Last night I had a most curious dream. Jo, if you read this, you will guess that I have been perusing the English usage tome you so generously gave me.
I dreamed I was in a college English class taught by Stephanie Perl-McPhee. [Do not ask me why I chose her to be the teacher in this dream. Some things are probably better left unexamined.] I had arrived a few minutes late and she was already diagraming sentences on the blackboard and was throwing around past participles and nominative pronouns with a few prepositional phrases thrown in just for fun.* And it was fun. She was making everyone laugh with her quirky way of presenting the subject. One could not have asked for a more engaging grammar teacher.
But, as always happens when confronted with diagramed sentences, my head began to ache. I covered my face with my hands and began to weep loudly.
She came to the back of the room and decided to convert me on the spot. She asked me several grammar questions which I failed miserably at answering. I was particularly dull when it came to punctuation. Finally I told her that words flowed in my mind like a river and it was my job to pull them out of the water, not to worry about where to place commas and semi-colons, but to set the words free.
She folded her arms and said, “Okay, show me.”
It was a dare.
So right there in class, I began to compose aloud.
I dipped my hand in the river and the following is, more or less, what I said to her in my dream:
The wreckage of the ship floated behind me. The salvation of the beach lay ahead. The only thing between me and its refuge was the angry surf. I deperately tried to remember my one visit to the shore as a child, playing in the waves on that sunny afternoon in August, and attempted to straighten out my body to ride the water as I was taught, but my heavy skirts grabbed at my legs and salt water stung my eyes. I could not manage to do anything but take a deep breath as the waves broke around me.
I was tumbled like so much flopping seaweed in the roiling water and sand. Every exposed body part was scoured without mercy. I was thrown unceremoniously onto the beach, my clothes bunched around me and my hair filled with sand.
I pulled myself up onto my knees and saw blood swirling in the ebbing water around me. The implacable pagan god of this island had already demanded and received his blood sacrifice from me. So be it. He could batter my body, and probably would do so often in the coming days, but he would not be able to touch the transcendence of my soul, still burning bright within me. Not without my permission.
As I gazed at the dense and malevolent jungle only yards ahead, I raised my bloodied chin in defiance.
I do not give my permission.
She stared at me and the whole room was silent.
Finally she turned to the rest of the class and asked, “Would anyone like to be this woman’s copy editor?”
Which caused them all to laugh. While they were guffawing, she whispered to me, “Stay and learn what you can.” But I could tell, she pretty much knew I was never really going to get it.
And truthfully, I probably never will.
*If you think I know what any of those things are, you really DON’T know me very well….