Not too shabby...

by Ellen in , ,

#Winning AND being published in the Commercial Appeal in the same week? I'm pretty sure I'm driving the bus to crazytown.

I realize I just gave myself a pat on the back. Sometimes I'm a tool. Also, I wanted to give the Calv a pat on the back, too. Ash Wednesday was a magical day. I'll get around to processing it soon.

I leave Wednesday morning for the North. Brrrrrr. I'm so excited to see Elise and Loonie and to say "hey, sailor" way more times than necessary. Anyway, if you want to know what I'm doing the whole time, follow me on the Twitter (elgwicole).


The day all my dreams came true.

by Ellen in , ,

Last year, as you might remember, I saw these guys TWO DAYS in a row in San Francisco and it was wonderful. And I blogged about it. This year, I was closer, got to take Fitty, and MET THEM AND THEY LOVED ME. It was a dream come true. I'm no longer ashamed to say that I've loved these guys for the past 15 years. Their first CD was my first CD EVER, and although I've pretended otherwise, I have followed and loved them. They sing better and look a LOT better and have also reproduced a LOT of other little Hansons.

The Oxford Comma.

by Ellen in

OK--this is seriously the best thing I've read in awhile. (Unless you count the article I read yesterday entitled "6 Groups of People That Can Get Married When Gay Couples Can't". On the list? Cousins. Convicts. Anyone in Vegas. Multiple Marriers. Reality TV Show Contestants. People Who Have Themed Weddings. Read it HERE. It's hilarious and SO good.) Anyway, it's about punctuation. I've expressed my love for it many times on this blog, and I hope you can also tell how much I love it by the way I use it in writing. Actions speak louder than words, right? I'm pretty sure that Linda Holmes, who wrote this article for NPR lives inside my head. How else would she know EXACTLY what I think about? Oh man is she clever, funny, and smart. And if the University of Oxford decides to abolish its namesake comma, they will have me to deal with. (Please see the first paragraph of the following article to understand why I think it's OK to end a sentence with a prep). IT FILLS ME WITH RAGE to think that it might be gone forever. As a friend of mine once said as he was feeling particularly hopeless in a dire situation, "My life is in shambles!". Well, if the OC were to leave the world, my life would be in shambles. Also, I speak in hyperbole 84.38% of the time.

I posted the article below so you might actually read it. I know if I just posted the link, no one would care. Aaaand I'm pretty sure the only person who cares about this is yours truly. Oh, and Linda Holmes. And Lynne Trussell who wrote the book "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves," about which I have previously blogged.

Here's the link to Linda Holmes' blog, "Monkey See" on

I have a confession.

I am only too happy to emphatically defend split infinitives against the accusation that they are offensive in any language except Latin. I believe perfectly marvelous sentences can end with prepositions or begin with "and."

I make up words, I write in fragments, I am absolutely not a flawless user of any kind of punctuation, I make noises in the middle of my own writing (like "AAAAARGH!"), and I often like the rhythms of sentences more than their technicalities. Run-on sentences amuse me. I frequently give the impression that the American Parentheticals Council has me on retainer, or that I am encouraging a bidding war between Big Ellipses and Big Dashes to see which will become my official sponsor. ("Dashes: The Official 'And Another Thing' Punctuator Of Monkey See.") I write "email" without a hyphen, I am a big fan of the word "crazypants," and my plan is to master "who"/"whom" only on my deathbed, as my ironic dying gift to absolutely no one, since there will be no one left to hear me.

And yet, even the rumbling of a distant threat to the Oxford comma (or "serial comma") turns me instantly into an NFL referee, blowing my whistle and improvising some sort of signal — perhaps my hands clasped to my own head as if in pain — to indicate that the loss of the serial comma would sadden me beyond words.

This blew up yesterday when there was a rumbling that the University of Oxford was dumping its own comma. As it turned out, this wasn't the case. They haven't changed their authoritative style guide, but they've changed their internal PR department procedures that they use for press releases. The PR department and the editorial department are two different things, so this doesn't necessarily mean much of anything, except that it's maybe a little embarrassing to have your own PR department abandoning your style guide.

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors and would no more sort commas into classes than you would organize peanut butter jars in order of viscosity, the serial comma — or "Oxford comma" — is the final comma that comes in a sentence like this: "I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer, and a pharmaceutical salesperson." (In this sentence, I am on The Bachelorette.) I don't typically use the serial comma here on the blog, because NPR uses AP style, which is standard for most news organizations. AP style leaves out the serial comma unless it's particularly necessary. It would dictate writing that sentence as: "I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer and a pharmaceutical salesperson." That's what I do at work. At home, though? In correspondence, in notes to myself, in writing on cakes with icing? Serial commas. Forever.

