McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 3, 2014

‘Grammer. I mean grammar.’

By MJ Brickey

McALESTER — Grammar was spelled “grammer” until my freshman year of college and my periods were always on the wrong side of my quotes. Not to mention, I paid no attention to “to, too and two” or “there, their and they’re.”

The last degree I’d imagined pursuing was any type of English or communications — especially not Associated Press writing or news, because back then I liked to talk and that is all I did.

In elementary school, my grades were usually enough to pass and I recall a year where I had more “Fs” than “Ds,” but the teacher passed me anyway because he couldn’t bear me another school year.

I had so much on my mind all at once, all the time and although I learned to fight my dyslexia and read aloud beautifully, I didn’t comprehend a word that left from my lips.

Some people would call me a “social butterfly,” but the more accurate description would be a “buzzing bee.”

These days, I would have been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD.

Once in high school, the subject matter started to appeal to me, I aced high school science and history — you know — classes where the teachers lectured and used visual aides like the chalkboard and walked us through the book — but I struggled in English and math. I couldn’t focus. Considering my part-Appalachian and part-Native American heritage, none of this would be too surprising for historians or those in the field of linguistics.

In early American history, Appalachians and Native Americans relied heavily on their abilities to tell stories to teach life skills and morals and to pass along ancestry and history. That’s because few Appalachians could afford education and Native Americans hadn’t developed a written language. Don’t take my word for it — look it up!

A few years forward, I pursued college.

I used vivid word imagery to write my first freshman paper — I just knew I’d claim an “A” for the masterpiece. However, a “D” proved to stand for devastation — I was crushed. It looked as if someone had cut themselves and bled all over my paper.

The professor marked misspelled words, missed commas, comma splices and improper uses of almost every part of speech and grammar known to the English language.

Humiliated, I went to the professor and asked her if it was really that bad and she said, “Yes. You know how to tell a story, but you do not know how to write one.”

She said if a story is not written grammatically so a reader can understand the context and syntax, then it is in vain and is not effective communication, or even entertaining.

Embarrassed and feeling “stupid,” I immediately dropped out of the semester, returning all my unused financial aid, and went home.

I didn’t understand, because I put my all into it. I realized I chose to be an unfathomable vessel of complete ignorance. Some of my actions proved it and actions truly speak louder than words and, as I mentioned before, I did a lot of talking.

There is nothing wrong with being ignorant, but choosing to stay ignorant may leave you powerless. I have come to find those who have the knowledge also possess the power, power over what happens in our futures, our finances, health and well-being, and our overall quality of life. Without knowledge, we are forced to take the word of others for all the very vital components of what make our lives worth living.

After a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I made the louder choice to take action. I decided to read more, pick up some grammar workbooks and practice writing. At 23 years old, I found myself eager to learn English and its grammar.

Voracious for knowledge, all my bad habits started to disappear — in place of habits were satisfaction and a better attitude towards life that came along with accomplishment.

I found the more I would write, the less I would talk and I could express my thoughts and ideas much more completely and beautifully through writing. I found my outlet.

At 27, I returned to college — I was ready. I went back with a purpose and rather than testing into the remedial levels of English, I tested into English 101.

I took many blows to my ego with constructive and harsh criticism and bad paper grades, and I overcame serious hardships before graduating with a degree in Arts and Humanities with concentrations in communications and media studies.

I learn something new every day. As a matter of fact, out of a high school grammar workbook, I just learned there is such thing as an abstract noun. Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

There are so many good reasons to work to be more literate — it has enriched my life in so many ways.

I appreciate the time you take to read my work and that of my colleagues.

MJ Brickey is a staff writer for the McAlester News-Capital. Contact her at