Don’t Call Me A Grammar Nazi

The name of my blog should clue people in to a basic fact about me: I have a passion for words and language. I really am a wordy nerd.

It’s not just a passing interest or a hobby, either. As an author and as an English teacher, that’s my job. I have no shame and make no apologies about any of that.

I do try to be nice about it. I am gentle with my students, and use encouragement and positive reinforcement to help them improve their writing and  their spoken language. I urge them to read their work aloud, even if just in a whisper, to see where they need to end one sentence and start another, or add punctuation. I point out things that need fixing, but at the same time offer to upgrade their marks if they fix their errors and resubmit. I reward effort.

Outside of the classroom— most of the time, at least— I tend to keep  my comments to myself. The level of self control exerted by myself in those situations is almost universally grossly underestimated and under-appreciated.

I also refuse to engage in commenting on or correcting most people’s social media posts. The usual exception to that is anyone who cuts others down or calls them ignorant or stupid while using incorrect spelling or grammar themselves: they have it coming. The irony train is fully laden and they are its next stop.

People have many names for people like me, many of which are less than complimentary. I don’t care about any of them but one.

Do. Not. Ever. Call. Me. A. Grammar. Nazi.

That is just offensive.
And anyone who fails to understand why really needs to take a good hard look at themself.

Even if we don’t appreciate what a person does or, more likely how they do it, there is no excuse for equating them with the most hateful regime in living memory.

To equate anyone with that level of atrocity is rarely, although sometimes, justified. It’s not the people who appreciates good spelling or admire elegant sentence structure, nor is it anyone who wants to see people improving their grasp of the language and public profile at the same time.

There are so many terms that could be used instead:
Grammar Geek.
Grammar Nerd.
Word Nerd.
Word Genie.
Grammar Fairy.
Ultragrammarian.
Grammar Patrol.
Grammar Nut.
Walking Dictionary.
Pedant.
Grammar Llama.

I’ll gladly accept and use any of those.

In social contexts, I rather enjoy telling people I have a grammar fetish. While I would never say that to my students, nor indeed a number of my more conservative colleagues, I will definitely throw it into casual conversation  for the fun of seeing people do the mental gymnastics and trying to keep a straight face.

Long story short, don’t call me a Grammar Nazi unless you’re ready for a very long lecture from a history nerd — also me— on why that is unacceptable.

Don’t Call Me A Grammar Nazi.

#grammar #behaviour

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: An Expression of Grief

Today was hard. It is the anniversary of both Helen’s passing and of Dad’s funeral. I still love them and miss them both enormously. They are both still part of me, and always will be.

Photo by Joanne Van Leerdam: A rose from Helen’s funeral.

I tried to stay busy and keep my mind on other things. That only works to an extent: the knowledge and the memories are always right there, whispering into every moment and activity.

Poems like this help me to remember and they help me to heal and keep going. I love the beauty of the language and the power of the ideas and message.

I hope you enjoy it, too.

Shakespeare Nerd

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short adate;
Sometimetoo hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And everyfairfrom fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing courseuntrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thouow’st,
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

This sonnet is popularly believed to be a poem of love and admiration. That may be a fair interpretation of the first two lines, and I suppose that might be as far as some people read.

However, when…

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A Reflection on the Relentlessness of Time.

I have been contemplating Shakespeare’s 65th sonnet this weekend:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
	O none, unless this miracle have might,
	That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

                                           William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65
		 

A year ago today, I was sitting beside my father in the last days of his life. Three days later, it was my beloved cousin and friend Helen whose hand I was holding as she, too, fell prey to time and mortality.

Saying my final farewells to them both in the space of five days was certainly a “wrackful siege of batt’ring days”. I wrote poetry and reflections to both express and process my thoughts and feelings. I wanted people to know how I felt. I wanted people to understand who both these jewels were and why they would always matter, despite their having been being reclaimed from  this life.

I learned more about grief, and I learned more about letting go. I had no choice, because there is no human hand or will strong enough to hold back the relentless march of time and mortality.

This sonnet expresses a reality of life: nothing can withstand the relentless power of time.  Erosion, degradation, and decay overwhelm not only the frail, but also the mighty. True, rocks and brass may outlast flowers and flesh, but they too will yield eventually.

It is a poem of contemplation and resignation, but also one of defiance: time may be relentless, and there may be no way to “hold his swift foot back”, but one who is immortalised or memorialised in ink lives on, albeit in a different way. We can continue to remember and honour them, and to express our love for them.  Our memories and mementos remain long after those who have fallen prey to time and mortality.

In Shakespeare’s time, they had fewer options for immortalising those who passed away than we do. They had eulogies and poetry – the black ink  in which “my love may still shine bright”. They could create drawings and paintings. Now, in addition to those, we have photographs, video, and voice recordings.

