blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: June 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun with Language II

A long, long time ago – like a whole year or so – I wrote a blog called Fun with Language I.  About time I did a sequel, I think.  So, for this blog, I will pick a couple of quirky things about language and talk about them, not from the perspective of an English professor, precisely, but more from that of someone who loves language and how it is used/abused/misused/infused/confused.  Like last time, I will only pick a couple of things...and save the rest for another day.
“What?” – I only list this one in instances when it is followed by a statement like “I was only joking” or something similar.  I think that the listener hears an implied “!” that isn’t necessarily always there.  Without the tone of incredulity, “what” simply means you didn’t hear...and an explanation of the joking nature of the statement is really not helpful as I didn’t hear whatever it was in the first place.  I occasionally get a response that explains a reference – which I didn’t hear, so explaining the reference really doesn’t help since I never heard the reference the first time around.

“Literally” – This one literally drives me nuts.  Okay, no it doesn’t...because if it did, I would be on medication at least and in some sort of care facility at the most.  And therein lies my issue with this word. Like ‘actually,’ it is misused all the time.  People are trying to emphasize, when what they are doing is rendering the hyperbole into reality.  And that’s just not right.  So, someone tells me they could literally eat a horse – Mmmhmm, I’d like to see him try.  

Profanity -- Much of what I feel is happening with language – and this brings me to profanity – is that we seem to constantly be looking for ways to give our lives meaning in the face of technology is changing so fast we can barely keep up with it.  Just the other day, for example, a friend of mine said “Firefox 5?  When did 4 happen?”  So, I think we inundate our language with superlatives and we ramp up hyperbole to make it seem more real so that it seems more fantastic.  In a world where we celebrate the minutiae of everyday life (scan a few Facebook status updates and you’ll know what I mean) that we try to make it have meaning by inflating its importance.  We use a variety of techniques to either make our minutiae stand out, or to make the more interesting aspects of our lives stand out from everyone else’s.  The problem is that it gets used so often that it loses any sort of impact, which negates the point of using it.  A well placed curse here and there can make all the difference in the world – but use it too much and it’s just a lack of creativity and can lower the perceived intelligence of the user.  I’ll give you an example...

There’s a woman where I  work who is wonderful – she is very grandmotherly and manages to remain neutral in much of the back and forth that goes on in any large business – quite a feat when you take a collective group of somewhat quirky people who have dedicated their lives to education.  I had a bad semester awhile back and was caught in some of the shadowy intrigue that is so common but shouldn’t be.  As I left to head home one night, this lovely woman walked me to the door and said, “And as for those others?  F*** ‘em.”  It was the single most profound use of a profane word that I have ever heard.  Which is NOT hyperbole.  I’m not sure I’d ever heard this woman swear, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it since.  It made my day – my whole semester, really – and it was that one word that did it.  Take, on the other hand, the countless ‘f-bombs’ (are they even bombs anymore?) that spill across my senses on any given day.  There is no comparison in effectiveness, power, or overall impact.

Let’s compare...

OPTION A:  “I think he's a sort of man people emigrate to avoid. I remember the first time I met Gerald, I said to my wife....either this man is suffering from serious brain damage or the new vacuum cleaner's just arrived. As for his family, they are quite simply the most intolerable herd of steaming social animals that I have ever had the misfortune of turning my nose up to. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid dog.”

OPTION B:  “You stupid mother******”

Option B is just so humdrum, but isn’t option A lovely?  Doesn’t it just convey a fascinating level of creativity, effectiveness, and overall ‘wincing-ness’ to it?  And there’s not a single f-word in there. 


(*For the record, there are two words that begin with it all depends on how you define ‘f-word’).

To bring it back to the start....I love a turn of phrase (insult or no) that makes me think a little...perhaps even say that tiny pairing of words that makes the speaker proud...


 Note:  Option A above is taken from a Rowan Atkinson sketch referred to as "A Toast to the Caterers" -- it's quite funny and well worth a watch.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Live and Let...

This is perhaps the first time I’ve been compelled to write about something controversial. If you don’t agree with me, well that is certainly your right. I do not apologize for my views, I am only sorry that we do not see eye to eye. Perhaps it is because I’m about to celebrate my anniversary that I feel the need to blog on this….or perhaps I just care enough to speak out.

