"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Natural Mimics

Parrots are natural mimics. That's why they repeat words they hear from humans. And sometimes, they parrot those words in circumstances that are eerily appropriate.

A number of years ago I was scolding Bobby the cockatoo for throwing all his seeds out of his cage: "Bobby, you make SUCH a mess." From the cage next to Bobby, came the quiet, gravelly voice of Louis the conure, picking up on the exasperated tone in my voice: "Bad Bobby."

Along with parrots, writers also are mimics, according to a well-known writer I heard at a writers convention a couple years ago. He was asked if he read other works in his genre, which was crime/mystery fiction.

"No," he said. "Never. Writers are natural mimics, and I wouldn't want to find myself unwittingly plagiarizing another's work."

All of that came to mind last winter as I was reading a book recommended by a friend, which had been recommended to him by a mutual friend. The book was "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome. Published in 1889, the writing style was filled with phrases and clauses, and (as I like to call them) a congestion of commas.

I wasn't many pages into it when the mimic in me took center stage, and I wrote an e-mail to my friend, which I shall post here because I can't think of anything else to do and mimicking is much on my mind these days. Currently I an hopelessly enamored of Markus Zusak's writing style in "The Book Thief." And, last evening the muse dropped a couple paragraphs in my head, which I dutifully pinned to a page before they escaped, and have no idea where they are headed, which pretty much forecloses anything else being written until she gives me more clues.

So, for now please enjoy my response written in the style of Jerome K. Jerome:

Dear B,

At your specific recommendation, last night I commenced the reading of Three Men in a Boat. I began with the introduction, which informed me as to Jerome K. Jerome’s biography and education, or the lack thereof.

As I recall, your statement to me was, should I read the book, I would then understand why W recommended and gave a copy of the book to you, so I have therefore been watching diligently for evidence of such. I suspect I found the first clue in the introductory biography, wherein it was stated that Mr. Jerome, early on, had set out to master the worldly vices, i.e., smoking, drinking, and girls. With some rearranging as to the preferred order of those vices, I can certainly see how this would apply to our mutual friend.

Surely, I thought, there must be more to this quest than the introduction, so I read further. Quite soon I came across the description of Uncle Podger undertaking the task of hanging a framed picture, which subsequently required the assistance of the entire family of six, as well as the charwoman, to accomplish the task, while Uncle Podger remained standing on the chair that had been fetched for him and all around him the other members of the work group scurried about following his orders.

I was no more than two paragraphs into this subject, when I felt it incumbent upon me to check the date of this writing, as I had begun to suspect Mr. Jerome may have eavesdropped on a conversation between Ken, my husband, and myself, and had, after changing a couple names, transcribed the scene in its entirety.

The reason for my suspicions were, that after encountering the necessity to work on any piece of machinery, Ken believed it propitious to take the offending machinery by surprise. This involved approaching the machine without any tools. After lifting the hood and inspecting the underlying secrets, I would be sent back to the garage for a screwdriver.

If careful application of the screwdriver did not correct the malady, I would be sent to the garage for a 13/16th open end wrench. After I returned with the 13/16th open end wrench, he then required a ratchet, quarter-inch drive, with a half-inch five point socket. I was led to surmise that there was some unwritten union prohibition against the carrying of more than one tool at a time.

As Ken ventured further into the machine’s problem, the fetching of tools became more urgent, until, finally, agitated and overcome by the imminent promise of success, he would demand to know why I could not move faster.

This scene was repeated many times for decades, until one day I suggested to him that if he needed it faster than I was capable of procuring it, then perhaps he should get it himself, whereupon he did so, moving smartly at a speed to set an example for me to follow in the future.

By this time, however, any such lesson would be lost on the both of us, and he would have to procure any and all subsequent tools by himself, as we would no longer be speaking to each other. It was at these times I noticed there apparently was no prohibition against HIM carrying more than one tool at a time.

Therefore, I have found much to amuse myself with and I am only a dozen pages into the manuscript. I would like to express my profound appreciation for your recommendation.

I remain, as ever, your friend and faithful servant.



  1. Your parroting skills are a force with which to be reckoned. If by chance I should, in some future time, find myself in need of acquiring the necessary skills essential to communicate such an intricate recount of the battles between young lovers as they grow comfortable with one another, I shall, without delay, call upon your exquisite familiarity with such matters in the most sincere hopes that you be willing to assist me.

  2. Dear Madame.

    If, in the future, I should receive a request for such assistance as you desire, your pleas will not, I assure you, fall on deaf ears, but will be met with assistance of the most magnanimous persuasion, so as to fulfill your need.