Essays

Shaw’s Dream

First published in The Scriberlus Arts Journal, December, 2018

 

George Bernard Shaw (the screenwriter for My Fair Lady and from whom the ancient Greeks derived their myth of Pygmalion) had a deep and abiding love of the English language. That love was so intense, so incendiary, that upon his death he wished to be buried in nothing but words. (Needless to say, this was somewhat embarrassing for those who attended his funeral. Words, while certainly useful and important, are also what scientists have termed “transparent.” As such, the mourners at Shaw’s funeral were treated to a rare glimpse of the playwright’s dangling participle.)

Shaw’s love affair with the English language was so strong that it continued even after his death. In his will he left a legacy with which the English language could be purified, standardized and regulated. His dream was for a standard of excellence to become the norm in English speaking countries. The goal was for everyone, royalty and pauper alike, to know and to speak the King’s English.

Sadly, Shaw’s dream has not yet been realized. It is not too late, however. Though we stand in what many are calling the eleventh hour (that is, 11:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time), though we balance on the border of linguistic degradation, though we so perilously stroll upon the precipice of slang, there is hope. We, as English speakers, can make the change ourselves, first, on an individual basis, then on familial, later societal and finally on a global scale. Though the task is daunting, it is achievable. Following is a primer of sorts, a few “problem areas” to watch out for as you begin your own quest for linguistic perfection.

Ending sentences with a preposition is one of the most alarming habits Americans have become accustomed to. Not only is ending a sentence with a preposition incorrect grammatically, but it also elevates laziness at the expense of intellectual rigor which is left far below. Sadly, many Americans do not even know when they end a sentence with a preposition any more often than they know where the words they’re using originally came from. Because you are reading this essay I can safely assume you wish to improve your command of the English language and put your days of linguistic butchery behind. Therefore, be aware that “to,” “for,” “from,” “with,” “in,” “above,” “below,” “behind,” and “of” are some of the common prepositions to watch out for. Cleaning up the grammatical vulgarities in your speech will not be easy but this is a good step to start with.

Another difficulty American’s have with the English language is, as I’m sure you know, inserting frivolous phrases into their sentences. These idle insertions are, how can I put this diplomatically, rather childish ploys, easily discerned and obviously ineffective in their ability to give the speaker an extra split second to think of something witty and/or meaningful with which to follow their inanity. Between you and me, using such inconsequential phrases (identified as just about any phrase set apart by commas or parentheses) is one of the more frustrating experiences, though there are many, of my conversations.

In listening to the radio, in watching television, in conversing with average people I meet on the streets each day, I have been confronted recently by the growing number of American’s (people who, by and large, have grown up speaking the English language, people who should know better, people who use in their daily lives the very words they butcher) who willingly and, dare I say it, consciously choose to form on a very regular basis sentences that do little more than meander across the airwaves, sentences that seem more contrived than meaningful and sentences that lack the brevity and succinctness that mark the intellectual conversation and are instead downright long winded affairs that display very little of the creativity that should mark the vocabulary and syntax of the enlightened, are all but void of any originality, reverting to the lowest common denominator of society’s speech and, finally, are able to say so very little in so many words.

Last, but certainly not least, so many people, regardless of their country of origin, have gotten into the habit of not finishing sentences. It is as if they believe others will finish their sentences for them. I am always at a loss when the person to whom I am speaking pauses for an inordinate period of time and looks to me to finish their thought. “I am not a mind reader,” I want to tell them. You can’t expect me to

Above are only a few of the many areas in which all English speakers, and Americans specifically, can work to improve their command of the English language. By starting small, each and every one of us can make Shaw’s dream a reality. Keep of the good fight. Don’t get discouraged. Remember which words never to end a sentence with. And never, under any circumstances, allow

 

 

A Serious Issue

First published in Perceptions (MHCC), Spring, 2018.

 

There is a serious issue we in America must address if we are to remain a great nation.

I’ve always wanted to start off like that. It makes whatever follows sound really important. Now, I could follow up with something like, “What is our global responsibility regarding the development and proliferation of nuclear technology,” or “The increasing number of children living below the poverty line is a travesty which must be addressed.” But if I did that you might not read any more because you think neither of those issues affects you personally. So instead, I will address an issue that touches the lives of each of us. And since I started off with “There is a serious issue we in America must address if we are to remain a great nation,” you can’t help but think it’s just as important as any of those other issues.

