Message to Teens: Stay Weird. Stay Different. Stay Alive.

In his acceptance speech on Sunday, Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner Graham Moore spoke out in support of teens that feel weird or different.  He said, “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong.  And now I’m standing here and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere.  Yes, you do.  I promise you do.  You do.  Stay weird, stay different.  And then when it’s your turn and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”

I’m not standing on any stage and I don’t foresee myself winning an Academy Award in the near future, yet I feel compelled to help pass his message along.  Like Graham, I didn’t fit in when I was a teen.  I went to a small school in rural Ohio.  I was shy, artistic, asthmatic, and not particularly good at sports.  Try as I might, I just never seemed to fit in.  I used to dread school.  Each day meant another round of being picked on and outcast.  I didn’t have to fake being sick in order to stay home, because I had so much anxiety about school that it would actually make me sick.

I was only in the sixth grade when I contemplated suicide.  It was early in the school year and all I could see was a long road of pain stretched out ahead of me.  I wanted out.  I had spent the previous school year begging my parents to let me leave the small private school that I was in to go to the larger public school.  My best friend‘s parents had agreed to let him do so and I pleaded to be allowed the same chance to start fresh somewhere new.  Though I had my parents’ sympathy for my struggle, they thought the private school offered the best educational opportunity and had decided to keep me there.  I would lay awake in bed for hours at night, fretting over what humiliation and degradation the next school day would bring.

Late one night, while the rest of the family was sleeping, I made my way down to the kitchen, opened the knife drawer and considered which blade would make the cleanest cut across my wrists.  Two thoughts entered my mind:
1. My family loves me and this will devastate them.
2. In three years I will be out of there and on my way somewhere else for high school.
Knowing that my time at that school was limited was ultimately what made me slowly slide the drawer shut and go back to bed.

I rode out the next three years.  It was long.  It was torturous.  I still relive the bad memories in my mind.

BUT…

High school was better and college was better still, and I eventually moved away and found my own place in the world.  I’ve been able to build a life for myself that I love.  I have a beautiful, brilliant wife, wonderful children, and have worked in industries throughout my adult life that have rewarded me for being artistic and unique.

So, here’s my message to pre-teens and teens that are struggling, because try as they might, they just can’t seem to fit in.  Stay strong.  Be true to yourself.  The adult world will reward you much more for all the little ways that you are unlike everyone else than it will for the ways that you’re the same.  Embrace the pain.  It will be your badge of honor someday.

50 Shades of Grammar

Guest Post 
by Anna Villeneuve

Anna Villeneuve is a Professor of English at Citrus College in Glendora, California. She writes romance for Bella Books under a pseudonym.

 

Who gets excited about grammar? When it’s time to talk subjects and verbs, I know that I am going to lose my students’ attention unless I do something dramatic. They already consider the study of sentence syntax nothing short of sadistic, so I use that to my advantage and use 50 Shades to keep their attention. They cannot believe that their literary-lesbian-feminist teacher would ever crack the spine of such a book, and I will admit it was a painful read. However, I have never seen grammar as clearly as I did when I read 50 Shades of Grey and use the book’s conflict to discuss the symbiotic relationship between grammar and romance. The first semester I used this idea, we even created a slogan for a shirt… Punctuation: Words in Bondage.

Anastasia is an independent clause. She went to school and has a job. Critics of the novel argue that she is an underdeveloped character, but all a simple sentence needs is a single subject and verb. Accept her, then, as a simple sentence, a single woman dreaming of another independent clause out there with whom she can coordinate. She’s thinking of all the ways they can become a compound sentence. Maybe a casual comma coordinating conjunction:

I like him, so we will get coffee.

Some nights they can dress it up with a conjunctive adverb:

We’ve been dating for a while; therefore, I will introduce him to my friends.

When they are really serious, she can see the single semi-colon signaling their togetherness:

We are perfect together; we shall marry and live happily ever after.

There’s only one problem.

