The Trouble with Grammar

Let me put that title in context: the trouble with teaching English grammar is, I split hairs. 

I agonize over the difference between a prepositional phrase and a phrasal preposition; I despair over misplaced correlative conjunction and subordinating conjunction;  I fume over the misuse of “whomever” and “whoever;” I cringe when someone says, “for you and I;”  I grieve over proper nouns in lower case.     

The pits is, I diagram compound-complex and complex-complex sentences to make sure every part of speech is properly used and placed.  

If I weren't so serious, this would be so funny—considering how people these days mangle, maim, and mutilate the English language on cellphones, blogs, FB and other social networking sites. And nobody seems to care!

When I accepted the offer to teach English for Business 101 instead of my favorite subjects, Advertising and Marketing, I knew I was courting trouble.

I unearthed long-forgotten grammar and style books and spent hours re-learning language rules I had put on the back burner. I went over my past book manuscripts to analyze why my editors asked me to rephrase a sentence or two. 

Of course I am aware of the fact that language is a living, breathing organism. In fact, “formulas” and “symposiums” now appear in the dictionary. The “Dictionary of Allowable Errors”  has to be regularly updated because many of its contents have been moved to the real dictionary.  So why bother?

Of course my students couldn't understand how I could spot sentences without commas, em dashes, hyphens, apostrophes, and semi-colons. So what's the big deal if one is missing?  

The big deal is, the corporate world is peppered with language gurus and grammar Nazis—English  is the international language of business.  The usage of correct grammar makes for clearer messages that build  goodwill and win accounts. Since I am arming my students against the big, bad wolves,  I need to nitpick. 

Yet no matter how careful I am, I still make massive mistakes myself.

By virtue of grace, I have meticulous book editors who look for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  And in my last blog post, a dear friend, whom I haven't seen nor heard from for eons, posted a comment on my blog that instead of “brass,” maybe I meant “crass”? 

See what I mean?  

I have no intention of usurping my book editors' realm, nor denying my friends the chance to correct me. But as a teacher of English for Business 101, I must hemorrhage and ache to make sure I drag my college students to the path of proper usage and syntax that they have ignored in favor of  jejemon and other more exciting fads. 

The trouble with grammar is, there is none among the young generation of celebrities (whom, who) students can emulate to realize good grammar is  relevant.

There are only ornery teachers like (me, I) who split hairs.  Toink!


People Power: 25th Year

“You were at EDSA I?!” a much younger friend asks me, incredulous.

“Of course!” I reply.

“Do you have any photos?”

“Well. . . ah, ah . . .”

“None. And you said you were there?!” If she's trying to shame me, she's successful.

I was where history unfolded at the most important Philippine event in the last 25 years and I have absolutely no—none, zilch, zero, nil, nada, zippo—photo to show for it.

If only I was as avid in taking photos then as I am now, I would probably have enough pictures for three dozen albums.

I try to remember (not the tanks, the soldiers, the women giving away sandwiches, and the conversations with people I met for the first time but seemed like I'd known since grade school—those are forever etched in my mind) why I didn't bring any camera, but can't.

My guess is, my whole being was bursting with so many thoughts and emotions that a camera was the last thing in my mind.

That's why when I leaf through any of the coffee table books on EDSA, I am half-hoping I'd see, if not my face, my hand, or back, or nape in one of the photos. My brother saw his and bought six copies to show around.

Today, we celebrate the 25th year of EDSA I.

People Power the world calls it; the power of grace, I believe it is.

The photos in my heart flash before me in slomo. In glorious living colors, I see it all again. I can almost taste the defiance, the anger, the insolence, the desire (with a dash of dread) of a once-cowed crowd of civilians coming together to help move the country back to where it once was and should be forever—free to cast a ballot to choose its leaders.

To keep the memory alive, I am changing my header.  I chose one with yellow daisies, which, aside from yellow roses, changed hands at EDSA 25 years ago: from harmless ordinary citizens to armed uniformed men.    
(Photo was lent by my dear friend from Cebu, Carol Patigdas)


Pride and Prejudice Circa 2011

Two hundred years is a long time.  That's about nine to ten generations removed.   And because change happens every day, what took place two centuries ago may be alien to us today.

