An Open Letter to Grammar

Aw Grammar. We’ve had such a mixed past. Though I appreciate your ability to make me a better writer, you can get in my way sometimes. Occasionally, I get so preoccupied with the correctness of my writing that I forget the reason that I’m writing. You can be useful, and you do deserve some instruction. However, I think that at a certain level, too much instruction can hinder writing.

You, Grammar, are essential to writing well. I do believe that some grasp of your grammatical concepts are needed for one to be a successful writer. One should know a noun from a verb, and an adjective from and adverb. A writer should also know what kind of punctuation and verb form to use when putting words onto paper. The correct use of certain words and commas is essential. However, much to your dismay I’m sure, I don’t know how much more formal instruction is needed beyond that.

I think that to be a good writer, one needs to be a good reader. This not only helps to generate creativity, but it also exposes young children to your correct written form. They know how a sentence is supposed to sound without instruction. This, in addition to parents and teachers who speak correctly should be sufficient to get the average person through life.

I do believe Grammar, that a person should learn about you until they reach middle school. After reaching seventh grade, a student should know basic math, writing, and reading skills. After these foundations are laid, I think that they should simply build upon them. That means learning algebra, reading classic novels, and learning to write in more specific styles. Students will be introduced to your friends Pythagoras and Plato. But unfortunately for you, I think that unless one is struggling with a very specific grammatical error, you no longer need to be taught.

Now don’t dismay Grammar. There are some who will continue to know you. For example, those who become English majors, or who choose to teach, or who decide to become editors. They need to keep getting to know you. They will be your closest friends, the ones that know your inmost secrets. They will then be able to share those secrets with others when the need arises.

No doubt about it Grammar, you’re important. You’re needed and necessary. But I believe that there comes a time when you need to sever your ties with most of us Average Joe’s. We don’t all have to be bosom buddies. But don’t worry too much, you’ll always have your English majors and teachers.

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Books on My Nightstand

As the school year progresses, I am finding it harder and harder to come up with my blog posts. Last week I wrote about writer’s block, but I knew I couldn’t do that again, even though it helped to get the creativity flowing. So I turned to the website every girl goes to when they are in need of a little inspiration.

Pinterest.

I typed in the words “Blog Prompts” and clicked search. I was a little skeptical of how this would play out. Would I like what I came up with?

What I found were deceptively long articles full of random prompts meant to inspire writing. There were “October Blog Challenges” and posts titled, “No More Excuses; Blog Every Day.” While I agree that these could be fun and helpful, none of these pins where quite what I was looking for. Something juicy and entertaining, that would elicit laughter and consideration from my readers. Finally, after searching through endless lists of photos I could post or articles I could write, I found a prompt that I liked.

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It was perfect! “I love to read, I’m always reading. That’s a perfect post for me!” These thoughts rushed through my mind upon seeing those words. There’s only one small problem. The books on my nightstand are not the kind that one usually finds when reading blog posts of this type. I mean, I don’t even have a nightstand. Instead I have a tiny bookshelf that straddles my bed.

The contents of my bookshelf would take me a long time to explain. It contains two of my favorite books, The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. It also has a series of books my cousin recommended to me that I foolishly thought I would have time to read (Maybe some day Becky!). In addition to those, this small shelf holds all of my honors books. These range from the Odyssey to the Bible to the collected works of Plato. There’s a Modge Podge letter “A” and two pumpkins. It also holds an old edition of National Geographic featuring the Pope.

So there you have it, my Pinterest Prompted Post. Maybe an odd collection of words, but all of them true. A simple search inspired this post, and those are the contents of my meager bookshelf. Someday I’ll have a much larger bookshelf, and maybe that day this short article will be more informative. And until then, I’ll keep searching for prompts, hoping to find a source of inspiration.

Writer’s Block

I always thought of writer’s block as some sort of giant cube that old, wizened authors sat upon when they wanted a day off. I just figured it was a place for them to stop and relax, but now I know that is not the case. Writer’s block is far more serious than that. It is a near chronic disease that affects everyone of a certain profession.

