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This Phoenix Speaks

Seven years in the making, my first published book, This Phoenix Speaks , is now a reality. The tireless and tiring work invested to ma...

writing of books

I've always wanted to be a writer of books, someone who has enough words to share them. And now I am becoming one. The first book, This Phoenix Speaks: Albeit in a Whisper, was a long time coming, but I am closing in on finishing my next one.

What a process it is to collect one's thoughts and words. I began contemplating the idea of my second book before the first was even finished. I had the inspiration tugging at me while writing other things so much so that I was considering focusing on finishing it before This Phoenix Speaks.

Why do whole books call to authors? How do they whisper when they aren't even written yet?

My father's story needs to be told, so my belief is that my ancestors are calling me to make my best attempt at doing it justice. I don't care if anyone thinks I'm silly for believing that either. The experiences that sparked the idea and helped me to continue feeling pushed to keep going are proof enough for me.

After I finish this project, I wonder what the next one will be. It hasn't whispered to me yet, but I fully expect it to soon. 

you are the best

There's this catchphrase I love to say and hear: You are the best. It is simple yet is packed with gratitude and acknowledgement that someone has done something good/right. It's even part of one of my favorite movie lines from Nacho Libre. I can hear Jack Black saying it now. [You are] the best!

What does it mean to be the best? Some would say you are better at something than everyone else. Some might answer how it means you stand out from the rest for an accomplishment or for an act of service or support, but it's just for the moment and can be a shared thing. Another valid definition of being the best is considering your impact on others. Every person has the chance to be the best in this case. For instance, how can every father or mother be the best? If we look at the first definition, it is impossible, and some serious amounts of mugs and t-shirts need to be revoked before the next Father's Day and Mother's Day. But we aren't taking away any gifts today.

Being the best parent is something every parent hopes is true. We want so much to do the best we can, to be our best self, to be the best parent for our children, to be someone who makes a positive impact on the souls we brought into this crazy, beautiful world. But how does one qualify to be deemed the best? There is no handbook to study from even though there are tests on this every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. While solving the problems of the universe with my friend, Melissa, she brought up something that got me thinking about this quest to be the best. She pointed out how our best effort, consistently done, is what makes all the difference.

Is our best effort even good all the time? No. Sometimes, our best is actually pretty poor. We are clueless and make a mess of our children as we scurry around attempting to set things right again. The key to finding the sweet spot of being the best is keeping on with the good work. Learn from failures, recognize when a failure opened up important discussions, and do better. Doing better than before can mean you are doing your best, making you your personal best—again.

This brain teaser of sorts is really just a recognition of our faults and successes as a process of becoming, becoming our best self and making a difference to the best of our ability.


A word that does something
Paralyzes, suffocates, changes
While being nothing but a canker sore

In this experiment (life)
What does it take to turn
Into forward motion
Something healthy for everyone

Crushing of pride
Setting aside the wants of one
For the sake of all
Breaking down
Why you even care
And holding onto your answer
Like the love you wish
You were given

Reaching for more
From yourself
Being kind when you want to cry
When your instinct is to fight
For what you want
Because that's right to do

But you realize you don't want
Someone who doesn't want you in return
And that unexpected realization
Crushes you anew

Redefining your wishes
Paralyzing in new ways
Wondering, watching, never expecting
Anything anymore

Not even friendship

raising a white flag

A prescriptivist mother raised me, so I grew up with language usage correction as part of my daily life. I could never have known I was being trained up to be a soldier in the grammar wars of today. She loved words, languages, and speaking Standard English (also known as correctly by the prescriptivism camp), making the training seamless and natural. I lived for attaining and maintaining correct speech and writing. However, since beginning my editing training, I have realized a very distinct shift in my perspective on usage: the way others and I use language and the way usage judgment affects good society. Rudeness of the highest degree is justified in the name of standard vs. common usage. The war between prescriptivists and descriptivists is real. 
In wartime, raising a white flag for the purpose of negotiating terms ensures safe passage into enemy territory. The prescriptivism versus descriptivism war is a war that cannot be won, but through education and understanding the literate world can come to the middle in peace. Finding solutions to the grammar fight is a form of raising a white flag in order to negotiate.

Grammar Battlefield
Anyone who uses social media has seen memes poking fun at poor usage, and then there are the common folk who make interesting comments from time to time; those things are all fun and games. My first real life experience on the front lines of the grammar wars were brought to me when I enrolled in the Grammar of English course. The instructor was the picture of a staunch descriptivist—embodying the role of the anti-grammar nazi. In this strained environment, the first aspect of usage that stood out to me was how people treat others regarding written and spoken usage.  This conduct intertwines with how we allow ourselves to use language because of the dread and fear of judgment, which underlies many of our communications. I check myself when using slang in casual conversation if I am with scholarly sorts. The pressure to avoid judgment has become high, especially since almost everyone who knows me knows I am in “grammar” classes. They expect exceptional communications from me. 

