Publish or Perish

My mom has perfect grammar. She knows who and whom, can tell a dangling participle from a gerund. Wake her up in the middle of the night and she will tell you when to use "ten-year-old" instead of "ten year old." Throw a term paper across the room and, before it hits the floor, my mom will tell you that there should be a semi-colon on page seven.

Not only that, my mom has published the best selling humanities text book in the country. The Art of Being Human is now on its tenth edition.

When my mom takes a standardized test of written expression, she is finished--every answer correct--before the other students are done chewing on their pencils. "Neither of the girls are having a good time"* screams at my mom the way "The Germans won the Second World War" jumps out at you.

Yet even my mom has an editor.

When she and her co-author, my Uncle Richard, work on the galley proofs of their books, they use a ruler to read up the pages. Reading down the page, it's easy to get lost in the content and not find the typos. It's tough to find the errors in your own writing so they go through the book one line at a time.

Your children, I need hardly remind you, are not college English professors with decades of experience correcting thousands of essays. For elementary school aged children, letting them dictate a book can be a great gift. Forget about grammar. Heck, forget about sense for little ones learning to love language. You can write out the words, "Once upon a time, there was a mean dinosaur" and your child can supply the illustrations. The story may have a sophisticated narrative structure and complex character development.

But probably not.

What you're communicating in the collaboration is that you enjoy hanging out with your kid, taking a glorious bubble bath of words. And you're doing something pleasant and productive, making a memory.

Because, although the days are long, the years fly.

Seven-year-olds have a tendency to become 27-year-olds before you can blink. Yesterday they were saying "spasgetti" and "pumkwin". Later this afternoon, they will be grown and gone, their empty bedrooms a stark testimony to the inexorable passage of time.

So what would you rather look back on? The memory of a high score in a violent video game or the tangible product of a sun-kissed afternoon spent making a mess of crayons and tape on the kitchen table and creating a "book" about a lonely bear? The digital footprint of the twenty-seven bazillion points may be more indelible than the fading pages but so what? Just because everyone is still talking about the first World War doesn't mean it was any fun at the time for the participants.

My sister volunteers at the historical society. She says there is little interest in old books, but that her colleagues are eager to collect and study the letters of folks who lived in Massachusetts generations ago.  Just as Jane Austen teaches us more about life in the time of Napoleon without ever mentioning a specific current event, correspondence gives us more insight into the moral landscape of a time and place than volumes of print.

Generations from now, I suspect no one will be cataloging high scores from "Frogger" or "Call of Duty", but the legacy you can share with unborn generations is the supernova creativity of your beloved six-year-old bursting out on pages of construction paper.

There will be time for vapid essay topics to be forced on your unsuspecting child. In school "prompts" will be supplied on themes upon which no human would wish to expound. Some purveyor of textbooks may inflict hackneyed subjects seemingly designed to quash rather than enhance creative responses. But in the privacy of your own home, you can harness the entire universe as seen through the wide-open eyes of your child.

Here is an offer: If you follow my gentle advice and make an eight-page "book" with your third grader, thirty years from now, I will give you one million dollars for what the two of you created.

I feel completely certain that you will not accept the money, that you won't trade the illustrated fading pages of "The Silly Penguin" for all the money in the world.

 

PS. Read the words in blue at the top of the page again. If you think it says, "I love Paris in the Springtime", read it again and again until you see what it actually says.

* The subject of a sentence can not be in a prepositional phrase. "Neither" is singular. "Neither of the girls is having a good time" is correct.

4 thoughts on “Publish or Perish

  1. Maggie Silverstein

    David, what a fine essay . I love the influence your amazing mother had on you and I’m pretty such your advice is a great gift to your attentive readers.
    Love, Maggie

    Reply
  2. Amy Donner

    Great post. I love the cover of your mom’s book. Sometimes I mix up the proper use of there and their, even though, if you ask me I will tell you the correct use. It just happens.

    Reply
  3. Barbara Pierce

    To whom it may concern…;-) Lovely post, David! I came for the grammar riff (I have been known to have very spirited conversations with colleagues regarding serial commas and such) and stayed for the riff on creative and patient parenting. HNY to you, P., and all of your former 7-year-olds (as the AP stylebook would have it).

    Reply

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