Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part II


(Click here to read “Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I”)

When I transitioned to herbal remedies in place of drugs four years ago, I remember thinking, “Good thing we aren’t in the medical profession!” If I were a pharmacist or married to one, for example, I’m not sure how well that switch would have gone over for all involved hahaha.

But as a college writing teacher married to a tax accountant, I figured we were safe from such life-altering displacement. Taxes are as certain as death, they say; and everyone believes in education.

Insert corny sound effect: ba-dum tshh.

This past summer at the most recent adjunct-faculty meeting I attended for the English department at Salt Lake Community College, I made my big confession: “Guys, I’m a traitor. I’ve converted to unschooling.”

It got the laugh I’d intended, but also lots of questions. “Unschooling? What’s unschooling? I mean, I get that it’s not doing school, but what does that look like?” Read more

Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I

It doesn’t look like school anymore . . . because it’s not.


I still tell people we “homeschool” since most inquirers just want an explanation for why my kids are home every day. When they ask follow-up questions, like what time we “do school,” I have to take a deep breath and hope I’m not judged as a weirdo—especially in a brand-new neighborhood where those next door are just getting to know us.

“Oh, we used to have a set schedule, but we don’t anymore. Now I’m letting my kids follow their own interests instead of me teaching lessons.”

The word I haven’t tossed around much—not yet, not until I get a little braver—is unschooling. Read more

Safe Experience: A Parent’s Thoughts on Censorship

“Only the foolish learn from experience — the wise learn from the experience of others.”

~Romanian Proverb

It was hard to decide where to begin once I committed myself to another Banned Books Week post. My other one served me well; I felt like it showed a good balance between both sides of the censorship issue.

Haha — the only trouble is that I’ll be the first to tell you there are hardly ever only two sides to anything. Issues are complex. There’s always more to explore.

Simpsons vs. Jetsons

Take, for example, an episode that aired several reruns at our house. Hubby grew up loving The Simpsons; I grew up with a dad who discouraged us from watching it, on the grounds that it showed inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to appreciate the show for its literary allusions, but I still felt our kids weren’t old enough to watch it (our oldest is six). Whenever I would catch Hubby turning on The Simpsons while the boys were in the room, I griped, “Please! Please change it to something else! Find Cartoon Network. Turn on The Jetsons or The Flitstones — something that’s meant for kids!”

After months of this, I finally confronted Hubby when the kids were in bed. I was angry that he ignored my requests and horrified that he wasn’t concerned about the kids’ exposure to mature content.

“Have you seen The Jetsons recently?” he asked.

The question stopped me. “What do you mean?”

“I tried what you suggested. We watched Jetsons for a while, and I was totally disgusted by the way they show women. I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that women are only good for shopping and cleaning. But with The Simpsons, at least I know every episode and I don’t show them the bad ones.”

Now, with Hubby it’s completely possible that he was just messing with me. The combination of him being good at lying and me being too gullible sometimes lets him get away with too much. But in this case, he’d given me a revelation.

There’s more to media than the obvious violence, swearing, crudity, etc, that impacts the rating. There’s the underlying issue of the worldview the media portrays. The Jetsons premiered in 1962; it sort of can’t help portraying mentalities from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s about gender roles and consumerism, etc. I think Hubby’s right: we don’t want to pass those on to our kids. And letting them watch those kind of shows might reinforce that antiquated worldview, dangerously setting it into their subconscious as “normal.”

On the other hand, history is full of sexism portrayed through the media of the time period, whether in Shakespeare or Dickens or sitcoms like I Love Lucy. So to label The Jetsons as bad simply because it reflects the culture of the time doesn’t seem right. However, I like the point that we need to consider more than just the obvious when it comes to the influences on our children.

(Whether or not this exonerates The Simpsons and sanctions it for young viewers . . . well, it’s one of those cases where I’m choosing to lay down my sword and give up on that battle for now.)

Cruella vs. Woody

What I’m trying to say so far is that it’s complicated. It’s not easy to label any media, even media specifically designed for children, as good or bad, harmful or benign.

