March 2008 Archives

The Dreaded Apostrophe

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"The confusion of the possessive 'its' (no apostrophe) with the contractive 'it's' (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and set off a simple Pavlovian 'kill' response in the average stickler.  The rule is: the word 'it's' (with apostrophe) stands for 'it is' or 'it has'.  If the word does not stand for 'it is' or 'it has' then what you require is 'its'.  This is extremely easy to grasp," (Truss 43).

I have to say right now: Lynne Truss is my hero.

The "its/it's" apostrophe misuse is probably one of my biggest pet peeves (besides people pronouncing the "s" at the end of "Illinois". Seriously, it's silent, people!).  To me, "it's" and "its" is extremely simple and it completely irks and confuses me that people don't understand when to use them properly. As Truss says, "it's" stands for "it is/it has".  If you can't replace "it's" with "it is" or "it has", then don't use the apostrophe.  That's how I was taught to use it, so maybe that's how people should learn and remember it. 

And I have to agree -- the misuse of the apostrophe does set off the Pavlovian "kill" instinct in me.  Or at least the urge to hit someone over the head with a large, preferably heavy, book.

A Stickler for Grammar.

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"It's tough being a stickler for punctuation these days.  One almost dare not get up in the mornings," (Truss, 2).

I have to completely agree with Lynne Truss here.  I consider myself a stickler for grammar (friends have called me the grammar Nazi) and I have to say, in a world that today is fueled by text messaging and IM-lingo, it's completely obnoxious to have to deal with the text and IM lingo outside of the internet (and even while on the internet).  I know that when I see someone online using spelling the word "like" as "lyke" or substituting "th" for "d" in the word "this" to create the cool looking word "dis" (which really means to belittle someone) is just obnoxious.  I cannot stand it when people get lazy and use "u" and "r".  How hard is it to type an extra two letters?  And then I know from editing papers in high school and college that that type of spelling sneaks into papers.  As a future English teacher, I shudder to think of what I might have to face in the coming years.  Hopefully people can snap out of this laziness and spell correctly.


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"'Times are changing,' she said 'Do you know what's happening to this world?  It's swelling up.  It's getting so full of people that only the smart thrifty energetic ones are going to survive'," (O'Connor, The Displaced Person, pg 226)

I am going to be completely honest: I was very confused during this story.  I don't know if it's just the huge amount of medicine I've been taking to try to fight this horrible cold I got from observing classrooms in my old high school over break or if it was just the story or maybe I'm just tired and worn out from a too busy, too short spring break.  But whatever it was, I am still very confused.  But onto the quote.

Reading this quote, I was reminded of Darwinism and the idea that only the strong survive.  Of course, this doesn't just mean that only the physically strong survive, but those who are smart enough to outwit the other competition will survive.  (anyone in the mood for a few episodes of Survivor?)  Unfortunately, I think everyone knows from experience that not everyone who survives and makes it to the big time necessarily belongs where they get or deserves to be there in the end.  But who are we to say who gets to survive.  I guess we can only do what it takes to survive for ourselves.  Outwit, outplay, outlast. 

Making a Hero Look Even Better

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"A third kind of role that occurs in many works is that of the foil, a character who contrasts with the protagonist in ways that bring out certain of his or her moral, emotional, or intellectual qualities" (Hamilton 131)

So basically, how it appears to me, is that there's the protagonist and then there's this other person who's just there, really, to make the protagonist look good -- at least compared to other people.  Sure, the protagonist has a flaw here and there, but compared to this guy (the foil character) the protagonist is a saint.  It almost reminds me of those really mean girls you see in teeny-bopper movies where they befriend the sad, not-so-pretty girl just so she can make everyone else look better.

Book Smarts vs. Common Sense

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"[Hulga] thought this was funny; Mrs. Hopewell that it was idiotic and showed simply that she was still a child.  She was brilliant but she didn't have a grain of sense" (O'Connor "Good Country People", pg 175)

I liked this quote because not only does it apply to the ending of the story, but it also applies to life today.  Hulga prided herself, I felt, in the fact that she had a Ph.D and other degrees and was extremely literate. However, when it came to the real world, she was duped and conned out of her own leg (and let me tell you, I did NOT see that coming).  She naively trusted Pointer and ended up losing her leg and was stuck in the barn.  A lot of good that Ph.D did her!

People like to say there's book smarts and then there's common sense and I know far too many people who are "A" students, but when it comes to the real world... well... let's just say they aren't the sharpest tool in the shed.  Too many people think they know everything just because they excel in a subject but in reality, it's really your common sense that will get you places with your book smarts.   Sure, you can be a genius but without that common sense to know what you should and shouldn't do, what's all that brilliance going to get you?

