My mother, a career English teacher who earned her master’s degree in English, was something of a grammar Nazi. That, no doubt, is part of the reason sometimes I am so particular with language. However, I am happy to ignore rules from time to time, as well. Not long ago, a friend sent me a link to a column by Brenda Looper (Arkansas Democrat Gazette). Entitled “Break Some Rules,” Looper’s article touches on the differences between scholarly (prescriptive) grammar and and the grammar associated with the way language is actually used (descriptive grammar). While not overly specific about the variances between the two styles, reading Looper’s words are good reminders of the differences not only between scholarly and descriptive grammar, but the differences between written and spoken grammar. The written form is much more formal and tends to be more scholarly. The casual grammar of everyday speech can be utterly divorced from written grammar, regardless of whether  it is scholarly or descriptive.

All that having been said, I remain a bit of a language curmudgeon. I cling tenaciously to more formal, scholarly grammar and tend to hold what I consider “bad” grammar in contempt. But not always. And I do not always use complete sentences. Because…emphasis. And messaging. And so forth.

Writers and speakers, if they look hard enough, can find all sorts of ways to massage the language (English or otherwise) to suit the intents of their communications. Selectively breaking grammar rules can add enormous impact to messages. Rule-breaking can convey unspoken messages, as well. Intentionally saying or writing, in certain contexts, in ways that break grammatical rules can carry messages of contempt or, at least, unfavorably descriptive judgement. “Ain’t that the dickens?! He don’t know where his ass is at.” The writer/speaker, depending on context, either is: mocking the person quoted; judging the person a bumpkin, a hick; or bemoaning the fellow’s loss of a donkey. The real pros, who can use grammar to slide in double entendre messages by breaking grammatical rules, are cunning linguists. (Forgive me, I could not help myself; it’s not original to me, but I admire the classy crudeness it presents.)

Language is interesting, entertaining, and extraordinarily frustrating. And that’s just English. Imagine the grammatical armies protecting all the other languages!

Oh, remind me some time to continue this one-sided conversation. I should say explain about my life-long inability to diagram a sentence which, in my mother’s house, was very nearly a capital offense.


Numinous is an adjective that means mysterious or surpassing comprehension or understanding. It was new to me when I heard or read it within the last several weeks.  Another definition suggests divine or spiritual. I’ll stick with the first one I mentioned (which, if one considers it carefully enough, clearly describes the second one). I think, though, the religious definition is the one more commonly associated with the word. I am not quite sure why I think that, frankly, but if there’s a “definition contrast-compare-rate—and-rank” service, I believe its analyses would correspond with mine.


Impure Fiction: His Perspective

To say it was disappointing would be a gross understatement. She did not notice I was nude. Naked. Had no clothes on. Nekkid as a jaybird. Wearing only a birthday suit. Clad only in a bag of skin. Sin ropas. Nackt. Desnuda. Naken.

But I hid my disappointment. I tightly embraced her when she reached me after shuffling, in my far-too-large slippers, across the kitchen linoleum. The embrace sparked a diminution of my disappointment, causing a short embarrassment, instead.

She noticed. “What? You’ve been naked all this time? I thought maybe it was my imagination.  Must be nice to be able to walk around the house nude, now that you’re no longer a working stiff. You’re enjoying retirement, I see.”

Her reference that it was nice to be able to walk around the house nude was made in reference to the fifteen-foot tall floor to ceiling accordion glass doors that stretched forty feet across the west wall of the living area.

Well, at least casual acknowledgement was easier to tolerate than absolute oversight.

Clandestine Broderick had been my initial wife, the first of several to follow. We met in high school and had several intimate moments but, within the first thirty minutes of college, forgot them and lost touch with one another. I did not think of her or see her again until I was twenty years older; I married her when I was thirty-eight, the night after our twenty-year high school reunion. Which coincided with our twentieth high-school-aged intimate liaison (completely devoid of sex, by the way). Though the marriage lasted only thirteen months, it was an education for me. And for Clandestine, I might add. Twelve months of the deaf, dumb, and blind leading the deaf, dumb, and blind and one month of practicing perfection. Unfortunately, the perfection was practiced by both us us, outside the marriage. It took just a month to undo twelve months plus twenty years.

Twenty years later, after the forty year reunion dinner, Clandestine suggested we finish the evening with a drink at my house. I obliged. My fifth wife, since Clandestine, had moved out roughly two months earlier, so I was feeling a little, shall we say…in need.  Clandestine could not hold her liquor any better forty years post-graduation than she could on graduation night or twenty years later. Nor could I. The result was the unclothed disappointment.

Clandestine had slept with me the night before, after intense foreplay led to perfection. But perfection never lasts. Memories of snoring and stopped up sinuses gnaws at their edges. Recollections of extraordinary flatulence and using a bent paperclips in lieu of floss or a toothpick, too, sully the color of perfection. And memory, itself, changes from a shade of brilliant white to an ancient pale yellow, awash in brown smudges and grease stains. My memories of Clandestine were more forgiving and appealing, I think, but I cannot remember what they were. Inhaling very high volumes of smoke from a burning reefer blew my memory out of my head, where it resided, to my left foot, where the ingrown toenail on my great toe tends to let memory leak out into the atmosphere. I’ve often thought other people could inhale my memories, floating around in the air. And, if they can, someday I will be unspeakably embarrassed when someone like Natasha or Edward or Priscilla or Merriweather inhales that air. But I digress.

“Would you like to have coffee on the deck? It’s beastly hot out there, but the umbrella protects you from the worst of the sun’s rays.”

Clandestine responded to my invitation with bedroom eyes and a slight twist of her head and neck.

