Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Music of Language

In Italy a few weeks ago, as I listened to the musical cadence of spoken Italian, I imagined notes on a staff: three or four on the same line of each measure, then one longer note jumping to the top of the staff, followed by a final note on the same line as the initial three notes. Every sentence, even the most mundane, sounds like a melody in Italia....

"Ba-BA ba BAAAA ba," bleets the Italian sheep before supplying the milk for the creamy balls of wet mozzarella hiding beneath the freshest basil leaves and sugary tomato slices.

"Please, signOOOOra, allow me to HEEEELP you," insists the fawning sales clerk in the Limoncello store, pouring shots of lemony liqueur for anyone, regardless of age, who checks out the beautiful cello-shaped bottles filled with yellow syrup that warms the throat and stomach on the way down.

"One pomoDOOOORa pizza--si, signOOORA?" asks the waiter in Naples, who believes that his meter-long pizza outclasses all other pizzas simply because pizza was invented in Naples.

Yes, even I, asking the basest question, "Where is the toilet/restroom?", feel compelled to imitate the cadence of the Italian musical phrase: "Do-ve la toi-LEHEHEHEH-te?" My kids smirk. They say I imitate everyone with an accent when I talk to them. I argue that if I DO imitate a foreigner, I have shown a sincere form of flattery, to show respect for the foreigner, not a desire to poke fun at him/her.
When in Rome...


Tuesday, April 27, 2010


In my computer documents file, I found my old submission for a Writers Digest "Your Assignment" contest, instructing writers to rewrite, in 75 words or less, a scene from a well-known piece of literature so that the antagonist defeats the protagonist and the story ends "unhappily ever after." I chose, of course (as a children's book author myself), a children's book to "blacken." I hope you find my alteration of Charlotte's Web as amusing as I did in rediscovering the short piece today (even though it never won a prize).

by Susan L. Lipson, Poway, CA

Templeton, fed up with the attention lavished on that stupid pig Wilbur, scrambled up the barn post toward Charlotte's web, planning revenge via vandalism. The spider's newest woven word for Wilbur, "BRILLIANT," shone in her web--yet another phony testimonial to keep the superstitious farmer from slaughtering Wilbur. Templeton snickered as he pulled out the letters "ril," then ripped out "ian," leaving 3 letters that would seal his porcine pal's fate.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tap Dancing and Courageous Writers

Tap-dancing has much more embarrassment potential to a beginner than jazz dancing does. I know--I've been taking tap classes. Sometimes I wish those metal plates would fall off so that my missteps would not broadcast themselves to my fellow dancers. Sometimes I think I would have been better off in jazz dancing classes, where the shoes are soft and the missteps easier to cover. But jazz wouldn't have helped me as much with my writing as tap does.

Just as tapping on the wrong beat will call attention to my need to practice more, sharing my writing with a critique group makes my errant verbal beats public and undeniable, calling my attention to my need to revise. I used to keep my works-in-progress mostly to myself, until I felt they were ready for submission, and my soft-shoe approach allowed me to overlook what the tap-shoe approach--the public read-aloud in a critique group--would have made apparent. I wasted a lot of time by not tap-dancing as a writer and overpowering my own former insecurities.

Everyone in my tap dancing class can hear each other's missteps as we try out our new routines, just as my fellow writers can hear each other's mistakes loudly and clearly. Tap dancing has reinforced for me my need to goof up publicly without the ability to cover up with fancy footwork. Jazz dancers, with soft shoes, like writers who never share their work in a public way, can attempt to revise their errors and hope that no one notices. Tap dancers and courageous writers who share their works-in-progress can't take back the sounds they've emitted, and thus become more determined NOT to make the same errant sounds again.

When people ask me, "What on earth made you agree to take tap classes?," I answer, "It's a challenge--embarrassing sometimes, but actually fun. And, my writing critique partner talked me into it! She's very convincing."