An Ode to the Public Library

In my life before my son and Grammatical Art, I was a career public librarian. I’m probably not who you imagine a librarian to be since I got into libraries when I was 23 and not gray-haired. I was lucky to appreciate libraries, having grown up with a librarian mom, but it wasn’t something that it seemed like my peers gave much thought to beyond needing their college library for research.

I’m here to tell you that in my (pretty biased) opinion, public libraries are amazing. There is so much good there, and pretty much 99.9% of it is available to you for free. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can read Wil Wheaton’s post about libraries here or Neil Gaiman’s lecture on their awesomeness.

Here are a few of the reasons public libraries are so great:

  • Free wifi.
  • Quiet working spaces (just throwing some shade at your fav coffee shop).
  • Free materials to borrow (you’re not still in 1984, so you know you can borrow TV and movies on DVD and blu-ray, right? Also video games, toys, and some even lend tools!).
  • Free e-books for your Kindle or favorite digital reading device. The best part is: no fines or fees! The book automatically disappears from your device when it’s due. You can even check out a Kindle if you don’t own one at most libraries.
  • Classes galore: yoga, computer programming, small business info, gardening, line dancing, movie nights, storytimes, sleepovers, gaming, foreign language, maker workshops, and on and on and on.
  • Meeting spaces for community gatherings, non-profits, workshops, you name it.
  • Free help! Librarians are paid to help you with everything and anything you need. They’re available in the building, by phone, even online through email and chat.
  • Books for days, y’all. Books for days.

These things are all phenomenal, of course, but they are really all pieces of a whole. The most wonderful thing about libraries is that they are community spaces free of politics, religion, and judgment. They provide access for all and to all. Your right to freedom of information is a founding principle of our country and one that libraries and librarians fiercely, devotedly, doggedly protect, even in the face of the PATRIOT Act and as privacy becomes more vague and elusive.

At Grammatical Art, we love our books and we love our libraries. Show your library pride with our awesome tees, totes, and prints!

Stop What You’re Doing and Listen to this Podcast

My very first introduction to podcasts was the now-famous Serial. I listened to a bunch of episodes on a long car ride with my husband until we caught up and were listening to the last few as they aired live. It was thrilling. I imagine that experience to have been something akin to crowding around a radio back in the 30s, hanging on every word of the latest show.

Since Serial, I’ve dabbled here and there with a few different podcasts on cooking/eating, parenting, budgeting/finance, and murder (an eclectic mix, I know). I tried really hard to stay committed to Crimetown, but after listening to almost 20 episodes, I feel like quitting. (I haven’t given it up for good yet, though.) People rave about My Favorite Murder, but the first episode lost me when they started talking a bit too much about child victims. Nope nope nope nope nope. Can’t do it.

On a scroll through Instagram, I saw someone mention how much they were enjoying Up and Vanished, the story of a Georgia woman who truly up and vanished in 2005 without leaving behind much physical evidence or many clues as to her whereabouts. She was a former beauty queen, a local teacher, and the stereotypical girl next door. What the heck happened, and how has her case remained unsolved for 12 years?

The first few episodes are a bit amateurish. Host Payne Lindsey admits to hunting around for a podcast topic after having been inspired by Serial’s first season. He’s new to this, but at least he’s upfront about it. There’s a hokey voice over that is jarring at first, but kudos to Lindsey for hanging on to it. He uses it better as the series progresses.

He’s missing the deep thought work that Sarah Koenig gives us in Serial. Frankly, most of the podcasts I listen to are missing that. But there’s something really charming about his newness to the medium, to this case, and the way that he owns it.

Lindsey is doing the research in real time as he records the podcast, so it lacks the polish of a story that has been researched ten times over and over-produced. I like that about it. It keeps it exciting. As listeners, we’re right there next to Lindsey as he gets tips, digs around in a creepy crawlspace looking for clues, and gets spooky phone calls from locals. By episode 4 I was so hooked, I was looking around the house for more to clean or dishes to wash so that I had an excuse to listen.

Serial may not be the end all be all of podcasts, and I get that. But it is mine. I can definitively say that I haven’t been hooked on a podcast since Serial the way that I’m hooked on Up and Vanished. Definitely give it a shot.

Warning: looking at the website for the podcast contains lots of spoilers, so read at your own risk!

