Tag Archives: ranty

Alex’s Three Rules for Life

Three no-bullshit rules for happier living.

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Do you have rules for life? I have a lot, although most of them are common sense and many are more like guidelines than actual rules. But I have three unbreakable ones.

1. Leave useless lectures

I love a good informative presentation. I seek out opportunities to hear smart people say smart things, and TED talks are my jam. But I’ll leave any presentation that consists of the speaker reading the slides out loud. I’ve walked out of three important meetings this year and will happily walk out of more. These meetings were billed as “essential” and “attendance mandatory,” like the one about college scholarships and the one about a big field trip for my kid.

But this is a hard limit for me. If the presenter is doing PowerPoint Karaoke, I’m leaving. I know how to read. I don’t need anyone to do it for me. But what about the question-and-answer period that always comes at the end? Isn’t that valuable? No. The questions are always super specific and come from people seeking an exception to the rules. No one asks a question seeking clarification. They all want a dispensation.

Fun fact: one hundred percent of the time, the lecture I’ve left has either included a handout or a website with all the information on it. There is never any downside to walking out of a purely informational meeting because the information is always available elsewhere.

2. Never keep a folder of papers

People love to give me those shiny cardboard folders filled with papers. I got my taxes done with a new accountant. She gave me a folder. I hired a realtor to sell my house. She gave me a folder. I got a new insurance policy. It came with a folder. My doctor, my banker, my lawyer…in fact, it seems that anytime I hire someone, trying to deal with them adult-to-adult, I’m given a folder, as if I were a child still in school.

I have my own filing cabinet and folders don’t fit in it. Besides, ninety percent of what’s in the folder is crap and the other ten percent can be found online. I can’t stop people from giving me folders, but I don’t have to keep them. I take out anything with my signature on it, file it in my own filing cabinet, and immediately recycle the rest of the papers and the stupid folder too.

3. Don’t photograph events

Every time I go to a show, a play or a concert, especially one my child is in, my phone/camera is powered off and in my pocket. I came to the event to experience it, not to document it.

I’m a parent of two musicians. My kids have been in multiple concerts every year since fifth grade and I’ve adored every single one of them. But I don’t have photos to prove it. What would be the point? Music is auditory. Plays are a story told in time. They can’t be captured by a static image. Besides, studies have shown that taking photographs can keep us from forming detailed memories. Do I want to hear the music, or do I want to stare through a three-inch screen trying to get the perfect picture that I’ll post to Facebook and never look at again?

I take photos of my children after the show. They look amazing in their band tuxedos and after the concert, they are relaxed and happy. But during the show, I sit down, shut up, and listen to the music.

These three rules for life have eased my way and made me happier. I’m thinking of adding a fourth rule: delete all voicemails without listening to them. My mom still calls me sometimes, so that one isn’t absolute. But for everyone else? Text me.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. The first of the re-issued books will be out this fall.

[Photo by Sholeh used under a creative commons 2.0 license]

How to Make a Protest Sign That Doesn’t Suck

You don’t have to be an artist to make your sign a work of art.

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Marches are a regular part of my life these days, and every good protester needs a sign. I used to just grab a piece of cardboard from the recycling bin and throw some words on it. My signs were legible, and my message sincere, but my designs left a lot be desired.

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With three protests in April, I needed to up my sign-making game. After all, if I care enough to march, I care enough to make a good sign. The problem? I don’t have much free time, I refuse to buy any new materials like stencils or paints, and I’m terrible at art.

So I had to figure out a way to make a decent sign in less than an hour, for less than a dollar, with zero artistic ability. I’m not saying my method—or my sign—is the best. But it is a cut above my recycled cardboard ones, and looks quite good for the amount of time/money/effort I put into it. Want to make one too?

Here’s what you’ll need:
Poster board (One sheet cut in half to make two signs)
An index card
A ruler or yardstick
Markers, pencil, and scissors

I had all these things on hand except for the poster board. That cost me 79 cents.

Here are some optional things:
Tape
Artwork printed off the internet
glue

Here’s how to do it in ten easy steps:

1. Decide what your sign will say.  Shorter is better! The experts say fewer than seven words is ideal. My sign for the tax march says “No one is above the law.” That’s a message I think we can all agree on!

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2. Measure your space. Now that you know what you want to say, you know how many letters per line you’ll be writing. Be sure to count the space between words! In my case, I was doing two words per line, so my longest string was “is above.” I’d need eight spaces for that.

3. Do the math to figure out how big each letter should be. My poster board was 14 inches wide. Therefore, each letter could only be 1.5 inches wide. (8 x 1.5 = 12 inches, plus .25 inches between each letter for a total of 14 inches.)

