Category Archives: Definitions

How we define ourselves by the way we see and use the world around us.

Can Rasta language save us?

Caveat: I do not claim to be an expert grammarian. Nor am I an expert Rastafarian.

I am, however, the owner of more language reference books than should be legal in the suburbs. I use them each month in a “Grammar Smarts” column in the newsletter I create for the NJ Writer’s Society where I tackle common grammar and usage mistakes. But this week, my books failed me.

A Society member emailed to ask if I could clarify the he/she/it issue. Her exact quote is: “Reading several articles in Writer’s Digest, I noticed some pronoun gender bending. Instead of the awkward coupling he/she when referring to a general audience, authors avoid the conventional use of the masculine pronoun (he) and defer to the feminine pronoun (she). Which is currently in fashion?”

I love that she asked what the current fashion is — not what is currently correct. Unfortunately, no one with the power to create rules for the rest of us to use will address the issue definitively. At least no one that I could find.

The inclusion of “she” came with the era of Political Correctness and is yet another issue the era brought to attention and neglected to actually do anything about. Not that I’m against PC completely. It does have it’s place. I just sometimes think it’s hard to say for sure where that place is.

I am old enough to remember when “he” was the pervasive pronoun and was insulted by it. (In fact, in desperation to get some kind of a paper done in time for a Modernist Poetry class, I even applied Feminist theory to Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” to suggest that he would support everyone using “she” instead of “he.”) But I think I’ve relaxed a little since them.

It’s just too cumbersome to try and include everyone using the words he and she. It reads awkward doing the slash thing — “When the patient has his/her physical complete, he/she needs to have his/her physician provide commentary on whether or not he/she is able to fulfill his/her work duties.” And doing the alternating thing — i.e., using she for one part then he for the next and so on, is beyond tedious. I recently completed a 65,000-word work on cat nutrition and my publisher insisted on alternating between he and she with each section. Seemed easy enough, until the work was almost complete and new sections needed to be added in and old sections moved. It took more time going back and changing the sexes than it did to write the freaking book. And it was annoying as hell.

So what is a writer to do?

It will not do — there are too many negatives associated with it. We refer to unknown creatures as It and we call the kid in the mommy-and-me class who is unattractive, full of mucous, and overly aggressive, the It-child.

One will not do. Sounds too British and formal for us Americans. One works well for us only when we want to be goofy or sarcastic.

We need a word that has no negative undertones and that sounds relaxed and comfortable. Sounds like we need a word Bob Marley would use. Yes! That’s it! Perhaps we could take a cue from the Rastafarians.

See, Rastafarians created a language without using negative terms. They did it in order to confront and reject Colonialism. (Yes, they created a way to use positive words to rebel.) I won’t get into all the political stuff here — frankly, I don’t think I understand all the political stuff — but I will dabble in their language. Here’s the deal . . .

Rastafarians replaced the word “me” with “I,” because the word me tends to make the person sound like an object, not a human, whereas I celebrates the individual. “I and I” is used to replace “we” because, in their religion, we are all one united with Jah. Actually “I” before a word is often used in a similar vein (e.g., Ireator means creator), and Idren is used for peers (like brethren or sisteren). Which might be what we need.

Idren — pronounced with a long I.

Let’s revisit that sentence earlier with Idren: When the patient has Idren’s physical complete, Idren will need to have Idren’s physician provide commentary on whether or not Idren is able to fulfill Idren’s work duties.

Hmmm . . . might be a possibility.

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Definitions, TASFUIL, Writing

Nice!

For some reason, over the past week or so the subject of being nice has been popping up into conversations with me. I went to a writer’s conference last weekend, where the vast majority of attendees were women and people kept remarking, with a tinge of surprise in their voices, that they couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. A few other moms and I were agonizing over why 9-year old girls just can’t seem to be nice to each other. Headlines were filled with not-nice election-year behaviors. Anti-bullying missives came home from school. And my mother-in-law and I had a discussion about how being nice seemed to have a relative meaning, based on according to what part of this country you live in.

