I really enjoy your daily postings, but it bothers me when your grammar is incorrect. I don’t know if it is on purpose to be more folksy? Dumbed down? or what, but someone who is a writer should really be more cognizant of how his words impact the reader.
When I read a sentence with blatant incorrect usage, it is jarring and lessens my respect for what you are saying—and I’d rather that didn’t happen…
You’re absolutely right. I have terrible grammar. I’ll admit it like a man. When I first learned this about myself, I was in community college. I was in my late twenties.
My English professor had cotton hair, and every word she uttered sounded like rural Mississippi.
I remember my first class. I was nervous. I had just left work, I was wearing sweaty clothes.
Underneath my breath, I talked to myself. “You’re not a stupid man, Sean,” I was saying. “You’ve got this.”
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am not a complete ignoramus.
One trick I’ve learned is to remember the people who believed in you.
My fourth-grade teacher, for example.
She encouraged me to write stories. My grammar was atrocious. I was the son of an ironworker, and I was born naked at a very young age. My sentences read like they were written by a plain hick.
“I once seen Johnnie Andrews with a big old kite fixed to his back, and Lord, he jumped off the dang roof! He broke his ankle and everything!”
My teacher would correct my paper in red ink, then hand it back to me. At the end of every draft, she would include a note that read:
“YOU’RE MY FAVORITE WRITER, SEAN!”
These simple words are actually code for “I love you.” And they inspire me.
I would therefore rewrite the ballad of Johnnie Andrews’ famous descent from his father’s pump shed until the story carried a more metaphorical tone.
I didn’t deserve the “A” she gave me in English. The “D” in math, however, I earned fair and square.
On my final report card, she wrote: “YOU’RE STILL MY FAVORITE WRITER, I’LL MISS YOU NEXT YEAR!”
You don’t forget people who were good to you. Which is why I remember my college English teacher.
For one of our first college English assignments, we were supposed to write about our first true love. Then, the professor would read our stories aloud in class.
You can imagine the kinds of papers she received from a group of blue-collars, middle-aged students, and dropouts.
Guys like me had a hard time spelling “received” correctly. In fact, before I wrote that word just now, I had to recite the grammatical rule a few times.
“I” before “E,” except after “C,”
And sometimes “Y,”
Except when filing jointly,
Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally,
With liberty and justice for all,
The man who sat next to me in English was a commercial plumber. He wrote about his wife that day in class. His grammar was worse than mine.
But that teacher—God bless her—read his paper as though she were reciting a sonnet.
Then she read my piece. God, I almost died when she announced my name. Not only did I feel like one of the most under qualified students, but my story was about a chocolate Labrador.
The teacher read my words—grammatical errors included—as though she were reading a Robert Frost masterpiece. She read them until people started sniffing and dabbing their eyes over a dog they never even knew.
Then, she smiled at the class. She lifted a textbook and held it high for a room of mill-workers, plumbers, waitresses, and janitors.
“See this textbook?” she said. “This is just a bunch of rules.” Then she placed a hand over her heart and closed her eyes. “This is where the words are.”
When I graduated I was pushing thirty. That woman attended my ceremony. Afterward, she found me in the parking lot. She hugged me and said a few code words to me.
“You were my favorite, Sean.”
Then she kissed my cheek and walked away.
Anyway, I’ve forgotten what I was talking about.
Yes, I remember. I’m sorry you lost respect for my words because of my bad grammar. But I can’t blame you. My stuff isn’t literature. I’m not sure what it is.
Either way, writing has changed my life, ma’am. It’s made me a better person. It’s helped me learn about who I am, and who I want to be. And for that I am grateful.
By the way, your message got me thinking. There’s something I want to say to you, I hope you don’t mind. But I think you deserve to hear it from someone, and that someone might as well be me.
You’re my favorite.
Thank you for letting me say my piece.