“Man up,” I say.
“You heard me. Kill the adverbs unless they add. And you owe your nouns the grace of precision. As for the adjectives, likewise, and use them sparingly.”
He glares at me. “I don’t have to write the way you do.”
“Absolutely correct,” I respond. “But you can learn to write tightly, and master the power of the parts of speech. Understand their roles. Their strengths and weaknesses. Think about it. Verbs are virile. Adverbs are often apathetic. As for nouns, without precision, they’re sexless.”
He sits on the edge of my bed and rereads five paragraphs he has just written. He is exhausted. For that matter, so am I, wondering where I get the strength so late at night for any commentary whatsoever, much less statements that make a modicum of sense. I’ve barely been able to construct a cohesive phrase all day. Aloud, anyway.
My son leaves the room to work his edits, then returns a few minutes later. The text is a marked improvement; he justifies his remaining adverbs, and I nod as I listen. Then he leaves again, to move on to other tasks.
Yin and Yang, Language as Lover
When it comes to language – and to life – I gravitate toward strength and delicacy and all the variations that offer up their exquisite in-betweens; I love the yin and yang of male and female, the way the two may court each other “in the world” as well as on the page. I know what works for me, just as I know what works for you is your affair.
I am drawn to strong men, to funny men, to thinkers, while I must be wary of their strength lest it cross a boundary into narcissism or worse, bullying. It is a fine line, and I haven’t always walked it wisely.
Yet is it any wonder that I adore my verbs? Their potency, their versatility, their evocative nature? The backbone they furnish around which the other parts of speech whisper and frolic?
Clearly, no verb can stand nakedly without its cohorts and concubines, and thus I preside over the marital vows of nouns professing to nurture verbs, recognizing the roles each will play, and the merriment they bask in, together.
Grammatical Gender Benders
If verbs are virile, they are also volatile. Surely I must call on my masculine side to maneuver them.
If nouns nag with imprecision, then I am guilty of neutering them when specificity eludes me.
If adjectives peer out from behind the trees in my fictional forest – giggling girls who flit and taunt, boisterous boys who rummage and ridicule – as the parent in possession of the pen, I pick and choose those that suit my purpose.
As for the rest? I order them to scatter into the wilderness.
You gnarly adverbs? Tread not into my gregarious garden! I will mow you down unless you state your case and justify your presence, so much reliant upon context.
Absent lyrical intent or purposeful pacing?
I have no patience for the indirect, the extraneous, the lackadaisical in language.
Rushed Ruminations on Masculinity and Femininity
I have been thinking about men and women. I am a woman who loves men; it is to be expected.
As a writer, I know that the act of working words stands me up in the morning. When I execute well, I breathe deeply. When I execute poorly, I yearn to polish my prose until it gleams, and when I have no time to do so, I want to weep.
Weeping is womanly, though not exclusively. Weeping is something I used to hide, as evidence of vulnerability. Weeping allows you to witness the fissures in my foundation, the chinks in my walls, the flaws I struggle to repair.
As I grow older, I come to acknowledge my emotions, and among them, sentimentality, just as I acknowledge and embrace my femininity, my strength, and my seeming contradictions though I persist in cajoling and corralling my verbs, urging them to “man up,” and laboring to marshal each part of speech into place.
Syntactical stereotyping? No doubt. I chide myself for possessing a closed mind.
Anger, Anxiety, and Dreams
I have been thinking about men and women, and our anger. I am a woman who knows anger, and who channels its force into something positive when I can.
I have been thinking about men and women, and anxiety. We are different, we speak across each other, we have not honed our listening. This leaves me anxious.
In our frantic hunt to partner and provide, to ease our pain, to accept our mirrors – we pop a pill or propose propaganda, we suffer self-inflicted sickness, and we settle for superficial solutions. Don’t we desire more from each other? Can’t language lend an interpretive hand?
I have been dreaming of sleep and hypnosis, sleep and immobility, sleep beyond aching. That I dream of sleep is the measure of my fatigue.
I have been dreaming of serenading the parts of speech, imploring my nouns not to abandon me, begging my verbs to stand firm, and further, to tether their mates to the adverbs I will prescribe to the point of obstinate excess: kindly, wisely, passionately.
I have been dreaming of men and women holding hands, men and women admitting they need each other, men and women in the armor that will suit beyond sexual seige and battlefield: I care for you, you care for me – kindly, wisely, passionately.
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