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So, we have:

Woman without her man is nothing.

And also:

Come and eat grandma!

And slowly, even the most stubborn souls begin to see the value of punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

Come and eat, grandma!

Oh, what a different a few dots and squiggles can make.

These are famous ones, of course. I was trying to remember a really wonderful one that wound up in print a while ago, and finally found it:

And this is all silly and a good reminder that commas are life savers (I know Ray’s family and dog are grateful for them!) … but there was a story the other day that also proved that a well-placed comma can mean the difference between winning and losing a legal battle.

I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to the Oxford comma. I was forced to use it in grade school. But I was forced to do a lot of things with my writing in grade school, and many of them I heartily disagreed with and despised. Once I had a little more freedom to write how I wanted, I began to jettison those things I didn’t care for, and the Oxford comma fell by the wayside with the other castoffs. People have argued with me about it quite a bit over the years — which maybe says something about the folks I hang with¹ — but I have remained stubbornly against. I taught English for many years, and I taught the Oxford comma … but also made it clear that a) I didn’t use it myself and b) no one’s grade would be damaged by the decision not to use it.

But then I got my current job. I got this job, and one of the first things I had to do was edit the big, serious report we were producing. And before the editing began, I was asked to put together a style guide so that all of the people who were adding writing could try to have the same set of rules in mind as they worked and so that changes I made to text would all follow clear guidelines.

Making that style guide was, I have to admit, fun for me (which most definitely says something about the kind of person I am!). I saw the guide as my chance to lay down the law, list out my writing pet peeves, make our sleek and shiny report conform to my writing style. (Oh yes, a little power is truly a dangerous thing!)

Pretty quickly in my style-guiding I ran smack into the Oxford comma. And somehow, for reasons I couldn’t explain and can’t explain now, that comma suddenly made sense. Made perfect, why-didn’t-I-ever-see-this-before sense. And I’ve been using it ever since. (Somewhere, my 6th grade teacher is pointing, laughing, and saying, “I told you so!”)



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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¹ This wacky-grammarians-on-my-friend-list business did not extend to the guy who came to a party I threw years ago … who smugly diagrammed the sentences of the people who spoke to him. You may think this is a clever party trick. Trust me when I tell you that it really isn’t.

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Yes, you read that right.

I am a single woman. I live alone. And, while I love to cook, sometimes it’s just too much. With just me in the house, some nights the production of dinner-making is taking up time that could be spent … well … on just about anything else. So, that’s what I’m saying. I get her, Olivia Pope. Popcorn and wine is not a lie.

More often, for me, it’s popcorn and herbal tea. Sometimes popcorn and ginger ale. But you get the idea.

I’ve gone through many popper styles — electric, air, microwave. But the best is made on the stove.

I used to have this old-school beauty:

This is the Wabash Valley Farms™ Original Whirley Pop™ Stovetop Popcorn Popper (they clearly needed to use the word “pop” at least one more time). I loved it. And I used it so much, I wore it out. Now I just use an old stock pot. It’s not as fun as turning the crank, but it definitely gets the job done.

It gets the job done because it’s popcorn, and it’s really not that serious … except that, maybe it is. If you fire up the Google, you will, in fact, get 47,900,000 hits for “how to make popcorn.” Really. Nearly 48 million hits. But sadly, only 3,400,000 returns for “how to make caramel popcorn.” Why so few? How are we living, people? Surely, caramel corn should play a larger role in our lives. And the results tumble down from there. Only 1,880,000 for kettle corn.

So yes, all of this is quite silly. But it’s also reminding me of popcorn balls (7,040,000 hits!), specifically, the popcorn balls my grandmother used to make. She didn’t make them often, so they were an extra especial treat. And they seemed like magic. No one else ever had them, and I never actually saw how she made them, so they just seemed to become … there’d be a big bowl of popcorn, and then <snap of fingers> there’d be popcorn balls! She was a kitchen magician.

And now I have my pick of recipes, and I might have to give them a try.

Um …

But not tonight. If I can’t work up the gumption to boil some pasta and throw on some bottled sauce, am I really going to take on the decadent extravagance of popcorn balls?! I think not.

I am more likely to go on the hunt for the Brooklyn Popcorn truck!



original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge — posting a little bit of something every day in March!

Go check out the hundreds of slicers over at Two Writing Teachers!

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My introduction on Saturday to erasure poems has spawned an obsession. At our pair session yesterday, my mentee and I — in between lots of storytelling and laughter — tried our hands at it again. And then I went home and “wrote” another. During the pair session, I used an article about Brazil from a travel magazine. My night time source text was the editor’s note in the Family Circle magazine that showed up in my mailbox.

