Saturday, March 21, 2015

Marital metaphor

Because my presentation has always been called "For Better or Worse," I have always tended to compare people's relationship to grammar technology to marriage. The first thing I found was a similarity: People are attracted to the technology because they think it will solve all their problems, but instead, it creates a whole new set of them.

There are plenty more similarities. For example, they often don't rationally question their alliance; having latched onto one kind of technology or another (for example, Spell-check, Grammarly, or Google Translate, they stick doggedly with it until they find something better. They kind of have an uneasy alliance with it; they recognize its convenience; they believe it in the absence of any other kind of guidance, and, they accept its versions of reality until otherwise told that they are garbage. Stick them on some other kind of technology, and they won't feel quite right, almost as if they've betrayed their favorite system.

Now, the teacher can outlaw technology altogether; the teacher might also convince the student that one should never even touch the stuff. This would be called taking vows of celibacy. Some people are very attracted to this system, and some would say that they belong in a monastery, where it doesn't matter. One can definitely get closer to God by having no technology anywhere near the process, but the problem is, first, that only about 5% or less of the population is really cut out for this kind of life, and second, the poor writer gets no experience, so that when the real thing comes along, he/she has no clue what to do with it. In the history of the world, people have often taken vows of celibacy; usually they don't last for long. However, I must say, teachers like celibate writers for the same reason women are attracted to celibate priests: They have no bad habits to unravel. They are honest, raw, fresh, unpracticed. They don't have a clue, but you can work with that. There's a certain rustic kind of innocence, a lack of confidence, that is more appealing than strictly bad habits.

The rest of us have issues. We misinterpret each other, and have bad habits of perception and feeling, deeply engrained. It takes marriage counseling to figure out how we got into this mess, and why we do things that are so clearly not in our best interest. We thought that the technology worked in a certain way, but it took us in another direction, and in the end, we had no control over the relationship. Frustrated and angry, we have less of a handle on how it works than we ever did. But now, we couldn't give it up if we tried; we are so used to using it, we can barely function without it.

Grammar can be defined as the relations between words that the computer can't catch, or, that can't be properly programmed into the computer. Simple things, like the -s on verbs, are easily programmable, for the most part, and are only an issue in extreme circumstances. Grammar is the stuff that native speakers know but don't know how to explain, because it can't be put into words easily, and nobody ever explained it to us in the first place. To the marriage counselor, the secret is to get each person to realize what they really want. Do not ask marriage to do something it cannot do. Recognize the fallibility of your partner and work to make yourself a better partner. Undo the dangerous and twisted perceptions, that are really habits of talking to yourself, that undermine your progress. Try to remember the time when you were sure this was the answer, absolutely what you were looking for, the end of your constant seeking and dissatisfaction.

A one-night stand would be when you tried something, but you got the sense that it wouldn't, and shouldn't, become a permanent thing. You weren't even sure you'd ever try it again. Are you sorry you did it? Maybe. A lot of people experiment. There's no sense being judgmental about it.

A shotgun wedding is a kind of forced alliance; you are given a certain situation, and you have it whether you wanted it or not; you were deprived of that nice long period of mulling over whether it was really the right thing or not. Now that you are together, everyone notices that it's not a perfect match; in some ways neither of you had a clue what you were getting into. There are some things you will never understand. Nevertheless, you live with it; it is what it is, and it's easier, and better, to work with it the way it is, as opposed to, say, taking vows of celibacy, or having a string of one-night stands.

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