On Writing

Most Underused Punctuation Mark in American Writing*

Short take Writer's Toolbox Em-dash Book recs So says the lexicographer and usage genius Bryan Garner. My desk copy of the 4th edition of Garner's Modern English Usage states on page 750, "The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American...

What Makes a Speech Great? An Admiral Tells 3 Stories

6 min read Writer’s Toolbox Public speaking AVAILABLE ON PODCAST HERE Admiral McRaven commemorates the 11th Anniversary of Operation Neptune's Spear What makes a speech great? There are a lot of good speeches and good speakers. But a great speech is one you remember....

Exercises in Style: a Writing Tribute

3 min read Book rec Writing Toolbox Wordplay Ages 9 to 99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST HERE Titles begin with letters as human forms Narrative One day at about midday in the food line, behind the checkout of a more or less busy Costco, I observed a person with a very big...

Bedside Counselor on Parenting in Anger, in Two Translations

6 min read Book rec Prose for emergencies Writing feature AVAILABLE IN PODCAST, CLICK HERE For solace and for counsel, I have several books I find myself returning to again and again, and to this one, most recently, as my third child prepares to leave home.* For...

A Poet Warrior Learns Kindness

4 min read Book Rec, Tokaido Road Poetry for Emergencies AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcast It made me feel flawed as a human, this passage from Lucia St.Clair Robson's book, Tokaido Road. The protagonist Cat is disguised as a young man when she meets...

Each Sentence Reflects 3 Choices

2 Min read 1 Essay Toolbox How to improve your sentences immediately AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcast Each sentence reflects three choices. What to write about and what we want to accomplish by writing about itWhich words to useWhat order to put them...

Essays that changed me: Rachel Cusk and “Making Home”

5 min read The Music in Prose Rachel Cusk St. Augustine, Montaigne Why an essay breathes AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcasts The essay can make the best of people cringe, with its connection to the dreaded common application or the college assignment....

Writing on the Road and the Creative Process

5 min read 4 book recs on writing 1 novel Toolbox, Ages 9-99 AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes Google Podcasts     How do you write on the move? A computer and phone work for me. When I'm not in the TreeHouse I miss my books, dictionaries, and style...

Poetry for Emergencies: Ukraine, Howard Nemerov, and the War Dead

6 Min read Howard Nemerov 2 Poems TreeHouseLetter feature:  Poetry for Emergencies   AVAILABLE IN PODCAST iTunes Spotify.com anchor.fm/emelle Poetry is a way of getting something right in language. Nemerov It's a batshit crazy world, especially for our friends of...

Sex Over 70 Years and the Synecdoche

7 min read, explicit content 2 Books 2 Rhetorical devices The Music in Prose - THL feature focused on writing that 'sings' and why   AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify ITunes Google Podcasts   It's a double entendre, this letter's headline, but it's fitting. I'm...

Adult Child and a Zen Koan

2 Min Read 1 Book Rec 2.5 Zen Koan** Em Dash* AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Anchor.fm/emelle Spotify iTunes My adult child--an oxymoron when you consider that there is no single word for grown offspring in a language with 171,476 words of which 47,156 are obsolete, but please...

Love in a Sad Cafe

5 Min Read 1 Book Rec The Music in Prose   AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Anchor.fm/emelle Spotify iTunes The Music in Prose is a regular feature of the TreeHouseLetter. The idea for this came from my work on music and language, considering just what it is about the...

If You Want to Write, Your Writing Has to Have Rhythm

7 Min Read Ages 19 to 99 Precocious 9+ AVAILABLE ON PODCAST   Anchor.fm/Emelle Spotify iTunes   Toolbox: On Sentences and How to Improve Your Writing Immediately   If you want to write, your writing has to have rhythm. No one ever taught me this. But,...

The Meaning in Music

4 min read AVAILABLE IN PODCAST (Listen to this letter to hear the piano music) Spotify iTunes Anchor.fm/emelle Your job will change, where you live will change, the people in your life will change, but you will always have your music. It’s been my mantra for years,...

Books as Trophies? the Bibliophile vs the Bibliophagist

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify anchor.fm/emelle   I have a book problem. It's a good kind of problem because books teach me a lot and I get to hang out and learn with the best. The books don't break the bank. But the books might break my back, or my shelves,...

The Sexy Semicolon, Really?

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm Loved and loathed, sexy and sinister may not be modifiers that come to mind when you think of the semicolon. Cecelia Watson argues otherwise in her deep dive on this misunderstood mark, concluding a decade of research,...

Poetry for Emergencies: Lain S. Thomas at Daybreak

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm   Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and I’m scared. It’s not often and I usually can get back to sleep. I’m lucky that way because people do suffer from insomnia and my waking is not like that. An overactive...

April Dreams: a Story & Two Poems

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm   One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.  Goethe   The bleachers were full and folks were talking...

Spirits of the Fall: Episode (1) In the House

AVAILABLE on PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm     This is the first in a series of True Stories for the season, of eerie occurrences, deathly visits, haunted rooms, and childhood visions.   EPISODE 1               In the House   Fall is the season when...

Memorial Day Reflection – Two Poems and a Tribute

POEMS AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Anchor.fm Spotify iTunes     Two short Memorial Day poems to remember and reflect on the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for freedom.  The first is a notable World War II poem, graphic and difficult, because war is...

