Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Readin' and Writin'

I hated writing back in school. It was so tedious, so boring, and such a chore that I despised doing it. Who cares what an adversarial participle is? No one spoke English as our teacher, Elsie Schwartz, believed it was supposed to be written, and since television and radio were both replacing newspapers, written English was soon going to be dead anyway.

Elsie had other ideas. She insisted that we learn to avoid ending sentences with a prepostion, lest we incur her wrath and withering sarcasm. She had us learn ten new vocabulary words each day. We had to know their definitions and use them in a sentence. She got a little annoyed when the entire class started using all ten words in ONE sentence! It was even better if we could include a pun or a deliberate mispronounciationism. Elsie suffered all this with ill-concealed annoyance, but she absolutely drew the line at word definitions from Groucho Marx. "Bigamy" got me in hot water.

Groucho's character, Otis, had just proposed to two women. "Why, Otis, that would be bigamy!" Margaret Dumont exclaimed.

"Sure it would", he replied, "it would be big of you! It would be big of me! Let's be big!"

As it turned out, Elsie was not a Groucho fan. Imagine that.

I thought about how she would have responded to writers like Samuel Clemens or H.G. Wells if they'd been her students. "Mr. Wells, you must learn to confine your flights of fancy or you'll never amount to much as a writer. Martians, indeed!"

English class took all the fun out of writing, and I didn't re-discover it until about fifteen years ago when I started writing for an amateur radio newsletter. I was learning a lot and having fun doing it, and that fun permeated my writing. (As an aside, I was writing on an IBM XT back then, and sending the copy to my editor via packet radio. I didn't have internet service!) Sometimes, a piece almost wrote itself, seeming to flow from my fingertips into the keyboard. Other times, it was much, much harder. My brain just seemed to be full of lead.

I enjoyed writing comedy, and as anyone who's read CycleDog knows, I still do. There's a special joy in taking something bad, like my traffic stop for 'impeding', and making it seem funny. I'm warped that way. But I'm sure that while on some deeper level it's a way of dealing with anger, I prefer not to dwell on the amateur psychology aspects.

My son is a very imaginative kid, and he too is having trouble with English class. I'm trying to get him to read more because reading and writing go hand-in-hand. He's far too fond of video games, but then, what teenage kid isn't? On those rare occasions he's been allowed to write whatever he wanted, he's done well. He likes military stories, so he's used that as a subject. And just like me, he's described the words 'flowing' from his fingertips. It's not a chore. It's nearly effortless.

Here comes today's hook.

I know that some CycleDog readers maintain their own blogs too. Those of you who do not should consider it. Writing is a skill that improves with use, even if it's only a couple of lines every day or two. If you feel passionately about cycling -and I'm assuming you do otherwise you wouldn't be reading this unless you suffered from an extreme form of insomnia! - then write about cycling. Write about whatever moves you.

There's no denying that Elsie was passionate about writing well, despite her joyless approach to it. Unlike her, I won't criticize your spelling, grammar, and mispronunciationisms. Come to think of it, George W. Bush, leader of the Free World and a creative inspiration in the use of language, would make Elsie throw her hands up in disgust, then develop a severe twitch! If GWB can play fast and loose with English, you can too.

Long ago, a friend said, "Never be afraid to make a fool of yourself!" It's good advice, and I make use of it often.


Blogger Fritz said...


Have a great holiday weekend, Ed.

1:06 AM  
Blogger mags said...

Good post. Being a brand new blogger, I must say I enjoy it more and more.


5:31 PM  

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