Think about Disney.

I’m not talking about what shows up when you freeze-frame certain scenes. I’m talking about something much simpler: when my oldest kid started using the word “idiot” at age three or four.

“That’s not a very nice word,” I told him. “Where did you hear that?”

“Dalmatians,” he said.

“Oh. Well, Cruella isn’t a very nice person. She doesn’t say very nice things. We don’t want to be like her, do we?”

He shook his head, and I felt all proud of myself for handling a “teaching moment” so well.

Then he asked, “But what about Woody?”


“Woody says ‘idiot’ too. He calls Buzz idiot.”

I had to stop and think how to explain.

“Sometimes even good people mess up and say things that aren’t nice. It’s just not a nice word. I don’t want you to call yourself an idiot or call anybody else an idiot, okay?”


That teaching moment might have been more for me than for him. This was before our Simpsons vs Jetsons episodes, before I’d had really any experience at all with my kids encountering “bad” content. It taught me the simple lesson that I can’t shield them from everything, but I can discuss it with them and help them put it into context.

My oldest quit using the word “idiot” thanks to that quick chat. Now years later he still sometimes reports to me about what he’s seen in terms like, “Last night, on Simpsons, Bart hit Lisa, and that wasn’t very nice, so we don’t want to do that.” He can evaluate media and he can discuss it with us, and I think those habits/skills are far more valuable than protecting his innocence with an all-out ban.

Uncomfortable vs. Safe

What this finally brings me to is the idea that maybe it’s actually good for our kids (and us) to encounter certain harsh truths through media. I would much rather my six-year-old learn that it’s bad to hit your siblings by extrapolating that from TV than by hitting his four-year-old brother and learning from the resulting time-out.

In some ways, isn’t that the point of stories, whether told out loud or in books or as TV shows or movies? To make us wiser by helping us learn from others’ experience rather than having to learn everything “the hard way”?

Last summer I wrote about it in regards to experiencing death in a post called “Killing off Characters,” saying,

Maybe we need to contemplate death through fiction . . . because it helps us reconcile one of the most frightening parts of our existence. Fiction is a fantastic place to wrestle with questions about life, and so it’s probably also an appropriate place to wrestle with questions about death.

For example, in Shannon Hale’s Actor and the Housewife, there’s a death that made me cry for a solid hour. . . . Even though it was a wretched hour of heavy tears, I was grateful for the opportunity to go through it in fiction, to see the main character survive, and to think to myself that I could survive it, too, if I had to.

I think a lot of us can agree that we’d rather go through something horrible in fiction than in real life. I think we can probably even agree that fiction prepares us to better handle hard things in life. And maybe that even applies to the content we might at first be inclined to censor.

In the post that I republished on Monday, my friend Leisha and I conversed about this idea in the comments:

A couple of years ago I went to a school book fair and tried to buy a copy of the Hunger Games. The attendants ran over to me when I picked it up off the shelf and whispered, “Do you know what that book is about?” I stared back and told them yes. They then asked if I still wanted to buy it because there was nudity in it. And violence. And death. And kids killing kids. I just stared some more before grinning and saying, “Heck yeah! I love a good dystopian. Bring on the body count.”

It’s such a strange thing, isn’t it? Because when you list it out like that — nudity, violence, death, kids killing kids — it sounds horrifying. Well, it is horrifying, actually. But horrifying is THE POINT. I think of dystopian fiction as a warning of what-might-happen-IF… Plus I think fiction is the place for us to deal safely with horrific things, to experience death and decide how we might cope, even if we only think about it on a subconscious level. (Whoa, sorry to go all literary theory on you.)

I know! I spent a lot of time thinking about what led that society to that point, and through the safety of the story I was willing to ponder on what could happen to ours IF things went awry. Stories deal with uncomfortable issues in a safe environment, it’s an emotional workout that lets me measure and even strengthen my moral codes. They allow speculation and experiences in situations I’d never dare to seek out in real life because I’m not fond of dying or pain, but I will face it in a book and emerge a better person for facing it. And I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t face. I reserve that right for myself. I will decide what is my limit.