I almost always find that every time I am cursed with the dreaded writer’s block it happens right as something important is about to be due. Every time I forget about the project at hand until its due date is pressed upon me. Every time I pull some bit of writing from the recesses of my brain and put it onto paper and turn it in.

And so, that brings us to the present.

I am sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, who is very studiously being productive. We have all of our string lights and lamps on in order to avoid turning on the harsh overhead lights. I’m hovering over my key board, trying to formulate some semblance of a blog post that is readable and enjoyable to the public. I’m snacking on my $0.99 raspberries that have half frozen from being too close to the freezer part of our mini-fridge trying to figure out what to write about. Finally I realize that I have my topic right in front of me.

At this point, I’ve decided to write about writer’s block, as you have probably deduced from the title. I don’t know what causes writer’s block or how to make it go away.If that’s what you’re looking for, you might just want to google it, or look on Pinterest for those lists of topics that are supposed to inspire you. I suppose that I could have also done that, but this seemed like more fun.

And so, in writing about the very thing that plagued me tonight, I have found a subject matter. I guess that goes to show that sometimes all you have to do is sit down and go for it.

But What About Gender?

We have been reading a lot about gender in class, and its something that has been on my mind a lot. I say that I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist but I’m beginning to wonder if that is true anymore. I have often disagreed with “radical” feminists. I actually think that men are OK and that they can hold jobs. I also think that being a stay-at-home mom is a perfectly acceptable job, if that’s what a woman wants to do. In my head, feminists were always out to ruin men and take their jobs and not ever have children. However, since coming to college, I’m realizing that there is more to feminism and gender stereotyping and sexism than I thought there was.

Last night I attended Melanie Mock’s presentation on gender in the church. I thought that it was fascinating, and it opened my eyes to things I had never noticed before. I never would have thought that sexism would still exist here, at a 21st century Christian college. To me, sexism, and gender stereotyping goes against all that I know of what Jesus taught. The split between men and women is one that I find fascinating, but it is also cause for concern.

I never thought that gender was something that affected how I write or what I write about. I always just figured that I wrote about what I wanted to write about, no questions asked. And I do think that I care about the subjects that I choose, but now I’m wondering whether I choose them because they’re what I like or because they’re what I know. I do think that I can write about whatever I would like, but would those pieces be successful? Would they be read and published?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but as I look back on what I’ve read, I know that women and men get published. Both genders can become critically acclaimed authors of best selling books. Does my gender affect how I read those books? I’m not sure that I can fully answer that yet. I know that I have read books and recognized that they are specifically targeted for either boys or girls. I know that I often dislike female protagonists and like male heroes. I think that as a society trying to create “Strong Female Characters” we have gone from one end of the scale (prim and proper princesses) to the other (female warriors who care nothing for themselves and only want to defeat the “evil” in their worlds). I often find myself thinking that the women in these stories seem a little cartoonish and exaggerated in their behavior. They are frequently so extreme in their actions that they seem comical.  Writing a strong, accurate,and inspiring female character seems hard for most authors to do.

Gender, and how it relates to writing and reading, is not something I had ever given much thought. I always just assumed that personalities drove writing styles and topics, and maybe even the goal of writing. Are men more likely to become published authors than women? I don’t have hard, fast answers to these questions. However, you can rest assured knowing that I will be thinking about and looking for them.

Home

There’s something about being at home. Walking into my house now brings me peace, though there have been times when that hasn’t been the case. Living at school in different state had caused me to realize how lucky I am. Simply being in the house I grew up in and being around the people I grew up with makes me do a lot reflecting upon my life and myself.

The idea of a homecoming is one that the American society, as well as myself, idealizes. In my mind, every time I come home there is a welcoming party at the airport, holding hand-made signs and flowers. The two-hour drive back to my house should be symbolic of the changes that have occurred within me, and the person I am becoming. There is a delightful home cooked meal waiting for me when I finally step back into my house. My family and I catch up on all that had happened since they had seen me last over chocolate cake and glasses of milk. Then, after a long day of travel, laughter, and reminiscing; we retire to bed where I happy to be home and able to sleep in my own bed.

