This is a real word and it describes something I do with my writing. Here’s the definition: The use of a word to refer to two or more words, especially in different senses. Examples: “He caught a fish and a cold” or “She lost her ring and her temper.” (courtesy of Anu Garg of A.Word.A.Day, whom I love BTW)
The reason I’m crowing to find this is because the editor who helped me with Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens HATED it when I did this. She did not like, for example: His boss gave him the short end of every stick, probably on account of his being gay, a disservice he took in elegant stride—he used to be a ballet dancer.
I’m sorry to report she talked relentlessly about how hard this was until I took most of them out of the novel.
The editor of The Rambler magazine did not so object. Here’s how I used a zeugma (!) my essay The Secluded Middle Beach, which she published (zeugma in all caps):
Meanwhile, families in driveways lug sandy bicycles and hampers full of dirty clothes. The men fold rusted beach chairs, the women settle paper cups filled with seashells into seat crevices. Out on the streets, the traffic stalls, waiting, while everyone tries to cross the bridge. Leaving the beach, WE GATHER OUR TREASURES INTO OUR SUITCASES, INTO THE TRUNKS OF ACURAS, INTO THE CURVED CHAMBERS OF OUR HEARTS. There they remain, echoing, to be retrieved and examined long after the creature inside has died.
This word popped up because A.Word.A.Day this week is featuring Rhetorical Devices, which sounds seriously intellectual. So maybe my editor thought I was trying to be clever? I wasn’t. I just love the turning of the mind that this use of words requires. It SO fit Lucinda Mae’s character. She views life as very slippery. It can turn on a dime. Just like a zeugma.
What about you? Do you find yourself doing things with your writing that others object to? Have you ever been validated like this? Let me know!
Last night, I found a dangerous book lurking in the boy’s bedroom. It’s easy for a book to lurk in his room. He has four shelves of books. Plus, he squirrels books away in his bunk bed. And stacks them on the floor. Except for trucks, the boy probably has more books than anything else in his room. And costumes—he lives in New Orleans so at three years old, he already has an awesome collection of costumes.
The boy’s books aren’t for show. We read them. We’ve read a lot of books. Recently, we’ve been into Dr. Seuss, which I didn’t read as a child (I know-heresy). Dr. Seuss, it turns out, is quite moralistic. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT—DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING!!!! “Don’t hurt the trees” (Lorax); “Christmas is more than gifts” (The Grinch); and, “A promise is a promise” (Horton Hatches an Egg).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for morals. My stories always contain a “point.” But it seems a bit unfair for little kids to think they’re reading something fun or even funny and—ha! It’s all about the moral.
This book is amazing. It has a hedgehog stealing a cupcake. A meteorite flattening a snake. And content (i.e., the words) talking about stars when THE ILLUSTRATION SHOWS NO STARS!
Downright subversive, I’m telling you.
I read the comments on Amazon, which were peppered with parents insisting the book was too detailed and not engaging for younger children. Depends on the younger child, I guess. The boy was riveted. We “read” the book for about 20 minutes and only covered 6 pages. Each dialogue bubble triggers so much conversation, such as the owl that wants to eat the lemmings (“Why does the owl want to eat the lemmings?”—this book doesn’t let the adult off the hook.) Or the illustration of the octopus hanging on the clothesline—”Why is the octopus hanging on the clothesline?” I have no idea. Or they’re laugh out loud funny, like the compliment, “What a lovely fur” followed by the reply: “It’s a caterpillar.”
Most of the Amazon customers who liked the book valued its teaching of diverse cultures and foreign words. Not me. Here’s the review I would write:
If you want your child to know the wonderfulness of our absurd world, buy this book. If you’d rather your child have neat answers and logical progression and spoon-fed understandings of the world, STAY FAR, FAR AWAY FROM THIS BOOK!
I knew him as a willing orator. At any given Memphis School for Servant Leadership gathering, he might rise and recite one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches. “Recite” is too tame a word. He would perform the speeches. From memory, without notes, with passion. I knew him as a part of the life of the school. I was quite taken with him.
Now I learn two new facts about him at once: he was homeless, and the police in another city killed him:
I’m glad a jury awarded his family $4.6 million in damages for his killing, but he’s still dead. If he were me—a white, well-off, straight woman—he wouldn’t be dead. I believe his death is the result of our belief, as a society, that a life is valued, either more or less, based on how much money we perceive the owner of that life to have. More money, more respect. Less money—well, no matter how talented you are, you may very well wind up on the floor of the jail in a deadly chokehold then tasered until you are dead.
I don’t know her, but she is the friend of my friends. She was sleeping on the streets but had been approved for housing. Soon, her ordeal would be over, but before that could happen she was attacked while sleeping in the doorway of a church.