On the one hand, you could argue that Leisha reading The Hunger Games as an adult is completely different than having that book be geared toward teens. But I argue that most teens can handle it and that they need to. They need books that allow them to encounter those gruesome experiences precisely because we don’t want them to have to experience any of that firsthand. The lessons of war, etc, are sobering lessons that I want my kids to understand without having to go to war.

And I’m hoping that by the time my kids are teenagers, they’ll be prepared to decide for themselves, like Leisha, whether or not a book such as The Hunger Games is a good idea for them.

Uncomfortable versus safe? Hubby’s not comfortable with Jetsons, I’m not comfortable with Simpsons; but at least in either case our kids are learning that it’s safe to talk to us about media, just like I feel it’s safe to encounter tough issues in a book or movie, to grapple with experience of all levels in a place where we have the distance to evaluate it and decide how to apply it to ourselves.

Rather than having anyone censor books for me or my kids, I’d rather make those decisions for ourselves. Sure, right now I’m trying to shelter our kids a little, questioning everything from Disney to Simpsons to whether or not they’re old enough for Harry Potter. But gradually I’m turning the decisions over to them as we discuss the issues and they become better at recognizing the “good” and “bad.” They’ll get to be the ones to decide what they’re ready for.

It is a strange thing, I know, to say that I hope my kids will someday choose to read books about horrifying things when they’re ready. I hope they’ll read about ideas that are uncomfortable, that challenge their worldviews. I want them to be evaluative readers who weigh consequences and consider applications to their own lives.

I want my children to be wise.

What do you think? How do you look at censorship from a parenting viewpoint?

Leave a comment!

Satisfying Endings: Leaping Past “This” or “That” to Find “The Other”

This week I had an insight about storytelling and life (isn’t it amazing how often those go together?) that has been a long time coming, and I wonder if it’s as true for other  people as it is for me.

I come from a stubborn gene pool, so that might have something to do with it.

“It” being the fact that I’ve always resisted either/or choices.

My preschooler does it all the time, too. “Do you want one or two?” I’ll ask him. “Three,” he’ll reply.

When I was in high school and we were reading/watching Inherit the Wind junior year, the teacher wanted to hold a debate between Creationism and Darwinism. I stubbornly created my own third team: those who believe evolution is part of God’s plan of creation.

It wasn’t until Hubby and I watched a documentary this week about a round-the-world race that I started to realize maybe there’s more to this either/or dilemma than stubbornness — and that it might be the key ingredient for a good story.

The documentary, called Deep Water, focused on an Englishman in the ’60s who decided he wanted to enter the race to be the first man to sail around the world without stopping . . . even though he had no real experience. He was sort of a bookish type (to which I can relate!) and had read enough about it that he felt confident he could do it. So he found an investor and jumped into a contract where the other man would finance a boat, etc, so long as Crowhurst (the bookish would-be adventurer and father of four) did not drop out of the race. If he did, the investor would claim everything and Crowhurst’s family would go bankrupt.

Where the either/or came into play was once the race began. His boat sprung a leak, requiring him to bail out the water by hand, and there was no way he could sail the treacherous southern oceans in a leaky boat. Suddenly he faced almost certain suicide if he kept going or financial ruin if he went back.

Not such a great pair of choices, huh?

*    *    *

Another example came in my email box via my “Daily Insights” subscription back in January. It asked you to suppose that you were driving along and spotted three people waiting for a bus: an old friend who once saved your life, an old woman in desperate need of a hospital, and the perfect partner for whom you’d waited all your life (apparently you are omniscient in this scenario and can see into the future; we’re just gonna go with it, I guess ;)).

The dilemma? You only have one seat in your car. Who gets it?

Awesome, right? I couldn't resist throwing this in!

