ABCs of Summer—Now I Know My ABCs

My Sportage was submerged up to the fenders in thick, gritty mud. Rain pattered down, then poured, and the windshield wipers valiantly thwaped against the deluge. The nice guy who stopped to help push out my vehicle yelled directions through the open window, and my left side was quickly drenched. My Good Samaritan was already soaked, but he waved away my profuse apologies. “No worries,” he smiled, “It’s an adventure!”

Does it count as an adventure if you’re just outside your own cul-de-sac? They’d torn up 7th street earlier that week, resulting in a cratered gravel road. Other compact cars had maneuvered the rutted obstacle course, so I assumed my hardy jeep could conquer it as well. Alas. Once again, I could put a tally mark under Book Smart, Not Street Smart. (Literally.)

We finally gave up; I left the car and slogged through the rising rivers (blessing or curse I was wearing flip-flops?) back to the house, knowing my dad could pull me out after work with his truck. I hate being an adult, I chafed as I contacted the city so I wouldn’t get fined for leaving my vehicle in a construction zone. They redirected me to the project manager. “We’re done for the weekend, so leave it there as long as you need,” he said, then laughed, “It’ll keep other people from driving there.”

Normally such a statement would spread flames of humiliation across my face and chest. But I looked at my smeared clothes and feet and had to laugh with him. As frustrated as I felt, I wasn’t panicked. I hadn’t rejected the help of my Good Samaritan like usual, preferring to muddle through on my own rather than reveal my ignorance. I’d thought clearly enough to call the city, spoke calmly. I was embarrassed at being a cautionary tale, but I didn’t wallow or cry or eat away my foolishness with Cheese-Its.

I wasn’t reacting the way I would have a year ago, even six months. A smidgen of stupidity still bit me, but I wasn’t paralyzed by it. I was growing. Accepting each moment as it came, muddy or not. And that realization made the whole adventure worth it.

ABCs of Summer—Yokel, Zephyr, and Other Delightful Words You Should Use in a Sentence

In my last post, I shared some of the words Dictionary.com has sent me—words that, while entertaining and oddly specific, are hardly applicable to everyday conversation.

I may have been a bit harsh on Dictionary.com, though, and now would like to share some of the words I’ve collected from that site and other sources. These are words that I love to roll around in my mouth and use to color conversations, texture my writing. I hope they delight you, too.

Yokel: a rustic; a country bumpkin.

I don’t mind if you call me a small-town yokel; I’ll probably call myself a yokel, too, just to hear that crisp K click at the back of my throat.

Zephyr: a gentle, mild breeze.

If this word were a color, it would be ocean gray. Anne Shirley’s definition—“A delicious, perfumed wind”—is my favorite.

Williwaw: a violent squall that blows in near-polar latitudes, as in the Strait of Magellan, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands.

In fifth grade, my wonderful teacher read us a book called Williwaw, and I would sit at my desk and mouth the word to myself. Try it; it’s the verbal equivalent of jumping on a trampoline.

Chicanery: trickery or deception by quibbling or sophistry.

Another word that satisfyingly clicks. I picture a bowler-wearing salesman stepping off the train with his bulging valise, scanning the depot for those small-town yokels he seeks to swindle. (But then he ends up falling in love with the town’s librarian and everyone forgives him during a choreographed musical number.)

Autumnal: belonging to or suggestive of autumn; produced or gathered in autumn.

A comforting word to perfectly encapsulate the season of soft blankets and steaming cocoa.

Kerfuffle: a fuss; commotion.

Marilla Cuthbert manages to say this with a straight face; I, however, can’t help but smile at those fluffy F sounds.

Exquisite: of special beauty or charm, or rare and appealing excellence, as a face, a flower, coloring, music, or poetry.

Lyrical and tinkling, this word is suited for a ballroom with crystal chandeliers and a string quartet. Sing it low and slow.

Philology: the love of learning and literature.

My life in a single, lovely word.

ABCs of Summer—Withershins, Xyst, and Other Words You’ll Never Use in a Sentence

A few months ago, I signed up to receive the Dictionary.com “Word of the Day.” I love words, the sound and taste and appearance of them, and it gives me a nerdy thrill to flavor conversation with unique terms.

If I already know the Word of the Day, I feel quite sophisticated; if I don’t, it becomes a personal challenge to use it naturally in a sentence. Some words, like peckish (somewhat hungry), are apt and easy to toss into a discussion. But then there are words that can only be applied in the strangest of circumstances (if ever), lest you sound pretentious and annoy everyone around you.

