I just received word that one of my poems, “Redemption,” will be included in the anthology titled Not Only The Dark, slated to be published at the end of this year. The anthology is themed on the idea of survival–what it takes, what it costs, and what it’s worth. Should be an interesting read! I can’t believe a little piece I wrote about my dad redeeming glass soda bottles to buy me a coat made it in! Who says real life doesn’t make for a compelling read?
The flyer here is for the release party in the UK in December, which I cannot afford to attend due to the fact I am a poor, working stiff. (And a grateful one, I might add!) However, if you’re interested in the anthology, you can use the contact information to order a copy of it for yourself. I believe it is a fairly reasonable £10 plus shipping.
The anthology has been sponsored by WorldAid, and all proceeds will benefit Shelterbox. Both foundations are non-profit and are devoted to aiding those who are struggling around the world. Check out the links here to see what they’re all about!
My friends on Facebook have been passing this image around for the past few days, and I believe no fewer than ten of them have posted it on my wall or tagged me in it on theirs. At first, it made me laugh just by virtue of the topic itself, and I then began to snicker at the sheer number of people whose first thought was, “I bet Jamie will like this” when they read it for the first time.
I’ve been called a stickler, a word nerd, and a nitpicky know-it-all. The labels Grammar Narc, Grammar Ninja, and a Grammar Nazi have all been written in haste and stuck to my chest like nametags. Oftentimes, people I know and love do it in jest, but sometimes the terms come across as slightly more pejorative than facetious. When people I meet find out I once was an English teacher or that I copy edit for a living, they throw up their hands and almost always reply, “I’ll have to watch what I say around you!” I guess they think I have a stash of red pens in my hair and am just waiting for an opportunity to wield them like a samurai on a battlefield in feudal Japan.
When anyone on television states, “This works faster,” my husband knows I will reply, “…more quickly” and roll my eyes. I patronize Publix because it is the only grocery store I know of that has “10 Items or Fewer” on their express lane signs instead of “10 Items or Less.” (If you don’t know why the former is correct, I suggest you educate yourself about count and noncount nouns.)
Yes, I know all the proper ways to punctuate sentences and firmly believe the use of the Oxford is necessary, delightful, and apropos. I choose to use words like myopic, sententious, pulchritudinous, akimbo, and badinage because each of them has etymological value; they are a part of the history of the English language and deserve, like the Blue whale or the wild Mustang, to be preserved for future generations.
I’ve fought the battle for decades—as a writing tutor, an editor, and an educator—and I’m tired of apologizing for knowing the right answers and being derided when I ask others learn them. That’s why Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Finnes just moved from “Greatly Admired” to “Personal Hero” status in my book.
This week, he made his directorial debut with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. When asked about the bard’s continuing relevance in modern culture, he stated , “Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.”
Mr. Twisleton-Wykeham-Finnes primarily blames social media sites like Twitter and sound bites for the atrocious decay of the English language, and I have to say that while I concur with him in part, I can’t lay the blame solely at technology’s feet. (Pun intended!) No one put a gun to our heads and demanded that we communicate in 140 characters or fewer. We chose to do so, and we did it with a reckless abandon that would make Syme clap his hands in glee because Newspeak has finally reached its zenith.
E-mail loosened the rules, but it is archaic for most people today, phased out in favor of texting, posting, and other forms of communication that take place via agile thumbs rather than dexterous minds.
The latest craze, which often leaves me gibbering like a low level inmate in Arkham Asylum, is the seemingly arbitrary addition or removal of letters from what would otherwise be a coherent sentence. For example, one of my former students recently shared this literary gem with the rest of us:
myyyy MOM saiddddd iiiiii cannnnnn goooooooooooo 2 the GAAAMMMEEEEEEEE 2niteeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!! :- D <3<3<3
In case you don’t care to translate, the young lady was expressing her elation over the fact her mother had decided to allow her to attend a sporting event at school that evening. She drove the full measure of her bliss home by using a plethora of exclamation points, a wide grin smiley, and three hearts to show that she does indeed love her benevolent parent.
Like Dian Fossey, I spent many years living in the wild with another species (A.K.A “teenagers”) trying to interpret their body language and various methods of communication. From my research, I gleaned several interesting truths. One, if you add extra letters to the end of a word, it means that you are emphasizing it. Adults have been known to do this as well, typically in the interest of sarcasm—“I am sooooooooo tired of meetings!” for example. However, most people limit the effect to one emphatic word rather than appearing as if we took a header into the keyboard.
