June 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
Today is the anniversary of my first post, One Last Move, on June 7, 2012 on Butterfly Mind. In that first post, and in many subsequent ones, I wrote about trying to find my way as an at-home mom when our children both went off to elementary school, leaving me alone in quiet, not for minutes but for hours, for the first time in 9 years. I didn’t know if I should pursue a new career, and if so, what would I do? Who would I be? A young friend in Blacksburg commented on one such searching post:
“For your main line of work, I would follow whatever you naturally gravitate toward when you feel the need to be productive.”
How very wise he was. Thank you Phil. You were right. I gravitate towards words when I want to be productive, and I did not see that at the time. When I thumb through old diaries, I realize I’ve gravitated towards writing all along. Every couple of years I express in those private pages my desire to be a writer. A desire that seemed so impractical and unattainable, I never gave it credence. Until this blog. Now, I’m building a writing practice, laying a foundation so that when the kids grow up and move away, I can move forward into a writing career. If that’s still what I want to do ten years from now.
To celebrate my first anniversary, I thought I’d serve up the year’s most popular posts. For those of you who have been around since the beginning, thank you. I am grateful for your support. For those of you who are new here, welcome. Perhaps this run-down will give you an idea of where to start and what to expect on Butterfly Mind. Thanks to all of you for your readership, and enjoy.
Top humor post: Lost Balls
Top memoir post: A Small Thing My Dad Never Knew
Top graph(s): Snow Day Fatigue
Top photo essay: When nature is allowed to be nature
Top book review: Wild: A Book Review in Four Words
Top parenting (and most popular overall) post: Dear Diary,
June 4, 2013 § 10 Comments
One morning, when the kids were 5 and 7, and I was standing at the chopping block cutting crusts off sandwiches, I heard our son say to his little sister, “Do you know the ‘D’ word?”
He and our daughter slurped cereal at the kitchen table a few feet behind me. I paused imperceptibly, remained facing forward, and wrestled gently with a plastic sandwich bag, taming it into quiet, unrustling submission. Where was he going with this? I tried to remain silent so I could hear our daughter’s response.
“D-U-M?” She said.
I relaxed, smiled to myself, and stuffed the bagged sandwiches into lunch boxes. I pulled the rinsed strawberries towards me from the far corner of the board and patted them dry.
“What about the ’S’ word?” he asked. I stiffened.
My shoulders softened. How precious that she was spelling the “bad words” out instead of saying them. I sliced berries and pretended I wasn’t listening.
Our son was quiet a moment, probably chewing his mini-wheats. I dared not look lest I give myself away. “What about the ‘H’ word?” he asked.
Oh my goodness, be still my heart. Did I teach them this, that “hate” is a bad word? If so, major mom kudos to me. I tucked the strawberries next to the sandwiches and smiled smugly to myself about my parenting skills. Our son asked, just as I was about to zip up a lunch box, “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” I busied myself with wiping the board instead of securing the noisy zipper.
“F-A-T?” our daughter asked.
I could feel our son smiling. I chuckled, too. “Nooooo…”
Wait. What could it be if not “fat” or “fart?” Well, obviously you and I know what it could be, but if the kids didn’t know the “D,” “S,” or “H” words, how on earth would they know the “F” word?
“I don’t know,” our daughter said. “What is it?”
“F-U-K,” our 7 year old son said.
Oh my God. He knows. He knows! How does he know this?!
Okay, act casual. I folded my cloth, picked up a lunch box, and took a deep breath.
“Hey baby,” I said, turning my body toward them at last, nonchalantly sealing the lunch box, not freaking out. Not correcting his spelling. “Where did you hear that word?” We don’t say that word around the kids. Maybe he heard it on the bus. There were fifth graders on the bus, and he was only in second grade. The big kids must have talked about it. That’s how he knew it was a bad word. Surely second graders weren’t talking about it. Surely.
His sister lost interest and cleaned up her bowl. He shrugged and said, “I dunno.”
This conversation could go anywhere. Why it’s a bad word, why kids shouldn’t say it, who is offended by it, why some people use it, whether their dad and I ever use it. How much do I say? I decided: as little as possible. “You know not to use that word, right?”
