That vs. Which, a Curious Conundrum

I should really be writing something that will make me money. This won’t. The problem is that every time I park my behind to write something, there are grammar questions, ones that make me wish I had paid more attention in English class instead of watching Susie’s derriere twitch as she walked to the front of the class to turn in her puuurrfect paper.

Today, I find myself again perplexed by the notion and usage of That vs. Which in proper grammar. Yes, I know my main topic should have been in the first paragraph, rather than leading with than Susie’s shapely rear end, but that’s boring and I don’t care. Oh, the memories, dear Susie.

Anyone who has read more than a few sentences that I’ve stitched together has seen me misuse and/or abuse both of these words. In fact, I may have done so just now, in the previous sentence. I have no idea. The topic is almost as baffling as semicolons, which also make me think of asses, but not in such a nostalgic way as did Susie.

I’m too old to go back to school to learn the proper usage of That vs. Which, and Susie has moved on by now. My brain cells are mostly gone anyway. The ones I hadn’t killed off in my youthful insobriety have fled, screaming, having seen what I did to their brethren.

Needing to understand the difference between That and Which, and which one I should whip out at a given time, I did what any modern writer would do: I consulted the experts on YouTube.

Now, to be fair, I think the people in the videos really were experts. Also to be fair, I wouldn’t know an expert if I saw one, although one did look a bit like Susie.

These experts used a lot of technical jargon, like Identifying Clauses, to help distinguish the cases where That should be used, or where Which should be used. Nobody made any jokes about Who’s on first, but it would have lightened the mood.

As best I can figure, Which should be used when there is additional information to be shared, but when this information is not necessary to understand the sentence’s meaning. That should be used when you need to identify which one we are discussing.


The alligator that bit Grandma had big teeth.

Maybe there were 10 alligators, or 11. The distinction must be made as to which one, and that distinction is made by using That. The other alligators refrained from biting anyone that day and need to be given credit for their good behavior by clarifying which one did the biting.


The alligator, which had big teeth, bit Grandma.

In this case, the fact, interesting or not, that the alligator had big teeth is not necessary to the sentence’s meaning, so Which would be used. I think. Never mind the fact that the entire sentence, blog post, and most of the internet is not necessary. We’re just talking about Grandma’s alligator here, and grammar, and Susie’s prominent posterior.

I hope today’s lesson on That vs. Which has been educational. If not, go look it up on YouTube. As I am still confused, and perhaps more than before, I’ll see you there.

This is not a poem.

Late for Work

I’d just walked in, plugging my company-issued laptop into the dock when the email arrived. “Eric, In the future, if you are going to to be 15 minutes late for work, I’ll need to know before you arrive.”

I hadn’t intended to be late. My job was already hanging by a thread; they’d been courteous enough to tell me so in a private meeting. And now they were building a file on me, making notes on all the small imperfections which every employee has, but which would be used to document my upcoming dismissal. Corporations like having these things properly documented. The tsunami was already on its way and there was nothing anyone could or would do.

I hadn’t intended to be late. The traffic was heavy as we all jammed up on the highway near the frozen Delaware, fighting for position as 5 lanes merged into two heading for the state’s capitol. And we all hated each other, silently, without even knowing each other. But it wasn’t each other we hated, it was our own existences, and how small our petty jobs made us all feel, filling us with seethe which bared it gleaming teeth and showed its frozen soul in the daily traffic jams next to the blue-ice river.

It wasn’t each other we hated, it was that we knew none of it meant anything. It was that nine hours of time and another three hours of sitting in traffic jams was all we’d amounted to. It was the knowledge that none of it mattered, and– as a part of it, that none of us mattered. After decades of hope and promised possibility, it had come down to this, pissed-off, over-caffeinated assholes, cutting each other off in a race to arrive at tall, glass buildings filled with nothing but futility.

Sure, we’d make our money doing meaningless things, and we’d spend it all on meaningless things, hoping something might fill the emptiness which sits in the passenger seat beside us as we all sit in traffic seething. But nothing ever does, and the emptiness grows, and we turn up the radio to crush its cackling silence.

I hadn’t intended to be late– but the minutes and the moments have a way of sliding into our individual history, and becoming a wavy memory trapped in the past, desperate faces pushing up from beneath the river’s ice, a past which doesn’t even seem to be mine, somehow belonging to someone else, each a memory transplanted, and most of which I’d rather not have.