At first I found all the “nice” mentionings a bit coincidental, but since I am a little on the self-centered side, I started wondering if perhaps people were dropping hints.

I used to know I was a nice person, because people used to tell me. I don’t hear that exact word much anymore, but people do often express gratitude to me for my support, help, shoulder to cry on, email to e-vent to, etc. Is that what you say about nice people my age? Or are they offering positive reinforcement for behavior they’d like to see more often instead of the bitchy side that is sometimes evidenced here on this blog?

To try and clarify things, I looked up “nice” in my American Heritage dictionary. Here’s a synopsis: “1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature. 2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance. 3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness. 4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.”

Yes, well . . . I guess the good news is the folks at A.H. neglected to qualify their definition by time limits. That is, they don’t say “pleasing and agreeable in nature at least 98.7% of the time” nor must one have a “pleasant or attractive appearance 75% of the time” in order to be nice. Perhaps that’s my saving grace. After all, I do stop to help strangers, offer to take photos of people when their arms don’t seem long enough to get a self-portrait, and have good parking lot karma because I always return the cart, come hell or high water, or even lightening flashes, to its rightful place. All those are signs of nice behavior, are they not?

On the other hand, I can be catty at times. It’s just that the world gives me so much fodder, it almost seems disrespectful not to acknowledge those gifts with some kind of snarky, humorous (in my opinion anyway) remark. I’ve also experienced my fair share of Schadenfreude — but who doesn’t enjoy a head-lining story about an anti-gay Republican senator getting bad press because he likes to get close to his male interns? And, with my windows rolled up so no one outside my car can hear me, I often yell and scream at idiot drivers who cut me off in traffic. Those behaviors rather suggest I’m not nice, right?

Perhaps. But, let me share the end of that “nice” definition in my trusty dictionary. The last entries read: “Obsolete. a. Wanton; profligate. b. Affectedly modest; coy.”

Ooo! I think that means I’m an old-fashioned nice girl after all.

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Filed under Definitions, TASFUIL

I love you like a dog

Yesterday, the New York Times featured a Well Pet blog by Tara Parker Pope called “What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage.” Ms. Pope was reviewing a previous article from PsychCentral where clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips explores the difference between how people relate to their pets in contrast to their mates. Phillips poses the idea that we could have better relationships with the humans in our lives if we treat them the way we do our pets.

A couple of her ideas include always giving your spouse a rousing, happy greeting. Never holding grudges (even when the furniture is destroyed). And forgiving quickly and easily instead of taking mistakes personally.

Hmm . . . I greet my husband when he comes home, usually with a “hi” or something a little on the calm side. But honestly, I don’t think he’d want anything dog-like from me. I mean at my weight, if I jump on him, uncontrollably wagging my rear end, I’m sure I’ll knock both of us down. And what good would come from that? What if he puts me in a crate for a time out? What if he shoves me outside while he changes clothes, leaving me with nothing to do but dig holes and chase squirrels? How will I get dinner cooked?

I do agree that grudges are never good to hold — at least for long periods of time. And I think I practice what I preach. We did have a dog who tried to eat my dresser (twice), and we forgave him both times. We knew it was part of the whole separation anxiety thing and that we left him alone for too long before he was ready. The thing is, as with most poor behavior of dogs, the mistake was our fault and we knew it. It’s very easy to forgive people (and animals) when they do something wrong because of something we did. Honestly, I believe that if my husband ever chewed on the corner of my dresser because of something I did, then I’m sure I’d be quick to forgive and forget. Otherwise, he’d be on his own and I probably would hold a grudge.

Moose in a yarn mess -- a forgivable moment

I do think Dr. Phillips has a cute idea: maybe if we give our spouses unconditional love and acceptance the way we seem to give our pets, we’ll have better relationships. But I also think maybe she’s forgetting there are a couple inherent differences between humans and pets (and it has nothing to do with the fact that we have thumbs, or maybe it’s partly to do with that).

