It’s Never Too Late. . .

In which I talk about learning, errors, the importance of questions, the value of knowledge, and an embarrassing story that makes me laugh to this day.

I’ve been at the writing gig for many years now and I’ve found two constants in this endeavor: one is that everything changes–editors change, houses change, styles change, public tastes change; and two there is always something new to learn, whether it’s research, vocabulary, genre, or grammar. People often speak about the changes, but I get excited about the learning. Call it the nerd in me, but I love to learn a new word or some minute grammar point. And don’t get me started on research. For my last manuscript, I had to visit a brewery, take a tour and taste some beer. It’s hard work.

Today, my competence in English is solid. Of course I make errors, but they’re more likely to be typos or skipping words because my thoughts are faster than my fingers, or just not seeing mistakes on the page because I’ve stared at the screen for too long than actual lack of knowledge. But it wasn’t always the case.

In the past couple of days, I’ve seen several mentions of the fight over one space or two after a period. It reminded me of my very first term paper. US History (I still remember the title: The German-American Bund: the Fritz Kuhn Years: 1937-1939).  I have never taking any typing classes (thus the reason for so many typos when I write), and the requirement was ten typed pages, double spaced. It was my first typed paper. I had to borrow the typewriter (in return I bought a new cartridge for the owner–remember those?), get some unlined paper (I bought onion skin–yuck), and hunt and peck my way to ten pages. But I did it. And being the kind of student I was, I was the first person in the school to turn it in. Done. Relief.

A few hours later, my roommate (I went to boarding school, remember?) said that the teacher had held it up to show how not to do a paper, that it wasn’t doubled spaced. Well, I went straight to the teacher and told him he was wrong. I had double spaced. He said it didn’t look like it, but I told him again he was wrong because I had double spaced.  And indeed I had–type a word, space, space, type another word, space, space, and so on for ten pages. I thought it an odd requirement at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized where I had made my error. I think my paper was actually 1.5 spaced as regards the line spacing.Photo on 2012-06-21 at 16.37 #5

Ask questions, people. Questions are good things. (By the way I received an A- for the paper. Thanks,Mr. Waples.)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen by JK Rowling

English as a Second Language

As most of you know, my parents came from Hungary and neither spoke any English when they arrived (yeah, pronoun agreement–this is a casual essay; grow up). My father was an engineer who took a job as a janitor until he had rudimentary English. To the end of his life, his phone conversations in English consisted of saying “ja, ja,” (which by the way isn’t Hungarian) with the occasional “no” thrown in. My mother’s oral English was always much better. I grew up with Chicago pronounced CHi-cago, we lived in the “vest”  and shopped at Wauns (Vons grocery, which makes no sense because Hungarian does have a v sound so why they switched the w and v sounds I’ll never know.) The past tense with “did” was always used  incorrectly, as in, “I did went.” And my favorite: the day my father walked into a Burger King and ordered a whooper, not a whopper. The poor woman behind the counter tried so hard to keep a straight face.

I laugh at the mistakes they made, not because I’m laughing at them. It’s out of love. Really. English has to be the hardest language to master. With seven different pronunciations of “-ough”, no common-sense spelling (really–Polish vs polish, wind, and a language where “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish”), where use of the subjunctive is considered too complex for regular language, where we have fake rules (never end a sentence in a preposition, conjunctions should never start sentences, never split an infinitive–these are all not real rules of English), where people will argue over “think” vs “thing”, as in “you’ve got another think coming” (it’s “think”–do the research), or that the phrase is “just deserts” not “just desserts” because the word comes from an archaic word desert (think “deserve”), and most native speakers have no idea what they’re saying when they use the old adage “it’s the exception that proves the rule” (that one necessitates the looking up of the definition of prove-what do you think a “proving ground” is?).

So when my mother says nothing bad happened to her, “knock on the door”, instead of on wood, or thinks the famous fruit in Atlanta is the Georgia plum, I laugh, and admire the heck out of her. Because she’s willing to take a risk and communicate in a language that has many native speakers baffled.

Here’s to the risk takers.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Sword-edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe