Persiflage?

It was mid-January. I lay in bed on a Saturday morning, phone scrolling, when a piece of art caught my eye. The irony. I lay in bed contemplating the Spitzweg painting of The Poor Poet, who was also in bed contemplating.

The Poor Poet, by Carl Spitzweg, 1839

My friend from Berlin wrote, “Who Is Carl Spitzweg?” (Click the link if you’re curious.) She proceeded to tell me and juxtaposed Spitzweg’s poet with a contemporary painting of a bear. How great are these two when compared? Zoom in on the painting behind the headboard below.

Picture by Papafox on Pixabay

My friend wanted to know, “At the end of the day, art and kitsch are in the eye of the beholder. What I truly can call kitsch is artwork like this with the bear. Now wait, or is it persiflage?”

Persiflage? I had to look up the word. Light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter.

I continued reading. “Please ladies and gentlemen help me out! Is this art or kitsch?”

Kitsch? Another word I’ve learned. Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

I responded.

Hmm. Favorite word? “I like juxtapose, rhymes with morose,” I said, scoffing at my bad joke, the eye rhyme, not an ear rhyme.

My Berlin friend and I went back and forth for a couple of days. I don’t think I truly have a favorite word. I reserve the right to change my mind each day. The next day I liked “gaga.”

She liked “mushroomed.”

We decided to collaborate.

A good-words post.

Five words each?

I fear I’ve commandeered the idea. (Commandeered, a nice word, right?)

On my laptop, I found a list started years ago. In a file called Creative Writing, from a class I once taught, is a document called “I Love Words,” untouched since January 2016. I started an ABC list of words I like while watching Wes Anderson’s quirky (good word #1) directorial-debut Bottle Rocket. It’s about three “amigos” (good word #2) planning to pull off a 75-year plan of “helter skelter” (#3) heists. The movie bombed at the box office, not everybody’s “cuppa,” (#4) but, oh, the banter. Now wait, or was it “persiflage” (#5)? Writing is just words, hopefully the best words, in the best order. I’ve added a few to my list along the way.

As for my Berlin friend, German’s have some of the best words. The funniest words. Do you know any Germans? Or their words? If not, click here.

And here she is—my friend who writes at Be Kitschig. From here she takes over this post. Her choice of art and words. Enjoy.

Oh, Wes Anderson has a cornucopia (Be Kitschig lovely word #1) of ideas. Thinking about it, I am not sure if I used that word 100% correct in the past. It’s always a bit awkward (good word #2) when people use words wrong. Like, not every thought you ever had is an epiphany, dude, but I digress (#3). One word I always liked was flabbergasted (#4). Since there are so many amazing words in the English language, five might just not be enough. So, for today, let’s finish the banter.

Cool?

Peachy (#5)!

And you know what would be uber cool and peachy? Add your favorite words in the comments. Better yet, link your own post below.

The Power of Suggestion

After the holidays, I caught up with my cousin Angie. Across the state line, she was on my mind, and I texted her out of the blue. Come to find out, I was on her mind, too, so I dialed her number.

“I don’t know where to start,” she said. “Guess what I’m doing?”

I asked what.

“The purge,” she said with a laugh that sounded like Grandma and warmed my heart.

The last time I talked to Angie, sometime last February, I was on a decluttering challenge—donating, recycling, throwing things away—and I told her about it. On February 1st, I got rid of one thing. On the 2nd, two things. On the 3rd, three, and so on for thirty days. I stuck the donations in bags in the closet and dropped them off on weekends. If my math was right, week one’s purge added up to 28 items, and the grand total was 453 fewer things at my house. Angie joined me.

There’s something about the power of suggestion. After our recent conversation, I texted her: “I think I’ll start the decluttering Feb. 1.” I needed time to wrap my brain around the task, and February worked for me last year.

