Search This Blog

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It’s vs. Its

Its are a drag, aren’t they? At least for me, the use of an apostrophe between the word “it” and the “s” has always caused me problems. I mean, I get the contraction for “it is”; the apostrophe simply replaces the “i” in is. But in the case of the possessive, I always want to use an apostrophe there a well. Microsoft’s grammar check won’t allow it. Frustrated by blue line that Microsoft uses to draw attention to my mistake, I give in to the rule of technology and remove the apostrophe because I want the blue line to go away, not because I understand its reasoning.
But now I get it and it is so simple that I thought that if any of my readers ever struggle with this, you should be let in on the learning trick that worked for me.

The other day when I was web-surfing to find some fun ways to present grammar points for my students, I came across a blog with a post full of grammar tips. (I am so sorry that I didn’t bookmark that site and can’t find my way back to it now…). The author explained that when “it” owns something, just exchange the “it” with a different pronoun: his (note that “hers” works just as well).

Let’s look at a sentence I already used in this post: “… not because I understand its reasoning…” “It” is the owner of the reasoning, so it makes sense to me to use an apostrophe like you would if “it” had a name, i.e., Kathy’s reasoning. But “it” doesn’t have a name; it’s a pronoun! (Note the apostrophe I just used – that’s because in that case, “it” is a pronoun.) So it was like saying … her reasoning


So here’s the trick: just add a gender to any “it” and try out the pronoun for that gender; it becomes clear then that the apostrophe does not belong there: i.e., her reasoning; his reasoning.

All the technical grammar jargon used to explain these things in formal education assumes that we are all interested in why; we aren’t. Some of us just want to know usable tricks that help us remember how to get it right. This one worked for me and I hope it helps you, too. It’s simple! (Note the apostrophe = it is simple!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Lover of Words

picture source:

I have never thought of myself as a lover of words because 1) I am not a very good reader; and 2) I really don’t like grammar. OK – I hate grammar. But now that I am once again teaching English to speakers of other languages, I find myself energized and excited by the cacophony of sounds that surround me all day long and the association of those sounds to words. Yes, I do love sounds and I love the process of those sounds transforming into visions, solitary images that move into new images and the words that come to mind as a result. These images deserve description – some descriptions are provided by movement and others by words.

Words! Yes, words come alive when you hear them and produce them in the midst of diverse colors, mixed backgrounds, and the freshness of new understandings. I find myself hearing old words with brand new ears. I search regularly for new ways to express simple concepts.

And I play. I play with words in my head as the sounds I hear in my environment make me aware of nuances that distinguish both similarities and differences among sounds.

English vowels, for example, which I have taken for granted for so long, now rise to the forefront of my consciousness as I teach the pronunciation of cut, cot, cap, and “ket”   - as in kettle, but my students hear them all as the same. Ending consonants also have their time in the spotlight with words like buy, bite, and bike – can’t you hear the differences in each of these words? Non-native English speakers generally cannot.

Word association runs rampant as I try to learn students’ names. Elham is the name of a young Saudi woman. She is tall and slender, completely covered but her face is exposed, an angular face with lots of sharp points, soft olive-colored skin and dark eyes. I cannot doubt that she is s direct descendant of Abraham as in the father of the Abrahamic religions. 

Abraham? Yes! She also looks like she could be a descendant of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln. There is the “L” and “ham” is the end of Abraham – both Abrahams. Elham. I will never forget her name. Another student, a young man from Thailand with a round face dominated by a big man beard and a persistent smile that shows his teeth is named Wichok: Wee-choke. Wee-choke choke. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Now that’s funny. And hairy. Wichok. I will never forget his name either.

These thoughts are the collaboration of all my knowledge and life experiences colliding with foreign sounds that are strangely not foreign at all. The Arabic sounds are guttural and seem spring forth from somewhere behind the collar bone; Chinese sounds make me feel as if I am wearing a cape made of multimedia wind chimes; the Turkish sounds are rolling like percussion in my blood; the Korean sounds are like Japanese sounds backwards and upside down. All the sounds dance inside me arousing English words that make me want to sing. OK. So I am a lover of words after all! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stuff Happens

It has been my intent to post on this blog at least twice a week. I’ve done fairly well for the past year, but it had been 8 days between my last 2 posts. Stuff happens.
 picture credit:

You see, the night after my November 5 post, I was attacked, whipped, and totally consumed by a violent monster: the stomach flu. I can now say that I know what it is to be demonically possessed.

Two days later, my 91-year-old mother got it, and two days after her defeat, my 17-year-old son got it. I went back to work on day 3 after my bout with the bug, but between overwhelming fatigue, the extra work I had to do to catch up, and the additional care-giving demands at home, I had nothing left in me to give to the writing call. Even if I had had posts already written, I didn’t’ have the mental energy to open the computer and click on the “publish” button.
 image credit:         

My point is this: stuff happens that gets in the way of the pursuit of passions. We have to deal with it. But we also have to recover.

