Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Gloaming

I've been spending a lot of time in hospitals lately. And the thing about hospitals, is that they make you think a lot about cycles of life and death. For one thing, you can't avoid it. Death, that is. In normal life you can maintain a healthy state of denial. And even when you go into the hospital, you cling to that denial. Death is what is happening to the other people. You're just there to have something taken care of.

You can hold on to that delusion until night.

See, at night in the hospital, the halls are dark and quiet. A faint glow comes from the nurses’ station, but the chatting and clanging of motion and action is suppressed. The stillness is only punctuated by its contrast to what it's like during the day.

In the daytime, nurses rush up and down halls. They laugh and sometimes gossip. There are people who bring trays of food and phones that ring nonstop. And then there are lullaby bells on the loudspeaker. Every time a baby is born, they play the lullaby bells. The bells chime almost every hour. Often more than once. And during the day, you feel a sense of life bustling all around you. Life bustling down the hallway, life bursting into the world.

But at night it's quiet.

The lullaby bells don't ring--either they turn them off for the night, or not that many babies are born during the night, I can't say for sure. But what does ring are the codes. Code blue: seven, eight, nine times a night. Codes ring so consistently that they're almost like clock chimes. It's when they ring that you can't hold onto that denial anymore. Because there aren't that many beds in a hospital, and you can't hide from the bells when you're lying in one of those beds. Every time you hear one of the codes in your sleep, part of you drowsily wonders if this one is for you. So half-awake, you listen. For them to name the floor number and the room number, then to call for everyone in that area to rush over to whatever soul is hovering in that limbic space between life and death.

In Scotland they have a word for that space--the place where it's not quite day and it's not quite night. For the nether space that hovers in between two things, neither one nor the other. They call it the gloaming.

A hospital is a gloaming. Inside it the veil hovers open, ushering in life by day, watching it go by night.

Codes must be called during the day too, but for some reason you don't hear them then. Maybe some part of your mind knows that life and death are different sides of the same thing, so you unconsciously banish one into the dark place. The quiet place.

Sometimes in the hospital, after you're awake enough to realize, no, that was not your code, and, no, you are not sick enough that anyone expects it to be your code, you lie in bed for awhile. There's a blue light coming from somewhere out of sight. It bounces off the shiny floors--polished concrete. You may hear a machine beep in the next room, even hear someone grunt as they turn over in bed. And after awhile you fall back into a restless sleep until pain wakes you up and you push the button for the nurse to come.

Soon enough morning comes and you can have your denial back once again.

But you never lose that sense of gloaming until you're back outside, back home. Away from the place of in-between.

And even then, it lingers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's a work in progress

but check out the blog for my class. 

Ethan, how do I get a book to you?

Miss Provo needs some help with her part-time modeling career.

or to put it in her words, "pleasevoteforme oh please please please VOTE, like, VOTE, like pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease. VOTE VOTE VOTE."

I think she's a little prone to the dramatic, but yanno. I'll vote for her. You can too.

I'm making a blog for my students and for the life of me I can't think of what to name it.

It'll have the syllabus, the course calendar, some posts and stuff, and, of course, will look totally cool.

Any suggestions?

Will it get more people to comment if I offer a prize? I'll offer a prize then. FREE BOOK for the person who thinks of the best name for my blog.

[Contest closed, though if you still want to give me suggestions, then go for it!]

Barb keeps telling me that I never complain. Which is totally not true. I complain all the time. This post is to prove it.

I've been daydreaming about running.

They’re romantic daydreams. And since I actually used to run, I know they’re totally implausible. Daydreams forget the way your knees creak after a few weeks. How you can feel the ligaments around them groan as they start to disintegrate. Daydreams make you forget that one of the biggest reasons why you ever liked running in the first place had nothing at ALL to do with the running (which sux) but with the control. No matter how much it hurts, you can push through the pain. You: master of your body. Daydreams forget that it's a deception, that mastery. It's a way to celebrate the fact that you have puked your lunch into a bush. Yay me! My bones hurt and I puked in a bush! I'm the MASTER! Daydreams also forget about how running makes pain a part of your life. Every muscle in your body hurts. And not just the first day. All the time. You smile to people about "how much energy!" you have. But, really, you just want to be in bed eating carbs. Running, in reality, isn't all that romantic.

But there’s something about not being able to run right now--even if I wanted to. Friction is the number one enemy of the skin graft. Graft survival depends utterly upon the developing of new capillaries, upon them forming a solid network between your graft and your body. Friction destroys tiny capillaries. So until the graft is completely healed and strengthened, friction has to be avoided. I absolutely, 100%, cannot, should not, will not run.

Which is why I want so desperately to do it.

Maybe it's something about the wondering if I’ll ever be able to run again.