This past week was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and I was home from school. A text from my best friend Denise popped up. “I’m going to go all Marie Kondo around my house,” she said. I noted the suggestion and sat on my couch feeling like I should be doing something. I flipped to Netflix and watched Gilmore Girls instead.

The next day, I found myself with an extra day off, something about COVID spiking. I started on my closet and my unworn clothes, counting the things and dragging the bags to the entryway. Kody was working from home and watched me. The next thing I knew, he joined me. I didn’t even ask. He purged his closet and drawers. It was January 18, a fourteen-day head start.

It felt good to silently count those numbers: “101, 102, 103.” Then, I loaded the bags into my car and drove down the street to Goodwill.

Photo by Max Rottersman on Pexels.com

And last night’s message from Angie said, “I just found $300 decluttering.”

Bonus!

Tetrameter?

27. “Which of the following lines is written in tetrameter?”

I shook my head. I was reading a test written by a high-stakes test-making conglomerate when I stumbled upon this question. This is the type of test kids taking advanced English classes in the US must pass to receive college credit while in high school. The type of test I would give as a semester exam—as a practice test for the real deal in May. “That’s one of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard,” I said to myself.

I suppose, if students knew that any poetry term ending in “meter” had to do with rhythms and syllables, they might have a fighting chance at the answer. If they counted the syllables of all five answer choices and realized that four of the choices had ten syllables and one choice had eight syllables, they might realize that one of these things is not like the other. As an English teacher of twenty plus years, I had never used the word tetrameter in my classroom. Pentameter. Yes. Iambic pentameter.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy about Julius Caesar, Mark Antony looks upon Caesar’s fresh corpse and says,

“Oh, par | don me, | thou bleed | ing piece | of earth…”

We could discuss the apostrophe, the personification, the metaphor, and the perfect iambic pentameter. We could divide the line into five feet, each two syllables, also called an iamb. An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. If I put my hand under my chin and say the words aloud, my chin will drop on the stressed syllable. “Oh” is unstressed. The “par” in pardon is stressed. The rest of the line follows the same pattern. Anything beyond iambic pentameter, I must look up and study.  

And so, in preparation for the semester exam, I gave my students my best iambic pentameter lesson as a quick segue into what the test wanted them to know about tetrameter. We haven’t studied Shakespeare yet. “If penta in Greek means five, what does tetra mean?”

“Four,” they said.

“Good!”  I gestured to the line from Julius Caesar written on my white board, “So, if iambic pentameter is five feet of two syllables, equaling ten syllables total, how many syllables do you think tetrameter would be?”

“Four,” they said.

I slapped my own forehead. “No. Eight,” I said, trying not to sound frustrated over a misunderstood mini-lesson and a stupid test question. “If you see a question on your test asking about tetrameter, count the syllables and look for eight.” I paused to make sure they were listening. “I have no doubt there are exceptions to this rule, and we’ll discuss a few later. On your semester exam, tetrameter means eight syllables.” That was the best I could do aside from saying, “The answer to number 27 is C.”

They nodded their heads up and down, and I tried very hard not to tell my students this question was ridiculous. I might have anyway.

***

Flash forward to exam day. I actively monitored, walking up and down the aisles, when a book on my shelf caught my eye. Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. I grabbed it. The subtitle—How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose—called my name. The teacher before me had left it behind.

“For the writer or wannabe, Sin and Syntax is an urgently needed, updated, and hip guide to modern language and writing.” —Jon Katz, author of Geeks

I opened the book and thumbed through the pages about words and sentences and stopped at Part 3—Music. “When you get your grammar down, when you simplify your syntax, you are halfway to mastering the craft of writing,” Hale says. “Appreciate music in prose, and develop your ear for it. Devour novels. Cue up recordings of famous speeches. Fall in love with poetry. Go to the video store and check out all those Shakespeare movies. Read your writing aloud.”

“Nice advice,” I thought and flipped further.