He wants to subordinate. To be clear, here, he is the only independent clause in a complex sentence. Only dependent clauses need apply. Coordination is so vanilla. His special room is full of subordinating conjunctions:

Although she is beautiful, only docile women interest me.

He has relative pronouns in his pocket:

I am the one who is in control.

The interesting thing about subordinating conjunctions is that what we do intuitively as writers shapes the meaning of the sentence. I never noticed before I read 50 Shades, but when I viewed sentences as relationships, I could very clearly see how much power the independent clause holds over the dependent clause:

Even though he will be married in June, he is single now.
Even though he is single now, he will be married in June.

The first sentence says who cares about promises! Technically, no-one is breaking a code of honor. The second cautions the interested party to hold the value placed on engagements. The independent clause makes the call.

I am not critiquing S&M culture, but I think that it is important that people know what they are getting into. I do not judge Anastasia for trying things his way:

If… if I look at your room, could you… be gentle?

Remember, she is a virgin. But I do have a problem with Christian’s response:

We can be vanilla your first time, but then we do things my way.

What rankles me is that he refuses to acknowledge that without the joining words. Whether they coordinate or subordinate, she is her own person. As her own person, she can even choose to engage in a threesome:

After you play the dominant, we can talk about it, for communication is important.

We can invite as many independent clauses into the sentences as we want (as long as it’s punctuated properly i.e. be careful). The problem is that he sees only a dependent clause. That, in grammatical terms, is a fragment:

Because I let you take control of my life.

The story is not just about naughty sex. It’s about whether two consenting adults are engaging in actions that result in a complete relationship, a complete sentence. The storyline results in a woman sacrificing her identity. In academic writing, a sentence fragment is considered one of the major sentence errors. In life, to allow yourself to be as fragment is a major life error.

It is no accident that the movie was launched to the public for Valentine’s Day, a time when so many feel the pressure to be partnered. I also use my 50 Shades of Grammar to encourage my students to stand proud as the independent clauses they are. There is no shame in the simple sentence! When we partner, in writing and in life, we must remember that there are all sorts of different ways to hook up, each with its own rules of conduct. As long as we know the rules, we’re allowed to have some fun!

Where the Heck Have I Been?!

If you have been a devoted follower of my blog since I started it last summer, then you’ve probably been wondering where the heck I’ve been for the past few months. The truth is that I took a couple of weeks off to focus on finishing my children’s book and a couple of weeks quickly turned into three months.

One of the harshest realizations I’ve had since deciding to pursue writing as a profession is that being at home with my kids doesn’t allow me as much time to write as would be optimal. I thought that I would be able to do social media marketing management part time, write part time, and parent the rest of the time. It’s turned out that once I’ve finished my part time social media management work while my kids are at their ½ day preschool – I usually have about an hour before I have to get back to parenting full time again. Significant chunks of time to work on writing projects are few and far in between.

Trying to keep up with the blog and write a book felt like too much. So, I decided I’d sneak away from Super Eclectica for a couple of weeks to finish my first kid’s book. All went according to plan until I finished the book and decided that I didn’t want that to be the first book I would attempt to get published. It’s a Christmas book and it didn’t seem as marketable as another book idea that I had on the way-back burner. So, I decided that since I’d taken time away from the blog I should just launch straight into that project. Which I did… and am still doing… but it’s not done yet… and the blog has been languishing.

Eventually, the pull to come back to consistently posting to my blog became too much… and here I am. I’m back, baby! And I have a new commitment to you, the reader. I will now be posting to Super Eclectica every Wednesday come hell or high water. Why? Because it matters. Because YOU matter.

To help get things started with a bang, tomorrow I will be featuring my first blog post from a guest writer. She’s an English professor at Citrus College in Glendora, California, and she’s written an entertaining piece about how she uses “50 Shades of Gray” to teach grammar, entitled, “50 Shades of Grammar.” I guarantee you’re gonna love it.

Thanks for tuning in and I’ll be seeing you regularly!