I have never had a homecoming quite like this. I have seen them on television and in movies. But never have I experienced one. Usually by the time my mom and I have returned from the airport, the rest of my family is asleep, and I have to sneak quietly into the room I share with my sister. Regardless of the physical act of coming home, there is a sense of belonging there that I don’t feel at school. I don’t have to explain something I do, because the people there know all my habits and quirks.

This feeling of belonging is something I had overlooked before moving to school. I never really thought about what it meant to be home and to have a family. It has been eye-opening to reflect on my childhood and my home from afar. I miss home often, but I have come to be grateful for a home that is worthy of being missed.

Thanks Mr. Danielson

Not many people would say that Freshman year was their favorite year of high school, and I am included in that group. There was a lot to process during my first year of high school and there were times when homework was the last thing on my mind. There were times I definitely didn’t want to do my reading for Honors English 9, or my chapter summaries for Honors World History ( Oh, that I wish my high school self had known to enjoy homework that only took two hours!). Looking back, I am glad that I did those summaries, and wrote my many papers for my history class. My teacher, Mr. Danielson, greatly impacted my writing. He was blunt and honest, but very willing to help students who came to him for advice.

Walking into Mr. Danielson’s class for the first time on my first day of high school was nerve wracking. He is not a big man, but he was intimidating. Small, balding, and with oval-shaped, wire rim glasses, he was the picture of a high school teacher stereotype. “You have Danielson?” I heard many times from the all knowing, wise Sophomores; he was feared by many of the underclassmen. But though he took some getting used to, he turned out to influence my writing in ways that I would never have imagined.

I got a terrible grade on the first paper I wrote for Mr. Danielson. I remember him handing it back to me; the top page looked alright. The second and third and forth pages were where the real corrections began. Something that I distinctly recall about that essay was the correction that read, “Don’t stick your ‘I’s out.” I didn’t know it then, but apparently, when writing a research paper, “I” is not to say a word.

I took that to heart, and on my next paper, I had a comment that said, “Good improvement.”

And that did something to my writing. Looking back, I can see that it was not my use of the word “I” that improved my writing, but rather the confidence I gained from the praise he gave later on. He was a hard teacher to write for. I would still consider his class one of the hardest I have ever taken, especially in high school. But somehow, around all those lessons about Byzantine wars and Roman religion, he found the time to instill a small shred of confidence in me. So I say…

Thanks Mr. Danielson.

The First Time I Said “Crap”

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“That’s not a bad word Anna.” I know that now. But let me tell you, as a seventh grader, I thought I was so cool. All my eighth friends said it, and they were the epitome of awesome. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. This particular memory came to mind when we were asked to write a narrative about “Firsts” this past week during my writing class. This is not what I wrote about, but that prompt did get me thinking, and so here we are.

The year was 2010. I was at Hume Lake Christian Camp’s Winter Camp with my junior high youth group. I loved that youth group, I looked forward to going every week, and I made some of my best friends there. I had been looking forward to Winter Camp for weeks and weeks. Two days with my best friends, in the mountains and snow, sledding and eating junk food, playing the iconic game of Broom Hockey. It was everything my thirteen year old heart wanted.

The pinnacle of my weekend was the annual Boxsled Blitz. This competition requires different youth groups to build sleds out of card board and duct tape, and then launch them down a hill, where they are judged on speed and style (I mean, what else would you judge a cardboard sled on?). My youth group took this very seriously. As the reigning champions, we were expected to produce cardboard perfection in a matter of only two days. Regardless of our task, we got a little distracted sometimes.

One of these times turned into a full blown snow battle. We developed strategies and had snowball factories. There were two different sides, each with kids yelling “Crap!” as they got hit, or rolled down the hill, or got pushed into the cold ground. So what was I supposed to do, little thirteen year old Anna, when I got pushed down the hill? Why say “crap” of course! And so I did, after coming to a stop, fully covered in snow and soaked to the skin.

