Monday, May 28, 2018

More Confessions from a Grammar Nazi

In the final resolution scene of the movie Jerry McGuire, after Tom Cruise delivers a heartfelt speech to Rene Zellwegger's character, she responds:

You had me at hello.

Now, I can promise you that in my daily life, my love life, my professional life & my reading life, I have initiated & experienced You had me at hello moments.

But, at times, in all the aspects of my life, I have also experienced You lost me at . . . moments.

Since the advent of personal computers, spell check, email, social media, text messaging & Twitter & a total lack of appreciation for the importance of grammar & punctuation, it is in my reading & literary life that I have experienced too many You lost me at . . . moments.

I cannot honestly say when I joined the grammar police.  However, I remember a moment in Patsy Kay Kelly McGinnis’ Composition class at John Foster Dulles High School.

I took the course because I wanted to write. 

Our final paper of Patsy Kay’s Composition class was a research paper.  

We turned our papers in, Patsy Kay graded them.  At my second high school, our grades were not recorded as A, B, C, D or F.  Instead, they were in numerical form that translated into letter grades on our transcripts.  
(We received additional points for honor classes.  For half a year, after I transferred in, I was assigned to the library because my new school did not offer a class I had taken back in El Paso.  I literally received honor points for reading every morning.)

Anyway, back to Patsy Kay.

On the day Mrs. McGinnis was to return our graded term papers, she stood before the class to give her assessment of our efforts.  After a general overview of her approval, she said:

One of you, who knows better, ended her paper with a run-on sentence.  I am disappointed.

Then Patsy Kay Kelly McGinnis handed me my paper.

We received two grades on our papers – one for content, one for grammar.  I looked at mine – 100 for content, 80 for grammar.

I reviewed the ending of my paper.  In my closing sentence, I had left out a semi-colon, creating a run-on sentence.

And paid dearly for it.

So perhaps Patsy Kay Kelly McGinnis initiated my eventual role as a grammar Nazi.

Over the years, I have given up on Internet grammar & punctuation.  Not for myself – I still text in complete sentences, try to remember to proof my posts, & edit my spelling & grammar. 

Words matter, the use of words, the choice of words matter. 

Two is not the same as to or too, there is not the same as they’re or their, your is not the same as you’re, won is not the same as one, here is not the same as hear & in the case of the Apricot-in-Chief’s tweets, roll is not the same as role.

And while I no longer correct cyber grammar, I still cringe. 

And continue to experience you lost me at . . . moments.

Recently, when I read Fire & Fury, my first you lost me at . . . moment occurred on page XIII of the Author’s Note.  

The second full paragraph beginning At the same time, it is worth noting . . . consists of three sentences.  The second sentence is fraught with semicolons & contains 82 words.

Including three words I had to look up:  risible (laughable}; sanrizdat (referring to a clandestine publishing system within the former Soviet Union, by which forbidden or unpublished work is reproduced & circulated widely); & gobsmacked (flabbergasted, amazed, astounded," literally "smacked in the mouth”).

Now I understand that my own vocabulary is lacking – doesn’t everyone know risible, sanrizdat & gobsmacked (which reminded me of the Everlasting Gobstopper of Willy Wonka fame)?

And I realize that one of my favorite classic British works begins with a single sentence paragraph consisting of 119 words, However, Michael Wolff is no Charles Dickens & Fire & Fury is not A Tale of Two Cities.

But the Author Note was not my only you lost me at . . . moment before Chapter 1 Election Day.

In the Prologue:  Ailes and Bannon, page 3, at the end of the third full paragraph, Wolff writes:

This was the job Bannon a week later.

I looked at the line for ten minutes.  Did it modify the previous never-ending sentence?  Did the job do something to Bannon?  Did Bannon do something to the job? 
A casual reader would have missed it – a close reader would have been able to put together from previous content that the author was referring to Bannon accepting the job that Roger Ailes declined.

I was still back on the 82 word sentence connected by semicolons.

Wolff’s incoherent sentence (when taken out of context) affected my entire reading of Fire & Fury.  Before Chapter I, I was predisposed to find it sloppy & poorly edited.

A few days ago, I read a post from the official city page of our little one square mile city (actually, it is not quite one square mile).  

