I spend many an evening hour reading children’s books to my child and many a midnight hour trying to rid my sentences of the rhyming couplets that subsequently infest my consciousness. It’s a real problem since many of the books are so masterfully constructed that I can’t help but let their rubaiyat rhymes echo into my own work. When it’s late and I’m on deadline and my resolve is weak, that’s when I’m most susceptible to their music. For no reason at all, I’ll hack out little ditties like, “Do you pronounce the N in autumn? Or the other L in Fall? Are they whispered like the whistling wind, or have nary a sound at all?” and then I orphan them in a file I call “Lost Lines,” since it’s cute enough to keep (for what I don’t know) but of no use to a weekly newspaper column. Like these tortured lines, which will dribble out of me for hours:
These Sendaks and these Seusses
Just pedants writing ruses
’Bout cats in hats, some wag named Max
And other ’tings most useless.
For a brief moment tonight, I considered the ramifications of writing a rhyming children’s story in lieu of the usual 600 words of satire, but I demurred since Sonoma would need no further confirmation that I’ve finally lost my mind. According to the Internet (where all definitive medical advice is but a symptom’s search away), shrinks call this “clanging,” or, “ideas that are related only by similar or rhyming sounds rather than actual meaning.” Oh, dear, that’s my whole career, I fear. OK, I’ll stop – but only because I have it on good authority that my editor prefers blank verse. And so another a would-be literary lion is tamed into a paper tiger.
I think I first developed the predilection to riff and rhyme as a toddler – a direct result of my mother having read me James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake whilst double-duty-ing college and motherhood. Reading sing-songy prose to my own son just brings it back to the fore like a kind of readerly recrudescence or malaria of the mind. It’s a superpower when improvising song lyrics (theoretically, I could clean up at freestyle rap competitions – if I had any rhythm).
But getting a little Seuss or Silverstein in one’s head before writing on the clock is tantamount to “having one for the road” before driving a cab. The only writing that gets done is scrawling your name on the wall you inevitably hit.
Besides rhyming like an idiot, another affliction caused by reading below one’s grade level is a sudden overreliance on buzzwords. You know the ones – clever portmanteaus (“drunch” – drinking for lunch; “dryathlon” not drinking, competitively) that fall in and out of fashion more quickly than a hummingbird’s heart beat (200 beats per second). I first developed a distrust of such words in college, where I witnessed, during my brief tenure as a creative writing major, the rise and fall of “existentialism,” “post-modernism,” “deconstruction” and “student loan debt.” The last one is more of a phrase, really, but it’s the only one to have any relevance to me since college.
Albeit, the above examples are (pseudo) academic in nature – it’s the buzzy business terms that will really do you in. Like “disrupt” and “pivot,” which, together, sound like dance moves for engineers.
Fortunately, as overused as these words are in business mags, they’re fairly immune to rhymes. Perhaps I should consider reading my kid Fast Company and Wired before bed. Sure, they’re no Finnegan’s Wake but at least Dad will be able to get a column done without having to jot a few quatrains along the way.