The Nerdy Pleasure of Punctuation

winkyface

 

my-twitter24 September is National Punctuation Day, and it has me worrying that my love of punctuation makes me seem … well, persnickety.

 

I know it’s nerdy to enjoy punctuation, but a Grammar Nazi I am not. I don’t get riled by other people’s misplaced apostrophes or their lack of an Oxford comma. I see the error, and move on.

I don’t shame people who overuse quotation marks or argue with those old-timers who insist on two spaces after a full stop. Indicating a plural with an apostrophe saddens me, but it doesn’t ignite a burning urge to deface property with a red Sharpie or muster a mob to lynch sloppy punctuators.

Poor punctuation does not spoil my day. Unless it’s my own. My typos rattle me and leave me writhing in embarrassed angst, muttering about jots and tittles and the futility of crying over misplaced pixels.

I never indulge in self-congratulatory punctuation pride. We all make mistakes, sometimes because we rush, and sometimes because autocorrect takes over.

Aesthetically speaking…

quotation-39627_640I enjoy the elegance of a well-placed semicolon, the possibility offered by the ellipsis, and the playful quirkiness of the interrobang*. Hyphens make my brain hum.

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Top: Dumb quotes Bottom: Smart quotes

Despite my dual-nationality, I have an engrained allegiance to double ” quotation marks to set off speech. The Commonwealth’s single ‘ quote marks don’t work for quotes inside quotes—at least not elegantly. Curly quotes (aka smart quotes) beat straight (or dumb) quotes any day.

National Punctuation Day

This is my kind of literary celebration! Established thirteen years ago by American Jeff Rubin, National Punctuation Day celebrates, “… the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and ever-mysterious ellipsis.” NPD is featured in Chase’s Calendar of Events, incorporated into schools, and receives national (US) coverage in major outlets such as Huffington Press, USA Today, and NPR.

I had trouble deciding how to do such an occasion justice. I considered…

… doing a round-up of interesting books about punctuation,

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-3-28-43-pm      screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-3-27-46-pm       screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-3-26-46-pm

… linking to a challenging punctuation quiz,

 

… sharing some of my favourite punctuation pins from my Word Nerd board on Pinterest,

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… listing some cool punctuation trivia,

For instance, did you know the original name of the hashtag is octothorpe?

hashtag-1

Or that there is a dedicated Apostrophe Protection Society?

… advocating for new punctuation marks,
andorsand            Interrobang

… or defending the use of emoticons.

 

I decided to keep it short and simple. The last thing I’d want is someone to accuse me of being persnickety—or obsessed.

* The Internet offers several spellings for interrobang |interobang | interabang. The first seems to be the most popular, so I changed the graphic to reflect that.

World Stationery Day Celebrations

Fabulous Mail Art

Fabulous Mail Art

World Stationery Day? Sounds like my kind of holiday! There was no way I was going to let such an occasion pass without revelling in (and possibly pushing) my addiction to paper products and desk-cessories.

While a day devoted to the love of stationery may seem frivolous, it provides a perfect opportunity to teach young people:

  • The art (and conventions) of correspondence
  • The usefulness of handwriting in the Keyboard Age
  • The history of mail and philately
  • Pen pal nostalgia
  • And so much more: mail art, epistolary novels, …

It’s surprising how many teenagers don’t know how to address an envelope or know where to stick the stamp. Sadly, many have never experienced the simple enjoyment of receiving a handwritten letter just for them.

Lunchtime Letter Writing Frenzy

Students feasted from a smorgasbord of stationery delights. The green and white envelope (centre) was made on the day.

Students feasted from a smorgasbord of stationery delights. The green and white envelope (centre) was made on the day.

To exploit the opportunity, I teamed up with the teacher-librarians at the secondary school where I work to host a Lunchtime Letter Writing Frenzy.

The librarians created a gorgeous display that featured books about letter writing and calligraphy, artfully lettered envelopes, and stationery samples. We even offered a tempting selection of free stationery and printables to choose from.

I collated some letter writing resources to teach the basic conventions of letter writing. Australia post offers some straightforward guides on how to write a personal letter and how to address an envelope, which I laminated for each table.

Hands-On Fun

I made these! The green one printer paper embellished with washi tape. The other is double-sided scrapbooking paper.

I made these! The green one is printer paper embellished with washi tape. The other is double-sided scrapbooking paper.

The students selected the letter writing paper from a choice of Kiki-K papers, fancy aerograms, and printables. We had fun helping the students decide who to write to and what to write about.

To add a crafty element, I set up a Make-Your-Own Envelope station, using a scrapbooker’s envelope punch board. With a range of stickers and some washi tape,  it was irresistible. The students loved making their own envelope out of a sheet of coloured printer paper.

