When I was six years old, my mother bought me a baby chick for Easter. I adored that little thing and named him Chicken Little. He was soft and fluffy, and I loved to cuddle with him. One Sunday, we went to church, and when we got home I rushed to find him only to be shocked to find his little limp body floating in the toilet. I scooped him up and ran to Mom crying. She knew that there was nothing that could be done for him, but to make me feel better, she took him and held him in her hands over the floor furnace, and began giving him mouth to beak resuscitation.

I stood next to her, anxious and upset, as she breathed into his little beak over and over, pretending to try to bring him back to life. This went on for several minutes, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when we heard a little peep come from him. She was so surprised! She rushed us both into my bed where he and I lay under an electric blanket until he was warm and dry.

That chicken became quite a pet and a neighborhood institution. At first, everyone hated him, because he began crowing at 4am, but as time went by, he became a beloved neighborhood institution as everyone saw him riding on my bicycle handlebars everywhere I went. He lived a long and happy life.

That’s how Mom was.  Nothing was more important to her than raising resilient children, who could fend for themselves and had a good work ethic, but she would do anything to help us, even if she thought there was little chance of it doing any good. What was important was that we knew she was behind us, and it meant so much to each of us to know that we were never alone when times got rough.  Whether it was a simple pat on the back or a helping hand, her steadfast support was always there, and because of that, Marianne, Craig and I have always been able to face whatever came at us, often with strength we didn’t know we had.

As many of you know, Mom was a teacher, but what many of you may not know is what an absolutely wonderful teacher she was. In the classroom, she was strict – she didn’t allow decorum to be breached by anyone – yet her students adored her and many have remained in contact with her throughout the years. They loved her not only because she had a wry sense of humor and irony that she used often, not just because of her amazing talent as a teacher, but because she respected her students and treated them like adults. She knew what many teachers then and now don’t quite get…that when you challenge someone to go beyond their known abilities; you give them the gift of phenomenal growth.

She challenged her children in the same way.  While other children were read nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Mom read us poetry and prose by the greats – T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others – from the very beginning of our lives.  As a result, we grew up loving literature as much as she did, and all of us learned to read at an early age.

I can remember reading nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess at the age of five or six and feeling sorry for other kids who had to stick to only that kind of reading.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed a little Horton Hears a Who and Green Eggs and Ham as much as the next kid, but even at an early age, I wanted more, and often put down those books to read, instead, The Cask of Amontillado or The Tell-Tale Heart. Craig and Marianne were the same, and Mom let us explore whatever interests we had, whether they matched hers or not, and was always excited to listen as we talked about what we had just seen or done or read as if it were the most interesting subject on Earth.

She also made it her job to ensure we all mastered the English language. As children, we all quickly became accustomed to Mom’s “pop quizzes” as we went about our daily routines. She made a game of having us conjugate verbs, and while that might sound deathly boring, we all loved it. I’m sure, too, that I was the only six year old to know the difference between the subjective case, the objective case, the possessive case, and the nominative case of almost any noun or pronoun.  I asked Mom once why she quizzed us like she did, and she told me that besides it being fun, she wanted us to be able to hold our own in any conversation so people would respect our opinions and take us seriously. And it worked.

The challenges Mom put before us helped us grow in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. Because of her faith in us and our faith that, if we failed, she would always be there to buoy us, we have never been afraid to take chances in life. The need to succeed has been important, but the cost of failure has never been Earth shattering.  Instead, we have been able to take each failure as a learning experience to strengthen our bid for success the next time around. We have Mom to thank for that.

When Mom left us on Monday, one of my first rational thoughts was how much I’ll miss sitting in her living room with her at family gatherings, reading poetry to one another.  No one could read a poem with more feeling and meaning than Mom, and no one more appreciated hearing one read well. A few months ago, Mom’s sister Dora Fay passed away, and Marianne and I took her to Mangum for the funeral.  After the long drive home, even though we were all exhausted, we stayed for a while and pulled out the books and started reading some of our favorite poems to one another. Before long, we were all in tears, filled with the emotion that the poems wrought from us, but also with the emotion engendered by the act itself.

