By Mark Aldrich
Oh, sweet honey and the rock, that’s awful, but most of the solutions to the “X Challenge” are awful …
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About twenty years ago, some friends and I started to exchange by email these twenty-six-word-long alphabetical prose-poems which one of us started to call “abecedarians,” because—as it turns out—this is what writers have always called them.
In Merriam-Webster, an abecedarian (noun) is a novice who has not yet mastered the rudiments, the beginning steps, of something. (Just think: How does one learn the alphabet from scratch?) As an adjective, it means, “of or related to the alphabet.” My friends and I had turned an adjective into a noun: an “abecedarian sequence” is a set of things arranged alphabetically; we were writing abecedarians, twenty-six-word alphabetical paragraphs that sometimes almost meant something. It was our own invention. Or so we thought.
It was not. Many writers taken a turn or two at the abecedarian form. Robert Pinsky, the former poet laureate, wrote an ABC poem that he rather appropriately titled “ABC”:
Any body can die, evidently. Few
Go happily, irradiating joy,
Knowledge, love. Many
Need oblivion, painkillers,
Sweet time unafflicted,
And he found a terrible solution to the “X Challenge,” which confronts each and every pursuer of the perfect abecedarian. “X=your zenith.” Oh, sweet honey and the rock, that’s awful, but most of the solutions to the “X Challenge” are. See mine, below.
As my friend John, who started the thing off, wrote, “They are awfully fun to speed-write stream of consciously while at work or elsewhere.”
Yes, at work. That’s right. At the time, I wrote instruction manuals for a major manufacturer that had parts labeled A, B, and C on our illustrations (one had so many parts that it went through the alphabet and had more parts to be identified and needed to use AA, BB, CC), so I could have claimed my abecedarians as work-related research. I didn’t, but I never had my own interests at heart.
Here are a few, which all date from spring 2001 and my, ahem, work email account:
Alan’s bountiful charms developed even further God’s handiwork. “It justifies knives, leaving me nearly … oh, perfect. Questions? Rotten stuff, that ugliness.” Vigorously wiggles. “XXX!’ (Youth’s zenith.)
I have not included my friends’ abecedarians because they ought to be under their copyright, should they wish to ever use them. All of the ones here are mine. Judge away!
A bistro coffee (decaf) eventually forces growing humility: “It’s just Kona.” Let me notice our position: “Quality really sucks. Totally.” Underlined violently. Wow. Xed-out of your Zagats.
“Alright, boisterous Charles, dedicated event financier, go have imagined justice, Korean laughter. Man no open parapets! Question revolutions solving truth! Until vile wishes X-tend, Yours, Zebediah.”
Another behemoth cooed delightedly, elevating Father Gordon H. Ionesco’s jowls kinkily. “Lovely monster.” “Next opinion?” pressed Questa Rodriguez-Sanchez, totally unimpressed Vice-Warden. “X- X- X-” yammered Zionist.
Ambient balloons clownishly detour eccentric focaccia; gorgeous Hellespont invokes judicious knowledge; lovely millionaire Newton optimistically predicts qualm-free results, sending trivial ultimatums violently wandering; “‘xtraordinary,” yawns Zeus.
August Browning captures Dardanelles easily from Germany. He insists jokingly kangaroos leave momentarily; nodding openly, primly querying “Really? So they …”, urging Victor Watson: “X-coordinate! You Zed!”
A broken cut developed easily from goring hunters into juicy Kosciusko-less millions now, or perpetually, quelling righteous salves thick under victory while xaviering your zoo.
All boyos consider donuts easy food, guessing heavy-duty, intelligent judges know leisure-time munching no-way offers possible questions re: sluggish, tortoise-like, useless, vitamins, where X-Street’s youths zip by.
The abecedarian pieces filled my email world for a couple of months, and even my mother and sister joined the fray. (Theirs were better than mine.) According to my email account, I attempted to revive the phenomenon five years later, which is now almost fifteen years ago. There were no takers. The abecedarian moment had been a flash in the pan.
One final piece of history: Some who are students of religion will remember that there was once a sect of Anabaptists in 16th Century Germany who called themselves “Abecedarians.” The Anabaptists did not use this term, “Anabaptist,” which roughly translates from Greek as people who “baptize twice.” The members of the group were ridiculed and worse, persecuted, for their practice of baptizing adults who had been baptized in infancy, but that had been their point: Infants can not confess their faith, so they are not candidates for true baptism. People need to learn the rudiments of anything before progress can be made. Belief comes from within, and baptism is for those who can understand.
The Abecedarian sect took this further and held that all human knowledge is an impediment to being saved, that to even know the letters of the alphabet is to consciously block God’s word from the human heart. Hence their name. This group had been a flash in the theological pan.
A new one:
About Butch Cassidy Don English found good heightened information: Just knowing lies makes not one person quite really sated. Try under “Violence,” William Xavier. Yours, Zara
Please submit your own below. Perhaps Meghan will challenge participants on her improv show, The The Ding Wrong Show, to offer their own abecedarians in a future program.
Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning newspaper columnist, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirtieth season. His website is TheGadAboutTown.com.
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Meghan Jenkins is an actor, comedian, radio personality, model, brand ambassador for Pineapple Clothing, and author of the forthcoming book, The Adventures of Pizza Alien.
A social media influencer, in the spring of 2020 her photos of life in quarantine led to an invitation from Maxim magazine to participate in a cover model contest for which readers could submit votes. Her grassroots campaign against professional models brought her to a third-place finish.
She is currently the host of the live comedy improv show The The Ding Wrong Show, recorded on Zoom and seen on YouTube:
She is a cast member of the upcoming The End of the World Podcast with Derek Erik:
In 2018-’19, she was one of the on-air personalities on The Ding Dong Show, recorded each week live with an audience at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, California.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.