Poetry and eulogies still touch our souls just as powerfully, though— whether written in the 21st century or the 16th, our written tributes and reflections endure and move us still.

Some of my own black ink, in which my love shines bright:
Old Man written for my father
Farewell, My Friend written for Helen

Hibernation.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now really is the winter of my discontent.

I know I’m misquoting – in Richard III’s famous soliloquy, Richard continues the line to say that the winter of the Plantagenets’ discontent is made glorious by the success of the Yorks in succeeding to the English throne and achieving prosperity for England. The civil conflicts experienced in the Wars of the Roses are over, and the turmoil of decades of striving for supremacy has subsided into feasting and celebration. Richard amd his family are in a pretty good place.

I, on the other hand, am not. I’m exhausted, I’m not sleeping, my pain levels are skyrocketing… and the hits just keep coming.

Many of the pressures and expectations are beyond my control, and because it doesn’t look as though things are going to back off anytime soon, I find myself having to give up something I love doing.

Consequently, I’ve made a really hard but necessary decision: I’ve decided to put my Book Squirrel in his nest and let him hibernate for a while. I will put off making a permanent decision about the until the end of the year, when I hope to be able to get some rest and some perspective.

I have spent five and a half years building up that particular blog, dedicated to Indie books and Indie authors, and working hard to develop a following. Now, it has all just stopped.
It hurts. It feels unfair.
Even so, giving the squirrel a rest is my own choice.

I am discontented, without a doubt.

Contrary to apparent popular perceptions, I can’t actually do everything, and I don’t have unlimited time or energy. Something has to give or else I’m going to break, and although it makes me incredibly sad, right now it’s one less thing for me to think about and feel guilty about neglecting.

I am calling it a hibernation for Book Squirrel.

Interestingly, the word hibernation comes from the Latin word hibernationem, which referred to the Roman army’s practice of passing the winter in a specific location or quarters. Interestingly, it was a military word long before it became a zoological one.

It was not until the 1660s that various plants and insects’ different ways of slowing down or suspension of growth during the winter months was called hibernation. Think of a naked deciduous tree, having cast off its leaves in autumn, or a bulb waiting underground for spring, when it would burst forth in furious growth and then bloom to show that winter had come to an end. It was later still— in the 1780s— that the term was used to refer to the way some animals go dormant or sleep through winter, which is the sense in which we most frequently use the word now.

It seems fitting, then, to respond to a winter of discontent with a squirrel’s hibernation.

I do plan to keep blogging here and on Shakespeare Nerd, so those of you who never followed Book Squirrel’s blog dedicated to Indie books and Indie authors will probably not perceive much difference.

To those of you who have come to love the Squirrel and his bookish enthusiasm: I’m sorry. I tried.

To my beloved Book Squirrel: I really am sorry. I’ll miss you. Bye for now.

Photo by Myriams Fotos on Pexels.com

Sources:

Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Hurly-Burly

Photo credit: Sergey Katyshkin via Pexels

This morning I made a to-do list in addition to the one I live by from day to day. The intent of this list is inherent in its title: When the Hurly-Burly’s Done

That is a quote from the opening scene of Macbeth, where the Wyrd Sisters chant in the midst of thunder and lightning:

1st WITCH.

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

2nd WITCH.

When the hurly-burly’s done,

When the battle’s lost and won.

3rd WITCH.

That will be ere the set of sun.

In the context of war, treachery, the death of a king and the consequent struggles of a nation, it means they will get together again when the mayhem is over. Given their manipulation of Macbeth himself, it’s mayhem they are actively involved and interested in.

While I am not in any way playing with anyone’s life or ambitions, nor the future of the country, there is plenty of hurly-burly in my life at this point in time .

Hurly-burly or hurlyburly is a word from the early 1500s which means commotion or tumult, which grew out of the  phrase hurling and burling which was used as early as the 1300s. Hurling time was the name applied by chroniclers of the time to the period of tumult and commotion around the Peasants’ Revolt against the young Richard II, led by Wat Tyler in 1381.

It is a wonderfully expressive word that is quite evocative of  the chaos and tumult of its meaning, particularly when delivered with a Scottish accent as it might well be spoken in Macbeth.

Juggling a show, a job, a couple of blogs and a personal life takes some coordination and requires self-care as well as caring for the needs of those around me. It’s busy and demanding, and it definitely feels like hurly-burly to me. Consequently, there are some things that will simply have to wait until after the hurly-burly’s done. The new list should help me ensure they aren’t forgotten.

Sources:

Etymonline.