This change was never more dramatized for me than when I received a Barnes and Noble  Nook from JB, Gianina, and Adrian  as a Christmas present.  It took time before I even touched it, clueless on how it works.

I had coveted one, simply because I thought it was a no-brainer, like opening any printed book of my liking and reading away!

But the literature that came with it had a long litany of do's and dont's. I googled Nook and was spooked by the dollar prices I had to spend to download the e-books I like.

Yesterday was a breakthrough, though. JC and JR, who are both busy with their own lives, spared a few minutes for their frazzled mom.  I mentioned the first free book that came to my mind—Pride and Prejudice.

And so I am, today, re-reading Jane Austen's book published in 1813 in my Nook.

I don't recall the book being very funny. But I am chuckling every e-page of the way, enjoying the formal, correct language of the story that follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, who deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, and education in early 19th-century England. 

Manners have changed.  Then, people were genteel, today we are often crass.

Upbringing has changed.  Then, children listened to their parents, today they shout back. 

Morality has changed.  Then, people got married before they lived together; today, they  live together before they get married, if they ever get around to it. Then, people who stole were ostracized; today, they are hailed as heroes. 

Education has changed.  Then, people went to institutions housed in buildings; today, we can go to open universities on the net.

Reading has changed.  Then, people flipped through the leaves of a printed book; today, I click on my Nook to go to the next page.   

The only things that have remained in man, and will probably remain till the end of time, are pride and prejudice.  Pride has been a major cause of our downfall then and now.  Prejudice has been the bane of living creatures from Bible times to Nook times. 

It's unimaginable that through all these changes and non-changes, grace is, constant and unchanging.


Coffee Table Book:

Lotsa Photos, Li'l Prose

Having just attended the launching of the third coffee table book that I was privileged to write, I think my smiles are a little bigger and my steps, jauntier.

Compared to writing heavy prose, there is an almost exclusive kind of high in doing a hardcover book meant to sit on a coffee table. Such a book can inspire conversations or entertain guests before boredom sets in.    

For anyone who loves working with images and creating words to go with them, writing is like a leisurely stroll in a meadow of flowers. Wide open spaces and a panorama of colors define the landscape that speaks volumes. Words should be sparse and carefully picked, or they could ruin the vista. 

What charms me most about writing a coffee table book is, you don't work in isolation.  You interact closely with a photographer and an art director, who see things through eyes different from yours, and of course the person around whom the story revolves.  The process can be repetitive and long, but never ho-hum.       

Every meeting is like solving a crossword puzzle. There are clues from horizontal and vertical visuals and cryptic thoughts that need just the exact words to fit the blank spaces.

“Build on Dreams” is both a story of courage and a visual feast. It speaks of  how the abstract becomes concrete—from dreams to reality.   

It will never hit the bookstores because it is not for sale.  But the launching was done in a style grander than anything my books ever had.  Mainly because it coincided with a celebration of other milestones.

This post, then, is not a pitch for you to take a peek at the leaves of the book.  It is a pitch for you to understand that to a writer, grace comes not only through words, but also through pictures that inspire words.      

(Trivia: David R. Brower, a famous environmentalist and founder of many environmental organizations, is often credited with inventing the 'modern coffee table book' in the 30s. He  created the genre of 'exhibit format' books highlighting outdoor photography with message on conservation.)  


When Did You Feel That God Loves You?

It was the first day of my Life Growth class in church, right after the morning Worship Service.   I was facing a new set of “students” who would learn with me “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus,” based on Max Lucado's discussion guide, for the next six months.  

Yuppies, aged 21 to 30.

The old set of "students" in the last six months comprised of men and women, with ages ranging from 45 to 65 (my generation), whose experiences and thoughts are similar to mine. 

Facing yuppies is a challenge—it has been sometime since I belonged to this demographics.

I begin by asking a poser, to unsettle them a little, and make them reflect on their young, unscarred lives: “When did you feel that God loves you?”

