Monthly Archives: November 2007

Wordy

 

I sent the lovely Julie an email, suggesting a topic for an upcoming Hump Day Hmmm.  I did this not out of the goodness of my heart but out of laziness.  You see, I had just written a post on the topic.  I suggested to Julie that we write about the impact music has had on our lives.

 

“Cool,” Julie replied.  “Except I can’t use the word impact unless describing the crash of an asteroid.”

Leave it to an editor…

She’s right, you know.  Of course, she is.  “Impact” is indeed used to describe the act of collision.  Over the years, however, it has taken on a more metaphorical meaning.  People now use it not just to describe the actual collision but to describe the effect something has upon them.  In other words, if I use the word “impact,” I am calling on your mental image of a collision and asking you to apply the effect of a collision to the present situation.  I am trusting you to translate that metaphor.

It has become such common parlance that we do not even think about the metaphorical connection to a physical state (much like how I just used the word “connection”).  The word “impact,” in other words, carries with it all the times it has been used previously, and listeners apply all the past meanings to the present use.

We rely on these metaphors all the time in language.  No one actually “weaves” a tale, but we sort of figure people know that.  When you hear someone speak of weaving a tale, you may not even think about actual weaving anymore, but the metaphor is hard at work, and your busy little mind is applying the physical act of weaving to the tale-telling at hand.

I like metaphors.  They are comfortable to me.  I like words that work hard to describe exactly what they are saying.  “Impact” works for me because it is a specific reference and it is precise.

What is dislike are cheap metaphors.  Especially cheap, imprecise metaphors.  Ones that rely on hyperbole.

“I was robbed.”  Well, you weren’t, really.  In this case, the word “robbed” only works if you apply it with a conscious acknowledgement that you are using inappropriate hyperbole.  In other words, you might get away with it if you get rejected by Mensa because you are applying a certain amount of self-mocking acknowledgement that the metaphor is inappropriate.  If you claim to have been robbed when you pay too much for something, the two things you are comparing are pretty similar.  You’re just exaggerating.

Where’s the grace in that?

There’s no crime in being imprecise.  There are no language police who will hunt you down if you claim to be “starving” three hours after eating a large cheese pizza, although it does reflect a certain disregard for the fact that real people are actually starving.  It is, however, undignified to continually ratchet up the English language.  It is much like giving antibiotics all the time.  Sooner or later, they lose their efficacy.  Every now and then, let’s understate things a little.

There are times when our use of words can reflect a tremendous insensitivity.  An undershirt with no sleeves is not a “wife beater.”  It is an undershirt with no sleeves.  Perhaps you do believe that a certain economic and geographic demographic is filled with fat men sitting around in sleeveless undershirts calling “B-tch, bring me another beer.”  I, however, do not.  And to call an undershirt a “wife beater” is to take the real power away from those words.

We need those words to have power because they describe something terrible.  They describe something that traumatizes families (across economic and geographic lines, by the way).  Leave those words alone.  Find another inaccurate and inappropriate metaphor.

And, if you want to use the word “r@pe” to describe anything short of horrific sexu@l violence, go read Flutter’s post.

Words do real work.  I try hard to respect the work they do because I know they can hurt people.  When we taught Zachary to say “I don’t like that” instead of “I don’t like you,” we were teaching him more than a pronoun swap.  We were teaching him to be sensitive to other people’s feelings.  Flutter’s co-worker could use a little help in that department.

It is not about political correctness.  WORDS DO REAL WORK.  Words are beautiful and strong and precise.  You can really use words to hurt someone else.

But it says a lot more about you if you try not to.

A sign you might care too much about grammar

The other day, three-year-old Zachary said to me: “My Taggie needs to be picked up.”

It was all I could do to restrain myself from including the words “passive voice” in my response.

********************

Slouching Mom (a woman I really wish lived next door to me) gave me this:

Isn’t it cute?  Here are the rules on this one:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to five blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. (Optional) Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” with a link to the post that you wrote.

I pass this along to

Stephanie, who is a thoughtful thinker (yes, I just modified a noun with its adjectival form)

Melody, because those photographs show such depth of thought

Kevin, with whom I do not always agree, but whose dialogue is always thought-provoking

Liz, who wrote an incredibly intelligent comment on yesterday’s post that inspired me to check out her fantastic blog

and Catherine, who probably thinks too much.

Now, if I can figure out how, I’ll work on displaying the bling.  Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I demonstrate that I might also care a bit too much about word choice…

Songs that voices never share

 

Being a lawyer is the hardest job to have when you have children.

This is true.  I know it is an indisputable fact.  I know this because Helen told me so.  I’m a younger sister.  If Helen told me so, it is true.

Now, those of you who do not have Helen for an older sister might disagree with her assessment of “attorney” as the most difficult job to hold down when one is a mother.  I, myself, have sometimes – in my darkest, most private moments – wondered whether, just maybe, it could be possible that Helen could be wrong.  About this only, of course.