Middle English Compendium

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The Insidious Return of Impostor Syndrome

Photo by Ibolya Toldi on Pexels.com

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been an unwilling host to an enormous case of impostor syndrome.

This post  is not a plea for reassurance or confidence.
Nor is it an accusation against anyone else.

Rather, it is an honest, soul-wrenching confession of someone who doesn’t want to be a fake, but at times desperately fears she might be.

I may well be a poet and author, but I haven’t managed to write much at all in the past few months. I have a collection of poems edited and ready for publication, and I can’t quite seem to manage that next step. Part of that is being extraordinarily busy — the other part is fear that it won’t be welcomed or appreciated by readers.

The play I have been co-directing for Camperdown Theatre Company has been in full swing of rehearsals, set design and construction, venue preparation and various other elements of production and promotion.
My co-director is sensational, and the cast, crew and set are all excellent. My doubts keep telling me that they would all have done just as fine a job without me.

I have a three-quarters-written blog post that I have been working on for a couple of weeks now I know what I want to say, I just haven’t had time to write it. This has been a source of both frustration and disappointment, particularly given that it involves two of my favourite things: words and Shakespeare!

A good proportion of the demands on my time over recent weeks has come from a considerable increase in my teaching load, which arose without warning and with some urgency: unexpected events meant that the school needed people to step up, so I did. That my boss asked me to do it demonstrated  confidence in my ability and professionalism. I know I am a good teacher, but I’m not feeling that way at the moment. I have been so stressed and stupidly exhausted lately that I feel like I am continually not quite keeping up.

All of this combines to play on my insecurities and doubts about myself.

Last week I hit a real low— I knew it was happening, I could recognise it for what it was and analyse it as it was happening, but I could neither stop it nor escape it. And the barbs came thick and fast:

You’re a fake.

Give up now – nobody will even notice. Your poetry sucks anyway. Nobody would miss you if you didn’t show up. As if anyone actually wants to be with you.

You’re a terrible friend.
All you do is hurt people.

You’re so selfish – thinking about your own feelings instead of what others need.

You’re useless.Do you even know what you’re doing?

Maybe that student is right: you’re a terrible teacher and a horrible person.

Pathetic, feeling sorry for yourself like this. Who do you think you’re kidding?

A day as lousy as this is exactly what you you had coming.

It has been quite awful. The emotions that rage within me at these times are raw and powerful, but they are also subtle and stealthy in the ways that they lurk in the dark corners, preying subtly on every raw nerve ending and every perceived failure. The tears have often been close to the surface, and have been quickly blinked back each time they threaten to overflow. The sense of powerlessness has been overwhelming.

On one level, I know those accusations are not true but, at the same time, it honestly feels as though they are. The more my brain says those things, the more believable they become.

I also know from previous experience that it won’t last. It may come and go, but it’s not permanent.

That doesn’t make getting through it any easier, though.
Because … what if it *is* true?

That’s the fear that keeps me from confessing how I feel until afterwards. Even if I told someone, any reassurance they gave me would be met with the doubt that they might just be saying it for my benefit. I would continue to doubt the legitimacy of any encouragement they might give me. So, I just hold on and wait for it to pass. So how do I weather this kind of storm?

I have got through it with the support and encouragement of a few key people who remind me that I am valued, loved and wanted.
They have helped me in small ways to do what I needed to do, often without realising they were doing that. None of them knew the truth of how I have been feeling.

Support from a colleague helped me walk into the next classroom.

A message from a family member asking hopefully if I was leaving work and coming home soon reassured me that  I was missed, and would be welcomed when I got there.

A little kiss on my forehead and ‘I love you’ from my niece reminded me that I didn’t have to prove anything to her.

The sensitive empathy of my dog demonstrated, like she has done so many other times,  that love is sometimes as unconditional as it should be.

A kind word of appreciation from a couple of different cast members made me feel valued, despite my doubts.

Once again, all those things demonstrated that I don’t need to be able to control the storm. I just need to be able to know where I can find shelter.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Author’s Note: the fact that I have posted this means that I have started to come out the other side of this negativity. I’m okay.

Birthday.

April 20th is the anniversary of the birth of both my grandfather and my niece. While my grandfather is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday, we will have dinner and cake tonight in honour of my niece. 

Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Pexels.com

The word birthday dates back to the late 14th century, having come from the Old English word byrddæg which meant the anniversary or celebration of one’s birth. At that time, though, it was usually used to commemorate the birth of s very important people, such as kings or saints. Regular folk did not commonly speak of the day on which they were born as their birthday until the 1570s, and about fifty years later they also spoke of their birthnight.

Author’s note: I am disappointed that we no longer speak about our birthnight. I was born at 7pm on a Thursday, and I could really make a thing of saying “tonight is my birthnight!” all day, and “last night was my birthnight!” on the morrow.

