Tag Archives: writing

102. Story of a cell

At one point I was just a single cell, one little Cheerio in this vast and lonely bowl of milk. Floating about. Doing nothing of much significance until an act of reproduction cast me out of that bowl and into this warm, dark place where one Cheerio became two, became ten, became thousands, became an infant.

For a while there, I had no idea how lucky I was, this body of cooperating cells. I was a magic trick walking. A miracle of nature. We all start out as snowflakes at the center of our own universe. Gradually, conformity settles in. Society has its way with you. At some point you realize we’re all just variations of the same human. We move from a life of fantasy to facts as people start offering you explanations for things, scientific or religious. People tell you that all of this was written long before we came along. Or maybe it’s pure chaos. Either way, we all end up in debt.

I liked being a kid. It was rewarding. It was me, me, me. And toys. People made the big decisions for me. My religion was Saturday morning cartoons; the answer to life was found wrapped in plastic in the bottom of a cereal box. My biggest responsibility was school, which I endured begrudgingly. There was always a mental disconnect from public school, like a loveless relationship endured for the sake of a good lay.

English was the only subject that I found comfort in. Words made sense. Words made magic. I began writing at a young age and even though it was total nonsense and grammatically atrocious, it felt right. All those stories in my head suddenly found somewhere to land. It would be writing that kept me grounded during the mindfuck that is the process of growing up.

Growing up…

I never had conflicts with my family. Adults always seemed to know best, so I listened. I was quiet, observant, private, polite. I listened to advice. I followed most of the rules. Looked both ways, all that. Should’ve brushed better. Steered clear of peer pressure by deftly navigating the tributaries of the social stream, never quite allied with any one group. Neutral, passive, calm.

I view the world with a pair of big blue eyes that can’t quite fathom the depth of the universe, but I take comfort in the unknown. I still feel like a wide-eyed infant blindly grasping at fuzzy, colorful things.

I like myself this way but it comes at the consequence of feeling inconsequential. I prefer to stand ringside with a notepad and a camera, which means I rarely feel or want to feel like the center of attention. I shy away from compliments. I’m no good at giving them, either.

What blows my mind is how different and identical our lives are. Even if I feel different, I know that I’m not. The tiny infinite moments that make our experiences unique and the grand motions that make us all the same. You can only be so special, you can only be so human.

I didn’t feel like a real person until I passed the age that my father was when I was born, which was six years ago. I didn’t feel like myself until the winter of 2009, when I sat in a windowsill, drank a lot of wine, and listened to a lot of Modest Mouse.

College went by fast and I’m not exactly sure what happened there or what the point was. It was a blur of coffeeshops, all-nighters, sexual tension, and invincibility. I learned a valuable lesson or two, but hell if I know what they were.

Then there was a musician, a dog, and two cats. And then there was none.

I like (midtown) Sacramento. It’s always been a “starter city,” a sort of stepping stone between graduation and The Big City, wherever in the world The Big City may be. Most Californians look to San Francisco for a fulfilling urban experience, as do I, but after a semester in Istanbul I’ve realized that The Big City could be anywhere. Except Paris. Paris is too cliche for a writer.

There have been women but I’m no closer to reaching or understanding the pinnacle that is true love. Sadly, your faith in such a thing begins to wane far too early. There have been many fulfilling friendships along the way. I miss people more than I admit.

Now I’m here, 26 years old. What was once a little Cheerio has now passed the quarter-life mark. Who woulda thought? Some little particle of stardust turned into a living, breathing human being. Me. And there’s you, reading this, an equally valuable evolution of microscopic magic.

I guess the point of this thought is to pay attention to your growth. To be happy that you’re here. To think back on influences and decisions, to wonder where it will all lead, to find meaning in the messiness. Life is a chance for you to turn a single cell into a story. Otherwise, we might as well have stayed in the milk.

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89. Grammar

I teach English someday. In other country. Like yours, maybe. We will learned to write good. Have fun, grammar always, yes. Good grammar makes good student happy grade. I teach English at classroom for the making of great. Students ears fill over from learning so much things.