Because inside that wondering I feel the running rhythm. Lifting up a foot, feeling the pavement shock its way up my body with each step. Runners feel the texture of the pavement in their face, in the way that cheeks and mouths are wont to bounce this way or that way. You can feel the pebbles under your feet, feel the ground change in your ankles. But most of all, there’s the rhythm. Breath in, breath out, step, step, arms swinging in counterbalance. It’s like music. Only it’s hypnotic. Before I was a runner I thought people who said running was “zen” were basically sickos. Masochists. And, yanno. A lot of them are. But after I started running--it took about three weeks of running every single day to get here, BTW--I started to understand it. It’s meditation. Breath in. Rhythm. No room for thoughts because you’re in motion. It’s calm.

It seems so paradoxical to me that lying in bed for hours upon hours does the absolute opposite of make you calm. It makes you itchy. Thousands of thoughts in your head, gushes of unpleasant emotion in your blood. (Almost never pleasant emotions.)

But when you’re running, you’re calm. The voices in your head (“most people call them thoughts, Kerry!” protested an old boyfriend of mine) learn to wind down, turn off. And then there’s just air and breath and movement. A rhythm that seems to mimic the rhythm of the stars dancing around the earth. Just motion. That transcendental sense that you are not simply alive, but a part of the universe. A universe where every speck of sand is numbered, and every breathing thing matters, and every particle of matter is moving.

You want to go running now, right?

But, see, this is all the fantasy of someone who can’t.

And it’s not like I don’t know the truth, either.

During the second marathon I ran, I slipped at mile 18 on some gravel and fell down the side of a mountain. Tore the ligament that held my kneecap in place. Then, because I was “a runner” I finished the race hopping. Took six hours. People would pull cars over on the side of the road to see if I was okay. Cuz I was hopping. And sobbing.

For eight miles.

Never was able to really run after that. Not like I did when I was training for and/or running marathons. I'd get a jog here or there. And a jog here or there is nice, but you really have to do the consistency thing to find the zen again. Xanax would be a lot more efficient for most people (except for me cuz it makes me hallucinate about blood and guts; ew). Especially when you have small children whose general activities preclude your ability to be entirely consistent.

I’m not sure if/when I’ll be able to run after all these skin grafts, either. The surgeon says my graft will be “somewhat functional” when it's fully healed. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. That there won’t be movement-restricting contractures. That I won't be permanently deformed. That I'll be able to move my legs in a rhythm without tearing my skin, causing more contractures and less function. There's absolutely no way to know until they're finished cutting off my skin (since they have to remove from my knees to back, this could be awhile) and it has all finished healing. In other words: years.


I feel that rhythm when I close my eyes.

Foot: step
Arm: swing
Breath: in
Breath: out

And I have this image in my head. Me: showing up to a marathon in really short shorts. Skin graft healed, skin supple and massive scars displayed for all to see. Here are my battle wounds. And Lord how I have battled.

I always love the images you see of people who conquer things. And, yanno, maybe I’ll be that image someday. In five years. Or ten. I'm not sure.

Maybe I'll just do a half marathon, though. The whole one sux.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Sermonizing (Cuz You're Allowed to Sermonize on Your Own Blog): In Defense of Cafeteria Religion

You hear the phrase "Cafeteria Religion" mostly in pejorative settings. You don't get to pick and choose your religion, people say, you're either all in or not. (False Dilemma Logical Fallacy, anyone?)

I say: hogwash.

I believe that cafeteria religion is not only acceptable, it is essential.

For me, it's a question of rhetoric.

See, religion, like many human institutions is dependent upon rhetoric in order to function. And in the rhetorical situation, there are three pillars: the author (the one who's trying to say something), the audience (the person/people they're trying to say something to), and the medium (the way they say it).

In the mortal world, we can't just think something and have it magically appear in someone else's head. We have to use a medium of communication. The medium differs--we can write things down, say them out loud, sign them with our hands, paint metaphorical pictures, etc. But we can't change the fact that we *need* a medium.

But there's a problem with mediums: None of them are perfect.

Take language. It is useful. Essential. But it is also *completely* bound to culture. Remember back to that grammar example I gave about the nurse and the secretary? "A good nurse takes care of ____ patients" or "Part of a secretary's job is to manage _____ boss's schedule?"

You filled in those blanks with "her" in your head, right?

Why did you do this?

I never told you that the nurse or secretary were women. And there actually are male nurses and secretaries, right?

The reason you did that is that your language is inherently tied to your culture. You're going to make assumptions (e.g. nurses are female) that I have not told you to make unless I go out of my way to clarify every single possible assumption. And even if I did that, I'd miss something. Because that's the way that language and culture work.

Religion does not function outside of culture.

Maybe *God* is outside of culture, sure. But *you* are not. No one is.

So, let's think about God and rhetoric for a bit.

Let's say that God wants to talk to you. He has become the author in the rhetorical relationship. You are the audience. And even if the talking is going to happen in your head, most likely it will involve language, because that's just how our brains are wired. So even if God is going to try to stick to images and impressions, you're probably going to covert them to language if you want to communicate them to anyone else. Language is the rhetorical medium of prophets.

In order to talk to you in this kind of situation, God's gonna have some limitations, right? First, you have to be listening. That means that God has limited time. Probably not enough time to clarify every single assumption that you are going to make. And the assumptions that you make are going to be deeply tied to your culture and to your language.

