Friday, April 21, 2006


Don't read this and then go looking through my blog with a red pen, but I feel strongly about economy and precision of language. While hyperbole doesn't bother me at all, I'm not thrilled with the overuse of qualifiers. And when an adjective is used, I would prefer for it to be accurate, or fresh, or at least not cloyingly sentimental. I have students who believe strongly that more is more, that there is an infinite supply of exclamation points, that there can never be too many fonts on a page, that quotation marks are useful to add emphasis, that i's should be dotted with circles as big as lollipops, and that adjectives are best when they conjure up saccharine cartoon characters. They would use words like tragedy and miracle loosely and feel no shame in doing so. They will either grow out of this in time or, I now have reason to suspect, they will become real estate agents.

Driving through the neighborhood yesterday, I passed a house for sale. On top of the wooden arm holding the sign with the offending agent's name and number is a placard that reads, "Miracle Home". Because I try hard to be a nice person, and because I have such high hopes for my students' futures, hopes that they will not fill their homes with Precious Moments and Thomas Kinkade, that they will not misuse adjectives so wantonly, I have come to the conclusion that this must really be a miracle home.

Here is my list of guesses for the most likely places you can see an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe inside the house down the street:
1. The glass in the front window throws her unmistakable reflection on the opposite wall in the midafternoon.
2. The bark on the lemon tree out back, if you tilt your head just so and focus on a certain four inch section, looks like the Virgen.
3. One night, years ago, they were barbecuing under the patio. The smoke rose into the lattice all night, and the next day, her face was looking down. They moved the grill so as not to disturb the image, and it has remained there ever since, through storms and termites and the one maid service who didn't know and tried to sweep down some cobwebs once. It's still there.
4. The branches in the avocado tree grew in abnormal shapes, twisting out, then turning back in, and the branches themselves form the outlines of her face. More birds nest in that tree than in any other in the yard.
5. The kitchen has marble countertops. In the swirls of grey and gold, there is an image of the Virgen, and not just her face over by the paper towel dispenser , but the drape of her gown flowing down the counter, ending where the toaster is.
6. In the travertine floor going down the hallway, if the dimmer switches are on just right, she is looking up with a smile on her face.
7. The lime deposits on the fountain in the side yard have grown more and more distinct through the years. There is no chance of mistaking what you see. It is the Virgen's face.
8. During el niƱo in 1991, the rain seeped into a closet upstairs. It didn't wet the contents, but it left a watermark on the ceiling, a mark in the shape of the Virgen holding a baby in her arms. The family's oldest daughter, home from graduate school in Chicago, was staying in that room during the storm. When her first child was born a year later, everyone was amazed when the baby could pound out tunes on the piano without any lessons. A prodigy, they said.


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