Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Transition (A Cynthia Flood Post)

Transition quite recently became a verb.

Parent has been one for a while.

Concerning used to be a preposition but sometime in the last 18 months or so it turned into an adjective.

These changes make me feel as if the floor is tilting, though not as steeply as some of the grammatical and idiomatic shifts of the past couple of decades. People now say without embarrassment, "They invited him and I for dinner," or "The twentieth is Mary and I's anniversary." They declare that, "Greedy bankers played a big factor in the global meltdown" and that "Each applicant has to bring their resume," and "No less than nine demonstrators turned up for the protest."

Of these surely the silliest is each/their, because a plural would so easily resolve the mismatch -- "All applicants must bring their resumes." But that resolution will not occur. Also, in the remainder of my lifetime I don't expect to be able to write the words passion, vision, terrible, or awesome in their "true" senses. I accept all that. Part of me doesn't care much anyway; I'm not as upset as Madame the concierge in Muriel Barbery's remarkable novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog." She's truly horrified by what she sees as not simply imprecision or carelessness but as actual abuse of language.

I do though remember with much love my aunt Isabel Wilson, a fine editor and broadcaster who was never in her long life able to write a sentence starting with But (as I did in the previous parag) or with And. She tried, but just couldn't leave those poor co-ordinating conjunctions out on the ice-floe with no help at hand. So then I feel guilty because my standards have slipped; I am part of the process of change, perhaps even of the general deterioration. I haven't parented my language well.

Like many writers who've been at it for decades, I use far less punctuation than formerly. My diction includes fewer formal words. My paragraphs overall are shorter, I think. Less, more, shorter, longer -- for good or ill these all have to do with writing fiction, which is supposedly what I do with my life. I am however transitioning between the publication (end) of one book, The English Stories, and the creation (beginning) of another, possibly titled Red Girl Orange Boy.

So here I am. I hate this in-between place, this flux. I'm afraid to go into my writing studio. The stories there, whether half-first-drafted, many times drafted, sent out and rejected, or only present in the form of a few scribbles in my notebook, could easily all be dead. And if I find one or two in the morgue that have a pulse, I don't feel confident about applying the paddles with any skill. So I dither and avoid, and I daydream about grammar. Yes, it's concerning.

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