Grammar and Me

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that my friends are often very surprised when they first meet my dad and hear his very thick Colombian accent and realize that this man is my father. My dad came to this country when he was 25 and had to learn English from scratch. While my dad did learn the language he was never concerned with perfecting it, he was satisfied just to understand and it comes out a lot in daily conversation.  My father pronounces his hellos like HAlo and in my house all spiders are girls. If you were to see a spider instead of saying let’s kill it, its let’s kill her because in Spanish words have gender. Stairs are pronounced estairs and if you want some fruit you could have some estrawberries. (in Spanish there is no “sss” sound just “es”) After dropping me off at school one day after receiving bad news he said very profoundly “When it pours it rains” It’s almost like his mind knows what the correct phrase is and then flips it just for fun.Yet this is the same voice that read to me Shel Silverstein growing up and without knowing that I would enjoy writing, gave me the nickname, Papelita (little paper) that he created because he liked how Danielle and Papel sounded together. He fed into my imagination and luckily I inherited his storyteller voice (without the accent) from years of listening to all of the stories he would tell me about his life in Colombia.

Due to my dad being such a big influence in my life, I immediately know what he is trying to say, even if it’s off. I remember over winter break, we were going somewhere and when we got out of the car my dad said: “Make sure you shut the window” at that moment I knew he meant car door even if he didn’t say it. So I shut the door without hesitation and we went on our way neither one of us acknowledging the correct term. My mind works quick to forge a connection, anything to grab onto so that we can be on the same page (so that we can both function as normal people). The only consequences are that when your brain prioritizes being on the same page, grammar gets thrown out the window. I don’t ever get tripped up by bad grammar and to me pretty much everything sounds right. Which is terrifying as an English major where intelligence is expressed through the sentence structure.

The other day my friends and I were joking about long distance relationships and I used the phrase “out of mind out of sight” to which my friend said, “what are you talking about Danielle?” It’s not the first time I’ve said something backward. My relationship with the English language is a very loose one, and I tend to disregard the rules as I go. It doesn’t help that growing up my dad would use the incorrect term for something that I thought was actually the word for it. For instance, I didn’t realize that a tablecloth could never be called a cover- even if its used to cover a table. When I write I fear my words are convoluted and what I say sounds stupid. My mom once read the first draft of  something I’ve written and said “this is why you check off the Latina box for applications” and whenever I missay phrases my first thought is “how could I make that mistake, I’m an idiot.”

Despite my grammatical errors, when it comes to creative writing I realized that I have an advantage in writing in the first person. If I write the way my character speaks I can convey a much stronger voice in the story than people who have trouble connecting to a character’s speaking tone. I think that over the years my struggle with grammar has humbled me, that I have to accept that I don’t have the same ability to write grammatically flawless work which can come effortlessly to others. It has been ingrained in my mind that to write is to rewrite and I can never afford to turn in something I wrote the day before. I’ve learned to endure the editing process (after I’m done staring in horror at all of the red and green lines across the word document) knowing that my work can be made better if I choose to work at it. Something that I may not have realized if my minimum effort allowed me to coast in my writing.

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