I invited a Year 12 student to demonstrate some gorgeous lettering and calligraphy. The students could address their own envelope or give it to her to do something fancy.

Everyone who completed a letter and addressed an envelope correctly earned a novelty eraser. The best part was the fun wasn’t over when the bell rang. We encouraged everyone to  mail the letters to see if they get a letter in return. I hope they do, so they can discover the fun of snail mail correspondence.

Extensions Galore

My writing group, The Inklings of NCC, helped host the event. In our meetings in the lead up, we learned about epistolary novels and the fascinating  possibilities of using diary entries, letters, and other media to tell a story. We had a go at telling a compelling story in letter format.

There are some wonderful MG and YA epistolary novels out there. Here are a few to consider. (If you have a favourite, please share in the comments!)xthe-absolutely-true-diary-of-a-part-time-indian.jpg.pagespeed.ic.z3oprjSbp0

At the end of a fun and frantic lunchtime event, I am more convinced than ever that World Stationery Day is not frivolous at all.

Image Credit

Mail Art 52, by Tamarka, CC BY-SA 2.0

4 Ways Snail Mail Will Change Your Life

Dust off your letter paper and find a stamp, because 25 April to 1 May 2016 is National Stationery Week! Wednesday, 27 April is World Stationery Day.

This is the week to get serious about letter writing. I challenge you to write a letter and change your life for the better! Who’s joining me for #NatStatWeek?

#NatStatWeek

Snail mail will change your life.

Here are four ways:

1 – Snail mail is an exercise in delayed gratification.

This world of instant everything puts us at risk of becoming a species of impatient, twitching fiends. We demand fast food, speedy cash, urgent replies, slick design, instant noodles and pre-cooked rice, quick debt, rapid fire, lightning chargers, minute millionaires, immediate pay-off … Gasp.

Snail mail forces us to slow down. It takes thirty minutes to compose a letter. We send it with an expectation of a reply, for which we must wait. The pay-off comes a week or so later, a paper bundle of warm-fuzzies and wit.

And even then, letter in hand, I like to draw out the pleasure. I don’t rip it open at the mailbox and gulp it down without chewing on my way back to the front door. No, I make a pot of tea and let the anticipation build. I savour the words between sips of hot tea. It’s sublime.

Snail mail is refreshingly slow and stodgy in this hectic, fast-lane world.

2 – Letter writing involves stationery.

And stationery is one of life’s greatest delights. Seriously, what could be so satisfying as finding paper that conveys your mood and personality? There is a unique joy in finding a pen that fits your hand, or a pencil whose lead complements your handwriting, or accessories that lift your spirits, or paper that’s a pleasure to write on.

Stationery is tactile. It’s aesthetic. It’s mood-enhancing. It’s simple: No recharging, no feeding, no associated bills from the vet or physio or rehab clinic … And using it, particularly letter paper, blesses others.

Stationery is an economical indulgence. Trust me: collecting stationery is far cheaper than hoarding shoes, bikes, surfboards, or tattoos.

[Love stationery? Check out my Pinterest boards: Analogue Desk, Snail Mail, Paper, and Writer’s Elixir.]

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3 – Writing by hand is good for the soul.

Handwriting invites reflection and induces tranquility. It is far more ‘emptying’ than typing, possibly because it uses a different part of the brain, or maybe because it’s magical. Who knows why, but writing by hand is both calming and cathartic.

There’s an intimacy in the act of writing letters by hand. A part of yourself is revealed through your handwriting, your composition, your quirky inserts (an autumn leaf, a coaster from a bar, a tea bag), your choice of paper and the colour of your ink. You bare a sliver of your soul. It’s good for you, and it beautifies the world.

4 – Letter writing brings balance to your mailbox.

Remember the good ol’ days, when the words ‘You’ve got mail’ made you excited? Nowadays, there’s stress associated with inboxes. Mailboxes can be stressful, too: Finding nothing but a fat stack of bills brings on a heart-sinking feeling.

But one handwritten letter from a friend can balance out the burden of all those bills. Think of it this way: Your handwritten letter is an act of kindness and service to your loved ones. Your cheery note takes the sting out of their power bill.

See? I told you. Snail mail will change your life. Embracing it might even make the world a better place.

So, now are you joining me for National Stationery Week? Pledge a handwritten letter to someone in the comments!

The Enigmatic Hans Christian Andersen

HCA_by_Thora_Hallager_1869

If Kidlit has a granddaddy, it would have to be Hans Christian Andersen. The second of April is his birthday, a fitting day to mark as International Children’s Book Day, hosted by IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People). I went in search of some interesting morsels about the puzzling man behind some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales.

Gruelling Schooling

School was “dark and bitter” for poor H.C. The headmaster beat him with a view to improving his character, and his teachers discouraged him from writing at all. The reasons for the mistreatment aren’t clear, but it might have been because Andersen suffered from dyslexia, which was sometimes misconstrued as a motivation problem.

