My Conversations with Bernard: Kind Squirrels and Cross Words

I took a walk with Bernard, the soon-to-be copyediting squirrel, who was kind enough to let himself be photographed:


Bernard has a wisdom beyond (and between) his ears, though his reserved nature makes him hard to hear at times. As we strolled the trail, I asked Bernard how I could improve ‘Til Undeath Do Us Part. I believe the story is strong; I believe my grammar has punch; I doubt my vocabulary is potent.

Compassionate and kind as ever, Bernard patted my emerald green hiking boot just above my ankle and squeaked his sagacious advice toward my knee.

“Why don’t you pick up a crossword puzzle?”

Like sunlit sparkles on a breeze-blown pond, his soft-squeaked question illuminated everything. Yes. Yes. I stopped turning to these wonderful and relaxing games during my down time–save for the crossword in the back of in-flight magazines. Altitude-driven boredom sends me to the crossword puzzles every time. Around my home are littered a half-dozen incomplete crossword books, and myriad puzzles await on the internet. I have pencils, and I have access to crossword puzzles.

“You’re a genius,” I whispered to my diminutive, sciurid companion.

Bernard blushed.

An enrapturing tale is alchemy. It begins with the fires of imagination, upon which the story is heated, so the tale can roil as it brews in the mind’s cauldron. Grammar is a necessary ingredient: Dashes of punctuation, strands of sentences, petals of prose, and leaves taken from others’ writing advice are musts in this brew. However, it means nothing without a powerful vocabulary to add the color of magic which transports the reader to the writer’s fantastic world. A weak vocabulary brews a weak elixir. Lead remains lead without the element of style which transmutes base prose to noble gold.


CrosswordTime away from writing and editing needs not pass without purpose. I prefer medium crossword puzzles because they don’t make my brain sweat like an expert puzzle does, yet they provide more challenging words than easy puzzles do. I don’t fret if I have to look up a word, because those I don’t know are more likely to hold fast than the words I do.

Crosswords expand vocabularies and exercise problem-solving skills. Both are necessary when one creates new worlds out of the mind’s aether.

Well, that’s how Bernard explained it to me. Of course, he does the N.Y. Times Sunday crossword puzzle weekly as he sips his steaming almond milk and contemplates.

In ink.

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