings, and just about anything else that stood still long for Baroque decorators to gild. Gilders today primarily use oil gilding or water gilding techniques, both of which are virtually identical to techniques used by Egyptian tomb decorators in the 23rd century BCE. (Ceramic objects, large surfaces such as outdoor statues, and metal or glass surfaces are often gilded with other methods, most of which make food entirely inedible.)
The surface to be gilded is prepared.
Non-food surfaces are made as smooth as possible. This usually involves coating it with finely sanded gesso or a similar material.
Food surfaces are smoothed and settled. Any cooking should be done before applying the gold.
An adhesive is applied to the surface.
The smoothed gesso on non-food surfaces is covered with sizing.
Oil gilding uses linseed oil boiled with lead oxide litharge.
“Water” gilding uses rabbit-skin glue flooded with high-proof grain alcohol. (A friend who worked as a gilder told me she used Everclear; there was usually enough left for a drink when she finished a commission!)
Food surfaces are brushed with alcohol or very small amounts of water.
The gold leaf, which is only a few molecules thick, is lifted using the static on a gilding brush or a special gilder’s knife. Touching the sheet of gold leaf directly will tear it.
Gold leaf is laid on the intended surface, gently pressed into adhesive with a soft brush, and left to dry.
For non-food gilding, the drying process includes a chemical bond forming between the gold leaf, the sizing, and the gesso underneath.
The adhesive water or alcohol used on edible gilding simply evaporates, leaving the gold leaf stuck to the surface below but not chemically bonded.
Excess gold leaf is brushed off, usually swept carefully into a jar to be used in another project.
After thoroughly drying (usually at least a day), the gilding is burnished. Because the gold is still thinner than the width of a human hair, burnishing must be done gently to avoid rubbing it off altogether.
Gold leaf applied with water gilding can be burnished to mirror brightness using agate stones.
It is very difficult to burnish gilding on food, though some people are just overachievers.
Most people are aware of gold used for gilding, artworks, architecture, and general beautification. Ancient Indians and Egyptians used gold in many ways: architecture, decoration, ornaments, religious ceremonies, and jewelry. They also used gold for mental, spiritual, and physical purification. They ingested gold in elixirs for medicinal purposes.
Medicines and elixirs made by court physicians, as well as the use of gold as a decorative garnish for foods and drinks, have been found in Japan, China, and India.
In Europe during the Middle Ages, gold as food decoration became a marker of extreme luxury and prestige. By this time, court physicians believed that gold could help with arthritis and other problems of sore limbs. During the Renaissance, this gold-as-medicine use got a big boost from Paracelsus (1493-1541), considered the father of modern pharmacology, who used gold in both pills and powders. This focus on gold for health held until the twentieth century.
But don’t rush out to grind up your gold jewelry. It won’t do anything for COVID-19! In fact, regular gold doesn’t do anything in the body: it isn’t even absorbed. There is some research underway into the use of particularly controlled gold nanoparticles as a system of drug delivery within the body, but that is still a long way from hitting the shelves at your local drugstore. Although edible gold is safe to eat, it has no nutritional value or health benefits. Also, be aware that edible gold must meet strict requirements under the code E 175. You can also find edible gold that is certified to be kosher or halal!
If you’re interested in eating gold, you can find it everywhere in the online market, worldwide, and from WalMart to Amazon. It’s available in gold leaves, flakes, or powders. And because it doesn’t do anything but look pretty, it’s usually used on top of the dish or drink. The New York restaurant Serendipity 3 has created the world’s (presumably most expensive) dessert: a $25,000 ice cream sundae 23-karat gold.
A New York City food truck, 666 Burger, offered a “Douche Burger” for $666, to mock this trend. The burger includes Kobe beef, gruyere cheese, champagne steam, foie gras, and optional toppings such as lobster or caviar, all wrapped in gold leaf sheets.
Franz Aliquo, the owner of 666 Burger said, “We took everything that people socially associate with rich people food and threw it on a burger and made it the most expensive, disgusting burger ever.” It may have been put on the menu as a joke, but the “Douche Burger” is not too far off from actual over-the-top expensive dishes (and burgers) on the menus at other restaurants. At least one person has tried to order the “Douche Burger” from the food truck.
“It’s a satirical expression of these burgers that people make and try to sell in all seriousness. We took the most offensive pieces from other famous burgers and just took it up a level. I mean, what’s the point of putting gold flakes on your food? It doesn’t add to the flavor. It’s just to be able to say you ate gold flakes.”