Fame & Fortunethumbelina

He left home with his mother’s blessing at the age of 14 with the stated goal of becoming famous. He tried his hand (and feet) at singing, acting, and dancing. While his lovely soprano voice lasted, he enjoyed some success, but when his voice changed, he had to abandon dreams of theatrical acclaim. It was many years before he enjoyed the fame he dreamed of as a boy.

He had better luck with writing, despite the added challenge of dyslexia. Some say his spelling issues induced a simplicity and “freshness” of style, which contributed to his wide appeal. Other critics note that his profound wit and pathos were difficult to translate. Nevertheless, he became both a Danish National Treasure and one of the world’s most beloved writers, whose stories inspired movies, plays, ballets, and animated films.

Unlucky in Love

the-ugly-ducklingDespite fame and literary success, Hans Christian was unlucky in love. He had the unfortunate habit of setting his affection on unattainable targets, like dancer Haralf Scharff and Jenny Lind the opera diva. Jenny was the inspiration for his story, The Nightingale. He proposed in a letter, and she rebuffed him (in writing) with best wishes to “someone she thought of as a brother.” Andersen never married, and according to his journals, he forsook sexual relations, though he expressed painfully passionate feelings in letters to women and men.

A Universal Poetry

While his lack of good looks might have hampered his love life, they worked in his favour as a writer. His insecurities and experiences of rejection informed one of his most widely known stories, The Ugly Duckling. Never mind the high forehead, protuberant nose, and absent eyebrows: When your stories become bywords, you know you’re famous. The terms Ugly Duckling and the Emperor’s New Clothes have both wormed their way into common usage in many languages for the past century and a half.

It took the literary world a decade to “discover” Andersen’s genius for fairy tales. He felt despondent in this period and was ready to quit, even though had high hopes for the genre, believing that eventyr (Danish for fairy tale) could become a “universal poetry.” It was prophetic, with most of his stories being read around the world for well over a century. His most famous stories include:

  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • The Emperor’s New Clothesthe-emperor-s-new-clothes
  • The Little Match Girl
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • The Nightingale
  • Thumbelina
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier
  • The Snow Queen

the-snow-queenModern readers are most familiar with the sugar-coated, Disneyfied adaptations of his work. The original stories were rather grim and grisly: The steadfast Tin Soldier melted away. The Little Mermaid committed suicide. The Little Match Girl froze to death. Not exactly a bunch of happily-ever-afters.

Tormented Heart, Beautiful Soul

H.C. was welcomed into the homes of the noble and famous throughout Europe. Charles Dickens was a friend, but he cut ties with Andersen after the Dane overstayed his welcome one summer. H.C.’s journals express bewilderment and sadness over this and other social situations that ended badly.

Perhaps he was socially awkward, but H.C. was a tender-hearted soul. On his deathbed while discussing music for his funeral, he commented, “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.”

 

Image Credits

Portrait by Thora Hallager (1821-1884) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bookcovers from Booktopia

Book Week Celebrations

Book Week 2015 - Fun for All

Book Week 2015 – Fun for All

Today on my way to work, I stopped at a school crossing to let Wonder Woman cross the road. She was followed by a small band of pint-sized super heroes, a boy wizard, and Pippi Longstocking. This mum and her children were just a few of the little (and big) Aussies dressed in zany literary costumes for Book Week 2015.

Book Week is an initiative of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA).  “Each year, schools and public libraries across Australia spend a week celebrating books and Australian authors and illustrators. Classroom teachers, teacher librarians and public librarians develop activities, offer competitions and tell stories relating to a theme to highlight the importance of reading.”

My Fun Part in Book Week

What's inside Box Number 1? The big reveal!

Ta DA! Curiosity Box Number 1 revealed.

On normal Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am a mild-mannered school counsellor, but for Book Week 2015, I got to cut loose and let my inner author out. I was invited to join in the literary fun with the primary kids at my school. On Tuesday, about twenty students in years 3-6 came to listen to a reading of my latest manuscript, Toby Fitzroy & the Quest for the Scales of Time.

Aren’t kids great? They bite their nails and wriggle, giggle, and gasp. For a writer who’s used to adults’ restrained reactions–a little snort here, a tiny chuckle there–it’s so rewarding witnessing kids’ uninhibited enjoyment of the story.

Their enthusiastic response gave me such a timely boost! The students asked great questions, including the most important one: “Where can I read the rest of this book?” It’s hard explaining to children how and why I don’t have control over the publishing side of things.