For example, let's say that you're Moses and God is telling you about creation. He gives you an impression of a series of events that take place in seven discrete periods of time. "Ah!" You think. "Seven DAYS." Because maybe "days" is the closest idea your language has to what you're seeing. And God is going to let that fly, because, hey, maybe that *is* the closest thing in your language.

But what happens a few thousand years later when society/culture has done some growing? What about when we discover archeological artifacts, evidence of evolution, when we develop a better understanding of the history of the world and the universe? Our language has changed. Our assumptions have changed. Does that mean that God was lying to Moses?

No. It means the rhetorical situation has changed.

In fact, open up your Bible and read some Genesis. Now, imagine that *you* are God, and you're going to try to explain evolution, terrestrial change, and universal history to him. And then imagine that after you do that, Moses writes it down so he can tell other people and you don't get much chance to do a line-by-line edit with him.

What is that text going to look like?

It might actually look quite a bit like Genesis.

If we believe in God--more than that, if we believe in a God *who talks to us*--then we have to remember that we look at everything through the lens of our own culture and we have to try very, very hard to see the dirt on that lens. And if you're listening to a prophet, you have to remember that *even if God really did talk to them,* it would have been through the lens of culture and language. Even prophets come from cultures and when they talk to us, it's with language. So in order to listen to *God* by listening to a *prophet,* you have to try to figure out which part was God and which part was culture and how all of it was restricted by language.

And I don't have to tell you, cultures can be messed up. More than that, the worst bits of cultures are their "blind spots." The places that they haven't changed because they haven't *realized* how messed up they are.

If you put restrictions on your religion, like, I have to do ALL of it or NONE of it, then you're taking away from yourself the ability to think critically about the screwed up bits of your culture that are messing up your thought processes and, consequently messing up what should be sacred.

Essentially, you're allowing (possibly warped) bits of your culture to corrupt your religion.

Which is exactly how religion can be used to perpetrate cultural evils. Like, "Gah. I don't understand those Turks. Let's just make them Christian by starting the Crusades and killing them all." The medieval refusal to see the difference between culture and religion allowed culture to win. I even would argue that it allowed *evil* to win. Because to take religion all or nothing means to reject a critical examination of where your religion has been corrupted by your culture. Which means unnecessarily embracing the corruption of what should be sacred.

Back to the all or nothing cafeteria thing.

The reason people cling to false dilemma fallacies is that they make things seem *simple.* There's something very comforting about there being one right choice and one wrong choice and no debate and no thought. We all like to be right. We all like to have something to feel zealous about. Something to fight for. It makes us feel like we have a purpose--a righteous purpose. We feel "good" when we have an "evil" foe.

But true religion isn't about simple choices. And it isn't, I'm guessing, all about fighting foes.

God tells Adam and Eve, "Don't eat the fruit, but also multiply and replenish." What if you can't do one without the other? God tells the Israelites not to kill, but then tells them to make sacrifices. Can you make a sacrifice without killing? God tells Nephi to chop off Laban's head. God issues all kinds of commandments that are in conflict with each other, actually. Then says what's the highest law? Love. So, here are a bunch of laws in conflict with each other. Choose the one that's the most loving. Oh, and also, the "right" answer will probably change. Depends on the circumstances.

I don't think these are problems with the bible. I think they're the *point* of the bible.

Mortal choices aren't easy ones. And the second you make them easy choices, you've missed the point. Repentance (μετανοεω) means *to think differently.* Not to think like you're told or to allow others (even--especially!--prophets) to think for you.

And so every single time *anyone* tells you something they've heard from God--I don't care if it *is* a prophet--you question it. You evaluate the rhetorical pillars. You try to discern for yourself which part is godly and which part is culture. Because even if he is the world's most amazing prophet, he *will* come from a culture and it *will* influence at least part of what he says or the way he says it.  Some of what he says will be culture; and some will be godly. 

And if you don't feel like something is godly? Then you don't put it on your cafeteria tray.

It's not only your prerogative as someone trying to live a moral life, it's your responsibility.

Along with, yanno, clearing your table when you're done eating.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dr. Para-Mili-Lily

Because Steve is hilarious like that, he met with a (female) surgeon yesterday to talk about Lily's future.

Steve: "She needs a lot of regimentation. Is that compatible with being a surgeon?"

Surgeon: "She could be a military surgeon."

Steve: "Yeah, they're never on the front lines!"

Surgeon: "Actually, we've been able to boost survival recently by putting special teams of them on the front lines."

Steve: "Oh. Well, if she was a regular surgeon, would she be, like, the only girl there? Those Gray's Anatomy male-female ratios can't be right, can they?"

Surgeon: [shrugs] "Actually, I think Seattle may be just like that. Maybe the interns don't sleep with the attendings in real life. Or I dunno. Maybe they do. It's Seattle."

Steve: "So you didn't train in Seattle?"

Surgeon: "I was in the South. Only female in the program. For some reason, it seemed like it would be better to do it that way."