"The Misfit, then, wants not only to understand the mystery of evil he feels, but also, somehow, to be justified in the face of it.  He wants justice as well as knowledge, and also to be liberated from his predicament. The deisre itself is good; the Psalms exalt the human longing for a world of justice and constancy (Pslam 96).  However, the Misfit seems more interested in personal vindication rather than communal justice" (Desmond, 'Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil')

I think a good close reading helps you look at a story from a different perspective and gets you to see a different side of a character or a situation and for me, this reading did help me.  When I read A Good Man is Hard to Find, I saw the Misfit as a character who may be fighting with his own inner demons, but as a bad guy in general.  I never saw it that he might be looking for justification for his sins or that he's more interested in personal vindication than anything else. 

I really do understand close readings better now. :)

How Old is Too Old?

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"You better take it easy, baby, she told herself, you're too young to bust your gears.  Thirty-four wasn't old, wasn't any age at all" (O'Connor, A Stroke of Good Fortune, pg 71).

I found it amusing that throughout the entire story there was a huge focus on Ruby's age and dying.  (I also found it odd and amusing that this short story of O'Connor's didn't end sadly, but that's another blog entry entirely.)

Today, both men and women are far too obsessed with age and time and clocks.  Women's biological clocks seem to tick down faster and faster every year.  Every week, it seems, there is a new anti-wrinkle cream or some other type of makeup that will minimize age lines.  I know I ring up tons of hair dye and face-lift creams and other things that are supposed to work miracles on your skin everyday at work.  While some people are saying that 40 is the new 30, I think that women are still terrified to hit the big 3-0.  I'm going to be turning 20 on my next birthday (November!) and I feel old just thinking about leaving the teen years.  But it's interesting that even when O'Connor was writing, that society was still incredibly focused on age and staying young as long as possible.  I guess it's nice to know that our society is just as (or more) focused on looks and eternal beauty as they were generations ago.

Agreeing With Lemire: Too Good to be True?

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"I would also suggest (and I think Mom and Dad would agree) that a course preparing English majors for careers in book publishing has more inherent value than a course in deconstructing The Simpsons, or a media studies course that delivers the big news bulletin that advertising presents a misleading portrait of human life" (Lemire 212).

I honestly could not agree more with Lemire here.  While a course about The Simpsons where we get to watch episodes and talk about them may be a little more entertaining than a course about book publishing, I definitely believe the latter would be much more valuable to any English major.  I would love to take a class on book publishing, and I hear there is one that you can take at Seton Hill (of course, this means nothing to me, since I'm transferring next year), but just the idea that it exists somewhere would be so helpful.  Imagine what a teacher could tell their students who might want to be authors from just taking one class.  I think it would be great for any English major, and I can't wait until I can take a class like that somewhere.

I'm Not Living in a Box

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"The... problem has to do with those times when, after working on your novel or reading selections of Rilke, you lie awake at night and think to yourself, What am I doing? For crying out loud, I'm writing about corn nuts for a living.  Feelings of fraudulence can open a Pandora's box, releasing guilt, anger, resentment, isolation, loneliness, and a dozen other demons."  (Lemire 167)

Besides for my burning desire to want to teach, this is another reason why I decided to go into education.  I didn't want to become that starving artist or stuck in a dead end job writing about things that would suck my creativity, just so I could major in English.  I didn't want to have to write about corn nuts or be a waitress or anything like that just so I could write my novel.  Hey, at least with teaching, I could have the summer off to write, even though my professor said that you should never say that the reason why you go into teaching is for the summers.  And believe me, I want to teach, there's nothing else I want to do more than teach -- well, except sell a couple million books and go on a world wide book tour and sell my books to movie producers to make amazing movies out of.  But besides that, I can't wait to teach. 

Why Would an Author Write The Way He (or she!) Did?

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"The selection and the order of the details in a literary work are crucial to its meaning and tone.  Because the form of a poem, a play or a work of fiction may look so inevitable and move so smoothly on the page, it is easy to forget that the work is the product of a series of deliberate choices that the author makes in the course of drafting and revising it" (Hamilton 99)

This quote reminded me of how all of my English teachers have told me time and time again that everything that authors do is for a reason.  That every single detail and little word was for a purpose, that all that imagery and symbolism in Les Miserables wasn't there by accident.  Although I know this, sometimes I still question it and I definitely still question it. Why would an author want to have tons of examples of symbolism.  I mean, I write stories and I don't think that my characters or settings or situations have any symbolism.  Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough.  But I remember joking with my friends in my English class one year that we were going to write a book chock full of symbolism, just so that future English classes could dissect it and rip it apart to get every tiny detail.  So maybe that's what some authors chose to do -- although I really doubt it.

