if it wasn’t for love

black-and-white-and-cokeI look in the mirror, when I have one.
When the light is harsh, I see that my face is lined; the lines are now so deep, so permanent, that I can feel them when I run my hand across my cheek.
The lines are from laughing and smiling, done so much that laughter has cut grooves across my face.

The rest of my body,
especially where the kidneys were or are or where dialysis chopped my veins or bones were crushed and broken,
is crossed with scars.
Each is a wound that would have killed me, or a crack that would have split me apart,
if it wasn’t for love.

The scars are all places where the love or the kindness or the willingness to act
that so many have shown me
have held me together,
have healed me.

Time has marked my body with laughter and with love.

It could be worse.

Sing!

When was the last time you heard a voice singing–in person, not a reproduction or something amplified, but a human voice? When was the last time you sang?

A few weeks ago, two heroes of mine passed away, Jean Ritchie and Ronnie Gilbert.

Ronnie Gilbert was one of the founding members of The Weavers, a folk group that was influential and then black-listed in the early 50s. Along with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman, and with the help of Alan Lomax and input from Woodie Guthrie, they sang both American and international folk music, as well as Union and labour songs. They were some of the people who influenced the Folk Revival of the 60s, which influenced me.

Jean Ritchie was an authentic Kentucky-born folk singer. She brought American folk music back to Appalachian roots music with her traditional performances of many of the old ballads that had travelled across from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the rest of Britain.

There is a great deal I love about folk music, but today I would like to focus on what is perhaps the most important quality it has: It is the everyday person’s music. It can belong to any of us. I dearly love Yo Yo Ma playing Bach, or Jessye Norman singing Wagner, but these are the tasks of demi-gods few of us can hope to follow. The melody of a folk tune is one which almost anybody can sing, and then can learn a little more challenging harmonies. They are words which anybody can learn, even if the complex lyrics like Finnegan’s Wake can be a little harder.

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a love for music. They are each amazingly talented, but most of all they loved music. Since dad was a preacher, we all learned to sing in church in 4-part harmony. We also sang grace at every meal. But they also sang around the house or around the piano. Most of all, when we would be driving home from a long trip at night–and my dad loved to drive–they would sing together in harmony, and that’s how we kids learned to sing as well. I was the smallest, and usually in the back, or even in the hatch, and some of my fondest and safest memories were listening to them sing in the front of the car.

We learned a lot of folk songs from them. Where have all the Flowers Gone?, Puff the Magic Dragon, Turn, Turn, Turn, as well as show tunes and standards. I continue to hum or whistle of even sing out loud whenever I can. I had a job a while back which involved an early stocking shift before the store opened, and my friend Rachel and I would sing Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and what-ever else suited our fancy. One of my great prides in parenting is how many songs I taught my daughter, who says that I have a voice that makes anybody feel like they can sing.

And anyone can!!!!!

Sing to say what you cannot say! Singing for joy or to express our sadness, or just to pass the time away is a rare gift. The blues, the agony, the ecstasy, the longing, the loneliness, the peace—all of these are bubbling down deep within you and waiting to be expressed.

Sing to remember who you are and what you love! Singing opens up something inside of us that makes us more like who we really are than anything else. No other human being, no nightingale or lark, no violin or glockenspiel has your unique voice. It might not be the prettiest, but it is yours, and it can be your fun.

Sing because it’s beautiful! The world is full of beauty, but singing–even if you do it really poorly–allows you to touch and to be part of that beauty, that joy, that infinite and immediate wonder which is music. It is so rooted in the earth, so material, such a matter of vibrations and modulations, but it is also so sublime. Music immerses us in our senses and sensations, but moves us out of subjective feeling. It is the world and it is transcendence.

So when was the last time you sang?

You’re alone now, wasting time reading a blog, just you and your electronic device….why don’t you sing now?

WoodyGuthriePoster

 

 

Thinking of the Other

There are two big words that have been rambling their way around my mind this week, words from my apprenticeship as a Social Theorist. These two words are Colonising and Orientalizing.

I know these are big words, but stick with me. You trust me, don’t you?