ALL CAPS, once a total faux pas on “teh intertubes,” is now acceptable for the same purpose. No longer are you “yelling” if you choose to lean on the caps lock button. Also, while most people can’t tell me what a homonym, homophone, or homograph is, they’re all for using it when it shortens the time between texts. Hence, the use of “2” for “to” or “too” in written language these days.
The removal of letters, mostly vowels, is also cause for great concern. It was all well and good when they lifted them on game shows like Bumper Stumpers, but to simply let them fall out of a word like loose teeth is deplorable.
If you’ve not seen it, this is what passes for thoughtful communication in some circles:
I don’t have any clue as to the context of this statement, so I can’t help you with that. However, I think this roughly translates to, “Yes. Do you remember how I lost control? I was fairly sure Brad fell off of ____________.” (I couldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, so I added space where the unmentioned object he plummeted from belongs.)
None of the words in the “full length” sentence are terribly difficult to spell, but, for some reason, it is acceptable to cut them at will. Spacing between commas and excessive exclamation points in addition to all this makes me want to do an impression of Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
Like Cassandra, I’ve been warning others about the flippant usage of words and settling for “good enough” when it comes to communication. Words have the power to inspire people, for good or ill, and, like a weapon, they must be respected. God entrusted us with them for glorious and matchless purposes, and we’re squandering them, tossing them aside like disposable paper cups by a water cooler.
How different would the American Revolution have been had Patrick Henry not uttered sentences like these in his speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775?
If we wish to be free if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight!
What might our nation look like today without Martin Luther King’s rallying cry for brotherhood before the Lincoln Memorial in 1963?
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
I’m not asking for a total return to the rules of yesteryear. I understand that the English language is a kind of living, breathing creature with a mutability that has allowed it to flourish around the globe for centuries. This truth alone is enough to convince me it is worth defending, but even more precious than our language’s history is the desolate future we’ll surely face without it.
For those of you who aren’t musicians or who don’t put a great amount of time in “behind the mouthpiece” as we say, you might not realize just how intimate the relationship between a musician and her instrument truly is. Much like one does with a spouse, a musician soon realizes her instrument’s likes and dislikes as well as its tendencies. For example, a certain kind of valve oil may be the only one that keeps everything in working order, or a musician learns to compensate for a certain sticky key for so long that she eventually avoids fixing it. Yes, there is a special bond formed between a musician and the instrument that serves to express the outpourings of her to the world.
Just as many people name their cars, so, too, do many musicians name their instruments. (My yellow Xterra is named “Bumblebee” after my all-time favorite Transformer in case you’re curious.) Some of the names are boring, others bizarre. Many were earned and come with a story to justify the choice. And there are some that simply are so non-sequitur that they cannot be explained. For example, my husband’s first trombone, “Rosie,” earned the moniker because her bell had a rosy colored sheen when polished. Another friend had a tuba he named “Bubba” after the character in Forest Gump because that’s what he said his lips felt like after a long rehearsal. (Don’t blame me if you think that’s racist. I’m just passing the story along!) 🙂 A student I met at Oberlin who played the trumpet named his retinue of them after characters from Lord of the Rings, but I only remember that he dubbed the piccolo trumpet “Frodo” and the Flugelhorn “Gimli.”
Connor. Betsy Ross. Killer. Natty Bumppo. Polly. Starbuck. Subzero. Herbert. Snort. The Grinch. Mahalia. The Dark Lady. Yoko Ono. Salsa Verde. The list could go on and on, and each one would be as unique as the person and the machine she wields.
Because musicians are like crazy cat ladies and one is usually never enough, most players I know have at least two instruments in their homes. While some are obvious pairings such as a flute and a piccolo or an English horn and an oboe, most simply have horns for different purposes. Yes, like Bruce Wayne and Batman and the disparate personalities they represent, some musicians can channel symphonic music only through one and must play jazz in another. Ask them why, and they’ll tell you about the range of each, the sound each produces, the tone each lends to a particular tune. They’ll tell you one “understands” a little better than the other or that one “wants it more.” Don’t panic when they tell you this; they’re not crazy. They’re just musicians…and that means they probably haven’t eaten a good meal in awhile.
So, you’re probably thinking, what’s your instrument look like, and what’s its name? Well, ladies and gents, without further ado, I give you my French horn…
This is the only French horn I own, and he has been a part of my life since my sophomore year in college. The first reason is because, well, there are twenty-two feet of twisted tubing in the average horn, and they’re pretty difficult to make. That means they’re expensive. A good one will cost you anywhere from $2,500 to “I don’t even want to know.” (I’ve seen one listed at $8,000!) My horn professor in college brokered a deal for me with one of the horn players in the Atlanta symphony back in 1998, and I shelled out a whopping $3,500 for him. (Yes, it is a him. I’m getting to why in a minute.)
