Don’t blog a dead horse


Although I am fairly, or unfairly, new to the world of bloggery, I have already learned that people don’t want to read another post about how hard it is to blog. It’s a dead horse.



You know the kind of posts I mean. The ones that say, Look everybody, I blog. My pinky aches from hitting the delete key, and my head is killing me because last Thursday I had to think of something to write and didn’t. Also, I have to chew my food, with that whole up and down jaw thing. And don’t even get me started on the walking, with the feet, first the right, and then the left. Just the chewing and the walking is hard, but add the blogging, and people, you have no idea.



I am like that, only worse. My brain is completely empty. I just stepped out of my mind for a moment and when I came back, I discovered that someone had broken in and stolen everything, including all the fixtures.  Now I can’t access any water or use the toilet. You know how you hate it when everything in your life goes down the toilet; well, trust me, it’s even worse when it doesn’t.



So, yeah, everything is fine if your definition of “fine” means sitting on the couch, holding your knees, and rocking back and forth while humming the song “Mama from the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss).” The rocking motion (my mother called it “bonking”) helps dislodge any stray thoughts the thieves may have missed.



That song I’m humming was popular when I was a small child. Its most unforgettable line is “Throw Mama from the train a kiss, a kiss.” My mother, unaware of how the refrain would burrow into my brain, allowed me to listen to it on the radio. I have no doubt that its misplaced indirect object made me what I am today, a teacher of English language learners. Now I am doomed to spend most of the day hauling indirect objects from one end of a sentence to the next; rescuing modifiers that students leave dangling over verbal cliffs; and removing fragments of sentences, which explode on the pages of my students’ writing.



The singer who popularized “Mama from the Train” started life as a Fowler, a name closely associated with Henry and his famous A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Then Miss Clara Ann Fowler changed her last name to Page, a word associated with blankness and a demand for words. Like me, the newly formed Page suffered from bouts of alliteration and chose Patti as her first name. Forever after, she was known as Patti Page, The Singing Rage.



Do you see the connections? In case you don’t, here they are. Long ago in land much like your own, only called Oklahoma, a woman forsook her tenuous link to modern English usage and declared herself a Page (the writer’s nemesis). The Singing Rage then crooned a tune that formed my destiny and left me wrapped in a blanket, rocking back and forth on the sofa, doing my best to escape the blank page on the computer and the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.



So you see, my inability to post anything today makes perfect sense. Or maybe my inability to make sense is perfect today.




Photo: DN-0081968, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.



More flounce


Flounces made of words. Dress is duct tape and pages from the telephone book. Source: The Jolis Paons Flounce Dress



Jenny saw snow for the first time a few months ago. She came to Wisconsin from Central America with a dozen other students to enter a two-year program for agricultural development.


The students have had one semester of intensive English; and now, in this second semester, they have a mixture of program classes and English classes. Jenny is in my reading class.


At the beginning of the semester, I asked each student to write personal goals for the class. Be specific, I told them. Don’t just say you want to improve your reading ability; tell me how many books you are going to read each month.


Most of the goals were specific, but a few general ones slipped by. My favorite came from Jenny. “I want more flounce in my English,” she wrote.


Jenny’s first language is Spanish, so when she wrote the word “flounce,” she was pronouncing it as if it were a Spanish word: flow-oon-say. Say that a few times and you’ll see that it is close to how speakers of American English pronounce “fluency.”


A flounce is a sassy ruffle that waves at everyone when it enters the room; it calls attention to the body part it encircles or adorns. A flounce lives to flutter and give fabric a way to flirt. You can live without flounces, but why would you want to?


Adding a flounce requires altering a plain design and sewing on twirls and winks of cloth. The word itself is an alteration of an earlier word “frounce,” which meant “wrinkle.” Word spellings and word meanings are often redesigned to fit the fashion of the day.


I write the way I dress: plain and simple. But sometimes I get dressed up, and then I like a little flounce. And sometimes, I want more flounce in my English. Now and then I like to add words that ruffle around an idea, to braid thoughts together just for show, to stitch in rows of phrases like colorful ribbons that delight the eye, and to hand-sew the  hem of the page, embellishing it with tiny scalloped jokes.


When Jenny turned in her goals, I had to correct “flounce” to “fluency,” but now I think that first goal was a good one. Correct pronunciation and syntax are important, but so is getting more flounce in your English.