Friday, June 14, 2013

Don't Tell Them, But My Students Were Right

Last weekend, my sister Patti and I drove St. Patsy to Gettysburg so that she could spend a month with her remaining sister and my favourite aunt, Shirley.  She and her husband (my Uncle Dick) are former English teachers and avid history buffs, as is my sister.  So...I was pretty much in heaven.  We crammed as much Gettysburg Battle Lore into 36 hours as was humanly possible, leaving time for family stuff as well.

One evening, after a narrated tour of the Battlefield and a long-awaited, up-close viewing of the life-size bronze monument of General Longstreet, we drove to my cousin's home for a cookout.  (No, I did not eat outdoors.  Don't be ridiculous.  And my cousin did a very sensible thing that I must mention:  he had a large oscillating fan out on his deck.  Not only did it provide cool air from the woods behind, but it kept bugs away.  Marvelously smart, that.)  As we sat around talking, I was immediately reminded of something my students used to tease me about.

You see, throughout my teaching career, my students used to swear that, because I was so enraptured with literature and constantly stringent with grammar and spelling, my idea of fun would be to sit around and talk about books and pick apart sentences and grammatical errors.  To discuss symbolism in film and literature; to argue whether a character's dialogue was true; to discover themes in what we've read and seen.  I used to fix them with an icy stare and simply move on.

At the big family table, my sister, my aunt, my cousin Mark (a former radio personality, writer, and journalist), and I immediately started talking about books.  There is a new Lincoln book out, and Aunt Shirley wants me to read it.  I want her to go and see the new Gatsby film.  Patti had read a critical analysis of Gatsby and was rereading the book before she saw the film.  And then we were off.  Pretty soon, we went from there to everyday errors that irritate us:  further vs. farther, irregardless (aargh!), it's vs. its, and so many more.  It was absolutely wonderful.  My students, of course, were right.  There is nothing I love talking about more than books and The Language.  And there is almost nothing I like more than the company of other English teachers.  Or English-y people.  Even when we don't agree--Mark reads a lot of fiction, and you know how I feel about that--I find their company stimulating and engaging.

At one point, my aunt mentioned her church group, the name of which tickled me.  She is Episcopalian, and her group calls itself the Episco-Pals.  You know, pals, as in friends.  I got a charge out of that.  I was informed that when a committee was organized for some project, they called themselves the Episco-Planners.  "That's wonderful!" I exclaimed.  "You can form a study group for the works of Edgar Allan Poe and call yourselves the Episco-Poes!  Virtually anything that begins with P, really, can be EpiscoPized."  It's true, you know.  They can be the Episco-Painters, Episco-Pilots, and they can use their Episco-Power to stamp out Episco-Porn.

Okay, so, maybe not that last example.  But it's fun to play with The Language, isn't it?  I know that's not so just for those of us who used to teach it or write it for a living.  It's a very satisfying contrast for me, to revere The Language in the gorgeous prose of Fitzgerald's Gatsby, in the speeches of Lincoln, and in the clean beauty of Whitman's poetry, but also to be able to tease it and twist it like the EpiscoPuns, slang, and creative neologisms that arise from every niche of our world. 


  1. You had me at Episco-Porn.

    I have friends like that...friends that I just get a charge out of...SO much energy and fun. And smart. It wouldn't be nearly as much fun if they weren't so literary.

    And Nance, I'm not sure how to tell you this...Gatsby is fiction. Take a moment to breathe that one in.

  2. Love that you got to spend time with family in such a fun and invigorating way! :-) I knew someone would point out that The Great Gatsby is fiction. LOL And there's Poe's writing, too, of course. Of course, we know that you don't detest all fiction, just a lot of it, especially contemporary fiction, right? ;-)


  3. I'd have been in seventh-heaven, too, and I'm not a former teacher!

  4. phoebes in santa fe--Terrific! No wonder you hang around here. And the food was good at the party, too. What could be better?

    Shirley gfe--LOL. It seems I have a lot to learn about writing yet. I should have qualified my statement to mean "contemporary fiction"; you are right. Oh, bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say (another fictional hero of mine who would NOT fall under my disdain).'t you love hanging out with Smarties? It's such a Brain Goose. Sometimes, parties and "get-togethers" are a huge waste of time and such a bore, full of small talk and dull rehashes of family stories. I would much rather learn something and ignite new discussion and interests.

    And...SIGH. I know, of course, that Gatsby is fiction. And so is The Catcher in the Rye, another of my all-time faves, and all those wonderful Victorian novels that I adore. The Golden Days of Fiction are so over, I fear. As Shirley above identified, I am largely disappointed by contemporary fiction. It just cannot sustain me. I keep trying here and there, though.

  5. Brideshead Revisited. That is all.

  6. Since it was a hot day, you could have cooled off with Episco-pops. Canine friends of the group are, of course, Episco-pups. To get theological, members of the congregation who are more conservative can be Episco-Puritans, while the high-church contingent are Episco-Papists.

    I love being silly.

    One of the courses I teach is about historically based movies. I make the point to my students that however faithfully a filmaker cleaves to historical truth, the movie is essentially a work of fiction, and imagination takes hold of the process, and the audience. So, I love history, and I love movies, and reconciling them is (I hope) where the learning and the fun comes in.

  7. Wish I had been there! It does sound like heaven.

    Found myself raging at "quite unique" last evening. On the CBC yet.

