Wednesday, April 22, 2015
HEASTER BEARS & SPEECHIFYIN' FLANNEL MOUTHS by Shayna Matthews
I have a confession. Actually, it is more like a badly kept secret.
Hello, my name is Shayna Matthews, and I'm a grammar nerd. Multiple misspellings in a body of text will give me the shakes, and the misuse of words such as their, there and they're? Nooooooooooo! Please, make it stop! Now, with that said, misused grammar does indeed have benefits...IF it is used as a form of art.
You heard me.
Art. The art of bad grammar. Intrigued yet?
I was introduced to the art of bad grammar every year come Easter. I never really believed in the Easter Bunny-never saw a long-eared varmint hopping down the bunny trail to hide goodies for me. I had a different character altogether visit me every spring. He was big, brown and burly, and made me decipher his own language when I was just knee-high to a grasshopper. My Easter hunts started with a compass, and a letter with horrific spelling and grammar in shaky red pen from...The Heaster Bear. I imagine the shaky writing stemmed from that big bear's paw attempting to grip a pen, not an easy feat, no doubt! Of course, what do Heaster bears care about grammar? Not a whole heck of a lot, I'm here to tell you.
My entire childhood revolved around trying to decipher confounded clues and mentally cursing the necessary use of a compass to obtain a plastic egg filled with a few coins, perhaps a dollar or two? I mean, take clue #3 from 1994:
Frum heer luukin (S) 165 whuts a Pifer on a Beech?
Good golly, Mr. Heaster Bear, aside from the compass reading, I don't know, what the heck is a Pifer???!!! My clues usually included rifle rests, cwotches of twees, varmints, hoaks, currs and tommyhawks. Naturally, my Heaster hunts took me a few hours.
One year, I decided to get smart, and I fooled that old grizzled bear. We had a Mountain Cur dog at the time, and if you've not heard of the breed, look them up. They are an old 18th Century breed of dog known for hunting game, running and jumping. They were prized for the protection of forts and pioneer homesteads against Indian raids. Caddie was black with brindle markings, and I believe every word about the breed. She was the epitome of agility, the dog could jump 7.5 FEET in the air, flat-footed. We measured.
So that year, as I geared up with my Heaster Bear note to decipher, and armed with a compass, I loosed Caddie. That year, the compass was not needed. I merely followed the nose of my trusty Cur-she took me straight from spot to spot, sniffing out the goods, and after the last clue, ran over to my father and sat down, thumping her tail on the grass. Hmmm…was she pointing out the identity of the Heaster Bear? Thank you Caddie, good girl.
You know, come to think of it, I believe the following year the Heaster Bear left rather grumbled words about the use of Curs being against Bear rules. Rats.
I believe writers soak up their talent, drive and inspiration from an early age, based on the environment around them. My fathe-err, I mean, the Heaster Bear's notes were a creative struggle, forcing me to bend the corners of my mind to decipher meaning. Since then, The Bear has succumbed to progress-just a little-and uses a cell phone. I receive grand texts from him regularly, and they always make me smile. You see, I heard the Bear's growling over autocorrect...the system gave up, I swear I could hear auto-correct actually say "what the hell is that supposed to spell?" The app was turned off, and now those messages flow through to me like the art-form they are, unspoiled and uncorrected, bad grammar and all.
Bad grammar. I am a writer, and I fear it, generally speaking. But, aside from Heaster Bears, foul grammar still has its place in a novel. Dialogue. You see, I write westerns, and in some instances proper grammar is about as useful as a wind-break in a cyclone.
"COWBOYS" photograph by Shayna Matthews
Good dialogue is not always easy. One has to climb inside the mind of the character speaking and extract words they would say, even if they go against everything the writer says, thinks or feels. For me, it can be exhausting. But one of my characters in my current novel is easy-breezy. His name is Ryder, and he is an uneducated twenty-one year old Texas cowboy. By uneducated, I mean he hasn’t been "book-learnt". In the 1880’s, by the time you hit sixteen or seventeen years old, you were a man and therefore expected to do a man’s job. At twenty-one, Ryder is practically a veteran and will boast of his ability to fork a horse (or a woman) better’n any other critter on two legs. I asked Ryder what he thought of proper grammar, and he looked at me, tilted his jaw and grinned.
“Ain’t much on them fancy words citified folks sling ’round. Hell, I heard a big city fella speechifyin’ in town once; he was usin’ words so long I figured one of them’d fly outta his mouth and have nowhere to go ‘cept ’round his neck. That flannel-mouth wasn’t foolin’ nobody with his throat ticklin’, he just bragged himself out of a place to lean against the bar. No, never had much paw for them fancy words. Show me a man who can ride good as me, and I’ll think about bein’ impressed. Maybe.”
One of my readers asked me once, where my rich cowboy lingo comes from. I mirrored one of Ryder's broad grins, and answered with a laugh, "Aside from reading, research and imagination? Heaster Bears and the art of bad grammar."