Not that anyone has asked me, but if young people wanted advice about writing I might jump right in and introduce them to some old friends, Strunk & White. Old fashion, perhaps, but there is something about the formality that its pages outline that I still kind of like. I understand the new theory that we first want kids to get the ideas out there and then later we can get them to clean it all up and make it look pretty, but somehow that second step seems to be going by the wayside. Even my own children seem to be guilty of this at times and believe me they spent their formative years being corrected on a regular basis by a mother who was an English teacher (except for the mispronunciations that were just too cute to modify.) When did we, as teachers, as parents, as people who speak the English language lose sight of the importance of a period at the end of a sentence? Don’t people need to take a breath anymore? Think of punctuation as one’s chance to breathe. Unless, of course, this sort of free form writing technique is new and creative, and I am missing the boat somehow. Yet, I still believe it is our students that are losing out. Somehow, I learned to be a creative writer and I know when to use a comma (and if I don’t I check with Strunk and White) at the same time. I am grateful to editors as well, but last I looked seventh graders don’t generally hire editors, but are likely to be somewhat acquainted with spell check.
As I said though, I do understand the need to get all those thoughts and ideas out first while creative thoughts are flourishing. My question is when do we go back and fix things? Or better yet, when, if we don’t continually teach it, will young writers learn to write automatically using punctuation and capitalization? I see it happening in my own backyard and I am not sure who to blame? Perhaps no blame is necessary. We all make mistakes. I make them all the time, but this isn’t what I am kvetching about. I love reading my own daughter’s blog, with or without occasional tiny blunders. Let me just make clear that she has talents that far surpasses anything I could have dreamed of and I see great things in her future. Her creative mind ticks in a way that mine only tocks. Her creative energy is probably one of the biggest reasons I finally got off my tush, compiled a load of the stories I had been writing for years and ultimately published Shades of Gray. If it weren’t for my need to prove to myself that I can do it too and I better do it before my then teenager beat me to it, I would still have a drawer filled with anecdotes of a time in my life that has been resurrected and provided me with a platform to talk about things that really matter to me. Once more I am involved in plans for dropout prevention, talking about important issues of today that are real and for some, still difficult to discuss. Not that I wasn’t enjoying my time as class mother and PTA meetings, but my heart is once more getting close to where it belongs and my head is thinking beyond the next load of laundry and I love it. Should I thank my daughter for that and overlook the itty-bitty inaccuracies? I suppose so.
Then, this morning, I read something and I wondered – literally – if the essayist knew that New York and London both should be capitalized. I know the writer and I know she knows, but why doesn’t she do it? In the same light, I am sure that all the essays I edit for college bound kids have used spell check and yet they aren’t fazed by the squiggly, red lines that appear on their pages. Why don’t they care? Yes, I remind myself, my own daughter’s writing is compelling, soulful, original, and even funny sometimes and that is far more important. Writing is not texting though. Why has writing become a brainteaser? Is it possible that the message gets lost when we have to spend time figuring out the riddle that just a little punctuation and lack of abbreviation might explain more clearly? I digress. I am complaining about the text message I could have gotten from any of my three children that has tended to baffle me for ten minutes until I realize it was simply telling me that he/she would be late for dinner. Just say that! When did L8 become late and is there still a chance that we can twist this resourceful spelling/abbreviating game into a better use of these children’s creativity? True, I do want to keep my aging brain productive and I know that a good brainteaser can assist in that, but I still would much rather be mystified by some sort of real writing. I am not asking for more meaningful texts. I understand there is generally no witticism required for I will be late for dinner, but then I am brought back to the essayist. London, like New York always gets a capital! I’ve been to both cities and I assure you, they both deserve it.
As I am sure many people have complained and blogged about this topic before, I will go back to thanking my sweet daughter for her inspiration and continue anticipating her next blog. I will hope and pray that sooner rather than later educators will wake up and realize that we can teach children to write properly while being creative. One does not have to follow the other, nor should it. I will renew my focus on the issues that have become forefront for me – interracial adoption, dropout prevention, and infertility – and be grateful for this opportunity to get involved again. I will not complain when I am stymied by the spelling on an essay I am editing and I will find merriment in the vision of brilliance behind the grammatical errors. I will. I will. I will.