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I very much enjoy reading my friend Sana’s blog. Working as her editor, I think especially carefully about her use of language, looking for not just the little corrections here and there but moreso looking for the beautiful tools that come naturally to her. As with my students, my goal is to point out everything well that she does and to teach her the pattern of her natural style, her own voice. As a teacher I believe it is much more important for a student to be able to explain what they know and what they are doing right—than it is for a student to see red marks and corrections all over the paper.

Only by knowing what we are doing right—and why—can we hope to build our skills. Sure, people who write do need to internalize grammar rules, and they would do equally well to learn the conventions, too— if only to know when to break them.

(By the way, one distinction: grammar rules are hard and fast, based on logic; conventions are aspects of style to which people have agreed but that may be broken with poetic license. For example: it will always be illogical to pair a singular noun with a plural pronoun—i.e. “Everyone needs their daily chocolate.” “Everyone” is singular, while “their” is plural. Never may one person suddenly BA-ZING! become two or more in a sentence—this will always be wrong, by logic. Conventions, on the other hand, might include the old English teacher mottoes “Never begin a sentence with and!” or “Don’t use colloquialisms!” or “No sentence fragments!” Well, we know of writers who break conventions all the time and do it with panache. Grammar vs. conventions).

So Sana hears quite a bit from me with respect to all that she does right. By now she knows that her strengths include her use of imagery and metaphor, as well as her precise use of diction to characterize the people she describes. She has a friendly, authoritative tone which she intersperses with wry humor. She has a natural ear for parallel structure (both within a single sentence and within paragraphs as a whole). Her organization of her writing never falters. She is structured and logical as well as empathetic and descriptive—everything you could want as a reader when looking to connect to a writer.

The other day she suggested that some of my positive feedback sometimes comes as a surprise to her. If I fulfill my job as a teacher, then there should come a joyful day when she is no longer surprised. Now, yes, some writers by their very nature will always be a bit surprised—it is hard to break a student totally of authentic humility, and who would want to? It is pleasing when a writer is not over-confident and still has a thrill at discovering her own ability to connect with people, as if by magic. But by “no longer surprised” what I really mean is this: there will come a day when she will be able to talk with me about the intention of her crafting and she will know that what she does is effective…and, most importantly (drum roll please) WHY.

Last night, Sana wrote a blog discussing some of the signs of domestic abuse. She wrote in the first paragraph:

Alexandria (Alex) was crying a lot.  She was trying to divorce her husband but he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t speak.  He only yelled.  He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.  And he never spoke to her any more.  It’s been weeks since they spoke. When I asked her if she thought she was abused, she said, “No.  He’s never hit me.”

Check out the fifth sentence:

He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.

This sentence is all Sana, and it is all good. Her syntax is brilliant—look how she bookends the sentence with “he yelled” to represent the constant presence of the husband’s loud berating. The structure of this sentence parallels Alexandria’s life: surrounded by yelling—whether alone, with her kids, in the morning, or when her husband comes home. In fact, it gets even better. If we were adhering to strict conventions, one imagines a period going in after “work.” The verb “yelled” has already been used in the first clause; the sentence does not require a second verb; it is not a compound sentence. The fact that Sana uses another verb (the power, the action of any sentence) at the end of the sentence—making it almost stream-of-consciousness or a run-on—achieves something amazing. She quite literally weighs the sentence down with the second verb, giving the sentence additional weight when we definitely expect it to have no more. By heavy-handedly giving us this second verb, Sana represents through syntax (sentence structure) the weight of the yelling on Alexandria, the crushing feeling, the heavy boxed-in-ness.

Yes, I love everything about this sentence. Did Sana craft it with this intention? Well, that is for her as the writer to know. Did Fitzgerald know the every possible interpretation of all his sentences when he wrote them? Did Hawthorne? Dickinson? The point is that she now knows for sure now how well that sentence works. It is one to write down and keep in a notebook where one writes down and keeps the best of the best for later use or as models or as inspirations for another day.

It is often helpful to have a second set of eyes on one’s writing…not just for the picky grammar stuff, but to tell you what you are doing well and why.

Gather joy in your strengths, and let others help you to know what those are.

I’ve been at odds with myself today, with Pride at the center. Pride—the chief cause of dissatisfaction. Pride—the shiny name for hubris, the cobblestones on the road of perfectionism. Pride—that which leads away from everything good.