Starting to see the pattern? Good stories require tension, and tension often comes from battling between contradictory and equally unappealing options. It’s that whole lesser-of-two-evils thing. Um, who really wants to pick either “evil”?

I gave the email scenario to my intermediate writing students to puzzle over, and they said that obviously the old woman was the “right” choice because it’s the only humane choice. If she needs a hospital, you can’t leave her waiting for a bus. And the old friend would understand, right?

But what about your perfect partner? I don’t mean to sound callous toward the old lady, but can you really jeopardize a lifetime of happiness? (Being married to my best friend, I can testify that finding “the right one” makes all the difference!) What if you never see that person again?

So again, it’s a choice where no matter which one you opt for, the consequences aren’t so hot.

The trick to it is to hold out for another choice, or create one yourself.

My preschooler comes up with his own number of how many (of whatever) he’ll accept. I insisted on having my own third debate team in high school.

As for Crowhurst, he decided to stay put off the coast of Brazil and slip back into the race once everyone else had rounded the tip of South America and headed back north toward England. (Yes, a bit deceptive, but when your life’s at stake? Anyhow, this post isn’t about honesty, so we’ll save that debate for another time.)

And with the daily insight, the email suggested that you have your old friend drive the old woman to the hospital while you stay and wait for the bus with your perfect partner.

Once we see The Other choice, it becomes almost obvious, right? “How could I have missed that?” Right?

*    *    *

Well, I argue that it’s the same thing with great stories and the very best of endings. I think a great story keeps you on the edge of your seat because all the available options are horrid! You don’t want the main character to end up dead/dismembered/unhappily-married/financially-destitute/estranged-from-her-family/orphaned/any-other-number-of-awful-consequences; but you can’t possibly see how she can avoid it! Oh, the glorious tension! Oh how your heart races! Oh the angst and the drama and the perfect recipe for a good story!

. . . With the catch that the author must wow us at the end. Somehow, the author has to stubbornly reject the given choices — not choose This OR That — and have the main character create The Other choice: one so perfect that we shut the book with a happy sigh thinking, “Of course! Brilliant! That was the way it was meant to work out!”

One example that comes to mind is Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely that I blogged about a year or so ago, raving about the excellent job she did in finding a compromise between the seeming contradictions of two love interests and career versus love. The ending of that book was fantastic because it wasn’t one of the obvious choices.

Now it’s just a matter of coming up with the right one for my own manuscript. It gets closer every draft, but I think that once I hit on the perfect solution, it’ll be obvious. I just have to keep stubbornly holding out, confident that eventually I will think up a best option.

What do you think? Have you come across this in your own life? What stories have you heard/read/watched/lived through that exemplify the principle of rejecting either/or?

Leave a comment!

The Rhetoric of Propaganda: Vaccines and Apple Maggots

Thinking about writing this post has kept me up at night. That happens any time I’m about to jump into a controversial issue. In my college comp course, I warn students away from controversial topics because they aren’t ready to tackle them; their rhetorical skills aren’t advanced enough yet. Heck, I’m not sure my own skills are, which is half the reason I also avoid confrontational subjects . . . until they start to keep me up at night. That’s when I know that it’s time to say something, even if saying something scares the crap out of me.

Plus this site is called “All About the Words,” and that’s what rhetoric is. Rhetoric is all about the words and how they can be used to persuade.


Getting to the Issue

This fall, every time I go to the community college to teach my class, I pass a small poster that says this:

Your flu vaccine protects me.
My flu vaccine protects you.

At the beginning of the semester, it had the effect of a reminder. I would think to myself as I passed it, “Oh yeah. Need to check on when the pediatrician is offering the walk-in clinics. Need to get our flu shots.”

Now I think to myself, “Stupid propaganda. I can’t believe I bought into that for so long.”

Eek. There. I said it. Now you know what side I’m on, which possibly ruins all the rest of my rhetoric. As I tell my students, the trouble with controversial subjects is that most people have already made up their minds and refuse to change them, so the only audience you’re going to get — the only readers who will stick with you through the end — are the ones who agree with you. You end up preaching to the choir because the rest of the congregation fled the second you admitted you were on the “wrong” side of the controversy.

