Saturday, July 4, 2015

Perfect Timing

You'd been warned, but you paid no heed.

The fact of you not paying heed, in this case, was not a bad thing. You'll see.  You will.

You used to live in Santa Monica, where you'd been brought home from a hospital that used to be at the intersection of Fifteenth Street and Wilshire Boulevard.  Then, your parents moved you to a sprawling Mediterranean house in Burbank, where all you remember is the black and yellow tiles on the bathroom floor, and a bathroom door with a corrugated glass window.  

You used to live in Los Angeles.  There is more to this story of verb tenses because, after having lived in such places as Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Fall River, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island, and Miami Beach Florida, you lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco and Virginia City, Nevada.  

But matters didn't stop there; you lived in Los Angeles again and Santa Monica again.  Now, you live in Santa Barbara, where you have lived as well in such outliers as Summerland and Montecito, although to be fair, you could as well say you used to live in Summerland, you used to live in Montecito, and now you live in Santa Barbara.

You might have had the opportunity to live in New York again, if you had accepted the chance to be editor in chief of a massmarket publisher that was moving from the Century Plaza area of Western Los Angeles to New York.

You could also have lived in Reno, Nevada, and Seattle or Kirkland, Washington, but you did not.  You lived for a time in Mexico City.

This was not intended to be a disquisition on the places you lived, rather instead one on the way verb tenses in the English language allow anyone who will take the time to work with them the opportunity of expressing remarkable graduations of time.

When you day you live somewhere, such as you did with regard to Santa Barbara, you mean you do live there now.  You can get help from an auxiliary verb by saying you not only do live in a place now, you have done so for, in the case of you and Santa Barbara, forty and three-quarters years.  

You can move on into future speculation if you allow that, come November, you will have lived here for forty-one years.  You can address past historical speculation by saying, had you chosen the job in which you accepted the editorial directorship of Pinnacle Books, you life would have taken a different path, perhaps an entirely different one than it has taken since you did not take the job.

Such usage of verbs to convey time are among the reasons why English is conducive to dramatic writing.  You'd like to be able to say English is as grand for storytelling is as Italian is for opera, but you're not there yet.  English has some clunky sounds, thanks to some of its Germanic roots, and those --ing gerunds, by which, for a wonder you mean --ing, not fucking.

English does allow a few cool ways out with auxiliary verbs and compound constructions:  He'd had enough sounds and reads better than he had had enough.  Shrewd writers, those who, among other things, read their work aloud to get the cadences and sounds under control, understand how beginning a scene with an auxiliary verb construction--He'd been warned, but he paid no heed (supra)--sets us to that specific time when the he of the story accepted delivery of the indicated warning.  In the second part of the sentence, the shrewdness of the writer manifests.  The author could as well have written, He had been warned, but he had chosen not to accept the warning.  The author could have taken it further, for emphasis:  He had been warned, but he had chosen not to have had accepted the warning.

Shrewd scarcely covers the matter.  You set your scene by anchoring it back in the past time of completed action, then switch to the simple past tense, which means--and the reader interprets as--the present.  You were fortunate in the way you took an immediate pleasure from diagramming sentences in junior high school grammar classes, which led you to have an affinity for learning the verb tenses as you began the remarkable hill climb of learning Spanish.

Used to translated to actions that no longer take place, while simple past tense, say, he did, means the action happened once and is now over.  He ate dinner.  He was in the habit of having dinner at seven o'clock can encompass past actions and actions yet to come.  

Until some writers began using the present tense--He eats dinner, then watches TV--the narrative convention allowed the writer to say of a character, He ate dinner, then watched TV, the immediate and simple past tense conveying the character now in the midst of eating dinner, the then allowing for the transition of time to convey that the character is now watching TV.

The writer who gets with the use of verb tenses can manage to convey and manipulate the passage of time, the completion of an event, the one-time event, and past completed action.  The writer who grouses, complains he or she has no head for grammar, is not wishing to be a grammarian, only a story teller, is on the fast track to shooting him/herself in the foot.

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