Okay, enough of that. It’s more difficult to write a grammatically incorrect sentence than I imagined, with some knee-jerk reaction always reaching for that DELETE key when I mix tenses or forget an apostrophe. Grammar affects every little part of a sentence. You can’t write without grammar. It astonishes me, then, when people say we ought to avoid teaching it.

Now, that doesn’t mean they want absolute chaos.

The best part about English being the lingua franca is that people from all countries can use it as a tool for communication across borders. I can go to Turkey and have a conversation with a simit vendor about the weather, if I wanted, because we share a common language. A business woman from India can vacation in South Africa and have a long conversation about digital cameras with a French photo-blogger. If they want.

So when a teacher or researcher advocates steering clear of explicit grammar instruction, it’s not because they want to dismantle the English language. They’re simply leaning more toward the function of English as a tool, as a means of communication. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to make enough sense to convey meaning. You can mispronounce things. You can forget your plural markers. You can mix verb tenses. It’s all gravy so long as you’ve expressed what you meant to express and, perhaps with a bit of negotiation, your listener has understood.

But I like grammar.

I think we let grammar frighten ourselves at an early age, like some kind of monster under the bed. We get through present, past, and future tense and then someone mentions the perfect tense and we freak out. Don’t get me started on the panic sweat that erupts on most of our foreheads when we’re asked if we should use “who” or “whom.”

And who the F came up with gerunds?

I think we need to make grammar explicit. I think we need students to know, early, that grammar is like the earth. The mountains are like nouns. People are like verbs. Animals are prepositions. Oceans are conjunctions. Trees can be demonstrative pronouns. Teach them that without grammar, there would be no language. Without the ingredients of the earth, we’d have no life.

Now, I’m still new at this ESL teaching thing, but I’m pretty sure if you start the kids at a young age without a fear of grammar, then laying out the foundation for them will be the most beneficial.

Arguments can be made, by the innatists like Chomsky, that all you need to do is use English around language learners and they’ll acquire the rules deductively. Imagine a student like a sponge, only instead of soaking up water they’re soaking up articles and relative clauses.

And maybe that really works. Who knows? The point is, you probably know less about your language than a ten-year-old kid in South Korea.

I find it amazing that we develop our language ability at such a young age that we don’t even remember acquiring it. This magical, wonderful tool, given to us, free of charge, with hardly any effort at all. So when we grow up and some of us decide to teach English as a career, we realize that we know jack-squat about the development process we undertook, as if Dumbledore came to our crib and uttered, “Englishium Speakiorus!” and so it was.

Next time you write a sentence, ask yourself, “How do I know this?”

You’d be surprised how many things you know, but hardly understand.

77. Scam poem

Nearly the victim of a scam, I started thinking about the idea of a scam. It’s a lie with bad intentions. It’s a dirty trick. It’s a way to fool people into giving you something on pretense, or worse, to get you involved with something you really ought to stay out of. Some people are great at scams.

To take a line from Tommy Boy, a good conman could “sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves.”

Luckily, most scams are attempted by amateurs, so either their blatant gimmicks or their poor grammar skills will reveal their true plans before any harm can be done.

When I applied for a tutoring job, I got a rather strange e-mail reply. The English was terrible. The tone was secretive, which raised a lot of red flags. The writer also made it sound like his “daughter” was a mail-order bride. Or some child in a trafficking ring. It just didn’t sound right at all. Majority opinion found this to be a scam, so I reported it, then decided to do something useful with it.

I made a poem, using word-for-word excerpts from the e-mail.

From trash comes art.

SCAM POEM

Dear Tutor

My daughter

Teach her as soon as possible

Your experience and qualification

Made her feel more happy and comfortable

I am planning that you will be teaching

The {English} Subject

Teach her during the week

I want her to study more

What she need to know

When she arrive

I want her to improve morally

Quiet, intelligent, obedient

She love to dance

I will be paying you

I will also pay the Guardian

The Guardian would bring her down

You receive the payment

Remit the balance to the Guardian

Can I trust you with my daughter?

And the rest fund to be remit?

Send information as its been requested

So it can be mail out on-time

You will teach her good academics

And some moral respects

She can be good to their self

In the future

And the economy

I would be glad

I wait your full information

So I can proceed

Regards

Roger