“Only if you promise to relax me on the chaise lounge after,” she purred.

I have to admit that the deck, forty stories above street level with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, was the ideal place for  outdoor sex. No voyeurs could see what was happening on the deck, even with binoculars.

“Clandestine, don’t you think it’s time you got dressed and went home?”

“You know, Frank, you’ve turned into an unadventuresome old man. Where’s your…je ne sais quoi…your thirst for unbridled passion and dangerous thrills?”

How could it be, you might ask, that I married for the first time when I was thirty-eight years old, but by the time I reached fifty-eight years old, I had just discarded my fifth wife? I would respond by saying it was easy; I averaged just under four years per wife. That performance gave me three years before I might have gotten the seven-year itch, had I been counting.  It may have been a strategy to avoid infidelity. Unfortunately, that did not work, in that the average number of illicit affairs was about four per year, itch or no itch. You can calculate the numbers yourself; roughly eighty illicit sexual liaisons, give or take a few.

Impure Fiction: Her Perspective

With a name like Clandestine, I was bound to be teased. Even though I pronounced it Clandesteen, almost nobody else but my parents pronounced it that way. My parents were cruel psychopaths who tortured their one child mercilessly in ways Child Protective Services either ignored or treated as “normal.” There was nothing normal about my name and they knew it. And there was nothing normal about my father’s habit of walking around the house in the altogether. Well, it was normal to me because I was a kid. But, still, I found it vaguely improper, primarily because of what my friends thought and said. And he reveled in my discomfort when he displayed his wrinkled manhood while standing at the kitchen island.

“Want a peach, Baby?” he would ask as he groped himself absent-mindedly.

That was Dad. My role model. Along with Mom, who kept to herself most of the time, hiding in the master bedroom, which was absolutely out-of-bounds for us kids. I rarely had kids come over after school because the few that came reported their surprise to their parents, who spread the word and prohibited their children from ever again darkening the door of the Broderick household. But that all changed with Frank.

My experiences with Frank McKracken were both memorable—delightful in some ways—and nightmarish. On our six-month anniversary, he sent me a dozen red roses and he took me out to dinner at The Gregorian, one of the best steakhouses on the west coast. Located about five miles north of Gualala, The Gregorian attracted a rabid following all the way from the Bay Area to the border with Oregon. But two days later, after the roses and candle-lit dinner, I caught him in bed with one of my girlfriends, Omega Swartch. Omega was not the only one, though. Apparently, I later learned, he found some of my other girlfriends just as impossible to resist. And they found his allure more important than their connections with me.

And that’s an unfinished off-the-cuff attempt at writing a deviant, modestly erotic vignette that stops suddenly and with no warning; utterly incomplete. The question, of course, is whether it should be finished, discarded, or set on fire and thrown from a bridge near the Norwegian coast. I’m tempted to continue writing her perspective, which I imagine will be radically different from Frank’s. He is, obviously, a self-centered lecher who discards wives with wild abandon. But who is Clandestine, at her core? Really, is she brittle or is she as flexible as thick steel? And how does this semi-erotic vignette play out after a breakfast of hash-browns and thick links of habanero and chicken sausage? Maybe I’ll revise it, taking myself out of the equation as Frank’s first-person narrator and, instead, presenting the story in third-person. Or maybe I’ll simply abandon this story because of the lack of feedback (yes, I’m involved in casting about for guilty consciences).


I’ve long had another story in the back of my mind about a guy who was named Angaroo by his thoughtless parents. He earns a nickname, Anger; an appellation attached to him both to mock his given name and to acknowledge his response to incessant teasing by children whose parents should be locked in prison cells for parental negligence. Angaroo’s experiences during childhood and beyond might explain his actions one day, weeks after his thirty-third birthday. One day before that fateful day, the Black Friday after Thanksgiving, Angaroo disconnected and emptied the automatic fire sprinkler system that protected shoppers and staff in a big box store. He then hooked up a pump to the fire sprinkler pipe to force pressurized gasoline into the system. A hour after the store opened, when it was jammed with Christmas shoppers, Angaroo drove a tanker truck around the store, stopping long enough at each entrance and exit, to drench the door and its surroundings with gasoline. He then lit the fire. Six hundred shoppers perished in flames.

This brutally vicious and violent story probably will never be written, if only because it is so horrendous. In fact, it doesn’t even belong in my brain.


I’ve spend most of this Easter morning with my sister-in-law, playing Words with Friends. Then, a friend called to ask if I was home so the Easter Bunny could drop by. She came shortly thereafter, bearing a little gift box with goodies she had made, along with some traditional Easter bunny chocolates, etc.. She is among my favorite people; so incredibly thoughtful and so much fun to be around. If she weren’t happily married…she’d probably find someone far more appealing than I with whom to spend her time.

I have yet to shower, which is becoming urgent in that I am going to my neighbors’ house in about an hour for dinner. I shaved early this morning and planned to shower after my sister-in-law left, following our Words with Friends game. But we continued playing and talking about nothing for hours!

My Easter fiction vignettes should not be considered Easter vignettes. Instead, they should be considered flush fiction, the kind of incomplete garbage that belongs on rolls.

Enough of this. It’s damn near 3:00 p.m. and I have to get clean and presentable.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Numinous

  1. Paula Newman says:

    I loved diagramming sentences. But understand the need to step away from always being grammatically correct. Just like Frank is beginning to realize, our most consistent choices can carve some deep, unadventuresome ruts. In my head he’s Flatulent Frank. Or possibly Prenuptial Pfrank? Either way, I’m invested and need to know what’s going to happen next to his naked behind.

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