“I know,” he said, and slurped the last spoonful of cereal milk. “I don’t even know what it means.”
Well, that’s good. “Okay, if you have any questions, you can ask me. For now I’ll just tell you it’s a word that is very offensive to a lot of people, and children should not use it, especially since you don’t know what it means.”
“Okay Mom.” He got up and brought his bowl to the sink.
“Here’s your lunch box, buddy.” I kissed him on the top of his head, patted his back, and sent him off to brush his teeth. I collapsed in a kitchen chair and realized the baby years, which I’d thought were awfully trying, were hard in a physically demanding, bone exhausting, I’m-responsible-for-this-baby’s-every-need kind of way. But the elementary school years? Those are hard in a completely different way. They are demanding in an intellectual, emotional, I’m-responsible-for-helping-this-child-navigate-the-weirdness-of-life-and-become-a-decent-human-being kind of way.
With the kids’ births I thought, Now it begins. We navigated sleep deprivation and the endless repetition of diapering, feeding, clothing, cleaning. But after that morning’s dialogue – “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” – and facing the strain of trying to know the right thing to do, to react swiftly and intelligently, to be a responsible adult even when I thought the whole exchange was funny, I knew this stage of parenting was different than simply keeping our kids alive. As I’ve thought with countless turning points that came before (walking, talking) and will come after (puberty, rebelling), that morning after our “F-U-K” conversation, when I realized our kids would one day lose their innocence, I thought, Now this wild ride really begins.
May 30, 2013 § 11 Comments
Dangling prepositions, also known as “preposition stranding,” are not, in fact, grammatically incorrect.
Let me say that again. Or let Mike Vuolo say it in Slate magazine’s inaugural, deliciously dorky Lexicon Valley podcast episode, “A Sin of Which None is Guilty:”
“It really is one of the biggest myths in the English language, this idea that we’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions.”
What?! Where have I been all these years?
This is possibly the most deeply-ingrained grammatical rule I remember (besides split infinitives), and is the rule I chide myself about in my own writing and edit mentally when I read someone else’s work. It’s the rule that jars me both when it’s broken (because I get stuck on a sentence’s grammatical incorrectness) and when it is adhered to (because “for what this butterfly mind is made” sounds so unnatural). While I feel not a shred of remorse over a writing a sentence fragment to facilitate pacing or punch, or a run-on sentence to create rhythm, I agonize over leaving a preposition dangling. I feel guilty for stranding it.
It turns out that the question of dangling prepositions is a common topic of conversation in grammar circles (yes, I just said grammar circles), and often tops the list of frequently asked questions about the English language. Slate magazine felt so strongly about it that they launched their Lexicon Valley podcast with it, and Grammar Girl, endorsed by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 best websites for writers, addresses it not only in her Top Ten Grammar Myths, but in its very own Ending a Sentence with a Preposition post as well.
So what’s the deal? Why are we slapped with the metaphorical ruler on our metaphorical knuckles over and over again for this mythical rule? Apparently, according the Grumpy Grammarian John McWhorter, in a piece in The New Republic, “this fake grammar rule [has] a particular distinction: Its legendary smackdown is as well known as the rule itself.”
Whoa. A grammar smackdown.
The smackdown boils down to this: in the 1670s, about half a decade after Shakespeare, a poet/playwright, John Drydon, was trying to distinguish himself in the new age of England’s post-puritanical reopening of theater. He wanted to say, “Hey, we don’t need those old guys, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Look at me! I’m John Drydon. I’ve got something to say.” And then he criticized Ben Jonson, writing, “The preposition in the end of the sentence, [is] a common fault with him.” As Mike and Bob at Lexicon Valley point out, “This is the first really clear statement of anyone having specific trouble with prepositions at the end of a sentence.”
