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Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors I vaguely respect and follow. I’ve read one or two of her novels, and hear lovely things about her, so she’s categorized in my head as a smart, interesting lady. Thus, when I saw her newest book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth while on lunch break from jury selection, I picked it up. She’s a writer and a feminist, I thought; surely her literary approach to the credit crisis can help me make sense of it and expand my ways of thinking about it.

Unfortunately, I’m about to quit less than seventy pages in. To give her the full benefit of the doubt, the chapters were originally written as part of a radio forum and presented orally; that format requires a different level and complexity of thought. I think I might find this book tolerable if I were to hear it on the radio while half-awake or driving or cleaning house, which are the things I usually do while listening to public radio. (more…)

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This weekend, at the urging of many Obama campaign emails, I attended a Get Out The Vote training. As I walked into the nondescript, poorly-lit building in Seattle, I followed hand-painted signs to a large room where they had set up maybe 75 chairs. I was early, so I stopped into the bathroom (one light out, and a sign informing me not to use one of the sinks) and got back to the big room in time to grab an incredibly uncomfortable wooden folding chair. A nice woman a few seats over passed around “Doonesbury” from the Sunday comics section, and I remarked to the woman next to me that it was heartening to see the room filling with people.

It didn’t stop filling with people. Half an hour later, all visible floor space was full of people, while the walls were lined with others standing awkwardly. An older woman having a hot flash inquired about opening the only outside door anyone could see, but the staff said it was locked. The temperature rose, people started to fan themselves with their pamphlets, and the PowerPoint started. Two extraordinarily young, energetic, probably really smart and engaged people began talking through their presentation. (more…)

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When I started teaching English, friends started apologizing for their grammar. Some got all apologetic about their emails, while others started correcting their grammar in-sentence as if they had some mental Word grammar-check turned on, and they couldn’t get it to quit putting green squiggly lines under half their sentences. [You’ll notice that my use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in the previous sentence is grammatically correct because the subject of the sentence is plural. I nearly did a dance when Facebook worked to correct this.]

Having never (I hope!) corrected anyone’s grammar in a casual, non-academic setting without being specifically asked to do so, I was mildly offended at this manifestation of our cultural stereotypes of English teachers. Here, in brief, is the minor rant I’ve either given or been tempted to give in response to this unwarranted defensiveness:

Don’t apologize to me. You’re not turning in a paper. You’re not my student. I’m not grading you, and speaking grammatically correctly is not always situation-appropriate. Humor, comfort, familiarity, and efficiency often call for relaxed grammar rules. Language should be appropriate to its context; it’s just as inappropriate to use correct capitalization and full punctuation in instant messages as it is to use the phrase “wot R U up 2” in an email to an instructor. Granted, the consequences will be different: one will make your correspondent cite your usage repeatedly in conversations about the decline of civilization, while the other will make your correspondent laugh at you, albeit briefly. Guess which is which.

The trick is being able to distinguish; errors in this area are not so much an indicator of that nebulous evil, “bad grammar,” but of that much more nebulous issue, wrong grammar. People who are really good at communicating do not have “perfect grammar.” Instead, they have a much more complex set of skills that involves learning the rules of a specific discourse community (a phrase hijacked from the discourse community of Composition & Rhetoric studies, but one I find tremendously productive), learning to follow those rules, and then determining which discourse community one is operating in at any given time. These require a lot more careful observation and shrewd imitation than diagramming sentences.

Not that I’m ripping on diagramming sentences. Go, diagram sentences! I expect graphics demonstrating your diagramming skillz in the comments. In fact, I will offer a luxury Corey-diagrammed sentence to anyone who leaves me his or her own. If it’s really pretty, I may even get ambitious and send you a book about it, just to keep my English teacher cred and lighten that bookshelf.

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