I do not mean the type of “pride” that suggests being grateful or joyful for what life brings, or even being pleased in pleasing one’s family or friends, or the delight in a job well done for the effort we put in.

I mean the kind of pride that makes one inert and flat-feeling. It is a pride which squishes, by making us think we have the ability to do everything and perfectly and without experiencing consequences from thinking so. It is that pride which seeks constant recognition of itself.

In searching myself for my faults this past year, I find pride to be central…I have only just begun to study it and turn it around and round.

So Readers, I ask you: What is the nature of Pride? Does it have a use, and if so, what? Are there good types of pride, as distinct from bad types?

To gather true joy seems to require a state of gratitude…gratitude, for both the good and bad experiences which make us who we are, in turn requires a feeling of humility. Any room for pride, readers?

I love my job. Thinking about words, writing, teaching, helping others to find their voice and make it shine—these are some of my true passions in life. I am passionate, too, about having a flexible schedule with my children and being their primary teacher—and being available to take them to music class, for example, or to visit family members during the week. I have had to relinquish my classroom in order to do this, yet I am thankful that everywhere can be a classroom.

I am thankful, too, that my friend Sana Johnson-Quijada thought of me when she was searching for an editor for her writing at friendtoyourself.com . I am thankful that my dad brought me to Toastmasters and that I met her, that Toastmasters has a weekly “grammarian” role that suits my skills, and that she trusts me to give her feedback that is sincere, experienced, and thoughtful. I love that, through communicating with her about her writing, I am able to teach again. I feel a renewed spark in myself, remembering what I am good at and what my mind feels satisfied doing. So often in motherhood I feel like I am making up solutions as I go along and reckoning constantly with my mistakes—but when I sit down to work on editing and writing, I feel assured. It turns out that is an important feeling to remember to have…and it ripples throughout my life.

I am thankful, too, that I am able to bring a little financial contribution into our home, earned by my effort. I give my every effort with our children, of course, but to commit to an external job is a different kind of discipline. It feels good to give that to my family, too.

I love that I can edit in the evenings, after my children are asleep, or in the mornings with a cup of tea and my jammies on. Even during the day I can set my own timing. I would, in fact, greatly enjoy additional editing projects.

Sana wrote to me last night with a question about her recent post on autism:

here’s a question for my editor.
all of these
i knew u would put that there but i left it out because i thought it was superfluous.  is it a rule i’ve forgotten, Princeton?
I replied:

Hey Sana,

I love that the nerdy grammar bug has infected you and that you are asking that! You ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve seen English majors debate the finer points of MLA citation and rules, but you are getting closer to that nirvana. 😉

In most cases, the “of” is superfluous… I learned that when the “all” is followed by a pronoun (these, this, them) that we put the “of” in. When it is followed by a noun (“all the books,” “all the fruit”), then we can leave the “of” out.

Truth be told, the trend of language now is that we see the “of” less and less—in either construction. Formal writing will use it, but it isn’t necessary for the writer to be understood. Case in point: I knew very well what you were saying without the “of.”

I am usually giving you the formal edits…

But one of the conversations I used to have with my students (Advanced Placement certainly, but I also would discuss it with 9th graders because, hey, why underestimate them?) was about the modernization of our language. Language evolves, is alive, breathes. We don’t talk like the characters in The Canterbury Tales anymore (thank GOODNESS!) and we don’t talk like Romeo and Juliet either (I say with more of a sigh).

We have more technology now, and our language is responding. We all are learning “texting language” and there are even unstated rules of language etiquette for e-mails and Facebook and the like.

Grammarians like me are often caught twixt and tween. On the one hand, we are nostalgic when conventions we’ve held dear begin to change; on the other, we are eager to quantify and learn the new “rules.”

Sooooooo… To “of”, or not to “of”?  Officially,there is a case that it goes there this time….but there is also much to be said for the fact that it is probably on its way out of usage. Go with your inner ear on that one. 🙂

Yay for questions about grammar! I love them!

 

I am not sure why, when I was made, I was made to love languages and their rules. Not really party topics, I know… However, the amount of joy I derive from looking at grammar texts and convention rules and then teaching that knowledge seems unbounded. If anyone else out there would like to hire an editor for a project, I promise I won’t make you diagram sentences—that’s a little treat I save only for special occasions. 😉

Gather joy in the details!