As Helen explained to me, lawyers are at the mercy of judges.  When the judge tells her to be in court, she has to be in court, and there are few judges out there who really care whether Marc is still recovering from the chicken pox or has a t-ball game that afternoon.  Still, I cannot help wondering if perhaps there are a few other lines of work that are slightly more difficult. 

Take, for example, law enforcement.  Police officers, after all, have those nuisance shifts that require them to be away from home at 2 in the morning.  And people shoot at them, by the by. 

Or, perhaps strippers.  (I know some people might consider strippers an extreme example, but I think we weren’t put on this earth to judge what other people have to do to put sandwiches in their kids’ lunch boxes.)  Stripping, I think, would be a very hard job to do with children.  After all, it does not tend to be a 9 to 5 job.  Strippers mostly miss out on bath and book time, not to mention the fact that their job is sometimes a bit demeaning.  On the bright side, they’re usually there for the t-ball games.

Only slightly less frustrating is waiting tables.  Those of you who’ve done it know of what I speak.  One of the things I found most frustrating about waitressing was that it was completely unpredictable.  Some schmuck could decide to sit at table 39 all shift long with a cup of coffee and a basket of tortilla chips, tying up ¼ of my tables, and then leave me 19 cents for a tip.  Even worse were the people who sat there, oblivious to the fact that my entire station had cleared out an hour before, discussing important-looking flow charts while I stood in the kitchen, fuming over the fact that I could not leave the restaurant till I’d emptied out my station. 

How much harder would it be, I wonder, to stand there, knowing you are missing your child’s bedtime and he’ll be put to bed by grandma again because you’re stuck waiting to clean out table 27?  And not even knowing whether they plan on leaving a tip.

Perhaps, though, Helen wasn’t considering these professions.  Perhaps they were not white-collar enough for her.

Well, I still think you could imagine one or two lines of white-collar work that are harder on a parent than being a lawyer.  Flight attendant or pilot, for example.  Yes, I’ll admit, it’s hard missing baby Spanish class because you have a court date, but I’m still thinking it just might be a little harder missing Gymboree because you’re on a transcontinental flight.  I’m just sayin’…

And then there are consultants.  I married one of those, you know.  He spends so much time in different time zones that his body no longer has an internal clock.  He is perpetually jet-lagged.  (FYI, they plant a lot of forests to offset his travel.  It mattered to me to know that, so I thought it might matter to some of you.  I still don’t like the environmental impact of his travel, but the forests do help.  Please don’t comment on it, as it bothers me enough as it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.)  Moving to London helped; he travels only about half the time now.  When we were in the U.S., it was closer to 80%. 

Once, when Zachary was about 18 months old, I thought I heard J coming home from a trip while I was bathing the little guy.  So did Zach.  So, he tried to swing his scrawny little leg over the side of the tub, scramble out of the bath, and fling his wet and naked body over the banister to where Daddy was.  I convinced him to wait.

That’s how much Zachary misses his father when he travels.  As he’s gotten older, you’d think he’d be getting used to it, but he’s really not.  Now, he is just more sophisticated in his reactions.  Usually, he punishes me for the first twenty-four hours of J’s absence and then punishes J for the first 12 hours upon his return.  I think I’m getting the raw end of the deal, here.

Benjamin is no more accepting of the status quo than is his brother.  When J returned this time, he wanted to get out of his high chair to be hugged.  Out of his high chair.  During breakfast.  While eating pancakes.  This is a child who is under the impression breakfast should last till 20 minutes before morning snack, which should last till 45 minutes before lunch.  Usually, we just pick an arbitrary moment when his pace of consumption has slowed and declare that mealtime is over.

So, you can imagine how much he missed his Daddy if he was willing to call off breakfast of his own volition.

I miss their Daddy, too.  To be frank, I never bother to miss him on trips that are shorter than four days.  If I did, I’d spend my whole life whining about his absence.  But, on longer trips, it gets kind of lonesome only getting adult conversation during school drop off.  This last trip was nine days.  That’s a long time, especially since he got to be back in the U.S., working but also seeing old friends and family, while I was stuck here in London dealing with the Timmy situation and spending a good half an hour a day discussing the day of the week with Zachary.

“What day is today?”  Zachary would ask.

“Today is Wednesday,” I would answer.

“How many days until Sunday?” he wanted to know.  So, we’d count the days till Daddy’s return.  He would nod, satisfied, and then begin the conversation all over again three hours later.  I tried to see it as a teaching moment.  At least he was learning the days of the week.

I was pretty eagerly awaiting Sunday morning, when J would be back.  Tired and jet-lagged, but available to be climbed upon while passed out on the living room floor.  So, you can imagine how I felt when he called me Saturday night at 9:30, just about when he was supposed to be driving to Dulles.

