Chalk: (n) a soft white limestone used for blackboards

His first name was Page and his second was Unus. His parents apparently thought this was funny, because once Unus is translated from the
Latin, his name became “Page One.”

I liked Page. He was odd.

Most kids in school knew he was odd, which disqualified him from consideration. He was highly intelligent, which is the booby prize often given to odd people. Page had quirks.

Page loved to eat cold kidney beans out of a can.

He loved to have crab apple fights in his backyard.

But he hated the sound of squeaky chalk on a blackboard. It made him crazy–not fake, “pretending to be upset” crazy. No, his blood pressure went up, his face turned red, and he gripped the sides of his wooden schoolroom desk as if he were going to tear it apart.

We had one teacher who always had squeaky chalk. I don’t know if it was the cheap stuff or the expensive–but every time he wrote on the blackboard, there was an accompanying atonal melody of squeaking which most of the class ignored.

Except for Page and me–and only me because I was concerned about Page.

One day in the midst of a particularly elongated session of trying to solve a problem on the board with the squeaking chalk, Page got up from his seat, quietly walked to the front of the room, took the chalk from the teacher’s hand and threw it against the wall, breaking it into several pieces. He turned to the class and said, “Doesn’t that sound drive you crazy?”

He was met with a roomful of blank faces.

The teacher took him to the principal’s office, where he received a lecture on self-control and was given in-school suspension for five days. During his stretch for the crime, I saw him one day on his way to the cafeteria. He was smiling.

I was confused. Why would Page be so happy about his punishment? Then I realized.

No squeaky chalk.


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Atonal: (adj) music not written in any key or mode.dictionary with letter A

His name was Jim.

He was a huge lug of a man–more or less a teddy bear stuffed in a human skeleton, sporting incomplete sideburns.

He wanted to sing. Jim had never sung before.

There were two reasons for that. Growing up as a rough and tumble boy, he felt it was “sissy” to sing, but secondly, he could not carry a tune.

I was young, optimistic and also thought it would be great to make a few dollars giving singing lessons to Jim, with the aspiration that by his sister’s wedding, he would be able to share a song at the reception.

I thought it would be no big deal. I believed that anybody could eventually follow a melody if they just concentrated hard enough on the structure.

Jim was atonal.

Jim understood that there were tones, but his voice was either in rebellion to them or had prematurely gone deaf.

So I worked with him for at least two months, and even though I greatly enjoyed the influx of cash to soothe my weary budget, I eventually had to sit down with him and explain that even though God gives gifts sometimes, that we must be the ones to mature these offerings, to make them acceptable.

When I shared this he looked at me blankly. So realizing that I was not making my point very well, I bluntly spurted out, “Jim, you just can’t sing.”

He was curious if I meant that this was a temporary problem which could be alleviated through further practice. It was time to use even more candor.

“Jim, you will never sing. As a matter of fact, it’s God’s will that you stop trying.”

For a moment his feelings were bruised, but then he started to giggle.

After the giggling subsided, he looked at me with his eyebrows furrowed, and challenged, “Does this mean I get my money back?”


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Thank you for enjoying Words from Dic(tionary) —  J.R. Practix


by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

Absonent: (adj.) discordant or unreasonable.

Actually, my “discordant brothers and sisters” in music thought I was the unreasonable one. Almost universally, they decided to pursue a life of making absonent compositions that were completely atonal and vacant melodic and harmonic tenderness. They contended that all the possible linkage of notes had already been achieved, and anything done now would simply be a rehashing of former inspiration.

I just found it sad. It’s very similar to going to a meeting and having the moderator inform all those attending that it was decided not to do much of anything because everything that was brought up seemed to be either impossible or just a remake of old ideas.

When did we become so cynical? When did we discover we lacked faith in the abilities that pulsate through our bodies–so much so that we can’t take the chance that something original could spring through our gray matter? Why do people feel intelligent nowadays by finding reasons that things should not work instead of taking the time to champion a cause and risk trying something that could be beneficial?:

I don’t know.

But in a six-year period, I sat down and wrote twelve symphonies. I did. I don’t know if they’re great. I don’t know if someone would listen to them and insist they heard hints of “this and that” and garnishes of “whatever.” In the moment I composed them, they were original to me, and they thrust my soul light-years ahead in awareness and jubilation. That can’t be bad, right?

So the next time you get around someone who insists that the intellectual approach to any situation is to be discordant or nasty, just quietly slip away to your room, write a melody that comes from your heart, and sing it with the confidence that it is yours and yours alone.

For after all, in that moment … it truly is.