First, ultimately, we are responsible for our animals’ behavior, whether or not we consciously admit it. We train our animals, we teach them what proper behavior is, what we expect from them, etc. We take on that task because we cannot trust them to think for themselves or rely only on their instinct. If we did that, we wouldn’t love our animals so much (nor would we allow them to live in our homes or sleep in our beds). Have you ever seen feral dogs and how they live? They don’t care where they do #1 or #2, in fact they like to roll around in #2. I don’t know of many humans who would unconditionally accept that behavior on a continual basis.

The second difference is they cannot talk, read, or write letters of apology. Their only avenue of communication is via their physical body. And since we cannot read their minds, we have to admit that there must be times when we misunderstand them. Think about it, what other way can they say “I’m so glad you’re home because I’m really, really hungry, so hungry I was about to get in the trash even though I know you’d be mad at me” besides running up to you with that maniacal, happy look in their eyes that says “Yes! Yes! Yes! You’re home! This is the greatest freaking thing that has happened to me all day!”

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Filed under Commentary, Definitions, Relationships

Stuff and more stuff

My poor blog has been neglected lately. As has my dirty laundry (and I don’t mean that as a metaphor, though that has probably been set aside, too), my house plants, my good intentions regarding my diet and those mysterious piles of “stuff” that build up in my house — you know the ones. They start out with a small piece of paper, perhaps a piece of junk mail you want to toss in the recycling bin in the garage when you have the energy to take the extra 10 steps to do so, but within a week, like an asexual thing it breeds with itself and produces a pile of . . . of . . . of . . . stuff.

It usually happens on the kitchen counter right beside the door that goes into the laundry room. Another one often forms on the landing spot where the stairs turn. There’s a spot on the hearth that collects and collects and collects. There are others, too numerous to catalog here.

Right now my entire desk is covered with one–don’t even ask me where my coffee cup is. I can find it, but it’s probably a dangerous location for it to be.

Honestly, I think I found the inspiration behind The Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek — remember those furry things that were born pregnant or something? I can picture it: a script writer with a serious case of writers block in a studio so filled with wadded up paper balls that he couldn’t find his typewriter. It looks as if the paper balls bred . . . and poof! The Trouble with Tribbles.

If only my mess would be such inspiration.

I tackle my self-breeding piles every Friday morning. I have to as it’s the day I pay bills and usually, especially, in the piles on my desk, there’s something that needs to be paid. I read, I pay, I respond, I file, and then I’m amazed at the mountain of trash that’s produced from it all.

My desk is always beautifully neat and tidy when I’m done. And I vow to never let it happen again, but for some reason I have a tough time remembering the vows I make to myself (my husband, I’m sure would be relieved to know as bad as my memory gets sometimes, I never forget my vows to him).

my desk on a light Friday morning

I’ve read organizational materials out the wazoo. I’ve taken time management training classes for various jobs. I’ve heard that mantra “only touch a piece of paper once” so many times it has no meaning to me. That kind of stuff just doesn’t seem to function well with my limited amount of working brain cells, which I’m guessing are piled up in random spots inside my skull.

I love systems. I create them all the time to prevent chaos from forming around me. And then I forget I created them and, well, chaos forms around me, particularly in little piles all over my house. But it’s only for limited times, as I usually get it all cleaned up before cocktail hour on Friday nights. So I guess that means I have my priorities right, right? Whew! I’m so glad I can stop worrying about it all then.

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Filed under Chaos, Definitions, Good Housekeeping

Still complaining after all these years

So my lovely husband has started reminding me lately that I’m still complaining. He has a point — I am still complaining, but I gotta say, life has the deck stacked against me.