Steve: "To help ensure a social life because of all the guys at work?"

Surgeon: "No, there's no time for a social life. Not until you're in your like, mid-thirties."

Steve: "That's OK. Lily probably won't have very good socializing skills anyway. I mean... she's only four. And we like her. But even at four you can tell what someone's talents are. Comprehending the... niceties... of social behavior is probably not Lily's talent." [She may have a future in cutting up bunnies, though! See the Nurse Jackie link two posts ago.]

Surgeon: "I've got a 16 month old. I totally know what you mean."

Steve: "So you had enough time to have a big enough social life to have a baby, at least!"

Surgeon: "Absolutely. Just not until later than normal humans."

Thus, in honor of Lily's future career as a front-lines surgeon, here is her videotape audition for military kindergarten:

Just kidding about the military kindergarten. I don't think they have those. (Do they?)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Morbid Thursday: A Conversation with Dr. Lily (or Ms. Go Hide?)

Lily: "The thing about knives, Mommy, is that they cut you."

me: "You speak truth."

Lily: "They can cut any part of you. They can cut your throat and your arms and your legs and your head and your face and your toes."

me: "Yes, but you are not going to use a knife to do that, are you."

Lily: "I think it's possible to cut off your own fingers."

me: "Okay, now I'm going to need you to actually say the words, 'I will not touch knives.'"

Lily: "There would be a lot of blood if that happened. A whole big pool of blood."

me: "Repeat after me, 'I. will. not. touch. knives.'"

Lily: "Okay, okay."

me:  "Say it."

Lily:  "Geez.  No knives.  Okay?"

me: "And you won't let your friends touch knives, either, right? Because blood is gross."

Lily: "Mommy. Blood is not gross. It's just part of us. The liquid part."

me: "Blood is totally gross."

Lily: "No. It's just wet. The only thing about blood is that it means pain."

me: "Yes. PAIN. That's the part you should dwell on. Because all this talking about blood and knives is very disturbing. Unless you want to be a doctor when you grow up. And then it's only slightly less disturbing."

Lily: "I would be a very good doctor."

me: "I sort of agree."

Lily: "I think owies are just so interesting."

me: "That's better. Come give me a kiss."

Lily: "Oh, I don't think so. Faces have way too many germs. You can get me sleeping medicine, though."

me: "You want to be drugged to sleep?"

Lily: "Yes, please."

me: "Oh my heck."

It's not enough to be a part-time model.

now she's a famous journalist, too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

it's someone's birthday today

happy birthday and stuff.

What Lily said when Steve found her, sitting in the front seat of my car, with a set of stolen keys in the ignition and the radio blaring:

"But Daddy. I'm just so.tired.of.sitting.around."

Actually, kiddo, I feel your pain.

PC Language: A Rant That Will Probably Not Go In the Direction You Think It Will

Someday I really will be done with grammar rants for awhile.

But today, I have a problem with PC language.

Not the problem that most people have, though.

The problem that most people have is that PC language can be... annoying. How are you supposed to keep track of what is the least offensive term to use for a particular group if that term keeps changing? What if you don't *mean* any harm (and you certainly don't think of yourself as any sort of "ist") and yet people get all offended because you haven't kept up to date with the latest PC term? Isn't that odious?!

That's not my problem with it.

The problem I have with PC language is about connotation. (So, so, so many problems of language are problems of connotation!)

See, the reason that people think of new terms for things--terms that are supposed to be more "PC"--is essentially just a connotation thing. Words have negative connotations and people want to get rid of them by inventing a new word. And there's some logic to this.

Every word that's ever used carries with it the weight of every time anyone has ever used it. In fact, every time *you* use a word, you are oh-so-subtly shaping it's connotation. Connotation is about *use.*

The reason that people feel the need to change terms--"I'm not a homemaker, I'm a stay-at-home-mom," for example--is that negative and/or unwanted connotations have built up around the primary term.

You don't want to be a homemaker if people talk smack about homemakers.

The way that the word has been used shapes its meaning and when the *meaning* becomes odious, you want a different word.

The problem is, though, that changing the word does not change the underlying problem. The underlying problem with "homemakers" was actually that homemakers weren't respected. Their lives and duties were trivialized. People would use the word and preface it with terms like "just." "I'm *just* a homemaker." And every time it was used that way, the original term would become more and more pejorative.

Enter a new term.

But you can change the word, it won't change the underlying problem. Because the problem was never the word, it was the lack of respect for homemakers.

The thing that annoys me about when people complain about the "burden" of having to learn the "latest PC term," is the lack of recognition that the reason the term needs to be changed over and over and over is *real.* It's not that racism would go away if only we could finally settle on one non-offensive term for each race. The terms keep changing *because people keep abusing them.* If people had stopped using terms like "homemaker," "colored," "handicapped," etc. in negative ways, there wouldn't ever have been a need to change the words in the first place. (In fact, you can often tell just *how* big a problem is by how many times the term has had to change. If it goes through three, four, five iterations and more seem eminent, it's because the sentiments *behind* the words haven't changed yet. If it only has to go through one or two iterations and then one sticks for awhile? Chances are there has been some evolving in the society and the lack-of-language change reflects that.)