So in a way I can breathe easier now. The only people reading this paragraph are the ones who haven’t been scared away!

A few months ago I gave my intermediate class an article from Parents magazine about vaccines. As I would have suggested back then, the article waited until the very end to spill the news that they were pro-vaccine. At the time, so was I, and I applauded their arguments and used the article to show my class an effective piece of rhetoric.

Since then my life has been turned upside down.


How Having a Baby Can Shake Your Worldview

It started with a baby — our third. With my first two labors, I’d broken down into tears at 5cm dilated, at which point I got an epidural with the first. With the second, I tried to tough it out, which involved massive amounts of screaming, both scaring and scarring my poor husband, until I got an epidural at 8cm. Needless to say, with this third pregnancy, I knew that I needed help. So we hired a doula — a birthing coach. And the first thing she did was come to our house with an enormous stack of handouts for us to read.

I read and read and read. I couldn’t get enough. I was amazed that even though we’d taken the hospital class with our first baby and even though I’d been through delivery twice, there was so much I didn’t know. Things like how laughter speeds up labor, relaxing speeds up labor, being immersed in water speeds up labor — and all of those things also reduce the pain without the side effects of drugs. Why had no one told me with my other babies?

Anyhow, I started to get excited for labor. I wanted to test out my new knowledge! And believe me, being anxious for labor to start was totally out of character for me. I’m happy to go overdue with my babies. I’m happy to be pregnant as long as my body wants to. Because babies are hard work! So for me to be excited for labor says a lot about how much I loved what I had learned.

Okay, I’m taking too long with all this. The point is, once I went into labor, no one believed me. I hardly believed me. Our doula didn’t believe me. I was too calm. It was too easy. Labor shouldn’t be so easy. I shouldn’t have been joking around. And yet when we got to the hospital I was 8cm dilated. I laughed and said, “Are you kidding me?”

Knowledge really is power!

That was what started to shake our worldview. A month or so after the baby was born, Hubby and I had a conversation about the wool being pulled over our eyes. Everyone says that birth is the most painful thing ever and you shouldn’t even try to do it without the epidural, but we’d learned that the whole experience was so much better without medical intervention. Conventional wisdom had lied to us. And we started to wonder what other interventions weren’t so good — what other things were considered normal when really the “fringe” view was better . . . if you had the right knowledge to go with it.

Think how fringe we once considered environmentally conscience people. I remember being teased in fifth grade (early ’90s) because I had a book called 50 Ways to Save the Earth. Now it’s trendy to be earth conscience.

Think how decades ago baby formula was promoted as healthier than breast milk because science had engineered it to be optimally nutritious. Now we’ve gotten smart and admitted that Mother Nature is smarter than science.

Think of fad diets — always the latest, best nutritional plan! — that later prove to be unhealthy.

If conventional wisdom can be that fickle, can we really trust it?

With that new mindset, my thirst for better knowledge has been unquenchable again, like it was with the childbirth info. I read and read and read about how herbal medicine works with the body while drugs work against it (herbal remedies cure swine flu three times as fast as the drug for it); how the best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid refined sugars and toxins (like, say, the toxins in the vaccines) and instead focus on getting enough vitamins and minerals and sleep and exercise (duh); how actual immunity is achieved by getting diseases like the chicken pox, whereas vaccines wear off, leaving adults susceptible to diseases that were meant to be handled by children. (Think how much energy kids have. No wonder childhood diseases hit adults so much harder.)

And now I see the rhetoric of conventional wisdom in a new light. Think of when the swine flu hit. There was panic. Government doesn’t like panic; government likes to be the hero. I don’t blame it. It’s a perfectly rational response. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that vaccines will save us, so of course the government works as hard and as fast as it can to give us those vaccines and to promote them by playing on our fears:

Your flu vaccine protects me.
My flu vaccine protects you.

