By Janice McCaffrey
In my early teen years I envisioned myself as a best-selling author of “THE great American novel” until . . .
Mrs. Foster’s 8th grade English class when we were assigned to write a descriptive paragraph. My imagination took over and I penned what I thought a fabulous portrayal of a Regency Era carriage.
The next day, expecting an A+, I sat at my desk straight backed and proud. Then Mrs. Foster handed my paper to me and instead of an A+ there was a huge red D; the paragraph riddled with red ü marks. In that horrifying moment, my writing career ended. I never received explanations for the check marks. And pretty much saw grammar and good writing over my head and out of reach. Yes, I could identify and properly use the basics: subjects, predicates, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and past, present and future tenses, but never grasped the finer points.
But then I’ve never been a quitter. So as a young mother with an infant I signed up for a fiction writing correspondence course. Yes, the one advertised in match books. I didn’t like following the formulas taught and eventually one instructor told me that before you can be a novelist you needed something to say. Obviously, I didn’t have anything to say.
very few years, I’d try again; receiving rejection letters from popular magazines (i.e. Redbook, my Bible of womanhood).
Then, as life would have it, in my retirement I found a good friend who just happened to be a published author. It took a few years of her encouragement, but I’m back to my early writing goal. My friend is my mentor, critique partner, and . . . a retired English teacher.
Now when she gives my papers back to me there are no red checks or grades and, in fact, there are often comments about good ideas, writing or scenes. But every now and then I hear “You have a dangling participle.” And there I am sitting in Mrs. Foster’s class holding that D paper. My mind freezes.
Then my 10-year-old inner-child comes to the rescue with humor erupting with, “Who the heck made up these words?” We laugh. She tries to explain in a way I can understand as I attempt to calm my inner- 8th grader. I go home, study grammatical rules and lingo and rewrite.
After several of these interactions, my friend loaned me Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. I found the explanation of the word participle: “Greek – shares or partaker. Latin to English: Capture or participate.” An online dictionary says: “a participle is a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or a noun. In English participles can also be used to make compound verb forms.”
And you’ve guessed it, my 8th grader’s brain froze and my 10-year-old shouted, “Who the h— thought this stuff up? My inner-children continue their habits whenever they hear grammatical terms, but thank Heavens I have a patient friend and mentor who parents these headstrong children with kindness and humor.
Thank you, my friend!