Words, themselves, aren't the problem. And struggling to "learn the newest non-offensive terms" isn't necessarily going to solve the problem, either.

If you don't like PC language, well, stop being mean to people. Stop marginalizing groups. Stop *using terms pejoritavely.*

There's no need to change words that are universally used with love and respect.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Here's to "Y'all"

I had my very first grammar rant when I was about four years old. (Well, the first one I remember. Apparently my Mom says they started shortly after I began to form sentences.)

We were living in Texas and I had a friend who lived across the street named Leah. We used to fight about who was going to marry Michael Jackson when they grew up. But I digress.

Leah's mom had this thick Texas accent. Since my parents were from California and we'd just recently moved there, we didn't have thick Texas accents in our house. And I found the whole Texas accent thing just baffling anyway. I thought it made people sound stoopid.

This one time, Leah's mom was asking about my family. "How are y'all doing?" she said.

I lost it.

"Do you have ANY idea what an IDIOT you sound like when you say 'y'all?!'" I yelled. "I don't think you're actually dumb, but you really sound dumb. Why don't you talk like a smart person and say 'you guys?'"

I don't remember what she said back. I think she might have just laughed at me (which would not have made me very happy). I was Lily's age, after all, and ranting preschoolers can be very entertaining. (Especially when they're talking about 'idiots.')

Fast forward a few decades.

I use "y'all" almost exclusively when referring to plural second person.


I have reasons.

Primarily, gendered reasons.

Back when I was in elementary school, I was taught, like most people, of a grammatical concept known as "the masculine generic." When the gender of an individual/group is unknown, the masculine term is used. Thus, "his/him/he/man" could all equally mean "She/her/woman." A few years later (high schoolish) when they started teaching "gender neutral" language, I actually used to get offended. "His/Man" didn't refer to "Her/Woman" only because THEY decided it didn't. And their insistence on being all PC only served to BUG me. (Oh, geez. This makes me think of another grammar rant I want to do about PC language! Gah. What's with my grammar obsession lately?!!)

I have changed my mind about this.

Because as I've gotten older, I've realized the main problem: people *say* that they mean "all" people when they say "men," but actually, they're just thinking of men. And so the "masculine generic" is actually the "masculine specific." And we really do a lot better language-wise when we're aware of our specificity.

Some examples:

1) Heart disease. Y'all know the symptoms, right? Pain in the left shoulder, pressure in chest, white clammy skin... But would it surprise you to find out that those are generally only the symptoms of MALE heart attacks? It surprised me. But it's a fairly typical problem of the masculine generic. Grammatical issues are reflective of cultural issues. You can never, ever, remove culture from language, so understanding language and its weaknesses is essentially a process of understanding cultural weakness. And we have traditionally assumed that the experience of the (mostly white, upper-class, straight, non-disabled) male is the *generic* experience of all people when it's not. Thus, a grammatical issue like the masculine generic leads to a wider assumption that there *aren't* major differences between certain groups when there are. And, hence, heart disease is the #1 killer of middle-aged women, many of whom are probably far more terrified of breast cancer, whose risk pales in comparison to that of heart disease.

2) Secretaries and nurses. Consider the following sentences: "A Nurse has a duty to ____ patients." Or, "Part of a secretary's job is to keep track of ____ boss's schedule." What pronoun did you use to fill in the blanks in your head? I'd be willing to bet that even though a big chunk of you were trained, like me, to use the "masculine generic," you thought "her." But notice that I didn't specify a gender in those sentences. According to the theoretical rules of the "masculine generic," if there is no stated/known gender, you should say "he" or "his." But we don't actually think of "his" as representing a generic. And so when faced with jobs that tend to be gender-specific (whether or not they *should* be is a topic for a whole different post), we don't think "his" (which should theoretically mean "her" to us unconsciously if it really *is* generic), we think "her."

3) Two sentences: "All men are created equal." Versus. "All whites are created equal." Why is one offensive and the other not? What if "white" was supposed to be the generic term for all races? Would it still be offensive? In general, to single out one demographic as if it is representative of ALL demographics when it is clearly not is offensive... *if* we're aware that's what we're doing. But gender bias goes very, very deep in our minds. We're not even aware it's happening most of the time. Think of the last time you saw/were/knew a pregnant woman. Did you feel all enlightened if you were PC enough to ask her if she was thinking of going back to work post-baby? But did you even think to ask her husband the same? Why not?

I could probably go on. And those examples are clearly not representative of *all* the possible problems of a grammatical masculine generic. The point is, that at some point in my life my inner grammarian embraced the idea of gender-neutral language for gender-neutral situations.

Enter the problem of plural second person.

Singular second person is simple: you.

And, theoretically, plural second person is also: you.

But then there's the *specificity* issue again. What if I *want* it to be totally clear that I am talking about a plural "you" and not a singular "you?"

My four year old answer was that smart people said, "You guys."