This was a ritual that has remained with our family throughout our lives, and one that we all cherish, so the tears flowed easily. I think party because we knew in our hearts that we wouldn’t be together much longer. Of course, we had no idea how quickly that end would come. Mom was in such good health and mind that we thought she’d be with us for years to come.  So, of course it made me sad to think we’d never sit with family again to share good poetry.

Then it hit me that, because of Mom, that tradition would never really end. Our own children have also grown up at her knee loving good literature, and we have sat together in our own homes reading to one another and sharing tears and joy at the beauty and meaning in those well etched words.  Now, with her passing, those events will be even more meaningful, because we will know in our hearts that this, too, is a gift from Mom that can never be taken away, even though she is no longer in the room with us.

When our father died when we were very young, Mom helped us cope by often reading us a poem by one of her favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Milay. I think it’s fitting that I end by sharing that poem with you today. It’s called Lament, and while it’s written about a father, but it will always remind us of our mother.

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why. 
Mom…we love you dearly and miss you more with each passing day.

One of the things that bothers me the most about American society today is a pervasive “I don’t care” attitude. It seems that most people today really don’t care about the things our country used to stand for - patriotism, accountability and good grammar among those that stand out most.

Patriotism used to be so important to our citizens that it was never in question. People from: up when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited; now, many schools don’t allow a recitation of the pledge. Similarly, people stood up when the flag passed by in a parade or color guard. Now, for the most part, only elderly people still honor our flag that way. Everyone else just doesn’t care.

Many companies and private citizens who display our flag no longer follow the rules of care. Even at the building at which I work, the flag is left up in rain, sleet and snow. Its white stripes are a dingy gray, its ends worn and tattered. I stopped and looked at the mast the other day. They have moved the tether up so far that someone would actually have to stand on a ladder to change the flag. I think it’s simply shameful, but the powers that be obviously don’t care.

At my old job, they treated the flag a little better — it was put up and taken down every day, flown at half mast when appropriate, removed during inclement weather — but even then, it was wadded up in a box while it rested instead of folded appropriately. It was allowed to touch the ground, even though, traditionally, that is a no-no. When I brought it up to facilities, I got shrugs and blank stares. They really didn’t care one way or the other.

Even at my alma mater, The University of Oklahoma, a lack of patriotism is sadly evident. At sports events, many people don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem. Most talk right through it. What’s worse, many people who do sing along have replaced the words “home of the brave” with “home of the Sooners.” Some people who still believe in God and Country are appalled by this behavior, but for the most part, people are pretty laissez-faire about it. It’s the football game that matters, as for the patriotic trappings, well…they really don’t care.

Personal accountability has been tossed out with the trash along with patriotism. People just don’t seem to take pride in their work anymore, and if they can blame a personal error on someone else, they will do it in a flash. Similarly, many parents, when confronted with their children’s bad behavior in school, back up their child rather than the teacher, ostensibly pulling the rug out from under any hope that their kids will learn to take responsibility for their own actions. They don’t seem to care that their son or daughter is a teacher’s nightmare, nor do they seem to care that their child isn’t learning anything about discipline or a positive work ethic.

As a result, “half assing” work assignments has become the norm in the corporate world. Some companies are built on the foundation that mediocrity is a way of life, and sadly,from: some of these companies still do well. Why? Because they’re competing against other companies who half ass things. (Great…I’ve used the word “ass” twice now. Let the porn spam comments begin!) People with good work ethics come into these environments believing they can affect change for the better, but what usually happens is that they either quit in frustration or are fired for rocking the boat. (Ask the superintendent of Oklahoma City schools who was just railroaded out of his job, because over the past six months, he’s fired several people who weren’t doing a good job. This was exactly what the school board wanted him to do, but when it became apparent that no one was safe from his scrutiny, they decided to protect their own asses instead. [There’s that word again!] I guess they decided that they didn’t care as much about reforming the school system as they thought they did.)