Whether the serial comma is used is usually not a big deal — you see lists every day both with it and without it, and it won't hang you up either way. "Please buy bread, cheese, butter and milk." "Please buy bread, cheese, butter, and milk." Either is fine.

But when it matters, it really matters.

Suppose that instead of the list of men our bachelorette met above, things went differently. Without the serial comma, she might say: "The best available men are the two tall guys, George and Pete." There, you really don't know whether George and Pete are the tall guys, or whether there are two tall guys in addition to George and Pete. You literally don't know how many men you're talking about, and while that level of confusion as to elementary facts seems like something that might actuallyhappen on The Bachelorette, it is unfortunate in other settings. If, on the other hand, you use the serial comma, then you would write that sentence only if you meant that George and Pete were the tall guys, and if you didn't, you'd say, "I met two tall guys, George, and Pete."

Two men have just been created by that comma out of whole cloth. Boom! We've created life! Don't you feel like Dr. Frankenstein?

It's perhaps not surprising that a comma that can singlehandedly create human beings can also get people pretty wound up. Twitter went bazoo over the entire Oxford business yesterday, particularly before the clarification was made that it was just the PR department. People — people like me — love the serial comma. They rely on it. They feel like society's abandonment of it is a sign that all has gone haywire. They feel about it the way other people feel about newspapers, green spaces, or virtue.

The balancing act between how much rule-making you like in language and how much you like language to evolve naturally isn't necessarily the point of the serial comma debate (to me, the reasons to keep it have absolutely nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with actual utility), but that's where almost any discussion of almost any arcane point invariably winds up. Language is alive, you see, and it changes, and its beauty lies in its ability to be shaped by an entire society that calls upon its collective wisdom and experience to create a means of communication that accomplishes what it needs to AND NO THAT DOESN'T MAKE "IRREGARDLESS" OKAY AND STOP USING "LITERALLY" TO MEAN "FIGURATIVELY" I AM BEGGING YOU.


I firmly believe all of that good stuff about our living language, and yet I accidentally hit my own nerve. Love of language, it turns out, is a complicated minefield of things you care about and things you don't, and one person's explosive issues are obviously no more valid than anyone else's. Some people hate Capitalization For Cutesy Point-Making in exactly the same way I hate "irregardless," but I use it happily. Not as much as I once did, but I do. (Don't email me about "irregardless" or "literally," by the way. I glare at your spineless, weak-kneed dictionary with a judgmental, squinty eye. I do! I glare at it!)

For now, the Oxford comma lives on at Oxford. And it lives on in my heart. Life is nasty, brutish, and short (or, to introduce unnecessary ambiguity, "life is nasty, brutish and short"), and the least I can do for myself is to hold tight to the linguistic niceties about which I, for whatever reason, care. It's comforting. It's calming. And when it comes to taking a firm position about mostly unimportant debates, that's about all I can hope for.


by Ellen in , ,


This week, I've been doing a bunch of both. Heather gave me some great books for my birthday AND a week at her and Ed's house with Lady while they are in Disneyworld. It has been lovely to read and get to run around Midtown, where everyone honks at you. Not because they're weird, but because they are your friend and want to say hello while you're sweating.

Onto the reading. I read my friend Sara's book, Jesus Freak. It was sitting on the bedside table in my room, and I hadn't read it yet, so I picked it up. As soon as I read the dedication, I naturally burst into tears. It says, "For Paul, my Boyfriend's boyfriend." There, on that first page, were all my friends from church. They were singing and dancing and eating together, as they do every Sunday and as they will tomorrow. I could hear her voice narrating, see Paul's huge face as Sara described the funny things he says to her. I even knew the people whose names she changed... I have never read a book written by someone I know personally. I read her first book, Take This Bread, awhile ago, when I didn't know her at all. So this experience was entirely different. A lot in both books is similar, but it is weird to read a book by your friend. Even in those first pages, when Paul teases her about how she likes to put her hands on people to give them blessings, I let out a strange noise through my lame-o tears. My last memory of a Sunday morning in San Francisco consists of even more tears (unbelievable) with Sara as she put her hands on my head with a blessing to leave and come back soon. And a bunch of other stuff. But that's none of your business.

I love all my Episcopal friends. These days I'm thinking a lot about Carren and Charles and Sara and Paul and Lynne and Karen and Kristin. Magical, genuine, real, funny humans. I think I'm lucky that way--to be blessed to know so many of these kinds of humans. And that all the people that choose to be friends with me are like that. I think about all the great people I know while I run and while I read. Thanks friends, near and far, for making life so special and dear.

Sorry, no pictures.

Also: Dexter and Weeds are the greatest things ever written ever. The end.