America has a problem with exaggeration. Specifically, the increasing number of restaurants that claim “The Best Teriyaki in Town.” I write from the dual perspectives of someone who patronizes the aforementioned restaurants as well as a concerned citizen who would like to see truth in advertising. While driving today I saw three restaurants that all made the same amazing (and mutually exclusive) claim about their teriyaki. How can this be? It’s just not possible.

To remedy the situation I propose the following: Our national government should set aside its isolationist economic and diplomatic policy and they should continue to ignore the millions of people who lack adequate housing, health care and food, and instead create a federally funded committee to oversee teriyaki restaurants. I would call it the “National Council for Truth in Teriyaki Restaurant Advertising.” It’s kind of a cumbersome name so the first order of business would be the creation of a new name with a really cool sounding acronym (like Fellowship of Activists and Restaurateurs for Truth or Bureaucratic Union of Teriyaki Testers or Committee Requiring Accuracy in Promotion). Then, when they’ve changed the name they can begin their real work.

First, all teriyaki restaurants within a given area must enter a competition to determine who has the right to advertise as “The Best Teriyaki in Town.” In this competition the judges (members of the NCTTRA) sample each restaurant’s teriyaki. The judges will determine whose teriyaki is best by conferring with one another and then picking the contestant with the best hygiene. (This may seem like an arbitrary way to judge, but it is important to remember that all teriyaki comes from the same factory in Toledo and therefore tastes exactly the same. The only differences are found in the restaurants and their employees. The distinct flavors that distinguish one restaurant from another are nothing more than the olfactory auras of the restaurant and its employees permeating the teriyaki and wafting over the patrons. It seems only logical, then, that personal hygiene be used as the method for determining which teriyaki is “best.”)

Second, after the title “Best Teriyaki in Town” has officially been conveyed upon the restauranteur with the least offensive body odor, a set of advertising guidelines must be accepted. First and foremost, the winning restaurant must commit to a form of proclamation classier than those tarps with black letters glued on it and tied to the four corners of a window. Now that they have the undisputed “Best Teriyaki in Town” they should be able to afford better advertising. A number of offenses can result in the immediate withdrawal of NCTTRA support. Chief among these are:

  • Continued use of the aforementioned tarps;
  • Window paints with cheery animals;
  • Any form of advertising that mentions tacos, burgers, pizza or any other food that historically is not found on the same continent as teriyaki, much less the same restaurant.

Finally, the NCTTRA will need someone in each city to periodically check each restaurant to insure they are adhering to the guidelines of teriyaki quality and advertising. I propose they delegate this role to a person who is knowledgeable about the community, a connoisseur of fine foods and someone who can eat their body weight on a daily basis. On a local level, after thoroughly interviewing our community’s leaders and considering a great number of worthy candidates, I nominate myself for the all important role of NCTTRALCEO/L (National Council for Truth in Teriyaki Advertising Local Community Enforcement Officer/Liaison).

I am confident that if our nation’s leaders are truly concerned with the state of America they will take seriously the growing problem of exaggeration in advertising. And I know that you, the reader, have already taken it seriously, because I told you it’s a serious issue and you’ve read this far, bless your heart.

Now, if you’ll permit, I want to address another serious issue that we as Americans must face if we are to remain a great nation. I speak, of course, of the growing need to regulate the beer industry. To start, I nominate myself to personally oversee the tasting of each and every…

 

 

The Lies of My Childhood

First published by The Higgs Weldon (http://thehiggsweldon.com/the-lies-of-my-childhood) on March 6, 2018.

 

When I was a child life made sense. But as I’ve grown older I’ve found myself questioning why so much of life seem so very hard. How did it get so difficult? Who’s to blame? Who’s going to stand up and take responsibility for the wreck that has become my life? I’ve waded through years of self-reflection and decades of memories, but have yet to find the source of the malaise that marks my life. The only thing I’ve learned for sure is this:

It’s somebody else’s fault.

