Monday, September 8, 2014

Laying Bricks: A Wall of Knowledge

I am pleased to announce that Biking Uphill is on a virtual tour this week. I hope you enjoy this guest post I wrote for one of today's tour stops. Check it out HERE or read below.

My father was a steamfitter, not a bricklayer, and yet he built a house of red brick, a big square box of a house three stories tall with a chimney from basement to rooftop. As a child I watched my father lay those bricks, one upon next, mortar troweled onto one large side and each both short ends oozing through the holes.

The other day at a large supermarket in my Seattle neighborhood I saw a free-standing wall of stacked beer cases, and I could hear my father's snicker, see his head shaking in disbelief. I imagined what would have happened to this wall in the earthquake in the recent San Francisco earthquake. For you see, unlike the careful placed bricks in the walls of my childhood home, staggered by a half brick for structural stability, the beer cases were aligned one atop the next. I was tempted to give the wall a tiny push. I hoped no child would unintentionally do so.
My father was not an educated man, but he was a reader and he had abundant common-sense and the ability to figure out most challenges he faced. Still, he and my mother were determined their daughters attend college.

Now I teach language and write books. As I teach, I think of grammar as the mortar holding vocabulary together and language acquisition as a wall of knowledge that grows one row of brick at a time.

As a writer, I think of strong verbs and concrete nouns as the bricks of a solid piece of writing, the mortar as the essential connections holding the story together. A bricklayer can lay bricks in a variety of patterns to create both beauty and utility, just as a writer chooses words to best express the action or emotion of a piece of writing.

But the author and the teacher must be alert so that unlike the wall of beer cases at my local supermarket, the language acquisition begins from a strong base and the story does not collapse upon itself.

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