An Analysis of Acronyms

Let’s talk about acronyms. We all use them. But what makes them powerful mainstays of language? Here’s my take:

  1. Well, they’re a shortcut. Duh. Less writing. Less typing. Efficiency. Who really wants to type out How I Met Your Mother when you can just say HIMYM? It’s practically in our DNA to take a shortcut. As every grade school kids knows, no one bothers with the United States of America. USA! USA! USA!
  2. They make texting a lot easier given that you’re relying on opposable thumbs for communication. LOL and BRB are way easier to pound out than the whole phrase written out. Amiright?
  3. Because every industry has a million agencies, national organizations, chapters, and set of guidelines, and acronyms streamline the naming of things. I’m a librarian. I get it. We love our inside lingo. We especially love our organizational acronyms.
  4. They give us a sense of being in the know. LOL has become the joke of the acronym world because 1) no, you’re not really laughing out loud when you use it, and 2) your grandma knows what it means. If you don’t watch Game of Thrones, then you have no idea what GoT means. If you don’t spend a bunch of time online, then FWIW and FTW and NSFW have no meaning. If you’re not a librarian, you don’t understand what AASL is. How many times have you seen or heard an acronym and been too afraid to ask what it actually means because everyone else already seems to know it? Yes, I’m talking to you, person who secretly googles acronyms. It also happens that when someone uses an acronym and then proceeds to explain it, you get annoyed if you already know it. Acronyms are insider codes, and we all want to be on the inside.

It’s interesting to me how much grammar, spelling, and punctuation have been used to judge someone. People who care a lot about using proper grammar are dubbed nerds, snobs, elitist. People who are more colloquial and perhaps less obsessive are considered ignorant, uneducated, careless even. Acronyms, grammar, and spelling all have the potential to exclude. Throughout history, groups of people have been prevented from learning how to read and write. This is precisely because people who have knowledge can use it to oppress those who don’t have it. There is power in knowing.

This is a lot to extract from an analysis of acronyms, but IMO this is part of the fascination with and complication of grammar and language. What are your thoughts?

The Total Solar Eclipse Is Coming!

The total solar eclipse is coming!

On August 21, we’ll be able to witness the first solar eclipse totally visible in the United States since 1776. While the majority of the US will only see a partial eclipse, some cities and areas will be able to see the total eclipse, including Nashville, Kansas City, and Charleston, S.C.

NASA has a sweet map that allows you to check the path of the eclipse. Anyone out there in an area getting a total viewing?

Are you ready? Make sure that you have safety glasses to watch the eclipse. Staring directly at the sun during the eclipse can severely burn and damage your eyes. Sunglasses aren’t enough!

Consider doing a little research ahead of time so that you know about the awesomeness you’ll be viewing. Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory has a cool guide.

For more eclipse fun, check your local library. Thousands around the country are hosting viewing parties complete with safety glasses for you to use. Here’s a site where you can find out more about the events.

Of course, Grammatical Art is here to help you celebrate the event in style with these awesome shirts. Choose one with or without the date.

Remember, the solar eclipse isn’t just for science enthusiasts. This is an incredible opportunity to witness something spectacularly unique and exciting!

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I’d put off reading it. I’ve desperately wanted to, but I felt the weight of its contents before I’d even put eyes to page.
Paul Kalanithi has cancer. Horrible, debilitating, quick-acting, stage IV cancer. He’s young. And he dies. This may seem like a spoiler, but you know this going in. He never really gets to fully finish his book. And yet, even knowing this, Kalanithi’s story still feels hopeful, warm, inviting.

A man whose right and left brain halves pulled equally, Kalanithi was and always had been an avid reader and lover of literature. Even though he was a neurosurgeon, he also held a Master of Arts in English literature. Writing this book gave him an opportunity to explore the part of him–the writer–that he hadn’t really ever been able to explore before. Aside from the beautiful writing, it’s the juxtaposition of science and art, faith and atheism, and the vibrancy of life even in death that moves the story forward. From a basic look at his childhood and youth to an examination of the difficulties of his career and his illness, I found the book to be thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Kalanithi’s writing is stunning, of course, but it’s his wife’s epilogue to the book that I carry with me still. She carefully and honestly discusses her husband’s death and talks about their decision to bring a child into the world knowing full well he may never live to see that baby’s first birthday. It’s her perspective on his perspective that really pulls at your heart.

This was a quick read, and I highly recommend it. Make sure you’re sitting with a box of tissues for the ending. Happy reading!