They raise their eyes up to the ceiling.

My personal opinion on the matter had been the same as those from my first class. God's love for His children can never be questioned.  But knowing and feeling are two different things.

I felt God's love during two extreme occasions: 1) When I was in crisis or in deep pain.  God came to the rescue, dulled the ache or deleted it altogether.  Then he opened my mind to a fresh perspective and steeled my resolve to move on; 2) When something wonderful happened, like a wished-for award or bonus, or a sudden answer to a prayer of long-standing.  I felt as though God gave me a present!

I call on Nikki.  Having seen her grow up, I know that she has had no "major, major" struggle in her life.  Things always seem to come easy for her.  Seeing her Sunday after Sunday, I have the impression that she has been cosseted and insulated from any form of danger, including insect bite. 

Her answer stings me.

“I am so blessed to have Christian parents who have nurtured me in the ways of the Lord from the day I was born.  They are there whenever I need them.  Through grade school, high school, college, and now in graduate school—in all the decisions I have had to make—they have guided me.  I recently got a job and have put up a small business of my own.  They are there, too, supporting me all the way.  Through my parents, I feel that God loves me.  So when did I feel that God loves me?  Every day.”

In her short narration, she reveals that contrary to my perception, she is deeply grateful for and keenly aware of her blessings. 

She gives this same testimony in the Worship Service the next Sunday.  She begins by tearfully saying,  “The first question Tita Grace asked us in our Life Growth Class was, 'When did you feel that God loves you?'"

Then Nikki went on to say exactly the same answer she gave in our class.  But at the pulpit, in front of the whole congregation and her parents, she almost choked with emotion.  She felt every single word, making us feel the beat of her heart. 

This girl, only 22,  taught me to tune in to God's love not only on extreme occasions, but on all the in-betweens—those placid days when nothing seems to happen, and those hushed nights when sleep doesn't come. God's love comes through people, places, things, and circumstances.

And if we can't take time to feel it,  we miss on the persistence and continuum of grace.

From Nikki I learned to be sensitive to, and feel, God's love every single day.     

May you all feel God's love today.  Happy Valentine's Day everyone!


A Suitcase and Hotel Rooms

I've been living in a suitcase and hotel rooms the past three weeks for book talks and other ministries.  This time, I am in San Mateo, Rizal for what is called a camp, but which is everything but a camp.

Instead of a tent, I am ushered to a spartan but humongous room with a massive bed, and not much else.
As has been my disposition in my travels these days, after being spoiled in the glamorous world of advertising, I am grateful for what is given me—no murmurs, no complaints. I reserve my energy for more important things like taking a rest whenever possible so as not to worsen the cough and cold that has been traveling with me.

I get my nine-hour sleep, but not after watching TV on the shocking suicide of Gen. Angelo Reyes on P-Noy's birthday. What a day!

This is a resort hotel on a minor, rarely traveled road.  It boasts of a 9-wave swimming pool, cottages, and huts not too often seen in Manila.  But they are just items I read on the streamer; all I have time for is a 115-step walk from my room to the conference room (with a wolf whistle from a caged parrot), then to the dining room, then a couple of hours on the internet for unfinished business elsewhere, then back to my room.  

What brought me here?

I have been part of a team that painfully chooses, annually, from among 60 or so high school graduates living in poverty (under the wings of Compassion International), who will be financed in college under a supervised Leadership Development Program.
My six-year term ended last year, but somehow, I was invited again this year to participate in the selection process.

The pace is hectic, yes, but that's not what's difficult. The hard part is asking questions and getting heart-rending answers.  

One after the other, we get stories of child abuse and abandonment, of non-existent meals and troubled sleep, of walking to and from far-away schools, of child labor, of an uncertain college degree, and of sick parents languishing at home because they can't afford medicines or hospital bills.

One after the other, we hear of dreams for a better life—so elusive and illusory.  And yet, being Christians, they have not lost hope in receiving grace from a loving God who understands what they are going through.

Their favorite verse is found in Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “'For I know the plans I have for you,'” declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

In these interviews, tears flow, and at day's end, one's heart is exhausted, but not too weary to say an impassioned prayer for God to take these kids in His loving arms and let them know they have a future.

