Practice Makes Closer to Adequate: My Off&On Again Affair with Grammar

This is the story behind the method to the science of a madness. Grammar avoided me. I chased it. It’s been a colossal tease my entire life.

Every so often Grammar waits for me to catch up and tells me, “I can’t live without you!”


Yes. You, darling.

Ok. Now that I think about it I can’t live without you either. Will you stay and forsake not all, but most, others?

Stay?! This is a traveling circus, beautiful. Don’t fence me in.

Grammar ran faster and escaped me, but left footprints. I’ve developed half-assed instincts that help me rediscover it when I lose the trail. That and it leaves love letters to me tied to the low branches in my path.  The mixed messages confuse me, but I keep following.

Kindergarten through eighth grade I attended the largest school in a Northwestern Minnesota county. My class size hovered at 24. We were one of the largest classes in the district.

My 7th and 8th grade English teacher taught solid writing practices that still haunt me. To this day they moan and groan and clank chains from the margins: prewriting, double spaced rough drafts, edit, edit, edit, proofread, another rough draft, and another until it is too overdue to get a full grade. I started blogging in part to let go of making sure every sentence was perfect.

Ninth grade was the year she dedicated to serious grammar like diagramming sentences and studying parts of speech in-depth. I missed it.

When my dad died during my eighth grade year, my mom packed us seven kids up at the end of the school year and moved to South Central Minnesota. We spent one year in a school that was twice the size of my K-8 class: huge.

This new school already had spent 8th grade English diagramming sentences, studying parts of speech, past perfect versus present perfect precedential procedure… huh?, in-depth. They spent the first quarter of 9th grade reviewing what they had practiced every day of 8th grade.

That first quarter of 9th grade I got the worst grade I ever received on any high school report card: C+. No. C-. I was a strong writer but I knew nothing about the secret code of grammar they breezed through like butter on a hot bun.

Yes. I just equated grammar and breezes with hot buttered buns. Deal with it.

There I was in 9th grade purgatory where I had missed an entire year of grammar study that I never, ever got back. The next school I attended 10th through 12th grade had studied grammar in 9th grade. Story of my life. Grammar study and I = ships passing in the night, or a very dense fog.

My ability to read (tv-free until my late 20s) and observe is what made me a decent writer. But I felt cheated once I got to my English Education classes at college. How was I supposed to teach something I had never learned?!

My professors and my English teacher relatives told me that the best way to learn something was to teach it. Half of my English Ed classes were fellow students who wanted to teach English because of their love for diagramming sentences and correcting speech patterns.

But one of the main reasons I chose the “career” (safety net) of teaching English was to encourage students to expand their horizons through reading, speaking, listening, and imagination and to confidently communicate their internal and external environments to the world, without shame or fear of judgment. Especially grammar nazi judgment.

So, I taught myself grammar as best I could. I spent an entire summer with a cast-off grammar textbook and read it like novel. I don’t remember much of it. I don’t even remember much of what I taught when I did teach high school grammar. To this day I have not diagrammed a sentence.

I do remember that I craved grammar the way I crave math. I still do. Both can be comforting in the right circumstances.

The key to communicating well is… communicating… and listening and hearing and reading. There is so much gray in what I crave most about writing. You can say and do whatever you cumudgerly sayyouknow thisIsah ahloo, ahloo, ahloo. ;/

Practice Makes Closer To Adequate (Trademarked by CLVyrnon)
The book “Woe is I: the grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor is one of the books on my shelf that I haven’t read until        now. (You can find it filed under “white binding” in my current library… upper left-hand corner.)

The first issue she mentions is the confusion between that and which. I’ve never studied the difference until now, just let my instincts lead me to the right word. But I’m not necessarily using that versus which properly. For practice in noticing the difference I’m searching through my old Hot4Jesus blog posts and correcting the word choice if needed, getting thoroughly confused sometimes and other times noticing superfluous words that I edit out.

What grammar rules and regulations keep you up at night?  What grammar books do you recommend?

Foray into the contents of a Moleskine

Four A’s
Four as
For as

Red&BlackAtheist AScarlet Lettersupport Art moleskine

The Four Red As? A collage that never made it onto my teandoranges blog.

