Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A little less conversation a little more action

There is a wealth of useful information inside Snapple bottle caps. Recently a 12-ounce Diet Peach informed me that a Frenchman named Michel Thaler published a 233-page novel without a single verb.

In a Wikipedia citation, Thaler called the verb an "invader, dictator, usurper of our literature ... the verb is like a weed in a field of flowers. You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish.”

In honor of Thaler, I’ll phrase my rebuttal in the form of a noun: bullshit. That will make your flowers flourish, my friend. By the way, the title of his verb-less book translates as “The Train from Nowhere” and I’m not buying a ticket.

I like verbs. I think most sentences should have them. Headlines too. But, as the previous fragment proves, I’m not so much a language purist that I won’t skip a verb now and then for effect.

This would no doubt cause the nuns who drummed grammar rules into my knuckles to peer over their glasses and shake their heads in unison. An early career mentor, on the other hand, would shrug and assert that once you know the rules, you’ve license to consciously break them in the service of effective communications.

If verbs are so inferior to nouns why do so many nouns have verb envy? I remember when such words as “impact,” “target” and “friend” were things you had not things you did. I cringed every time an Olympics analyst said someone would “medal,” instead of “win a medal.” The use of “podium” as a verb was even more grating.

Anyway, verbs are good. Nouns are good. It’s nice when they can agree. Active verbs are better than passive ones. I bore myself when I write too many sentences with verbs like “is” and “are” and “were,” which means this paragraph isn’t too exciting, even to me. Skip it if it’s not too late.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On the nature of storms & stormy times

On a recent morning I took a walk down a favorite beach in Oceanside, just after a week of torrential rains soaked Southern California. Eroded by pouring rains and pounding seas, the beach was hardly recognizable as the wonderland on which my grandkids frolicked and in which they buried each other mere months ago.

A few intrepid surfers bobbed offshore, ignoring the cloudy skies and relishing the hefty swells. A handful of joggers pounded the well-packed sand near the waterline. Two older men with rolled-up pant legs and metal detectors walked side-by-side, searching for treasure and sending the shorebirds scurrying.

Constant battering by the waves had interrupted the beach’s normal gradual descent to ocean with a sand ridge high enough to sit upon. Great mounds of seaweed had washed ashore, intermixed with all manner of flotsam and jetsam coughed up by the sea.

A couple of soggy tennis balls. Lots of plastic containers and bottle caps. A light bulb. Old sneakers and flip-flops. Some PVC pipe. Dozens of beach toys, faded by sun and sea, gathered by beachcombers or sea sprites on a picnic table, ready for adoption.

Storms are part of nature and part of the nature of things. They are certain, cyclic and unavoidable. Seas get rough. Rain must fall and wind must blow. Damage is done. Pain is felt. The sea purges itself of things it neither wants nor needs.

But eventually the sun comes out. The ocean resumes its regular breathing. Flowers bloom and chicks are hatched. We pick up the pieces and healing begins. No doubt the beach will be back to postcard condition well before the first giggling beach angel shows up in the summertime.

There must be a metaphor here. Economic storms, political storms or whatever, followed invariably by fair weather, soft breezes and drinks with fruit slices and little umbrellas. But I’ll leave that part to you.

Oh, one more thing. I saw a rainbow over the ocean later that day.