4. Make a rectangular stencil out of your index card. I made mine 1.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall. That’s the orange rectangle in my photo.

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5. Very lightly, in pencil, trace around the index card as many times as you have letters. For me, that was 6 boxes for line one, 8 boxes for line two, and 7 boxes for line three. Remember that the space between the words counts as a box! (Also: I discovered that with fewer letters on lines one and three, I could make those boxes slightly bigger. But let’s pretend for this tutorial that they were the same.)

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6. Now you have neat little boxes to make your letters in. Every letter will be the same size and you won’t run out of room. A good artist would simply freehand the letters at this point, but I am not a good artist. I penciled in every letter. It didn’t take long and made me more confident with the markers. Make your letters really thick! Thin ones can’t be read from far away.

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7. Color in the words with markers. This is always my favorite part. I love to color.

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8. Erase the pencil lines. Also my favorite part.

9. How about some artwork? Here’s my big secret. I simply found an image I liked on the internet, printed it, cut it out and glued it to my sign with glue stick. Done! The sign is ready to be carried to the march. But what about that second piece of poster board?

10. If you want to, you can use the other piece of poster board to make a second sign. Tape the signs back to back, and put a yardstick (or a cardboard tube) in the middle for a handle. Your sign will be more visible if you carry it above your head.

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Have a good march! Make new friends. Yell really loudly. Connect with important local organizations. Remember to stay hydrated and always clean up your trash. Peaceful assembly is your constitutional right and speaking truth to power is one of the very best things Americans can do.

Especially when our signs don’t suck.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She finds protesting an important part of being a good American citizen.

Why You Should Encrypt Your Texts

Just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to fear.

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You’ve got spies in your house.

You let them in.

The day you bought a smart phone, an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart remote for your TV, you placed an always on, always listening device in your home. Even Siri is always listening for her name, meaning she’s always listening, period.

You don’t care. You think “I’m not that interesting” or “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But there are three problems with that.

First, if you think that surveillance programs are only there to catch bad guys, think again. Second, the “nothing to hide” argument puts the burden on you to prove your innocence. Constantly. “Why are you so worried about privacy?” law enforcement will ask. “are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Third, you’ve given up the choice of what you share and when. Are you okay with the government reading your email? Out loud? In public? How about searching your house and car and body any time they want? Why not publish your bank balance and parade around naked while you’re at it? After all, you have nothing to hide.

Everyone is probably breaking some law at some time. I speed. I also routinely run the bullshit stop sign at my corner unless there’s a car coming from the other side. Chances are 100% that you, too, break the law in ways big and small.

And we all have tracking devices in our pockets, meaning government officers know, or can easily find out, what we did. Since they can’t arrest everyone, laws are selectively enforced. Marginalized groups such as young people, minorities, immigrants, and the poor are the ones who get arrested for stuff we all do.

Your friends, your colleagues, your children, your children’s friends. I guarantee at least one of them has something to hide from the government. Not because they are doing something illegal or wrong (technically, we all are), but because of selective enforcement.

We can’t do anything about selective enforcement. And in most cases, we can’t live without the spies in our pockets. But at least we can minimize the harm they do.

One easy step you can take is to encrypt your text messages. Instead of sending plain texts, that are easily read by anyone with a search warrant (or in many cases, without one), you can easily encrypt your messages, so that no one but you and the recipient can read them.

Think of it as herd immunity. Journalists and human rights activists around the world encrypt their texts, for good reason. But the problem is, simply encrypting texts by itself can throw suspicion on someone. However, if we all encrypt our texts, it becomes the new normal. Nothing to see here, journalists and humans rights activists and young people and minorities are simply doing what everyone else does.

Lots of apps can encrypt your messages. I like Signal.  It’s made by a hacker collective and gets high marks from the ACLU. PC magazine says “It’s the best secure messaging app we’ve tested.”

It’s free and seamlessly replaces your usual texting app. You need zero tech know-how to use it. You send texts just like you always do. If you’re messaging someone who also uses Signal, it encrypts the message. If you’re texting someone who’s not using Signal, then a regular message goes out as normal.

Signal uses strong, tested end-to-end  encryption tools, which means that even if a court order demanded it,  the developers of Signal would be unable to deliver your messages to the government. It’s not that they’d refuse to do it. They simply couldn’t.

You can’t afford to be passive about this issue. Not now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the most vulnerable among us. And with free, simple, and seamless apps that will help, there is no excuse not to.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She sends as few texts as possible, and encrypts every one.

I’m Not Buying Your Racist Economy.

I don’t trust our country to do the right thing. I’m not buying it. Literally.

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Things I’d planned on buying in the next six months:
Glasses
A kindle
A dining table
Gutters for my house
A car

Service people I’d planned on employing:
A mason
A gutter installer
A landscape company

Things and services I’m actually going to buy in the next six months:
None

In fact, I might not buy any of that stuff for a year or more. I’m joining the protest economy.