Affecting the Rising Generation 
My awareness of judgmental attitudes has increased through my other studies related to my English Teaching coursework. As I have explored the beauty of usage and become more sensitive to allowing flexibility in writing, the gross rudeness of extreme prescriptive views pervading everyday interactions has become intolerable to me now. If each side of the battle would take time to understand why less than perfect writing happens, the number of disparaging rants coming from both sides might lessen. InStyle Lessons in Clarity and Grace, some reasons why poorly constructed writing occurs is outlined in these lines: 
Unclear writing is a social problem, but it often has private causes. Some writers plump up their prose, hoping that complicated sentences indicate deep thought. . . . Others write graceless prose not deliberately but because they are seized by the idea that good writing must be free of the kind of errors that only a grammarian can explain. . . . Others write unclearly because they freeze up. . . . But the biggest reason most of us write unclearly is that we don’t know when readers will think we are unclear, much less why. (Williams, 6)   
These causes can also be applied to spoken usage. In conversation, my children correct their younger sibling in our home. A few examples of corrected words are hitted, eated, rided, and others. Instead of taking into account that their little brother’s language is still developing and cutting him a break, they let him know how to say things the “right” way. But my children are still young. They haven’t yet learned the fine art of passive-aggressive correction like many adults have. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see a meme or tweet or Facebook status belittling “bad” grammar. The there/their/they’re conundrum surfaces on a veritable loop throughout Facebook. It does get frustrating to see the laziness of the guilty parties, but I have also begun to evaluate some of the other claims people make. Many of these silent yet loud rule keepers usually don’t realize that there isn’t such a rule. Instead, they are motivated by popular belief. 
I have also come across some funny examples of how people poke fun at usage rules or a lack thereof. An example of one is this amusing tweet by @Fake_Dispatch concerning the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma): “While, the, Oxford, comma, is, debatable, nothing, is, worse, than, the, U, of, Michigan, comma, which, is, at, every, word, just, in, case.” Examples like this one are fun and seem to soften the line drawn in the sand between the rule keepers (prescriptivists) and the rule breakers (descriptivists). 

Empathy Through Education
The soldiers on each side of the line can be better understood if we take time to learn of their motivations by defining them. A good definition of each side of the grammar wars is in The Copyeditor’s Handbook. Einsohn states, “One source of difficulty for people who care about written language is that even the experts sometimes disagree. In broadest terms, the battle is between the descriptivists, who seek to document how language is used, the prescriptivists who champion an edenic vision of how the language should be used” (Einsohn, 337). Although Einsohn doesn’t appear to be entirely free of bias, she is able to succinctly outline the passion found on each side. The shame of it all is how these passions are used as weapons against the other. 
While I have never been an extreme prescriptivist, taking serious responsibility for the knowledge I have gained helps me reach my goals as a writer. The foundational training I received growing up only gave me a baseline. My writing skills have expanded greatly as I have begun to implement the formal grammar training I’ve received, discern between extremism and wisdom in daily observations, and change the way I use language. The content of my blog writing has improved as far as following the standards are concerned. Coming to a better understanding the who/whomand a/anguidelines has given me more confidence in my writing, and it feels like people are being able to better comprehend my meaning in all my written communications: Twitter, Facebook, and blogs included. I don’t consider myself to be someone who writes correctly or incorrectly, but there is something empowering about having an awareness of usage rules. 
Knowing the rules (both in textbooks and on the street) and how to break them with purpose has even more power than having a large vocabulary. The abiding problem is that there can be a backlash for breaking or keeping the rules. Language use shouldn’t be this complicated and potentially dangerous since we claim to be such a sophisticated society, but it is. As I reflect on what I’ve learned, I believe that if the awkwardness caused by fear could be vanquished there would be better flow of communication and society would be better off. In the introduction to the Chicago Manual of Style, a quote from its first edition outlines a good rule of thumb to follow: “Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity” (Chicago, xiii).  Elasticity through education is the white flag we need to end the war—as far as it is possible. 

Works Cited
The Chicago Manual of Style. Sixteenth ed. University of Chicago. Chicago: 2010. Print.

Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: a Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate
            Communications.University of California. Berkeley: 2011. Print. 

Williams, Joseph M. and Bizup, Joseph. Style Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Eleventh ed. 
            Pearson. Boston: 2014. Print. 

to run out of ink

To list everything that is wrong about life as we know it, we could easily grab a pen and write until that pen ran out of ink. Correct? There are seemingly innumerable problems and even terrible things about life. However, if we took time to write a list of all that is good about life, I believe we would need an inexhaustible pen to make such a list.

The idea of making these two lists gets me thinking about all I've been going through for as long as I can recall. Problem after problem. When I stop to count up simply a slice of it, it seems unbelievable how unfortunate life has been . . . nevertheless . . . nevertheless, life has been breathtakingly good.

Love has been terrible yet infinitely more beautiful than I could ever anticipate. I count on it surprising me even further before I die. Motherhood has brought me to my knees in grief but also in perfect joy. My children are my hope and love personified. Learning has been a torturous affair even though it is one of my favorite things that drives me to keep going. Being part of a family has been, in part, one of the worst aspects of my existence, but, cutting out the horrible times, I attest to the absolute heaven on earth that family life can be and has been for me during most of my life. Family is everything despite the worst of times.

There is so much more to write. I can hardly wrap my mind around all the good things about this life of mine. There is so much good. I am filled to the brim with words to write for this list. Laughter, friendship, ice cream, prayer, sunrises, sunsets, a perfect song at just the right moment in a movie, forgiveness, truth, comfort, embraces you didn't expect, light in the darkness, rain on a hot summer day, snow on Christmas Eve, wishes thrown into a fountain, love you can count on, nice cars, good food shared with family and friends, board games, spirituality bringing you closer to who you are, visitors, traveling, safety, home, photographs of favorite moments and people, a nice bed, pillows, clean water, cotton candy, watermelon, ribeye steaks and beef ribs, central air, dandelion tufts scattering wishes disguised as weed seeds, a hand to hold, the love of others.

Even if I ran out of ink, I could write forever of these things, for I write them in my heart.