Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grammar Matters

A recent restaurant coupon we received:

I'll have the Gobi, please


A common response when people find out that I teach writing is, "I guess I need to watch my grammar." Usually, I try to reassure the person by telling them that conversation is much more relaxed and therefore, it's not always necessary to follow a strict set of rules. I want to put them at ease, not remind them of a harrowing school experience.

While I am a stickler for my own grammar, I try really hard not to impose this standard on other people. I make a conscious effort to avoid marking every single error in my students' writing and almost never use a red pen.

That being said, my tolerance for poor grammar goes out the window when it comes to professional, published writing. I'm not talking about the occasional Facebook post with the wrong form of they're/their/there or a text message featuring the number 2 instead of the word to (although I can't promise to not secretly judge you in either of those situations). What irks me is when I see a sign, an advertisement, or some other form of professional communication riddled with careless errors.

I'm not trying to be harsh when I say careless. If you are not a grammar expert, then by all means, have someone else edit your writing. I have yet to master the art of changing my car's oil or cutting my own hair, and therefore have professionals do it for me. If I take the time to revise and edit blog posts countless times (which might explain why they are more infrequent than I would like), then the least you could do is make sure you spell the word "dessert" correctly.

While I have been known to correct parking lot signs ("violators," not "violaters"), cross out errant apostrophes (the orange's what?), and take pictures of correctly worded grocery store express lanes (10 items or FEWER), this most recent rant stems from an extremely frustrating e-mail conversation regarding a product purchased on-line.

To make a long story short, I purchased an item and had it delivered as a gift. For a variety of reasons, it was over a month before it was confirmed that said item didn't work. Doubtful that I would be able to return the item, I nonetheless sent off a brief message to the seller making that very request.

I hoped for a full refund, but all I expected was a brief sentence or two stating that the return period had lapsed. Instead, I received a rambling message lacking punctuation (except for an overuse of !!!) informing me that since I had kept the item for over a month, I couldn't possibly think that I might get a refund. Whether intended or not, the poorly written message came across as rude, condescending, and extremely unprofessional.

Frankly, I was insulted, both as a customer and a reader. I thought for about two seconds about taking the high road and not replying, but Jon quickly talked me out of that. We spent over an hour crafting a brief reply that called out the seller for such poor customer service. Unfortunately the seller did not take an equivalent amount of time to think out what s/he wanted to write and hastily dashed off a note--from a cell phone, no less--about the negative feedback I'd left and how it "got to go" if I wanted even a partial refund.

I'll spare you the details of the ensuing messages we exchanged, but needless to say, I was disappointed and upset with such deplorable writing. It still makes my blood boil to think about it.

One thing I preach to all my classes is the importance of purpose and audience. If your purpose is to conduct business and your audience is a customer, then for the love of all that is good and holy, please write like a professional. Please. At least now my students will have a perfect example of what NOT to do.

Hip Czech



I am officially a Rollergirl. Or Derby Girl. I'm still not sure of the official, or preferred, terminology. In fact, I'm not sure of a lot of things when it comes to roller derby, but one thing I am sure of is that it's a lot of fun. Extremely challenging, humbling, and crazy...but also empowering, encouraging, and enjoyable.

At a team gathering this past weekend, we went around the group explaining why we decided to try roller derby. My answer was not all that different than a lot of my teammates but worth sharing here.

I had grown up roller skating, spending each Tuesday and Thursday morning during the summer at the Blue Springs Rolladium with my neighborhood friends. I was never one of those girls who won the limbo competition with inches-from-the-floor splits, but I could certainly hold my own. The same could be said for my roller hockey career which took place in the street in front of my house (complete with goals constructed by a neighborhood dad out of PVC pipe).

I had always enjoyed skating--quad skates and never in-line--and was excited when the daycare I worked for in college took field trips to the skating rink. Sure, I spent most of the time holding nervous skaters by the hand as we chugged around the rink, but it was still fun. Other than that, though, my adult experience on skates was limited to childhood memories.