These are terms used to describe Europe’s relationship with its “Oriental” colonies, which meant anything from Morocco to China—you know, the East. From the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Europeans had a mental image of the mysterious orient, the degenerate orient, the dangerous orient, of the barbaric orient in need of civilizing. Orientalizing and Colonising are how the great colonial powers came to think of the people and cultures of foreign lands, of Other groups of people. To subjugate people, we have to be able to think of them as radically different, as the unbridgeable Other.

Amadeo_Preziosi_-_The_Grand_Bazaar_-_Google_Art_ProjectColonising is a term to describe one way of doing that, a view of other cultures as “primitive” and “backward” so that we can paternalistically “civilize” them. Timothy Mitchell uses this term in his book Colonizing Egypt to describe how the British had to think of 19th century Egypt as a country of bizarre, violent customs, dark and twisting city streets, dark, twisted, illiterate, and barbaric natives, and degenerate, corrupt rulers. We are still used to this view, seeing it in the 2-dimensional cartoon Egypt of the Indiana Jones movies.D228 This image has also melded into our view of the Islamic world in general.

The flip side is Orientalizing, conceptualizing the Other as CLK339940radically different, but as exotic and fascinating (and rather erotic). Edward Said uses this term to describe how the cultural study of “the orient” created a falsely romantic but still distancing relationship with the North African, Middle Eastern, and other Asian colonies and spheres of influence. We see this fascination with exoticism in the popularity of Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translations of Arabian Nights (or his translation of the Kama Sutra), we even see it in the quasi-Indian mysticism of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works, not to mention the trappings of Masonic temples.

Now, obviously, there are problems with thinking about whole continents of human beings this way. There are the moral problems of colonialism and exploitation, and the factual carefreeness of these oversimplifications. There is the long-term post-colonial problem that these views imposed upon colonial people are internalized by them, weakening their cultures. Of course, for me as a logician, there is the internal self-contradiction: How can we think of a people as both ignorant and uncivilized, but also become fascinated with their culture?

Of course, in America, we could accept projecting both savage ignorance and the exotic wisdom on the First Nations, accept the idea of barely verbal, semi-human slaves and at the same time the simple wisdom of Uncle Tom or Uncle Remus, or even refuse to accept that “Negroes” were capable of culture, while at the same time stealing jazz and blues songs from them.

We Americans can also buy the music and imitate the style of dark young men in hoodies and sagging pants, while at the same time hoping the police will protect us from them.

Hip-Hop, Gangsta Rap, and their ilk have had an impact on our culture I would never have believed back in the old school days of the 80s. Now, not a day goes by without seeing young men knowingly (or maybe not) trying to look like they are “from the hood,” even in the country mountains of upper-east Tennessee. We project an authenticity and integrity upon the music, and on the showy façade of the fashions. We also project an exotic and powerful aura of danger.

Yet at the same time, we project a dangerous and powerful aura of danger upon young Black men in general, and treat them accordingly. We can criticize the police for stopping cars of young men for DWB (driving while black), but most white homeowners would prefer that young black men in their neighbourhoods be watched closely. For the most part, police are merely doing what we expect them to do: protect us from them.  We project radical otherness upon each other, we project a colonialising and orientalizing conception, we create and exemplify each other’s faulty conceptions, continuing in an odd dance of attraction and repulsion, fear and fascination…..

…until somebody gets shot.

So, be careful with each other. Don’t make each other out to be exactly the same, but don’t make each other out as radically different, either. Maybe as equivalent, “of equal value.” And the best way to understand others is to ask them, and to listen.

