#1 EXERCISE: DEBRIEF

REFLECTION: My nonsense rewriting of Lewis Carroll was tricky only because auto-correct kept fixing my words to make them sensible. I left all the ordinary words—articles and prepositions—while doing my best to watch Carroll’s verbs, nouns, and adjectives. The sensible version was much harder. I went to RhymeZone.com to hunt for my last word. The site offers many options for rhyming 1-, 2-, and multi-syllabic rhymes. I replaced a conjunction “and” with a preposition “with” and that felt like cheating. My use of “still” doesn’t quite work—the entire last line doesn’t work. And this is because I wrote it backwards—I found the words first instead of the meaning. What was I thinking? I hope you didn’t do that.

Reflection, metacognition, thinking about thinking. Thinking about writing. What works, what might work next time.

Perhaps I should call these “exercises” instead of “assignments” since I think many people have issues concerning assignments?

This is a creek that carries water from what used to be two creeks (Shark and Asbury) on my old map. There is a huge iron barricade to prevent (usually) drift logs from being carried upstream. That’s what you can see at the top of the image. In the foreground is the stump of an ancient tree, perhaps four feet across (not around, but across!) that Gary and I had never seen uncovered before. There are other “ghost trees” along the coast. Perhaps, as was suggested by visitors, these are remains from the tsunami resulting from the earthquake that occurred along the Cascadia subduction zone on January 26, 1700 with an estimated magnitude of 8.7–9.2. …Or not.
Carroll's nonsense
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All wimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

my nonsense
‘Twas krinty, and the blenty roogs
Did swave and skinder in the tave;
All plimey were the antidoogs,
And the floot waths unquave.

my "sensible" version  
Then music, and the merry clan
Did sing and warble on the sand;
In silence walked the lovely man,
With those still lost offhand.

Mastering the rhythm of sentences is an ongoing task. I am reminded of using the opening passage of The Bluest Eye and how I used it as a frame to write my own passage years ago, how the iambic rhythm of that prose drew me forward through Morrison’s prose, and how that same rhythm might work for me in other writing.

"Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel. Rosemary Villanucci, our next-door friend who lives above her father's cafe, sits in a 1939 Buick eating bread and butter."

The imagery is both vivd and startling, the contrasts shocking. Nuns and lust, drunken men and sober eyes—then the shift to a childhood friend and bread and butter. Morrison begins the novel (barely longer than a novella) three times, and each beginning is revelatory. The parody of Dick and Jane books. The brief advance plot synopsis that warns of all the tragedy to come, the desire to know why, and settling for how. Then the nuns, who have no role in the rest of the book, but set up an essential paradox that is to become key to the novel.

I used to teach a short story that abruptly shifted tone when the POV character accepted faith, that instant is marked by rhyme. It is a powerful device to use in prose—overwhelming and even risky, but the author used it effectively—she knew what she was doing. The same risk might work in creative nonfiction.

In nonfiction, we can look for the startling play of words, poetic rhythm, and image. I read a beautiful example this morning on the Brevity blog by Beth Kephart, “The Memoirist’s Dilemma.” Take a look.

I carried this Nicole Hollander comic in my checkbook for nearly thirty years. I even bought a copy from Hollander.

EXERCISE #2 will be posted on Friday. I promise it will make you work hard (harder than this one maybe), though not for too long. It is also a purely prose, nonfiction exercise. (Not an assignment. Not verse.)

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