With my mom not feeling well this morning and unable to watch Katie and Eric, I had to skip our Toastmaster’s meeting to have fun at home instead. We had a leisurely morning in our pajamas, and during Eric’s morning nap, Katie and I savored some one-on-one time together that we have both been craving. We worked several puzzles (one of her favorites is our United States puzzle—she loves maps and globes), and read some of our longer books that do not quite captivate Eric yet.

When it was time to pick up some of our toys, Katie asked the question mothers long to hear, “What would you like me to pick up?” Woo hoo! This is the first time she has ever asked this, and we celebrated together. I made a big happy deal of it. Clean-up went very smoothly this morning, and I was grateful.

The rest of the day we worked on art projects and with this beautiful, glorious weather, we spent most of the afternoon outside. Oh, how I love outdoor days. We ate lunch, did some art, played in the yard, watched the sky, and visited with my dad. Soaking up that lovely sunshine…

Here are some of our joyful moments today:

Katie tried on my wedding shoes this morning. She chose her whole outfit today (clothes, accessories, hair), and it is clear that she loves, loves being a girl. She was pretending to be a fairy princess with a red flower necklace of mine that I got long ago in Little Italy in New York. When I let her borrow it, I thought about how when I bought it, I had no idea that such a beloved daughter would be in my life…amazing and beautiful how life works out. We pretended the necklace was magic, and we made up a little song to go with it: “Little flower necklace/Close to my heart/All of your goodness/Please impart.” (We learned what “impart” means). It helps to have a pretend narrative going when we’re getting dressed.

Oh my goodness, my cousin Jed gave us one of the best gifts EVER! My Giant Busy Box by Alex Toys. I would give this gift in a heartbeat. There are sixteen different crafts all prepped and ready for doing—so perfect for a busy mom with a child who loves art!!! Since all the materials are present and ready for use, I get to do the fun part of teaching (makes me miss my classroom sometimes!), and Katie gets to dive in immediately. We opened the box today and were just so thrilled… We made a dog project and a tissue paper fish, enjoying the sunshine. Easy clean-up, too—since it all fits in the box. Glue is also provided, and everything is pre-cut and ready to punch out, so no scissors are necessary. Awesome, awesome gift.

Katie explains to Eric what she is making.

Katie’s tissue paper fish. So much fun for both of us (fun for me to instruct and lead, and fun for her to do on her own).

 

Then it was time for the swings… Eric’s first official swing (I had suggested it once to him a couple of months ago, but he didn’t want to be in it back then). Today he really enjoyed himself!

Katie gently swings her brother. I love that they are so close in age…I can see the magic between them, even in how they look at each other.

The swing is yummy!! Mmmmmm!

Boppa gave Eric his first taste of apple, and Eric found the food he likes best so far. Apples….yummmmmmy! Boppa cut a big piece from his apple for Eric to suck on and gum a bit, and Eric did not want to relinquish it. I had some applesauce on hand…oh my! Eric had just finished a big bowl of oatmeal, but when he tried the applesauce, he gobbled it!

All tired out…Eric is napping at this moment. He loves his giraffe, especially today. He fell asleep while we three were sitting all in a row and reading books. Joy is often so simple…

 

It was time for a family adventure, and so last night Bill and I talked about ideas for a day-trip or something fun to do with our kiddos today. Since Katie has been asking to visit the snow again, and since she routinely points out the snow on the mountains we can see in the distance from Temecula, we decided last night to head toward the mountains in search of snow. Right before she fell asleep last night, Katie listened as I told her, “In the morning, Daddy and I have a surprise for you. We are going to do something very fun tomorrow! It will be a surprise!” She was so excited, and she woke up wondering what the day would bring. Isn’t it neat how easy it is to create delightful anticipation in our children? To turn an ordinary day into an extra-special day?

We weren’t sure if Idyllwild would still have snow since it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks. It seemed possible, though, and since Idyllwild is a special place for our family, we decided to head up there today. Sure enough, we got lucky with patches of snow along Strawberry Creek, right by the inn Bill and I try to visit yearly for our Anniversarymoon.

This was Eric’s first time to visit Strawberry Creek out of the womb. He actually has been twice already (last year’s snow day in February and our Anniversarymoon this past May). Katie burbled over with memories of last year’s snow trip, and she is starting to know some of the special spots at the inn: the chairs Bill and I sat in to talk about what to name her when I was pregnant with her, for example. She feels connected to this beautiful place in some of the ways we do.

