Friday, January 30, 2009

I'm NOT Smarter Than a 5th Grader Part Two

My son, Alexey, is in 5th grade and the English major (me) gets to help him with homework. Now I truly, truly appreciate the process of learning, I do... but I have to say that long division is the most useless, pointless endeavor known to man. Isn't long division the REASON God invented calculators and accountants?

I mean if I want some sausage, I go to the Publix and pick up a package of Jimmy Dean. You won't see me scootin' around the backyard gutting a pig and grinding my own. See my point?

I guess if my freakin' LIFE depended on me knowing what 2869 divided by 936 is, I could wing it with a pencil, but damn... just hand me a TI-35.

Or more likely just expect a furrowed brow, "What the hell do you need to know that for?" glance!

Whew...I feel better.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Word Play

It is fitting that misspelled often is.

Here are other common words prone to mistake:

accommodation, allotted, attendance, calendar, changeable, consensus, crucifixion, develop, ecstasy, forty, gauge, guttural, handkerchief, idiosyncrasy, inoculate, irrelevant, liaise, likable, liquefy, maintenance, mayonnaise, millennium, minuscule, moccasin, necklace, occasionally, occurred, pavilion, prairie, principal (versus principle), privilege, rarefy, repellent, resuscitate, rhythm, sacrilegious, separate, supersede, surprise, and withhold.

A few of these, like likable (likeable), have more than one accepted spelling. But most of the words appear only one way in dictionaries, and are butchered with noticeable regularity by those without the time, resources or motivation to check their guesses.

Good readers are not necessarily good spellers. Linguists have pointed out that the former is a more passive, receptive act while the latter is a more conscious, deliberate process that requires heightened “visual memory” to handle exceptions.

“It is possible to read by attending selectively to the cues in a text, recognizing just a few letters, and guessing the rest,” linguist David Crystal says. “It is not possible to spell in this way: spellers have to reproduce all the letters.”

Replacing every ‘o’ with an ‘x’ in a sentence underscores this: “Dx yxu just lxve a full mxxn?” The question about whether you loved the celestial body would probably still be understood.

A brain’s ability to fill in such gaps suggests that wrong or unusual spellings won’t necessarily prevent communication, although readers might have to wxrk hxrder tx figxre xut whxt the writxr meenz.

But sticking with a standard spelling is more than a gesture of courtesy. It can also telegraph a message about concern for accuracy, consistency, and seriousness of the message – an important consideration for many people, particularly if the message is meant for all time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I am NOT Smarter than a 5th Grader

I learned this morning that I am not--repeat NOT--smarter than a 5th grader. How do I know? Because I had to help my son, a 5th grader, correct a vocabulary test on which he scored poorly.

Piece of cake for a guy who makes his living writing, wouldn't you think? But I was done in by one word, one simple, three-syllable word--"dolorous." Apparently it means "causing pain or sorrow." Never heard of it. Never used it. I became bewildered (another one of the vocabulary words, but at least I had used that one).

I guess I should have taken a clue late last week when the same teacher gave him an assignment to use a compound subject and the verb "was." I thought that impossible. A compound subject, by definition, is plural and requires a plural form of the verb (e.g. "John and I were fishing in our favorite spot.")

It was not until I searched the Internet, the modern version of the Library at Alexandria, that I found indeed one can write a sentence with a compound subject and the verb "was." "Each boy and girl was assigned a specific task."

Apparently using "each" or "every" creates an exception to the agreement rule. Who knew?

So I've reached a pivotal decision in my writing career. I will resort to the time-proven adage that sex sells. My next book cover, regardless of the book's content, will feature a scantily clad (dare we say perhaps even "nekkid") woman, cleverly designed to obscure my dolorous ignorance of the rules of grammar on display on the pages inside.

Chances are even a 5th grader would buy that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I may sound more cliche (and use more of them) today than any other day in my life, but after yesterday's inauguration, I just can't help it.

My father thought Richard Nixon walked on water, and I...well I have been a Republican as far as I can remember--a moderate Republican, that is. If you want to know what lonely feels like, try putting that tag on yourself. Hard-line conservatives say we don't exist, that we're liberals in sheep's clothing, that we're RINOs--Republicans-In-Name-Only.

That's from the wing of the party that won't cotton dissent; from people who are so afraid of having their ideology questioned, who are so afraid of perhaps having to change their minds on the immutable truths of conservatism (naturally passed down on high from the big "G"), that they quash any uncertainty with the unequivocal sneer of damnable judgement.

Then there are Democrats of the same ilk who believe if you voted for Reagan or cheer on the Israeli's as they unashamedly kick ass and take names in the Gaza, you are a minion of The Great Satan--the United States of America.

But yesterday there was a sea change. The ground shifted beneath our feet. Our new leader stepped up to the podium and challenged us to come together as a nation. I intend to answer that challenge. I'm shedding my political labels, whatever they were.

I am not a Republican, a Libertarian, or a Democrat. I'm an American and my President is Barak Obama.