Recapping the 2017 Phoenix Comicon

I’ve read about Cons. I’ve talked to people about their experiences at a Con. I’d never been to a Comicon. Boy, oh boy. Phoenix Comicon did not disappoint.

Grammatical Art has been making appearances at various Cons on the west coast for several years now, but this was my first time attending. As a librarian, I’d attended many large-scale conventions, so I was at least familiar with a crowded convention center, panels, vendor halls, and hustle and bustle. I do have to admit, nothing compares to the costumes at a Con, though!

This year’s Phoenix Comicon wasn’t without it’s drama (I’m looking at you bag full of guns and 2 hour security lines), but it was well worth wading through all of the initial upheaval to get in and explore. The vendor hall was full of everything from books and comic books, to superhero garb, to steampunk jewelry, to awesome grammar- and science-inspired gear and prints. Wink wink. I was so excited by all the awesome costumes and our busy booth that I didn’t even have time to think about all of the celebrities doing signings and photos in the same building!

Natalie & Jess at the Grammatical Art booth!

The absolute best part had to be meeting everyone who stopped by the Grammatical Art booth. Grammar enthusiasts, science lovers, and those with an artist’s eye all stopped by to share a laugh, an eye roll, or to debate the finer points of the Oxford comma (as if there’s even a debate!). It was a joy and pleasure to meet all of you! Natalie does beautiful work, and I loved having an opportunity to appreciate it with you.

Here’s to the next Con!

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Summer is coming. Most people start thinking about swimwear and their beach bodies, but I’m over here like, What awesome books am I going to read this summer? To me, a summer book is a specific type of book. I imagine myself sprawled out on a beach towel, or lying on the couch at night while a lazy, hot breeze works its way through the house, or frantically trying to read a few pages while my kid is tearing something somewhere apart. I like a book that’s easy. Something that moves along at a clip, nothing that requires too much thinking. Some escapism, maybe.

Enter this fun little piece of pulp fiction: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. Now, I want to be up front with you. This book is not winning the Man Booker Prize. It’s not even the best writing. But, boy oh boy, did it sickly drag me in and keep me reading.

The description for the novel teases that this is a story about the perfect couple that isn’t quite as oh-so-perfect as they seem. True enough. Jack is a handsome lawyer, and his wife, Grace, is pretty and put together. Blah blah blah. You’ve read that beginning a thousand times. But Behind Closed Doors really takes you down a deep, dark spiral.

The book bounces back and forth between the past and the present until the two eventually meet at the end. It’s hard to tell you much about the plot line without giving away some major spoilers, so I’ll say this. The women in this book are pretty awesome. Grace’s sister, Millie, has a bit of a starring role in the women’s successes, and I appreciated that the character with Down Syndrome wasn’t portrayed as incapable or less than. Grace and Jack’s neighbor, Esther, is a sharp wit, too, whose place in the last chapter really surprised me. Even Grace herself (who may drive you nuts sometimes) gets it together and finds her strength.

What I liked about this book is that it read very quickly. There’s a lot of dialogue and action. It’s pulpy; it’s digestible; you’re both horrified and desperate to keep reading at the same time. The deepness and darkness wasn’t the obvious that I had expected. At a certain point, I was able to predict what was happening, but it didn’t bother me. The book is fun and breezy. The perfect read for toes in the sand and wind in the hair.

P.S. The audiobook is great, too! Excellent reader. Good for a summer road trip, perhaps?

Happy Reading!

A Time and a Place for Everything, Even Incorrect Grammar

I used to think Siri on my iPhone was sort of lame. I would occasionally ask her about the weather or to set a timer for me, but she didn’t really change my life. I was young; I slept through the night; I didn’t have a kid.

But now, I have a kid, which means I have only 2 hands and a thousand things to be holding, wiping, sorting, carrying, managing, collecting, and hugging. Siri has become invaluable to me. I text people while I’m buckling my son in his car seat! I ask her to look up how many tablespoons are in a cup while I’m rinsing a can of beans and holding my toddler. I talk to Siri all day long, and with some slight misunderstandings, she’s generally very helpful.

As if using Siri isn’t already the ultimate lazy/multitasking tool, I’ve found myself getting even lazier. I don’t really always double check the texts I ask her to send for their grammar and spelling. When I’m not using Siri, but I am using voice-to-text, I check those even less often. At least Siri will read my text back to me and can edit it without my having to lift a finger. Bottom line: the punctuation is always atrocious.