I hadn’t intended to be late, but I’m glad I was. Fuck them anyway. I didn’t get an email thanking me when I stayed late, or when I worked from home on weekends. Fuck them and their empty building and worthless job. It was all lies anyway. None of them gave a fuck about the customers, other than if they thought they might lose one for not giving a fuck. Then they cared, but it never lasted long.

I hadn’t intended to be late, but they didn’t deserve my time, or anyone’s. The publisher there had just retired after 20 plus years. They had a retirement luncheon for her, and I was on time for that, and we ate from fancy plates and clapped after the speeches which were more about the speaker than the person they honored and afterward we all left and belched loudly in the echoing emptiness of our cars, and everyone quickly forgot that she had even existed as another took her place.

I hadn’t intended to be late, but I was. And they fired me, though I tell people that they let me go. Not just for being late, but because I didn’t fit. There are a lot of ways to say it, but that’s what it was. And they were right to do so.. at least for that reason. I didn’t fit, and I would never fit. The man who used to be able to play the game is dead. I drowned his sorry ass in the river. That was his screaming face trapped beneath the ice. Scream all you want you fucking sell out. It’ll be over soon. And you’ll thank me for putting you out of your misery. You’ll thank me for bringing death’s honesty. You’ll thank me because you’ll never have to smile a fake smile again. Though you’ll wonder why it took me twenty years to kill you.

But I’m at a writing group today and there’s a lady next to me, writing about having to sell her toes. Better her than me, I suppose.

#notapoem Old stuff found in the archives

Secretly Sad, Fairy Tales of Happiness

“Happiness comes and goes. It’s enough, and perhaps better, to simply seek contentedness.”

The words came during a conversation on life, and have stayed with me, for decades now, and every once in a while I revisit the notion to test its truth as it relates to my own life. He was right, of course. Happiness is measured in moments, not lifetimes, and if we’re lucky, there are enough of these moments that we find some level of contentedness that is somewhere above zero.

The suicide rate is higher than the murder rate by more than 30%. That’s right. We kill ourselves more readily than we kill each other, and we do a lot of the latter. Though, why we kill each other is a topic for another article. Why we kill ourselves at a rate of 11.3 per 100,000 in population, why nearly 7% of adults suffer from Major depressive disorder in a given year, why one in eight adolescents have clinical depression, those are the questions asked here.

I watched a show recently about thrill seekers, people who jump off cliffs and similar activities. Contrary to the larger-than-life persona which they wore, the show suggested that some, but not necessarily all of these people, suffered from low levels of Dopamine, which is one of the chemicals of the brain which make us feel happy, like everything is going to be okay again. The adrenaline rush of jumping off of high places gifted them with a return to an emotional normal which the rest of us enjoy– but do we?

And what of the rest of us, those who don’t jump off cliffs wearing colorful wing-suits for fun? Others suffering from depression might be more likely to jump without a parachute, if they even felt like climbing a cliff or a bridge to jump. That’s a lot of work, and the jagged stones hurt when climbing. We hurt enough already. There are easier ways to die, dying slowly, without having shared the internalized pain or ever finding an effective remedy, being the most common.

And why are we depressed? Even if not included in the clinically depressed statistics, whatever clinically depressed might actually mean, many are simply sad, plagued by a lingering melancholy which returns in our solitude, measuring happiness in mere fleeting moments. Everything is great, though, fucking wonderful, in fact.

We, as Americans, are rich, filthy rich by comparison to much of the world. People in other parts of the world watch each other cough up poverty’s dry dust to pass the time and make fried protein-patty meals from swarming gnat-like bugs. We have cable TV, dammit. We have fast food for our quick grease and calorie fixes. If we are able to afford it, or if our credit cards aren’t maxed out, we have fancy dinners, movies, massages, parties, and shopping for fabulous, shiny-new stuff in palatial malls.

We have drugs and alcohol to help us forget, or to help us to be social, to help us pretend we aren’t so damned sad. Still, the melancholy returns for many, like the next morning’s hangover. What the fuck is wrong with us? Maybe our money is boring the hell out of us, making us sadder as we’d wished it to fill an unnamed void. Maybe it just isn’t enough to be rich, by comparison.

We feed ourselves constantly, and not just food. We devour love, and religion, ethereal hopeful-hippies who hide in the sky. We consume material things, and state of the art entertainment, and self-help books written by gurus who are also secretly sad, and we already know this; nothing ever fully satisfies.

In a recent conversation, someone had referred to us, we fragile and moody humans, as chemical beings. Maybe she was right. Maybe the still-not-understood-by-science chemical reactions going on in our bodies all day, every day, are to blame. Maybe we have a deficiency of some sort. If we ever figure out the cure for our deficiency, someone should bottle that shit and sell it. Though the money won’t make them happier.