I knew roller derby existed and fondly remembered Saturday mornings spent with my father watching roller derby on Classic Sports. These wild bouts on banked wooden tracks featuring outrageous characters were more akin to professional wrestling, and we loved it. As a girl growing up in a football family, I always thought derby would be a fun way for me to show some aggression. (Note: Modern derby is no longer the "show" it once was. Check it out; you won't be disappointed.)

Flash forward several years. While on a weekend trip to Portland, Jon and I heard from a fellow bus passenger that roller derby was alive and well. Apparently a roller derby groupie, this gentleman gushed about the most recent bout and told us about what a great following the Portland team had. Unfortunately there was no bout that particular weekend, but just hearing about it got me excited.

Not excited enough to actually do anything about it, though, and I could just kick myself now for missing the opportunity to witness the roller derby culture in the Pacific Northwest. We lived 20 minutes away from the team in Olympia--consistently a national contender--for pete's sake! Fort Lewis even had a team, but I talked myself out of joining (although in my defense, we were marathon training at the time).

When we moved to Memphis, however, things changed. We decided to check out our first bout after randomly seeing an advertisement in the window of a local business. Not sure what to expect, we arrived at the venue, a warehouse on the Mid-South Fairgrounds, quite early. This gave us time to take in the atmosphere and read over the rules. Not that our brief study really helped, however. Once the whistle blew for the bout to start, we found ourselves struggling to understand the chaos in front of us. Ten women on roller skates, jockeying for position as they moved around the track, pushing and shoving, with the occasional crash. It was a hot mess...and pretty awesome.

Participating in roller derby was on my "list," and as I watched the bout, I began to think that this was something I could do. I truly believe that we most regret the things we do not do, rather than the ones we do, so I started to entertain the notion of joining the sport. I told Jon as much, and while he was nothing but encouraging, I know he didn't think that I would actually do it.

Jon should know by now that this doubt is often all the motivation I need. Hence, skydiving and driving a stick shift, for example.

Once I survived last year's awful job and began to rearrange my schedule by including new activities, I began to actively pursue roller derby. The league in Memphis is welcoming to all, regardless of the ability to skate, and offers three opportunities each year for "newbies" to join. I nervously showed up on a Monday in September to the same warehouse we had watched bouts at earlier in the spring. Gearless, I watched that first practice, and decided that yes, I did want to try. The next week I showed up ready to go and was relieved to discover that I could still skate around the track without falling down...not that it mattered, though, since I was wearing so much protective padding.

Over the next couple of months, I continued to practice with the league and on designated "newbie" nights where I learned the very important skills of how to stop and how to fall down and get up. Apparently, I improved because I passed my skills test at the beginning of February and became the newest member of the Angels of Death.

Less than two weeks after passing my test, I was eligible to participate in a pre-season inter-squad "mash-up" bout. Nervous does not begin to describe my emotions.

Jon came up with the name Hip Czech (we certainly love our puns around here), and thanks to lots of Facebook input, I chose it as my new derby alter ego. The number--816--was a much easier decision and was chosen as a shout-out to my hometown (816 is Kansas City's area code). The morning of the bout was spent ironing both name and number to the back of a t-shirt, for which I again have Jon to thank. He can no longer say that he has never ironed something on a shirt. New experiences all around.

The afternoon of the bout was spent at the venue, getting ready for the evening's events. After an intense bout between Memphis's travel team and a squad from Oklahoma, it was time for me to put on my skates. All of the girls on both sides were very encouraging about my first bout, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little relieved that the crowd had thinned out considerably. After warm-ups and introductions, it was time to begin. Once that first whistle blew, I forgot about the crowd completely and focused only on the track. I didn't even really notice the scoreboard, which was good since our team was getting beat horribly. But, as one of my teammates for the evening mentioned, at least we were winning at having fun.

At halftime, I skated over to talk to Jon. Much to my surprise, a few of our friends were seated in the bleachers next to him. I was pleased to see them...but also glad I hadn't known they were coming. The second half was more of the same: a lot of fun that was not necessarily reflected on the scoreboard.

I felt pretty proud of myself for just being out on the track that night. Honestly, I'm not very good and still have A LOT to learn, but I am excited for the season with my fellow AODs (Angels of Death). If you find yourself with nothing to do come June and July, we could always use some new fans (just maybe don't tell me you're going to be there).

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