One June 24, 2011, something historic happened in New York, and it makes me proud to be from this state – even if my own Senator did not join the four brave Republicans who helped make it happen. I consider myself an Ally -- because despite that some would call me a feminist, I’m really just a humanist. I don’t care who people love – as long as they love honestly, sincerely, mutually, and fully. As long as their love hurts no one else, why should the gender of the couple be of concern to me? People, in general, deserve to be given the same rights as everyone else. As long as people are not hurting others, I fail to see why society needs to expend so much energy in concerning itself with who loves who and actively trying to stop those people from sharing the same rights as others who love one another. It’s amazing to me that so many people are concerned with the hearts of others. I just find it so depressing and unfathomable how people can be so blind to the heartache that must come from being denied rights simply because of who you are. We fought a war to stop that. We rioted to stop that. We watched men and women be beaten, arrested, even lynched because they dared drink from a fountain, look at a pretty woman, vote in an election, sit in the front of the bus. And now we want a woman to be denied health insurance because she keeps the house while her female partner of 20 years works to pay the bills. We want the bereft partner of a soldier who died in Iraq to be left penniless and without aid simply because he, too is male. We want to bar same-sex partners from being at the bedside of their hospitalized loved one because they cannot be named next of kin. There are something like 1,400 state and federal rights bestowed on married couples and those opposed to same-sex marriage want to deny their fellow taxpayers every single one of them whilst still reaping the benefits themselves. All because of chromosomes. I just can’t help asking myself why we care so much about denying others the freedoms that this country is built on. We came here to be free – and yet, we are not one of the 10 countries that allow same-sex unions.

Two quotes keep going through my mind that really drive home how strange this all is…
  • “If you’re against gay marriage – don’t have one.”
  • "Decades ago we told blacks they had to marry their own kind – now we are telling gays that they CAN’T marry their own kind. Bigotry is confusing.”

So many people have pointed out the troubles with those who are most loudly opposed to gay marriage – the conservatives who have cheated on their wives, engaged in inappropriate behaviors, and then lied about their indiscretions even as they railed loudly about the sanctity of traditional marriage and the risk gay marriage poses to family values. I do not understand. Especially when divorce rates are skyrocketing, people marry more often than they move, and children are growing up in ‘broken’ homes and in front of video games and glued to their text messages.

To some of these dissenters, I should not be married any more than a gay couple – and neither should anyone who suffers the agonizing pain of being infertile. Marriage, they say, is one man, one woman, so that they can bear children. My husband and I have made a conscious choice not to have children; others dear to me are unable to do so – are we, too, undermining the sanctity of marriage? Or are we allowed a pass simply because we have the right anatomical makeup to have children, even if we are unwilling or incapable of doing so?

The true irony here is that the bigots who are so concerned with the lives and doings of others that they cannot mind their own affairs are one of the reasons I choose not to bring children into the world.

In going back to recent events in NY, it is interesting that in order for the measure to pass, the Assembly added an amendment that protects churches from discrimination lawsuits if they refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Fine. I take no issue with this – churches are built on their own beliefs and while I wish that it were different, this is not a blog on religion. Protect the churches – I’m fairly certain that most gay couples would not want to be wedded by such a church as it is.

That amendment leads to my If I Ran the Zoo moment. If I were put in charge, I would ask the government to get out of the marriage business altogether. I would rescind my marriage license in favor of a Civil Union license and ask all other married folks to do the same. Gay, straight, bi-racial, childless, or parenting – have the government only issue civil unions and be done with it. Those who wish a marriage can seek out the spiritual institution most aligned with their belief system and go through the rites and ceremonies if they so choose. All would have the same rights, all would be equal – if we will not allow gays to be married because of the word 'marriage' and what it means in the Bible, then have the government stop using the word for ALL formal, right-giving unions. Leave marriage to the churches if you want to define it using religion. Something tells me, however, that this would be seen as ‘giving something up’ and it would be no more welcome than gay-marriage. They won’t give up what they see as their right, but yet they won’t give those rights to anyone who is not like them. Sigh.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We need to stop making gays – and others -- focus on the endless pursuit while never achieving the actual happiness.