Finally, Americans don’t seem to care about our own native tongue. As a student of grammar and linguistics, I’m fully aware that, through linguistic shifting and rubbing, languages evolve over time. If they didn’t, we’d all still be speaking Sanskrit. I’m also from: that every language in the world is weaker than its predecessor. Each language offshoot is more disordered than its parent and has less power of description. Modern English, at its best, is nothing but a series of labels attached to ideas and objects — the words have no intrensic meaning of their own. That said, our language has always been very ordered. You could take any sentence and diagram it, no matter how complex it was. Today’s English is becoming dirtier and dirtier. Just try to diagram the sentence, “Get a new TV for free!” It can’t be done.

When I was a graduate assistant at OU, one of my greatest disappointments was when I was told, “Don’t worry about a student’s grammar; focus only on content.” (Frankly, I couldn’t do it. My students were taught correct grammar and punctuation.) Just knowing that the administrators didn’t care about grammar hurt. It was even sadder to learn that their opinion that grammar didn’t matter was shared by almost every major university in the country. It’s no surprise that our language has degraded so quickly since university English departments adopted this “We don’t care” attitude.

I believe that our country’s downfall will be a result of our lack of passion for excellence in all we do. “I don’t care” will, eventually, drive us down the path of the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire and other great societies that fell. To survive it, we must adopt an “I DO care” attitude. And I don’t just mean a few of us — I mean all of us. Parents must be good role models for our children and demand only the best from them, teachers must be allowed to teach and grade on the things that matter and the rest of us must strive to achieve to the maximum of our abilities. If the majority begins to show that it DOES care, the minority will, for the most part, follow suit. It’s up to each of us to take a stand for excellence!

So, ask yourself…do you care?

When the Internet was new, users developed a language of their own — a shorthand that was both descriptive and exclusionary. Internet geeks understood it completely, while outsiders were left scratching their heads. Internet slang has evolved and changed throughout the years, with those changes sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, but the basis has remained the same. The shorthand is quicker than typing out entire sentences and can be equally exclusionary, though that is slowly changing.

Internet speak is divided into two types — emoticons, text based “pictures” that represented an emotion, and acronyms that represented longer phrases. Some of this slang has made it into our speech, so much so that almost anyone can understand it, while others remain more contained to the Internet community.

In the early days of the Internet, as Internet jargon was evolving, it was interesting to watch new slang take hold. Since we were Americans speaking mostly to Americans in those days, it was easy for us to catch the meaning, so adoption of the shorthand was fairly quick. Today, it’s often not so easy. With the introduction of other cultures (including Asian Internet culture that has a well developed Internet language of its own) into our Internet society, we have witnessed a shift in geek speak. MMOs have also caused a shift; since they allow users to “emote” using commands, many of the old jargon has been replaced with command-based jargon.

Here are some examples of some of the differences between the old and the new:

Old: LOL — New: lawl or lawlzor (LOL stands, as most people know, for “laughing out loud,” but what in the world is “lawl” and “lawlzor”? Sound out LOL, and you’ve got your answer for the former; the latter is just the same with the random “zor” added to the end, which was something added by gamers.)

Old: {{{{Maggy}}}} — New: /hug Maggy (Both of these represent a hug, but in the old days, the brackets surrounding a name were like a virtual hug, surrounding your name as arms would surround your body. The new version is command-based, used in text conversation to represent the command that would emote the action to you.)

Old: Newbie — New: nub, nube, or n00b (All represent someone who’s new and inexperienced, but the new version is a shorthand of a shorthand that evolved from the sound of the original shorthand. Now, though, most people pronounce it as you would the “nub” of a pencil, which sounds nothing like the original form.)

Old: ;D, o;>, };> ;P, etc. — New: ^^, QQ, >.<, TT, etc. (All of these emoticons represent emotions, but many of the versions are adoptions from Japanese Internet culture. QQ and TT both mean the person is crying -- if you look, you can see that both represent tears falling from one's eyes -- and these came directly from gaming communties. QQ represents someone who's whining, and players often see comments such as "Stop QQing" and "Less QQ and more pew pew," with "pew pew" representing the sound a vitual gun would make. In other words, stop whining and just play." While QQ is used to insult someone, TT is what someone types when they're sad, so has no connection to ridicule.)

