Category Archives: random stuff

How to Diagram a Simple Sentence

Like all forms of torture, diagramming should only be used when it is absolutely critical that you obtain a speedy confession from the sentence at hand and after all other attempts to determine a sentence’s meaning have failed.

1. Isolate the sentence from its peers and prepare a hard, flat line on which to work. Stainless steel is best because it is easy to clean.

2. Place the sentence on the line and sever the subject from the verb with a quick downstroke of your blade. Surgical scalpels, X-Acto knives, and machetes are all suitable for this procedure. This can be extremely painful for the subject as it will now have nothing to do or be, but with the two isolated, your work may end here if the sentence is especially simple.

3. Should you need to chop off a direct object, you’ll make another cut, but not as deep as the one used to sever subject from verb. Be aware that some verbs require direct objects and so you may find this takes a little extra effort. Use a saw if you must. Predicate adjectives are handled in a similar manner, but you’ll need to make an angled incision. Remember to cut with the grain and consider a reciprocating saw for this.

4. Indirect objects must be handled separately, and you’ll need a second line with a tether to the severed verb. You can use a hammer to break the indirect object away from the verb and then then pull it away from the main sentence onto a separate line. The value of this is primarily psychological as it allows the rest of the sentence to see itself stretched across the page in a most horrific way.

5. Prepositional phrases will be broken off like indirect objects, but you’ll use the preposition itself to create the tether between the main line and the line on which you place the object of the preposition. Again, the effect here is mainly psychological, but your sentence should be singing by now.

6. Adjectives and adverbs, like fingers and toes, are not truly necessary to a sentence’s survival,  and they can be removed easily, a procedure that will sometimes help the sentence reveal its secrets. Use a bolt cutter to remove the modifiers one at a time and place them on angled lines slanting off from the words they once modified. Placing them on the angle will allow the lifeblood of the sentence to drain away with a minimum of effort of your part.

Once the sentence is taken apart, you should have your confession. Remember, it is not usually necessary to torture a sentence. If you find yourself doing this for fun, rather than of necessity, please seek help from a certified dark language arts teacher.

Because Math Said So

I heard that They say math is the language of nature and the way in which we explain everything, which is a pretty cool thing to think about. Math is probably the language of God despite the church’s old fondness for Latin. That’s part of why I like math, but it wasn’t always so. Math and I have not always been friends.

Math turned against me in second grade, which I otherwise loved. I think it was the regular timed tests. I could never get past subtraction even when the rest of the class had moved through multiplication and on to joyless division. It’s probably where my hatred of school began too. Eventually, I began to get things under control, but then those fiends threw letters into the mix so now I had to deal not just with numbers but sometimes x and even his diabolical buddy y. I always liked reading and writing, but now it seemed the whole treasonous alphabet was turning against me.

Sometimes I understood it, but it wasn’t until later that I took satisfaction in solving a problem or working a proof the way I did writing a good story. So there were ups and downs along the bumpy road to graduation: Algebra was a down, Geometry was an up—the first one in math since first grade, Algebra II was down, Trig was a giant up. This is where I started to actually enjoy it. I thought I was home free, but then came Calculus and… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t need it to graduate. In college, I only needed to pass basic algebra, which I did, and then no more math forever, I thought. I celebrated by treating myself to a cheeseburger.

Flash forward twenty-some years, and my current teaching assignment involves helping students earn their GEDs. I had to relearn (learn, really, but the re- in front makes it sound better) all the algebra I swore I’d never need to know and that I’d never use in the “real world.” A funny thing happened, though, when I started FOIL-ing and throwing around slope-intercept and quadratic formulas. I liked it. I liked learning about it and getting a bit of a deeper glimpse at how the universe works.

To my surprise, I also found I like teaching a little math. We English teachers live in a world of ambiguity, debatable short answers and essay questions, endless discussion, and gray areas. (Or is it ‘grey’ and did I really need that comma before the ‘and’?) Part of the fun is helping students fumble their way to coherent arguments in support of their ideas and positions. But sometimes it’s nice to break up the day by teaching some math.