Edible gold doesn’t oxidize or corrode. It is inert, has no taste, smell, or nutritional value. So why consume it? Bottom line: conspicuous consumption.
When a writer gets the voice right, it largely goes unnoticed. It’s a “good read” when the language, format, and structure seem more natural than noteworthy.
People often struggle to write from the point of view of a child, keeping the language and thinking consistently child-like. This is especially the case if one doesn’t have young children around spouting examples. One helpful step is to check on the language/vocabulary level by age. And as with everything else, there’s a book for that.
Observing children and copying their behavior and speech patterns into your writing is the most reliable way to ensure authentically childlike characters. However, parents tend to get a bit uneasy when strange adults follow their children around with notepads. Videos online are a much safer method of research.
Less frequently—but equally important—is getting it right when the child is actually doing the writing. Instances might include letters, thank-you notes, notes passed in school, diary entries, etc.
Here for your edification (and enjoyment?) is one example—a short story by a real eight-year-old.
The Panda Thief
Ones there was a family of Pandas. One day they had a baby. They were over joyed with :: but there was a person (not a panda) that wanted a panda more then anything in the worled. She promest that if she got just one panda she wodent hunt them anymore.
Lukuly there was someone who loved pandas so much that she protekted and her name was . . . Nalani! She knew about the theift so she really wanted to proteked them so one nite she made a trap that rodent hert the thift but keep her frome comejng back. And she dided ever again and Nalani said “Thank you for not hunting Pandas in reward I will let you keep one that yo may choose.”
The theft became good and get a punda and folowed her promes and the panda she piked was the newly born baby. The parents were sad for a little but soon got over it and everyone lived hapily ever after!
Things to note:
Language usage is much better than spelling
Spelling is mostly phonetic
Spelling is inconsistent (e.g., thief, theift, thift)
Lack of logic: there was no theft, and they ended up losing a baby panda anyway
Want to give it a try?
The Cat Ones there was a cat who’s oners coulded
Bottom line for writers: it’s easier to write well from a child’s point of view than to write like a child!
Surprise, surprise: the answer isn’t as straightforward as it might first seem. I’m pleased to share with you Douglas S. Jones’ thoughts on the matter.
Doug Jones is well known in local writing groups and has taught dozens of students in the Richmond area. Full disclosure: Doug taught and mentored me for years! I especially appreciate Doug sharing his thoughts on what makes writing poetic because, as many of you know, I don’t “do” poetry.
Is it poetic?
When asked to define poetry, I thought: This is my punishment for not writing a dissertation.
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionarydefines poem as “1) a composition in verse, especially one that is characterized by a highly developed artistic form and by the use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject.” This sounds like what my high school English teachers probably taught me. But then–rather like graduate school–the second and third definitions contradict and deconstruct the first: “2) a composition that, though not in verse, is characterized by great beauty or expression; 3) something having qualities that are suggestive of or likened to those of poetry: Marcel, that chicken cacciatore was an absolute poem.” So a poem is a composition in verse; a poem is a composition not in verse; chicken cacciatore is a poem (when Marcel makes it).
The same dictionary defines poetry as “1) the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts; 2) literary work in metrical form, verse; 3) prose with poetic qualities; 4) poetic qualities however manifested; 5) poetic spirit or feeling; 6) something suggestive of or likened to poetry: the pure poetry of a beautiful view on a clear day.” So poetry is different from prose, except when it is prose; it is written in verse, except when it is not; it is qualities or spirit or feeling or a beautiful view on a clear day.
I won’t bother listing the eighteen definitions of composition, or the fifteen definitions of verse. But I do think it’s worth noting that the word “verse” can be stretched in service of both “poetry” and “metrical composition distinguished from poetry because of its inferior quality [my emphasis].” It may be “one of the lines of a poem” or (rarely) “a line of prose.” And verse and composition are both related to structure and music–elements which I suspect have more to do with what poetry is than beauty or elevated thought.
