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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!

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!

 

 

 

 

Of all the pictures arranged on the memorial table at my Grandpa Yoder’s funeral reception last week, the picture of the old Yoder farmhouse, a red wooden structure surrounded by trees, in Indiana took up the deepest root in my mind and heart. He had kept it in his office, and I’d never seen it. Some part of me comes from there. So often I have felt a fundamental connection to my Amish Mennonite ancestry; in fact, my dad’s side of our family also hails from generations of farmers in California. Farm blood is my blood. I celebrate the attention and reverence that farm values place upon working with our hands and finding glory in a job well done, upon the simple pleasures and basics of life, upon the importance of family and working together. The down-to-earthness.

In another serendipitous common thread winding among events happening in my life, my mom gave me several cross stitch projects and supplies for Christmas. Knowing of my love for all things Amish, one of the patterns she gave me features an Amish countryside village with horses and buggies. During Christmas, I had a chance to glance at only briefly as I was helping Katie with her gifts.

Today I pulled the gift back out. In one of those amazing life coincidences that leaves one speechless, I noticed for the first time the wording on the top of the pattern. To be stitched above the scene are the words “BIRD IN HAND.” I could almost feel the breath leave my body. She bought that pattern months ago; I had been considering titling this blog “birdinyourhand” for some few days before Christmas, before ever opening the gift. What are the chances of all these elements—my ancestry, my core values, my outlet for expression (my blog), etc—coming together right at this one time? I am going to have to ponder this one…

My dad, Richard Matics, and I were speaking of  down-to-earth farm values this afternoon, in fact, as we discussed the main values of his real estate company. He owns Matics Realty Inc, and we’ve been working on writing the content for his website. My brother’s MIL (mother-in-love) Lorraine Ryba, one of the owners of PuterWerkZ, has been designing the site. Only the completion of the written content is needed for official launch, and so my dad and I sat down for a second writing session today. My dad and I work well together: he talks about what he values and the facts, and I write and edit the content into paragraphs. It gets a little hectic at moments with the two kiddos as busy as ever—I can’t exactly report that I have quiet working conditions—but there is joy even in the loud loveliness. My mom came over, too, and she and Katie both were squealing in delight while playing hide-and-go-seek.

I am a creature, by nature, of the quietest and calmest and most solitudinous times of night. Always have been. Learning to work, think, and exist amid the bustle and delightful squeals and chatter and clinkings of toys has been a great challenge for me as a mother.  As much as I have always encouraged joyful noise and singing, still I sometimes crave a moment of silence with every fiber of my body—and it might only be 10:00 in the morning. Thank goodness, again, for my previous career in teaching, which conditioned me well to have patience and postponement and to embrace different needs and different voices craving recognition all at once. Thank goodness, too, for four years of living with roommates and dormmates in college, and for learning how to create a personal space in one compartment of my mind that I can go to for a five minute breather when I need to tune back in to my inner calm.

It is the time when life seems the busiest that we must return to our fundamentals. We return to our inner farm, and plant the authentic seeds of ourselves anew. Let us gather our joy—and our wits and our written voices and our moments of personal calm—in the midst of life’s most bouncy bustle.

Working as a freelance editor on my friend Sana’s blog Friend to Yourself , I must have revision on my mind. Or perhaps it is the coming of the new year, or even the desire to find new order after the inner turmoil caused by the passing of my grandpa on Christmas Eve. Whatever the cause, I decided to rearrange our formal living room today. The room off of the dining room has not seen too much use since we’ve lived here. Our family room, directly adjacent to my kitchen, usually holds our toys, special blankies, books, and laughter.

With our Christmas tree in our more formal living room this year, the kiddos and I spent many a December morning playing and reading in it. We noticed that that particular room is one of the brightest in our home. It is also one of the only spaces in our house without wooden floors—floors that, even covered with large rugs topped with a blanket, are a bit hard for Eric’s baby body. Carpeted and light, our living room has become a favorite place to play this past month. Still, some of the furniture was not arranged conducive to moving around well. With the Christmas tree now put out, there was space to move our couch in front of the big window, and we were able to keep one of our sitting chairs in the alcove by the stairs, freeing up more space for the flow of our energy. Everything looks, and more importantly feels,  so much cozier, and we have a new play space. What is the sense in having delightful spaces if we reserve them only for formality?

I love to revise my spaces periodically. There is the feeling that we will inscribe new memories upon those spaces. We have a new freedom in that room that we did not have previously. A glorious openness and flow of light energize the downstairs. The “bird in my hand” is knowing that I did not have to purchase anything in order to make the revision—so often we can move around what we already have, both physically and metaphorically as we look for the joys within us and bring them to the surface.

To celebrate, Katie and I shared teatime today in our rearranged room. My cousin Hannah (actually my cousin Brandon’s wife and like a sister to me) gave me a beautiful birthday present: a basketful of English teatime treats. She is English, and she has shown me the delights of Yorkshire tea and PG Tips. I made an herbal tea for Katie, and we both took milk. We shared Walker shortbread and Hob Nobs and a bit of Cadbury chocolate during our tea today. We served our treats on my Uncle Eric’s serving dish. Why not use our special heirlooms and bring new life to them?

Eric played on the floor nearby, and we listened to some of our music in the background, just as the rain began to mist downward to the earth.