Do you have a favorite idiom? I have many, and if I can’t think of one, I am very comfortable making one up. Of course, this skill is more often due to my inability to remember real idioms during my time of need, but whatever. I think my new favorite was the time I was irritated while driving. (As an aside, the older I get, the crankier I get while driving. Oldest wagers that by the time I’m 80, I’ll get out at traffic lights and harangue other drivers and then whack their cars with my cane. He may be on to something.) I was trying to clean up my notoriously potty-mouth and instead of shouting to the imbecile with car keys the error of his ways, I instead hollered “crap on a cracker!” (I grew up hearing ‘Christ on a cross’ often…so I suppose the alliteration stayed with me?)
“Crap on a cracker!” has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? You’re welcome to try it out the next time you are feeling crabby. I promise, all those hard “c” sounds will feel great as you holler them. Just don’t holler them at me.
I have a long-held love for the author Julia Alvarez. I was living in Minnesota when I decided I needed to finally read some of the new classics I was feeling guilty over having never read. Each week I would drive to my local library and see if Isabel Allende‘s House of the Spirits was in. I would start at the aisle and walk towards the other end, trailing my fingers across the book spines.
That is a wonderful thing to do in case you are not familiar with that sensation. I fully believe that books talk to you, even before you ever open their covers. Seriously, go try it. Visit a library or book store, hell even someone’s bookshelf. (But get permission first, otherwise it’s breaking and entering and that leads to jail time. Trust me on this.)
Let your fingers slide across those spines and you will feel their lives as sure as if they had knobby backbones just like yourself.
Every week I did this; sliding my fingers along the books, feeling the differences in paper, cloth, protective covers. I’d breathe in deeply all that glorious book smell and be happy.
And every week, when I got to where Allende should be, she wasn’t. And then I’d be a wee bit less happy. I needed to expand my reading list! Help me out here, book universe!
It was the time before computerized holds and such things. Today I would have put it on hold and then realized that I was something akin to being the 863rd person in line for the book. But things were different back in 1996. Instead, I walked between the stacks with hope. And my finger held out, meeting my old friends…the fiction writers with last names starting with the letter A.
Every week my finger would eventually land not on Allende, but on Alvarez, who luck would have it was shelved immediately after Allende. Week after week I pulled off the shelf not House of the Spirits but In the Time of the Butterflies. Sigh. Back to the card catalogue I’d go.
Finally, one week I checked it out and fell in love with Alvarez, her sisters, and her voice which all come together so beautifully in In the Time of the Butterflies, seriously, read this book folks. (When I finally got a copy of House of the Spirits I found I loved it too. Love me some magical realism, I do.)
A few years later I was teaching 10th grade English and at that time it was a survey course. Imagine my thrill when I came across Alvarez’ short story “Daughter of Invention”. It is a fabulous story of Alvarez, her struggle to find her voice, and her mother’s challenge to master our idioms.
It is our use of idioms that sets us apart. It makes us colorful and illustrates how closely we stay within the lines. And it is a lovely residue of where we came from…and the people we knew there.
I figure when my children grow up and go far from this corner of the world or galaxy, they will surprise someone by shouting something odd and unexpected. It might be “crap on a cracker” or it could be by calling someone an “apple”, but in either case they will prove that not only did I mother them well in my mother tongue, but that I imprinted upon the poor things a need to speak their minds, even if it doesn’t always make sense to anyone else.
Go out and be colorful. And for crap’s sake, color outside the lines if that’s what you want to do!