Recovery means no lamenting over lost time, no negative self-talk, and no succumbing to inactivity.
Creative thinking and production do not happen when I am sick, but the stories do not die. When health returns, we have to hone in on the sleeping stories and welcome them back into our conscious thinking. We have to honor those stories that flow in our blood and at least promise them our attention soon

My spiral notebook sits under my left elbow as I grade papers and prepare for the end of this semester with most of my brain and the activity of my right hand. Images, events, and descriptions that pop into my head as I work on the day-job work all get jotted down as they present themselves so that I can meet the demands and deadlines of my day-job while still paying homage to the pulsating passions that feed my soul.

This is just the strategy that currently works for me. If it is helpful to my readers, then go for it – give it a try.

Stuff happens. That is a fact of life. It is also a fact that we have to deal with it. Just make sure that when you deal with your STUFF, you continue to honor the STUFF that MATTERS!

Write on!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is it Good Enough?

image from

One of the problems that often hinders the work of creative people is perfectionism. Because of high (and usually unrealistic) self-expectations, we either don’t get started, or never finish. How many times have you shared a piece of work with friends, family, colleagues, or even harsh critics and, despite resounding praise and approval, put the work away never to show it again?

Not yet, we say to ourselves; it’s just not good enough.

Besides, perfectionists can’t be satisfied with “good enough” – we aim for the stars and anything less than that is absolutely NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!

Good enough?
Hogwash! That’s an insult to the mysterious and all-powerful muse! We’d rather die than merely be “good enough”.

And so we wallow around in the manic spurts of exhilarating production dissipated by abusive self-ranting. When the tides come and go rapidly, it’s exhausting; when they slow, it’s simply a life defined by manic depression.

 And that sucks.

I can’t say I’ve overcome the curse of perfectionism, but during one of my seasons of psycho-therapy, I gained a useful tool: it’s good enough.

No, really! This is a great tool! Don’t stop reading yet – give me a chance to explain.

“Good enough” is BETTER than nothing, and while we are waiting for perfection (in other words, beating ourselves up at every step that leads to perfection ), we create NOTHING.

Now let me tell you, if you want cause for punishment, it’s NOTHING.  You want to feel lousy about yourself? Try this one: I’m a creator who creates NOTHING.

Now, that’s shameful.

Roll that thought around in your head until it becomes your own. Swallow it so that you really get it in the depths of your being. Go ahead, think about it some more. When you own it, you can get to step 2.

Step 2: get started. Do what you can. Do the best you can do today even though that best isn’t anywhere near the best you believe you can do on some other, far-away fictitious day. Then say to yourself, “it’s good enough.”

Now, believe it.

Here’s a grain of truth: “Good enough” really is GOOD ENOUGH, and that is faaaaaar better than nothing.

What have you created today – GOOD ENOUGH, or NOTHING?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spell, Caress, and Shine: Three prompts

In our journaling group we recently did one of my favorite writing activities: single word prompts.

This is how it works. The leader chooses some random word and says it aloud. We all have just 3 minutes to write whatever comes to mind. Then after 3 minutes, the buzzer goes off and we are given another single word. We write spontaneously to that word for 3 minutes. Again the buzzer, and again a new word.  We do not begin this activity knowing the 3 words; they are presented only one at a time.

Three minutes is not very long to write, so we know we don’t have time to think and ponder, and certainly no time to craft that perfect sentence/paragraph. The words are randomly chosen, so they may or may not have any connection to one another. It doesn’t matter. This activity is not a brainy thing, but rather a practice in spilling forth the words that lie tangled or dormant. When we did this last week, our words were spell, caress, and shine. Usually when I do this activity, I end up with 3 very different pieces of writing and there is no correlation at all between one and another. This last time however, I experienced the flow from one to the next in a way I’ve seen others do, but have never done before. I thought I’d share what emerged here on The Nitty Gritty of Writing.

Note – I do not claim these to be good pieces of writing, only fun ones.

Spell bound: B-O-U-N-D. No, not spell “bound”, spellbound! Spellbound for love, for passions, for manic drive. Spellbound by juicy spices that prick the soul and make it bleed beauty – spellbound, you fool! Spellbound to the glory place where blind begets vision and pain turns inside out and the raw becomes truth and the truth returns feeling to the place where pain had numbed the skin and layered it into thick, dead callouses….

Caressssss the callouses and tenderize them with pressure. Yes, pressure applied, then released, then reapplied with movement, a rhythm, a stroke, a pause, a gasp, a sigh. Ahhh! Caressssss

Shine on! Shine on, Harvest Moon! I ain’t had no lovin’ since… ah, the caress –
the caress that sets me spellbound. Spell caress: 


the caress that puts stars in my eyes and makes them sparkle and shine.

Shine. Shine!
Shine-o-mize. Shinomize me. Oh yeah, Shinomize me! Shino-licious!