But how do I reconcile the fact that I *want* the specificity of a plural "you," but I don't want to gain that specificity by limiting my audience to a male "you?" What do I say then?

Well, "y'all."

It's a perfect word. By definition it refers to a plural "you." But there aren't any gender restrictions. It's easy to say--less clunky than "you guys" certainly! Kind of rolls off the tongue, actually.

Plus, there's sort of a connotation of fondness when you use that word. And since I actually am pretty fond of y'all, that's just a bonus.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh, I'll show you pain, buddy...

me: "Sam, it's time for school. Go get your shoes on."

[time passes]

me: "Sam, why aren't your shoes on?"

Sam: "Okay, okay, okay. GEEEEZ."

[time passes]

me: "Sam! Where are your shoes."

Sam: [Shrugs] "I realized something."

me: "What?"

Sam: "You can't actually make me get my shoes on."

me: "Of course I can!"

Sam: "Think about it. You can't."

me: "Why? What are you talking about?"

Sam: "I'm talking about your pain. Look at you. You're not making me do anything while you're like that."

Purple Hairlers Unite!

Both of these purple hair-dos should be acceptable under the "very appearance of evil" clause previously discussed.

Pics courtesy of Miss Provo. Thanks.

ps: I'm not entirely sure Miss Provo made my face any whiter than it is in real life. I think I just look like that.


this is an example I use with my students. I didn't make it up. I got it from a book that Gary Hatch--the old director of composition at BYU--wrote. It is just a paraphrase, though, because I don't know where my copy of the book is (as if I could get up and look anyway! HA! if you know where my skin graft is, you know why this is harder than it sounds).

Example #1:

Coraline paused as she entered and glanced about. An elegant dress draped subtly along her slender form. Her smooth hair accentuated her chiseled features. As she accepted a rose from her escort, she smelled the petals and looked over into his eyes. Coraline had the talent of making every male feel like the only man in the world.

Example # 2:

Coraline halted as she arrived and looked around. A simple dress hung on her thin frame. Her flat hair accentuated her sharp features. As she took a flower from her date, she sniffed it and stared at him. Coraline had the habit of making every male feel like the last man on earth.

the difference between these examples is connotation. The *denotation*--dictionary, literal definition--of each word is the same. In fact, BOTH of these could be considered "accurate" translations of a non-English text into English. But whether or not they are "good" translations depends upon the translator's mastery of connotation--that is, all of the associations that build up around words.


"chiseled" makes you think of an artist who sculpts with care, i.e., something beautiful, or, at least carefully crafted.

"sharp" makes you think of a knife, or cheese, i.e., something that either stinks or makes you bleed and feel pain.

When referring to a face, both these descriptors describe the same type of facial characteristics, so the denotation is the same. But the connotation can make one the opposite of the other.

A few more bible words that do not mean what you think they mean:

delivered as per request.

Repent. Comes from the greek μετανοεω. Does NOT mean "stop doing bad stuff." DOES mean "Change the way you think." With our current (cultural) Mormon emphasis on certainty and a cultural environment that does not exactly encourage changing our thought patterns, we could all use a hefty dose of Mosiah 18:20.

Perfect. Comes from the greek τέλειός. Does NOT mean "without flaw." Does mean "mature," "complete," "having received ordinances of divinity." The "Be ye therefore perfect" phrase would better read, "Be ye therefore one with God." Atonement, anyone?

Helpmeet. Comes from two Hebrew words "Ezer" and "k'negdo" and means "A divine savior to be your equal." Does NOT mean servant. Does NOT mean subservient. (Does NOT mean a companion for you to preside over, either, but I don't wanna open THAT can of worms right now.) Eve does the things that Adam cannot do--she "saves" him--and she does everything as his equal. Makes her the hero of 2 Nephi 2: 25, really.

Beguile. As long as we're talking about Eve, let's talk about this one. It comes from a less common Hebrew word with many possible (and rich) connotations. It implies a deep internal struggle, one with a lot of thought, a lot of internal debate, consideration of consequences, and, ultimately, coming to a decision with full accountability. (See Beverly Campbell's Eve work for more on this; that's the first place I learned about a lot of it.) Eve as "that stupid girl who believed the snake" is not only a gross oversimplification, it's inherently false and misleading. Eve--given the conflicting commandments of "don't eat the fruit" and "multiply and replenish"--was essentially asked to choose between the law and love. Madeleine L'Engle talks about situations like this--specifically when talking about Abraham and his crazya' decision to sacrifice his only child--and said that God was asking him to choose between the law and love. Abraham chose the law. Eve chose love.

This next one is a little one and maybe nitpicky, but I thought it was interesting. In John 3:1-2, it says that Nicodemus came to Jesus "by night." But in the Greek, the case inflection used is the Genitive case, or possessive. Although used correctly in the sense translated, it also could indicate a level of possessiveness between Nicodemus and the Night. Nicodemus *was* the night's, grammatically speaking. (The 's after a word is a genitive case inflection, just so you know.)