I didn't vote for him. I didn't campaign for him. But I will follow him. As I listened to his inaugural speech, something stirred in me yesterday as I'm sure it did for many people.

I have a renewed sense of hope and a willingness to make whatever sacrifices my President asks of me to make our country strong again.

To my conservative friends I say this: an army cannot advance if half its soldiers remain stubbornly rooted in place. A football team cannot score if the half back runs the ball in the opposite direction of his goal. Similarly, our nation cannot move forward if we are paralyzed in fear by the thought of new ideas, new approaches, and radical change.

The beauty of our republic is that it is self-correcting. In four years, if this President fails to lead us to a better place, we can transfer his power to another. But for now, my brother and sisters, I'm all in.

Lead on Obama. Lead on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009



It was mid-August 1981 and I had just completed my third year as a
counselor at The Citadel Summer Camp for Boys. I had only left
Charleston three weeks ago, and now I was returning to report for my
knob year. Mama drove me down with my footlocker packed. I had to
audition for Regimental Band, but conventional wisdom said if you
had even been near a musical instrument sometime in your life, you
got put in Band Company.

I auditioned and was made bass drummer for the Big “Q”. Mama and
I ate together in the mess hall with all the other Band Company
aspirants. After lunch, we said goodbye. It was the second time in
my life I ever saw her cry.

I cried too.

I took solace in the fact that I was in familiar territory having been on
The Citadel campus since I was twelve. I felt it to be an intimate and
friendly place. Then I met my 1st Sgt., Dave Branton, and found out
how wrong I was!

That first night, I unpacked my belongings. Then at midnight, the
cadre forced us to change rooms and roommates, re-packing and
unpacking again. As I settled in with my second roommate, Allen
Blume, the door burst open close to two in the morning and the
upperclassmen forced us to move again. The third time being the
proverbial charm, I met Les Williams, my permanent roomie for the
remainder of knob year.

But the tone was set. From Hell Night through Recognition Day, fear,
uncertainty, insecurity, and terror reigned supreme. By the end of the
first week, a third of our freshmen class had quit. By year’s end, our
original numbers were down by half. But for those of us who gutted
it out—Les, Allen, Ken Sigmon, Russ Mease, Pete Lawrence, Ken
Riddle, Jay Strickland, Dave Eubanks, Jimmy Bowen, et al—we are
friends, blood brothers, soulmates all.

Not too shabby for a mama’s
boy from Rock Hill.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Moonlight and Magnolias

In some of my speeches, since we apparently have some distinctive speech patterns here in the South--though it seems to me y'all are the ones with the weird accents--I incorporate the etymology of "buck nekkid."

"Nude" is when one is undressed for some artful purpose such as a painting or play.
"Naked" is when one is unclothed for something like a shower or doctor's exam.
"Nekkid" is when you don't have any clothes on and you're doing something you shouldn't
"Buck Nekkid" is when you don't have any clothes on doing something you shouldn't--and get caught at it!

The part I can't seem to figure out is whether I'm intrugued by the evolution of this phraseology or just simply fascinated with having no clothes on!

I'd say I salute you all...but really, we don't want to go there.

Good day to all.

Monday, January 12, 2009


It is sunrise in paradise.

I lay in that halfway sleep between awakening and deep, peaceful slumber.
Coming out of the blackness of a restful sleep, I
Inhale the cool salt-scented air.

As the sun moves across the eastern sky,
It paints the landscape of my face, slowly
Beckoning me to awareness.

It is in that moment I realize the woman I love with
All my heart is sleeping just a few inches away.
She knows that I love her, but does she realize how much?

Does she know that I would sacrifice every material thing I
Own to keep her as my life’s companion?
Does she realize that every day I try to barter away ten
Years of my life just to be with her forever?

Does she know how beautiful I believe she is?
Does she understand that should the gauze of time ever
Fade her outward beauty, that I will love her stronger
And better and more intensely?

Does she know that I go to sleep and awaken with thoughts of her?
Does she know that with her everything is brighter and happier and
I am more content?
That without her I have no sense of purpose?

With her, the rain is sweeter
The flowers more colorful
The mountains grander
The oceans more majestic.

Without her, everything in the world lacks beauty for me.

Does she know that I believe her blood runs through my veins?
That my heart beats not only for her, but because of her?
Can she possibly understand that my definition of sadness
And despair is simply life without her?

Her face is beautiful in the sunlight.
She squints at me against the sun, a hand shading her eyes,
A light azure sky serving as a backdrop to her beautiful visage.
I who realizes that should life cease for me at that very instant,
I would die the most fortunate man in the world.

To be in her embrace is to be as close to Heaven as a
Human being can get on this earth.

As sun sets in paradise, the western sky is a rich palate of hues, from
Fiery pink to warm lavender to deep dark blue pricked with
Pinpoints of starlight.

With the rising and setting sun we
Mark our time in the universe.
Every thing has its opposite.

And the opposite of the regularity of dawn and dusk with its
Strictures of chronology is something ceaseless; unending; constant.
It is my deep, abiding, infinite love for this one woman out of the
Billions of people on this planet.

I wonder, does she know?