  8. Mary G--At least it was not the egregious "most unique." Count your blessings. ;-)

    fauxprof--Are you, by chance, an EpiscoProf? If my aunt's group decides to go in for drama, they can be the EpiscoPlayers. Sigh. I, too, love being silly and cannot let something go until it becomes thisclose to annoying.

    Your point about history-based films reminds me of something my former colleague once said. He said that he's always much happier viewing a film adaptation of a book if he sees it as something separate from the book. He looks at it as someone else's vision of the story, as a different point of view. That way, he isn't disappointed, only intrigued. I've always found that helpful. With that in mind, I can see omissions or additions as artistic choices, not carnage.

    MsCaroline--Well alrighty then.

  9. Hey, I'M an Episcopalian! I tried to come up with a cute play on the word, but the only thing that seemed to fit was EpiscoPachyderm (because I'm all old-school & don't want these whippersnappers to be messing with my liturgy!). And that just amazes the heck out of me because I used to hate liturgy. (I seem to have meandered off topic here...)

    I'd love to have been there to listen in on your conversation. I probably wouldn't have much to contribute because I haven't watched a movie in a while and I am a lover of the fluffy book (well, I'm not sure you can really call murder mysteries fluffy). I also love a good action adventure movie (Die Hard, anyone?). The word "escapist" comes to mind - ha!


  10. Nance,

    Don't go getting any ideas about placing a large oscillating fan on your deck.

    That would be very dangerous at the home of a man who jumps out of the shower in the altogether to dispose of a mouse in the trash can that you keep on the deck.

    Please,just give it some thought before you head to Lowes......

  11. Nancy--In the summer, the trash cans are in the garage. Raccoons, you know. LOL. Did I ever tell you the one about Rick lying on the deck in his boxers, shooting at crows in the pines behind the house? Or about the skunk that surprised him one night when Rick was out in his undies to see what all the noise was beside the garage? Sigh. He's a blogpost in himself.

    Bug--My aunt just emailed me to remind me of the bicycle group--the Episcopedlars. Or was it the rummage sale group, the Episcopeddlers? I forget. LOL.

    Go to the movies! Do what Rick and I used to do Back In The Day--roll your change and splurge. (ProTip: dive into the furniture cushions and car seats.)

  12. **Oh, holy hell.** Did I really lapse so badly as to type that up there? Of course, it should be
    EpiscoPedalers. Sigh. I can't even claim it was a typo. Just a Menopause Moment, I guess.

  13. I am a proud fiction reader over here, and I refuse to be shamed!

    Don't you wish we could bring back the idea of the Salon?

    I totally want to see some EpiscoPorn. You know, being a former Catholic and all.

  14. Gina--Oh my. Don't mistake my own sadness regarding Contemporary Fiction for shaming those who love it. My big issue is self-created. After having taught creative writing for eleventy hundred years, I find I cannot read it without being uber-conscious of its construction. I'm continuously keeping a dialogue, i.e."Nice exposition; why is this character doing this? She would never have gone here. This characterization could have been done in dialogue much more seamlessly," etc. It's terrible, but I can't seem to stop grading and commenting when I read contemporary fiction UNLESS IT'S SO DAMN GOOD THAT I GET LOST IN IT AND FORGET TO DO IT. Sadly, I find very little contemporary fiction that fits that bill.

    In short, it's not you, it's me.

    And YES, I love the idea of the Salon. Things were so much more refined and cosmopolitan in polite society back then. Maybe it was the clothing. ;-)

  15. Ah, to have been at your family dinner table! (Episco-Latecomer, signing in.)

    One of my best buddies in Madrid is a bilingual English-Spanish speaker, and we had such fun discussing things and "playing with the language." One of our favorite games was to literally translate from one language to the other, which, when going from Spanish into English, led to statements such as "It gives pleasure to circulate at these hours of the day." Which meant it was nice to drive at (whatever time of day it was.) Another one I loved was "(John) doesn't fall well on me" which is literally how one would say that I didn't take too well to Juanito. :-)

  16. Ortizzle--Circulating Cleveland at rush hour did not fall well on me last week when I visited the art museum, let me tell you! LOL.

    That sounds like a lot of fun. Translation must be a tricky business. Jared used to give it a shot line by line in the backseat of the car on trips every once in a while. We would be listening to a CD and he'd helpfully provide the next line in Spanish for us. More like Spanglish, really, because he couldn't always think quickly of all of the words. My fave was when he tried to translate Boy George's "The Crying Game", or should I say, "El Partido de Crying". Hee hee.

  17. As a former student who imagined these exact things about you and others, this blogpost makes me very happy! <3

  18. aboveparallel--LOL. I'm so glad. It's true, you know. You should have heard Sue and me at Chinese dinner, talking about books and character motivation and all that stuff. Wonderful! Hey, I miss you around here. Why don't you click my email link at the sidebar and tell me how you're doing? Maybe we can get together and you can fill me in at length?

  19. I wish I had a group like that. I love discussing books and history.

    But I really loved the cartoon. I am personally responsible for Jarlsburg Lite Cheese changing their packaging text from "50% less calories" to "50% fewer calories." (Of course others may have brought it to the company's attention, but I like to think I initiated the correction singlehandedly.) I've sent a couple of messages to Walmart about the same issue. I should be an honorary member of the grammar police.

  20. CJ--Good for you! That particular error, the fewer vs. less, is my cousin Mark's personal bugaboo.

    This post is a Golden Oldie! You must be browsing the Archives. Thanks for that.


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