Most of us begin our adult lives with some vague optimism about the future. Even if things aren’t ideal in the beginning, we reason, surely the harder we work the better life will be. Growing up we all harbor some deep-seated hope that our jobs, whatever they may be, will in some way influence the world for good. We are told to dream–dream big, dream often, don’t stop–and we begin to believe in ourselves.
The truth is that most of us, upon being launched into adulthood, become satisfied with jobs that pay the bills. World changing? Perhaps not. Life-altering? Yeah, potentially. We trudge through each day, each week, paying the bills and wondering what all that dreaming was for. But a lucky few are able to carve out more than that for themselves. For some of us, reality and occupation are not combatants. Rather they coexist, and we are able to have one without falling prey to the other.
Arguably, no one ever goes into teaching for the money. Education is seldom, if ever, championed as a lucrative career choice. But I would argue that those of us who have chosen this profession have duped the rest of the world. Ours is a secret so delicious it must be told.
Every day I go into a classroom where I sit with my books. Some of these books have been with me for awhile, since I was a student myself. They are worn; they are tattered and coffee-stained. They are old friends, keepers of solace. I go into a classroom with my books, and there are students there waiting for me, waiting for me to tell them what’s in the books. But instead of dryly delivering information for them to file away and regurgitate later, we have conversations. We talk about theme and plot and symbolism and all the things that make my books tick. And my students begin to know what they’re doing. When my day is finished, I find myself sitting at a desk trying to figure out when the actual work is going to begin.
Being a teacher is like being on the inside of a joke. The powers-that-be couldn’t possibly know what I do for my paycheck. Of course they don’t; if they knew how much fun I was having they probably wouldn’t let me do it anymore. I don’t mean to suggest that being a teacher is not without its problems. Anyone who has ever done it or tried to do it before will tell you that it’s tough. The grading and the grade-grubbing and the constant reminders that our work will never be done are, at times, maddening. Then payday roles around, and for one brief moment we all feel like the joke’s on us.
But at the end of the day it is my job, it is my occupation, to go into a classroom and discuss “Jabberwocky.” It is my job to watch my students develop confidence in themselves, my job to watch them come to appreciate and love the very same books that have meant so much to me, my job to help them find their own voice and figure out what to say and how to write with it. And while no job is without its problems, it’s not a bad way to earn a living.
Written English and spoken English are two vastly different monsters. Any teacher of composition can tell you that, and most can prove it. Just because we speak in certain accepted patterns does not mean we should write in them, they say. But over the years, crafty as we are, we have developed many ways to circumvent the conventions dictated to us both by dusty grammarians and
rhetoricians whose glory days of face-to-face, interpersonal communication have faded into the realms of nostalgia.
Text messaging, instant messaging, and various other forms of digital messaging that negate the necessity for proximity have supplanted archaic forms of communication like conversation, debate, telephone use, and written correspondence. Our fancy new methods of interaction do not require us to be honest with our behaviors, our reactions; they allow us to be stingy with ourselves, giving something to the conversation without actually being forced to feel anything.
Perhaps more fascinating than anything (for those of us who fancy ourselves wordsmiths at least) is the habitual melding of written and spoken English that developed organically from digital communication media. Now, more often than not, we can conflate the way we communicate in informal situations with the way we write, causing those grammarians and rhetoricians in the musty, dusty corners of our culture to cringe and twitch and denounce us all.
A combination of this sort has its own unique requirements though. A new language, new universally accepted thought processes. Thus was born a hybrid language, one content with abbreviations and substitutions, cryptic in their trendiness: LOL, BRB, ROFL, and LMAO.
While theses abbreviations certainly serve a useful function for those of us too lazy or too busy to complete our thought processes in complete words or, God forbid, complete sentences, they do imply more emotional activity than we generally physically express.
For example, Laughing Out Loud is a wonderful sentiment. And we would probably all be better off if we did it more often. But the truth is that we don’t do it nearly as much as we say we do, creating in us the kind of emotional liars we would never be if we were communicating face to face. The truth is that more often than not we don’t even crack a smile as we LOL at our friends and loved ones. And while I’m pretty sure the sight of someone Rolling On The Floor Laughing would probably make me LOL, I have never actually seen someone do it, but there it is, all the same, in emails and text messages, floating through cyberspace, bringing feigned joy to those for whom it’s intended.
Most of this communication is harmless in its effect. We are not, as a rule, scarred by the mingling of conversational and formal speech, and an acronym, to my knowledge, has never harmed anyone. But what happens when our semantics and our behaviors don’t match up? What happens when the disconnect between what we say we feel and what we actually feel is found outl? What do we do when we realize we really aren’t as funny or clever as we thought we were? Do what we say we feel and what we actually feel have to be so exaggeratedly different? And what would happen if we reverted to honest communication, if we didn’t LOL every time we didn’t want to sound too harsh?
The truth is: IDK.
“Why do you like to write so much?”
An innocent question. No subtext, no implication. Perhaps a little incredulity, but I expect that from freshmen composition students. If only the answer was as simple as the question.
I haven’t written in awhile, not for lack of things to say or words to say them. I really don’t know why. I’ve noticed an ever-growing compulsion to hoard myself, to gather the thoughts and feelings that compose who I am and keep them from those nearest and dearest to my heart. No excuse for that either, except that sometimes, when she can’t belong to the one who really matters, a girl simply needs to belong wholly to herself.
And writing is a promiscuous activity.
Writing is the drug, and I am bound to it. I’ve stopped asking why, for the answer is shrouded in the mystery of addiction. My fingers itch with the sharp points of the words that jab and poke, waiting to be bled out. Hyperbolic and overly figurative? You caught me, but I haven’t done this in awhile, so please be indulgent.
