22 January 2015

50 – Make ‘Your’ Own Rules

This essay is inspired by a spelling mistake.

Fifteen years ago my epic friend, Small Paul, wrote a note to a girl who amazed him. And shortly before I started writing this essay a new friend thanked me for helping her. And in both cases they spelled the same word wrong. 

And while those two episodes have nothing to do with each other, they also have everything do with each other. They got to me thinking about rules, and so that's what 'your' going to be reading about.

Our story begins at 4am on a Tuesday morning. After making coffee and determining that Old Man Winter was going to make me work before going to work, I read email and checked in with my Fitfriends at Fitocracy. Sidenote: if you’re into fitness, or looking to become healthier, visit that site. It’s Facepagebullshit × exercise + videogame level-ups. It's a brilliant equation that inspires you to move more, eat healthier, and be happier. End of story.

One of my FitFriends, Ma Kettle, had left me a message overnight. She wasn't sure how to enter a year-long pull-up challenge, and wanted to know if I did. I did, so I told her how. Then I got suited up to confront Old Man Winter.

I got a reply from Ma Kettle before attacking the old bastard's wrath with the shovel. She'd successfully entered the challenge, and closed her message by saying, Thank you your awesome. And those last two words instantly took me back to one of the great moments in life.

So we’re doing this, boys and girls. Except we're going back to 2000, not 1985.

But you'll always be fucking with the dashboard clock.

Picture it: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2000. You probably can't because you probably never studied there. You may not know where Newfoundland is either. That's OK. I just wanted to work a Golden Girls reference into this essay. 

While attending university, myself and Small Paul always studied in the quiet section on the 5th floor of the library. And during those sessions Small Paul started seeing a girl who just blew him away. She knocked him head over heels.

One evening he said, Fuck it. I'm leavin' her a note. Gonna tell her she's amazing. Important: what Small Paul says, Small Paul does. I gave up trying to study at this point. There was a-doin’s-a-transpirin’.

Small Paul pounced when Amazing Girl left her study table. He scribbled a note on one of my blank cue cards, walked over to her table, and put it on her textbook. Then he strutted back with a big grin on his face. He's always lived for that kind of thing.

We waited for Amazing Girl to return. But she didn't. Her amazingness must’ve been in high demand somewhere else. So we finally packed up our gear and left.  In our world, playing NHL 2000 on Playstation 2 was serious business.

We passed Amazing Girl's table on the way out. I looked to see what Small Paul had written. And I just shook my head and laughed.    

What? said Small Paul. 

Your amazing? I said. You spelled 'your' wrong, man. It's 'you're,' not 'your.' 

Small Paul paused to think about this. Then he shrugged and said, Fuck it. She's so amazing she can have it spelled any fuckin' way she wants! 

We still laugh about that. And I've gotten more than a few birthday and Christmas cards from Small Paul since then that say, ‘your’ amazing.

Back to the snowy Tuesday morning we go.

I told Ma Kettle this story, and how her grammar miscue had reminded me of it. 

Well I am so glad my lack of grammar skills could brighten your day, she said, jokingly. 

Grammars overrated, I replied. Half the sentences I write technically aren’t proper sentences. 

I meant that. And I believe it.

And I believe a lot of rules are overrated. And many of those rules are obstacles we need to find a way around. And sometimes we’re better off making up our own rules.

So let’s go there.

Ma Kettle is a very sweet, friendly, and courteous lady. She's quite impressive. And it ain't because she follows all The Rules that The World tells her to.

Ma Kettle is 37. She's slowly working toward an Associate's Degree in Science (emphasizing Dietetics). So what? There's no rule saying a student has to be 19, in debt, and in heat to be working on a college or university degree.

Ma Kettle gives fun names to all the workouts she logs on Fitocracy. How dare she? She dares because there’s no rule stating you have to call a legs and arms workout ‘Legs & Arms Workout.’ Sometimes it’s more fun to call that workout ‘Buns of Steel, Guns of Glory.' It shows something of who Ma Kettle is, and may leave people suspecting she’s actually Sarah Connor in a baker’s apron. Anyone who can indulge your sweet tooth and lay you out with some Sweet Chin Music is alright in my books.