After Drydon, the “rule” was popularized by men of the cloth who also fancied themselves language scholars. First was Robert Lowth, a Bishop in London’s Church of England in his A Short Introduction to English Grammar. He suggested there that grabbing onto those prepositions and snuggling them safely inside the sentence was “more graceful” than dangling them at the end. And then in the 1860s, Henry Alford, in his The Queen’s English, wrote, “There is a peculiar use of prepositions which is allowable in moderation but must not be too often resorted to. It is the placing them at the end of a sentence, as I have just done in the words ‘resorted to.'”
And the tradition carried on from there. Now, before we go crazy and start hanging prepositions off every available sentence-cliff, it is recommended by Henry Alford and others that, as with all super fun things, the dangling preposition be used in moderation. The “rule” is widely believed as grammatical dogma, and as Grammer Girl advises:
“When you’re writing a cover letter to a potential employer, don’t end a sentence with a preposition. The person reading the letter could see it as an error.”
You and I can smile smugly as we tuck our prepositions in for those unlearned employers. Because as the Grumpy Grammarian quotes Kingsley Amis, the dangling preposition rule is “one of those fancied prohibitions dear to ignorant slobs.”
Thanks to the gloriously geeky Lexicon Valley, I am not an ignorant slob anymore. And now, neither are you.
P.S. If your favorite grammar joke looks like this,
Poor ignorant slob: “Where’s it at?”
Grammar police: “Behind the ‘at.'”
have no fear. According to Grammar Girl’s Top Ten Grammar Myths “Where are you at?” is still technically wrong. She says, “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition. That means “Where are you at?” is wrong because “Where are you?” means the same thing.” In other words, you can still use your nerdalicious comeback, “Behind the ‘at’.” Unless that comeback is grammatically wrong. Which is quite possibly the case. If anyone has insight on this, please comment with your reasoning below.
We all learned you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. But from where did this alleged rule come? And why does it encumber us with such labored sentences as the one preceding this? In the first episode of Slate’s new language program Lexicon Valley, producer Mike Vuolo and On the Media co-host Bob Garfield explore the history of the terminal preposition rule, and whether there are good reasons to follow it.
Addendum to original post (added 5/31/13):
If it is still hard for you to believe that this “DO NOT END A SENTENCE PREPOSITION” rule is wrong – and believe me, I understand the difficulty in getting over this rule – if you really can’t bear to leave those ‘at’s and ‘in’s hanging without concrete, fact-checked, externally edited, published-in-print proof that it is okay to strand your prepositions, I give you the usage note for the “preposition” entry in The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company:
prep · o · si · tion…
Usage Note: The doctrine that a preposition may not be used to end a sentence has become one of the most venerated maxims of schoolroom grammatical lore. However, English syntax allows and sometimes requires final placement of the preposition. Such placement is the only possible one in a sentence such as That depends on what you believe in. · Even sticklers for the traditional rule can have no grounds for criticizing sentences such as Where will she end up? or It’s the most curious book I’ve ever run across. In these examples, up and across are used as adverbs, not prepositions.
May 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am happy to report that I got some revisions done today. Enough, in fact, that I decided to reward myself, not with ice cream or cupcakes, but with search engine terms. Sometimes, when I’m avoiding writing but want to pretend like I’m doing something productive for my blog, I check my stats to see how folks are finding my site. And often, I am rewarded with some pretty hilarious stuff. Hilarious not because someone typed these terms into their search engine (searching for euchre cartoons is perfectly normal. I’ve done it too), but because the search engine pointed them here. To my blog. Where I have actually written about some of these things.
Aside: To those of you searching for information about men and socks (and there are more of you than are listed here), Welcome!
Here are my top ten favorite search engine terms that have brought folks to Butterfly Mind (*asterisked terms indicate subjects I have written about):
10. *Men and their socks
9. *Euchre cartoons
8. *Freaking out I can’t exercise on vacation
7. With his socks on
6. Three or more guys on a couch with socks
5. *Dental drilling agony
4. *I had a facelift and now i have one hell of a headache
3. *My left side mouth is bit numb and drooling
2. *Hibernating bears farts
And (drumroll), the best search term of all, which I did not write about, but was so funny I had to create it (because I couldn’t find a satisfactory result when I Googled the term):
1. Farting goat Venn diagram
So for the person out there who is searching for a farting goat Venn diagram, I’m not sure in what context you were researching farting goats, but after investigating goat farts on the internet, here’s what I’ve got for you:
Because I didn’t know much about farting goats, I have to give credit where credit is due and thank the Homesteading Today livestock forum. Their Farting Goats??? thread informed me of the sneeze/fart combo move (aka the Snart). From that thread I also learned that goats fart and queef when they are “prego” (and “it is disgusting”), goats do pass gas and “freshly burped up cud is just as bad,” and that one homesteader’s horses love “the buck/fart/gallop combo.”