Some of the new jargon has actually come from common keyboarding errors. For example, “pwned” is Internet slang for “owned,” as in “I just owned you,” which means “I just beat you soundly.” Others are new shorthands like “leet,” which means “elite,” “ftw,” which means “for the win,” and “l2p” which means “learn to play.” ZOMG has replaced OMG (oh my god) — this change is directly related to the “zor” phenominon. If you sounded it out, this would say, “Zoh my godzor.”

Yes, really.

Geek speak, while constantly evolving, has become so much a part of our every day lexicon that many of us find ourselves using them in our rl (real life). I’ll never forget the time I was teaching a computer aided composition class at the University of Oklahoma in 1991, when someone in class said something very funny, and, instead of laughing, I said, “LOL.” My assistant rolled his eyes at me and called me a geek as he walked out the door to tell anyone and everyone he knew about what I had just done. Now, that wouldn’t be so unusual.

Internet speak permeates our lives so much that it was even used in the opening episode of last year’s South Park, which won an Emmy. Eric Cartman’s famous line, “Looks like someone’s about to get pwned” has been repeated countless times since the show first aired. Text messaging on cell phones and BlackBerries has increased the number of people who use and understand the “language.”

In short, it’s everywhere.

Because of the evolution of Internet slang, my Masters thesis, titled “The Rhetoric of Online Communication” is sadly outdated today. Internet lexicon changes so quickly that any documentation of it would have to evolve with equal speed in order to keep up. I can’t imagine how different it will be ten years from now.

So if you want a big kick, sign on to World of Warcraft and fly to The Barrens to watch some Barrens chat. You’ll laugh so hard at the craziness there that you’ll type “rotflmaopimpwtime” and mean it!

Before I go, here’s a funny book jacket. For these folks (obviously NOT Internet geeks), the title meant something completely different than what it means to the Internet savvy. For those of us who see omfg all the time, this is a hoot. If the authors had any idea, they’d be mortified!

I told myself last week that I wouldn’t cry when I left. I steeled myself to prepare for it. I just knew I had conquered it.

This week, though, was another story. I blubbered like a baby. I don’t do goodbyes well, even though I know it’s not like we won’t see each other again. We can have lunches, we can meet for dinners, there’s the phone.

Never-the-less, I’m a crybaby.

And the thing is…I look really bad when I cry. I mean it’s seriously ugly. And I don’t just cry a little; I weep, my breath hitches, and the more I do this the worse it gets until I just can’t hold on to it anymore. So, as I’m sure you can guess, I hate to cry in front of people.

I’m convinced that my mirror synapses are just really strong. Our mirror synapses are the cells in our brain that allow us to learn from watching others and to feel what we think they must be feeling. We call this empathy. The original words from which the word empathy was derived literally mean passionate feeling.* And those words truly describe why I cried this week. Life was nothing but a big ball of passionate feelings.

Passionate feelings, while driven by mirror synapses, cause certain chemicals to be released in our bodies. Crying is the necessary release of those chemicals. With that in mind, I’d say that my brain and body are just working as designed when I cry. In fact, I’d say that my body is incredibly efficient in the way it handles these processes.

So, now all you folks who were with me when I started to cry this week know the truth. (And I guess if you read last night’s blog below, it makes the situation even clearer.) Being with you and knowing that I won’t get to be with you on a day-to-day basis made me passionately sad this week.

I can blame it on the mirror synapses and the chemicals that were aching to be released, but even though science can explain it, it’s the heart that understands it.

I just wish I could look a little better when I do it.

*1903, translation of Ger. Einfühlung (from ein “in” + Fühlung “feeling”), coined 1858 by Ger. philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-81) from Gk. empatheia “passion,” from en- “in” + pathos “feeling”

I have to get one of these!Few things get under my skin more than the degradation of our language. As an editor, sometimes I just want to find the author whose work I’m editing and beat the bad grammar right out of him or her - particularly when that person is supposed to be in a leadership role.

