The Lively Art of Writing

I have a nice little paperback called The Lively Art of Writing that I use when composing some of my business emails. It’s a 1965 publication that I got for a dime at a library sale. 1965 must have been pre-political correctness because they sure didn’t bother to mince words. 

In a discussion about style, the author – with the fearsome-sounding name of Lucille Vaughan Payne – lashes out against the Terrible Three: the -wise suffix, type vs. type of  and manner and nature phrases. Regarding manner and nature, the advice is this:

Manner and nature are the pet words of the pompous, the long-winded, and the empty-headed. They are nearly always redundant. In a polite manner means "politely". Comprehensive in nature (or of a comprehensive nature) means "comprehensively."

To use manner and nature in phrases like those above is to indicate one of two things: you are deliberately padding a sentence, or you have deluded yourself into thinking such phrases sound dignified. In either case, the effect is annoying.

Lucille is a straight shooter. A few pages later, she sets her sights on trite expressions. Following this advice would put me and quite a few other bloggers right out of business:

Avoid the stale, ready-made expressions that have become overfamiliar and tiresome through constant use by second-rate speakers and third rate writers. The following list of trite expressions is far from exhaustive, but it’s representative:

acid test ~ as luck would have it ~ better late than never ~ bitter end ~ busy as a bee ~ depths of despair ~ easier said than done ~ festive occasion ~ few and far between ~ finer things in life ~ green with envy ~ last but not least ~Mother nature ~ needless to say ~ rich and varied experience ~ ripe old age ~ sadder but wiser ~ slow but sure ~ untold agony ~ words cannot express

(As much as Lucille seems to enjoy firmly putting second-rate speakers and third-rate writers in their place, I don’t mind at all as long as she keeps her distance from my most fondly-used phrase: doesn’t know his ass from his elbow,  followed closely by the chicken shit/ chicken salad comparison.)

Another pet peeve here is "the Solemn Vapors, a writer’s disease brought on by excessive use of big, general words when a simple word will do."  The example given is:

"Happiness is a warm puppy."

compared to

" One characteristic of the condition of happiness is a quality of contentment or pleasure associated with complete physical comfort, satisfaction with a given environment and a sense of being loved."

Lucille starts out by describing the hazard as "tempting the writer into believing he has said something profound when he may actually have said nothing at all", and then she zings it home by stating that " the symptoms of the Solemn Vapors often include misty eyes, outthrust jaw, a tendency to clench the fists, and a warm feeling of self-righteousness in the area of the breastbone."

This one cuts the legs right out from under me because I get a lot of pleasure out of employing the Solemn Vapors.  Good thing they didn’t have blogs in 1965 or we’d all be sitting around with nothing to do.

Sign of the Apocalypse

Vicki I shudder.

" … artist Mark McGowan ate cooked pieces of a Corgi, Queen Elizabeth II’s dog of choice. McGowan staged the Fido-feeding  to protest the Queen’s husband’s treatment of a fox on a hunt last year… the artist did his best to swallow a few chunks of Corgi , which had been minced with apple, onion and other seasonings…"

Today, darlings, is my birthday. Don’t wait for me to tell you how old I am because I don’t know. That’s what happens when the years pile up – you lose track. I asked my friend from junior high school how old he was and he didn’t know either. He knew by what means he could figure it out, but by the time he got done explaining it to me we were both worn out and didn’t care anymore. Happy birthday to me.

Bb Observe an actual artifact from my natal day. Even at age 1 Hour, I was wearing size XL. Imagine that they used to tie a bunch of little choking beads onto a newborn. And, excuse me, but … blue? What the heck?

Holiday Happenings

Today was the kind of day off that I consider ideal: puttering around, napping, goofing off and taking a rest from the day’s activities. A chronology:

1. Online shopping:

Goldfish by Henri Matisse

To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk  Between the Twin Towers by Philippe Petit (except I bought it from Abebooks.com for $1.59)

2. Gem turned up in the day’s surfing:

Answer: A Carnac the Magnificent moment (the answer is Sis-Boom-Bah, the question: What sound does an exploding sheep make).

Question: What is the bit that garnered the biggest laugh in the history of the Tonight Show?

3. Pizza, wine and discreet pruning of what may or may not be my own trees (not necessarily in that order). (Ok – in that order.)

4. Must be something about the relaxed nature of this holiday that lets old friends allow the time for idle electronic chitchat: Hello Schmed! Hello JR!

5. Chirp Watch – Day 2:  7:00 pm – garbage bags continue to issue faint pathetic chirps but not all that pathetic.

Unsucessful In My Attempts To Kill The Rabbits, I Turn Now To Baby Birds

Sam and I spent the first two days of this holiday weekend at the old house. He spent most of his time doing  battle with the birds that insist on housing themselves at the top of the front porch columns and I spent most of my time pining for my youth when I could paint up an entire room in a single day. (Because time has slowed me down, I was not free to attend the running of the saints for St. Ubaldo Day.  There are so many cultural advantages to being from northeastern Pennsylvania. Also, if Jim and Pam were real, they might attend this event. You know Dwight would. )

The birds were the big story. They’ve been winning for the better part of a year. It’s a whole extended family of repulsive sparrows that rebuild no matter what steps we take. In the last 12 months, we’ve:

  • physically removed the nests many times
  • emptied 2 cans of wasp hornet spray into the rebuilt nests
  • applied Bird-Goo
  • stuffed the space with fiber insulation
  • nailed hardware cloth around the space
  • stuffed the space with styrofoam

All of these methods failed and the birds thanks us by producing a non-stop disgusting mess on the porch and steps. So we’ve been planning the ultimate solution: aluminum flashing,  as many pieces as it takes and custom fit to seal up that space once and for all.

It took the better part of two days because it is surprisingly painful to work with sharp-edged aluminum sheets in small spaces, but the job got done. We cleaned up the nesting materials and tied it up in a plastic  ShopRite bag.  A bigger trash bag held other leavings from our weekend: Egg McMuffin wrappers, month-old hot wings left by mistake last time we were there, some weeds from the flower beds and we put the bird stuff in there as well. We packed two trash bags in the back of the car and headed into the thunderstorm to get back to NJ.

Remember that I’m totally stuck on that mp3 player and so I had the buds in while I was driving. I could see Sam waving his hands around and moving his lips, but apparently all these years of marriage has helped me hone the exact timing of my "um-hmm"s and "ah"s by which I held up my end of the conversation. In the break right after Commander Cody said  "My pappy said ‘Son, you’re gonna drive me t’ drinkin’ …
If you don’t quit drivin’ that – Hot … Rod … Lincoln!’,
" I heard some persistent rhythmic squeaking , which turned out to be baby birds in the trash bags.

I couldn’t tell if they were toddler birds that just woke up or if the nice warm temperature caused by sun beating on the black plastic bag caused eggs in the nests to hatch, but there they were. Sam, sprayer of wasp killer and wrecker of nest construction, turned into St. Francis of Assisi and wanted to pull over to set them free. Me, I went more with a suffocate/starve/heat ‘em up in black plastic strategy. Babies or not, these creatures are the enemy. So we continued our drive home, chirping unabated.

It’s 9:24 pm and my garbage bags are still chirping.