Most importantly, Ma Kettle really is a ma. She's raising two school-age kids while trying to finish school herself. And she's in great shape. Fiddle-dee-fuckin’-dee. There’s no rule saying a mom can’t give herself a fit body again after squeezing two youngsters out of it. It's another reason Ma Kettle may secretly be Sarah Connor. And if I was her kid, and I was being pursued by a Terminator, I'd definitely tell me ma.

Likes: her offspring. Dislikes: cyborgs trying to kill said offspring.

Ma Kettle doesn't follow The Rules. She cuts a path around them, and makes up new ones as she goes along. And that's important. Because sometimes following The Rules can suck the life out of you.

I know this because I almost let it happen to me. So back to the Delorean we go, Marty.

In a previous work life, I tried to get a Career in The World as a professor. And that involved writing every day. And that appealed to me because I’d loved writing since I was a kid.

So I followed The Rules for becoming a professor. I wrote academic papers and articles and lectures. I followed all The Rules for academic writing and used the correct font sizes and font types. I followed The Rules and explained what every relevant expert on the subject had written before offering my own two cents. I followed The Rules and used the appropriate technical terms to describe the things I wrote about. I followed The Rules and was on the path to becoming a good little academic.

I followed all The Rules for ten years. And two things came to pass:

1) I stopped sounding like myself. There was no blood and fire in the words I wrote. Following The Rules was robbing me of my writing voice.

2) I started to hate writing. I came to realize that I had no interest in the subjects I wrote about it. But I kept writing about them. And the things I really wanted to write about remained things I’d hopefully get toOne of These Days.’ And so a thing I loved doing slowly became something I loathed.

Following The Rules for becoming a professor was taking me somewhere I didn’t want to go. I was letting The Rules bully me in to being something The World wanted me to be. And in coming to hate something I’d always loved, something worse started to happen.

I started hating myself.

One day I decided to quit. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in life. And it’s no secret. I talked all about it in House Newf #19.

My decision shocked a lot of coworkers and friends. But I didn’t give a fuck. And I haven’t since.

I realized that having an office in an old building with my name engraved on the front door didn't spell success. To my eyes success is really spelled H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S. And that’s a rule I’m happy to follow.

Let’s face it: The Rules are often written by people who want you to follow and stay in line. But staying in line ain't for everybody. Some people live to find ways around The Rules. Some people find happiness by making rules of their own.   

As a schoolboy, one such chap had to write an essay about what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy simply wrote 'When I grow up I want to be happy.' The teacher wasn't happy with that answer and assigned the boy a low grade. When handing the assignment back the teacher said, I don't think you understood the assignment. The boy simply replied, I don't think you understand life.

I suspect John Lennon was a lot happier for not listening to that teacher.

John never did fancy The Rules. He never learned to read sheet music, but he did learn that never saying what the press wanted him to say could be a right bit of fun. If John had followed The Rules, The Beatles may have never made people's hearts go boom. Imagine that.

Thankfully there are some teachers who know better than to follow all The Rules. One such professor taught at Oxford University. He spent his entire adult life writing academic books and articles about old languages, mythologies, and heroic epics. He was a respected expert in his field.

But John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had an even bigger story to tell.

Ronald invented his own languages to tell the epic mythology and history of a world he had spent his entire life creating. Many of his peers scoffed at this. They felt Professor Tolkien should've stuck to The Rules and behaved like a good little academic. But Ronald merely scoffed back. If Ronald had followed The Rules, Middle Earth might've remained a secret lost to the shadows of time. 

Pipedreaming about taking a Delorean back to the future to stop Peter Jackson.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many of The Rules are quite useful and worth following. Many rules exist for good reason.

But some of The Rules can certainly be bent. Sometimes the best thing about The Rules is that they push us to find creative ways around them. Sometimes they demand that we make our own rules.

And sometimes that’s the best rule for growing and becoming better.

One last thing. This essay, which was inspired by a grammar mistake, is itself full of grammar mistakes. A lot of the sentences you’ve read aren’t proper sentences. They just happen to start with a capital letter and end with a period.

If you want to comb this essay for each of those errors, and split hairs over what I’ve written, feel free. Just know you’ll be going it alone.

Split hairs don’t interest me.

I’m a writer, not a hair stylist.

1 comment:

  1. After reading this blog entry I may have to start focusing on the content of what I read and stop focusing on the grammar "rules". It seems I may be missing a lot of what I am reading .


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