I neglected to say what an erasure poem is when I wrote about them on Saturday. Here’s the definition we were given to work from (which I realize as I look at it now that I haven’t actually followed at all!):

Erasure poems use a source text that is already written. For example, you can take a page of a book, and that would be your source text. You would then “erase” by crossing out the words you don’t want in your poem. Poems are created with what’s left after the words are erased without adding to it or rearranging parts of it. We preserve some phrasing, but we form new images, ideas, and meanings.

That makes more sense than what I did! I only used individual words, no phrases. That surely explains why my poems make no sense. But I still like them!

Here’s the one I “found” from the travel article:

Between the summer
sprawling, isolated miles
far beyond this coastline.
A tiny village
slice of perfect peace
an adventure
a boat ride
a room.
Beyond days
colorful, turquoise footpaths,
waterfalls.
Remote home.
Protected.
Wild.

I’ll try another now that I’ve actually read the instructions properly. We’ll see what emerges.

So here’s some craziness: I go on and on (and on) about poetry, about my inability to think of myself as a poet, of how self-conscious I am about writing poetry. Then how to explain the fact that I came very close to applying for a poetry fellowship this week? I found out about it only a few hours before the deadline, and that’s the only reason I didn’t apply. I didn’t have enough time to find folks to be my references and to write my letter of intent. That’s all that held me back. Not my terror of poetry or of calling myself a poet. What was I thinking? How weird is that? I honestly don’t know what to make of my actions. What will I do next?

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I had a ridiculously late lunch yesterday, walking out of my building at 3:15 to find something I could buy and eat quickly enough to be ready for a 4pm meeting.¹ I walked outside, turned the corner and immediately saw a man coming up the block. It took a nanosecond for my brain to do the processing:

I turned the corner and immediately saw a good-looking Black man with a nice afro coming up the block.

familiar good-looking Black man with a nice afro coming up the block.

familiar-because-he’s-famous good-looking Black man with a nice afro coming up the block.

IT’S NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON!

Seriously. Neil deGrasse Tyson, in all his smooth-walking, self-assured glory. Dr. I-Make-Astrophysics-Crazy-Cool. Dr. I’m-in-a-Superman-Comic Tyson.²

Oh, do I need to tell you I am a science geek and Tyson fangirl?

But I was calm. Ish. I neither stopped walking and pointed frantically nor threw myself at him. Sadly, however, I couldn’t quite function well enough to either take out my phone and snap a pick, or better still, take out my phone and ask to take a selfie with him. Alas. All I could do was stare (yes, very cool). He gave me a knowing smirk and kept it moving.

Neil deGrass Tyson, people!

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Is it any wonder I was starstruck? As Dr. Tyson so grandly informs us, he’s made of “star stuff.”


 

It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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¹ Ha! As if I could kid you that I had anything in mind other than pizza!

² No, really. He charted the location of Krypton for the Man of Steel.

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Like a fair number of people, I have a phone that allows me to send texts. This may be a bigger deal for me than for some, seeing as I still used a rotary phone as recently as 2007, seeing as I am writing this post with a fountain pen in my (handmade) notebook rather than composing directly on the computer.

I send a lot of texts. When I started texting, my phone struggled to understand me, inserting a lot of randomness into my notes … and a lot of deleted expletives. Yes, my phone thought I had a vocabulary like a stevedore. I would type “bookish,” it would come out “b****.” I would type “folkways” (yes really, folkways … hey, I’ve already explained that I use words other people don’t), it would come out “f***.” Clearly my phone and I had some serious disconnection issues.

Over time, of course, my phone has gotten to know me better. It no longer thinks I swear like a sailor. It still offers up wacky next-word options that I would surely never want to type. If I spoke the way my phone wanted me to, I’d be some kind of crazy, unintelligible philosopher, saying things such as, “I’m going on an adventure containing myself home.” Right. Because aren’t we all?

This morning, however, I realized my relationship with my phone has become a true luv thang.

I was typing an email to my sister and one of the sentences began: “I was missing … ” I was writing a very boring and ordinary exciting, “I was missing something important.”

Not for my phone I wasn’t.

I typed, “I was missing …” and my phone knew exactly what I needed to say, offering up: VONA!

I almost laughed out loud. “You know me, little Galaxy. You finally know me!”

Because of course, yes. Aren’t I always kind of missing VONA? Thank goodness our retreat is next week so I can get a fix!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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I had a rough day yesterday, ending with the scuttling of a project I’ve been pouring hours and hours of my day, night, and weekend time into. Felt a little shell shocked when I first realized we were going to call everything to a halt. This morning was a little better. This afternoon, having to make the announcement to all the partners loomed large and unpleasant over my head, but it was my job to do, and so.

As much as I am a snarky somebody some of the time, I hate being the bearer of bad news. Hate it. Which is silly to say. It’s only the rare person who enjoys bringing other people down.

