Grace-Writing 101

Someone else's grace

Someone else's grace

Tomorrow, my dear friend Lesley is spending Thanksgiving in Connecticut with her (somewhat new) boyfriend Pat’s family, The Mulherns. How loverly.

But there’s a catch! She has been informed that she’s in charge of asking the Lord’s blessing before they put fork to turkey. Needless to say, she has to hit one out of the park.

And so, she turned to her old friend Mary for writerly guidance.


Lesley: wanna help me write a grace for pat’s dinner

me: a grace for pat’s dinner!

i guess it can’t be “rub a dub dub thanks for the grub yay god”

Lesley: i was thinking more thoughtful

like, “let us be thankful today with family and friends, and for this smorgasbord and thank you for letting me join you this weekend, yay god”

me: sounds great to me, i would welcome you into the fam lickety split

maybe you should mention the state of the economy, and how you are so lucky to have this juicy bird in your feast

Lesley: ah yes

me: we will write it on a napkin at the pub tonight


No idea.

No idea.

And so, we met at the POPE (Pub on Passyunk East) for beer, pierogies and Thanksgiving grace brainstorming. We came up with some nice rhetoric about thankfulness, and prayers, and turkeys, and family. All the old favorites. I told Lesley I had enough material to write something great and simple and I’d send it to her tomorrow.

(Parenthetically, Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special was on the TV on mute. We watched as he slayed a bear who’d broken into his Christmas cottage, only to see Elvis Costello emerge from the bear’s wound. They proceeded to sing a song (that we couldn’t hear) Bowie-Crosby style. It made no sense. And juxtaposed with the death metal filling the pub quite nicely.)


And then, it was delivery day!

me: oh lesley i don’t want to work! like

Lesley: work on my grace

me: okay.

here’s a start

As we gather together, let us be thankful for the feast before us, our countless blessings and the love of our families. Let us also think of those who are less fortunate and count them in our Thanksgiving prayers. And a special thank you to the Mulhern family for inviting me into their home this Thanksgiving day. Amen.

how was my grace?

Lesley: very nice

me: thank you

Lesley: i will have to practice

me: yes definitely

So in your Thanksgiving prayers, please save a quiet reflection for Lesley’s Thanksgiving in Connecticut with the Mulherns. And, should Lesley decide to use it, please also pray that none of the Mulherns are editors and tear my grace apart. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Orange Boats

Please re-read the title of this post. What does the phrase “orange boats” mean to you? Probably this, right?

Boats that are orange.

Boats that are orange.

To me, it means a delicious, citrusy treat to be enjoyed at halftime.

As a wee jock-ette, I would parade into the kitchen in my kinderkickers (pee wee soccer) uniform, and my mom would say, “I made some orange boats for your team!” And I’d say, “Yessssss” and do a couple of those Kirk Gibson arm pumps.

It was the greatest! At halftime, we’d all sit in a circle and discuss soccer strategy (including the coach explaining to me that I couldn’t just stand by the goal, a tactic I would later employ to great effect in my lacrosse career). Then my mom would place a circular Tupperware container in the middle of our circle, lift the lid, and there would be orange boats looking juicy and sweet!

And fun! You could put them in your mouth (“hey look, i have a boat in my mouth”) and look like you had an orange mouth, just like Marlon Brando in The Godfather right before he bit it (the dust, that is).

Orange boats.

Orange boats.

And so, orange boats became a big part of my youth. My mom would bring them as a special treat to most of my field hockey, basketball and lacrosse games, right on up through my senior year of high school. Everybody was wild about them!

But then…I went to college. And things were different.

“Hey guys,” I said one day to my lacrosse teammates, “My mom’s bringing orange boats to our game on Saturday!” My parents only lived 45 minutes away, so they could come to every game. Great news right?

“What the hell are orange boats.”

“You know,” I said, “triangular orange slices, you eat them at halftime? Look like boats?”

“Oh, orange slices! Yeah word, tell your mom thanks.”

Orange slices?! How boring is that. Isn’t it a lot more fun to think of them as boats?

But no. As of today – November 18, 2008 – I haven’t met another person, jock or no, who’s ever had “orange boats.” Plenty of orange slices! But no boats. I think it’s stupid.

And so I ask, have you ever enjoyed orange boats as halftime treats? Or am I alone in this?

My youth depends on your answer.


Over the course of my reading life, I’ve come to enjoy book reviews. Especially the post-factum reading of such reviews, where I finish the book then pit my observational skills against those paid to have them.

For instance.

For instance.

Unfortunately, my review-reading life has had some hiccups. Some incessant, ugly and Brave New World-esque hiccups. I’ve stumbled upon a few phrases — let’s call them “Woefully In Tandem” — that appear in most reviews. They almost always consist of three things: an adverb ending with –ly, a pretty blah adjective and a conspicuous lack of substance.

The two words always come pointlessly side by side, like a new shirt with spare buttons you’ll never use, or a new email program with a “Welcome!” email you’ll never open.