But my favorite line from the thread, the line that wiggled it’s way into my heart and was the ultimate inspiration for the Venn Diagram, was this:
“Little Black usually garbs up a cud, then sneezes and farts at the same time. Then bless his heart, he looks at us like..what?!?!?”
I think I need to hang out with more homesteaders.
March 24, 2013 § 4 Comments
Our son walked in the front door, red cheeked and grinning, after soccer practice. His blue gym bag was slung over his shoulder, and he still wore his shin guards and cleats.
“Hey Mom, you know those fart cards your friend gave you?”
My local writing buddy, after reading my Lost Balls post, and about our family’s love of cards, gifted me with a deck of “Fifty Farts” cards at our last critique session. The cards have provided endless entertainment in our highly mature household, including an evening where the kids’ dad and I thought it would be funny to explain to them what a shart was. Which, of course, meant that we had to say the word “shit” to them. And explain what that was.
When we told the kids, “Shit is poop,” a lightbulb went off over our son’s head and he said, “Ohhhh, so that’s what it means.”
I asked, “Where have you heard the word before if you don’t know what it means?”
He shrugged. “Kids talk about bad words at the lunch table, but nobody knows what any of them mean.”
Great. Nobody’s going to let their kids to come to our house anymore.
I dried my hands after washing the dishes and smiled at my son’s flushed, grinning face. “Yeah, I know the cards.”
“Do you think they have ‘swart’ in them?” and his grin widened.
My mind raced, trying to figure out what a swart might be. My husband, who is on our son’s wavelength, said “Is that a sweaty fart?”
“Yeah,” Owen said, and nodded his head, his eyes crinkling with glee above his toothy smile.
“Uggh!! Gross!” I said. And laughed. I looked at his flowy soccer shorts and imagined them fluttering with his swart as he ran up the sidewalk to our house.
“A swart makes a funny sound,” our son said. “Like rapid machine gun fire,” and he grinned again, turned around, and climbed upstairs to change.
We may have a creative writer on our hands.
Fifty Farts card deck by Knock Knock
March 6, 2013 § 13 Comments
I prepared this yesterday, giggling to myself, when I thought for sure the kids would have a snow day today. They only got a two hour delay. Now I feel bad, like I jinxed their fun. I’ll make hot cocoa this morning to make up for it.
February 26, 2013 § 5 Comments
“So, have you noticed that irony is super trendy now?” I dealt Phase 10 cards to Amy and my two kids. “‘The Ironic Generation.’ I keep hearing that. What does that even mean? That people want to live off the grid, yet they can’t survive without Facebook and Twitter?”
Amy fanned and arranged the cards in her hand. “It’s a hipster thing.”
“Well,” I said, “Every generation – do you know what a generation is?”
“Yeah, it’s like a thousand years or something.”
“Not quite,” Amy and I laughed. “It’s a group of people of a certain age. Like, you and all your friends, and all the kids in elementary school right now are your generation. Daddy and me and Amy and all of our friends are our generation.”
He discarded. “Okaaay.”
“Each generation has a group of, I don’t know,” Rebels? Outsiders? “A subculture that kind of defines the generation. In the 20’s it was flappers.” I played a card and looked across the table at Amy. “When were beatniks?”
“Beatniks were in the 60’s,” she said. “And hippies were the 60’s and 70’s.”
“Punk was the 80’s. And now,” I said, “it’s hipsters.” I peered over my cards at our son to see if he understood. He did not.
