To Hell With Bad English

This story is for the writers, poets, pen jockeys and weirdos out there…. You’ll understand.

“Moving at the speed of light-no, the speed of sound…? Shit.” She sat in a coffee shop chewing on her pen, making more scratch marks and scribbles on the page than prose. The mocha quad that had done nothing to wake her mind from it’s inarticulate apathy sat discarded and empty beside a small plate scattered with the crumbs of a blueberry scone. One foot tucked under her thigh, the other playing lightly with the straps of her sandal beneath the table, she glared in frustration at the empty page.

She was a small woman of Jewish descent with black hair that fell in waves to her waist, dark almond eyes and a beautiful smile that rarely found it’s way past the wall of angst within her. She had once been engaged to be married to a very nice man right out of college, but unfortunately he did not pass her mother’s credit check. Strike one. Her mother had of course warned her that there was no fortune to be made in the Arts, but she wasn’t after gold and riches. Raised in austerity as the youngest of four children, it seemed that all of the frustrated creativity that had not found it’s way to the hearts of her siblings had all run down hill, culminating into her notebooks on the sly. When she had expressed an interest in writing, her parents strictly forbade her, saying their hard earned money would not pay for her to indulge in such frivolous pursuits. A high school teacher had actually convinced them otherwise, stating that she had an aptitude that far exceeded those he had seen in the past, and that it would be nearly sacrilegious to allow that  talent to be squandered on studies that did not befit her. Reluctantly, they sent her off to polish her skills, and of course only the best school would do.

So passed six years of learning the art of form and flow, where she read and re-read the works of those great artists that had come before her, and thereby quelling her own unique voice in the deluge of those telling her the “proper” way to compose a poem. Stymied and disillusioned by the dry spiritless monologues of her professors, she despaired of ever discovering originality in the midst of it all. This environment made her second guess every stanza, over-analyze the simplest refrain, and pick apart mercilessly any story line she indulged in, until she couldn’t write a damn thing for fear of writing it the “wrong” way… Nobody had told her of course that there are no limitations to art, and that there is no wrong way to create it. An expression of heart or soul is a very personal thing, and the myriad ways it culminates into visual beauty are for you alone to decide. Having not been clued in to the great secret of artistic rule breaking, she now sat morose in a coffee shop with all of that teeming intellect held captive by conditioning, and not one complete stanza gracing her page.

She muttered, “In a well of thought… What is a well of thought? Why a well and not a sea? what about a puddle of thought, or say a slight damp place on the counter? The moist ring bearing the memory of a soda can perhaps? Arrg.” Finally giving in to the inevitable, she sets down the pen and looks around the shop. Tired soccer moms and haggard construction workers brushed shoulders at the counter, politely jostling for the attention of the attractive red head at the till. Anti-social hermits squeezed into corner booths scowling at the pages of paperback novels, while other frustrated writers such as herself made their own scribbling on wrinkled pages. Beatnik slogans and caffeinated graffiti covered the walls between posters of Einstein and bigfoot. It was a kind of hole-in-the-wall place where weirdos from all walks of life gathered to the smell of roasting beans and desperation. The perfect place for a writer with a China sized block.

Suddenly impatient with the repressive atmosphere and battling a slight case of caffeine jitters, she shoved her notebook into her hand bag and started for the door. Still ruffling in her bag, distracted and grouchy, not watching where her feet were going, she ran into a large man coming in. He stood at least six feet tall, wearing black Dickies, a white tank top and a gorgeous smile. Wild red curls framed laughing green eyes that openly appreciated the woman before him. “oh, I’m sorry.” She stuttered at him, overcome by his beauty and her own embarrassment. “No need to apologize, a little thing like you barreling into me is a blessing I’m sure.” Blushing madly, she skirted around him and rushed to the safety of her car.

 

A few days later she was in the same coffee shop once again scowling at empty blue lines, when he appeared before her table with a mug of black coffee. “Mind if I join you? I wouldn’t want to interrupt you at work, but since you have spent the last few minutes muttering and frowning at your pages without filling them, I assumed you could use a little distraction.” He said this with a smile, and she found it impossible to be bothered. “Sure, have a seat. My name is Norah.” She replied. “David.” He said, and reached across the no man’s land of creamers and sugar packets to shake her hand. The contact was brief, but the firm callouses of his palms made her blush all over.

“So if you don’t mind me asking, what are you writing- or more accurately, what are you NOT writing?”