I know this is a weird memory that I have preserved in my head. Why this, and not memories of the spiritual growth that happened that weekend? Why not a broom hockey game? Why not the times my friends and I all went and got ice cream at 10:30 at night (Scandalous!)? I do remember all of these things, but none as clearly as the time I said crap.

I guess some things stay with you forever…

How I Feel About Writing Groups

​I have mixed feelings about Writing Groups. I have only really participated in peer editing groups, rather than writing workshops, but I can find them helpful. Often, the most beneficial aspect of writing or editing in a group is the fact that it makes me conscious of my own writing. I am forced to examine what I have written from another viewpoint. I want my paper to be good when other people read it for the first time, and so I work hard to make it good. Once someone else has read my paper and filled it full of red marks, I am forced to think about the things they found wrong with it. Sometimes this is a good thing. And yet other times, it fills me with bitterness and resentment that someone didn’t think my first draft was perfect.

​I think that resentment is often my first reaction after a writing group. About three weeks ago, one of my first college papers was due, for a class that I love and care about. I wanted to get a good grade and impress the professors. And so, when my classmates wanted to get together for peer editing, I decided that would be a great thing to go to. I wanted others’ opinions on my paper. So I went. And when I handed my paper to one of the girls there, the first thing she said to me was, “Is it alright if I use a red pen?” “Sure” I said, do whatever you like. Boy, did I regret that. She ended up needing a blue pen and a highlighter, in addition to the feared red pen. I remember her handing me my paper with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Here, I thought I had created a wondrous first draft, when in reality it was full of mistakes and corrections that needed to be made.

​I struggled with that essay for a long time after that peer-editing day. I ended up rewriting most of it, and changing my thesis statement. Though I felt snubbed after that evening, the corrections my friend suggested were for the most part helpful and accurate. I ended up doing well on that essay, and I was happy with my final draft. In this instance, peer editing and writing groups have been helpful. However, sometimes I leave feeling unsatisfied and like it wasn’t helpful. In my opinion, for my writing style, writing groups are sometimes helpful and sometimes not. In my opinion, it really depends on the person editing and what is being edited. I think that writing groups are something I should join in the future, and are a way to expose myself to others opinions about my writing. And I know that would be good for me.

Dear Elves in Coffin 318

First, some background. My roommate and I have discovered that there are small elves that live in our room, causing problems, taking our socks, and making us regret going to stores like Target. Here I address some of my concerns to said elves.

Dear Elves,

When Hannah first told me about you, I’m thought she was just kidding around. But now that I know you’re around, I have a few things to say to you, mostly about your unacceptable behavior in regards to our room. And our socks.

To the T-Shirt Elves, I wish you would stop stretching out my clothes. I like them to fit the way they are supposed to, and your constant stretching requires me to do more laundry than I ever want to. And laundry isn’t cheap.

I also get tired of doing my eyebrows. So if you Eyebrow Elves could cut it out, that would be great. I really don’t need more eyebrow hair than I already have…

Jingle Punk Hood Elves, keep doing what you’re doing. Hannah and I need to lighten up sometimes, and bringing out our gangster roots often leads to dance parties, which are most enjoyable.

Now I have a real bone to pick with the Sock Elves. I only have about six pairs of socks. I don’t want to loose any of them, so please stop giving them to the other people on my floor while I’m doing laundry. On a different note, I don’t want Matney’s basketball socks, or Lauren’s soccer socks. So please don’t give me those either. I understand that you have House Elves to free, but I really need two of each sock.

And finally, to the Target Elves I say this: I’m a college student. I don’t have much money, and Target is one of my favorite stores. I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop convincing me to spend all my money there. I need it for more important things, like textbooks and coffee.

I know these rules sounds like a lot to manage, but I could use your help here. I don’t have the patience for your shenanigans. However, it wouldn’t be amiss if you sent your bud Legolas to come hang out.

Sincerely,

Anna Dirkse