No, I’m not a purist. I know that as time goes by, languages naturally shift - if that weren’t the case, we’d still all be speaking Sanskrit. And, I know that there are different discourse communities, and that language must be molded in order to fit into these different communities.

I come from Oklahoma, so believe me when I tell you I can speak Okie with the best of ‘em. But I hate, loathe and despise some of the recent shifts in our language as well as some of the grammatical mistakes that pop up all the time now. Here are just a few:

for free

Someone please tell me when it became okay to follow a preposition with an adverb? It’s one thing to say, “I got it for nothing,” or, “I got it for $1.25,” because in those cases, the preposition is followed by an object. “I got it for free” doesn’t follow that rule, and it sounds hickey, to boot. Why not “I got it free?” Its easier to say, has fewer words, is correct English, and you won’t sound stupid by saying it!

then versus than

People, people, people! The word “then” is related to time, as in “I am going to the store, then I’m going to the pet shop.” See how that denotes a passage of time? An order of things? The word “than” is related to comparisons, as in “The pet shop is much more fun than the store.” To use them interchangeably is wrong and, once again, only makes a person look stupid. Don’t do it.

conversate and agreeance

Do I really have to tell you that these two “words” are wrong? Do I?! You don’t go conversate with Ted to see if you can come to an agreeance. You have a conversation with Ted to see if you can come to an agreement. I don’t want to have to tell you this again.

your versus you’re

This one’s pretty simple, but I see it written incorrectly on a regular basis. Don’t say “Your my worst enemy.” Your is possessive - if it’s yours, it belongs to you. If you’re going to call someone out, say instead, “You’re my worst enemy.” That means You are my worst enemy. I could go into its versus it’s and their versus there, but I don’t want my head to explode. If you don’t know the difference between these two things, Google the phrases I put in bold. Being smart is as easy as that.

should of

Really? When people write this, are they serious, or is it some cosmic joke that I don’t get? This is the ultimate make-you-look-really-super-duper-stupid thing to write. Just because the contraction should’ve sounds like should of doesn’t mean you write them the same way, folks.

do’s and don’ts

This one drives me crazy, because it’s completely antithetical. In the first word, people almost always put an apostrophe before the s, even though that would indicate possession if it were used correctly. But in the second word, the only apostrophe is for the contraction of the word not. Why not another one before the s in don’ts if it’s correct to do so? Is it because even the folks that consistently get this wrong know that do’s and don’t’s would look ridiculous? Even though it makes me nuts, I can at least see why it’s so confusing to people. Dos and don’ts doesn’t look right either, even though it is technically correct. I always write DOs and DON’Ts - it’s the closest thing to looking right that I can see. Bottom line though…don’t use an apostrophe unless you are indicating possession or a contraction.

was versus were

I see these words used incorrectly more and more as time goes by, particularly when used in conditional sentences, when the condition is contrary to fact. Just remember this rule, if the word “if” is involved, you should use the verb were. “If I were you, I’d use the correct form of the verb.” I’m not you (a condition contrary to fact), and the last part of the sentence would be true only on the condition that the first part is true. “If I was you…” would never, ever be correct. Don’t use it.

single quotation marks versus double quotation marks

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so this is the last error I’m going to point out (for now). I’m going to state this really clearly, so pay attention. The ONLY time it is correct to use single quotation marks is when you are writing a quote within a quote. THE ONLY TIME. You can write, John said, “Mary walked right up to me and said, ‘Go jump in the lake, John.’ I couldn’t believe she’d be so mean after all we’ve been to each other.” If you get the urge to use single quotation marks for any other reason, stop yourself! Do it right!

I could go on and on (and I probably will at some point in the future, so be ready for it), but there are only so many hours in a day, and besides, you’re bored. I’ve reminded you too much of your 8th grade English teacher, and you’re already thinking of ways to shoot spit wads at me over the Internet. (I’m sure one of you will figure it out before too long.)

Just remember, I’m only looking out for you, kid. I’m trying to make you sound a little bit smarter, and who knows? Maybe if you start following the correct rules mentioned above, you might even be a little smarter.

Just remember…nothing is for free.