“I am not writing poetry, nor am I working on the compilation requested from the publishing company, nor am I doing justice to the money spent on my schooling, nor do I in fact have any desire to any of those things. I went to college prepared to blow their minds, move mountains, break new ground, but… Now that it’s all done I feel washed up and wasted, so full of other people’s opinions that I have none of my own, and I can’t seem to write a damn thing worth while.” She did not care if she sounded peevish, she was quite done pandering for compliments.

“Well that is perfectly normal, actually.” He said lightly. “You never should have wasted your time with schooling. Going to college for the Art’s is like trying to teach a fish how to swim. You’re either born with fins or you are not. Simple evolution. Now in my humble opinion, if you want to write, just do it. Stop worrying about the person reading it, or what it is about, or if there is a ‘deeper meaning’. All the greatest artists flipped their fingers at conventional thinking and blazed their own path. Now you say you were once prepared to do that, stray from the well worn ways and shock them (whoever ‘they’ are) with some good old fashioned originality. Well what is stopping you now? Those that taught you better? Do you think they know the intricate working of of your brain? Do they know what spark within you makes you subtly different from the writers who came before you? Are you trying to be Dickens or are you trying to write a fucking book? There will never be another Shakespeare, there will never be another Douglas Adams, there will only be those that follow them.

Now I’m going to be your muse from heaven, the one who slaps you across the face with the kind of truth your professors were not paid to divulge. Listen: You are perfect. See? I know that and I don’t even know you. Stop thinking about it and DO it. You know the words of your heart, so write them down.” He sat back in his chair with a satisfied smile, waiting to see her reaction to this crass honesty.

She looked at him intently for a few moments, saying nothing. “So what your telling me is that I wasted years of my life learning to do something I already knew how to do just fine, to please people who wouldn’t know a good thing if it was written on their souls, in order to satisfy the very society I wished to break from? Now you are saying that all I have to do in order to cast off these imaginary chains is to ignore everything I have ever been told? That sounds easy enough.” The last was said with sarcasm.

“Well I didn’t say you had to listen, I just said I had some truth for you. Ignoring everything you have ever learned includes me of course, who am I to know what is best for you? I’m just like those teachers telling you how to find your muse, but the difference is that I have absolutely nothing to gain, I am not being paid to do it, and I could give a rat’s ass if you listen or not. I just thought you seemed like an interesting person who may just heed some illicit advice. What do you have to lose, anyway?

I will bet you a shiny penny that when I walk away, you will think about it. The more you think about it, the more tempted you will be to give it a go. Once you do it- and I know you will- you’ll find all those artistic roadblocks of preconceived notions will melt away in the extacy of doing what you were always meant to do. Which is write to the beat of your own drum.” He rose to his feet with his empty coffee mug and tipped an imaginary hat in her direction. “Now you have a good day, Miss Norah, and I wish you luck.” Just like that he left, leaving her slightly pissed at him but oddly captivated.

 

And she DID think about it. A lot. She began to write like never before. Bad english abounded, misspellings were left unedited, she even committed the cardinal sin of beginning a sentence with ‘and’… She did not care. Her poetry knew no bounds of “form” or “flow” it just WAS. She did not mould and shape her words, they moulded her. All the thoughts, desires, and unquenched yearnings found their way to her pages. She was shocked to feel the freedom of it, to be unchained by notions of right or wrong. It wasn’t until several pages had flown by beneath her pen that she even noticed the errors, and with a wild abandon she let them fly.

When she was done, several months later, it was not a compilation she held in her hands, but a book. She imagined the heart attack any editor would have with just the first chapter, and she had to smile. Nobody would “fix” her pages, she decided. Nobody would have the freedom to adjust her message to their liking. She published it herself, misspellings and all. It felt grand.

It was like spitting in the face of conventionality. It was like burping at the table while dining on king crab. It was like going to church in cut-off jeans. It was like the first time she made a mud pie as a child, and she was never the same again.

It was not a very popular book, it did not sell a million copies or end up on any best seller list. It did not even pay for the price of printing, but it freed her in a way nothing ever had. It also had the unexpected ripple effect on a girl 16,000 miles away who found a battered copy at a yard sale and read it 3 times back to back. This girl would one day grow up to write her own novels in this form, and become famous for it. With one small self-victory she had opened the door for others to follow.

 

It was five years later that she saw David again, on the other side of the country standing in line to buy chicken and a gallon of milk in the grocery store. She walked up to him without preamble and handed him the shiniest penny in her purse. “You win.” She said with a smile. And David, grinning like a fool, pulled a copy of her book from his bag and asked for an autograph.

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