The Curse of "Is", Or, the Joy of Verbing
Mon, May 14, 2012
Some French authors (I think) once decided to write entire novels without using any form of the verb "to be". Apparently, they thought this Spartan restriction would channel their mental energy into mighty rivers of vitality and song.
This little experiment has bothered me ever since I heard about it.
For one thing, I can't even read the novels.
I've tried to dismiss the whole attempt as philosophically unsound. How can we talk about anything if we can't link a substance to its accidents?
That sounds grand. Literary. Even Chestertonian. But I know the dark truth.
The experiment bothers me because my own writing seethes with all those little "is"es. I don't want to hunt up verbs. Verbs take effort.
Adjectives spring to mind unbidden. They cluster like white blood cells on an intruder. Like pamphlet-waving locals on election day. I reach lazily for a noun, the adjectives swarm, and I grab one and snap it on. Easy. Next sentence.
Verbs elude me. I wonder, "What is this noun doing?" and immediately I get a storm of protests from the nouns. All my nouns are sitting comfortably on couches, munching their adjective snacks. They don't want to haul themselves up and move around.
Clearly, we both need exercise.
But you know what, the minute those nouns do quit griping and start moving, they feel great. They look great. Everyone gets energized. Suddenly, we're not just sitting around. We're going somewhere.
So I propose to take up a new mental sport: verbing. ("I'm off verbing, darling. Back for tea.") I don't know if I could write an entire novel without using "to be," but I ought to be able to get through a blog post. Like this one.
Meanwhile, what will I ever do about my domain name? "Bill Powell Is Alive." Good grief.