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I will end this letter with a few words about the English language. It is the easiest and simplest of all the languages on earth; it has almost no grammar, and whoever knows the particles of and to knows declension, whoever knows will and shall knows conjugation; all the irregular verbs can be learned in a single day. But you who can read Robertson and Fielding, even Thomson and Shakespeare, like an alphabet book will be as if deaf and dumb among Englishmen; that is, they will not understand you, nor you them. So difficult is English conversation, and so hard it is to recognize when you hear it the word that you know with your eyes! I understand everything that’s written to me, but in conversation I have to guess. It seems that Englishmen’s mouths are bound, or a heavy duty has been laid by a ministry on their opening, because they barely part their lips, they whistle or hint rather than speak. In general, the English language is rough, unpleasant to listen to, but rich and polished in all genres of writing — rich in what has been stolen or (so as not to offend British pride) taken from others. All learned words, and most of the ones relating to morality, are taken from French or Latin, and the fundamental verbs from German. The Romans, Saxons, and Danes destroyed the Britannic people and their language; they say that in Wales there are still remnants of it. The mixed character of the English language does not hinder it from being powerful and expressive, and the boldness of its poets is astonishing; but as for harmony, and that which in rhetoric is called number, it is entirely nonexistent. The words are jerky, the phrases short, and there is not the least variety in the periods. In verse, the measure is always identical: four or five iambs with masculine endings. — Honor and glory to our language, which in its native richness, almost without foreign admixture, flows like a proud and mighty river, resounds, roars — and suddenly, if necessary, softens, murmurs like a tender stream and sweetly pours itself into the soul, forming all the measures that are to be found in the fall and rise of the human voice!

She worked at a university advertised on matchbook covers, a correspondence school in Chicago. “Learn to Be a Writer! Fun, Fame, Profit! Just 12 Easy Lessons.” By day she read the stories written by housewives in Syracuse, Missoula, Orlando. By night she went to singles bars.

At Christmas her father had sent a complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary, all thirteen volumes, full-size; they lay beneath her bed, pulling her down. Each one weighed more than the stones in Virginia Woolf’s pocket when she walked into the River Ouse.

Her father wrote often. “How are you? Are you writing?” Writing was the theme of his correspondence.

She did not write letters, poems, stories, novels, plays, essays, or reviews; she was a not-writer, an unwriter.

There were so many tired words, discouraged, frayed words. They were thick in the air around her, in Marshall Field’s, at the correspondence school editorial meetings. The tired words were in the housewives’ stories. In the margins of the stories she penciled in comments in tiny letters—“very nice!” “lovely,” “poignant,” “made me want to puke”—then erased them all. The stories went back just as they had come. The correspondents began to complain. Eventually she would be fired.

But meanwhile she established a word hospital. Into it went words that needed to rest. Some went into intensive care. Fabulous. Raven-haired. Feline. Boobs. Passive-aggressive. The. If. Why. Fuck. Ciao. Love.

A Story by Angela Davis-Gardner


sometimes i write for an hour, and then, having forgotten what i was talking about, reread the totally unfamiliar configuration of words and grammar and page breaks and realize that writing is obviously an act of benevolent demonic possession because there’s no way i made anything sensical come out of my brain for all that time all by myself. i have an entire paragraph on mcgee’s idealistic rhetorical materialism but in twenty-five seconds if you ask me to define idealistic rhetorical materialism i’ll probably give you its polar opposite via mckerrow, because what the hell do i know about it, i’m not a rhetorician, jesus.

how do we write? how does anyone ever write anything? and why, while we’re on the subject, can some of us only write between the hours of dawn and noon, or, as in my radically inconvenient case, ten o’clock at night until, well, whenever i have to take a nap on my office floor before resuming work in the very, very early hours of the morning. kafka spent much of his career (such that it was) bemoaning the fact that his “real” job kept him from writing during his DNA-encoded peak-hours and then, when released from these responsibilities, did not use the time to write any differently than he had before.

i’m writing this in lieu of genuine productivity on a thing with an actual deadline, having just spent forty-five minutes completely off the rails, churning out several (passably) interesting pages that are related only tangentially to the paper i meant to be writing. so how is that fair? who’s in charge here, anyway? talk about rhetorical agency - or, i don’t know, were we?

ulysses gets a bad rap, considering stream-of-consciousness governs most of our interactions. you know what i’m talking about. that kid in the front of the classroom who thinks in his out-loud voice and at length and repeatedly. the disgruntled lover who hasn’t figured out why she’s disgruntled so you’re gonna listen to her figure it out for the next several minutes. you write for an hour and salvage a couple of sentences for your actual purpose. who is it says we hate the things that remind us of our own flawed, aimless, needy selves?

well, hemingway, probably.

say you can only work in the middle of the night and you have to be wearing headphones and your office has to be chaos and you’d really prefer to be wearing a hoodie, hypothetically. turn off these lights in favor of those lights and adjust the temperature and for god’s sake, seriously, shut down facebook. and after all that, after all that glorious ritual, maybe, hypothetically, you think you’ve got your writing on lock. control. agency. ready, go.

and also, this is not a metaphor.

hahahah, okay. isn’t it pretty to think so.


My GRE prep book keeps using exclamation points and I wish it would stop yelling at me. Armed with two colored highlighters and a 16-pack of pencils, I’m learning twelve years of math properly for the first time. The damn book doesn’t have to be so rude about it.

The most comforting story I’ve been told in this run up to GRE-Day came from a former philosophy professor of mine, who claims that he had no chance with geometry or algebra so he studied basic arithmetic and completely guessed on everything else. “I had no idea how to add a fucking fraction,” he told me over coffee, “but I called UW and they assured me that they throw the math out.”

And the first thing I learned when I cracked open the GRE practice book I’d been holding on to dubiously for eight months was, indeed, that I had no idea how to add a fucking fraction.

Which is greater? it wanted to know. A) 1/16 + 1/7 + 1/4; or B) 1/4 + 1/16 + 1/6.

I opened the calculator on my computer.

"Don’t do any calculating!" scolded page 169.

This was still only the introduction, by the way, so this isn’t a practice question so much as it’s an example of process of elimination. Which I failed to grasp, even so. Thanks to what I can only guess is repressed mathematical trauma, I remember almost nothing of value from any math class that I have taken, ever. Ever.

"The answer is B," read the final paragraph, and it’s like your dad taking pity on you because you’re 9 and he doesn’t want you to start crying, again, for god’s sake, just go watch TV.

26 study days left.