Note to blog self

There are nouns one might hear as verbs rather. Living processes we make things of. Reify. Not that there’s anything wrong with things. Some of my best friends are things. But things are just actions sitting still a moment.

Life as a verb. Okay.

Death as a verb. Oh shit.

Self as a verb. Oh my.

Peace as a verb. “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

Blog as a verb. Oh get over it.

Ernest Fenollosa, in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry:

A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points of actions, cross-sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature.

Is nature a noun or a verb. Yes.

But we of the West weight the noun. BEING, eternal forms, ειδοσ, Plato, that crapola, so to recover the living act, transmutation, you and me in flux, Heraclitean, who knows what comes in the next instant – terrifying, marvellous, necessary –

Let’s get it edgier. Benjamin Lee Whorf, in Language, Thought, and Reality, with some composting.

[A member of the Hopi nation] has no general notion or intuition of TIME as a smooth flowing continuum in which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a future, through a present, into a past. At the same time, the Hopi language is capable of accounting for and describing correctly all observable phenomena of the universe.

The Hopi metaphysics has its cosmic forms comparable to those of the West, past, present, and future, in scale and scope. It imposes on the universe two grand cosmic forms, which we may call MANIFESTED and MANIFESTING (or, UNMANIFEST) or, again, OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE.

The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future. The subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental – everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, no only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature.

Don’t know how good this is as anthropology. Could be Whorf’s wet dream of an escape from Plato’s noun. Or a projection of Heidegger onto decimated tribes. But there is at least dimly an intuition of alterity in it, salutary.

Exercise: A paragraph

The prompt:

Write a paragraph, on any subject, in any genre. One restriction: every word has to begin with the letter A.

Once the groans have settled down they get to work. After a few minutes I give them a break and we compile some word lists.

Nouns: aardvark, atom, alien, Amy, Ahmed, alligator …

Verbs: assert, affirm, anger, angle, aim, am, are …

Adjectives, adverbs …

Prepositions: about, after, at, above

Conjunctions: and, although

Articles: a, an

Some material to work with. And you wouldn’t believe the things Andy Aardvark gets up to as amorous aliens advance assertively.

A silly prompt I remembered from a high school English class. And a not too bad entry to parts of speech.


We had a good chat, our first class on the word, about parts of speech and their different powers. I laid a trap by asking, Which part of speech has the most bang for the buck? Adjectives, I was waiting to hear, adverbs. They didn’t fall for it. Verbs, they said, nouns. Yup.

Acts and actors are the meat of it. Things and what they do. Acts and the things they act through. (That one is easy to say, one a bit contorted, says something about the bias of our language.)

But I was headed for the lowly preposition. To get there I told a story. I had been backpacking a couple weeks earlier in the North Cascades. The first day we were sunriddled.


The next day some clouds came in.


Through the afternoon they kept on coming.


The two peaks are Shuksan and Baker. It was spitting rain by the time we set up camp 4000 feet lower by the Chilliwack River.

All the next day was rain. Sorry no pictures. Had to keep moving. We climbed back into the subalpine and set up camp in the pouring rain.

And there we were, huddled under a little tarp stretched between two mountain hemlocks, soaked to the bone, heating water for our freeze-dried soup. And I thought to myself

I’m under a tarp, but it’s raining on me.

And it struck me how much I would give to be able to say instead

It’s raining near me.

Small little word. Big huge diff. And then I thought, pissily,

It’s raining at me.

And thus was a lesson plan born.

We (I’m back in the classroom now) sounded out the changes. What other prepositions can we sub in? How does that one change change the meaning, the feeling?

It’s raining in me (metaphor for sad)

It’s raining for me (God complex)

It’s raining above me (virga)

It’s raining through me (a diffuse or dissolved body)

It’s raining from me (God complex squared)

The nouns and verbs stay the same. The pronouns stay the same. Only the lowly preposition changes. And yet with each change the whole carnival picks up stakes and shifts in a flash to a different world. The word for it is proprioceptive. I take the word from Olson and the image from Dickinson.

I’ve known a Heaven, like a Tent
To wrap its shining Yards
Pluck up its stakes, and disappear
Without the sound of Boards
Or Rip of Nail—Or Carpenter
But just the miles of Stare
That signalize a Show’s Retreat
In North America

No Trace—no Figment of the Thing
That dazzled, Yesterday
No Ring—no Marvel
Men, and Feats
Dissolved as utterly
As Bird’s far Navigation
Discloses just a Hue
A plash of Oars, a Gaiety
Then swallowed up, of View

Check out those nouns, those verbs, those preps. (I count one adjective.) And the feel of being in a mountainous vastness she can never have seen with her physical eye.