The textbook I use in my comp course calls “Appeal to Fear” a logical fallacy — in other words, bad/dishonest rhetoric. It says, “One type of logical fallacy makes an appeal to readers’ irrational fears and prejudices, preventing them from dealing squarely with a given issue and often confusing cause and effect” (Green and Lidinsky 188).

Um . . . exactly.


The Parable of the Apple Maggots

the organic solution: an apple maggot trap!

The final piece in the vaccine puzzle for me was when an experience I had with our apple trees came to mind a few weeks ago. I had bought “fruit spray” for the trees (notice they don’t call it “pesticide” at the store — more rhetoric) because conventional wisdom said that you have to spray the trees in order to protect the fruit. But then I changed my mind and figured I would “go organic” and simply not spray. I would let those apples grow the way nature intended!

Well, within a few weeks, my beautiful budding apples were decimated by apple maggots. In desperation, I sprayed them all . . . but it was too late.

What I realized was that (a) going organic doesn’t mean doing nothing — it means actually working harder sometimes instead of going with the easy conventional method, and (b) we run to the conventional method because we’re desperate.

We run to vaccines because we don’t know how else to protect our kids from apple maggots, basically. And the propaganda reinforces that by reassuring us we’re doing the right thing. We’re protecting not only our own kids but other people’s kids, too. Until you start to read up on how pesticides on your apples equals more toxins in your body which makes you less healthy, more likely to get sick, and therefore not at all protected. (Sort of like vaccines . . .)

Propaganda plays on the fears of the uninformed. That’s why when I pass that poster at the community college I scold myself for being duped for so long. I should have known better. After all, rhetoric is what I teach!

And I teach it a little differently now, too. Our textbook tells students you can trust that .edu and .gov websites are unbiased. I tell them to scratch that out and remember that every website has a bias; they just have to recognize what that bias is. It’s the nature of rhetoric.

(When I called my doctor’s office and the nurse, worried that I’ve been duped about vaccines, told me to be sure and read the CDC’s website for unbiased information, I laughed.)

Sometimes I let myself get all dreamy and picture a perfect world where the government would promote herbs and vitamins and tell everyone,

“It’s your job to protect yourself from disease
by eating healthy, getting exercise and sleep,
and knowing what herbs to use to help your body combat illness.”

But that’s not exactly the easy fix, is it? The easy fix is to run for the pesticide and spray the crap out of those apple maggots — and right into our food, and thus into our bodies. And unfortunately easy fixes are also easier rhetoric.

It’s just too bad that I’m probably preaching only to the choir.

If you made it this far, please leave a comment. Please tell me what you think. This coming Tuesday I’m taking my baby to the doctor and will have to defend why I’m not going to let them inject one single thing into his body, so I need all the practice I can get at responding to whatever objections come my way.

UPDATE 11/13/10: After all the comments and emails I’ve gotten on this post in the last week, I realized I need to qualify my claim a little better. I am not claiming that vaccines don’t work; I’m claiming they’re like pesticides: yes, they are one way to keep the “bugs” away, but do you really want those toxins in your body if there’s an organic option? It’s like buying “conventionally grown” produce at the grocery store — if you’re okay with it, go for it. But I don’t think you should be persuaded to eat pesticides or get vaccines because of fear-inducing rhetoric. That’s all. Let’s let everyone make an educated choice.

Leave a comment!


UPDATE: I realized I should also post a link to my doula’s blog, which has a great series of posts about vaccines that first started to convince me I didn’t know the whole truth.

  • Greene, Stuart and April Lidinsky. From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Woefully, Thoroughly, Embarrassingly Spaced: A Case for Adverbs (and Swears)

If you stopped by on Friday, or Saturday, you may have wondered what happened to me this past week. Is she still alive? Is everything okay? Has she collapsed into postpartum depression?

Everything’s fine except my brain.