People who look like me, people with the same privileges I have, elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rapist as our President. And gave him lots of friends in congress to play with. They will hurt people who don’t look like me.

My peers claim they aren’t racist or sexist. They say this election was about “smaller government.” They say it was about “the economy.” That is a lie. They voted out of hate. And that hate has put me and my family in jeopardy in countless ways. I will probably lose my health insurance. My brown, queer children fear for their very lives.

My peers claim this election was about “bringing jobs back.” If jobs come back, it won’t be on my dime.

I’m not hiring anyone to fix my gutters or to deliver a new table or sell me a computer. I’m opting out of this economy as much as possible in the coming year. I won’t buy anything I don’t have to. This includes movies, restaurant meals, and even books. If my rake breaks, I’ll duct tape it together. If I lose my umbrella, I’ll get wet. I hope my family likes donations to charity for Christmas because that’s the only gift they’ll get from me.

This capitalist country is racist as hell, and I’m going to leave it the only way I can, by removing myself from it economically.

And the money I’m not putting into our broken system? That’s going to three places: Planned Parenthood , EMILY’s list , and the Sierra Club. They are doing the work I want to see done, and the only work I’m willing to pay for right now.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She is completely okay with nobody buying her books for a year.

[Photo credit: © Ridiculousbroomstick | Dreamstime Stock Photos]

See You at the Polls

If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.

 

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Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.

Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.

Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.

Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.

But whatever you do,

VOTE.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. She can’t wait to vote on November 8.

The Encouragement Manifesto

You. Yes, you. You’re doing just fine.

Have you seen this quote? It shows up around social media a lot.

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It’s supposed to be funny…I think? I don’t find it so. O’Connor goes on to say that many a bestseller would have been prevented by a good teacher. Because how dare some people think they can write? In O’Connor’s world, not even a college degree is enough to prevent bad writing.

I find this attitude infuriating. I know there are more bad writers than good ones. I also know that some people think they are good writers when they are not. Or more accurately, they aren’t good writers yet.

That’s what bothers me most about the idea of “stifling writers.” It feeds into the myth of innate talent, as if pro writers never had to learn their craft but were born knowing how to write flawless first drafts.

Some people think the way to help new writers is to cut them down—otherwise known as “telling them the truth.” But writing well is hard work and the publishing process is soul-sucking. Why add to that misery?

I teach a class. I help new writers. When I read their sample pages, I tell them they are doing just fine. I tell them to to keep writing. Because you know what? That is the truth. The most important thing a beginning writer can do is write more. It’s the only way to get better.

I’m not patronizing or condescending. I give solid advice in addition to praise. I recommend books that can help with specific problems. And when it comes to publishing questions, I tell it like it is, with no sugar-coating.

But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix someone’s manuscript. Leaving my own fingerprints all over someone else’s pages won’t help them. It will only make them believe they can’t do it themselves. But what will help them is knowing that someone sees their potential, thinks they are on the right track, and is rooting for them.

That’s what other writers did for me. And that’s what I will always, always do for other writers.

And there’s no way anyone can stifle that.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead, and she is wildly enthusiastic about brand-new writers. 

Everyone loves Whole30. Except me.

I ate squeaky clean for thirty days. I’m never doing it again.

IMG_2809I first heard of Whole30 on the internet. It seems like everyone loves this eating plan, with people posting before and after pictures and Instagramming their meat-and-veggie lunches. Whole30 isn’t a diet. It’s more like pushing the “reset” button on your eating habits. By cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, beans, soy and peanuts for a month, you’re supposed to change your relationship to food, and eat more mindfully ever after.

The testimonials sound too good to be true. By eating like this for just thirty days, people report effortless weight loss, clear skin, sound sleep, boundless energy, and an end to all food cravings, forever. Some people say that Whole30 cured their high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that? I filled my grocery cart with delicious, whole foods and for thirty days, ate nothing but meat, eggs and vegetables, with a small amount of fruits and tree nuts for a treat.

For people who eat a lot of restaurant meals or packaged food, Whole30 is a huge lifestyle change. But I was already cooking my own meals from scratch. I was already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I never ate fast food or instant ramen or sweet cereal. My big indulgences were granola bars and dark chocolate. Still, I thought that surely cutting out cheese, oatmeal, popcorn and wine, not to mention noodles and bread would give me some of those miracle benefits the internet was raving about. Everyone who does Whole30 says “It changed my life.”

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Let me tell you what Whole30 did for me.

Nothing.

My skin looks the same. My energy levels didn’t improve. I didn’t lose a single pound. And if anything, my insomnia got worse.