Eric was delighted. I hiked with him in the Bjorn carrier (I wish I’d had this carrier for Katie), and he bobbed around making happy noises at everything. He especially loved the chickens, and he was so curious to touch the snow. Both Katie and Eric come alive in nature, and we all loved the scent of pine needles around us. Although last year’s trip to Strawberry Creek was the discovery of a winter wonderland swath of snow all along the creek, we really found only a few patches this year. But no matter. The point was for all four of us to be together, to make a memory, to have an adventure, to see what we could find and celebrate the beauty there was.

After playing and hiking by the creek, we drove more into town, went to the restaurant Bill and I ate at our first honeymoon night several years ago, then found a candy and toy store and poked around a bit. We had a nice day together.

Some pictures from today:

My two little birds have been patient all day, as today we have spent most of our time on chores…you know, those little things that just need to be done. Some of it was fun: Katie helped me to change entirely the bedding in the master bedroom, and we had fun cooking together. Some of it was not fun: while Eric napped, Katie had to play patiently on her own while I collected laundry and finished assorted tasks.

Although we began the day with some reading and playtime, when it came time to do work, parts of it were difficult for my children. Their little mouths were open—not for food, but hungry for play and attention.

I’ve had to make choices about my time tonight. Instead of blogging and working on my photograph projects as much as I normally do, I am choosing to spend the balance of time reading to Katie and filling up her little heart. All day she has wanted to read, and we’ve hardly had a moment. It is time to put her first today.

Sometimes we need to gather joy in making choices that fill up someone else, and that can be the best kind of joy there is.

Okay, I am keeping it short for today. 🙂 A combination of teething and moderate reaction to his vaccinations yesterday meant that Eric and I were up for most of the night. Katie never reacted to her immunizations, but the past two times Eric has developed a low-grade fever to accompany them. It’s not too big a deal, because I would much rather comfort him through a little warmth (which means he is developing his antibodies) than to take the risk that he might contract an illness that is many magnitudes more serious. However, it meant a wakeful night for us, because he was restless. Even though his fever was never extreme, he was much more comfortable with palliative care so I used cold washcloths to bring his temperature down for him so we could both get a couple hours sleep in between. With changing, feeding, and the cold compresses, we were awake for about an hour each of the three times he woke up… But, that’s how it is a mom. It’s just that he has spoiled me, because he sleeps like a champ—I am not used to waking up so, so, so much anymore!

I am sleepy today.

Yet this morning when I finally had to peel my eyeballs open, when both kiddos were as awake as could be, I really had to have a talk with myself for one minute…and I made the decision to CHOOSE thankfulness. Thank you, for my children. Thank you for letting them be safe and healthy with me. A night of wakefulness? That’s part of my job. I really can’t complain, except that at 6:00 this morning, I really felt for a split second like grumbling…a lot.

Then the Matics and Yoder farm values kicked in. Get up. Do the actions. The heart will follow. Make the oatmeal. Cut up grapefruit. Dress the children. Dress yourself. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps…and get going. Do I really think my ancestors had time to complain? And look how much easier I really have it. A microwave. Gas burning stove to make tea. A heater to keep the house warm.

Yes, readers, it was that basic this morning. Get back to the fundamentals of gratitude. Be glad I don’t have to walk ten miles in the snow. I had to remind myself of my basic thanks. That’s how tired I was. Tired, but not too tired to forget that I have so much to celebrate everyday. I am lucky.

So we ate, dressed, and went for a walk. It is almost counter-intuitive, but when I am most tired, I try to exercise. Exercise gives me energy when I feel I have none. We went to a park and played. I pretended that my eyes and head and back did not hurt, chose not to dwell, and eventually I tricked myself into feeling more awake.

The morning got better. Dad and I went to our Toastmasters meeting. I was a little tired there, but managed to win Best Table Topics (despite truly believing that it should have been someone else). When I am tired, I guess I worry less about what I will say and so I am not as nervous as I normally am.

The best part? I got to watch my dad win Most Valuable Member of 2010 for our club. I thought that honor was well-deserved. I know it might seem biased, but my main criteria for the Most Valuable Member includes attendance (as there would be no club if people didn’t attend regularly). Record showed that my dad had the best attendance of the year. He also completed his CC, to help the club meet one of its goals. Too, he has been serving  as an officer and has done some extra little things, like make new name cards, purchase materials to share without reimbursement, etc. He really loves being a part of Toast of the Valley.