For months now, we have, as a community, risen up & resisted a plan by the Fort Bend Independent School District that would impact our city.

Specifically, a facilities assessment that could close the city’s heart soul – our local elementary school.

An ardent & active group of parents, former parents, students, former students, teaches & former teachers came together to organize the effort to save Meadows Elementary, creating an example of grassroots efforts to resist.

The City post urged us to keep resisting & contacting the powers that be in the Fort Bend ISD.

And stated that the district board members needed to continue to “here from us.”

As if the board members could “here” from me.  As if here  meant communication.   As if they could here what any of us had to say.

I was struck by the irony of a city fighting for quality elementary education in a diverse environment & its city government’s inability to go past Spellcheck & proof a press release.

In the end, pending the passing of a bond issue, the school district voted to rebuild our 35-year old elementary school to accommodate 450 students.  

Apparently, letting the board here or hear from past & current parents, teachers, & students impacted the decision.

The board heard. 

But I have to tell you, my friends, that I am still not over here or hear.

Grammar Nazis do not go quietly into the night.

Nor, apparently, do former English teachers.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

On Jean, Brioche, Prayer & Notebooks

In the past several months, I believe that I have discovered brioche for the first time.  It may be that I have eaten brioche in a previous decade of my life.  If so, the memory may have been erased from my data banks to make room for something else.

According to Julia Child & Simone Beck in Volume II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “the wonderfully, buttery, light, & thoroughly delectable texture” of brioche may convince one that brioche is “manna from another planet.”

I am convinced that it is indeed a culinary manna. 

And there are numerous forms & situations in which to consume brioche.  As a bread, as a roll, a pastry, – for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or coffee break.  As the pastry encompassing Beef Wellington. (I seem to recall an evening long ago with a dear friend & his Rice University housemates involving Beef Wellington).

I found brioche rolls at Aldi’s, of all places.  I think they may replace white yeast rolls at my Thanksgiving table.  I used most of them in a recipe for overnight blueberry French toast. 

The remaining rolls I used for tuna fish sandwiches.

Eventually I discovered loaves of brioche with or without chocolate.  I bought the chocolate, made another batch of overnight French toast & used the remainder of the loaf for simple morning French toast.  Jean loved it.

Of course, I think Jean loved it because I grated dark chocolate over the toast.

As the loaf diminished, I began to suspect that one other member of the household was enjoying it.

During my discovery, or perhaps rediscovery, of brioche, a chaplain from Jean’s home health care agency began to visit.  The chaplain’s name is David (I could not decide whether to call him Pastor David or Reverend David but Jean asked him & we are to call him David.)

David is truly a gentle giant – a black man so tall that I have to stretch my neck to look him in the eye.  He has an amazing voice – I am always a sucker for an amazing voice.

Apparently so is my mother Jean.

Last week, David, who is a dapper dresser, wore a hat.  I always take Jean’s visitors into her room & re-introduce the visitor to her memory bank.  And then I leave, giving the Jean her visit.

When David the Chaplain visits, I can hear his amazing voice & its cadence from outside Jean’s room.

After David’s visit last week, Jean said:

David asked me what I would like him to pray for.  I asked him to pray for our country.  I wish you had heard his prayer.

Over the next few days, Jean again said I wish you had heard David’s prayer.

At first, I did not understand what she was trying to say.  I decided that she had forgotten that she already expressed that she wished I had heard David’s prayer.

Finally, Jean was able to articulate what she was trying to tell me:

I wish you had heard David’s prayer so that you could rememb
er it for me.

When I last wrote about Jean’s memory & her need for a notebook to write down things she wants to remember or recall, my friend Cate Poe responded to my blog:

 You are her synapse, aren't you? Her bridge to those memories. Maybe, too, you've become her notebook.

Cate is correct, I am Jean’s notebook.  At best, an imperfect notebook storing my mother’s memories.

This week Jean wanted to discuss what is going on in Texas about schools, about what is going on across the country with teachers.

We talked about it & then she said:

The next time David comes & asks me what I would like him to pray for, I want him to pray for our schools.  Which is connected to my asking him to pray for our country.

So, in between discovering or rediscovering brioche manna, I am a notebook.

A very flawed notebook. 

Because I have been eating brioche in one Viennoiserie form of another since I first bit into a croissant. . .