Loving Grammar with Steve Lund

Taking a bit of a break from the world of fiction with this blog post to interview the man who not only taught me everything I know about grammar, but also inspired my love for classic literature and of course, William Shakespeare. He also happens to have a brand new book out called Loving Grammar: Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging.

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Steve Lund was my high school English teacher.  You could probably say he was something of a celebrity at Lutheran High School of Dallas (now known as Dallas Lutheran School).  Everyone, even the middle schoolers who had yet to take his classes, knew about the infamous “Lund Papers” and the enigma known as “Clamdigging.”  Mr. Lund has us writing college level papers in eleventh grade, and I’ve got to tell you, his classes are the reason I never stressed out over a paper in college.  University-assigned papers just weren’t a big deal to me, and all of my former high school classmates agree.  It was all thanks to Mr. Lund and yes, grammar friends, it was all thanks to Clamdigging.

It is my honor as a published author and as a student of the humanities to welcome Mr. Steve Lund to my blog.

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Hi, Mr. Lund!  Tell my readers a little bit about yourself. 

Ok, over 40 years ago, a favorite teacher of mine in college (Dr. Prausnitz—I wrote a little limerick about him years ago.*) told me that he thought I’d make a good teacher.  I remember saying to him—“How do you know that?”

His maddeningly mysterious reply: “I know.”

Well, as a result of a recommendation for teaching assistantships that Prausnitz put out there for me–without my knowledge–I started in 1972, teaching college students English when I was 21 years old, and it didn’t take me long to realize that teaching is what I love to do.  So Prausnitz was right after all.  And I’ve taught the best music and lit on the planet to HS, college, university, retirement people (and even—for one semester—a prison class), and it has never gotten old.  I’ve gotten old, but my love for teaching is ‘younger than springtime’ (to mint a new phrase).  What I love—besides just hanging out with curious people—is taking fiendishly difficult subjects—grammar, sonata-allegro form of classical music, poetry, Joyce and Faulkner, Shakespeare, foreign languages—and making them absolutely learnable for everyone.  That’s what lights my inner bulb!

*There once was a prof at CC

Who lectured and sang on TV,

But the networks got scared 

And calling it merde

They made it a late late at 3.

What inspired your love for teaching grammar? 

I shouldn’t say this in broad daylight, but I have always liked grammar and languages—even diagramming sentences although I would never inflict that painful exercise on my students.  (Diagramming sentences is the equivalent of cutting your lawn with scissors.) Transformational grammar (Chomsky) was fun too!  Honestly, my grammar/writing/teaching skills were honed teaching international students for quite a few years.  One Saudi wrote this:  “*When I come to United States I was Washington, DC for two weeks.”  Okay, anyone want to know why we have prepositional phrases?  No matter how painful it is to learn prep phrases, it is still easier than “being Washington DC” for two weeks.

What exactly IS Professional Clamdigging? 

Professional Clamdigging is finally getting the chance to learn and master something that you never thought you’d ever get—something that matters, by the way.  Maybe you thought that everyone else learned this but you didn’t and never will.  The problem with having this attitude about grammar/writing is that it can haunt you the rest of your lives—because after all—who doesn’t need to write—posts and memos and love notes—we do it all the time.  This book is written for people (of any age—HS, college or senior citizen) who want to put any of these kinds of anxieties into the grave where they belong and begin enjoying the writing life again—and, as a matter of fact, enjoying life again.  No more grammar worries and insecurities with Loving Grammar.  In fact, we have a lot of fun figuring it all out!  It’s like a party!  That’s Loving Grammar!

Tell me about the experience you had teaching Clamdigging to your own students.

So in my Washington DC example above, I spoke of students learning English as a Second Language (ESL).  Little did I know (since I had a BA and MA in English) and had been accepted into the doctoral English program at University College, Cambridge (England), there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand myself—things like commas, for instance.  I’m sure we’ve all heard or said this kind of thing:  “Uh, I think you need a comma here,” without having the foggiest idea why.  We’re operating on native intuitions—and frankly a lot of bamboozling, but an ESL students can’t even fall back on those intuitions.  So I figured that I need to find a way to teach students exactly where and why to put commas in their writing using clear structural information that ANYONE can learn.