“There were tons of hipsters in the Twin Cities,” I told him. “They think they’re really cool. Like, they were cool before cool was cool.” He had no idea what I was talking about. He’s nine.
I played a card and asked my friend, “Do you know how the hipster burned his tongue?”
She raised an eyebrow, waiting for my answer.
“He ate pizza before it was cool.” I giggled hysterically. Our son rolled his eyes.
Amy was more useful to him, describing the hipster look – the skinny jeans, the PBR tee shirts. “And then there are the older hipsters, like Ira Glass and my husband, with the glasses, and the beard, like my husband has.” She moved some cards around in her hand. “Although he had the glasses and the beard before they were a thing.”*
I giggled again, thinking she was making fun of herself, saying that her husband had adopted the hipster look before it was cool. I looked up from my cards to acknowledge her cleverness, but she wasn’t smiling about it. She was laying down her sets, getting ready to go out.
“So, back to irony,” I said. “I’ve always loved irony, but I never know how to explain it. If somebody asked me to define irony, I could give an example, but I couldn’t define it.” I laid down my sets of four and discarded. Amy looked thoughtful, turning her eyes up as if she could look into her brain, rifle through files, and find a definition for ironic.
“But the irony I know is not anything like that Alanis Morissette song,” I said. “ ‘It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.’ What the hell is that? That’s not ironic. That’s just annoying. Ironic has some sort of, I don’t know,” I gestured toward my heart. “Mystical quality.”
Amy’s eyebrows shot up and she grinned. “Let’s look it up!”
I gave her the dictionary, and she riffled pages while I shuffled cards. Her face turned scowly.
“What the hell?” She said. “Listen to this:
“Ironic. 1. Characterized by or constituting irony. 2. Given to the use of irony.
“That doesn’t tell you anything,” she fumed. “It uses irony in the definition!”
My son arranged his new cards. “It’s your turn Amy.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, then smiled and stroked the book. “I have this dictionary now, you see,” and she played a card.
“Well, look up irony then,” I said.
She followed the words with her long finger.
“Irony. 1.a. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.”
I had had a couple of whiskey sours at this point. “What? That confuses me,” I said, and took another sip. “This is an example of irony to me. I have this friend whose mom was a super fructavore – she loved fruits and veggies and ate them all the time. They were her snacks, her desserts, always a component in her meals. Tons of fiber, you know? Well, she died from colon cancer.” I laid down a card. “That’s ironic.”
“Okay, listen, though. Here’s the third definition of ironic:
“3. Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended.”
“Poignant! That’s going in my Lexicon.” I jumped up to get my Moleskine. “Poignant is one of my favorite words. It’s like irony – it has this mystical quality,” and I gestured toward my innards again. “It makes me feel.”
“Mom! It’s your turn!”
“Sorry babe.” I played a card and thought of the example of irony I had just told. “My friend’s mom contracting colon cancer after a lifetime of fruit eating is, well, poignantly contrary to what was expected. That’s a perfect definition! That’s the irony I’m talking about. It’s all about the poignancy.”
“You really need to read the usage examples here,” Amy said, pointing at the entry in the dictionary.
I thought about all the young hipsters in the Twin Cities as play went round the the table. I thought about the sad irony that they try desperately to avoid anything mainstream, yet they have become so mainstream they even have a look. Glasses, skinny jeans, fixed gear bicycles. iProducts.
When it was my turn again, I fingered my cards, then hitched up my skinny jeans so I could start the music back up on my iMac. I smirked, “Well, I’ve loved irony for, like, 20 years. Irony spoke to me before it became a ‘thing’.”
And then I laid down my cards and laughed.
Usage Note: The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply “coincidental” or “improbable,” in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly. Thus 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of ironically in the sentence In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York. By contrast, 73 percent accepted the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, where the incongruity can be seen as an example of human inconsistency. (The American Heritage College Dictionary)
When I was researching this post, I came across some pretty hilarious stuff. Like the wikiHow article 9 Ways to Be a Hipster. I also found a fascinating opinion piece in the NY Times: How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole. Both great reads if you are curious about hipster counterculture.