This piece is a part of my Little Victories series.
I don’t know the names of the parts of grammar. I remember “prepositional phrase” from this big purple book I had growing up. I remember that there are articles that can be definite and indefinite, but I can’t remember which one is “the” and which one is “a.” And it’s been embarrassing for a long time, but not embarrassing enough to google.
There are all of these things I should probably know that I don’t, and I sort of wish I knew them, and I’m hoping no one will call me out on them, but I’m not exactly making an effort to learn them. Instead, I’m making mac and cheese. Instead, I’m writing the way I would talk if I was better at talking. And for the first time in a long time, I am OK with that. It’s a good sign—I think it means that there’s always hope. Unless it means that my inquisitiveness has curled up and died in a corner somewhere and I will be the counterexample in a future New York Times article about how intellectually active people can stave off Alzheimer’s.
No. It’s progress. It took me a long time to let myself feel smart enough, without making a huge effort to sound smarter. I am just now reaching the stage where I can make occasional small talk in an elevator without the evil voice in my head snarling, “Say something witty, you pathetic nitwit! Yes, the dog is shaggy and cute, but doubtless everyone makes that obvious observation. DISTINGUISH YOURSELF.”
(The voice in my head is like the British butler in movies about how Americans think England used to be, except he’s become unhinged and he’s about to kill everyone.)
My mom made an effort to teach me grammar. I recited “behind, beneath, before, on, in” and whatever else. But it didn’t stick. I was building a lean-to in the woods, and I got good at latticing the branches and packing the gaps with moss and leaves. I practiced sketching faces almost every day and finally I could make their eyes gleam and give them realistic expressions. I was learning lots of things. People are always learning lots of things.