Seeing the tools of language handled deftly by others is one of the great pleasures of my life; for a writer, honing those tools is a process that lasts a lifetime.
Some people have better ears for music than others (my mother, a normally tolerant woman, emphatically dissuaded my tone-challenged father from singing in the house). Some have more natural athletic talent (one of my highly accomplished college buddies can still relive the trauma of having come perilously close to failing our college phys ed requirement). Some seem to know instinctively Continue reading
“Why,” I used to ask my introductory composition classes as I held up an ordinary writing implement for their perusal, “do we who speak English call this a pen and not a frying pan?”
Panic-stricken looks appeared on the faces of two dozen first-year college students who were struggling to navigate those early days of classes, and who were now looking at each other and wondering whether there was a secret campus code that no one had bothered to inform them about.
We sat in silence until eventually someone called out, “Uh, because that’s what we were told?”
“Exactly!” I said. Two dozen students breathed sighs of relief.
But I was not finished with them. Continue reading
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, a significant rite of passage for my friends and me was being allowed to ride the New York City subway for the first time without the presence of any of our parental units.
Among the intricacies of subway riding, eagerly dissected by our adolescent set, were the rules associated with subway reading. One had always to consider the impressions created by the selection of reading material, and to choose items that showed one in the best possible light while not drawing too much attention.
But one day, some years later, I inadvertently broke that rule. I took Tillie Olsen with me on the D train, and found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the subway. Continue reading
“What do you mean you’re writing a feature article about the legal issues surrounding Vioxx?” demanded a good friend who is an attorney, when I told her about a magazine assignment I had a few years ago. “You don’t know anything about tort law!”
“Aha!” I said. “But I will by the end of the week!” Continue reading