Also, in case you are unaware, the French horn is universally considered to be the most difficult instrument to play (be it woodwind or brass), and the oboe comes in a close second. Most schools have one sitting in a storage closet waiting for a player, and many teachers convert a trumpet or flute player when they need a warm body to attempt it. Every time I showed up at a new school, there was a great, often minimally used, instrument for me to play.
I remember the day the gigantic box containing my very own horn arrived at our house. I pulled it out frantically, sending a shower of packing peanuts across the kitchen floor, and laid the case out. Let it be ugly, I thought. I know this seems odd, but I’ve always found that instruments that other people deem unattractive often produce the best sound. Typically, they’re older. They’ve been places. They’ve seen how the world works. And like a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, they know how to make good stuff.
Naturally, I was thrilled when I got him. Just look!
If you’re interested in some of the details, I can tell you that this French horn was manufactured by a German company called Hans Hoyer. I have yet to discern what model it is because I cannot find a serial number anywhere on it. The company’s logo is even obscured because the musician who bought it had the bell converted to detach. Yep, the bell comes off, which makes transport a cinch. However, it’s impossible to get the back third slide out when the bell is on. Hence, the same musician also had a spit valve put on. (If you’re a French horn player, you have no idea how valuable that thing is when you’re in a hurry! I can’t live without it now.) The top weld never holds correctly, so I’ve secured it with a little tape. Classy, huh? The thumb trigger is unlike any I have ever seen before, and, as you can plainly see, the horn is not lacquered. It has no shiny covering that usually attracts people to an instrument.
Yes, by comparison, my horn is a little…if you’ll forgive the pun…lackluster. And I have to admit that when my husband and I were planning on a photography shoot involving both our instruments, he was not my first choice. I borrowed a friend’s horn that would photograph better. (Hangs head in shame.)
My French horn, despite my great love for it, did not have a name until recently. However, after some deliberation, I decided to give him a moniker befitting his character….Rochester.
Yes, I named my instrument after a character in my favorite book of all time, Jane Eyre. For those of you who have never read the book (shame on you), Mr. Rochester is the broody, Byronic hero and love interest of little, plain Jane. He is not attractive in the traditional sense, but he is mesmerizing all the same. Here, I’ll let Charlotte Bronte do the talking. Here’s how Jane describes her beau in a few words…
Most true is it that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gazer.’ My master’s colorless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,–all energy, decision, will,–were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me,–that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
This is how Rochester describes himself in one of his weaker moments…
Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre; one of the better kind, and you see I am not so. You would say you don’t see it; at least I flatter myself I read as much in your eye (beware, by-the-bye, what you express with that organ; I am quick at interpreting its language). Then take my word for it, — I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that — not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.
Rochester, on the whole, is one of the most hard-to-love and impossible-to-resist characters in literature. He’s dark, he has a past as well as a temper, and, above all else, he’s passionate. There’s a richness and a a depth to him that many heroes in other novels lack. He’s scuffed up and worn around the edges because life hasn’t been kind. However, the depths of his heart are seemingly endless, and there’s something about him that is wounded and vulnerable as well.
My French horn has the same look and, more importantly, the dark sound that comes out when I play (which makes me sound a lot more talented than I really am by the way) makes me think of the character after whom it’s named. Sonorous, pensive, and rich–it is all that and more. I’ll never be able to play it as well as I’d like or as well as it deserves. Perhaps my horn by any other name would sound as sweet, but I doubt it.
How about you? Is there a special object–an instrument, car, or something else–that you love and have given a special name? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Pictures are great, too!!
For those of you who have never heard a French horn, I give you my favorite horn solo of all time–the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony (Andante Cantabile).
I am an unapologetic nerd who loves following a trail of factual breadcrumbs until I reach a fresh baked loaf of knowledge, doubly so when it takes me through the Bible and secondary texts. Footnotes, sidenotes, notes that climb on rocks, Greek words, Hebrew words, even words…well, you get the idea.
I’ve been trying to read through the Old Testament as of late, which is informative in the extreme. However, keeping up with the prophets, the wars and occupations, and the kings in Judah and Israel can be more than a little daunting. (Especially when two of them have the same name but ruled different kingdoms at different times!) Therefore, every few days or so, I take a break and go on a sort of scriptural scavenger hunt. I start in the Bible or in a devotional work and start digging until I strike oil, metaphorically speaking. Monday of this week, I prayed over my Bible before I began, asking God to reveal something to me that He would have me learn. For some reason, I felt led to pull my copy of Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon off my shelf. (If you don’t have a copy of this amazing devotional, I highly suggest you get one ASAP. You can also read it for free on the Internet here.)