Also, I know he would never vote for himself or even think he would ever be considered—that kind of humility is also appealing to me when it comes to awards like this.

So the tiredness is catching up with me this afternoon, but I am truly thankful for the joys I got to witness today, even with only one eye open. My children laughed and played and learned, and I got to watch my dad win an award that is meaningful to him, one that he did not expect.

Gather your joy by celebrating the triumphs of your family, of those you love. When we are really glad for others, and to have them in our lives, then we have all the heart-energy in the world, even if our bodies are begging for our beds.

Rooting around in the garage this afternoon, Eric harnessed to my front and Katie painting with watercolors, I found in a box of my old playthings a snow globe I’d once received from Grandma and Grandpa Yoder for Christmas. Gosh, it must have been a Christmas as long ago as 1986 or even 1987 or 1988. A Christmas back when we all were here: Aunt Lark, Uncle Eric, my grandparents, my young parents.  I wasn’t much older than seven or eight years old when I received it, and it was before we moved to Temecula, I know. I remember being little and holding it in my Yorba Linda room and watching it for hours, of being an age when the world was perfect, an age when my parents could still protect me from almost everything.

It is no longer really a snow globe (the glass broke long, long ago, maybe in the move), but the music box part of it still works fine. There is a clown holding three balloons, and the tune it plays is Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”—more of an up-tempo version.

Dusting it off, bending the wired balloons back to standing, I placed it on our family room bookshelves. As I thought about the song it plays—a poignant song originally, full of regret and disappointment and the irony of missed timing (the Judy Collins cover always makes me feel weepy)—I also pondered how much it draws our attention, really, to finding and celebrating all the moments when timing is right, all the times when we aren’t the fools, or clowns,  that Shakespeare warns us mortals about.

So there were blessings today.

Eric had a check-up and vaccinations with his pediatrician this morning. My brave little boy. He is “long and lean” in Dr. Camacho’s words, at 26.5 inches in length, and 15 lbs., 6 oz. A good check-up is always a blessing. My mom came to help, and that is always welcome. Katie entertained her brother while we waited, by jumping and making up funny things to say. He laughs and laughs at his sister—I love it!

Later, my dad came over to help with a couple of things around the house. He took Katie for a walk and to lunch while Eric napped, so I had a little personal time this afternoon and time to work on my editing. I held and cuddled Eric as he went to sleep and just savored holding him for awhile while I read through some new recipes I’ve been wanting to try. I spent time studying his little baby face, marveling that I have him here with me now—as he was always meant to be. I began to ponder: what if the timing of Bill and I deciding to have a second child had been just the tiniest bit off? Would I not have had Eric? Impossible to fathom. He is as much a part of my destiny as is Katie.

Eric was still napping when Katie returned home, and she saw that I had put him down on her bed (a little closer to where I wanted to work). I asked her if she minded that he was on her bed, and she said, “No, he can be there; he’s my little brother!” She is so generous with her heart and her love for Eric. She is beautiful in her big sister role. And he adores her, too. I hope they always will love each other as much and as purely as they do right now. It is beautiful to witness.

And it is beautiful that, after so many years, my snow-globe-turned-music-box returned to my life just when I needed it, right at the time it would be most meaningful. While it reminds me of times that I miss and long almost too much to return to for just a moment, it becomes a talisman of childhood, a symbol of protection for an age I hold dear. It symbolizes what I most long to protect in my own children: innocent joy, free of worry, a joy of life.

Bill gave me a beautiful gift: The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II (published 2008). Many of you probably know that I am an absolute nut over musicals, especially those from Rodgers and Hammerstein (although several others, as well). Just today we filled the house with the score from Oklahoma! (“Oh what a beautiful morning/Oh what a beautiful day…”). In fact, my life is often a musical. I am happier when I sing, the children too, so I tend to sing all the time. I don’t claim to be a really great singer or anything like that, but I can hold a tune—and I sure love it. In my fantasy life, I am always a singer, sometimes on Broadway or sometimes I imagine being Stevie Nicks.