Anarchy: in a perfect world I am an anarchist… and an anti-christ(ine).
Atheist: a descriptor that is useful and accurate yet too loaded to use flippantly. I use it nevertheless.
Adulterer: I’m not sure what Adultery means.  I’ll let you know once I figure that out.  Hester Pyrnne is All Women.  The Scarlet Letter can be a badge of honor and survival.
Art: a sticker I threw on the dull Moleskine black to spruce it up. I do Support Art… and so should you:

The contents of a Moleskine. Not the pocket notebook I wanted back in April of 2008, but the notebook I ended up with. I saw “no lines.” I saw “pocket-size”… a size I always have in addition to larger notebooks.  I saw what I wanted to see and I bought it.  Once I removed the cellophane I discovered that the pages were THICK… heavy artist’s stock… like cardboard.

I took for granted the softness and pliability of paper … writing paper … until I found myself forcing a ballpoint pen across reluctant artist’s paper.

Such is life.  I have stacks of these small notebooks.  Most of them are not Moleskines.  Maybe none of them.  Buying small notebooks is as mundane as buying toilet paper… can’t live without them.  The purchase is also like starting a new relationship as I read words on the page that aren’t there.  I get giddy when I buy new notebooks. Twitterpated.

contents of a moleskine

The back pocket holds two sheets of OM stickers and an old 2008 horoscope message by Rob Brezsny.  I like to take horoscopes out of context… not necessarily the wrong sign… but at the wrong time: a week late; a day late; a decade late.  Since I’m an evolved post-theist, I get to choose whether or not portions of the message are still relevant.  If not relevant for me, read this as relevant for you.  It is yours… yes, your horoscope for Today.

  • Don’t just set aside a few stolen moments to sniff the snapdragons, taste the rain, chase the wind, watch the hummingbirds and listen to a friend. Use your imagination to actually BE the snapdragons and rain and wind and hummingbirds and friend. It’s time to not just behold the Other, but to become the Other.Rob Brezsny

I kept this horoscope because it reminded me of something by J. Krishnamurti I read while writing lyrics for a song I collaborated on and recorded back in the day. More on that later.

The OM stickers? I was in the throws of a yoga teacher-training program.  I’m in the process of sticking them around Minneapolis, knowing someone will see them and think, “OM… namaste” and someone else will see them and think, “fucking hippie hipsters.”

The remainder of the contents need more time to decipher.  I’m looking for a catalyst for a new piece.

Of triptychs and oxen



The first journal I pulled out of my first drawer-stack of journals is a dream journal from 2004-2005.

Hopefully I didn’t lose my vast audience with the words “dream journal”. I have a couple of them… 2ish to be exact… in addition to dream descriptions splattered throughout most of my journals. We’re all guilty of this, right?

Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart.

Journaling my dreams was a necessary phase.  They were a practice of transcribing ethereal images before they disappeared.  They also represent me scrambling to, aptly enough, archive my brain.

In 2004 I didn’t yet have the balls to embrace the term atheism.  I often described myself as an agnostic atheist… something I clung to all the way to the first 2007 entry of my Hot-For-Jesus blog.  Perhaps my preferred descriptor now is post-theist, but through it all I wanted to believe that my, Our, subconscious held the keys to Everything.

“I think too much of psychic overload, reincarnation, parallel lives.” (from first dream journal entry)

What did I find in the coffee-stained dream journal?

  • Performing, rehearsing, singing, seeing myself in a reflection – ‘blond’ (which I’m not), ‘dusty pink dress, cream pearls’, (both of which I made for a H.S. performance in the early ‘90s) and ‘sexy legs’ (whatever that means)… and I said to myself, “Damn. After all this time, Christine you still look fucking sexy and sound great and you’d make your family proud.”
  • Dying… as a foreign child in a disaster situation and not feeling pain… and needing to let someone know that I/she/he was dying pain-free. The dream convinced me I was channeling the suffering of others, in particular the 2004 Tsunami days before it happened.

You get the picture.  It is full of nonsense.  Absolutely necessary nonsense for the time… full of apocalyptic Armageddons… apocalypses galore camouflaged as war, disease, floods, tornadoes, solving mysteries that uncovered new Mysteries.

As I re-read it now I still look for signs, proof that I knew things before they happened, or parallel to their happening… proof that the dreams were significant if I just could properly interpret them… a holdover from the fundagelical glamorization of Daniel and other Biblical dream-interpreters.  But all I found were themes of houses, lovers, trains, siblings, music, mothers, frustration and apocalyptic intrigue.  No proof of anything but a woman trying to untangle knots of spiritual abuse and normal human life.

Anything worth sharing?

A Helper shared this koan with me.  I wrote it down in red ink:

                                          The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.

Take it. It is yours to keep as long as you need it.

Better for the wear.

Better for the wear.

The triptych of dream journal coffee pics can also be found on my Tumblr blog, User. (Triptych’s subtitle: put a fucking bird on it.)