An LFG dressed up as The BFG

An LFG dressed up as The BFG

Fun for the Kids…

Believe it or not, on Wednesday I actually found Wally, the little fellow of Where’s Wally? fame. He was a tad shorter than I expected, but he looked so cute with round glasses made out of fat black pipe cleaners. I bumped into a knight in sparkling armour and a little cutie dressed like Brer Rabbit with gorgeous ears and a cotton tail. My favourite encounter was meeting an LFG (Little Friendly Girl), disguised as The BFG (Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant).

How’s this for cool? My school’s library ramped up the Book Week fun with a photo booth! Teacher librarians RULE!

Fun for ME

What if this mini microscope belonged to a kid who...?

What if this mini microscope belonged to a kid who…?

On Thursday, I ran my Cabinets of Curiosity workshop about how to find story ideas. We did some creativity-boosting exercises with my weird and wonderful Curiosity Boxes. The room was a-buzz with frantic brainstorming and scratching pencils as ideas took shape. One boy was concentrating so hard he was pulling funny faces. Bless his little writer socks! I know that feeling well.

My heart zinged as I watched the kids play with words and cook up ideas. Alex, an aspiring writer (with numerous completed manuscripts) told us, “What if is the writer’s question.” Well said, Alex! You’re a rising literary star.

It was an exhilarating session, and I can’t wait to see the stories that come out of this event.

Congrats to my school’s librarians for hosting such a fun event. I hope I can do again in the future!

 

Image Credit:

To be a book by Nina Helmer, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Celebrating 150 Years in Wonderland

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_04

July 4, 2015 marks 150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It all started when Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took the Liddell girls on a summer picnic in Oxford along the River Thames. Dodgson made up a story to entertain the girls, and at the end of the day little Alice Liddell begged Dodgson to write it down for her. That was 4 July 1862.

Alexander Macmillan published the book in 1865, and it became an instant success. Among its fans were Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria herself.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been never been out of print since. Translated into more than 175 languages, made into plays and movies, interpreted by artists such as Salvador Dali, its appeal seems timeless. Even the original illustrations by John Tenniel (shown here) have become iconic—“part of our collective consciousness,” according the publisher.

Not bad for a book of nonsense.

The Grinning Cat

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice, “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”

Here’s a titbit of Wonderland trivia: Cheshire county in England is dairy country, where the cows are fat and productive. All this rich milk makes for content cats. Cheese makers moulded their products in forms of grinning cats. The cheese was sliced from back to front, leaving the smile to eat last.

De_Alice's_Abenteuer_im_Wunderland_Carroll_pic_23_edited_1_of_2

The Man, the Myth, the Modern Muck

Dodgson lived a dual life. In one, he was a talented mathematician and deacon at Christ Church, Oxford. In the other, he assumed the pen name of Lewis Carroll, a poet, wordsmith, and children’s writer.

An interesting character with whiffs of scandal and intrigue, Carroll was brilliant at whatever he did–maths, writing, inventing, and photography. He created an early form of the game Scrabble and coined gorgeous words like chortle, galumph and mimsy.

He achieved much in his life, despite a raft of health problem, physical ailments and long bouts of melancholy. He suffered chronic migraines and epilepsy. He stammered and was partially deaf. Contemporary sources have “diagnosed” him with ADHD and Autism.

“Curiouser and Curiouser…”

His most curious alleged ailment was one that involved visual distortions, possibly related to his migraines, in which things appeared much bigger or smaller than they are. The condition is now known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS or Todd’s Syndrome) and was first documented by 20th Century psychiatrist, Dr John Todd.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

from ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

Sixties LSD Cult commentators were fond of the notion of Lewis as a drug-user, pointing to references of mushrooms, hookahs, and vials of medicine in the Alice books. It was a time, after all, when many home medicine cabinets contained the opium-based tincture laudanum. The evidence of a drug problem is scant.

One compelling theory is that Dodgson, a stubbornly conservative mathematician, used Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to rail against the emerging ideas in the maths of the era—imaginary numbers and symbolic algebra and other “mad” concepts. Melanie Bayley’s argument (which goes way over this arithmophobic’s head) can be found here.

“Who in the world am I?”

“Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

Alice_Liddell_2Plenty of writers and not-so-scholarly, amateur psychoanalysts have suggested that bachelor Dodgson was worse than a druggie, namely a conniving paedophile who fostered many fond friendships with children, particularly little girls. While it is true his photography collection includes nudes of children, Victorian scholars are quick to note that nude children were part of the 19th Century aesthetic, the embodiment of a state of grace. Whether Dodgson’s photography was innocent or erotic, the world will never know for sure.

In any event, it is unfair to accuse the dead. As Lewis himself said in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,

If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.”

Wonderful Wonderland Resources:

Image Credits

Alice by John Tenniel 04, Public Domain

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Carroll pic 23 edited, Public Domain

The Caterpillar, Alice 05a, Public Domain

Alice Liddell by Lewis Carroll, Public Domain