(A part of me wants to blame the voices in my head, but my therapist says I shouldn’t listen to them. He says they’re a manifestation of the chemical imbalance within my brain. He says that as long as I’m sufficiently insured he expects us to take many years to sort out the deep pathologies harbored within my psyche. He says he’d tell me more, but our hour is up.)

In the end (and my therapist agrees), I don’t think there’s anyone more to blame than my parents.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were and are nice people. They spent most of twenty years overseas, sacrificing their time and energy for the betterment of human kind. They raised three kids to be fine upstanding citizens (with no felony convictions and only one investigation still pending). But they’re stinking liars. Filthy, dirty, rotten, no good liars. And I want to set the record straight. So, at the urging of my therapist, I did some research. Here’s what I learned.

Little Red Riding Hood is a lie.

According to my parents Little Red Riding Hood was gobbled up by the wolf and only rescued when a handsome, rugged, outdoorsy-type woodcutter happened to come along and notice a rather plump wolf dressed in Granny’s nightgown. So, the woodcutter did the only thing a man of his superior intellect knows how to do…he chopped at the wolf like a butcher on amphetamines. I guess he figured he might rescue whatever had already been shredded by those pointy teeth and was now stewing in the wolf’s acidic digestive juices. According to my parents’ lies, Little Red Riding Hood popped out along with Granny. Everyone lived happily ever after. (Except for the wolf, who, according to my parents, received a nice settlement from his insurance company, but had his suit against the woodcutter dismissed.)

Little did I know that until that “…happily ever after” line my parents got it pretty much right. But they never discussed the aftermath. Here’s what they left out:

Little Red Riding Hood did not skip home after the ordeal. She was horribly disfigured and, when she finally returned to school six months later, was ostracized by her former friends. Her parents, sensing the trauma to which their daughter was daily exposed, pulled her from the public school and taught her at home. This act, though attempted in all kindness, only served to alienate the few friends she had made. Little Red was further distanced from the relationships she so desperately craved. She became a recluse and is only now beginning to emerge from her hermit-like existence. She is currently taking online courses and hopes to land a job in the lucrative field of data entry.

Granny fared little better. She complains bitterly to this day about the earring she lost during the ordeal. It was from her late husband, Elmer, and she has not been able to forgive her granddaughter for so recklessly abandoning the search for the earring in favor of the warm confines of the ambulance. Granny and Little Red remain estranged with slim hope of a thaw before ol’ Gran gets swallowed by the big wolf in the sky.

The woodcutter (he of ruddy cheeks and brawny arms) didn’t get any smarter after his foray into butchery. Thinking the key to fame and glory was to chop up random animals he became a neighborhood terror, resulting in no less than four counts of animal abuse, three convictions for stalking pets and one charge (not yet taken to trial) of using a common garden spade to forcibly extract a partially digested Pekinese from a Doberman.

In the long run the wolf that came out best. Oh, he’s got a few scars (battle wounds, he calls them) to prove he’s not just telling tales around the pool, but he’s living the high life on an (undisclosed) island in the Caribbean. He’s turned his ordeal into a book (with signing tour), an appearance on Oprah (“The True Cost of Being a Carnivore” in which he tearfully repented of his little-girl-eating ways) and an endorsement deal with a food preparation device (“…a slicer and dicer extraordinaire, with teeth so sharp it can chop a pound of carrots or a small child in under ten seconds!!!”). Yes, he still suffers from the occasional traumatic flashback and longing to nibble the tender flesh of a plump child, but overall, the experience played out well for him. He’s happy and healthy for the first time in his life, ready to attack (in a non-violent, life affirming manner) each day and finally happy with who he is.

So, what did I learn from researching just one of the tales my parents told me as a child? I learned not to trust barrel chested, flannel wearing men around my pets. I learned sometimes the bad guy comes out on top. And I learned to question all the things my parents told me. Maybe they weren’t the omniscient dispensers of knowledge I thought them to be. Maybe they were just making things up as they went along. What if the Little Engine couldn’t? Was George always that curious? Why are there always more ducks than geese? I need to do more research.

Next up…are raindrops really God’s tears because I disobeyed my parents, or could there be something to that meteorological explanation?