Safety Dance

by Ellen in , , ,


Today, I got my mind blown. Not that this doesn't happen everyday, but for some reason, today was a big thing. Welllll, nothing really big happened, it was just the honesty of a new art school friend that may have helped jump a giant hurdle.

First, lemme say that I have made a handful of really sweet friends here. Friends that I have come to be able to ask what sucks and what is good and they'll tell me. My teachers are supposed to do this, but somehow, it ends up being my peers that are the best instructors. I learn a lot from them, and I'm so grateful they exist. Anyway, I have two classes with Evan, who sometimes I call Jesus because he looks like what I think Jesus might look like. He's an amaaaazing photographer. I mean, some of the most beautiful things you've ever seen. He's 27, so he's been doing this a lot longer than me, and he's used every process imaginable to make a photograph. The dude knows what he's talking about, and is always very helpful. I don't mind saying that I had a tinycrush on him at first, because his talent is so great and he is kindof a precious human. And he's the only person in any of my classes that doesn't wear skinny jeans and bathes on a regular basis (everyday). Besides being really smart, he and Andrea and I are silly together all the time and Jack gets mad at us. He also calls me Eeellen, and I have no idea why, but I love new nicknames.

Don't get me wrong, I love my teachers, but my friend can say things and I hear him. It might help that I've seen a lot of his work that I can actually see that he knows what he's talking about, and so now I've gotten in the habit of asking him what I can do better. He helps me edit and crop things, and soon I'ma sit with him in the darkroom so he can show me how to do other things better. Sounds sketchy, but it's not. We just spend a lot of time in the dark.

ANYWAY, to make it sound like I'm not obsessed with him, I'll move on. Today, we had our "Time" critique, and it went fine. I will say that there is this one kid in my class who always is on drugs (literally) and is the biggest jerk EVER to everyone. Ugh. I don't say this often, but I can't STAND this kid. He's just mean.

I showed everyone my pretty lights, and yada yada yada, and we took a break and I told Evan that I actually did another project for this and so of course he wanted to see it. So I showed it to him:

I have been struggling because I feel like I'm not getting any better at anything technical, and he has been struggling because Linda Connor has been telling him to stop being so good at everything and make his photos mean something. Obviously, we have opposite problems and we've been talking about it. So, today he told me that while these photos were lovely and who doesn't love ginkgo trees, they're totally safe. Everything I make is safe. Not necessarily boring, just within my zone. And then he said that in order to not be safe anymore, these safe photos have to be made. They are a step to getting beyond, and they are important so that I can get to the point where I say (his words, not mine) F*** YES! to every photo I take.

While I'm totally ready to be at that point now, I know it'll take lots of time and even more experimenting. I'm fine with that, and I'm glad I have school friends to help me. It'll be weird to look back on all of this in...5 years. I wonder what I'll be doing then? Hopefully making really great photographs that I say F*** YES to in my own way.

PS. Kitty, Merry Early Crimmas. I'ma bring these home for you. (Doesn't matter how safe they are, I still like them)

Giant Kid's Playground

by Ellen in


"Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying "Giant Kid's Playground", and then wonder why everyone stays away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)"

I wanted to say a little something about this GREAT book I'm reading. It's called "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." I think someone smart (was it you, Steve? I can't remember) told me to read it a long time ago, and there it was in this bookstore/cafe I wandered into after my run last week. (Quick sidenote--this is my new favorite place in SF. The food is amazing and cheap, and a guy who works there is from Whitehaven and may or may not have made me a free chocolate milkshake.)

ANYWAY, this book is every nerd's indulgence. It's strictly about punctuation and its misuses in the world/the history of punctuation. I'm IN LOVE with this book, and I laugh out loud on every page. It's written by a British woman named Lynne Truss, and her bone-dry humor (about punctuation, no less) just kills me in a good way. She is just so funny. And she makes it OK to be a stickler about grammar and punctuation by telling her reader to unleash his or her Inner Stickler. THANK YOU, Lynne Truss.

I have a lot of favorite quotations from this book, but I think this one really exemplifies her personality and her point: "In fact one might dare to say that while the full stop is the lumpen male of the punctuation world (do one job at a time; do it well; forget about it instantly), the apostrophe is the frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon, and succumbing to burnout from all the thankless effort." She is, of course, speaking about how many jobs the apostrophe has to do and how it is most often abused. And this only one chapter on the apostrophe. Let me tell you, I want to be a part of the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe almost as badly as I want to be in Dumbledore's Army.

Anyway, this book does not teach you how to use punctuation. It is really more about making fun of the people who don't know how to use it and asking for action from punctuation loves to stop the madness!

I'm with Lynne Truss--everyone who speaks English MUST learn their its and it's; their your and you're, and their there, their, and they're.