I turned from definitions to word origins. A poem is “something created,” John Ayto writes in his Dictionary of Word Origins. “The word comes via Old French poeme and Latin poema from Greek poema”–which comes from poiesis, “making.” Writers may enjoy poetic license, bring characters to poetic justice, and aspire to become poet laureate. The latter also comes to us from Greece: when Apollo fell in love with Daphne (the daughter of a river) and tried to seize her, she escaped by turning into a laurel tree–which thereafter was sacred to Apollo. “The god ordered that laurel be the prize for poets and victors,” Robert Hendrickson writes in his Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, “this leading to the belief that laurel leaves communicated the spirit of poetry (the ancients put laurel leaves under their pillows to acquire inspiration while they slept).”
The notion of a “spirit” of poetry raises questions. Among them: Does a poem possess or suggest spirit more or other than that of the poet? Is poetry–as Samuel Coleridge famously suggested–“the best words in the best order”? If so, why should this apply only to poetry? Shouldn’t the same be equally true of good prose?
Lyric poetry is a form of verbal materialism, an art of language, but it is much more than “the best words in the best order.” It is language fulfilling itself, language compressed and raised to its highest power. Language in action against time, against death. There are times when I am awestruck by the way that poems incarnate the spirit–the spirits–and strike the bedrock of being.
Other times I am struck by how little the poem has to go on, how inadequate its means. For what does the writer have but some black markings on a blank page to imagine a world? Hence these lines from the splendid Florentine poet Cuido Cavalanti–
Noi sian triste penne isbigottite le cesoiuzze e’l coltellin dolente.
We are the poor, bewildered quills, the little scissors, and the grieving penknife.
In his preface to Obra poetica, Jorge Luis Borges writes “the taste of the apple … lies in the contact of the fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; in a similar way (I would say) poetry lies in the meeting of the poem and reader, not in the lines of symbols printed on the pages of a book.” Poetry is interactive. Reading a poem completes it, like closing an electrical circuit. Although we can return and refer to it on the page, I think of poetry as fugitive. While you are reading it (or hearing it read) it travels through time and space. Consider the following:
I was watching a robin fly after a finch–the smaller bird chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent in light-winged earnest chase–when, out of nowhere over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens, flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn scorching the air from which it simply plucks like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence closing over the empty street when the birds have gone about their own business, and I began to understand how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.
The poem flies: we follow it from bird to bird to “terminal surprise.” It begins not with the abstract, but the specific–and the accumulation of specific details is what makes the poem ring true. There is movement in every line: watching, chirping, blazing, shivering, scorching. Even nouns and adjectives move: “a light brown burn/ scorching the air,” “the stopped robin” (my emphasis). The “I” observing the bird becomes the “you” with “your eye on a small elusive detail.” Then the reader becomes both poet and bird, observing and observed: “a terrible truth/ strikes, and your heart cries out, being carried off” (my emphasis). In the end we have not only read or heard the poem: we have in a sense experienced it, flown with and been snatched away by it. The poet meanwhile is self-effacing, claiming only to have begun “to understand/ how a poem can happen.” The poem happens–it is an event, shared between speaker and listener. As Robert Frost notes: “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”
Poetry alerts us to what is deepest in ourselves–it arouses a spiritual desire which it also gratifies. It attains what it avows. But it can only do so with the reader’s imaginative collaboration and even complicity. The writer creates through words a felt world which only the reader can vivify and internalize. Writing is embodiment. Reading is contact.
We can teach poetry by reading poems, reading poets, and reading what they write about what they do: from Aristotle’s Poetics and Horace’s Ars Poetica to Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism”; from Wordsworth’s Prelude to Kenneth Koch’s “The Art of Poetry.”
And of course we can also teach poetry by encouraging students to write poetry of their own, to experiment with form, to write poems “in the style of”–and by helping them to find their subjects. Towards this last goal, consider the following from Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, authors of The Poet’s Companion:
We’ve been told again and again to write about what we know, but we don’t trust that advice…. John Keats wrote to a nightingale, an urn, a season. Simple, everyday things he knew. Walt Whitman described the stars, a live oak, a field. Elizabeth Bishop wrote about catching a fish, Wallace Stevens about a Sunday morning, William Carlos Williams about a young housewife and a red wheelbarrow. They began with what they knew, what was at hand, what shimmered around them in the ordinary world….
The trick is to find out what we know, challenge what we know, own what we know, and then give it away in language: I love my brother, I hate winter, I always lose my keys. You have to know and describe your brother so well he becomes everybody’s brother, to evoke the hatred of winter so passionately that we all begin to feel the chill, to lose your keys so memorably we begin to connect that action to all our losses, to our desires, to our fears of death. Good writing works from a simple premise: your experience is not yours alone, but in some sense a metaphor for everyone’s.
