Eclipsing Dreams

I was about seven years old when I made my first travel plan. I was looking at a map of total solar eclipses from 1998 to 2019 from the book, ‘Eclipse of The Sun’, in our little ‘play-room’. I saw that the path of the 9th of March, 2016 eclipse would traverse a few Indonesian islands and seeing that it was the one closest to Malaysia, I started calculating my age and my possible state of life then. I figured that at the age of 21, I should have completed school and my seven year old brain assumed that at that age, I would have all the money and freedom in the world to bring my siblings to Indonesia so we could watch the eclipse together. And every now and then in the next fourteen years, the thought would occasionally cross my mind and I would dream about it.

I was correct about one fact. I did watch the eclipse with my brother – and the others occasionally peeping in – but we only witnessed the partial eclipse on our balcony, equipped with my shoebox camera obscura (pinhole camera) that I had made specifically for eclipse viewing. I had one hand on a laptop which was showing the live coverage from Sumatera and virtually experienced totality with the excited observer crew across the straits.

My parents watched the eclipse downstairs in the garden with our kitten friend, Tris, who was just thrilled by all the excitement we’re all expressing. As we were approaching maximum obscurity, a team of roadworkers stopped in front of our house and asked my parents if we wanted our driveway resurfaced. Noticing their curiosity (how could they not when we’re all staring up into the sky), my father told him about the eclipse. For the next few minutes, they were all climbing up onto their lorry, exclaiming with delight and tried to convince other passer-by to witness this amazing phenomenon.

Had my map also gave a list of annular solar eclipse, I might have noticed that one would be making its way through the southern-most tip of my own country on the coming 26th of December. I might have also made plans to drive to Tanjung Piai and experience the eclipse on the jetty of the Tanjung Piai Resort. But I only found out about it when I looked up the list of solar eclipses of 2019 earlier this year and I’ve long abandoned conscious dreaming as nothing but a call for possible disappointment.

The way my father explained solar eclipse to me and my sister was by bringing two balls and a flashlight into our ‘play-room’ and had one of us to hold the ‘Earth’ ball, while he held the moon between the Earth and the Sun (the flashlight). He explained to us that the eclipse happened because the sun is behind the moon for a brief amount of time. The Sun was still there, you just couldn’t see it because it was hidden. Nevertheless, it had been revered, feared and even celebrated through many events across our history.

As I grew older, I think about how intertwined are my thoughts on eclipses and dreams. To witness an eclipse was one of my most long-held serious dreams; I was in my late teens when I began to admit that it was probably out of the realms of possibilities. And as much as I insist on not wishing to dream, for fear of being robbed of the belief in a deceitful imagined future, I still have unconscious and unsolicited dreams because it’s impossible to remove the Sun by hiding it behind a moon.

I am trying hard not to place even the slightest bit of excitement in my mind for this coming eclipse but I’ll be a fool to think that no part of me still dream of somehow finding a way of getting to Tanjung Piai’s jetty to watch the eclipse with the man who taught me all about the it. I can try to cast out all the dreams in my heart in the same way I’ve contemplated destroying past pains and yearning by burning old letters and diaries but just because I’ve made it impossible to physically see something does not mean that it no longer exists -it is only hidden like the eclipsed Sun.

Grammar Discourse

The other day, I was talking with my sister when she said “it had shrunk”.

“Shrunken,” I corrected.

She paused and gave me a puzzled look. “No, it’s ‘shrunk’.”

Had shrunk. Past perfect.”

“But… ‘shrunk’ is the past perfect. The simple past of shrink is ‘shrank’.”

My mind went blank with confusion. When looking for the correct verb according to its proper tense, I usually refer to what sounds right to me and almost always it has served me perfectly well. However, now that my sister had mentioned it, my inner tenses directory did indeed agree with my sister. Shrink, shrank and shrunk.

“But why is the movie titled “Honey, I shrunk the kids?”

This little intermission in our small talk lead to a Google search that brought us to a page that listed the “10 grammatically incorrect movie titles” which indeed listed the movie “Honey, I shrunk the kids” as one of them and the discourse was settled – ‘shrunk’ is the past perfect tense of shrink. Had I not interjected and attempted to correct my sister’s perfectly correct tenses, I would probably still be using shrunken and be none the wiser.

In our casual conversations, everyone in my family is under constant grammar (and at times, pronunciation) scrutiny. We’re all acting as unsolicited grammar polices which, at times, can be incredibly frustrating when you have a good flow in your dramatic retelling of the previous day’s events and you are interrupted by “he has, not ‘have’.”

On the flip side, however, this attitude had been ingrained in our familial culture for so long that such corrections are, for the most part, taken without a negative perception or ill feelings which has created an environment that promotes and encourage constant improvement in our use of the language. I remember being constantly corrected for my tenses as a young child, doing the same to my siblings and now even have them correcting my mistakes. Speaking personally from my point of view, I correct other’s mistakes because I want my own mistakes to be corrected as I don’t know what I don’t know.

This is why I feel really strongly about correcting someone’s grammar whenever I catch someone using an incorrect term.

At the same time, I am fully aware that grammar policing is generally frowned upon as a ‘prescriptivist’ approach towards language by linguistic aficionados while the rest of the society often view it as being rude. Thus, it bothers me when I go to various places and notice signs which are misspelled or are grammatically incorrect and I have no acceptable way of letting the owners know and giving them a corrected alternative. If the place has a suggestion box lying around, I could simply write a note and hope that it would be taken seriously by the person who is going through the forms and that they would act according to the manager’s wishes.

I am not strictly a prescriptivist when it comes to my approach to language (I might write on my approach to language someday) but I do know that there are many people who are eager and willing to improve their proficiency but are either not given the chance to, or are simply afraid of being perceived as a bad speaker of the language. I myself might feel a little uncomfortable if a stranger decides to correct my grammar simply because I am aware that in our society today, such acts are often considered as distasteful and I could never tell if it was meant as an honest correction or a thinly veiled insult.

But as strongly as I feel about having the capability to use good the ‘standard’ version of a language, I don’t feel the need to force it down throats that does not wish to swallow it. I am sure that some people are perfectly contented with speaking a language at a basic comprehendible level even if they only use a single verb for all of the tenses. If it isn’t detrimental to their own chosen paths, that’s perfectly fine with me. It’s just unfortunate that those who are struggling to improve their Standard English proficiency are not able to get easier access to as simple a help as a gentle correction or even a lengthy discussion on why a word is used in a certain way.

I believe that if we wish to improve our language proficiency as a group, be it a community or a larger society, we should adopt a more receptive attitude towards corrections. However, it is just as important for those involved to not abuse this accepting nature by hiding behind disguises of superior grammar to throw insults and win petty arguments (as witnessed by anyone who is familiar with the comment section of YouTube videos or any posting on the internet in general). This attitude of mutual correction should be used as a means for growth and improvement and remarks should be made politely with the intention to help and not to scorn or belittle.

And don’t be ashamed to ask for corrections or guides either. If you have a disagreement the way my sister and I did, have a discussion and search for more information. At the end of the day, everyone would be learning something new about the convoluted system of English grammar – or any other language of your choice.

If we all work together to guide each other, it would not only help to improve our capability to use language in both writing and speech, it would also create an environment that promotes an open approach to learning and growth, where a curious thought is not dismissed by embarrassment but developed by discussion, research and voluntary study.