If she were me—a white, well-off, straight woman—she wouldn’t be in the hospital. I believe her attack is the result of our view, as a society, that only the lives of those who’ve earned our respect by conforming with our own values deserve a place of protection. Step outside the lines we draw, and you might end up in the ICU of the local trauma center, struggling to survive.
In my neighborhood, when a crime spree occurs (by which I mean cars are broken into), police surveillance increases. What has happened is this: the police have been given specific information on crimes that are greater-than-likely to occur, and they respond by giving protection that is greater-than-normal. So if we have a group of citizens, such as those experiencing homelessness, that we know are greater-than-likely to be victims of violence, shouldn’t we through our police be giving them greater-than-normal protection? Why instead do we hear about greater-than-normal police violence against homeless men and women? I think the answer lies in the values of our society I’ve described above. Those values seem to place “the homeless” who don’t conform to our values and have no money at the bottom of the list of those we care about.
I’m sitting here in a cast-off/picked-up shirt, and it reminded me of this story about another cast-off/picked-up shirt. This essay might have run in Strut! Magazine, I can’t remember. In any event, I’m sharing it again:
The Mysterious Shirt
My sister gave me this shirt. At the time, she was living in my basement. I told everyone the basement was finished because I didn’t want them thinking the room was dark and dank, my sister’s living quarters dirt-floored and unheated. If I’d had a different life, the basement might have sported a pool table and wet bar, but my sister was living there so it had a twin bed and homemade shelves holding her sweaters and other clothes.
So, anyway, she gives me this shirt. I was a lawyer at the time with a big, important legal practice, and I walked around town wearing this shirt. The town was a small place, even if it was the state capital. Everyone knew everyone; everyone knew everyone’s business. Most importantly, people paid attention to what other folks were wearing. Like I said, small town.
The shirt my sister gave me was very distinctive. Its silk swirled turquoise and orange; the fit was kind of flappy in an oversized way. It buttoned down the front. I wore it with a black skirt. I considered it very stylish, a definite choice; you didn’t wear such a shirt by accident.
Then my sister tells me that, actually, her boyfriend gave her the shirt. The boyfriend’s ex-wife had moved out of the house and left a pile of clothes. The boyfriend, cleaning up, had run across the shirt behind the bathroom door and given it to my sister.
Really, it wasn’t a house the ex-wife left. My sister’s boyfriend lived in a warehouse above a restaurant, and the ex-wife moved out of the warehouse. And it wasn’t really a restaurant, it was a honky-tonk. When people would walk into the place, they’d sniff and say, “This place smells funny.” The boyfriend would say, “What do you think – it’s a honky-tonk!” He lived in an apartment in the warehouse above the honky-tonk. The ex-wife moved out of the honky-tonk and left the shirt in a pile of clothes on the floor behind the bathroom door.
Hunh, I thought.
Someone else’s shirt. Kind of, in a way. Abandoned but then picked up and passed around until it came to me: a pick-me-up, hand-me-around kind of shirt.
Which I wore. Frequently. Publicly. Ostentatiously.
Who knows, I could’ve walked past the boyfriend’s ex-wife on one of my downtown strolls. The woman would’ve done a double-take, thinking, how’d that chick get my shirt? I would’ve strutted on by, oblivious.
Or she could have accosted me. As I understood it, the wife’s break-up with the boyfriend wasn’t pretty. So the ex-wife could’ve jerked me by the arm, pulled me to the side. She would’ve demanded to know where I got the shirt. Unawares, I would’ve told her it was a gift from my sister, and she’d have thought, Aha!
She might have said, “Give it to me” then yanked. Tried to take the shirt right off my back. I might’ve wound up with my picture in the newspaper wearing the shirt, half-on, half-flapped off, a startled look on my face.
It wouldn’t have mattered. Even after I became aware of the dangers presented by the shirt, I continued to wear it. I liked the idea of me, the important lawyer, strutting around town in a stolen shirt. Or at least an unauthorized shirt. It made me feel a little edgy. Like I wasn’t really a boring, follow-the-rules, nothing-interesting-ever-happens-to-you lawyer.
“Yes,” I would’ve said if anyone stopped me on the sidewalk. “I get my shirts off unknown bathroom floors.”
That’s the kind of woman I am.
One who wears mysterious shirts.
So I went outside today for the first time in four days. I know it’s been four days because my husband said, “Do you realize I’ve been taking this dog out every time for four days?” The only reason I went outside today is because my husband’s comment led me to conclude that if I didn’t get my butt off the futon and take the dog out, she might be left with no choice but to pee on the apartment floor.
I’ve been sick. Under any circumstance, sickness is a nasty, unpleasant business. Yeah, my illness is “just” a sinus infection, but at various times I’ve thought I would choke, drown, or hack myself to death, not to mention suffocating beneath the pile of discarded kleenex. Plus, I’ve got the pink eye. Pink eye! A childhood affliction that I waited until my fifth decade to contract. Talk about your slow learners. Quelle embarrassing, as Holly Golightly would say.