In the last chapter on “Rhythm,” Hale says, “Metric feet can have up to five syllables, but the most common have two or three.” And that’s why a question on tetrameter twists my panties. Tetrameter could be any number of syllables. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I don’t know Richard Lederer, but I think he’s genius.

“As a prose stylist, you don’t really need to memorize the names of metric feet,” Hale says, “but you do need to appreciate their effect….When we listen carefully to our writing and reshape its rhythms to our liking, prose can become music.” She says the verses of the Bible, especially the King James, “are so easily received, remembered, and recited because of their rhythms.”

Hale cites the iambic pentameter of playwright, David Mamet, the rhythms of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, the repetitions of Ernest Hemingway and Tim O’Brien, the musicality of Virginia Woolf and Martin Luther King, Jr. She writes about parallelism and a Jell-O commercial, rap and Grandmaster Flash.

And Hale’s last chapter reminded me of my last MFA class, Topics and Genres. A study of mentor texts with a focus on opening lines. Dr. Boyleston said, “Your story is only as good as your command of the language.” And he wrote Isak Denison’s first sentence from Out of Africa on the whiteboard:

“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” 

Our class discussed. I took notes. The first six words of the novel are iambic, and the “had” emphasizes the past tense conflict. The narrator no longer has the farm. The prepositional phrases, “in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” reveal a general location—Africa—and a specific location—the Ngong Hills. The repeating anapestic rhythm connects the music of language and beauty of landscape. In this simple sentence, there are only two polysyllabic words. The rest are monosyllabic, which slow you down and lend a sense of gravity. It’s almost Biblical. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” This lesson on rhythms was one of my favorites of my MFA at HBU.

And still, who cares if I can identify a dactyl or trochee by name? Uh, not me. Tetrameter. Shrameter. The technicality makes no difference. But the musicality? Now that’s another story.  

My Beautiful Miracle Baby

Once a child bride, I married a man child. During the first year or so of holy matrimony, we partied like it was 1999. But it was 1989. Then suddenly, we had a toddler. Somebody had to grow up. With the help of my mother, I packed my things, loaded Drew into his car seat, and left the Rocky Mountains and my husband in my rearview mirror.

During the 700-mile, cross-country trek from Denver to Tulsa, I prayed to God. I wanted to do the right thing, and I said, “Send me a sign. Amen.”

In the weeks that followed, I found an apartment and a church. I enrolled in community college and started summer classes. Meanwhile, Kody called. He missed me and Drew. He asked if he could visit.

I said, “Yes.”

All it took was one visit, watching Bambi as a family, a failed spermicidal sponge, and I had my sign. I called Kody long distance when I missed my period. “I’m pregnant,” I said.

From there, we committed to a new beginning. Kody moved in and found a job. Together we enrolled in eighteen hours each that fall. In December, we moved back to Norman to continue school at the university. By then I was almost seven months pregnant. I had just turned twenty-two.

I suppose I lifted one box too many. Mother’s guilt.

I was taking a bath one day in our new home. 134 1/2 S. Reed. A bungalow with a dirt driveway on the half acre behind another bungalow. As I toweled off, water continued to drip down the insides of my thighs.

My water. Broken. Seven-and-a-half weeks early. At the hospital, I learned my baby was breach. They transported me by ambulance to the university hospital in Oklahoma City with the neo-natal unit. The surgeon performing the emergency C-section was Dr. Payne.

And that’s how Lauren Elizabeth entered the world. January 11, 1992, at 12:22 am, 4 lbs. 11 ½ oz. Too little to cry. It’s not a pretty story, but she was a gorgeous tiny bundle of love despite the tubes in her nose. She had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. And she fought for life from her first breath. She was destined to be just fine and come home just one week later.  

And today my beautiful miracle baby celebrates 30 years and other miracles along the way, God’s presence and new beginnings of her own. Destined for her best decade yet.

