Cold Words

Not being the science-y type, I’ve never been quite sure of the cause, but I do know the effect: mucus stops words. It’s clearly a physical barrier. At the slightest sign of a cold, I can no longer communicate by any means other than grunts and gestures towards the Revered Kleenex Box. Try as I might, my writing is postponed until I am free of mucus again.

You wanted to know all this, yeah?

So, during the Week of The Cold, I just read. I can’t really understand the words as they go in, but when the mucus is gone the words just flood into my brain and start doing their little thing.

The mucus is gone.


Someone – Leonard Cohen, perhaps? – once said that you can open any book at any time and find guidance. I don’t know about guidance, as any book makes for a lot of variables, but I like playing the game.

This week, I found words for some people who need words.

For the writing group where no one is doing anything:
They are not having fun.
I can’t have fun if they don’t.
If I can get them to have fun, then I can have fun with them.
Getting them to have fun, is not fun. It’s is hard work.
I might get fun out of finding out why they’re not.
I’m not supposed to get fun out of working out why
they’re not.
But there is even some fun in pretending to them I’m not
having fun finding out why they’re not.

A little girl comes along and says: let’s have fun.
But having fun is a waste of time, because it doesn’t
help to figure out why they’re not having fun.
from Knots by R.D. Laing

For my ESL students:
(regarding André Breton) Speaking only in French, this singular man was careful not to learn even three words of English for fear of dulling the edge of his own exquisite writing instrument. He was perhaps not at all convinced of proto-Indo-European roots having anything to do with French. As for English, it was simply preposterous, a doughty menace to his best possession.
from Birthday by Dorothea Tanning

For the fellow writer who has finally conceded defeat in the e-books vs. tree-books debate (are you sure you’re right?):
The smell was damp. Musty. Paper. Ink. And something indefinable. Beyond that was the smell of electricity, heat and plastic. A sharp, tangy. Acidic enemy of the must.
Many lay their hands over the pages of books. Feel their cool cleanness, the leader intoned. Fit your fingers under corners. Bring a page over from the right, settle it on the left. Hear the almost silent rustling as it settles. The paper is heavy, meaty, meant to last.
from Book by Ken Sparling


I’ve been wrestling with a student (let’s call him Errant Tiger Cub) who feels no responsibility for his own life. The parents are firm believer that Tiger Mom has an excellent point, and that this child needs to be … tigered. Errant Tiger Cub is pretty good at coming up with excuses for not doing his homework: in fact, last week he wrote an essay explaining why Ontario high schools are responsible for students being lazy. It was a very short essay – about half the length I assigned – with unsupported points and no explanations. I was not amused, especially when I learned he wasn’t trying to pull my leg (it would have been damned funny if he’d done it intentionally). When I asked him to write an opinion paragraph entitled What Motivates Me To Learn, he wrote six sentences about how most children are afraid of their parents and so they learn because they want to end the lecturing. He asked if he could borrow my computer so he could find data to support this.

Now, E.T.C. is just beginning high school, but he’s quite intelligent. There’s no learning disability that I can see. I don’t think there’s a reason for this other than he’s the youngest of the family and has, until his older sibling left home, managed to stay in the corners playing video games for most of his life. His parents are dedicated and responsible; the stories have his older sibling marked as an academic with an astounding drive to succeed. E.T.C. is constantly noting that he is not his parents or his sibling.

I asked what he was.

He couldn’t answer.

I don’t know what to do about him. While I’m not at all inclined to follow the ways of Tiger Mom, even lazy Westerners have their limits. I’m trying the Bad Cop role for a couple of weeks to see if we can get this little cub to grow up a bit. But I think it might just be a matter of waiting. I had another student who played this game, and it took us a year to get him to “fix the attitude”… but that student was in Grade 6 when we began. He’s now happy to body-slam kids out of the way to get his hands on the new Percy Jackson book, and he recently wrote, for his own entertainment, a four-page story about a kid and a magic crystal. I’d like to introduce him to E.T.C. and have him explain how much easier school – and life – is when you just do it their way. Right now, E.T.C. is spending so much energy fighting The Establishment that he’d actually have more free time if he just did his homework. Even though it’s been explained to him, he doesn’t believe that low grades in school mean your parents hire a tutor who makes you do more work. Logic is not E.T.C.’s forté at the moment.


The Onslaught of Grammar seems to be finished, so I’m actually getting some time to write. Because I whined very loudly, two members of the dying writing group are holding workshops at the end of the month, so I need to write a couple of Brilliant and Inspired Works within two weeks. I’m hoping my muse doesn’t want a downpayment.

2 responses to “Cold Words

  1. I don’t know what to think now, but those words were a very accurate summary of my dilemma.


  2. Pingback: The Return of Errant Tiger Cub | The English Major's Blog

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