This Bus is Empty – A COVID Photo Journey

    This Bus is Empty   My town opened park trails this week at April's end. Come walk with me on this photo journey, no mask and no worries. Let me show you what the COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate looks like in Connecticut, less than an hour...

Poetry Dinner Night – A Quarantine Scene

Does she or doesn’t she? Do you recognize this from the 1956 ad campaign? Does it elicit unsavory thoughts? This Hall-of-Fame advertising slogan was used for Clairol’s Hair Color and within six years seventy percent of women were dying their hair. Maybe you remember...

On Presidents, Politics and War, and Poetry

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST iTunes Spotify Anchor.fm You ever have that moment when something you’ve believed for some time begins to shift and slip, leaving you a bit off-balance? I had that happen in a foundational way. Flipping to the date of a page-a-day calendar, I came...

Raise Your Glass! A Toast by W.B. Yeats

AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify Anchor.fm iTunes   I wanted to share a short poem and what makes it special, why it works as a poem and a toast. Along the way, I’ll talk a bit about punctuation and words, and why they are important to making language sing. This...

On Poetry and Mondegreens and Teenagers

 Listen to PODCAST iTunes Spotify I had a teacher in eighth grade named Miss Michaelson. She was a bit long in the tooth and had a jagged helmet of black hair. A big boned woman, she wore dresses which wrapped about her like robes on a Greek statue, the overall...

Walking With Homer – A Connecticut Odyssey

Today I was in for a surprise, an unlikely and timely gift. It was a sunny Sunday in January, just breaking into the 30s after a cold spell.  I put on yoga pants and dressed in layers, a puffy vest, a sweatshirt with black date stamps printed on the front, like the...

National Punctuation Day – the Vulgar Pronoun – Read THIS

I was looking up the definition of the demonstrative pronoun this last week, and got a lesson in modern American slang. Gestures help with understanding just what this means in certain circles, but if you give it some thought, you will realize that the mean and the...

Grammar Matters – So, Three Pronouns Walk Into a Bar

    Grammar matters. OK, really truly, it does.  So here are some grammar matters worth sharing with fellow word nerds.  AND there's even a little something for math geeks too. BAR JOKES Three pronouns walked into a bar.  She let him have it. An interjection...

On Riddles & Language – A Cabinet of Curiosities by Roy Sorensen

Assassination Proof? As Nero became more powerful there appeared to be no limit on who he me could eliminate -- even his mother. His philosophy teacher, Seneca, warned Nero that there was someone he could not kill. Who was it? (Sorensen) This riddle felt appropriate...

History Teacher Provides a Lesson – But Not One She Intended

Some unlucky souls have already returned to school and we will keep them in our thoughts. Meanwhile, stretch out on the lounger, kick off your shoes, and crack open a cold one while we consider our luckier path, no school till AFTER Labor Day. Let's contemplate the...

Disappointment on Ellis Island Field Trip, Shattan’s Day Off

"The field trip was a huge disappointment.  It took us four hours of driving, two ferry rides, and we had half an hour in the museum," my son said. "Did a guide or a ranger give you a tour?" I asked. "No. Our teacher told us to do three things. We had to sketch...

Marginalia – Notes in Books – To Write or Not To Write?

Marginalia as a word may bring forth varying associations, but focus on the first two syllables for its meaning, as opposed to the last. Readers write in books along the margins, on the flyleaf, making various marks, scribbles, appendages and annotations.   As a...

Why Students Don’t Write Well – the PSAT and English Today

Many children struggle to write well today.  Here's the number one problem they face. First let's consider their writing skills.  See how you fare on these three questions from a full length PSAT or Prelimary Scholastic Aptitude Test, the precursor to the SAT. Choice...

Cut the Flab, a Writing Primer

Simple steps to improve bloated writing   In a digital world, many people only know you through your writing. At work and in your personal life, social media extends our connections across the globe.  So it’s more important than ever to write well. But who has time...

“As droplets fell through the dark” – a Poem for 9/11

Poet Billy Collins, then U.S. Poet Laureate, was asked by the Librarian of Congress to write a poem to remember the victims of 9/11 which he read at a special joint session in September 2002.  It is titled "The Names" and is worth listening to or reading. This is the...

Elegant Sentences, Express Ideas & Make an Impact

I am not a grammarian but I love words, their arrangement and sound, the infinite combinations and uses, their impact. Words are responsible for founding our country, We the people; for ending a war, Tear down this wall; for perhaps the most intimate and familiar of...

Handwriting, a Foundation for Communication and Thought

During a year of homeschooling, my children practiced penmanship. The positive impact on everything from legibility to understanding and reinforcement was impressive. A year back in public school and my son's handwriting has regressed.  And he no longer writes in...

Mother’s Day Menu: Wild Onions & Grammar

Good morning from the Tree House where I have just been served my menu du jour by youthful decree. My selection includes omelet with wild onions, cranberry juice, and berries.  Brunch will be served promptly at 9:30 they inform me.  I particularly like the wax seal...

On Writing and Orwell

Friends often ask me about writing and here are four things I want to share. To write well, you must write.                      Practice often.  When we think of improving our reading skills, we read.  Friends often share how well their children read.  This makes...