If it were up to me, with no cap on funds, I'd choose them all.
How ironic that a general who has all the power, money, and everything life has to offer would take his own life; while kids who have nothing will fight all iniquities to survive, so they can honor the life God has given them!

Please visit Compassion International's website and be a prayer warrior for the children under its care.


Controversial Bridge

Next to the decadent Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum, Tacloban's San Juanico Bridge has to be the most maligned and vilified (in media) of the Marcos regime's colossal constructions.

When it was inaugurated, many voices howled in protest against its grandeur and cost vis-a-vis its relevance and usefulness to the people.  I will not discuss my personal thoughts here since this is not a blog on disgrace.

Despite the fowl weather when we flew into Tacloban, first in our agenda was to visit the infamous San Juanico Bridge—all 2.16 kilometers of it.

I didn't know what hit me.

It is breathtaking!

So beautifully designed, it stuns. It is impressive, not only because of its graceful curves and length, but because it does not upstage nature, it enhances it. San Juanico Bridge (flckr photo) seamlessly blends sky, land, and water as God created them.

Spanning Leyte and Samar across  the narrow and serene San Jaunico Strait, the bridge  is not the longest in the Philippines (the Candaba Viaduct of Pampanga Province is longer) but, to me, it is the most beautiful.

The views from the bridge are spectacular—islets, mountains, palm trees, clear water, and a thousand whirlpools.

As we crossed the bridge, the sun peeked a little so it was moderately bright—the view was picturesque all around. Because vehicles were sparse, it was the perfect place to shamelessly and guiltlessly take photos and soak in the spectacle of God's power and grace.

Constructed to the tune of 21.9 million-dollar in 1973, the big question mark on the San Juanico Bridge remains:  Is it worth the money spent on it? 

I am not an economist so I can't answer that.

But as a tourist, I think it is a place that reminds us of the bounty and beauty of nature, which God generously entrusted to the people of the Philippines.


Friends Are Forever

When does friendship end?

Does it end when friends go their separate ways?

Does it end when years come in between?

Does it end when lifestyles and status in life change? 

Does it end when friends grow in different directions?

Does it end when friends embark on opposing careers? 

No.  Not with my friends lumped together into one name—XDYR.  

They're hither and yonder (200 or so of them), and we don't see each other as often as friends normally do.  But like stars up above—whether you see them or not—you know they're there.  Then on cloudless nights, they appear and twinkle.

Occasionally, rather sporadically, small groups of various permutations meet.  Two or three think up of a bright idea to get together and suggest a place and date.  Some hear about it, some don't.  Those who do sometimes reply, sometimes won't. 

A list materializes. But then it swings both ways: decrease or increase with regularity, until d-day comes.   

D-day this time was a Saturday.  In the coolest, greenest place close to my idea of  Shangri-la, twenty appeared and twinkled.  Changes were  noted quickly: grayer, thinner hair and thicker middle. 

But the warmth, the appetite for loud banter and laughter was exactly what it was over a decade ago when we huddled in the hallways of DYR or old eateries around Vito Cruz, after surviving another day of discussion on hair-splitting concepts and meetings with hair-raising clients.
The Saturday jokes went from scintillatingly witty to excruciatingly corny.  And as the conversation in ultra-high decibels went in all directions, it progressed from silly to silliest.   

And I thought, a day couldn't get any better. 

When old-friends—particularly those with whom I shared millions of cathartic moments in what, to me, was the world's most harrowing job—meet, one is made to relish globs upon globs of grace. 

That's why, while writing "Grace Found Me," I wanted to honor them with what keeps me busy (minus the stress) after I left DYR: words. On the Acknowledgment page I wrote . . . 

"With all the gratitude I have in me, may I single out those who are within the circles where I move today:

. . . XDYR, a group of feisty and irrepressible admen who defy age and reason.  On FB, e-mails, and occasional get-togethers—you make me remember, with affection, the golden years of yore that were my toughest years."

Happy New Year, my dearest Vito Cruisers!