Friday, November 25, 2016

Want to see something fun?

The long-neglected Wish I Were Here blog is about to be showered in a veritable cavalcade of postcards!

No, really! A whole lot of college students and their doughty lecturer have gotten into the act and provided the project with a YOOOOGE stack of postcards from imaginary places. I'll be sharing them every day from now until the stack runs out (which should bring us well into the New Year).

Go have a look-see. Do it! Do it now!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on ASL

[NOTE: If you're part of Deaf culture, a lot of these ruminations are going to be of the "well, duh" variety. But since I don't currently know anyone who is part of the culture, all this was new to me.]

The other day I was watching a music video performed in ASL (check it out) and a few things I'd never noticed before caught my eye. One of them is that everyone who signs in ASL, whether natively or as a second language, has his/her own way of performing the same sign. It's almost like regional accents in spoken English -- still recognizable as a particular word, but with its own local spin. There are also variations in signed phrases; you can finger-spell things out, use standard signs, or create a slang term to express the same concept.

Another thing I hadn't fully considered was the relationship of ASL to spoken and written English. Years ago, I remember a member of the Deaf community being quoted in a press release about a book being released in ASL format; her comment was something like, "Of course I read English, but there were things about this book I never really understood until I saw it in ASL." I think of verbal English and ASL being tied to written English the same way Mandarin and Cantonese are tied to written Chinese -- users of both languages have a clear understanding of the writing they have in common, but they translate that writing into markedly different languages. We decode the written word into different things: a native English speaker translates the written word into auditory phonemes which form words, phrases and sentences; a native ASL signer likewise translates the written word into visual gestures which form words, phrases and sentences.

All languages of which I'm aware have some form of poetry (even if it's horrible Vogon poetry). Certainly this is true for ASL, where the gestures that form words -- whether earthy and choppy or expressive and delicate -- have a beauty all their own. But how easy is it, for instance, to understand the nature of rhyme if your native language is non-verbal, and you can't hear the similarities in the ways certain words are pronounced? And what constitutes "rhyme" in a non-verbal language? I suppose signed words that have similar-looking gestures form rhyme cognates in ASL and other sign languages. Thus it's entirely possible to compose a poem that has a beautiful rhythm and rhyme scheme in ASL, but not necessarily in written or spoken English.

Man, language is weird. But really fascinating.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Co-opting the poppy

It's Veterans Day today, so as is traditional, I wore a poppy.

Crocheted poppy pin
Took about 5 minutes to whip up this one. If I say so myself, I think it's rather attractive!
On past Veterans Days, people who noticed it would smile or say "Hey, nice poppy!" in passing. It usually gave me an opener to talk to veterans and to thank them for their service. But today was different. Although I caught many people locking eyes on the bright red poppy I wore while running errands this evening, no one asked about it or made any comment at all. A few people gave me actively crusty glances.

I was puzzled by this reaction -- puzzled enough, in fact, that I went home and looked it up. (Hey, it's what I do.) Online, I noticed a number of people making connections between the red poppy of Remembrance Day (the equivalent of Veterans Day in the UK and Commonwealth nations) and the British nationalist movement/Brexit vote.

I hope this isn't the case, but perhaps some Americans in this very blue state, still reeling from the election results and recalling Donald Trump's Tweet "They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!", are making similar connections, transferring their animus against Trump to the poppy and seeing it as a symbol of American bigotry and intolerance.

I think of this, and then I think of Xenophilius Lovegood and his necklace.

You know who Xeno Lovegood is if you're a Harry Potter fan. He's Luna's father and the editor of the Quibbler -- the man is odd, cross-eyed, considered highly quirky even within the eccentricity-tolerant wizarding world, all too likely to believe in things no one else thinks real. At the Weasley/Delacour wedding at the beginning of the final Harry Potter book, Xeno wears a necklace with a Deathly Hallows pendant, and Viktor Krum gets into a verbal sparring match with him about it. Krum's only knowledge of the Hallows symbol is through its co-opting by Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. But Xeno Lovegood knows the history of the Deathly Hallows, believing that they actually exist (a belief which is well validated by book's end), and he refuses to stop wearing his Hallows necklace simply because intolerant, pureblood fascists have tried to wrest the symbol's original meaning for their own bigoted purposes.

So. I won't stop wearing the poppy just because a small number of people misunderstand its meaning. Because even if no one else knows or cares to find out why I wear it, I know what that small red poppy is for. I know it's a symbol not only of freedom, but of the profound personal sacrifices made -- the loss of an arm, a leg, an eye; a hidden wound that still causes pain years later; deep psychological damage that takes decades, if ever, to heal -- to safeguard that freedom. I know that many of our young men and women fought and sacrificed to preserve our rights -- which include the right to be different from others, to have a dissenting viewpoint, to cherish a minority belief. And I will not let intolerant bigots forget that, nor will I be cowed into letting them co-opt the poppy for their own purposes.