It’s not that I want to complain; I really don’t. There’s just so much shit going on around me that it’s hard to make a comment about anything without it sounding like a complaint. My allergies remain so severe that all I want to do is take a hand-rake and rip out my eyes because they itch so much and there are days I sneeze so frequently that I’m afraid to drive as I might lose control of my car. My PMS is so bad these days it’s telling me I’m peri-menopause, actually it’s shrieking it to the world with me completely unable to control it. There’s oil spilling out in the gulf and all that is happening about is fingers are being pointed instead of someone shoving them into the hole to plug it up (that metaphor was a stretch, I know — I’m talking about the boy with his finger in a dyke).

And I’m getting old. It’s official. I’m officially getting old. Proof came with his latest comment a few minutes ago, “boy you’re sure complaining a lot this morning.” All I wanted was for his help in making the text on the emails in my in-box look bigger. No, I didn’t rearrange my desk. I just can’t seem to see what’s in my in-box like I used to. I’d love to say that the entire world is using a smaller font, but I have a feeling that’s not so true. So he changed the resolution and yes, the letters are bigger, but now they’re fuzzy. All I said was, “thank you, but now they’re blurry.” And oops, I did it again. I complained.

What’s a girl to do? Should I remain mute? The only way that’d be possible would be if I completely alienate myself. And the odds of my butt exploding and blasting me into the milky way are better than thinking my kids would leave me alone in my room undisturbed for longer than 30 seconds. But I could try. I could lock myself in my bedroom with nothing but good literature and vodka. The thing is, if by some miracle of miracles and not a screamed “MOM!” is heard, I’ll sit around reading and drinking all day, which on the surface sounds ideal, but eventually I’ll have to pee and when I stand up after all that lounging, I’m sure I’ll be stiff and sore. Add a little drunk into it and soon enough I’ll be saying (complaining) “Good Christ, my neck hurts. And my back!”

Shall I go to some island paradise and relax in a hammock while polite and obsequious waiters feed me delicious foods and ply me with umbrella-laden drinks? Yes, that’d be nice and one would think complaint free. But, it couldn’t last forever. Eventually I’ll be bitching about my credit card bills. Resorts ain’t cheap you know.

Tell me, what’s a girl to do? I’m still giving it the old college try–I keep re-starting my week of living complaint free. ~sigh~ it’s just that life gives me such fodder. God it’s hard–and that’s not a complaint, just a comment about something I’ve noticed.

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Filed under Age, Chaos, Definitions

iPod Personality Test

I popped into the office I share with my husband last night, grabbed my iPod and announced I was going to “bless the universe with my music” while I cooked dinner. He smiled at me, followed me to the door and shut it behind me–the office is right next to the kitchen and I guess he felt he didn’t need a blessing.

Actually, he just doesn’t like some of the music I do.

I docked the little machine in the kitchen speaker, hit shuffle and started crooning away while I began my evening shift as short-order cook, because no one in my family can possible ever eat anything someone else is eating (but that’s a blog for another day). The first song was Rickie Lee Jone’s “Magazine.” She was followed by the Clash’s “Overpowered by Funk.” By the time dinner was ready for I’d performed alongside Jimmy Buffett, Jack Johnson, Coldplay, Rosie Vela (am I the only one who remembers her?) and other favorites. It was an almost exhausting concert.

When hubby appeared asking if it was safe to enter the kitchen, I was feeling groovy and happy. I love the “shuffle” concept: no decisions to make and it’s all good. A true stress antidote.

Anyway, it got me thinking . . . has anyone done a psychology test based on the music on a person’s iPod? I haven’t read Cosmo for a couple decades–do they still do tests like that? We all have eclectic tastes–one would think those tastes said something deep and profound about our personalities. Do they say something about the real us? Aside from suggesting I’m at least partially stuck in the 1980’s, if someone found my iPod on a beach and listened to everything on the shuffle setting, what else would that person be able to glean about me? Would he or she be able to pick me out of a crowd?

I’ve a friend who is such a Parrot Head (for those of you not in the know, that’s NOT an insult; it just means she’s a big Jimmy Buffett fan) that I’m sure if someone found her iPod they’d look for some deeply tanned, bleach blond chick in a coconut bra speaking with a long-drawled twang. But no, she’s a tall brunette from Chicago, and she’d have to get seriously drunk before she’d even consider the coconut bra.

