STEP AWAY FROM THE APOSTROPHE

Listen, I get it. The holiday season is a busy time. There are relatives. There is food. There are various and sundry school and work festivities you’re obliged to take part in. You have to buy gifts (from your favorite online shop, probably) and you have to practice your “Oh this is such a great gift!” face for when someone gets you a truly heinous thing that no one in their right mind would ever pay actual money for. It’s a hectic time of year. I get it.

However:

THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE YOU FROM APOSTROPHE ABUSE IN YOUR HOLIDAY CARDS.

There. I said it. STEP AWAY FROM THE APOSTROPHE.

Since I know you’re busy and you don’t have time to Google the rules for making names plural, I have taken pity upon you and created a little guide. I know, I’m amazing. You’re welcome.

  • Do NOT use an apostrophe. I know you want to. I know it’s right there, just waiting to be the hook that you hang that s onto, but resist. You can do it. Back away.
  • If your name ends in any letter other than s, x, z, ch, or sh, just slap that s right on there. Bam! Done.
  • If your name ends in s, x, z, ch, or sh, add an es (e.g., Rodriguezes, Joneses). I know it looks weird. Get over it.

Whew! People. It’s that simple. You can do it. We believe in you.

And if you need a quick reminder, or if you can’t quite get this concept across to a loved one, we have the perfect gift.

Order by December 15th to get it by Christmas!

 

 

Your 2017 End-of-Year Book Review

If you’re anything like me, you started out 2017 with grand plans for reading All the Books, perhaps also keeping a reading journal where you would write out some brilliant thoughts about All the Books. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, 2017 took a hard right turn somewhere and all of your lovely reading, and thinking about reading, plans went right down the crapper. I read 33 books last year, according to my Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year I thought I could read 35 with no problem. It’s just two more books. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer: 2017. The year 2017 went wrong.

It is November 28th and I have read 15 books so far. Fifteen! It’s hard for my brain to even comprehend this. Probably because I only read 15 books and my brain has gotten slow and flabby.

If you find yourself in the same predicament and you just can’t decide what to read next, fear not. I am here to present you with a quick review of All 15 (sigh) Books Amberly Managed to Read in 11 Months. Click on the book titles to go to their respective Goodreads pages for more info. Happy browsing!

1.) Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner by Franny Moyle

Wow, I was really hoping to ease you guys into the depths of my nerdiness. Alas. This is the first book I read in 2017, so, here we go. I highly recommend this book if you love J.M.W. Turner paintings. He was an interesting and complicated person and later in life he kind of just started to do his own thing and it’s fascinating. If you don’t like J.M.W. Turner paintings, or if you have never heard of him (Google him, for the love of everything) then I don’t know what to do with you.

2. & 3.)The Name of the Wind  and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I’m doing these together because they’re books one and two of the Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss. Book three has yet to be written, so if you’re the kind of person who needs to know how things end RIGHT NOW, I recommend waiting until the third book comes out, which, spoiler alert, may be never (although there is a TV adaptation in the works). If you’re not that kind of person, these are some fantastic fantasy novels with all of the fantasy staples: poor kid who doesn’t know he’s destined for greatness, magic, bad guys, faeries, lutes, etc.

4.) The View from the Cheap Seats: A Collection of Introductions, Essays, and Assorted Writings by Neil Gaiman

Well, that pretty much sums it up. If you love Neil Gaiman, you will probably love this book. He has Wise Things to Say about Life, Writing, and Whatnot.

5.) Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

A retelling of classic Norse mythology. It’s good on its own, but I found the experience slightly enhanced by casting a Hemsworth brother (honestly, does it matter which one?) and Tom Hiddleston as Thor and Loki in my head.

6.) The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Although this book also takes place within the same story of The Name of the Wind  and The Wise Man’s Fear, it’s a small book that explores the life of a side character, so it’s not technically part of the series. It’s not necessary to read it in order to understand the main books, but it’s still beautifully done and will hold you over for an hour or so whilst we wait patiently for Mr. Rothfuss to finish the third book…

7.) Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Are you sensing a pattern here? This is a straight-up fairy tale told Neil Gaiman-style. It’s a fun, fast read that would be perfect if you’re trying to beef up your Reading Challenge numbers quickly.

8.) The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

I swear I have no idea what possesses me to pick these kinds of books up. I can think of exactly one other person I know who would enjoy this book. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a plodding English family drama with bits of salacious sex that never actually appear on the page, but drive the entire plot, then this is your jam. Warning: Contains lots of Old White Men doing idiot things to the detriment of most.

9.) The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

This trilogy usually appears bound together as one volume, so I think it only counts as one book. The three books are loosely related to each other and are a little weird and completely brilliant and I had a ton of fun reading them. They’re about people in New York City, but they are not at all conventional or beholden to your preconceptions. You’ve been warned.