The road to the solution for any given problem is a journey and for those of us who find the greatest meaning in the journey (and, let’s be honest here, aren’t being graded on the problem), it can be an interesting journey to take. But I admit, a couple of times a day, it’s nice to be able to point to a number and say that this is the correct answer and there is no other choice. No debate. No argument. The answer is 42. Why? Because math said so, that’s why.

Another Review of Birds Nobody Loves

Juliet Wilson, poet, blogger and author of Unthinkable Skies posted a review of Birds Nobody Loves on her blog Crafty Green Poet:

The poetry is well observed, here is someone who clearly watches birds carefully and has a way with words to describe them in striking ways. The poems show the more engaging sides of the birds and also comment more directly on people’s hatred of them.

Juliet was also the first to publish any of my vulture and grackle poems: “Good Authority” and “My Tourist Yard” first appeared on her literary e-journal Bolts of Silk back in 2009. Thanks, Juliet!

August

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I lost nearly 10 pounds this morning shoveling the heat out of my driveway. It was 104 in the shade, and 108 on the road. This is our indoor time. We go out only when we must and don’t stay out long lest we catch a fire.

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A few weeks ago, I left an apple in my car. I remembered it was there around lunchtime and went out to get it. It was perfectly baked and delicious. I’ve started keeping cinnamon in the glove box since the car is also an oven. They didn’t tell me this is what they meant by hybrid.

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Lantana can burn your eyes if you stare at it too long. Most things are that way these days. This is why I walk with my head down, wincing with each step over the coals of parking lots. I wonder if this will lead to heat stroke or visions.

At night we eat a pot of salad and huddle round the ice box telling lies about the time it snowed.

A Perfect World

For the first time in 22 years, I am not working at Camp Periwinkle this week. Between having a newborn and several days of professional development training, it just wasn’t in the cards this year. It’s strange to be away from something I’ve been involved with over half my life so while thinking about the good times those kids are having, I figured I’d dig up this old post from 2006. It was originally called “Back from Camp” but was changed to “A Perfect World” when it was re-published in the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing. So, a rerun. Enjoy. (And please consider making a donation.)

We got back from Camp Periwinkle (a camp for childhood cancer patients and their siblings) on Saturday afternoon and have spent most of the time since recovering. I’ve been going to Camp every summer since 1990, which is possible since it’s only a week long.

The underlying philosophy of camp is selflessness. All the counselors and staff are volunteers, the kids go for free, everything there is donated. For one week, and sometimes for the last time, the kids at camp get to feel normal, and they get to have fun, and they have the time of their lives.

The smiles and the laughter at Camp Periwinkle are things that keep those of us who’ve been doing it for so long coming back year after year.

It’s typically one of the high points of any given year. It’s a chance to spend a week living in a perfect world, a world of patience, selflessness, love, compassion, understanding. It’s a chance to see kids and adults truly be their best selves. Where else can you see kids in a relay race cheering on the kid in a wheelchair who will cost them the race, yet no one cares about who wins or loses? Where else can you see adults put aside every aspect of their own comfort and convenience so that kids will feel special?

I’ve never been anywhere or done anything else that focuses what life should be about and how we should interact with one another more clearly than Camp Periwinkle. It’s a place where no expense is spared, no opportunity missed, to make kids whose lives are a daily struggle feel special, feel normal. It teaches kids that they can do what no one thinks they can. It helps them survive.

In the past seventeen years, I’ve seen kids laugh, smile, dance, and play who might never otherwise have found a place to do those things. I’ve watched kids crawl out of wheelchairs to climb a wall on the ropes course. I’ve seen kids fresh from brain surgery lean on their crutches and dance.

It’s a powerful place and it changes a person’s way of thinking. It reminds me of how special life is, how lucky I am, how important it is to work everday to make the world a better place for everyone.

It’s a chance to see what life could be like in a world ruled by love, where nobody ever wanted for anything.

Did I say it is a perfect world?