It is difficult not to sing. I find myself singing before I even realize that I ought probably to be talking. I sing to Eric about the snaps on his onesies; I sing to Katie about putting on her shoes. It helps to keep the mood calm if we are trying to get out of the house to go somewhere, and it is fun to sing when we cook, play, or dance. Most of the time, I fear that my children will think we live in an operetta. I am not comfortable singing around everybody, but Bill has always made me feel that he loves my singing and that he isn’t judging it. I figure Katie and Eric are too little to judge it and just soak up the mommy-love it represents. The music class that the children and I take has helped me to feel more comfortable singing (especially to or with my children) in public, but if I really could get away with it, I probably would sing everything instead of talk…at the grocery store, in the bank, at Starbucks ordering lattes. Singing feels like an absence of stress, to me.

So I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, naturally. Friends who have been reading my blogs for awhile, you know already that one of my favorite musicals ever is The Sound of Music. I have a dream someday to take the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. The first song I ever sang to Katie the night she was born was “My Favorite Things.” We sing it daily, and her first birthday had a “My Favorite Things” theme. (For example, both of us wore “white dresses with blue satin sashes”). I love, love, love the lyrics to that song because we are reminded to look for the blessings “when the dog bites/when the bee stings,” and when we feel sad. If there is one message I hope to impart to my children in life it is to look for the good even when it is hard to find.

I pondered Eric’s special song for most of my pregnancy. What to choose? There were many options, but in the end I wanted to connect it as much as possible to Katie’s special song, and I chose “The Sound of Music.”I sing it to Eric every night as I tuck him in, just as I still sing Katie’s to her when I tuck her in.

The hills are alive/With the sound of music,/With songs they have sung/For a thousand years./The hills fill my heart/With the sound of music—/My heart wants to sing/Ev’ry song it hears/My heart wants to beat/Like the wings of the birds that rise/From the lake to the trees./My heart wants to sigh/Like a chime that flies/From the church on a breeze,/To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones on its way/To sing through the night/Like a lark who is learning to pray!/I go to the hills/When my heart is lonely;/I know I will hear/What I’ve heard before—/My heart will be blessed/With the sound of music,/And I’ll sing once more.

Reading my book about Hammerstein’s lyrics, though, I learned something interesting. The actual lyrics are still officially written in the published libretto as “To laugh like a brook/When it trips and falls/Over stones in its way/…”

Julie Andrews, in the movie soundtrack, was the one to sing it as “Over stones on its way.”

One slight preposition of a difference. In vs. on.

It probably doesn’t really matter too much, but I’ve given it some thought—being a total fan and absolutely gaga over word choice in any case.

I prefer Julie Andrews’ way. In her version, the brook (representing the spirit of a person) is still the primary agent; the stones merely are there, doing nothing of notice, or, if they are impeding the flow of water, it is implied that the symbolic mirth of the brook is much more powerful and superseding. Obstacles may be on our path, but they are never totally in the way.

If the stones are “in the way” it is implied that the impediments have much more power and potential to divert the happiness of the brook, of the singer, of the ability to find goodness.

At least, that is how I read it. A lyrical Rorschach.

I am reminded of how much perception influences how we view the obstacles we face. Do we acknowledge and pass by them on our own way, on our own terms? Or do they sometimes stand in our way, head on? What is the role of our joy? The sound of our music that we sing to shore up our hearts?

A little bit to ponder!

A good friend of mine (and my former 10th grade English teacher) Donna Dutton, another lovely spirit full of light, posed an thoughtful question to me in an e-mail this morning: What do I think of the revisions to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

To catch up, an Alabama publisher, NewSouth Books, is going to publish a new version of Huck Finn (as we call it in English-teacher shorthand) with all instances of the n-word replaced. NPR reports that there are other words that will be changed, as well. For example, “half-breed” will be revised to read “half-blood” and so on.

It is fair to say that, as I have grown older, my views with respect to censorship have grown more complex. As a young student, a young scholar of English at a liberal arts university, and a new first-year teacher I was loud with my trumpet that no literature or art should be off limits, censored, or banned. Yet with experience and motherhood has come the understanding that not all “art” has inherent value, simply because it was produced. There are a great many films, for example, that I would never allow to come into our home. There are several I have turned off mid-watch (even before children) because the language offends me. Why should my criteria be different with written material?

Few would dispute that Twain is one of the greatest American novelists and artists of his age, or of any age. I do think that both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer constitute valuable, worthwhile, thought-provoking artistry. Even more to my personal liking is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which I wrote about on the day last year of Salinger’s passing. Catcher is filled with cursing, and yet I do believe they have a purpose. I believe that Twain’s use of extremely culturally charged words also had a purpose—a purpose that is still relevant today.