Yet another thing for which I can blame St. Mary's (and my dad): my infinite and abounding love for grammar and punctuation. I'd give anything to go back to 6th grade and diagram sentences all day. Or even the 10th grade where we devoted an entire quarter to syntax. And oh, the days of spelling tests, how I long for you.

More confessions: I broke up with a boy in college mainly because he overused words, couldn't spell, and used big words that were always out of context. You can't blame a guy for trying, but come ON. I mean, we broke up for other reasons, but his lack of knowledge about the English language was something I wanted to change so badly, but couldn't. It's a total deal-breaker. It's rude to correct, and impossible to change=not getting along.

Also, if there is a candidate running for president who does not know how to correctly use/say the word "nuclear", he/she will not get my vote just based on principle.

Oh, I'm HORRIBLE. But now you know: I'm a snob. I guess there are worse things. But, as with all things, I know I'm not alone.

Sticklers Unite!

FittyD is HERE

by Ellen in ,

It's here! It came to me at around 3:30 today, and as I ran out to greet (attack) the nice UPS man, I could see the retreat in his eyes. I tried to slow my excitement, but it was so great that even Kitty heard me from her house and came running. Also running: the UPS man.

Anyway, I opened it and got to share my joy with Kitty and Luna. PS-the hardest part about my using my camera so far has been getting the strap on the camera. I guess that's not a bad start, but it's all relative.

So here it is:

Here are my favorite first few photos from FittyD, my new BFF:

PS: On April 30, I get paid to take photos for the first time EVER. I'm VERY excited.

The History of Love

by Ellen in

I really love to read books. All kinds of books--art books, history books, fiction, nonfiction (depending on the subject, I guess), lame-o Nicholas Sparks books, historical fiction (they're probably my second favorite). I like to read anything. I used to HATE reading. I would NOT do it for school or anything else. It was horrible. I remember the during the summer before 4th grade, Nana and I read the Giver out loud to each other so that I would actually do my summer reading. She was a first grade teacher for 21 years...I'm sure it killed her to know that I hated to read. But she always got me to do it. Anyway, I really didn't start reading entire books until my senior year of high school. WHAT? You say. But Ellen, you went to ST. MARY'S. Wellllll, I was a good skimmer. I got most of the high points of things like Peculiar Institution and Heart of Darkness. But I think I picked a GREAT year to start reading whole books. Here are some things I read during my first year of actually reading books:

(It all started with) The Poisonwood Bible
Angela's Ashes (subsequently 'Tis and Teacher Man. How can you not love Frank McCourt?)
The Things They Carried
All Quiet on the Western Front
Crime and Punishment (this is my favorite book. I've read it about 12 times)
A Tale of Two Cities (we were supposed to read this in the 9th grade with Mrs. Ray, but I wasn't really reading then, so I picked it up in the 12th grade with Mrs. Ray. Don't worry, I confessed everything to her)
The Brothers Karamazov (If Dostoevsky wrote a Dictionary, I'd read it from cover to cover)
Some Shakespeare
Lots of things by Henrik Ibsen
The Communist Manifesto

Since then, I have branched out. In my adult reading life, I have a few that will never leave me: The Pillars of the Earth, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Name of the Rose, The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Book Thief. Golly, how good are these books? Just thinking about them gets me all riled up. They are epic stories just FULL of carefully chosen diction and punctuation. Nothing gets me more excited. I LOVE words.

Right now, I'm reading a book that Heather lent me a long time ago. I admit that I'm just now getting around to reading it: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. OH MY. I'm only half way through it, and it's just beautiful. Heather and I share this weird love and compassion for all people in the world who were affected by the years 1933-1944.

Elie Wiesel has only published about 1/3 of the words he has actually ever written. He is known to so carefully choose his words that he considers most of them superfluous. Could you imagine Night being 2/3 longer?

Whenever I am reading a good book, it makes me think of really good sentences. I love it when a good sentence pops into my head, you know what I mean?


by Ellen in ,

So, PawPaw is gone and my family is sad. I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to think or feel, but don't worry, when it hits me, I'll feel it. Until then, I'm going to keep myself busy until whatever I'm supposed to feel bubbles to the surface, and then I can deal with them.

Anyway, when someone dies, you have to keep living your life, right? Otherwise, what's the point?

I have a lot to look forward to.

This comes to me on Monday: the Canon EOS 50D. My first professional camera. Now I have to stop complaining about the Pioneer Woman not picking my photos because they were taken with my point and shoot, and start worrying that she doesn't pick them because I'm bad at taking photos.

I already got this super cute bag to carry it around in:
Ooooo I can't wait for you to get here, FittyD! We're going to have a long, beautiful relationship together, I can already see it. Oh the places we'll go!

On Wednesday, I will see this:

And then I'll be here:

FittyD will be my traveling companion, and I really don't need much else. Except a bathing suit, sunscreen, and my running shoes.