Just Ask Shaksper

July 28th, 2020

“Did you see this?” Dan, asked yesterday.  “This is crazy.”  And yes, an article claiming that the Rutgers English Department had declared grammar “racist,” did indeed invite such a response.  As I thought MUST be the case, there was more to the story, which now seems to have been a deliberate hit piece.

There is a lot of jargon in the article, https://freebeacon.com/campus/rutgers-declares-grammar-racist, which doesn’t help the cause, but I can see more clearly now that Rutgers’ intention was not to declare grammar unimportant or an oppression to be overthrown, as this article would have the reader believe.  The idea is to get students to think about English and why it is the way it is, rather than just memorize grammar and usage.

I saw, in decades of teaching experience,  the relief on students’ faces when I told them that Shakespeare wrote his own name four different ways in the four extant examples, and not once the way we insist it is properly spelled now.  But now, if a student spelled it one of the ways that was okay with Shakespeare, it would be considered ignorant.
Likewise, the move away from gendered expressions like using “Mankind” for “Humankind.”  It is important for students to understand that they make authorial choices that affect readers and may hinder their own thinking.  They may not be aware that sources they read may be outdated and perpetuate concepts we really should move beyond, and that they may not want to foster in their own writing.
I remember in my own life the difficulty I had in moving away from using gendered pronouns in sentences like “Every student is responsible for his own conduct.”  That was just the way it was, and I was suppose to know that in these settings I was also a “he.”  That changed gradually and with some effort to “his or her, “ but because that can get awkward, people used  “their.” I confess, I would mark this as an error in papers for many years. I told my students to phrase everything in the plural to avoid this, as in “Students are responsible for their own conduct.”  Now, it appears, the Grammar Police, whoever they are, are saying “their” is okay in referring to a single subject, as in the example above.  I am not so much of a purist as to be unable to feel some relief at this, but enough of one to admit it does set my teeth on edge.
Rutgers is NOT institutionalizing praising students’  free expression when they write ungrammatically. NO instructor of college writing would ever blow off the importance of  writing in an academically acceptable way.  I am offended at this condescension and besmirching of the incredible effort we put  into helping  a student without  traditional English speaking and writing background develop the skills they need to reach their academic goals and succeed in their chosen professions.
BTW, I used “they” in the singular in the paragraph above.  Maybe you didn’t notice.  You might have noticed if I had used just  “he,” and you might have noticed if I used “he or she.”  (I also improperly used “but” as the first word in a sentence earlier.)  MY choices, based on my understand of the “fluidity” of language, to use the Rutgers English department’s wording. And my choice to use a sentence fragment to express it.
 “They” may be wrong in grammar orthodoxy except for plural subjects, but in my opinion, in many situations it is the least obtrusive pronoun to use, given that any other phrasing might have called attention to the pronoun rather than the point.  Grammar guides say that one shouldn’t  start a sentence with a conjunction like “but,” but as a stylistic choice  I am not “wrong” to opt to use it.  Students who want to become a solid writer need to have these conversations with themselves , rather than be ignorant of the power of their own language choices.
People who take pride in their writing are well aware of the importance, and sometime the agony, of choices.  In fact, except for correcting typos, all editing is a matter of rethinking previous choices.  But one has to be conscious that there are choices—often a whole arsenal of them—if one wants to able to do more than blurt out first impressions and thoughts on a page.  That is exactly what students need to learn to move beyond.  That, to me, is the whole point of what Rutgers is trying to accomplish.

By the way, for an article, still a bit rife with academic jargon, but more balanced about the issue, there’s this one:  https://medium.com/@newspoet41/critical-grammar-and-the-great-distortion-b08f80e6726a




So Not Used to This

July 24th, 2020

I am stir crazy.  It’s not a sensation I have much experience with, since usually in the lead-up to travel I am crazy busy getting ready.  I have this new lecture to prepare, that fairly new lecture to revise, that much-used one to review.  I have a travel wardrobe to whittle down. I have  travel arrangements to make or confirm.  There’s not enough time in the day, and then—  poof!—departure  day is here.