We’re just sad; we can’t figure out why, and we don’t want to talk about what’s eating at us all the damned time. It makes us feel ashamed to feel so sad, often without an apparent reason, even though many others feel the same. Maybe we aren’t as alone as we often feel, and if we only knew, we’d feel less sad.

Okay, so it’s not a poem, but I found this in the rubble of a website I’d abandoned. Sharing it here. Be well. 

a thing, true

There’d been a time when men spoke as oracles, carving night’s obsidian into black-winged angels with their words’ intricate precision, each fine syllable spilled of their rotten-tooth mouths, poetry, the teeming spit glistening upon the swollen round of their cankerous lips, their poems, incarnate, swelling with life, swimming with notions, gestating before born; we live in the mossy, crimson shadows of their brutal and artful hearts, lovers– we, not poets– in these decades of haste, but small men, trifling blasphemers, on most days. Tho on those rare evenings, magical, on those days, particularly blessed, on those mornings, warm and glorious, we might still recall their tall spirits, we might write a poem– a thing worth remembering, a thing bolder than our vanity, a thing, true, whispered into the lonesome void of another soul.

conversations #1

“All men want that..”

“That is untrue. Some of us, or at least one of us, wishes only to know your nuance, those things missed, or disguised, and to learn the depth of one’s shadow; each with dimension, ’tis where we reside.”

dangling frays

I listened to some poets today, and the Mexican poet read a poem about prejudice against his people, and the black poet read a poem about oppression against his people, and one white poet read a poem about depression, and another hated most people, so he proclaimed, while one fellow read a poem about being black–when he wasn’t, and they all wore proud, colorful flags until ragged tatters and dangling frays, and they shouted veiny, red-faced spittle, thrusting young fists into the compliant, fluorescent emptiness, as I watched wondering– who my people might be– feeling rather gray.


It was in a prior life, before the bustling din, and the empty ring of tin, before the restless rustle of concession’s sin. I’d been pure, or more so than after time’s cowardly compromise; I’d been the limitless possibility told of in faith’s fable. I was a sculptor. Gypsy tramps, and theater-mask molesters spoke to me, words which a narcissistic world couldn’t hear, each pair of eyes confiding in me their secrets. I’d seen things, stories drifting in whispers, and inscrutable emotions which bard’s scratching quill hadn’t yet exhumed, I’d been privy to that which lay sobbing deep within the shadows’ keep of the gnarled sidewalk hobblers and the salt-eyed ragged children of the street. I was an artist.

I’d written then, though I hadn’t thought myself a writer. Two decades drowned in conformity’s shallow millpond, I now write again, and I wonder, as I begin to return to who I have always been beneath sanity’s guise, if writing itself is not art. Is this not who I am? Do these palaces built of words not need artist’s eyes to gain entry?

What my hands may craft with paper and clay is simple mechanics, an experienced hand’s tool-turn, easily– a counterfeiter’s street market mockery. What I may see, what I may feel, and pass on, what I may question, turning on its reluctant end to shake out its severed-head truth, would that not be where art resides?

I’ve a recalcitrant avarice to feel my eyes slashed open again by the jagged-glass monocle of those years. I’ve ravenous need to return to who I’d been, to see once more– things as they are. Life then, was honest. The foul immigrants swearing, breaking things upstairs, the bare-knuckle fights in the street outside my window, the shuffling hostility of the trains jostling down the tracks which ran behind my dark apartment, pushing deep through evening’s screaming virginity– it was all authentic, every one of us an exposed nerve, though we hadn’t enough paupers to assemble in revolution. Still, I wish only feel– as the artist I am beneath all this. Though, I shall never call myself a poet.


The person in the mirror, made-up, polished, primped, and preened, is a fraud. That person doesn’t even exist.

We are the mud beneath our fingernails, we are the grave from which we’ve crawled in defiance, we are what we have fought, clawing, to achieve.

We are the blood on our split knuckles, we are the battles we’ve survived, we are the principles we dare defend, we are the people for whom we would die fighting; we are the sum of the love we have given.

That person in the mirror, the imposter, the pretender, hasn’t the balls for this sort of thing.

writer’s playground

This place, for writers, is a playground, its sharp edges removed. Though it’s on the playground where we first learn if we’ve any fight in us at all, and secondarily, which of our spoken principles merit perilous or injurious defense. It’s on the playground where our will is first measured.

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