Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Grammatical Art!

Or should we say “Happy Hallowe’en?” Ever wonder where that seemingly random apostrophe in some spellings of Hallowe’en came from? Hallowe’en, or All Hallows’ Evening, was traditionally celebrated the night before All Hallows’ Day, a Western Christian holiday honoring the dead. (It’s much more complicated than that, but we’re not going to get into the whole Judeo-Christian-pagan connection here. If you want to know more, Google is your friend).

All Hallows’ Evening was shortened to All Hallows’ Even, which was eventually contracted into Hallowe’en, with the apostrophe taking the place of the ‘v’ in Even. This was pretty common practice in English writing in the past; you’ll find e’ens all over old English poetry and prose. The apostrophe has been dropped from modern spellings, but traditionalists still take up the banner in defense of grammar. We can’t really blame them.

Enjoy the holiday, everyone!

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!

Two Years Ago…

Two years ago, our lives changed forever. That’s when my daughter received her autism diagnosis. We finally had the answers to many questions we had, but honestly, there are even more questions I don’t know that we’ll ever have answers to.

I am not a “winging it” type of person. I like plans; I like having backups for those plans. What I like even more is having a backup to that backup. Autism parenting kind of throws that out of the window. Sure, I can make some plans like where she’s going to school and which doctor she’s going to see, but beyond that? Nope.

People ask me questions like:
“Will she ever talk ‘normal?’”
“Will she be able to go to regular school?”
“What caused her autism?”
“Will she ever live on her own?”

The answers to all of those questions are, “I have no idea.” That’s a hard reality to face at times, not knowing why your child is that way or if she will ever lead a self-sufficient life, but what I’ve come to learn is that it’s okay to not know the answers to these questions. I absolutely hope to find out answers to some of these questions, like what causes autism, but for now, we know a new “normal.” My normal may not look similar to 99.8% of the population–heck, it may not look like the normal to other autism families, either–but this is now our lives and that’s okay. It involves a lot of unknowns. It also involves a lot of hard work, but there’s a whole lot of love. There’s love from all directions: her family, her teachers, her therapists, her support staff, all of our friends.

We don’t know what the future holds for my daughter, but we are now surrounded by a massive team that will help us figure that out as we go.

To do my part, I am selling tees where 100% of the proceeds go to the amazing school she attends. It’s an amazing place that we are fortunate to have found and I’m unbelievably happy to have it be a part of our new “normal.”

This year’s designs can be found here:

The Liberal Arts Years: Have You Met Jess?

Have you met Jess? If you haven’t, you should. Let me tell you about how I met Jess, because it’s actually an important part of why Grammatical Art is what it is today.

Jess and I met back in 2003 when we were undergraduates together at small liberal arts college in Ohio. I am pretty sure we met in band—I know, it’s hard to believe that we were also band nerds. I couldn’t tell you about our first interaction because I am notoriously bad at remembering details like that, but this is how a chemist and a librarian came to run your favorite nerdy business.

While it seems odd to have studied chemistry and physics at a liberal arts college, I was very fortunate to have done so. I was forced to read, write, and to present topics in and outside of my core disciplines. I had to do more than balance chemical equations and determine the probability of finding an electron in a p orbital; I had to step way outside of my comfort zone by taking humanities courses. Here, I got to meet people like Jess who could help me write my lab reports in ways that non-scientists could actually understand them. I not only learned about physical sciences, but I learned about other subject fields I wouldn’t have otherwise studied and interacted with people I wouldn’t have normally. I think this is where I finally discovered my love of language. This love would eventually help me to become who I am today and would lead me to running the business that I do.

I was a bench chemist who was looking for a creative outlet and found it in Grammatical Art. I started by creating a few designs out of grammar pet peeves and, unexpectedly, people started buying them. Now I am here, sitting in my home office, surrounded by silk screens and blank shirts, telling all of you how this small grammatical empire came to be.

I had no idea what I was going to be when I grew up, but I surely wouldn’t have told you I was going to be a screen printing chemist mom. This isn’t the path I would’ve necessarily chosen for myself in elementary school, or any other grade for that matter, but I am very fortunate to have my successful career and business, and I do believe it is mostly due to my liberal arts education. I was able to grow into things there I couldn’t have imagined, and formed friendships with super cool people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met.

Here Jess and I are, after 14 years of friendship and growth, working on this nerdy business, putting our liberal arts degrees to work in ways we never would have thought possible.

While some people may be confused by my BA in chemistry, I am proud of it. Had I not done it in this way, I never would have met Jess and Grammatical Art may have never been.

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!