Of course, when I came to LHS (with virtually all American students) in 1984, I had no idea that I’d still be teaching English as a second language, if you know what I mean.  And why should I be so shocked.  If I didn’t know all the stuff with degrees up the wazoo in English, then who does?  It was an adventure, I guess you could say.  It still is!  It reminds me of the story of the two shoe salesman who travel to Africa.  One wires back, “Situation hopeless—no one wears shoes here.”   The second one sent this telegram:  “Endless market available to us—no one wears shoes here.”

Any favorite memories?

Standing on my desk and doing the Watusi dance (pic attached) when my students all mastered using commas with non-restrictive adjective clauses.

What do you love most about grammar?

I love seeing how logic works with language.  Grammar brings the chaos of that ocean of words out there into an order that allows billions of people to communicate anything they want.  Just like math has gotten us to the moon and to the edges of the solar system and back.  No math, no computers!  No grammar, no communication–period!  What a dark world we’d live in without grammar!

Are there any more Loving Grammar books on the horizon?   (Jackie: my current plan is to use Professional Clamdigging™  rather than Loving Grammar as the generic label for these writing books.)

Yes, grammar just gives the basics for good writing.  I have taught a kind of writing that I call “jazz,” which allows for us to shape our language into beguiling styles—funny, celebratory, snooty, sarcastic, seductive—just the kind of writing that lights up our world.  I’d like to do a book on that too as a companion the Loving Grammar book.

Do you have any other books planned besides the Loving Grammar series?

Yes, I hope to write a book about some of the secrets of Shakespeare plays that are rarely understood or discussed.  And I have a book about growing up in Chicago that is beating me up black and blue from the inside and will continuing doing so, apparently, until I get it done and out there.

I know this question is so cliche, but tell me about your favorite books.   My favorite books are always new every time I read them—whether fiction, or philosophy or psychology or theology or history or whatever.  It’s true for all of them, “King Lear, Dubliners, Heart of Darkness, The Tempest, Sound and the Fury, Hamlet.

What do you most love about reading?  Well asking me this is like asking me what I like about food or nature or oxygen?  I have a feeling that I’m only sometimes vaguely aware of how much my life depends on reading books and other stuff.  When I need a laugh or encouragement or a kick in the butt or challenge or diversion or consolation or inspiration or holiness or danger or adventure, I know right where to find it in books.  And my constant reading—both fiction and non-fiction, you could say, is research for finding news areas to mentally bookmark for help in all those categories I mentioned above.  And I know that in talking to you about this, Jackie, I’m preaching to the choir.  Anyone who has read any of your books, sees these qualities in spades in your writing.

What inspired your love for classic literature?

My mother read to me as a child—Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Bible stories, Nursery Rhymes.  Shakespeare and Kafka and Joyce and Dante and Faulkner are just another stop on the same bus line, when you think about it.  I know that it’s a hyberbole to say that I wanted to have kids to be able to read to them, but believe me, we wore out the books, Seuss and the Nursery Rhymes and all of it.  My favorite poem is still this:  “Hey diddle diddle.  That cat and the fiddle.  The cow jumped over the moon.  The little dog laughed to see such sport and the dish ran away from the spoon.”  Kind of funny when you consider that I don’t have the foggiest idea what the heck it’s ‘about.’

 Finally, tell me something about Shakespeare that most people probably don’t know.

That’s kind of a funny question because what I love about most Shakespeare is that I’m always discovering things about his books that I didn’t know—even after reading them and studying them and watching them and teaching them for many years.  That’s why I love to teach Shakespeare, and I still do—my students (young or old) are always showing me things that I’ve missed on my previous treks.

But since you may not like that end run around your question, let me say this.  I have a funny feeling that Shakespeare may have participated in the rendering of Psalm 46 in the King James Version of the Bible.  Read 46 words into it from the beginning and see what you get and then go to the end (not counting Selah) and count back 46 words.  See what you make of it that!  Remember, it has to be the KJV!

Website:  LovingGrammar.com

Can buy book and answer key there.

Can also buy the book on Amazon.com.

Full title:  Loving Grammar:  Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging ™

Outskirts Press,  2014.

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