A Top 10 Blog about Blogs

I’m no SEO expert. When I started blogging back in 2017, I didn’t know a thing about search engine optimization. Since then, I’ve learned to check off search categories and tag key words before posting, and my blog has grown. Humble bloggers tend to say they don’t care about the numbers. Call me Not Humble. I can’t help noticing. And now for the January 2nd moment I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for…

Photo by gdtography on Pexels.com

Crystal Byers Top 10 Blogs of All Time

10. S is for Siblings (2020)

An ode to my sister and brother who shaped me more than they know.

  • Blogging Categories: Family, Gratitude
  • Tags: A to Z Challenge

Some birthday love for the guy who made me a mother.

  • Blogging Categories: Family, Happiness, Love, Strength
  • Tags: Love Shack, B-52s

8. On Life and Writing (2021)

A little pep talk to myself about creating my thoughts, intentions, and reality.

  • Blogging Categories: Believe, Gratitude, Inspiration, Life, Progress, Writing
  • Tags: Dr. Wayne Dyer, Narayan Kaudinya, Wordsworth

7. Butterfly, Butterfly (2020)

A love note from my second-grade self to my mother.

  • Blogging Categories: Alzheimer’s, Family, Love
  • Tags: None

6. I Have a Secret (on Anti-Aging) (2019)

The time I met up with my second-grade friend and came home a younger person.

  • Blogging Categories: Friendship, Happiness, Health
  • Tags: anti-aging, collagen peptides, collagen protein, dental health, hair health, joint pain, liver detoxification, nail health, Plexus, skin health, Starla, weight loss

5. Purging and Mental Health (2021)

The time I admitted to the hoarding problem in my home and took a 30 day purging challenge.

  • Blogging Categories: Hope, Mental Health, Purge
  • Tags: 30 Day Challenge, Less Is More

4. Actinomycosis (2020)

The time a severe sore throat traveled into my jawbone.

  • Blogging Categories: Prayer
  • Tags: “The Death of a Clerk,” Anton Chekhov

3.That Time When I Met Harvey (2017)

The time when a hurricane flooded our home and the piece that compelled me to start a blog.

  • Blogging Categories: Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Inspiration, Peace
  • Tags: None

2. Tale of the Unwanted Letter Jacket (2020)

The time my letter jacket met its demise.

  • Blogging Categories: introverts, writing
  • Tags: None

1. Making Macbeth Memorable (2019)

The first time I taught Macbeth. I admit to posting this one on a Facebook English teacher page where it continues to bring viewers.

  • Blogging Categories: High School English, Learning, Life Lessons, school
  • Tags: Shakespeare

If you’re still with me, Thank You!! I had a recent conversation with a fellow blogger (Hey Rhonda!) about the Me, Me, Me obnoxiousness of blogging. She admitted to having a “full-blown complex about coming across as self-centered, self-involved and driven solely by self-interest,” and I totally relate. I have no answers, but I’ve come to feel unsettled if I’m not writing a little here and there. Not that I must post it, or must I?

I published my first ever blog post on September 12, 2017, and tapped out 13 posts total that year. 30 posts in 2018. 35 in 2019. From 2017 to 2018, my views doubled. Those stats align with how my number of posts doubled. From 2018 to 2019, my views tripled, and I only wrote a few extra posts. Maybe I started using more tags and categories that year?? From 2019 to 2020, views doubled again. My blog hit a growth spurt when I wrote 26 posts in April for my first A-Z challenge. Then again, I wrote 89 posts that year. In 2021, I wrote 74. The views on my blog plateaued. Still my followers grew. If you’re still reading this post, THANK YOU!!

Bloggers come and go. Many of those first followers no longer log in to their WordPress accounts. Some followers follow as a strategy for growing their readership. Looking back on the years of more prolific blogging, I realize I wasn’t working during that time. Instead, I was home for most of the pandemic, which gave me some extra time and freedom to blog.

What does this mean for my 2022 blog? I honestly have no clue. After a two-week vacation, I go back to teaching the children tomorrow, and they are my priority. With the new job, I have a spring semester of curriculum to flesh out still. I perpetually reflect upon what is and isn’t working and consider what to change for next year. The adjustments are major, a post for another time.