“I decided I would vote ‘yes’ if I ever had the chance to do it again and that was long before Andrew Cuomo was elected governor and it was long before anyone could predict my political future. No deals were made. I made a deal with myself and that I would be true to my heart and true to myself. That’s the deal I made…How do you say that you believe in freedom and equality and go into the workplace and see somebody that you do the same thing with and have equal responsibility with in the workplace and say we’re here we are working together but you are not equal? I am more equal than you. How do you say that?”
Sen James Alesi (R), Monroe County – First Voter

“We reached a new level of social justice this evening”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unplug, Unwind... (300)

There is something intriguing about ‘unplugging’ these days. Most people know me as a diehard geek, but when I cannot plug in, it is hardly the end of the world for me. I am clearly not an addict in that regard – I don’t pine for pixels or long for laptops. My brain seems to understand that the time has come for something altogether different. Furthermore, my appreciation of the great outdoors is only accentuated by the amount of time I spend connected to technology as a matter of course. Not that I’m suggesting for a moment that everyone has spend time plugged in to truly appreciate being unplugged. It’s just that I personally appreciate the immediacy of the campground and the wilderness even more because I don’t get to explore such environs as much as I would like. It also makes me appreciate the ease with which I can communicate in the world when I come back out of it. A somewhat more cynical world escapist once said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation; while I don’t completely agree, I can say that I do yearn to leave this sometimes brutal and agonizing world for a little while. And so, my heart lies more with Frost than with Thoreau – for it was the former who said he’d “like to get away from earth awhile” and the only change I would make is to change earth to world. For it is the bosom of the Earth to which I flee, and not for long. The world where I spend the bulk of my days is full of that which I most love. It is that world which is the “right place for love” and too long away would find me pining not for pixels, but for people.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Rule of Three…

In the web of ley lines that make up the human experience, there are several that crossing in my life right now that leave me feeling wistful, nostalgic, a little sad, and a little closer to the things of this earth that we can never quite explain or understand. Those lines lay before me, around me, through me…criss-crossing in an elaborate pattern that I will try to explain here.

The first line is that of my birthday – thirty eight years and three days ago, on the ninth day of the sixth month, I was born. These days come, of course, every year – and they tend to leave us happy or thoughtful, more aware of our mortality and our meaning, perhaps more determined to live each day to its fullest as we become aware that another year has passed. Three days ago, June is the sixth month (three times two) and I was born on the ninth day (three times three).

Near that line, as it has always been, is that today is my grandfather's birthday. He would have been 90 this year if he hadn't been taken from us two years ago next month. We didn't always celebrate them together, but I remember a few camping trips where there was one cake and two piles of presents. I loved it when we shared our birthdays – it always made mine feel that much more special. I'm always mentally and heartfully aware of the birthdays of those who have gone before, but grandpa's always strikes me even more because of its proximity to mine. Three days after mine, June is the sixth month (three times two), the 12th day (three times three), and he would have been ninety (three times three times ten).

Somewhat separated from those two lines are two more. One is that I'm going camping in five days. We'll be going to three places – Cousin Jerene's backyard, Sacandaga Campground in Wells, NY and then Lewey Lake in the Adirondacks. We will spend six nights in places where my father went as a boy – places where my grandfather took him and my uncle and taught them just what kind of man he was and what kinds of men they would become. Three places to sleep under the stars, six nights (three times two), the three of us (mom and dad and me).

The line that runs near that one is that two years ago this month, I was on another camping trip to Lewey Lake with my parents. My grandfather came up to spend the day with my folks and I – we gave him father's day presents and birthday presents and sat by the fire, fed the ducks, and talked. Mom made him his favorite cake. At the end of our visit, I was hugged in the great big hug that was so characteristic of him and we waved as he drove away. Then we waited and listened for the honk as he headed off on the road towards home. It was the last time I ever saw him.

His birthday, my birthday, camping trips past and future – all of these things have come together to remind me of just how special he was and is. They have come together to remind me how vital my family and my memories are to who I am. And as I travel towards unknown experiences in campsites that are now old friends, he will be alive with every beat of my heart, every crack of the fire, every call of the loon, every lap of a quiet wave touching the shore of the lake.

Happy birthday, grandpa. And to my family…I love you.