10.) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I picked this up because J.D. Vance is a hometown boy and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the 2016 election. I’ll keep my opinions on the conclusions he draws to myself. The book is well written and I think it portrays the places I grew up with a degree of fairness.

11.) Villette by Charlotte Brontë

If you’ve read Jane Eyre and you’re not on a “I must read everything Charlotte Brontë ever wrote” kick, then I would suggest passing this one up. It’s basically a lesser version of Jane Eyre and there is a lot of French dialogue that isn’t translated (at least not in the copy I have) so you’ll spend a lot of time typing things into Google Translate. Unless you read French, of course, in which case, you know. Good for you.

12.) Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings by Italo Calvino

If you’re not into Italo Calvino or his writing (sort of magical realism), then you can probably skip this book, too. If you do like his writing, it’s an interesting look into his writing processes and his life generally.

13.) The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

I cannot recommend Michael Chabon enough. This is the second book I’ve read of his (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was the first) and each time I marveled at his ability to nail down humans being human. And he does it with wit and gorgeous writing. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is an alternative history exploration with a murder mystery, social commentary, a bit of a love story, and some good old fashion noir.

14.) Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Who has two thumbs and kept Neil Gaiman in expensive notebooks this year? This girl.

This is the first of the Sandman comics, though I think it wasn’t originally published in that order. It’s brilliant, just like all of the other stuff he does.

15.) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This book is a subtle punch to the gut. Arundhati Roy has an uncanny ability to sneak the most life-altering, horrifying experiences into prose and then weave in the repercussions in such a way that you don’t realize you’re dead until you’re a ghost standing over your own corpse like “What just happened here?” This book won the Booker Prize in 1995 and no wonder.

Bonus Books

Just in case those weren’t enough to whet your bookish appetite, I’m currently reading:

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, a fascinating look at the science of ornithology and how studying the way bird brains work could help us understand ourselves;

and

The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliet Baker, the most in-depth biography of the entire Brontë family available. I hope.

Hello, My Name Is…

Not Slim Shady, sadly. Or maybe, thankfully. Either way, my actual name is Amberly and I will be your friendly neighborhood blogger at Grammatical Art for the foreseeable future.

Hello!

A Brief History of, Well, Me

I’m originally from Ohio. I went to undergrad at the same illustrious institution that the two amazing Women of Grammatical Art attended, received my bachelor of arts in English with a creative writing emphasis, did some random stuff for a year or two and then moved to Baltimore to pursue an MFA in creative writing and publishing arts. After that, I worked in medical publishing for about four years, then moved back to Ohio to be closer to my family. Currently my day job consists of comparing one document against another document in the hope that I catch all of the errors before the first document goes out in the market. It’s all very exciting.

In my free time I read, write, watch movies, plan world domination, go to the gym, and volunteer. I drink more coffee than is probably wise.

What I Shall Be Blogging About

Books, grammar, science, coffee, movies about books, grammar, science, or coffee, how I will never forgive Linda or Paul McCartney for the line “…world/in which we live in.” That type of stuff.

What I Hope You’ll Gain from Said Blogging

A laugh, some knowledge, and a small but nagging irritation whenever you hear “Live and Let Die.”

See you around!

Past vs. Passed: A Grammar Queen’s Confession

I am a self-proclaimed Grammar Queen. I’ve been told by numerous people that I care too much about the Oxford comma. I’ve been known to end relationships before they’ve started because he texted “your welcome.” I rule my grammar queendom with an iron fist. However …

I STILL don’t know the difference between past and passed. There. I said it. Did I just walk past something? Or have I gone passed the point of no return? I couldn’t tell you. I know that the past already happened. But if you’ve passed something, it’s in the past. So did you go past it, or passed it? I get so caught up in this circle, talking myself into and back out of choosing one over the other that I end up rewriting the sentence so I don’t have to use either one. Sound familiar? I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed to admit that my Grammar Queen crown perhaps has one or two scuff marks.

It turns out I’m not alone. The English language is huge and complicated and has taken on so many different parts of other languages over the years that it’s frankly amazing that anyone gets it right. (Speaking of which, check out this doozy of a mistake on bbc.com. It threw me off so badly I couldn’t finish the article. Now I’ll never know where that stupid gold wound up.) We all make mistakes, and while sometimes all it will cost you is a date with me (you should be so lucky), another time it could be a multi-million dollar settlement on the line (I wasn’t kidding about that Oxford comma, y’all) or cost you a promotion.

So, while some people may be able to look passed your grammar foibles, others will not be able to get passed it, and you may find your position as Grammar Queen a thing of the past. (Did I do it right?)

While you’re here, check out our merch! You might find just the thing you need to reclaim your Grammar Queen crown.

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?