By Shakespeare’s time, observation of one’s own birthday was far more commonplace. Not only does Cleopatra acknowledge her own birthday in Antony and Cleopatra, so does the Roman senator Cassius in Julius Caesar V.i: “This is my birthday; as this very day / Was Cassius born.”
In Pericles II.i the first of three fishermen with whom Pericles discusses the king, Simonides, observes that it the king “hath a fair daughter, and tomorrow is her birthday, and there are princes and knights come from all parts of the world to joust and tourney for her love.” This shows that celebrating or at least making note of one’s own birthday was something understood by the regular folk who made up most of Shakespeare’s audiences in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

The tradition of birthday cake also came from Germany in early modern times: presumably as people started to observe their own birthdays, they started celebrating with special food as they had long done for kings’ and saints’ days. By the 1800s, the German tradition of Kinderfest was fully established. This involved presenting the birthday child with a cake topped with candles — one for each year of their life, plus one in the middle of the cake to represent life— which would be kept burning all day, and replaced as they burned down. This was done because they believed people were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays, and the burning candles would ward those spirits off. After dinner, the cake was presented again, with the candles still burning. The child would make a wish and blow out the candles, with the smoke rising to heaven to keep the evil spirits away once the candles had been extinguished. Then the cake would be shared among the family.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

This is very similar to what many people do today, albeit without the religious superstition and all-day candle burning.

Sources:
Etymonline
Etymologeek
Candles, Wishes, and the History Behind Our Birthday Cake Traditions
Why Do We Eat Birthday Cake?

Birthday.
#history #etymology #tradition

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term- And What To Say Instead

While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.

Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.

Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.

It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.

The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.

Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.

In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.

In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.

Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.

There are other things one can say instead:

  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • Students
  • The year level/name, such as Year 9 or Grade 4, according to the conventions of the school and/or locale.

* Not an exhaustive list.

  • People

This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now  they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.

  • Kids

I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention.  Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again.  The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.

In more relaxed situations, you could also use:

  • Peeps
  • Gang
  • Rockstars
  • Legends
  • Crew

* Also not an exhaustive list.

Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:

  • “Right, you rowdy lot!”  I might say this when they are working hard and being anything but rowdy.
  • “Hello, unique individuals!” Again, it’s an opportunity for affirmative language that includes everyone.
  • “Greetings, earthlings!”
  • “Whæt! Geats, Danes, Monsters and Dragons!” has been a favoured greeting while studying ‘Beowulf’, while “Aaaaarrgh me hearties!” Works when studying ‘Treasure Island’.

Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term
#ThingsToConsider #inclusion #vocabulary

The Man With A Walking Stick

It’s funny how one minute you can be having quite a good day, and then something happens that makes you stop and realise how much you really miss someone. 

This afternoon I was parked by the river, having some downtime before my theatre company rehearsals tonight, and enjoying the filtered sunlight through the trees and the breeze blowing off the river. 

Image by icsilviu from Pixabay

An older gentlemen with a cane walked past me. He was tall but a bit bent over, quite well dressed but too thin for his trousers, and he walked along the path almost shuffling gait of someone who is no longer quite confident about where to put his feet. Lots of things about that remind me of my father; what moved me most, though, was the way he swung his cane as he walked: just like Dad used to, not so much relying on the cane like he was supposed to, but rather using it as a fashion accessory. 

It was just a little thing, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I suddenly wanted more than anything else to be able to hug my dad and tell him I love him. In that turn of a moment, the sense of loss was so profound, and the tears are still flowing as I type.

My head tells me I am being silly, but my heart is telling me that it hasn’t healed yet. 

In a few minutes it will be time to dry my tears and head off down the highway. I’ll be fine by the time I am there, but I won’t forget the man with the cane. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he is as loved cherished, and well-cared-for as my dad was. 

Faking It.

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam.

Today I feel completely hungover. 

I haven’t had any alcohol at all in weeks.
I didn’t eat the bread or the fries that came with last night’s burger. 
I’m hydrated. 

This is just my fibromyalgia being a complete jerk. 

By the time I get to work, I will have drawn on every acting skill I have— and that’s quite a few— to present as ‘normal’. 
I will do my job with absolute professionalism: my students will never know how dreadful My body feels. 

After work, I will complete the errands on my to-do list. Those things don’t go away because I feel rotten. 

Only when I come home again can I give in to the pain, the sluggishness, and the desire to just go to bed and moan a bit. 

But they’re right. 
I don’t “look sick”.
That’s because I am 100% accomplished at making it look like I’m not.

Faking It.
#fibromyalgia #FibromyaliaAwareness