It's only a small act. But small acts, like pivot points, can have huge consequences.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What my parallel-universe self is doing today

You know the multiverse theory, right? The idea that we live in just one of a cloud of potential alternate universes or dimensions, each opaque to the others? I've been thinking about that today; specifically I've been wondering what one of my parallel-universe selves might be doing with her Thursday.

One of them, I hope, is in Saint Peter's Basilica today, getting up close and personal with one of the greatest works by one of her artistic heroes: the Pietà sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti. I hope that in a more placid universe than this, she's untroubled by the shouts and whispers of political upheaval, the cries of triumph or sobs of defeat or breathing out of threatening words against the Other.

I hope instead she's gazing up at the purity of white Carrara marble, chiseled so finely that in places you can see light through it; I hope she's taking in the sweet, sorrowing face of a miraculously youthful Mary as she cradles the cold, lifeless body of her son in her lap. I hope she's gazing in wonder at the exquisitely draped folds of Mary's robe, so perfectly realized that it's almost impossible to believe those folds are made of stone, not fabric. I hope she's only getting a little bit misty at the thought that, at long last, she is really here -- and here too, at last, is the object of supernal beauty she first developed a longing to see in person at age 17, in an inspired humanities class.

Perhaps tomorrow she'll visit the Sistine Chapel.

Well, I can hope.

Friday, November 04, 2016

I do not understand cats.

Us: Come on, Roxy, try this cat tunnel we bought. It will be fun!
Cat tunnel: *rustle rustle*
Roxy: nopenopenopeNOPEnopenopitynope

*6 months pass*

Me: Man, look at this thing. It's been gathering dust in the garage. I should probably just give it away... well, maybe we'll let Roxy give it a quick sniff for old times' sake.

*40 seconds later*

She is in the tunnel. She will stay there all day.

Go fig.

Oh, yeah, also, it's my birthday. For those who take an interest in such things.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A birthday gift request

My birthday is only a few days away, and I'd like to make a request.

I don't need a lot of things at this point in life. (There are still plenty of wants, but I've slowly shifted from a desire for things to a desire for life experiences such as seeing the world, meeting interesting people, etc. If I can carry something around in my head, I'll never lose it.)

But there is something I'd like to ask of you, if you're an American citizen and you're so inclined:

Vote your conscience.

2016 has provided us with a horrible, messy, vicious circus sideshow of an election. In my opinion, neither major political party has produced a candidate worth voting for -- or, frankly, worth giving the time of day. And I suspect this type of election will become more frequent unless the body of Americans stand up to stop it.

Vote your conscience.

Don't settle for the lesser of two evils. Don't pick the person you think is most likely to win. Don't sit this election out because your vote "doesn't matter anyway." These are precisely the attitudes that prevailed during the primary elections and yielded this year's despicable candidates. Instead, choose another candidate -- even one from a small political party -- who is honorable and whose politics reflect your own. If he or she isn't on the ballot in your state, write in that candidate in the space provided.

Vote your conscience.

I know why people are afraid to do this. I've voted in every general election since 1988. From that time to this, I can recall many election cycles where, cowed by the bogeymen invoked by the two major political parties (the most common one being "SUPREEEEME COOOOURT JUSTICESSSSS! OOooOoOO!"), I held my nose and voted for the candidate I found least offensive. Well, I'm officially done with that. Holding one's nose to vote doesn't do much good if it allows skunks to be elected.

Vote your conscience.

That's seriously all I want for my birthday this year.

Thank you!

Vote your conscience.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Haven't groaned yet today? You will shortly.

Ready? Here we go.
NCE upon a time there lived a beatnik. He liked to do many beatnik things -- dress in black, play bongos, recite Allen Ginsberg -- but this beatnik also had a secret love: fishing. Every chance he got, he'd slip off into the wild and fish for all manner of wiggly critters.

One day, while out fishing, he caught a beautiful ten-pound salmon. He was a disciple of the "hook 'em and cook 'em" school of fishing, so he whipped out his handy beatnik pocketknife to make him some filet-o-fish, when he discovered to his great astonishment that the salmon flesh, instead of being a typical rosy orange, was a beautiful golden color. Catching several more salmon in the same area, he discovered they all had the same beautiful golden flesh.

Immediately he took the salmon home to make some delicious dishes (as you do). He tried roasted salmon and poached salmon and salmon amandine, but best of all, he cut paper-thin slices of salmon, layered them with dill and salt, and pressed them under a heavy weight. His beatnik friends went wild over this dish, even giving him a nickname based on his salted pressed salmon, and encouraged him to sell it to stores and "make a little bread, man."

So the beatnik went to his local deli, which was run by three very uptight brothers. He tried to sell them on his favorite salmon dish, but they were having none of it. "Our customers won't eat salmon if it's such a strange color!" they cried. "Be off with you, beatnik!"

So the beatnik went home and served his delicious pressed salmon dish to all his friends, and told them his sad tale of woe.

And that is the end of the tale of Goldie Lox and the Three Squares.

Oh, stop it! Groaning is good for you!