I used to be a snob. A big one. You know, one of those people who couldn't let another person be wrong because, of course, I was always right. I was particularly snobbish about grammar and all things linguistic because, you see, I was convinced of my own linguistic expertise. I was a logophile, a veritable connoisseur of linguae francae. My pedantic priggishness took root in high school wherein I was the only person to take four years of Latin in the history of my school. I reveled in my scholastic notoriety. Of course, I was shoved into a corner in the back of my classroom during Latin II because there was nowhere else to put me. My Latin teacher never anticipated a Latin IV student so she just gave me the speeches of Cicero and The Aeneid to translate. Was I a nerd? Yes. But, I was hot shit, too, or so I thought. Later, I moved on to French and Russian and even spent a year studying at a French university. Alas, I grew bored with the French language so I decided to study German as well.
It was easy. Writing essays in French, writing cursive in Cyrillic...give me more! I'm not challenged, and I was happy to criticize anyone who didn't measure up to my standards: "That's not how you pronounce 'chocolat'. You're saying it wrong!"..."Duck a la range? What the hell is that? Oh! They meant to write Duck à l'orange! What idiot wrote that on the menu?"..."That isn't how you use a semicolon, you fool! For crying out loud, get a clue!"..."English is your first language. Speak it and write it properly, stupid!" My mother once called me a "superior bitch". I was hurt, offended, and positively confused. What am I doing wrong? I make no allowances for the Ignorati!
After I had been married for a few years (yes, someone actually tolerated me long enough to fall in love with me, God bless him), I had my first migraine. I also had a few children. I have Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) which tends to be common in childhood, but my seizures became a problem during my pregnancies after a long period of remission. Common to people with TLE is synesthesia. Wikipedia defines synesthesia "as a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway." There are over 60 different types of synesthesia reported, and it also runs in families. At least one of my daughters is a synesthete as well. I have a few forms of synesthesia, but the form that I've lived with for as long as I can remember is what I would describe as "seeing words". Whenever people speak or I even hear words, I see them in front of me much like an LED ticker display running messages. This is probably why languages are easy for me to learn once I can apply a phoneme to a grapheme. If I've seen a word once, I remember it. I used to believe that everyone experienced this. I only recently discovered that not to be the case.
After my first migraine which came after my second child, I became a bit "quirky" neurologically. The seizures had stopped, but my brain seemed to remain irritated. I experienced mild cognitive slowing which makes sense since my seizures were in the temporal lobe; the temporal lobe is the seat of language. One evening, my husband, a good friend, and I were playing Trivial Pursuit. While we were taking turns, we were discussing the musical "Grease". As I've said, when I hear spoken words, I actually see them before me visually. There it was--"Grease"..."Grease"..."Grease". At some point, it was my husband's turn to answer a question. The answer? "Greece". My response? "Grease is not a country! Are you crazy? Since when is Grease a country?" My husband and Eric looked at me with incredulity. "What? You're kidding, right?" I laughed at them. "You both are crazy! Grease is NOT a country! Come on! Stop kidding around!" My husband took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Baby, you are a classically educated person. What has come over you? Athens? The Acropolis? Uh...gyros? Hello? Greek salad? Greece is a country, sweetheart!" My LED ticker display flickered and hiccuped. Suddenly, I saw it! "Greece"..."Greece"..."Greece"..."Ooooooooh! You mean the country of Greece! Well, yeah, of course, that's a country. I thought you were talking about the musical which, you know, is NOT a country." Eric and my husband looked at me like I was high. Then the laughter came. The falling over-grabbing the stomach-tears falling down the face laughter. At me. I felt monumentally stupid. Damn. Of course, Greece is a country.
Fast-forward to my present life. That first migraine was only a petite amuse-bouche, a taste, of my present circumstances. I am officially a migraineure--a woman who lives her life around migraines. I take two drugs daily to prevent migraines one of which is called Topamax. Without it, I would easily have 20 migraines a month. On the drug, I have 7 to 12. To those of us who take Topamax, we call it by another name--Dope-a-max. Why? Topamax targets the temporal lobe; once again, the seat of language. One of the side effects of the drug is 'cognitive slowing'. Practically speaking, what does that mean? It makes me dumb as a stump. My word recall has gone down the toilet. I can define words, but I can't recall them. My LED ticker display is now full of confused homophones--"Mom, where is the flower? I want to dew sum baking."..."Did you here me?"..."I can't sea when your standing their."..."Wood ewe get out of the whey?" That's bad enough, but it's just sad when I have to take the other three drugs I use if I actually get a migraine. The LED ticker display just stops because I'm left as a drooling fool in the corner, but at least I'm not in horrendous pain.
I have lost my car in parking lots more times than I can recall. I've had my short-term memory wiped clean. I've forgotten PIN numbers. I've even forgotten how to get to where I'm going in the middle of driving. I don't even want to discuss my ability to speak other languages other than English at this point. I'll just say that my French toddlerese is pretty good. I've lost IQ points all in the name of pain management. What have I gained? A much needed dose of humility and compassion. I've read the articles on "How Not To Write Like A Complete Asshat", "Blog Like A Grammatical Porn Star", and "If You Can't Wield A Hyphen Like Excalibur, Then Put It Down Like The Loser You Are". They aren't helpful. They are pedantic, mean, and haughty. Just like I used to be. Sure, I know my grammar. I'm still a logophile, and I like sesquipedalia. It's in my wiring. I've learned, however, that it's more important to care about people. Encouraging others to branch out and discover their own unique voice, even if that voice is shaky and stilted, is by far more meaningful. I don't want to be the one to tear someone down anymore. For I now know what it means to be shaky, stilted, limited, and unsure. I know what it means to feel like the stupid one, the inept one, the one who must try harder. And, I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry that I ever spoke in a way that was anything but kind, compassionate, and respectful.
So, to anyone...or everyone, regardless of your limitations, ignore the critics and naysayers. Go out and do it whatever your it might be. There is only one you, and our world will miss you and your it if you don't offer it up. And, the next time one of those fustian bombasts tells you that you can't? Ah well, just ignore 'em. They're full of shit. I ought to know. I used to be one of 'em.