I’ve started to wonder if all this Siri, Google, voice-to-text stuff is going to permanently affect what is acceptable grammar and punctuation in our written society. Personally, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading texts that come to me from people using those features–lots of autocorrect, incorrect punctuation. It makes it a little harder to understand, but it’s not a full on communication breakdown by any means.

And then I wonder, honestly, who cares? Before you gasp and clutch your pearls, hear me out. I love grammar. I work for grammar. I believe that proper grammar and punctuation are very, very important. But part of what I love about language is that it is constantly evolving. We’re constantly inventing things that need names, creating new words out of conversations. We’re an ever-evolving species and our language reflects that. So, I’m not going to sweat the small stuff in a text message. It’s a matter of conversation and convenience. I wouldn’t by lazy about it in the workplace, and certainly not in a space like this blog. It’s the same way that I don’t mind a swear word or forty among friends, but wouldn’t do it while I’m giving a press conference live on TV. You see where I’m going with this? There’s a time and place for everything. Even though my heart will always fully belong to proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling.

Thank a Teacher

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week! In honor of all of you who shape and mold young minds, I started thinking back on all of the teachers and mentors I’ve had in my life. Everyone has stories that immediately come to mind when they think about their education, which just goes to show how powerful teachers are.

It all starts in preschool, right? That was the year of accidents. My teachers wiped up my busted nose after I tripped on my own two feet crossing uneven pavement on a field trip. They comforted us when Kelly slipped off the monkey bars and broke her arm. As it is for many kids, preschool was my first introduction into formal education, and they helped orient me to the world of learning that was still to come.

I loved my kindergarten teacher so much that I once called her, “Mom” and then died of embarrassment. Enough said.

I had a fifth grade teacher who taught us about the stock market. We even broke up into teams and “played,” buying and selling shares based on the actual daily market fluctuations. My fifth grade understanding of the stock market is still my current level of actual trading knowledge.

In high school I had a slew of incredible teachers–my US History teacher was just about the best teacher I’ve had period. His class was so incredibly difficult, and he never let up. All of his students rose to his challenges. He made us tough, dedicated learners.

In college, I think I’d simply list every professor I had. Every single writing and English professor I took a class with carved a new mind out of my original one. I’m forever different because of the teachers and people they are.

I never saw any of these people up close, really. It wasn’t until I married a teacher that I saw behind the scenes just how dedicated, generous, and passionate these people are about their work, schools, students. My husband is, of course, my favorite teacher of all, and seeing him with his students, knowing what he does at home to support their lives and education, gives me a deeper appreciation for the work of the teachers who shaped my life.

“Thank you” seems inadequate to say to all of these people who take on such important work and give so much, but here it is. A thank you from Grammatical Art to all educators. “What we learn becomes part of who we are.” –Kathy R. Jeffords

Reflecting a Positive Self-Image

As a mom, I think a lot about what my kid is going to be like when he grows up. Right now, he’s pint-sized, not just because he’s a toddler, but because he’s short and skinny, on the bottom of all of the growth charts. So I wonder, Will he be the shortest kid in his class his whole life? Will he get picked on for being little? Will he be judged based on his size for the rest of his life? These are silly things to worry about, but hey, there’s something wrong with this mom if she’s not worrying.

What’s more, I think a lot about the type of human I want my son to be as he grows. Looks are only superficial, and there isn’t much I can do for him except make sure I don’t give him a horrible hair cut. I really want him to be bold, empathetic, generous, hilarious, and motivated.

Every time I go shopping for clothes for this little guy, I’m bombarded with “shirts with sayings.” I swore I’d never put him in something that says, “Ladies’ Man” or “Future Heartbreaker,” and I haven’t. The truth is, it’s even worse for parents of girls. The emphasis on appearance and the over-sexualization starts pretty young these days. That’s why I’m in love with our collection of gold foil tees. They’re emblazoned with the best kind of words to describe the type of person I want my little human to be: strong, kind, powerful, funny, smart, and brave. They also, incidentally, describe the woman I strive to be (thank goodness they’re available in adult sizes, too!). Imagine the effect it has on a child’s self-image to see the word “strong” or “brave” reflected back on them in the mirror. Imagine the effect it would have on you.

strong chart