I was surprised one day when a rather conservative woman I know confessed her iPod was full of expletive-filled rap music. She claimed it got her fired up when she was working out. I was about to suggest she look up the Violent Femmes, as they always get me going, but there was a glint in her eye that made me retreat. I got the feeling I could be the nudge that sent her over the edge.

Then there’s the 13-year old kid in my neighborhood who likes Frank Sinatra. Whoever would have thunk?

My kids’ iPods definitely reflect each of them. The daughter’s is loaded up with just about everything she heard on Radio Disney and my son has U2, ColdPlay and Linkin Park in all their glory, which seems to match his deep, young and yet powerful mind.

Perhaps our iPods could be the next litmus test for public office. What was it Obama listened to on the campaign trail? I can’t remember. But I think next time I learn about what someone in a position of power listens to on his or her iPod, I’m going to pay better attention. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to interpret the results all that well.

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Filed under Commentary, Definitions, Relationships

Mom Style?

We are such a self-absorbed society, really. I’m not saying there’s anything bad about that, and I’m certainly not saying I condemn that. After all, I, too am self-absorbed. I honestly think that’s what blogging and Twitter and Yelp and all the others are about–that desire to express ourselves to anyone and everyone who will listen (or read) is a form of self-absorption. It’s all about Us!

But I’m not going to rant about that today–I’m too self-absorbed. I’ve spent the past several days being self-absorbed mulling over my style of mothering. My daughter had an issue with a friend on Thursday last week that was followed by a tale of horror about a boy I know that was followed by an eye-opening account of what I can expect my kids to go through in middle school that was followed by me spending an hour with fellow-self-obsessed-moms waiting outside a birthday party that was followed by a good wake-up call/email from an old friend who put it all into perspective for me. By the time Saturday morning hit, I had had an epiphany that made me realize I’d been f*cking up in my parenting style. So I developed a totally new approach (to me), that I will probably realize in a couple of years is equally f*cked up. But I’ll worry about that then.

In the meantime, I find it hilarious that I’m actually spending time self-absorbed over “how” I’m being a mother. When did it happen that we had to have a philosophy? An approach? A mom style? Did my mother? I don’t think so. I can honestly say my mother never read a parenting book.

But I’ve read more than my fair share–which, really, is the reason why I screw things up. If I just acted like a Mama Bear and simply fed my kids, provided shelter and the occasional attack when a real threat (not an argument with a friend or a misunderstanding with a teacher, but a real, dangerous threat approached)and lived as a role model for how to behave when you grow up I think we would all be happier. But no, I’ve been self-absorbed worrying about the long-term emotional and psychological consequences of every bleeping breath I take in the vicinity of my children and constantly have been questioning whether or not I’m doing it “right”–as if anyone has the answer to what “right” is.

And I’m not alone. For some reason there’s not a mom out there just happy being a mom. We’re all self-absorbed in developing and living by a mom-style based on what we think being a mom should be about. We have Alpha moms, Helicopter moms, Child-directed moms. There’s even a Bad Mom’s Club (see link on the side bar). And just this morning I discovered Theta moms (The Truly Authentic Moms) — Link on side bar, too.

It’s funny, we all want our daughters to grow up being confident and strong, totally accepting of who they are (and sons, too, but for some reason its more of a personal quest of moms regarding their daughters). And yet, we constantly feel the need to justify who we are as mothers and question how we do it.

Which was part of my big epiphany this weekend. The other part is: I need to let her screw up and learn for herself instead of telling her, coaching her, and guiding her non-stop in her behavior. I need to stop worrying about how I am handling her situations–I need to step back, like a true Mama Bear, and let her learn to live without my constant interference and not take it personally when she does things I don’t like or when she messes up or when her feelings get hurt. She’s gotta learn to live and learn to live.

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Filed under Children, Definitions, Relationships