And I missed out on so much.

I’m not talking about sandwiches or stupid store-bought cookies, because who cares about those? I’m talking about meaningful treats that people put real effort into. My friend opened an ice cream store, which was his dream come true. I attended the celebration without tasting a single one of his homemade creations. I went to a birthday party and didn’t eat any of the cake. I told my writer’s group that I wouldn’t bring muffins this week.

But the worst was when I had a spat with a family member and after we made up, he went out of his way to bring me my favorite dessert and I didn’t eat it. He was nice about it and said he admired my dedication to my goal, but I could tell he was hurt. I should have said “screw Whole30” and eaten every last bite, because no eating plan is worth harming a relationship with a loved one.

Whole30 wasn’t all bad. I learned a some new recipes. I made a couple of new Instagram friends. I learned that my diet was already quite healthy. The reason I didn’t receive huge benefits is because I didn’t make huge changes.

It took eating super clean for thirty to days to learn that while my normal diet isn’t perfect, it is good enough. Now that I know that, I never, never, never have to do Whole30 ever again.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She lets her characters eat whatever they want.

Taking Chances

Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.

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I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.

I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.

This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.

I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.

I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.

“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”

“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”

“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.

Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”

I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”

“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”

“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”

I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”

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None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.

I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.

And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.

It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?

I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.

But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.

And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.

#YesAllWomen

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and science fiction thrillers under the pen name MH Mead. Her characters often walk alone, even in unsafe places.

[Image: Google maps]

Ten Ways Being an Adult is Super Awesome

Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.

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“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.

And I honestly don’t get it.

I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.

Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.

And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.

10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.

9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?

8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.

7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.

6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.

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5. Paychecks > allowance.

4. Your parents get smarter every year.

3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.

2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::

1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and science fiction thrillers under the pen name MH Mead. Her books are not for children.

Six Reasons to Embrace the Singular They

Sometimes “they” is just one person.

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Language is always changing, and proper grammar is nothing more than consensus. What is considered incorrect today will probably be tomorrow’s norm—and just as vigorously defended and argued about.

Consider the pronoun “thou,” which used to be the second person singular. By about 1700, it was gone, as everyone was using “you” for both singular and plural. The same thing is happening with they.

While English teachers and the grammar police freak out, the rest of us are happily using they to mean just one person. Here are six reasons that’s okay.

1. The singular they has been used for a long, long time. Since the middle ages, in fact. Chaucer used the singular they. Shakespeare used the singular they. Austen used the singular they. If they can do it, you can do it.

2. In the singular third person, English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun. “He or she” is not all-inclusive. Some people are neither he nor she. Besides, you’re not talking about an either/or situation. You’re not choosing from many possibilities, you’re talking about a single person. Some academics use “one” here, and I suppose one could do that, if one doesn’t mind sounding like a pretentious ninny.

3. Everyone is already doing it, including you. Don’t believe me? How would you finish this sentence? “If someone wins the lottery…” I bet you started the next clause with “they should…” You’ve also said something like this: “Someone left their cell phone behind. I hope they come back for it.” We do this all the time, especially when words like someone, everybody and anyone are involved.

4. Authorities say it’s correct. The singular they was chosen by the American Dialect Society as their 2015 word of the year. Bill Walsh, the Washington Post editor in charge of the style guide also says the singular they “is the only sensible solution.” The Chicago Manual of Style, The Guardian, The Merriam-Webster dictionary and many other publications also say the singular they is correct.

5. The pronoun does not have to agree with the number of its noun. Although “they” is most often plural, it does not have to be. Consider the following sentence: If our team plays well in the semi-finals, chances are they will play well in the finals, too. We see that the noun “team” is singular, by the use of the verb “plays.” But in the second clause, we use the word “they” to refer to the singular “team.” Or how about this sentence? My family stops by often and they always forget to bring beer. “Family” is singular, yet referred to as “they.”

6. “He” isn’t gender-neutral. Do you insist that “he,” “him,” and “his” includes men and women and non-binary people? Then you won’t mind a sentence like this: I can’t remember: was it your brother or your sister who had his graduation party last week? Or how about this one? Each student should wear his nicest suit or his prettiest dress to the dance. Those sentences are crying out for a singular they. Even worse, when the masculine form of a word is considered the generic, the feminine form usually takes on sexual or derogatory tones. Consider “master” and “mistress,” or “bachelor” and “spinster.”

You can stubbornly plow on, using he or one when the word you really want is the singular they. Eventually you’ll get tired of people rolling their eyes at you and you’ll remember that grammar rules are descriptive, not prescriptive.

In the meantime, don’t you dare tell anyone who is using they as a third-person singular pronoun that they are wrong. Because they are not.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She loves the way language is always changing.