Compare that to my present reality.  I don’t actually know when I am leaving for British Columbia, since it depends on when I get my car title in the mail, which could be any time from today to a couple of weeks.  I don’t have anything to do around my condo, because my role there is done.  Nothing to do but wait for updates from my real estate agent. Another thing out of my hands.

I’ve done most of the things to shift my life in the needed direction.  I’ve gotten myself set up for a mail service, and I’ve notified most of the people and institutions that actually send mail to me at this point (not many).  There are things to do relating to getting myself and my car into Canada, but most are supposed to be done fairly close to the date I will show up at the border.

I have gotten my quarantine housing set up, and my first two places to live, which will get me to November, so nothing to do there.  I’ve done all I can without being there to set up banking, vehicle registration, post office box and the like, which means I have done very little except a bit of basic research on things I can’t do right now.

There are a couple of things I could do today, but nothing so pressing it is likely to get me out of this chair.  Plus, in keeping with my plan to isolate as much as possible the week before I leave, I am limiting my outside contacts to close to zero,  in the hopes that I will be ready to go a week from now, at the end of July with a minimal chance of taking the virus with me on the road.  There goes any chance to mask up and do something fun, or just anything nonessential, outside.

My big event today so far is doing a load of wash.  Then in an hour I can start thinking about lunch.  Then what?  Well, I could put in some time on my current writing project, get in touch with a few friends, do a little exercise routine I have set up for myself.  Yeah, but those all take effort, and the scariest, least familiar part about this is that i don’t have the drive to do anything.  I am, sad to say, not even very good at taking naps.

I guess I just have to wait this out, and remind myself that I am 1) safe 2) loved, and 3) on the cusp of something very, very different from today.  Even on a cranky, listless day, those are blessings not everyone has.  Gratitude, I remind myself, with a heavy sigh.

Camping in My Condo

July 23rd, 2020

I wrote a few days back about being in the Middle Muddle, trying to close out all the details of the life I am leaving here in San Diego and getting everything in place for my move to British Columbia.  I wrote about the uncertainty, or muddle, of being in this liminal place between worlds.

For the last few weeks, since all my furniture was moved out and renovations were finished  at my place, I have been perching in my partner Dan’s condo.  I had stayed there before  for weeks at a time when my condo was rented while I was Living Travelly, so this is  nothing new, or even all that unusual. I am really fine living out of a suitcase (or in this case a cardboard box and a little room in a closet).  In fact I am pretty much fine wherever I am, which is a good thing, because tonight I find myself back in my sparkling, good-as-new condo sleeping on the cushion from the bay window in an entirely empty bedroom. Here is a photo of my temporary lap of luxury.

“Covid doth make campers of us all,” Shakespeare might have said, but since he’s not here, I’ll say it for him. The reason for this unexpected return is that Dan was feeling headachy and stuffed up yesterday, and though we are in the same space all day, somehow the idea of spending the night as close as people are in a shared bed just seemed like an invitation to a heavy dose of whatever it is he has. So I stayed here last night. This evening Dan feels maybe a little better, maybe the same, but no worse.  No fever. No body aches, no nothing except what might be no more than seasonal allergies. Nevertheless, we thought a second night of caution was called for, so here I am.  We’re both pretty sure it’s not Covid, but the jitters can come on in an instant at even the thought.

it’s funny how I can turn into a quivering blob of freak-out about the idea of getting this disease, when overall I don’t consider myself to be a worrier or timid about facing life. Maybe it’s because being on the verge of something new has made me realize how much I don’t want my options taken away. Soon, I’ll be sleeping in a succession of unfamiliar beds as I make my way north, and the place I find to live will be filled with things that aren’t mine.  So for now, I will just sit in the quiet of this empty room, thinking of this as a moment when my past has been cleared away, and my future remains as blank as this room, but waiting to be filled by whatever my new life turns out to be.