Posts Tagged ‘Writing


Late Work

de muziek boot

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in July. I’m sitting on the waterside terrace of the café de Jaren near my home in Amsterdam, drinking bitter coffee and reading A Farewell to Arms. After spending the morning letting the rain lull me in and out of sleep, I brought my computer out with me because I need to write. I know I’ve already begun to forget too many of the details that color my experience, and if I don’t write them down, not only will my friends and family never know of them, I am likely never to think of them again.

So here I sit at this little round table next to the canal, having reluctantly closed my book and opened my computer. The sun is having a dispute with the clouds and I keep taking my jacket off, then putting it on again. It is warm, but only every other moment when the cool wind holds still and the sun has a brief chance to really touch you. The cold air feels nice after a couple weeks of hot, muggy weather that I never thought I’d experience in Holland.

A man wearing a flowered shirt smiles and quietly plays his guitar. Two old women at the table next to me drink tall glasses of cold milk and their friend, older still, drinks white wine. I’ve finished my coffee and ordered a large orange juice.

There is a small boat in the water, elaborately decorated and filled with flowers and ribbons, and inside an eccentric man with a shiny green vest and a hat plays a french horn and a tiny organ. The music lifts up and floats through the sky as he raises a small wooden clog on a fishing pole to the bridge to be filled with the spare change of onlookers. He is a regular Amsterdam attraction. Traffic rolls by behind his crowd of listeners—a man with his daughter sitting on the back of his bike, her curly hair twisting in the wind, a horse-drawn carriage carrying tourists, a woman in a leather jacket pushing a stroller. There is a quiet hum, a melody even, from the chatter on the terrace and the movement of the city steadily trickling over the canal and the street beyond it.

These are the kinds of details I want to remember from the places I go and the things I do. I have some catching up to do from the last few wonderful months and I know I need to write now, but I’m having trouble drawing my attention away from this moment to focus on moments passed.

While I sit here nagging myself the way a teacher might nag a procrastinating student, I have to acknowledge my good fortune in being so often surrounded by interesting things that I struggle to relinquish enough time to write about them. But if I succeed in said struggle (which I can’t promise), you can expect an onslaught of posts about my spring and continuing summer in Europe. Though, they probably won’t appear until the end of the month, as I leave for another trip on Friday, one that will take me over 10 days to Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

Happy Summer!


Adverbs are Ridiculously Overused

The Vons grocery chain and I have something in common, I’ve observed. A generous professor recently used some of his summer hours to review the senior thesis paper I wrote to help me improve it for graduate school applications. He suggested some restructuring and pointed out that I use too many adverbs, throwing any credibility or authority I might have had right out the window. I’ll admit I often turn to them as an easy way to emphasize a thought, but I try to be creative about it and I wasn’t aware it was such a problem.

Shortly after he alerted me to this – suggesting I comb through the paper and simply pluck each adverb out – I was driving to LA and noticed a couple new Vons billboards for their current ad campaign. The first is a close-up of some nice red cherries, next to a picture of cheesecake with cherry topping. It looks delicious and all that, but it’s hardly noticeable behind the giant and absurd description the Vons marketers placed over it: BRAZENLY SCRUMPTIOUS.

I scoffed, rolled my eyes, wondered who comes up with this stuff…then I realized with terror that my paper is like one enormous Vons ad! I could have written that line! Because I had to turn to marketing slogans because I never got into a literature program at a graduate school because my writing sample was littered with adverbs! I’ve been pulled from a horrible downward spiral from which I might never have escaped on my own.

Having made this brutal realization, I calmed myself knowing that it’s not too late to change my ways. On my way home from LA I saw another billboard: slices of watermelon that are LUDICROUSLY REFRESHING. Ludicrously? Are they kidding? I vowed once and for all to rush home and revise my paper immediately. I would go shopping down every line for all the adverbs, tossing the rotten “immensely’s” and “enormously’s” out, and keeping only the ripe stand-alone adjectives and verbs in my cart.

While cherries and watermelons might be must-have summer favorites, somebody should tell Vons that ridiculous adverbs are not ingredients for life, and certainly don’t make fruit sound any more appealing.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
February 2019
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