I kind of always thought of Nicodemus as a bad guy, like most people. And the grammar does back this up. But I do have to say that this one Christmas, I went to church at my MIL's ward and Elder Ballard was talking and he mentioned having always felt like he had a "special kinship" with Nicodemus. At first, I found this very alarming. Nicodemus is basically the creepy white guy in a suit sitting at Enron who cares about profits above people and personal gain above the law. But Elder Ballard explained that he was always just a business man, like Nicodemus. He always wanted to follow Christ. And it always seemed harder for him than it seemed for other people. It was a struggle. Nicodemus wasn't a man who got visions and revelations, he was a *real* man, complete with his flaws. And yet, Nicodemus was the one who paid for Christ's funeral. Nicodemus was the one who kept coming to Jesus in spite of his inherent (nightly) nature. He was never a perfect man, but he never stopped trying. And isn't that what following Christ is about?

So I guess I have a little more empathy for that Nicodemus guy than I used to. (Things are all very simple and black and white when you're a 19 year old BYU student.)

If you're ever reading the bible and you find something questionable, I recommend the following:

1) Strong's Concordance. (I'll put a link below.) You can look up every instance of any word in the bible and trace it to its Hebrew/Greek root.
2) A Greek and Hebrew Lexicon. Connotations are the main thing lost in translation. In fact, I'll post a little example I show my students in my next post. Connotations really are the key to understanding meaning from language. And since language (as imperfect as it is) is all we have to understand stuff, it does us good to know how it works.

And Just FYI

This was the one we choose as the best new testament translation. It had the accuracy of the KJV (about 80% of the KJV came from the Tyndale anyway) and the beauty of monoauthorial poetry.

Also, we really like Tyndale because he was burned at the stake for preaching the heresy that "Even a Plow Boy should be able to read the bible." Since Mormonism was founded when our own farm boy was reading his bible (English bible! Not Latin/Greek/Hebrew! That was the Heresy, BTW; They used to think that God *wanted* us to have scripture as mystery) and he came upon that verse that said to ask and so he went into the woods (everything good always happens in the woods)... you know the story. So boo on the burning for heresy, but woot for him having the guts to write a readable bible.

If you don't have one you should buy one because it is beautiful. Pure poetry. Makes the KJV feel all clunky.

ps: the first time I was asked to read non KJV translations of the bible, I kind of felt like I was doing something "dirty." And at BYU, no less! But it was quite the opposite. We're *supposed* to understand the processes and errors of translations in the bible. Yay for the 8th article of faith! And you will love it if you do. Email me if you want suggestions of bible translations to start with.

But what do you mean the appearance of evil doesn't mean what I think it means?!!

In my History of the English language seminar that I took from the lovely Professor Don Chapman, we had this assignment where we had to compare translations of the New Testament. We had to learn enough Greek to verify word choices and conjugations and inflections and such and essentially write a translation for one chapter. Then we had to use about twelve different bible translations from twelve different times in English history and decide which translation was first: the most accurate; and second: the most poetic; and third: the best combination of poetry and accuracy.

we found some really interesting things as we did this.

One such was a mind-blowing re-working of the phrase: "Avoid even the very appearance of evil."

We all know how this verse has been *used.* It's been used to tell us that we should not get tattoos and have purple hair and piercings because *appearance* matters and we do not want to *appear* like we are/know a drug dealer. I think a lot of Mormon appearance obsession can be traced directly back to this verse. And, um, we gotta lot of appearance obsession. (Ooo, Audra! There's another one: "gotta.")

The problem is that while the phrase "very appearance" does represent an accurate translation from the Greek to early modern English it is NOT an accurate translation into Modern English.

My brain iz toast, so I don't remember what it meant back then (Zina: do you?). But I do remember the way that the verse would read if we were to have it translated directly from the Greek to *modern* English. It would read: "Avoid evil in all its forms (even the little ones)."

So unless there is sin in having purple hair, you can have your purple hair and look like a drug dealer or whatev. According to King James, at least. It's the *sin* that matters, not its "appearance."

Purple hairlers unite. [Kick! Make me a purple hair picture, would you?!]

post edit:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My cousin Audra wants to know about funky slang spelling (would you be more or less likely to read this if you knew there'll be swear words?)

cuz I've been known to spell things funkily. I guess some people expect English professors to know how to spell. Confession: I was never that type of English professor.

However, since I am AMAZINGLY bored, I will write a post about SPELLING! It's more exciting than it sounds, though. Blood, guts, class wars, insanity... Oh, wait, the insanity part is just about the OED.

Question One: Why does English have such funky spelling?

Well, don't quote me on this because I just had major surgery and am weaning off pain medicine. I may or may not remember my English language history right.

But a long, long time ago, English used to be a Germanic language. We call this period in language history Old English. Contrary to popular belief, Shakespeare did not speak Old English. Beowulf did. But I think he was fictional.

Then came the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans spoke a Latinate language, similar to French. Not, like, similar enough that you'd *recognize* it if you spoke French, of course. Not that you'd recognize Old English, either.

Well, now there was a situation where the Normans were the ruling class and the Germanic Old English was the language of the plebeian masses.

