I did not make that up that phrase by the way. I snatched I be hatin’ from the whirling wordpool of the too-hip-for-its-own-good Internet. It took me awhile to decipher its true meaning. At first I thought it referred to a habit of donning sporty chapeaus, but then I realized that it indicated a distinct loathing towards a certain person, place or adorable cat meme. I thought, oh no, another rap-ism torn from urban lingo and deposited into the dorky Middle American lexicon.
I’m not a righteous defender of grammar and those who are must be weeping into their overly strong mixed drinks right now. I’m not here to whine about the social network and cell phone inspired degradation of the English language. I’m here to talk about my own personal struggle against correct grammar.
I’ve already outed myself on the topic of that much maligned part of speech, the adverb. And in my last post I confessed, in a rather wounded and self-righteous way, that I received a C in my first college level creative writing course. What I haven’t yet fessed up to is that back in Junior High, in advanced English, I received a D. Gasp. But here’s the thing. I received that D for the first half of the course, which was made up entirely of diagraming sentences. Show of hands for those who enjoy this form of extreme academic torture? I really sucked at it and still do. Here’s why. In the second half of the course, which consisted of actually writing essays, short stories and articles, I received an A+. Lesson learned? Grammar is a crock. Who needs to over-analyze sentences and reduce them to a heartless mathematical formula when one has a natural sense of the language? A poetic intuition which spins sentences so admirable and dense with adjectives and adverbs that surely the like has never been penned before?
This attitude served me fairly well and after escaping the soul-sucking vortex of University English, I continued to write in my hippie-dippie fashion and garner praise and accolades from sources as far flung as Not My Immediate Family. Then came the blessed day I was asked to participate in a closed writers workshop hosted and attended by several highly regarded professional writers.
The critique of my first story through the workshop turned out to be a revelation, to say the least. It turned out that in the first scene the brocade settee was having a philosophical interior dialogue while my protagonist languished off in a dangling clause that had no business being there. The lamp had a lot to say and think about also. It was all downhill from there.
Sentence diagramming– we meet again. That D in 8th grade English had finally reared its ugly head and chomped me in my complacent butt. While I was composing to my own inner rhythm, expecting readers to follow along to a score they couldn’t see, it turned out I was confusing, confounding and misleading them into swirling backwaters of clunky phrases and awkward descriptions. However, I did not despair. Blush, yes. Writhe in humiliated agony, yes. But despair, not so much. Over the years, I’ve noticed something about this whole writing process. I’ll be sailing along, everything is clicking, the words are flowing nicely and then wham, I hit the wall, and writing becomes like chewing on bricks. I can’t pen a smooth series of lines to save my soul, and my characters walk around like robots with hemorrhoids. I have identified this pattern, which goes along these lines: in a groove, doing well, hit the plateau, plod along, and then fall off a cliff into a poorly described and cliché ridden tiger trap of self-doubt and bloody bad writing. Every time I go through this ordeal I believe that I come out a better writer. The pit of bad writing becomes slightly less bad, the precious days of good writing, a bit better. So no despair, even if it does mean diagramming sentences, 101.
As a postscript, I gave my most recent manuscript to a linguist slash writer friend of mine and discovered to my further chagrin that I have no idea what commas are, for.
And so the adventure with words continues.