The urge is easy to ignore. Most of the time. The voice in the background crying, “Write me! Write me!” is easy enough to silence when you heap upon it steaming piles of life. And perhaps mine is a twisted literary masochism, a sick predisposition to delayed gratification. Because the time inevitably arrives when holding back ceases to be a choice.
The words adopt minds of their own. They rush forward and assume places on the page without care for or acknowledgement of the one from whence they’ve sprung. They settle there, take up residence in what they (in their wordy naïveté) believe to be permanent printed bliss, while I, their careful curator, am left with less of myself.
And oh God, does it feel good!
From E. E. Cummings:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Last night a cricket chirped outside my window. Not the sweet little chirps that compose the symphony of a summer evening. It was a loud, grating chirp, one that (I can only assume) comes from a very large, very moody cricket. Perhaps it couldn’t sleep either. Perhaps it was fulfilling some sort of Jiminy complex. Or perhaps it was just doing its job.
The reason for its relentless chirping is irrelevant. The point is that it was, to say the very least, unbearably annoying. I laid awake, contemplating how to rid myself of my chirpy little friend, laughing out loud at the mental image of me traipsing through the yard trying to frighten something I couldn’t even see. With my luck, he would silence himself long enough for me to think I’d been successful. Then he’d start up again just to be spiteful.
Then I realized: there are people who pay money for this. Stores like Brookstone and Sharper Image have made small fortunes on sound machines that mimic the sounds of the great outdoors in an effort to help consumers fall asleep more quickly and effortlessly. I smiled, thinking how ironic it was to be listening to the live version and praying it would terminate itself. Because when it’s live there is no slow fade-out. There is no automatic shut-off. And you can’t unplug it.
At some point he must have moved on as insects are wont to do. Fickle things. And I’m a happier, better rested person for it. But I can’t help wondering whether it’s luck that I have my own live sound machine outside the window or just bad karma.
Adulthood is a wonderful thing. We evolve from pimply teenage mess into responsible, productive members of society. At least that’s the ideal progression. But for some of us, the voice of the inner child doesn’t fade as readily. For some of us, it becomes difficult to let go and face reality, so we hold onto that which keeps us innocent, inculpable. And somehow it becomes easy to maintain this childlike revery. That is until the reality of adulthood comes hurdling towards us at full steam like a bully in the halls of Anywhere USA High School.
Marc Schuster’s Charley Schwartz of The Grievers is one such individual. Throughout the novel, readers will find themselves growing increasingly frustrated with Charley until they realize that he represents the parts of themselves that they must deny in order to function as adults. In many ways, Charley behaves in a manner that we have all envied at some point. He is sarcastic, irreverent at times, and completely unsure of his adult self. This uncertainty of just what it means to be an adult is precisely what allows Charley to ingratiate himself with readers. By the time he comes to the realization that none of us is sure what it really means to be an adult, readers are already sympathetic to his plight.
The Grievers contains a number of examples of people we could all be, paths we might have taken when we reached the proverbial crossroads that separate childhood from adulthood, and it is interesting to note that no one seems completely confident of their decision. Some characters are better at faking it than others, but for the most part, everyone involved in the story is operating under some sort of pretense, a quality that lends itself to both believability and relatability. Anyone reading The Grievers will find someone with whom they can identify, and it becomes very comforting to note that everyone has uncertainties.
While the story itself is very realistic and the portrayal of the characters makes them both endearing and frightening, there are times throughout the book when the dialogue seems better suited to reading than to speaking. In other words, people don’t really talk that way. However, these instances are so few and far between that they do not detract from the novel, its purpose, or its impact.
The Grievers is an ideal novel for those of us who sometimes seek to read books with which we can commiserate, rather than books into which we can escape. It allows us to be more aware of our humanity, while learning to accept it (flawed though it may be) at the same time.
Love is a timeless, universal sentiment. It defies the parameters within which we seek to define it. To attempt its definition is to find oneself at a loss. Love, true, real, raw love, is not easy, and it is ever elusive. But once it’s been found, once it has allowed itself to be confined within the hearts and souls of two people, it makes life more rich and abundant than we could possibly imagine it to be.
So why is it that we devote only one day a year to something so important, something so consuming?
In elementary school, we hand out little paper hearts attached to lollipops in hopes that they will bring happiness to our classmates. We eat cupcakes (at least we used to) and have parties and leave school sugared out all in the name of love.
In high school, we wait expectantly either to receive flowers or to find out how our flowers will be received. We give cliché greeting cards in the hopes that they will accurately expose our adolescent feelings to our sweethearts. And we think it will last forever.
In adulthood, men are now obligated to scramble around at the last minute to purchase flowers (that will die), candies (that she will say have contributed to her nonexistent weight gain), and jewelry (that she will likely wear for a few weeks before allowing it to slip to the bottom of her jewelry box to lie with the relics of Valentine’s Days past). Women, it has to be said, have a fairly easy job this holiday. They are required only to wait and to receive. The final judgement regarding the success of the holiday lies within their jurisdiction. Sorry, guys.
But why? Why do we do behave in these ways? Why do we stress ourselves out wondering whether or not he will propose this year or whether or not the flowers and necklace will be enough to keep her happy for now?
The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery and confusion. No one saint can claim patronage over the day, and early celebrations of the holiday were hardly the greeting-card infused sweetness we know today. But somehow over the years we have adapted this day to our own purposes and allowed it to become the international day of love, for better or for worse.
I’m not suggesting here that Valentine’s Day is a pointless exercise designed only to make us feel worse about ourselves than we already do. I can be just as sappy and sentimental as the next girl (and quite frequently am). But if love is so important, if we’re willing to call it the be-all, end-all, if we’re willing to spend a lifetime searching for it, if we consider ourselves so lucky to know it, to possess it, to bestow it, then isn’t it worth celebrating every day?