Let the Barbarians In?

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You know those lyrics to the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?” Sure you do. The ones, “The girl with colitis goes by…”

No?

Apparently that’s one of the most misheard lyrics. It’s supposed to be, “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes…” But what if so many people got it wrong that we just decided the lyrics should include colitis? Think the Beatles would mind?

That’s how I feel about my beloved English language, which seems to reinvent itself more than some pop stars.

I love writing and curating the precise word to capture an emotion or event. I love the fact that the precision of one’s language separates the educated from the masses who will just fling any old word at a situation.

What I do not love is the fact that there are more word-flingers than word-curators and, with enough flinging, something sticks and a word forever mutates in, of all places, the dictionary. I used to think the dictionary was the Bible for linguaphiles.

Irregardles? It’s in there. Literally, when one actually means “figuratively?” (as in, “I’m literally dying of hunger” when your bulging belly is from your last meal and not malnutrition). It’s in there too.

I am not alone in my discomfort, although language expert and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker tries to offer comfort in a recent Atlantic article: “There’s probably also a feeling of anxiety when a shared standard appears to be threatened,” Pinker says. “Human cooperation depends on common knowledge of arbitrary norms, which can suddenly unravel. If the norms of language were truly regulated by an authority, this would be a concern. In fact, they emerge by a self-adjusting consensus.”

So, perhaps my problem is just that my consensus is stuck and won’t self-adjust. Maybe. But it feels like the barbarians are at the gate and they are LITERALLY banging to get in.

Would the Beatles let them in?

Maybe. Because once Paul McCartney formed Wings, he told us:

Someone’s knockin’ at the door

Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

Someone’s knockin’ at the door

Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

Do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in

Paul McCartney – Let Em In Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Kaleidescope eyes

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I Love You/Miss You Now/Soon

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Being human is exquisite, although I sometimes think a little less exquisite might be a little more comfortable.

There are moments – my infant daughter laying her hand lovingly along my cheek as she nurses; my mother, her eyes intent on mine as she spouts poetic nonsense in her hallucinatory last days – that seem as yesterday. There are others, really important events like my wedding, or my college graduation, that I remember only through re-telling, but not through actual memory. And there are still other things, like my marriage, that seem simultaneously much more ancient than our married years, and much shorter.

It is this elasticity of time that makes us truly human.

More specifically, it is apparently the ability to remember the past like watching a movie, along with the ability to envision the future the same way that psychologists and cognitive scientists label “mental time travel” that makes us human. Apparently this is a gift of evolution; it enables us to learn from mistakes and never do THAT again.

It is a fascinating concept. I’m not sure I buy that it is a uniquely human skill. My dogs watch me pack a suitcase and grieve, even though I haven’t left yet. They certainly can envision the future. But maybe if there were no suitcase, my dogs would be undividedly happy.

Because, I am often divided.

The dark side of this evolutionary gift is the preoccupation with the imminence of the future. I think this happens with women more than men. It is the dark gift that makes me simultaneously glory in a visit from my daughter while mourning the brevity of the visit, envisioning the day she leaves. It paints each day, each joy, with a shadowy cloud.

Perhaps a little less humanity would mean a little more happiness.

Past and Future

Reflections

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My bed is next to my closet and the doors of the closet are all mirrors. So, nearly every morning, I wake up and the first thing I see is my own reflection. And let me tell you, it’s a sobering way to start the day.

 Now, to be sure, there are some days that I see my reflection and my eyes are all full of sleep and haze and I think, “Damn. Look how cute I am!”

 But most days, I see my cheeks sagging pillow-ward, my breasts sliding precipitously into the mattress, and my stomach (when I’ve kicked off the covers) looking like dough that’s risen past the confines of the pan. And I think, “Damn! What the hell happened to you?”

 So, every day, I look into the mirror, but only accidentally. These days, the only time I gaze at myself on purpose is in the magnifying mirror to make sure my eyeliner hasn’t gone astray.

 I remember when my daughter was young, she looked into the mirror, then looked at me to confirm, “I’m pretty, Mama.” And yes, I would agree, she was pretty. But the self-sabotaging reflection of age has struck even my daughter. The other day, she texted me, “I used to be a lot hotter than I am now, and I had no idea.”

 And I replied, “Honey, that will happen throughout your life…still happens to me.”

 After a second, she texted back, “That’s stupid.”

 Yes. Yes it is. And tomorrow when I wake up staring at my reflection, I’m going to remember that.

girl-at-mirror-1954.jpg!Blog

50 SHADES OF BLACK AND BLUE DOWN SOUTH

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I have moved to the most dangerous state in the nation for women.

 Sure, Charleston gets all the top votes for tourist destinations, foodie towns, and friendliest, but the truth is that Charleston sits squarely within South Carolina, and, in South Carolina, a woman dies every 12 days from domestic violence.

 In a recent series by the local newspaper, the Post and Courier, reporters laid out the reasons that South Carolina gets top “honors” in this shameful list. Like other states, women here fear retribution if they report domestic violence. But the Palmetto State adds the knuckle-dragging cultural remnant that deems women property and subservient to men. We also suffer with the “from my cold dead fingers” stranglehold the National Rifle Association has on legislators, where legislation forcing violent offenders to give up their guns is met with steely resistance. This despite the fact that guns are used in 65 percent of the state’s domestic violence deaths in the past ten years. Beat your dog in our state, and you can be jailed for five years (and you should be!). Beat your wife, and, if it’s your first offense, you go away for only 30 days.

 South Carolina is a state where many women still live in poverty (only seven states have higher rates of women living in poverty) and few govern. With few women walking the halls of power, domestic violence victims remain faceless, other, not one of us — even though domestic violence cuts across all economic strata. As a late state representative said, “The woman ought to not be around the man…I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them.”

 Without education, without putting a face on the abused women, powerful men like this will always dismiss domestic violence. Of course, the guy who made that stupendously ignorant statement is dead, so I shouldn’t pick on him, but then so are more women in South Carolina than the number of the state’s soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

 One intriguing section of the series talks about the role played by the culture of honor in the South. According to a study by a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, Southern men and Northern men react differently to perceived slights. If someone bumped into a Northern man and insulted him, he was much more likely to let it go than a Southern man, whose body flooded with stress hormones and testosterone. According to the study, Southern men fight to preserve their honor.

 One woman every 12 days.

 It just seems tragic that more Southern men aren’t fighting the stain on their honor caused by living in a state in which men kill women at more than twice the national average.

FOR HELP:

  • My Sister’s House, 800-273-4673
  •  People Against Rape, 843-577-9882
  • Family Court (for orders of protection), Charleston County: 843-958-4400

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