My reflection spills over and onto the blog. I think about what’s working and what is not. Not that I have the answers. I suppose, I’ll continue to take each year as a new year and each day as a new day and reserve the right to change my mind about everything. And, I suppose, if I have one goal or one word for myself this year, I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up. 😊 And if you’re still with me, you probably wondered where all of this was going. Trust me, I did, too. Thanks again for hanging with me ’til the end. (Or is this the beginning?)

For December 30

I wished for insight in my year-end reflection. Especially since today is my birthday. I should now have the wisdom of an official 52-year-old. Upon pondering, however, I could only take so much of 2021. In some ways, it was the best of times. A completed graduate degree, a new job I love, a trip across the border to the beach. In other ways, it was the worst of times. Nothing I care to rehash. In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.

Last Night I Dreamt of Cats

Recently anyway.

About two months ago, I adopted Nora, a silky black feline, born of a feral mother, destined to live her life mostly outdoors. My neighbors had cared for her these past five years. Then they moved. I felt moved to step in. Nora is adjusting to her new family. She slept with me last night. By morning, she was gone. She has almost mastered the cat door—to exit at will, anyway.

Nora has a boyfriend. I’ll call him Tom. He looks like a bobcat, uglier though, a brute of a cat. Nora doesn’t exactly cat around with him, but Tom hangs around in hopes we’ll throw him a bone. Nora doesn’t seem to mind his presence. It’s hard to know what a cat thinks. Maybe Nora and Tom triggered my dream.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Maybe it was the movie I saw recently: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. An illustrator and lover of cats, Louis Wain was elected president of the London Cat Club in 1890. He drew millions of cats and popularized them as pets in Victorian England. Louis Wain also had schizophrenia. His illustrations grew increasingly psychedelic. None were copyrighted. His story pulled my heartstrings.

In one corner of our yard, there’s an overgrown flower garden where the cats convene, dozens of them, perfectly posed. Kittens frolick. That is all. Maybe a kind reader interprets dreams.

Meowy Christmas! In memory of Louis Wain.

‘Twas the Day Before Winter Break

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com
‘Twas the day before winter break
And all through the school,
Students and staff awaited 
the upcoming Yule.
 
The seniors were all 
just a bit brain dead.
I gifted them some time 
to get ahead.
 
A Holiday Happening,
a lunchtime talent show.
The kids and their gifts,
My mind did blow.
 
Singers and dancers,
A drumline, too.
A public prom proposal
and subsequent “I do.”
 
A Hallmark start  
to the two-week break
feeling thankful indeed—
make no mistake. 
 
Yet at the final bell, 
I ran for my car with a shout,
"Happy Holidays to All!
Mrs. Byers is out."

 
So sad I missed the school orchestra concert last night, but I woke up to Dvořák, and the world seemed alright. Peace.

Writing about Writing

Right now, I should be grading. Or writing up my lesson plans, which are due by midnight tonight. I’m reading two books as well for school.  Teachers work after hours. Today is Sunday. These are the things that keep me from doing the things I want—like writing—for pleasure—or reading a book I’ve never read.

I have 180ish students, 140 or so in AP Literature and Composition, about 40 in English IV. Since a week ago Saturday, I’ve graded approximately 92 essays. Not that I’m counting. Okay, I’m counting. And I have approximately 49 to go, give or take. I try to grade 10 a day and complete the task over the course of 2 weeks. Yesterday, I graded none. I brought 27 home for the weekend. This morning I graded 3. Sometimes I obsess over the numbers. I count and recount.

I even took those same 3 essays with me to the coffee shop yesterday for my monthly meetup with my grad school cohort. I met my friends to catch-up and write, but I was at a loss for ideas, so I thought I might grade. If you’ve been reading for a while, you might have noticed my posts shrinking in length since I returned to teaching. I even featured an essay from my grandmother in a guest post recently. I wrote the introduction. 79 words.   