In the end, I think poetry communicates something like Whitman’s barbaric yawp. We are, in fact, not alone on the planet. The ordinary world is, in fact, extraordinary. The spoken word is not how we compare ourselves out of community or fraternity or sorority or society, but rather how we find our place within. As Appalachian poet Charles Boyd writes:
As you are reading this–now, in the same moment— I am writing it.
Horace: Ars Poetica.
Barthes, Roland: The Pleasure of the Text.
Bloom, Harold: Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism.
Brooks, Cleanth: The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry.
Calvino, Italo: Six Memos for the Next Millenium.
Frye, Northrop: Anatomy of Criticism.
Heidegger, Martin: Poetry, Language, Thought.
Mill, John Stuart: Dissertations and Discussions.
Pascal, Blaise: Pensees.
Plato: Collected Dialogues.
Santayana, George: Essays in Literary Criticism.
Sapir, Edward: Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.
Wimsatt, W. K.: The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry.
Zumthor, Paul: Oral Poetry: An Introduction.
Douglas Jones has written and seen produced more than forty plays and screenplays, including the musical Bojangles (music by Tony Award-winning composer Charles Strouse, lyrics by Academy Award-winning Sammy Cahn), The Turn of The Screw, and his award-winning Songs from Bedlam–which Backstage declared “a triumph,” and D.C.’s Studio Theatre said “achieves a rare and magnificent balance between brutal reality and sublime fantasy.” His docudrama 1607: A Nation Takes Root plays daily at the Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center.
He was awarded the Virginia Commission for the Arts Playwriting Grant in 2006, the Martha Hill Newell Playwrights Award in 2015, and the Emyl Jenkins Award for Promoting Writing and Education in 2016. He teaches memoir, playwriting, and other classes at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Visual Arts Center, and is a member of The Dramatists Guild. He lives in Richmond with his wife actress Harriett Traylor.
Which is to say, there is more than one way to say just about anything. Idioms, slang, and dialect vary greatly by geographic location and by time, so they can be a great way to ground a character in a particular time and place. Here, for your enjoyment and inspiration, are some variations on common concepts.
Feeling no pain
Under the influence
Three sheets to the wind
Drinks like a fish
Lit up like a Christmas tree
Drunk as a skunk
Pissed as a newt
Tight as a tick
Under the table
Bend an elbow
In the bag
In his/her cups
On Liquorpond Street
Away with the fairies
Have a load on
Worse for wear
Off the wagon
So drunk he opened his shirt collar to piss
The second half of saints and sinners
Snake in the grass
Lower than a snake’s belly (in a wagon rut)
Abbreviated piece of nothing
Colder than a witch’s tit
Like making love to a corpse
Enough to make a man choose celibacy
Built like a brick shit-house
Body to die for
Everyman’s wet dream
On the pull
Always ready to ride
Just call her Eveready
Get a bit of sugar stick
Make a sausage sandwich
Give juice for jelly
Little Miss Roundheels
No better than she should be
She’ll put out for anything in pants
She’s had more pricks than a secondhand dartboard
Cure for an Irish toothache
Go like a herd of turtles
Can’t get it up/ can’t keep it up
Wilts like cut flowers in the sun
Drained away like an ice cube in the desert
Get a hard on
Get his rocks off
Carrying a woody
Hung like a prize bull
Butter her buns
Put his little hat on
He’s a regular Energizer Bunny
Dipping his wick
Jumping her bones
Doing a little front-door work
Ring her bells/chimes
On the make
He’d fuck anything with a hole in
He gets more ass than a toilet seat
All mouth and no trousers
All foam, no beer
Doesn’t have all her cornflakes in one box
All the cheese slid off his cracker
Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel
Can’t find his ass with both hands
Her sewing machine is out of thread
Receiver is off the hook
Skylight leaks a little
Not up to XXX
Not cut out for XXX
Out to lunch
Just doesn’t have it
Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time
He would fuck-up a wet dream
Not able to hit the ground with his hat
One step forward, three steps back
Slow as molasses in January
Doesn’t have the gumption God gave a turnip
His get up and go has got up and gone
Too lazy to scratch an itch
Wouldn’t even scratch his ass if he could get someone else to do it for him
He counts sawing logs as working
Mad as a hatter
Bats in the belfry/attic
Has a screw loose
Sees the world slant/sideways
Has his/her own reality
World’s only living brain donor
Musclebound between the ears
Not enough brains to give himself a headache
Not the sharpest tool in the shed
A few clowns short of a circus
A few fries short of a Happy Meal
An experiment in Artificial Stupidity
A few beers short of a six-pack
Dumber than a box of rocks
A few peas short of a casserole
Has an IQ of 2, but it takes 3 to grunt
The wheel’s spinning but the hamster’s dead
One Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl
Sharp as a corner on a round table
One taco short of a combination plate
A few feathers short of a whole duck
Warning: objects in mirror are dumber than they appear
Couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel
Fell out of the Stupid Tree and hit every branch on the way down
An intellect rivaled only by garden tools