The thing about language is that it changes. It evolves to suit the requirements of the society that uses it. With a Norman ruling class and a Germanic peasant class, the language eventually evolved into what we academicky people call "Middle English." Shakespeare did NOT speak Middle English. And if I were to speak Middle English at you, you wouldn't understand it, either. Ooooo! I think I'll have Tom speak some for you!

The fun thing about Middle English and the whole Norman/Germanic split is swear words! This is a tricky lesson to go over at BYU, but the reason that we have the swear words we do goes right back to the Normans and their peasants. See whoever is in charge becomes the more "refined" or "dignified" language. Queen's English, right? Even if your monarch is a jerk, people tend to go all sycophantic around them. So the words that the ruling classes used became "refined" and the words that the peasants used became "dirty."


defaecate: a Latinate word for voiding


sh*t: a Germanic word for same


canine: Latinate

b*tch: Germanic

I could go on, but I won't because we're family friendly here. Sort of.

The thing about Middle English is that they invented the printing press (at least in the West) while they were speaking Middle English. And the most fascinating thing is, back then they spelled English the way it sounded. Novel, right?!

Middle English still had some degenerated versions of case inflections in it, back from when it was a Germanic language. So the silent 'e' at the end of some words? (Like 'case' and 'some'!) Those were actually degraded case inflections and they would have been pronounced.

But for some friggin reason, some of the very first Grammar Nazi's decided to come to play during the same time. It kind of had to do with the rise of a middle class. The split between peasant and royalty was pretty simple back in Beowulf's day. But during Middle English times, you started to have people who weren't exactly classy and who weren't exactly trashy. And, well, what then? How do you prove you're not riff raff? Some super smart dude decided, "I know! I'll prove how classy I am because I'll SPELL properly!!" Blah on them. Because EVERYONE wants to prove how classy they are. And because of the printing press, that meant a whole heck of a lot of people decided to spell properly because no one wanted to be a part of the icky plebeian masses.

So English spelling froze in time.

But language keeps on changing.

And one of the changes (among many) was that we didn't need case inflections at all, so we just stopped pronouncing those pesky e's. (Didn't stop *spelling* them, though. Cuz we're classy like that.) Another super fun one that happened sometime between the 1400's and 1500's was what's called "The Great Vowel Shift." Academics like to say it like that cuz it sounds dirty. All it means is people started to pronounce vowels different.

So Middle English became Early Modern English. And YES! Shakespeare spoke Early Modern English. So did King James. You can actually understand most of Early Modern English, though there are plenty of places that it's different. That whole "avoid the very appearance of evil" thing, for example? Does not mean what you think it means.

Eventually, Early Modern English became Modern English. But, you have to remember there are no clean lines. Language evolves slowly and is totally influenced by culture.

And what is the great cultural influence over language today? Technology. Texting, IMing, Twitter, all of that. IT (double capital left on purpose because there's two meanings to that word now!) made people tired of having to spell out archaic spellings just for the sake of being proper. If you only have 140 characters in which to say what you want to say, you sure as heck don't want to waste your time transcribing remnants of case inflections that are literally meaningless now.

So now we occasionally go back to spelling things the same way we pronounce them!

Halleluja. If we keep it up, language scholars from the future will thank you because then they'll actually know how we said stuff.

So back to what Audra wanted: a tutorial about "slang" spelling.

The key to spelling something "slang": spell it the way it sounds.

that's prettymuch all there is to it.

I have a couple of words I spell my own way.


(lots of these added post edit with y'alls help.)

I can't think of any more right now. Can y'all think of more? Ooo. Y'all. I have a long grammar rant about why I use that word, too.

Tom, the cat living in Steve's iPad, has a question for y'all:

The thing about being immobile

is that you get really stir crazy. you sit alone in your bed (occasionally hobbling to the bathroom with your super HAWT cane) and you think about places you could be. places like out shopping. and then you think, wait, I can shop online! and you randomly start buying stuff.

a dress sort of like this:

a white sweater kind of like this:

a book:

some groceries:

some more dresses, t-shirts, a gazillion other things.

oh yeah, also, a sink:

I really hope these people have a good return policy.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Lily: Dressed for Church

Lily squirted her own hair with conditioner, ran a brush through it till it was smooth, picked out her own bows and fastened them, got herself a dress and tights and was ready to go. I guess she figures that after four self-procured haircuts in the last two months, she can handle a little wardrobe management.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Note to self:

the next time you try to brush your teeth after you've taken your ambien, you may want to make sure that the toothpaste you're using is really toothpaste. and not, yanno. diaper cream. in the dark the tubes look rather similar. and in the ambihaze, you might not notice the different consistency (or smell) until it is tooooooo late. and you don't want that to happen, right?



Wednesday, August 04, 2010

We haven't had NEARLY enough body fluid stories here lately, don't you think?

my babies grow old. it is a bittersweet (mostly sweet) thing.

so since my babies aren't providing the kind of material we need, here's a story from my sister. SPOILER: it starts with potty training and ends with a trip to the ER.