For October 24, he references Psalm 104:16, “The trees of the Lord are full of sap,” and discusses the correlation between sap, the mysterious life force of a tree, and the Holy Spirit, the source of a believer’s spiritual sustenance. In this devotional, Spurgeon writes, “Our root is Christ Jesus, and our life is hid in Him; this is the secret of the Lord.” The “sap” is what produces the Fruit of the Spirit as it is the outward manifestation of God’s grace in our lives.
Always a proponent of keeping things in context, I turned to Psalm 104 and read it in its entirety. It is a song of praise, one of many that can be found in this book. As a lover of literature, it appealed to me because of the gorgeous imagery and the many creative uses of figurative language it contained. For example, God is “clothed with honor and majesty” and “covers [Himself] with light as with a garment” (vv. 1-2). He is described as stretching “the heavens like a curtain” and walking “on the wings of the wind” (vv. 2,4). In essence, the entire psalm discusses the ways in which God designed everything, put all things in their places, and how He keeps everything from the seasons to the life cycle in check.
That alone is cause for deep contemplation! Living in Georgia, I actually experience a change in the seasons. I am able to observe the transformation of the leaves, feel the bitter cold of winter (which I do not care for at all), and relish the rebirth that spring brings. Walking into work yesterday, I was struck by the thought that the sunrise I saw only came up and painted the sky a glorious shade of apricot because God instructed it to do so. The chill in the air was there because my heavenly Father set the change from summer to autumn in motion. Even the white vapor that was my breath moved in and out of my lungs because the Lord saw fit! How easily we take these things for granted, but when we take the time to focus on them, we begin to see just how mighty and generous our God truly is.
Not content with a spoonful of knowledge about the Lord, I dug a little more deeply.
My Bible has cross references for many of the verses printed in the margins, and I saw that verse twelve of this psalm could be correlated to Matthew 8:20. It reads:
Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’
That verse, in turn, led me to Luke 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 4:11.
Luke 2:7 reads:
And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
1 Corinthians 4:11 reads:
To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless.
All of this ties directly to Psalm 104 where I started my search. In it, the psalmist speaks of the multitude of ways in which God provides for His creations. Birds nest in the trees He has provided, the beasts roam the high hills, and even the cliffs are refuge for those designed to dwell there. However, Jesus Christ, God in man, was not afforded the same blessing as the beings who owed their very existence to Him. Instead, He who would become the Bread of Life was born in a stable and placed in a bin where grain was served to those beasts.
Likewise, Paul was often homeless and without “creature comforts” in the service of Christ. (This is poignant considering the fact that before he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul was a tent maker, a creator of beautiful dwellings.)
This truth revealed something to me, something I had heard a thousand times but never really grasped until this study. This world is not our home; we are “in” it but not “of” it. Jesus Christ was, for lack of a better term, a “transient.” Everyone who follows Him—from Peter, Andrew, James, and John, those first four who chose to lay down their nets and become fishers of men, to believers today—must give themselves up and follow Him because He is our home.
I returned back to Psalm 104 and re-read it with my new appreciation for God’s creation as well as His mercy and grace, and I noticed that the second half of verse sixteen, which had been omitted from Spurgeon’s meditation was also worthy of inquiry. It reads:
The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted.
I have run across references to “Cedars of Lebanon” many times in the Old Testament. They are mentioned during the building of temples, palaces, and the masts of ships. They are praised for their strength and beauty. (You can read about the many times they are mentioned in Scripture here.)
These amazing creations of God can grow more than one hundred feet tall and have a circumference of fifty feet. Cedar wood is fragrant, and it is both rot-resistant and knot-free. That’s why it was useful in construction and Solomon chose it as the framework of the temple he built as a dwelling place for the Lord.
Psalm 92:12 reads, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Think of it symbolically. As we grow spiritually and become more Christlike, we are like the cedar. Our lives become “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). Also, we are no longer susceptible to eternal decay or rot, for we are granted eternal life through Jesus. Likewise, what was once “knotted” in us because of sin is made perfect through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.
As Charles Spurgeon said, Christ is our taproot, the source of our strength. Because of Him, no longer is the church simply a place built of hewn logs. Those who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of the Living God, we are those timbers. We are the church, the “cedars of Lebanon” Christ uses to build His kingdom, and because of that, He has a home in us and we in Him!