Breaks: A Chain-Store Worker's Heaven

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"My two fifteen-minute breaks, which seemed almost superfluous on the 10:00-6:00 shift, now become a matter of urgent calculation.  Do I take both before dinner, which is usually 7:30, leaving an unbroken two-and-a-half-hour stretch when I'm weariest, between 8:30 and 11:00?  Or do I try to go two and a half hours without a break in the afternoon, followed by a nearly three-hour marathon before I can get away for dinner?  Then there's the question of how to make the best use of a fifteen-minute break when you have three or more urgent, simultaneous needs -- to pee, to drink something, to get outside the neon and into natural light, and most of all, to sit down" (Ehrenerich 163-164)

I've worked as a cashier at my local Target for over a year now and I know all too well how important breaks are, especially when you do have to work the 2-11 closing shift (although at Target, it's on your schedule as 2-10, you just get stuck working an extra hour if you're over 18, but don't get me started on that).  Now at Target, what's nice is that I don't have to think about when to take a break -- whenever my managers tell me to go, I go, unless of course, a random flood of people come in and the managers have to call for back up cashiers, then of course, I have to wait until it slows down again to leave my register, which has sometimes taken almost an hour.  The general rule, at least at my store, if you work 8 hours or more, you get 2 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute unpaid lunch, and we're supposed to take one every 2 hours or so, which is actually really nice.  Of course, you always get those people who end up taking 20-25 minute breaks -- and I confess, I have done that time to time if it's been really slow (or really, really busy).

But breaks are a chain-store worker's little slice of heaven and I completely sympathize with Barbara for trying to figure out how to get the most out of your break as you possibly can, and trying to figure out when is best to take those breaks.  Because your break schedule can really make or break you that day.  I've had to fake a bathroom emergency just to get off of my feet for all of two minutes, and I'm sure lots of other people have too.
"So why didn't I intervene?  Certainly not because I was held back by the kind of moral paralysis that can mask as journalistic objectivity. On the contrary, something new -- somethings loathsome and servile -- had infected me, along with the kitchen odors that I could still sniff on my bra when I finally undressed at night.  In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in POW camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace.  Maybe, in a month or two more at Jerry's, I might have regained my crusading spirit.  Then again, in a month or two I might have turned into a different person altogether -- say, the kind of person who would have turned George in" (Ehrenreich, 41)

I know, from experience, that when something happens at work (or at school, even) and someone else gets in trouble, even if you don't think that person did it, normally you stay quiet.  For me, it's because I don't want to get in trouble myself.  And in reality, unless I had photographic proof that someone else did it, I most likely wouldn't speak up in a large setting to protest it.  Sure, I'd think "well, I should do something", but thinking that you should and actually doing something is far different.  Barbara didn't speak up because she was afraid of losing her job - as did everyone else.  In a situation like that where everyone needs the money from their paychecks, you can't afford to speak up for one little thing that another employee might have done.  Employers know that they can get some other teenager to fill your position, and so they obviously wouldn't care about firing you.

Are YOU a Book or a Magazine Person?

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"Book people sit on a plane, spending the whole trip with a novel; magazine people scoop up every free periodical available on the plane and spend the trip reading, skimming, flipping pages, assimilating information ...  Book people listen to National Public Radio to get a high-level sense of what's going on in the world, and maybe they'll reuse the day's paper; magazine people listen to talk radio and consume information wherever they can get it: periodicals, TV and radio, the Internet, research reports, talking to people, and more" (Lemire, ch 5, 103-104).

When I was reading how Lemire classified "Book people" and "magazine people", I found myself being pulled in both directions.  I know that when I'm on a plane (and I'm on one a lot since I fly home every break) as soon as I'm buckled into my seat, I immediately pull out my novel (normally a brand new one) and my nose is buried in the pages, only stopping when the stewardesses bring out the the little bags of snack mix.  I'd rather have one story line entertaining me on a plane, so that way I don't have to move around a lot and annoy my seat-mate.   However, when it comes to learning new information, I am definitely more of a magazine person.  I can honestly say I've never listened to NPR and I rarely read the newspaper.  I check the Internet sites multiple times a day, watch the news, and talk to people.  I'd rather get my information from something that's much more entertaining, than the normally cut-and-dry NPR and newspapers.

Teaching Kids to Love Reading...

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"Knowledge of a subject - even expertise in a subject - does not, alone, qualify you to be a teacher: excellent, good, or mediocre.  And just because you enjoy reading and writing does not mean you're going to enjoy teaching it or be any good teaching it" (Lemire, ch 2, pg 13). 

This quote really got me thinking and wondering if I'm actually going to be any good at teaching high school English.  I know by the time I graduate, I'll have great knowledge of the subject of English.  And I love to read and write. I can only hope that by the time I take all of my education courses and finish my student teaching, that I'll be great at teaching English and then I can hopefully pass on my love of reading and writing to my future students.  Because that's why I want to be an English teacher - so that I can influence students to love to read and write like my junior English teacher did.