Monday, August 3, 2009

putting everything in its place - or not

When I was kid we diagrammed sentences in every English class -and I loved it! I even did it during "free time" when I wasn't reading about the short lives of virgin martyrs. (Hey, we didn't have a large selection of books to choose from during "free time".)

There was something about knowing where each and every word of a sentence belonged. I now look back at this as my first attempt at desconstructionism :-) I learned much about the parts of speech but not so much about stringing the sentences into thoughts and seeing the whole picture.

I carried this love of diagramming over into my life. I came up with "life diagramming" - the process of controlling all things at all times. I believed if I could place everyone and everything in the proper place and keep them there, I would have a great life. Of course, this was like trying to put clothing on Jello - and it had disastrous consequences, particularly for my family. Being a strong 8 on the Enneagram, I love to be in control and this is still a daily challenge for me. And again, I wasn't looking at the whole - just the pieces.

Years later I began attending a bible study in which we did something similar to diagramming. It was called inductive study and I loved it! It was a process of taking the scriptures apart, parsing the words, digging for the truth, marking the verbs, and coming up with what God was telling us. My favorite part was the colored pencils. In the photo below you can see from my bible how much I enjoyed this. But the parts never came together for me - I wasn't able to piece the stories together. And so I moved on.

And I'm telling you all this because this poem from today's Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor brought back these memories. I like the humor, the action, and the messiness of the parts of speech in this writing. And maybe the parts do need some control but from where I look at life at this moment, I'm not that interested in the bits and pieces - I want to focus on the whole.

"The adjectives all ganged up on the nouns,
insistent, loud, demanding, inexact,
their Latinate constructions flashing. The pronouns
lost their referents: They were dangling, lacked
the stamina to follow the prepositions' lead
in, on, into, to, toward, for, or from.
They were beset by passive voices and dead
metaphors, conjunctions shouting But! or And!

The active verbs were all routinely modified
by adverbs, that endlessly and colorlessly ran
into trouble with the participles sitting
on the margins knitting their brows like gerunds
(dangling was their problem, too). The author
was nowhere to be seen; was off somewhere."

"The Student Theme" by Ronald Wallace, from The Uses of Adversity.
© The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission

8 comments:

Becky said...

Reminds me of my "boxes"---home, church, school---so many boxes, so little control. Not only did I not* see the "Whole" I still couldn't control the boxes. (Do I make my point?)

PJ said...

oh man.....I really missed something. Drat. When I changed high schools mid semister one year, and joined an english class.....that is what they were doing. I was lost, didnt have a clue as to what was going on. I told the teacher, she looked at me like i was nuts and said, 'don't be silly, you've done this since grammar school!'..... I said ' no l havn't'......she just turned and walked away. I recieved a D in that class. Mother made me go to summer school to bring up my grade. What were we learning in that english class? Nouns etc.....the basics....no dangling participles for me. But I brought up my grade to a B...... but I still feel cheated.....

Monica said...

This is fabulous, Roberta! I loved diagramming, also and have even tried it on my seminarians. The poem is a keeper. Bob loved it, too.
XXOO
Monica

Jan said...

Wow--you brought back memories. I loved diagramming sentences way back when!

Brad said...

Roberta, I really enjoyed all of this - your thoughts, your story, and the poem. There is, in Greek or Latin, an obscure construction called the "adversative asyndaton." It's when two adverse statements - "he was thirsty but he did not drink," "she was afraid but she did not run" - are stated in writing WITHOUT the adversative conjunction - "he was thirsty; he did not drink" or "she was afraid; she did not run."

I gained minor, fleeting fame during a graduate class because, asked to summarize all of this, I said that this construction means keeping your "but" out of the sentence. - Brad

s said...

I love that poem! s

Sneaky Momma said...

I can't say I was much into diagramming sentences. :) I was, however, very interested in diagramming my life until I figured out that I was wasting my time.
Love that poem!

ROBERTA said...

According to all the comments I've read so far, it's obvious that people either loved diagramming or they hated it! No grey area here :)

And it appears I'm not the only one to bring it into my everyday life....just to have it fail 100%!!!