I’m getting better, obviously—I’m online, typing to you. I’m sure my husband sensed this improvement and intuited a bit of malingering on my part when it came to dog-walking. Or maybe he wanted me to get some fresh air, figuring I was about to start growing moldy if I didn’t.
In any event, I’m glad I heaved myself off the futon, clipped the leash on the dog, and rode the elevator down two flights to the outdoors—what a brave, courageous soul I am!
The sun made me blink like a mole. The dog and I sat on the concrete steps and enjoyed the breeze. I ruffled her warming fur. When we’d had enough, we rode the elevator home.
My three-year-old grandson handed me a book to read. He found the book in the drawer of the beach house this past week (later, he would ask me, “What’s a beach house?). The title of the book was “When Do Fish Sleep?” Narrating our activity, as is my want, I said, “I hope this book isn’t rhetorical—I don’t want them asking these questions and not giving us answers.”
I always wonder: what does this child learn from me that I don’t know he’s learning? This week, I’m pretty sure he learned the concept of “surprise.” Another book we read (we are big book readers) had a band of pirates discovering a treasure trove. Their wide eyes and open mouths showed they were surprised, I told him. “I am surprised,” he repeated wide-eyed, trying it on for size.
He also, inexplicably, learned how to act like an egg in a nest. “Let’s make a nest!” he cried for days. We would build a pillow nest around him with a pillow roof. Hidden inside, he’d wait while I speculated when the egg might hatch. Then, at an unpredictable time, he would erupt from the nest, the egg cracking open, the baby bird born.
Was this game triggered by our reading “Horton Hatches an Egg”? Or because the pirate ship had a crow’s nest? Or because, seated on the steps beneath the house, I pointed to the ocean and told him about the mama sea turtle with the gigantic flippers who swam ashore then used her strong flippers to dig a hole in the sand and bury her eggs where they waited until it was time to be born when they erupted from the nest and scurried beneath the moon back into the ocean and swam away?
Given the number of times we played this game, each time with him bursting from the nest with a huge grin on his face, did he learn that there is no limit to delight?
Or did he learn that his Gogi might be a former hotshot lawyer and a current “award-winning writer,” but when it comes to the sheer number of times she is willing to repeat the same act, read the same book, respond to the same joke, she is sort of a simpleton?
Why, you might be asking yourself, am I willing to repeat these acts ad nauseam? (Okay, sometime I suggest new games like, “Why don’t we do the jigsaw puzzle?” only to realize I suck at jigsaw puzzles, and we move on to stickers—stickers I can do.) My daughter-in-law calls it patience, but patience implies a putting-up-with that I don’t feel. For some reason, I have a child’s extreme tolerance for repetition. I take delight in, and share, the moment of delight. But over and over and over again—what is kinda wrong with me?
I wish life wouldn’t ask these questions and not give us answers.
Oh—and I don’t know when fish sleep. The book was a bummer—lots of words, few pictures, wise-ass answers. I was not a fan.
I want to honor them with the life I live. I’m not talking about being a good person or doing a lot of charity work or taking on causes or achieving anything at all.
I’m talking about incorporating into my life what I loved in theirs.
It is amazing how many times death has implanted motivation deeply inside me. Several years ago, a friend had a grandchild who struggled in the NICU before leaving this earth at a very early age. Yet, whenever I get to the point when I feel like giving up, I remember this tiny baby. I say to myself, if that little baby could fight so hard, so can I.
Now I’ve lost a friend who I found delightful. It is the delight in her I must honor by loving the delight in my own life.
The slice of sun lighting the roof of the school next door.
The squeak of the dog’s teeth against her chew toy.
The gurgling of my husband’s coffee pot which he uses as a tea pot.
The tiny tree on the window sill standing tall, holding its arms as high as possible.
If I feel myself slipping back into worry and angst and that looping thing my brain does when it can’t figure something out—a constant digging of a trench like a backhoe caught in gear and circling, circling—I will remember her. I will literally switch gears.
I will love the things God has put into life for the sole purpose of me loving them.
The hardest thing, I think, is to figure out in this diverse, complex world what we can best offer it. We have so many, good, valid choices on how to live our lives. Which one is for us?
Of all the wonderful qualities my friend had, the best thing she offered me was our connecting with each other over simple, unimportant, sometimes silly things that delighted us both.
In honor of my friend, I will honor delight. I will look out on this world and, as long as I’m here, I will focus on the My Friends are Dead book I think is so funny.
I’ll laugh at how silly my dog looks when she’s flopped onto her back, tummy up.
I will see an image of Eric Northman and sigh.
For her, I will love life. I will connect with others in delight. I will do my best to honor her.