As smart as bait
His chimney’s blocked
She’s so dumb she thinks her bottom is just to sit on
Elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor
Forgot to pay his brain bill
Antenna doesn’t pick up all the channels
His belt doesn’t go through all the loops
If he had another brain, it would be lonely
Missing a few buttons on her remote control
No grain in the silo
Proof that evolution CAN go backwards
Several nuts short of a full bar
Surfing in Nebraska
Too much yardage between the goalposts
One of her dogs has slipped the leash
Dead from the neck up
Only 50 cards in his deck
A face only a mother could love
A face not even a mother could love
Should have been drowned at birth
As for how s/he looks, s/he has a great personality
Not much to look at
As attractive as hairs on a mole
Beaten with an ugly stick
Doesn’t need a mask for halloween
A face that could crack mirrors
Face that could scare the walking dead
“If my dog was as ugly as he is, I’d shave his butt and walk him backward!”
The Lost Generation is a term sometimes used for the post-World War I generation overall, but more frequently it refers to a group of American writers who became adults during or shortly after World War I. They established their literary reputations in the 1920s and 1930s. In France, these writers were sometimes referred to as Génération du feu, the “(gun)fire generation.”
Gertrude Stein is credited for coining the term Lost Generation, but Ernest Hemingway made it widely known. According to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), Stein had heard it used by a garage owner in France, who dismissively referred to the younger generation as a “génération perdue.” In conversation with Hemingway, she turned that label on him and declared, “You are all a lost generation.” He used her remark as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.
The generation was “lost” in the sense that it dismissed the values of the older generation no longer relevant in the postwar world. Though the change in artistic expression took place in many creative outlets and focused in several regions, the “Lost Generation” is generally used to refer in particular to American writers living in Paris between the World Wars. Many of these authors felt an alienation from a United States that, under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to these writers to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.
The First World War was the first time in history that chemicals and machines capable of inflicting mass carnage were widely used. Instead of charges and sorties like “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” infantry soldiers in trench warfare spent weeks at a time in close quarters with the bodies of their former allies, following futile battle strategies designed for previous wars and weapons. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.
Everything that was traditionally structured or confining was stripped, allowing artists of all sorts to build new styles. Composers wrote without the usual chord progressions and cadences; they experimented with new types of ensembles or juxtaposed odd instruments. Dancers took off their pointe shoes and combined ballet with folk styles from India and South America. Women cut their hair short and loosened their corsets.
In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a big year: he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, his first collection of short fiction, Flappers and Philosophers and his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was published in The Saturday Evening Post that May.
Kate O’Connor (Lost Generation by Kate O’Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK) identified three themes of Lost Generation work. I quote her here.
Decadence – Consider the lavish parties of James Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or those thrown by the characters in his Tales of the Jazz Age. Recall the aimless traveling, drinking, and parties of the circles of expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. With ideals shattered so thoroughly by the war, for many, hedonism was the result. Lost Generation writers revealed the sordid nature of the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war.
Gender roles and Impotence – Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator, Jake, literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his female love Brett who acts the man, manipulating sexual partners and taking charge of their lives. Think also of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Prufrock’s inability to declare his love to the unnamed recipient.
Idealised past – Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. The best example is in Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about the Lost Generation writers suggested that they were expressing mythologized versions of their own lives.
In an interview for The Hemingway Project, Curnutt said: “They were convinced they were the products of a generational breach, and they wanted to capture the experience of newness in the world around them. As such, they tended to write about alienation, unstable mores like drinking, divorce, sex, and different varieties of unconventional self-identities like gender-bending.”
Bottom line for writers: it’s been 100 years, but their work shouldn’t be lost. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Find yourself a Lost Generation writer to enjoy.