Saturday, March 01, 2008

Grammar Police

Mrs. Lee was my 6th grade teacher. Steel gray curls framed her face. She had blue eyes that always seemed to be looking at you. Her shirtwaist dresses never wrinkled and she was always cool no matter how much my sweaty hand was sticking to the paper in the heat of the un-air conditioned classroom. Mrs. Lee was the grammar police and I was always scared of leaving out a verb or a subject or missing a comma or period. Oh my, what if I put a phrase in the wrong place or used the wrong tense. There were so many ways to get caught by the grammar police. And God forbid if I should make a spelling mistake too. When she returned graded papers my hand was always shaking when I reached for it. Even before looking at the grade, I looked to see how many red circles and notes were scattered across the page.

Added to that, she also graded on penmanship. We had to actually write our essays with a pen that had ink in it and it could spit and sputter on the page. Even worse, what if you made a mistake and need to correct it. There was no white-out in those days and besides I doubt that Mrs. Lee would have allowed it in the classroom. Needless to say, I hated to have to write even though I dreamed about writing stories or novels.

I became a fairly good business and policy manual writer. Of course, I drove my secretary crazy with edits. With the business writing I needed Mrs. Lee right there on my shoulder, coaching me through the grammar. The secretary was good at spelling and formatting and the Wang Word Processor didn't spit and sputter ink so I did okay but I didn't "enjoy" the writing.

I came to enjoy writing back in the early 90's after I read The Artist's Way and as it suggested, I started keeping a journal. Three pages everyday, no matter what. Julia Cameron, the author, said just....write. Don't worry about grammar or spelling. Just let the words flow. How freeing it was. Most days the pen flew across the page, then another page and another.

Mrs. Lee is still around and just yesterday, she tried to tell me that I wasn't making good sentences. She was really upset with this: All new furniture, new kitchen, dance floor, bar, a new menu and that new menu includes this mixed grill plate for two. I paused and listened to her for a second or two.

"Look Mrs. Lee. I know you are right but this is my blog and I kind of like it being more personal, like my conversation, you know. So I'm going to leave it in."

She hasn't shown up today. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings.


Babs said...

Billie, isn't it amazing how those old lessons AND teachers come back to haunt us? I too think about that and yet, I too want it to sound more like a conversation instead of "grammatically correct"! Don't you dare change a thing - we all love your writing just as it is!

Billie said...

Thanks Babs. I think I'm old enough now to do what I want to do whether it is politically or grammatically correct or not. If not now, when????? But Mrs. Lee is still working on me. That woman never gives up!

Anonymous said...


i couldn't decide which was more interesting, the green chorizo or the grammar police, but the latter one brought back memories of my 6th grade experience. do you remember diagramming sentences? what the heck did we ever learn from doing that? i was in a catholic school and had the meanest nun on earth that year. her name was sister mirella but we used to call her mirella gorilla. she used to call us jack asses and said that we were worse than a dead cat in a gutter. of course she was as sweet as could be when the priest came by, but we all thought she was senile and meaner than mean. i still remember how my hands shook when i had to write something on the board. o.k. enough of that, but i just had to share.


Billie said...

I guess we all had those experiences in the sixth grade. Actually I liked diagramming sentences. That was all logic but when you are trying to write (creative) and be logical at the same time, that overtaxed the brain. I wish I remembered more about diagramming sentences....maybe Spanish would be easier.