Withershins: counterclockwise.

Directions already confuse me, so please don’t exacerbate the situation by throwing in a word that sounds like the title of a Bronte novel.

Xyst: a garden walk planted with trees.

Such a menacing word for such a tranquil place. (Unless the xyst is also part of a Bronte novel, in which case let your Gothic imagination run wild.)

Crinose: hairy.

Using a fancy adjective doesn’t turn the phrase, “My, you’re hairy!” into a compliment. (Unless you secretly aspire to be a Robertson, in which case, let that crinose beard run wild.)

Cacography: poor penmanship; bad handwriting; incorrect spelling.

What would happen if I told my Composition students, “Mind your cacography”?

Gloaming: dusk, twilight.

Only Stephanie Meyer would use such a ridiculous synonym.

Singultus: a hiccup.

Ironically, uttering this word aloud triggers a succession of hiccups. (Would I then be suffering from singulti?)

Hemidemisemiquaver: a sixty-fourth note.

It’ll take you longer to say the word than to play the note.

Scofflaw: a person who flouts the law, especially one who fails to pay fines owed.

If this word were a book title, it would be The Case of the Serial Library Patron with a Zillion Overdue Books.

Abecedarian: a person who is learning the letters of the alphabet.

“Can you believe my Joey is in kindergarten this year? I’m so proud of my little abecedarian!”

Good for Joey. And the rest of the literate world who, at some point in their lives, have also been abecedarians.

Caprine: of or pertaining to goats.

Do we even want to be in a situation where this word is appropriate?

ABCs of Summer—Vacation

It’s clambering into the car before the sun has stretched awake. It’s Dad praying for safe travels, turning out of the driveway, and heading east on highway 12. It’s stopping at gas stations, pouring cappuccino into foam cups and chomping on beef jerky and sunflower seeds. It’s playing the quarter game to keep occupied, counting silos and tractors in Wisconsin in hopes of earning $.25. (If you spot Mr. Tumnus hitchhiking, that’s $100.)

It’s lunch at restaurants we can’t find at home (Dunkin’ Donuts and Cracker Barrel) and curling up in the backseat with Mom, exchanging books we stuffed into a tote bag, while the boys drive and navigate, debating the attack skills of various animals. It’s singing along to the country station, finding a new country station when we can no longer stand the fuzziness, and passing licorice back and forth.

It’s enduring rush hour and bathroom breaks (“We just stopped!”), smelling like fast food and wishing for a hot shower and getting on eachother’s absolute last nerve. It’s pulling up to that secluded cabin at long last, hauling in suitcases and coolers and groceries, stomping our feet in excitement that we’re back. It’s finally reaching those three calendar squares we starred and circled months ago. It’s filling those squares with homemade Crunch ‘n Munch and Jenga and inside jokes and paddle boat rides and woodland walks and loft reading and nighttime movies.

It’s doing nothing more than rocking on the deck and soaking in the depth of the saturated blue sky and lily-pad covered lake. It’s waking up early because here, I want to get up.

ABCs of Summer—University

The revelation hit me during one of my brother’s track meets. The section meet was at a college in Southern Minnesota, and as we strolled across campus to reach the field, I realized that I felt completely at home even though it wasn’t my school. The university atmosphere resonated with the part of me that loves shouldering a book bag, walking beneath stoic trees, and swinging open the creaky door of a brick building.

I thrived in college. Study groups when we’d gripe and laugh and eventually bend our heads over our textbooks, inside jokes written in the margins. Friday praise chapel when the lights dimmed and an entire auditorium sang freely and passionately. Coffee cradled in my gloved hands as I walked to my 7:50am class and spied a flock of geese resting on the dewy common. Prayer by the lake on a brilliantly blue autumn morning, BLTs and conversation with close friends on drizzly afternoons. Professors who prayed about God’s will for my life.

We’re moving my brother into his dorm on Friday. He’s attending the same school I did, and as we talk about his first semester—there’s a good study spot here, you’ll adore this prof, do laundry this day—all those memories flutter down from my mind’s rafters, stirring up nostalgia.

“I wish I was back in college,” I sigh. “No, you don’t,” he laughs. He correctly remembers me complaining about full credit loads, endless assignments, two teaching assistant jobs, and maintaining a scholarship. Now that a couple years have passed (and I’m sleeping more than a few hours each night), I’ve forgotten the stress of college.