And so, here is my Phrases I Can Do Without List, Book Reviews Edition:

  • achingly beautiful
  • strikingly powerful
  • brutally honest
  • utterly original
  • heartbreakingly tender
  • heartbreakingly real
  • uproariously hilarious
  • touchingly hilarious (what does that even mean?!)
  • emotionally wrenching yet intellectually rigorous (I found this the other day. This is a special case. The alliterative pairing of “wrenching” and “rigorous” is actually quite appealing to me; I’m nutty about alliteration. But it’s still a double whammy, so it’s doubly woeful. F- !)
  • a dazzling tour de force (Another special case, since it takes a different form. But it’s everywhere! Everything from The Prince of Tides to Where’s Waldo? has, at one time or another, been called a “dazzling tour de force.” When I read these words, I think of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe Princess Di, or maybe the jewelry and crowns that come with the Pretty Pretty Princess board game. But most decidedly NOT a literary masterpiece!)

Oh man I’m irate. This stuff is like a literary game of yahtzee. You can keep rolling, but you still only got six sides to a die.

Roll out the filth!

Roll out the filth!

Google “heartbreakingly tender.” What’s heartbreakingly real, to pick from the list, is that thousands upon thousands of reviews use this broke-ass verbal tandem. At this point, it’s watered down like an hour-old scotch on the rocks, and I want a fresh glass!

Now, take “achingly beautiful.” Reading this, you should picture the reviewer sitting there in his specs and corduroy blazer, clutching at his heart with a grimace on his face while little cheeps of heartbreak escape his lips.

You know what I hear? The tip-type-type of computers all around some stuffy room, intermittently interrupted by the soft thud of suspendered men slapping each other’s backs.

You know what I see? The same gray-ass cloth wall that I see in my cubicle. Beautiful, my left foot!

“Now,” I can picture Managing Editors everywhere saying, “wherever you can compact genuine, strategically constructed and meaningful thoughts into two words, the first word ending with –ly and the second being a hum-drum word that any asshole can drop into a review — well that would be best for our publication.”

It is sick!

So I ask, What ever happened to the beauty in the verbosity? Do these reviewers have shortcut keys on their keyboards for the Woeful group, just as I use F1 for the em dash? Once they got their writing jobs, did they flush their love of language down the drain along with their stash?

No whammies no whammies -- DOUBLE WHAMMY!

No whammies no whammies -- DOUBLE WHAMMY!

And where am I going with this? Who knows. I just think that it’s important to know the meaning of what you’re saying and writing, to not just fill white space with empty words. You could probably save yourself some air and, potentially, some trouble if you say what you mean and mean what you say. And, if you avoided my list, you could score some creativity points with yourself, too.

[Parenthetically, I grew up in a house where we were taught (and yes, this is sick too) to economize our language. My dad would ask, “Why didn’t you finish your dinner?” and I’d respond, “The reason why is—“ and he’d say, “That’s redundant. Just say ‘The reason is’ and be done with it.” The best part of these grammatical debates is that the subject matter was often forgotten and I wound up not having to eat shit I didn’t like. Sometimes.

Another one: My dad and I call each whenever we hear someone say, “I could care less” because, c’mon a**hole, you’re saying you actually do care and you don’t even know it!

It’s a dorky lifestyle, but it’s my lifestyle and this is my blog.]

But back to the review bit — please, just spice it up. Give me something utterly original.

And hey! I always welcome suggestions for the Woefully In Tandem list. It’s always gratingly gratifying (another one!) to find a new set, like seeing Jose Reyes wag his finger after hitting a dinger that didn’t really matter in the long run. But that’s a rant for another day.

I Love Everything

It’s been one hell of a Fall.

Between the Fightin’ Phils bringing home the World Championship and my country ‘tis of thee Barack-ing the Vote, things haven’t been this good for me since the E-Street Band Reunion Tour in ’99.

To celebrate the goings-on, here’s a compact collection of what’s been making my heart flutter of late.

The Dropping of Genuine F-bombs

Chase Utley and a puppy he saved

Chase Utley (the bomb dropper) and a puppy he saved


The Man with the pLan

The Man with the Plan

Fleetwood Mac (if you were looking for Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Round-Up, sorry; that can be found here)

A tangled web of trysts and triumphs

The Mac: A tangled web of trysts and triumphs

New Journalism

Miss Norma Jean and Mr. Truman Capote

Miss Norma Jean and Mr. Truman Capote

South Philly



Pat Burrell

The Bat

The Bat

Pat Burrell’s dog, Elvis The Bulldog

Elvis himself (Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

Elvis himself (Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

Google image results for the search terms “pat burrell and his dog”

ESPN, sum dood, Abraham Lincoln

ESPN, sum dood, Abraham Lincoln

Tootsie Roll Frooties

Frooties are amazing, and good for you

Frooties are amazing, and good for you

So anyway, that’s that. More good stuff to come from the land of Pish de Luxe.