“I’m not going to be home for at least another day,” he informed me.  My first thought, as it always is when he travels internationally, was that there had been some sort of terrorist attack I hadn’t heard about and all the flights had been cancelled.  No, no terrorist attacks.  Just a lost passport.  “Stolen,” he told me.

Just to clarify.  We are Americans living in London on a two-year visa.  A visa that is glued into my husband’s passport.  It must be in his passport when he enters the country.  So, the boys and I were here, he was there, and the passport with the visa was missing.  You will all be very proud of me when I tell you that, not only did I refrain from threatening to remove his earlobes with a buzz saw if he did not make it home, I actually remained calm and supportive.

Yeah, it surprised me, too.

Then, half an hour later, he called again.  He was on the way to the airport.  His father had retained some presence of mind and found the passport tucked away in some obscure part of the luggage.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)  This time, I just couldn’t be mature about it.  I had to make fun of him, just a little.

The fact is, I don’t just worry when he travels internationally.  Even when he stays here in London, if he is twenty minutes late getting home, I start worrying that there was an attack on the Tube.  Even while I try to cajole Zachary to take three more bites and try to convince Benjamin that ketchup is a condiment, not a hair product, I start imagining their father trapped underground.  Irrational though it is, I worry.

I worry partly the same way I’ve always worried.  I worry about losing my best friend, my partner, the only person who still, after all these years, can make me laugh.  I worry for me and I worry for him.  But, for the past three years, I’ve worried on another level.

If I lost J, I just don’t know how I’d raise the boys on my own.  As you are aware, I have somewhat limited models for parenting.  I’m also a bit at a handicap when it comes to raising men, being, you know, female and all.

In her Hump Day Hmm, Julie asked about losing it all.  Well, the truth of it is, losing material possessions does not scare me all that much.  If there were a fire in the house, I’d sort of hope I could grab the passports and the boys’ blankies, but really all that would matter would be getting the family out of the house.  And, since the boys sleep with the blankies, I pretty much figure the passports would be the only challenge.

But losing J or one of my boys?  That would be losing it all.  So, I worry.  I worry whenever he travels, whenever he’s late, whenever I am alone too long with my own imagination.  And I’ll tell you, folks, I really have less to worry about than others.

Because there are, out there, plenty of people whose partners are gone for longer than nine days at a time.  In places considerably less safe than the District of Columbia or the London Underground.  Who are left to raise their kids for months, even years, without the other parent, not ever knowing if that other parent is going to come back.

You know who I am talking about.

When I think about losing it all, I think about the mothers and fathers who are half a world away from their families, fighting in a war that none of us can pinpoint a reason for.  (I also think about the families in the middle of the war, but that’s a whole other can of worms.  Just don’t think I’ve forgotten them.)  I think about mothers whose children are graduating from t-ball to baseball without them seeing a single game.  I think about fathers who aren’t even their when their daughters are born.  I think about everyone who just won’t come back.

This is not an anti-war post.  I wish, I wish, I wish I were wise enough to understand all the complexities of international politics and clever enough to untwist them and devise a solution to end the war.  I am not.  I haven’t even been following the news much lately because I despair at my total inability to change a damned thing.  (A situation I am working to remedy.)

But I am sad.  I am sad that we have created a society so complicated that we need airplanes and terrorism and wars.  I understand, I really do, that our intricate minds have created things of tremendous beauty and use – vaccines, the Sistine Chapel, guitars, Snickers bars, Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.  But, I am also sad that our society is so intricate we need to take parents and put them someplace far away from their children.  And I am angry, because I don’t really understand how to get the good complexities without the bad.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

 All I know is that there are careers that are a lot tougher on parents than being a lawyer.

Hump Day HmmThis week’s Hump Day Hmmm is to write about loss.  Head on over to Julie’s place to see them all.

The days when you wish your bed was already made

As promised, I did put up that thinking post about the Timmy situation, complete with links to other people’s related posts.  Please do check it out if you haven’t been there already.  I put it up early because Slouching Mom gave me this and I felt all sorts of pressure:

I am going to pass it on, but I want to think about it first.  However, a big thank you to SM, who writes such sharp prose she makes my nose itch with admiration.

As you know, my writing group gives me 42 kinds of inspiration every other Wednesday night.  I couldn’t make it last week because I had no childcare, as my husband was out of town for nine days.  (Yes, nine.  Count them.)  No matter, I got inspired anyway.  A new group member sent around a link to his new site.  It is called Shortfolio, and it showcases very short fiction.  It pushed me to try a little fiction, which is not a comfortable form for me.  So, my substantive post for the day is over there.  Do head over there and read my post, but also think about submitting your own short pieces.  It is a great site to support, and I hope you visit regularly.

I would like to try a little more dialogue.  I need to work on exercising those muscles, as they’ve been dormant for well over a decade.  So, anyone want to give me a homework assignment?  Assign me a scenario for which I can write some dialogue.  If I know anything about the scenario, I’ll give it a shot and post it here.