But I won’t forget what God taught me in the midst of (and because of) the stress. Relying on Him, understanding my strengths, and appreciating my weaknesses; valuing instruction, forging relationships, and serving others.

I’m so excited for my brother. He’s beginning a new chapter, one that I can only reread in my own life. But I’ve opened to a blank page, too, as I teach online composition courses for my alma mater. I’m alternately intimidated and anxious, but ultimately, I know this world of pencil shavings and creased books. And it’s home.

ABCs of Summer—Thesis

Academic papers and creative writing seemed like separate entities.

All those literary analyses I wrote in high school and college were formal, structured, and (hopefully) intellectual. Though I loved writing fresh theses and arranging my arguments, I felt limited by the stiff tone of academia.

When it came to creative writing, though, one of my professors encouraged us to “jump out of the Composition teacher’s lap.” Dispense with conventional syntax and organization, and develop our own style and voice. Learn the rules well enough so you know when to break them. My Type-A self struggled to adopt this cavalier attitude, but gradually, the freedom of creative writing wooed and won me.

I assumed academic and creative writing utilized different parts of my brain. The more I read literary articles in grad school, though, I observed how the authors took risks with structure and content. Many of their analyses seemed creative in their approach, their word choice alternately forceful and playful, their perspectives varied and colorful.

I’ve spent months swimming in the world of literary analysis while writing my Master’s thesis. Combing through dozens of primary and secondary sources, writing shoddy rough drafts, revising countless times, agonizing over every sentence.

At the outset, my dear advisor encouraged me to free-write daily, splatter words on the page, and revise later. She told me, if writing doesn’t demand something of you, it isn’t worth writing. That sounds like creative writing, I thought.

Reams of paper have strewn my floor: wordy drafts and blotchy notes and earmarked sources. I’ve been wounded by hefty books more than once. I’ve lost sleep and slept hard, avoided my key board and pounded a typing concerto.

At the end of the process, I only have thirty pages of content. After all the blood, sweat, and tears (no exaggeration), that feels like a minute accomplishment. But they’re crisp pages. They’re filled with carefully-chosen words, new observations, and (I pray) some artistic flair. I don’t want that thin stack of warm-from-the-printer paper to be dry or nameless. I hope readers spy pieces of me amidst the Times New Roman characters.

ABCs of Summer—Series and Sequels

Blasphemy #1: Sometimes I like the movie more than the book.

I’ve received a lot of flak for feeling this way and rightly so. All the deleted scenes from Harry Potter, the brilliant narration in The Chronicles of Narnia, the lyricism of Anne of Green Gables—the movie adaptations lack these distinctive elements.

But at the same time, the films provide a chance to further explore these worlds, shine light on new facets. Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby actually made Daisy likable. (Which is saying quite a bit, since Daisy is neck-in-neck with Romeo for top billing on my “Literary Characters I Loathe” list.) As much as people hated the Peter/Caspian rivalry in Prince Caspian, it made sense that these two guys would feel usurped and threatened by one another. (Though I sniff at the Caspian/Susan pairing.) And aren’t we all glad the ending to North and South was lengthened in the mini-series? (You can’t tease your readers with four hundred pages of romantic tension and then expect them to be satisfied with two measly paragraphs of affection.)

Blasphemy #2: Sometimes I like the movie sequel more than the first film.

National Treasure 2. While most people tore this sequel apart for its historical inaccuracies, I ADORED it and for months incessantly quoted Riley Poole. (“Cuh-CAW! Cuh-CAW!”) What I most appreciated about it (and sequels in general) was the character development. Finding the treasure in the first movie didn’t solve their problems, but in fact multiplied them, and because the characters were already established, we could better empathize with their struggles and growth.

The same applies to book series–in some cases (though certainly not all [ahem, The Hunger Games and Divergent]), subsequent books are my favorite because they allow us to witness the trajectory of characters’ lives, not just a segment.

Disclaimer #1: This is not to say that the movie is better than the book, or the sequel superior to the original, but merely that in some cases, I prefer one over the other. (I want to keep my friends, after all.) And sometimes I suspect filmmakers just want my ticket money (i.e., Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Drat that irresistible Johnny Depp.)

Disclaimer #2: As any artist can attest, we writers/actors/musicians/etc., are rarely content with our work; there’s always something to tweak, polish, adjust. “Final product” is a misnomer, since our product never feels finished. Perfection eludes us. There’s always something to reach for. That’s what makes art (and life) so exhausting, but also so exhilarating.