My grandmother has been quite popular on the blog. Her words resonate across years, and people around the globe have embraced her. Grandma would be so incredibly humbled to know. An idea dawned. What if I used the memoirs my grandmother left behind as inspiration for poetry or fiction? I bounced the idea off my friends. They liked it. However, I didn’t have the copies with me, so that idea would wait.

I opened my laptop and the Submittable page that tracks my literary magazine submissions. Last attempt. September 25th. Declined. Eleven submissions since June. Six declined. One in progress. The rest received yet unopened. It was time to try again. On my favorites bar, I clicked the link to Poets & Writers. If I had stayed at home, I would have graded some essays, but now I was on a mission to write.

Poets & Writers has a database of over 1200 alphabetized literary magazines and journals. From June to November, I searched for suitable publication matches, working my way from A to D. Yesterday, I landed on Dead Housekeeping. They accept essays of 250 words or less, “each focused on a task or series of related tasks as executed by people we’ve lost to death but still clearly see living.” I thought of my mother and her love of gardening and the tips she left behind. I said to myself, I can write 250 words.

‘Tis the Season

Without the details, I attended a church service within the last few months that left me feeling, well, excuse my language, shitty. Judged and hopeless and disillusioned with the church. I won’t go back, not to that church, at least, not to hear that pastor. I know others who have had BAD experiences with the church—or with Christians—and they don’t see the point in trying. I get it.

Lucky for me I’ve had GOOD experiences, and so this past Sunday I began my day online at the church I attended for the first time back in 1998. This church leaves me feeling hopeful and loved, inspired to adjust my attitude each week and be a better person. Lord knows I’m not perfect, but I try.

Back in 1998, the church was called Fellowship Bible Church North. It was founded by Dr. Gene Getz, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 70s. He taught people to be pastors at a time when the culture in the 60s coming into the 70s had changed drastically, and a lot of churches were not being effective in reaching a changing culture. Many of his students didn’t like church. They questioned church as a concept. They asked questions like, “Who needs the church?”

Dr. Getz came to class in the middle of one semester and said, “Men—” There were no women studying in the seminary at that time. “Obviously, I haven’t prepared this class to answer your question, so I want you to tear up your syllabus with all the assignments…We’re going to go back to the syllabus…We’re going to go back to the book of Acts. We’re going to go into the epistles. We’re going to go as far as we can the rest of the semester and see what God intends the church to be.”

I know this story because I went to church this past Sunday, and what I heard was SO GOOD that I’m leaving the link right here. Gene was there! In 1981, he started this church, which grew and changed locations and became Chase Oaks in 2008. He retired about seventeen years ago. 2021 minus 17 equals 2004. So, I listened to him preach on the Sundays I made it to church for about six years. And let me tell you, this guy is incredibly smart. He knows the Bible—the geography, Greek, you name it, and he breaks it all down into simple, relatable terms.

Why do I feel compelled to tell you this? So glad you asked. After “retiring,” Gene went to work creating a study Bible, the CSB Life Essentials Study Bible. In addition to the scriptures, the text includes QR codes that link to videos of Dr. Gene Getz explaining 1500 Principles to Live By. This includes 300 hours of in-depth teaching. For a sample on Principle 1, Intense Prayer, click here. I’ve given a couple of these Bibles away as gifts, and I just purchased another one. I’m not on commission. I just love Gene, God, and this Bible. Maybe you are looking for a special gift or maybe you want an interactive Bible or maybe you just want to listen to someone who has GOOD news. After all…

‘Tis the Season

P. S. So, let’s say, a person didn’t have time to watch a church service now, but was halfway interested in the concept of finding some spiritual guidance, Chase Oaks Church has a YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe. This is all part of the church adapting to our ever-changing culture.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Just a little formula I apply to life’s circumstances…

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope