So, Enough with Your Grammatical Pedantry

Grammar can be deliciously organic.

Many of us have pet peeves regarding word usage and/or sentence structure. Heaven knows I do. I don’t really understand why people say “irregardless” when regardless will do. Also, I feel that orient is better than orientated, and flammable is better than inflammable. Keep it simple, I say.

For the most part, I keep these peeves to myself. I mainly do so because the three irritating words I mention above can actually be found in dictionaries. Who am I to dictate your word choices, even if I think they are making you look stupid?

But the one thing I cannot abide is someone who is so anal and pedantic about grammar that they clearly have no concept of the realities of grammar at all. They overlook the fact that languages are influenced by living, breathing entities, and will therefore naturally evolve over time. If you doubt me, go read a novel by Charles Dickens or a play by Shakespeare. Even this article in the Journal of Pragmatics indicates that the “grammar of a language is not a rigid set of conventions but malleable depending on the communicative context.”

“But you can’t end a sentence with a preposition,” they’ll shout. “You just can’t!”

Uh… yes you can. In fact, I defy you to make it through the day without doing so at least once. I’ve blogged about this before, here.

I’ve also recently blogged about the increasing acceptance of the singular they (as used three paragraphs above), which has, in fact, been in regular usage since 1375. I look forward to the day when it drops off the pedant radar, because it’s starting to feel like a form of grammatical child abuse. Get over it, folks. It’s here to stay. Stop treating it as if it were an unwanted stepchild.

The latest focus of these grammar police seems to be starting sentences with the word so. They just hate that. But, as this hilarious story by NPR indicates, the word so is a reliable introductory workhorse that was used just as much 100 years ago as it is today. So… my advice would be to not get your knickers in a twist about this innocuous little word. Life is too short.

I have a theory that those who insist upon rigid grammatical rules are either wildly misinformed or, deep down, they are extremely insecure about their own intelligence or lack thereof. They attempt to feel better about themselves by acting grammatically superior. I tend to feel sorry for them, because they are depriving themselves of the richness and flexibility of true communication.

I think of grammar as something deliciously organic, not some dusty concrete block that refuses to be moved. Words should be played with to create a colorful exchange of ideas, and your palette should be diverse enough to reflect the cultural context in which you’re operating. The grammatical world is not just black and white.

I’m not saying that the Land of Grammar is the wild, wild, west, however. It’s important to properly spell your words. Good writers convey their thoughts clearly and effectively. There’s flexibility, but try not to be so flexible that you come across as if English were not your first language, or as if you barely made it through the 4th grade. Sentence structure does matter, but there are usually multiple ways in which to craft your sentence. Laziness does not equate to creativity, but flexibility certainly does.

I urge you to let your creative writer come out to play. At the very least, use a thesaurus to shake things up. And for the love of God, stop assuming that Spell Check is the arbiter of all things grammatical. It’s a program that was made by fallible human beings, after all, and it gets things wrong as often as not.

End of rant.

May your writing journey be a flexible one. Namaste.

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I Disagree

Some days I’m better at listening than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the anatomy of disagreements. Naturally this has been inspired by the extreme divisions in this country, but it also has to do with the fact that I’ve had several fundamental disagreements lately with people I love and respect. I really loathe these situations, and find myself evermore diminished by them.

So let’s examine what’s going on internally when someone disagrees with me. First and foremost, I get defensive. I look for ways to justify my point of view. I feel rigid and unyielding. I don’t listen to what the other person is saying. I’m too busy working on a rebuttal.

And my adrenaline starts pumping. You’d think I was being chased by a lion. And that makes me feel sick to my stomach and a lot less calm and rational.

Next, I start second guessing myself. What’s wrong with my viewpoint? Am I being stupid? Did I overlook something? Am I crazy? Should I really hold this opinion? Will the other person think less of me for disagreeing? Do I care?

Then this internal battle goes on with my adult self and my wounded self. The adult self says, “Listen to what is being said. You might learn something.” Wounded self replies, “No! I refuse! This person is a stupid old poopy head.”

Sadly, my adult self only seems to prevail when I’m well-rested, not hungry, and feeling relatively self-confident. I’m a work in progress. Some days I’m better at listening than others.

Disagreeing is stressful. Listening is difficult. And I think we, as a nation, are becoming increasingly exhausted, which makes it harder to be our best selves.

But we need to try. Don’t you agree?


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Your Ways

All my life, I’ve been told that old people are set in their ways. They’re rigid. Conservative. They don’t want to try new things. It made me dread growing old.

Now that I’m getting older, though, I’m beginning to have a different perspective on this subject. First of all, I know a lot of older people who are still willing to push the outer envelope. My friend Carole even jumped out of a perfectly good airplane on her 73rd birthday. That gives me hope. I think that as the baby-boomers age, they are less willing to quietly settle into that old folks stereotype. That makes me really happy.

On the other hand, as I start to develop more and more “ways” of my own, I totally understand the desire to be set in them. One should never overlook the wealth of experience that older people possess. We say that people become “wizened”, which means shriveled or wrinkled, but I like to imagine that it also means more wise. Most of us learn as we age. There’s a reason most of your teachers are not your contemporaries. Older people developed their ways through trial and error. They’ve survived. They’ve figured out what works for them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. I no longer see anything wrong with that.

As I settle into a routine that brings me joy, I’m less and less willing to change those habits. It’s only natural that I become less flexible as I become less flexible. I like the peace and quiet of not having a television. I like my Epsom salt baths by the light of my lavender candle. Cuddling with my dog makes me happy and reduces my heating bills. I doubt I’ll ever embrace Twitter. And I may say “hashtag” out loud, but I’ll always be thinking “pound sign”.

So sue me.


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I’ve met a lot of very rigid people in my lifetime. I always feel kind of sorry for them. It must be exhausting to get worked up over the minutiae of life. There is plenty of significant stuff to focus on.

For example, I know someone who writes furious e-mails to superiors if someone doesn’t leave paperwork at exact right angles to their desk edges. Seriously? Is that all you have to worry about? Then you are in pretty good shape in the overall scheme of things, if you ask me.

There are two types of people. The ones who ask themselves “Why is this important?” before overreacting, and the ones who don’t. The ones who don’t tend to lead very tense, miserable lives, and they pile undue stress onto those who are unfortunate enough to fall within their circle of influence.

It is important to have some sort of scale to determine what is worthy of your rage. Someone putting the dish soap in a place you haven’t specified should not get a reaction equivalent to someone firing a mortar through your living room window. If you think otherwise, you must be operating in a realm of post traumatic stress that’s worthy of professional help.

The older I get, the less energy I seem to have for petty foolishness. I can’t be bothered. I’d much rather take a nap. The planet will continue to circle the sun without my assistance.

Here’s a rule of thumb. I can go days, weeks even, without being truly angry. If you’re someone who gets angry several times a day… well… you might want to rethink things a tiny bit. Learn to bend or you will surely break. Just sayin’.


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An interesting conversation with my friend Amy recently made me realize that there seem to be two types of people in this world: Those who thrive on structure and those who chafe when forced to be structured. I fall firmly in the former camp. I like planning things. I flourish with boundaries. If I don’t know what to expect it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Want to go and do something with me? Give me a couple days’ notice so I can get used to the idea. I’m not a spur of the moment type of person. And for the love of all things holy, do not show up at my door unannounced. Not if you want me to be genuinely happy to see you.

I like having a steady job with a steady paycheck and benefits. I admire anyone who can make a living as an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it would give me ulcers. Never knowing how much money was coming in from one week to the next would freak me out.

Most of the people I knew in Florida were structured types, too. After decades of that, it sort of became my default expectation. But now I’m in Seattle, which seems to be a more freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of place. I’m making more and more friends who are free spirits, and it’s been absolutely delightful and inspiring. It’s also been a learning experience.

I struggle to remember that my way isn’t the only way. These are just two different angles by which to approach the world. Naturally, I have a comfort zone, but this does not mean that it’s the “right” zone. It’s just my zone.

I’m loving the enthusiasm of the folks in the other camp. But I’m not wild about the lack of follow through. I love how they feed my creative side, and they also teach me not to take myself so freakin’ seriously. But it would be nice if they could show up on time. They bring me joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me.

When I collaborate with non-structured individuals, I have to learn to be more flexible, and that is growth for me. I’m discovering that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. My well-worn path isn’t the only one. In fact, the view might just be spectacular if I took another route every now and then.

And when I see my friends trying to adapt to my need for structure by giving me time frames and being open to my planning, for example, it means a great deal to me. True friends accommodate each other, and by doing so, everyone grows. So a HUGE hug to all my twisty-bendy friends out there! Thanks for bearing with me, too. It goes both ways.


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Why is this Important in Life?

In every bureaucracy there are rules that probably came about for a very good reason, but they have become obsolete over time. No one in a position of power seems to have the courage to make changes, let alone rescind rules, so what you are left with are a bunch of absurd policies that you are forced to ignore with a wink, until some rigid a**hole makes an example of you.

For example, I knew someone who worked for a company that was located on a dock, and it required that they keep semaphore flags and that each employee was familiar with semaphore signaling, in case they had to communicate that way with passing vessels. In this day of marine radios and cell phones and bull horns you would be hard pressed to find a vessel captain that knew anything about semaphore, so the training kind of fell by the wayside around 1950, and no one knew where the flags had gotten to.

Then one new guy was hired as a supervisor and he had a major stick inserted into his behind. He read every single policy and procedure and decided to test everyone on semaphore. When no one knew it, he wrote everyone up. Then his boss pointed out that even he (the boss) didn’t know it, and after much general uproar, the whole situation blew over. But the rule remains on the books.

There seem to be two types of people in this world: the rigid type who abide by and enforce every single rule regardless of how absurd it is, and the flexible type who only adhere to the rules that actually make sense in the modern world. Apparently I fall into the latter group, because the former group seems tense and overly earnest to me.

I tend to think of them as people who are more interested in getting people into trouble than in having a rational and steady work environment. These are the types who won’t even remove mattress tags in the privacy of their own homes. Do they think they’re going to be raided by the mattress police? Rigid people give me the shits.

When a rule takes on a life of its own, and the only reason for it is that it’s the way it’s always been done, it’s time for change. If you cannot make that change, then you have to ask yourself why you would put so much energy into enforcing that rule. Do you, perhaps, simply delight in causing drama and conflict? If you are about to enforce a rule, first ask yourself if the breaking of this rule will in any way impact the health, safety, profit margin, productivity, reputation or integrity of the staff or the company involved. If the answer is no, perhaps it’s time for you to get over yourself.


Thoroughly modern, Millie…

[Image credit:]


Human Brick Walls

99 percent of all the Washingtonians I’ve met are really, really nice, unbelievably cooperative, and helpful. Because of that, they make the other 1 percent seem like the world’s biggest jerks. I have never seen anything like the bureaucratic brick walls that get thrown in front of you out here, and there’s no getting around them. None. It makes you feel like you’re in an insane asylum.

  • Someone was stealing my mail, so I had to get a locked mailbox. This caused the post office to stop delivering my mail. When I finally got through the red tape far enough to actually talk to someone local, they said they stopped delivering it because the shape of my mailbox is unacceptable to them, and because the postman would have to alter the angle of his hand by a few degrees to slip the mail in the slot, they would no longer deliver to that box. “Fine. I’ll eat the 45 dollars I spent on the damned box and get another one. Now will you deliver the two weeks’ worth of mail you are holding?” “No. You have to come and get it.” “But I work all the hours you are open.” “I don’t know what to tell you, ma’am.” So I guess my mail is being held hostage.
  • The property management company that handled the year’s lease on my rental place was more than happy to take my money, but after doing so, knowing that I was about to drive 3100 miles, they would not arrange for me to get the key on a Sunday unless I forked over another 150 dollars. Over my dead body. Fortunately someone was kind enough to let me camp out that night at their house or I would have had to sleep in the driveway.
  • My dogs needed heartworm medication for next month. The vet here would accept my Florida vet records as proof that I had gotten all the required vaccinations for the dogs. No problem. But when it came to proof that they were getting a certain monthly dose of heartworm meds, something they could easily sell me, no, they had to actually see and examine the dogs. Which cost me 250.00. Not a single shot, mind you. Just a look at the dogs and the sale of the pills. What, did they think I’d be selling Trifexis on the black market?
  • A sailing vessel captain offered to give local Bridge Operators a boat ride. We were all excited. But then the bureaucracy said it would be unethical. What kind of quid pro quo did they think the captain was looking for? That the bridge be raised up 30 seconds faster? Honestly.

It’s these human brick walls, these rigid people who refuse to be the least bit flexible or reasonable who leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. I don’t understand the utter lack of consideration and douchebaggery. It stuff like this that almost makes me wish I were back in Florida. Almost.

I think I need ice cream.


Bridge Symbolism

Having worked on drawbridges for over 12 years, I’ve come to know how strongly many people feel about bridges in general. Just publish your plans to demolish or replace one, and brace yourself for the public outcry. People love to walk and jog across bridges, and many’s the time I’ve witnessed marriage proposals. Fishermen often have their regular spots staked out, and people love to hop out of their cars during bridge openings to enjoy the weather. For some inexplicable reason, the mentally ill are drawn to bridges as well.

Another strange thing about bridges is that people view them as bigger barriers than regular streets, even if they are fixed span bridges with no chance of causing a delay. People will not hesitate to take a 10 minute drive on an interstate which has the same length of road without exits as even the largest of bridges possesses, but if their route contains a bridge, that same 10 minute drive is viewed as a hassle to be avoided.

What do bridges symbolize to people? In the tarot, the bridge card means progress, connections, and stability. Often people view bridges as the only way to reach a destination, and therefore bridges are a way to overcome obstacles. Bridges also represent transitions. “Crossing over” is a euphemism for taking that journey from life to death. Perhaps that’s also why so many people use bridges when they’ve made the unfortunate decision to end their lives, a decision which, speaking from personal observation, is made far more frequently than is reported in the media, and is also a decision which they instantly regret, judging from their screams on the way down. You can be fairly certain that any bridge that you cross that is more than 40 feet above the water has been a place where someone has died.

Perhaps my favorite bridge symbol, though, is that of hope. If you can just get over that bridge, you may find yourself in a better place on the other side. Some bridges are harder to cross than others. If you’re afraid of heights they can be scary. If feeling the surface shaking below your feet unsettles you, then your crossing can pose a challenge, but trust me, that challenge is deceiving. You do NOT want to be on a rigid and inflexible bridge. Not if you want to live. So in some ways bridges can represent a struggle, but one with the prospect of better things on the far shore. I find that inspiring.

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