In the end, the announcing wasn’t a complete misery. I pointed to some of the good things that have come out of this process and to the good-sounding plan we have for moving forward. So, you know, silver linings.

But really why I started writing this is word choice. Every time I talk about the end of this project, I use the word “scuttled.” This isn’t a word I use. I may, in fact, never have said it ever prior to now. Where did it come from to suddenly appear on my tongue? Let’s be clear: I use a lot of words that a lot of other people don’t. I am regularly mocked for this behavior by family, friends, coworkers. But scuttle? No.

And then I wondered if I was even using it correctly. Yes, because even though it seemed correct when it tumbled out of my mouth, the moment I paused over it, all I could think of was a “coal scuttle” (another super-commonly-used term!), and I knew that was wrong.

Happily, my dictionary had more going on than my brain in that moment. I learned that “scuttle” can also mean to scurry, which I’m not sure I care for unless we’re describing the sideways nature of crabs. And then I found my scuttle, which turns out to be an old nautical term for intentionally sinking a ship, meaning to wreck or destroy.

There is some relief in knowing I’ve been using it correctly. There is still, however, the puzzlement over using it at all. When did that word sink into some dark, quiet pocket in the back of my brain? How did it know to rouse itself just now? And what will it do with itself now that it’s here? Is it going to keep turning up in my casual speech? It certainly isn’t a word I’ve felt any need to introduce into wider circulation, so I hope not.

If I’m going to be given the chance to introduce a fallen word back into the day-to-day, I would prefer “swink.” Or, if you prefer, “swinken.” It means to work hard, work to the point of exhaustion. I learned this beauty from Chaucer. I love the sound of it, but I love this next even more:

Swink – third-person singular simple present swinks, present participle swinking, simple past swank or swonk or swinkt or swinked, past participle swunk or swunken or swonken or swinkt or swinked

I’m saying. Go ahead and try it. Say “swunk” a few times and see if it doesn’t make you giggle. That’s handy when you’re working to the point of exhaustion.

Or when your work gets scuttled.

 


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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A fellow slicer posted on Monday about the busy-ness of her day, and one of the entries in her post mentioned walking to the corner health food store … and I was reminded of a health food store near an old job of mine.

In the early 90s I taught at an adult education program in the South Bronx.  I was already living in Brooklyn, so my commute was a long one.  Sometimes I had to rush for the train before having time to throw together something to pack for lunch, and there weren’t a ton of good options for quick and inexpensive lunches near the school.

On one of those rush-out-without-lunch days, I noticed an option I hadn’t seen before.  On my walk from the train to work I saw a small health food store, and decided to head back there at lunch time.

I walked in and immediately started to doubt my choice. There were hardly any products on the shelves, and the few items in view were old and sun bleached and none of them made sense for a health food store: cans of condensed milk, a box or two of corn flakes, chips, soda.

But I was undeterred.  I walked toward the window at the back of the shop.  There were a couple of men ahead of me, but they stepped aside and let me take their places at the window.  Okay, weird, but maybe also just absurdly courteous, right?  I ordered the veggie sandwich.  The man behind the counter looked at me a long time, looked at the men who were waiting off to the side, looked back at me and nodded, told me it would be a minute.

The men and I stood around waiting.  None of us spoke, I studied the shelves a little more — a dusty box of saltines, some canned chicken noodle soup — and wondered how serious my sandwich must be to take so much time.

Finally the man came back to the window, took my money and handed me a brown paper bag.

When I started in on my perfectly yummy sandwich, everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten it.  I told them, and they all looked at me as if I’d said something outrageous.

“Stacie, that’s a drug store.” This from my co-teacher.

“No it’s a health food place.  Middle of the block.”

“Stacie,” — my supervisor, ” it’s a drug store.”

“No really, it’s not.”

“Stacie,” — still my supervisor.  “Did you notice that they don’t have much to sell?”

I laughed.  “Sure, their stock is pretty pathetic, but this sandwich is great.  It did take him an awfully long time to make it, though.”

“Because he probably went out the back to another shop and bought it for you.” This from the writing tutor.

“And I’ll bet they were surprised to see you.”  My supervisor again.

“I guess they were a bit surprised.” … and the light bulb of my brain began to come on slowly, still very much on the bottom end of the dimmer switch … “Wait.  when you say it’s a drug store, you mean –”

“That it’s a drug store.” (At this point, surely my supervisor was wondering how she could have hired someone so dense.) ” A place to buy drugs. Not medicine, not prescriptions. Drugs.  You should never go there.”

I looked at my lunch.  “But this sandwich –”

“Is an interesting outcome.”

Yeah.  I kept my next thoughts to myself: how could it be a shop where you just walk in and buy drugs?  That wasn’t actually possible, was it?

But that sandwich … was delicious.  Pollyanna signing off now.

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You can find more worldly and intelligent slices over at Two Writing Teachers.

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