I weigh this idea, though, with how I feel about more and more expletives being permitted on TV. It has become so rampant and permissive that watching prime time TV with Katie present (even recorded, since she goes to bed near 8:00 PM) is out of the question. Bill and I have a personal philosophy that cursing or, obviously, using hurtful names to disparage others is never okay. We do not teach our children those words, and if they ever hear them elsewhere and start using them, they will be corrected. Yes, intellectually we understand that words are just words—human beings give them arbitrary values and emotional tones. We have both read Stephen Pinker’s work on the subject. Intellectualism, however, is only one facet of our experience as human beings. Whether we like it or not, the words we choose to use do define us. For better or worse, I always wince when I hear someone use a curse word (just as I cringe when one comes into my head in frustration), and I always wonder why that person has chosen not to express himself or herself in a more positive and polite way. Often, I can’t help being offended by those words, depending a little on context. That’s just…me. For better or worse. Perhaps I am a little too subject to my upbringing and cannot look enough outside my own box, it may be argued, but I was raised to use more polite word choice. It’s that Mennonite blood in me, I think.

For me the words I use or don’t use are a way to honor my family, my husband and children now, and my parents and extended family, my elders. We would never dream about using such words in front of my Nana or my grandfathers, so why should I use them any other time?

I step away from myself, though, and I realize that sometimes, the artful use of curse words can be amusing. Satire, farce, social commentary: wielded with skill, even the most powerfully negative words in our culture can be illuminating. I think there must be some part of me that distinguishes between using a curse word simply because we stub our toes and using a curse word to elucidate the human condition as a call for edifying, positive change. Intent?

We can see why this issue is so complicated. My intellectual side pulls me one direction, but my experience with the world and human nature guides me in another.

It would be easier to take an entirely intellectual approach and argue that anything should be permitted in art or expression at any time, and everyone should just “get over it.” I’ve been down that road of thinking before…but then, what about “art” that exploits women, or even children? What happens in a world where there are no boundaries of taste—whatever taste is? Or parameters of right and wrong? It often seems like one of our more logical choices is to choose to celebrate a language, and an art, that revolves around goodness and love. Sure, words may be just words, but they are powerful and impossible to divorce from sociocultural baggage…so why not choose to fill our minds and hearts with good ones?

But back to Twain. Ultimately, do I think he should be bowdlerized? No. Absolutely not. The choice to read his words or not must remain with the individual. Do I think that he would be an easy read for a less mature or experienced reader? No. His humor is sometimes subtle, his writing complex. It might be tempting for some readers to take him at face value—and there is one of the problems. I also taught To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite novels of all time. Harper Lee used the n-word, too, but she was more straightforward about her message: it is easier for young students to see that the only characters who use that word are utterly uneducated buffoons, including the antagonist of the novel. It is easier to teach students the context, for them to see how she uses the word in the mouths of the villains to make a point about racism. Twain is not always as clear, even though his point is similar. With my own children, I will teach them these novels when I am convinced that their reading comprehension is sophisticated enough to deal with the cultural weight of it.

Other films and novels they will have to choose on their own, when they are adults—and that is the point of all that Bill and I seek to teach them. How to make good choices… What to put in their minds and hearts, and above all, why.

I think much would be lost if, in the revision of Twain’s works, we lose the ability as Americans, as people, to have this discussion.

When I taught To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), I often read certain passages aloud to my students. We would have a discussion about the n-word. I told them that my choice, as a human being, was that I would not be saying the word when we read. I know that probably offended a handful, and rightfully—it was my own form of personal censorship I guess. Except: they could still read and see the word as it was printed on the page. Each of us has to make her own choices. I supported my colleagues who would read those words aloud, and I respected the logic that led them to do so. It came from a caring, loving place, just as my choices did. Those colleagues were just as important to the freedom of our literature, if not moreso, than I was to the cause of individual choice. All American high school English teachers deal with this issue, and many of us fret about it late at night. I will always maintain that students needed to see how all of us dealt with those words, to know that one day they would have to choose, and that there were good arguments on both sides.

One of the joys of our glorious freedom in this country is that we can still debate this subject in a meaningful way. Gather your joy in thoughtful freedom today!