Elsewhere on the Web

During April, I only blogged poetry in my weekdays-only NaPoWriMo effort and during May, I took an unintentional vow of blogging silence (here anyway) and posted pictures of the local wildflowers. Now it’s June and there are many things I meant to link to and write about so here’s a dump of sorts since I’m a little short of time right now.

I’ve read a lot of good poems lately. Some have really stuck with me. Check out “Wake” by Angie Werren, “Running Water Ghazal” by Joseph Harker, and “Doors” by Dick Jones.

NaPoWriMo ended and, alas, so did Big Tent Poetry just a year after Read Write Poem closed. Is there something about NaPoWriMo that burns out prompt sites? It’s sad to see the Big Tent fold, but thanks (many many thanks) to Deb, Carolee and Jill for running the site and providing so many wonderful prompts that led me to writing a number of poems that I still like. Now, after giving so much to the poetry community Deb, Carolee and Jill are blogging together at A Fine Kettle of Fish where they’re taking well-deserved time to focus on their own poetry. Go check it out.

Nic Sebastian published her collection Forever Will on Thursday. It’s a fine read, deserving of a longer review here at some future time. I’ve read it online and intend to order the book because I’m a paper kind of guy. One thing that’s unique about her publishing process is her philosophy of delivering poetry in multiple formats, several of them free, which means you can read Forever Will End on Thursday as an e-book, pdf, paper book, website or listen to her read it online as a download or on a CD. I really admire this approach and may emulate it when I get around to publishing my short collection.

Speaking of fine reads deserving of their own posts (perhaps later when I have time), Mark Stratton’s collection Tender Mercies is out now. Mark asked me to give some feedback on the manuscript, and then he kindly sent me a copy of the finished book, which I enjoyed even more in final form. Many of the poems first appeared on his blog, Aggaspletch, and they combine nicely into this debut collection. I’m especially fond of “Tender Mercy 12F,” which you can read on Mark’s blog.

Yesterday, I got my copy of The Book of Ystwyth: Six Poets on the Work of Clive Hicks-Jenkins. I haven’t read it yet, but good lord, it’s one of the most beautiful books I own. It’s full of excellent reproductions of Hicks-Jenkins’s paintings alongside the poems they inspired. I’d read Dave Bonta’s “The Temptations of Solitude” series on his blog, and it’s great to see his work alongside the images that inspired it. Also, a joy to discover five other poets whose work is new to me. Actually, I have read one poem in the book, “Pegasus” by Catriona Urquhart. I flipped it open and that’s the one I came to. It floored me and I wanted let it settle before diving in. Hell, I might read the whole book just by flipping through. That’s how I often do my first read of a poetry collection.

The blogosphere is changing as more and more links are shared through Twitter and Facebook, and it seems that the venerated blog carnival I and the Bird has run its course. I contributed off-and-on since 2006 and even had the privilege of hosting it once (in ghazal form). The final installment was over at Twin Cities Naturalist. It’s sad to see it go, but there’s still loads of great bird blogging to be found.

My video of Howie Good’s “Fable” took 3rd place in the Moving Poems video contest. Do check out the various entries. It’s interesting to see how different videomakers interpret the same poem. Thanks, Howie & Dave!

Qarrtsiluni‘s latest issue, “Imprisonment,” is off to a powerful start. Make sure you check out “My Cellies.” I’m honored to say that I’ve got a poem that will be appearing later in this issue. Also, while we’re on qarrtsiluni, the chapbook contest deadline is June 15.

Because this Blog Has Mercury in Its Name

MESSENGER's first picture from Mercury orbit (courtesy NASA)

This is the first image ever taken from orbit around Mercury. Pretty cool, right? The image comes from NASA’s MESSENGER. NASA had this to say on its image of the day page:

At 5:20 am EDT on Mar. 29, 2011, MESSENGER captured this historic image of Mercury. This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System’s innermost planet. Over the subsequent six hours, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down.

Phil at Bad Astronomy has more including the name of that big crater, Debussy.