(Thursday was rough with the babe, but that’s because he was almost six weeks old. This is my third kid, and with all three I thought to myself right before six weeks hit, “Damn it! I can’t do this anymore. I can’t hold a baby this many hours a day. I can’t feed him this often. I can’t handle this much crying and fussing.” And then six weeks hit and they magically became good babies. So really on Friday I didn’t have an excuse anymore, other than recovering from Thursday, which I’ve dubbed Day of Massive Tears. Anyway.)

On Saturday, I began typing a tweet about spacing the post so thoroughly that “spaced” needed extra adverbs, but then my brain must still have been out to lunch because I couldn’t think of any clever adverbs to add to the tweet, so I deleted it.

But it made me think about adverbs in general, which IMHO have gotten a bad rep. Writing teachers love to rant about them and circle them with red pens: “No -ly words!” And really, what have the adverbs done to deserve this?

Now, granted, I do understand the point. I am a writing teacher, and I have cringed at plenty of “-ly words” myself. But maybe just because I love adding a new perspective to debates, I’m going to throw out the idea that it’s not the adverb itself that is bad; it’s the usage.

For example, think of the words we label as “bad” words. Go ahead. Think of a few of them. It’s sort of fun to let them roll through your head. They have a pleasingly rough sound to them, a hard consonant ending that stomps down to help us feel a little better just by slipping them out. I mean, when you’re upset, it’s natural to feel like you want to punch something, and an expletive is the verbal equivalent of that punch.

(My favorite is the mild-but-still-explosive “damn,” which I justify by only damning the pronoun “it,” never “you” or “him” or any other undeserving pronoun; somehow “it” just seems to ruin my life often enough to merit the curse.)

Anyhow, now I want you to think of a scenario where one of those bad words is really the only word that could possibly fit.

Maybe it’s because that word sums up a load of misery the size of a landfill; maybe it’s because that word perfectly fits the person/character saying it; maybe it’s because that word is just ironic enough in the context to shock everyone present into much-needed laughter.

(We named our baby after his great-great grandfather, and asked my husband’s grandparents to tell us about the namesake, and one of the first things Grandma Mantyla told us about her dad was that he loved to swear. I asked her if it was in anger or in jest, and she laughed and said it was always to be funny, because he was that kind of a character.)

See where I’m going with this?

I think there could potentially be a place for adverbs.

We try to avoid them on the principle that if your verb needs an adverb, you’re not using a strong enough verb — and therefore the issue is word choice. A writer’s job is to choose the best word possible for every situation, and that’s a challenge.

So maybe that’s why I bristle a little at the idea of being limited in my choices. I want to have every word at my disposal without being limited by ones that are supposedly “bad.”

Today I want to celebrate adverbs and give them the credit they are so often denied.

To the words “magically,” “thoroughly,” “pleasingly,” “perfectly,” “potentially,” and “supposedly” that slipped unintentionally into this post, thank you for adding that touch of emphasis I wanted in each place. (Note: There are more adverbs than that in this post, but these are the most obvious culprits that would offend certain past teachers of mine the most.) Sure, there might be a better verb that could eliminate the need for you, but since this post is already two days late and is written in your honor, I’m going to let you stay.

And perhaps we’ll make a game of it.

I’d love to hear your ideas. What words could I use to ditch the above-mentioned adverbs, or which of them do you think fit best and don’t need ditching? What are adverbs you’ve groaned over upon encountering and how would you have replaced them? What are your favorite adverbs and when could you justify using them? And best of all, what are some funny situations that just beg for a great swear word?

Leave a comment!

UPDATE 8pm: Okay, Hubby and I were chatting and suddenly realized that this movie clip below absoluteLY had to be part of this post. You might not understand at first, but you’ll hear it when you get to 1:37 and 2:56, and it’s awesome (IMHO). The movie is 1776 (the musical), and this is Ben Franklin and John Adams sending Richard Henry Lee off to convince Virginia to initiate the vote for independence. Enjoy!

UPDATE 5/2011: Sadly, the clip is gone and I can’t find another one from the movie, but you can find stage play versions on YouTube if you search for “1776 Lees of Old Virginia.” 😥