Maybe over some good food.
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The Second Person

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, the English language had 3 ways of saying you: “þū” (pronounced like ‘thoo’) for one of you, “ġit” (pronounced like ‘jit’) for two of you, and ġē” (pronounced like ‘jee’) for several of you. That is Old English. Thou6In Middle English, the second person pronoun was simplified to “thou” and “ye.” Today, in modern English, we only have “you.” Of course, there are regional exceptions, such as the “y’all” of the South, the northern “you guys,” “you-uns,” which is spread across the Ohio River Valley and parts of old Appalachia, its derivative “yinz,” which is a defining characteristic of Pittsburghese, and “yous,” Digression226 which persists in English speaking pockets from New Jersey, Boston, and Philly, all the way to Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

It is not uncommon for languages to slur and simplify. However, in English, there are important social factors and meanings to this change. How I speak to a second person is also a strong indication of how we interact. As Middle English developed a court Thoulanguage for the gentry, it adopted what is called the T/V distinction. In several European languages, the plural 2nd person becomes an honorific, a formal address of respect to superiors. examples include the tu/vous in French, the du/sie in German, and tú/usted in Spanish. By contrast the singular denoted either a lower class, or a sense of intimacy. The farmer would address his lord as “you” and his child as “thou.” The Lord would address other nobility as “you,” but address both the farmer and his child as “thou.”

However, at the same time, the rising middle class began to blur the rigid class Thou2distinctions, and adopted using “you” in all interactions. In part, to show they were not from the lower classes and provincials and in part because the formal was the language of business. One says: “How are you today, sir?” as a courtesy and a sign of respect to any customer walking in the door, but one also expects that courtesy to be returned. Similarly, everybody became “Master” or “Mister,” and “Mistress” or “Mrs.” Digression227

Thou8What was gained by this change to you was an equality of address, but a formal equality. What was lost was the familiarity and intimacy of thou-ing someone. It has its few remnants, but for the most part it sounds archaic. Emily Dickinson’s:
Wild nights – Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury!
          …sounds sweetly archaic, like an ancient ode. It doesn’t sound like wild nights.

The Quakers became known for always using the familial “thou” to demonstrate their belief in universal brotherhood, as well as their unwillingness to Thou4participate in inequality. In a way, it seems odd that the leveling of English chose the genteel formal, instead of the Quaker’s familiarity. Then again, maybe it says something about us that we don’t miss the familiar pronoun. The informal formality of the second person might be an accurate indication of who we are and how we interact. We can be friendly while keeping a distance, casual without being intimate; that is who we have become.

We have acquired the easy manners of the sales person, showing respect and being friendly, but at the same time easily disposing of the conversation and forgetting about it as it passes. We laugh at the second person’s joke in an open, friendly way, all the while thinking of something else. We can get personal without recognizing persons, as well as “nice” and “sweet” without bothering to be genuine.

Of course, we are not slaves to the laws of language, even if we are grounded by them. Like the laws of gravity and inertia, we can defy language occasionally by acts of will and imagination.

We must remember to ask ourselves: Who is this you? Each second person—singular or plural—is their own first person. When we ask “How are you?” we must remember that the you is an I with his or her own concerns. When we say “thank you,” whom are we thanking? When we say “I’ll be with you in a moment,” who is the person thinking “Great. Now I have to wait again?” When we yell “FUCK YOU!!” who is the vulnerable me we are yelling at?

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Second Person

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, the English language had 3 ways of saying you: “þū” (pronounced like ‘thoo’) for one of you, “ġit” (pronounced like ‘jit’) for two of you, and ġē” (pronounced like ‘jee’) for several of you. That is Old English. Thou6In Middle English, the second person pronoun was simplified to “thou” and “ye.” Today, in modern English, we only have “you.” Of course, there are regional exceptions, such as the “y’all” of the South, the northern “you guys,” “you-uns,” which is spread across the Ohio River Valley and parts of old Appalachia, its derivative “yinz,” which is a defining characteristic of Pittsburghese, and “yous,” Digression226 which persists in English speaking pockets from New Jersey, Boston, and Philly, all the way to Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

It is not uncommon for languages to slur and simplify. However, in English, there are important social factors and meanings to this change. How I speak to a second person is also a strong indication of how we interact. As Middle English developed a court Thoulanguage for the gentry, it adopted what is called the T/V distinction. In several European languages, the plural 2nd person becomes an honorific, a formal address of respect to superiors. examples include the tu/vous in French, the du/sie in German, and tú/usted in Spanish. By contrast the singular denoted either a lower class, or a sense of intimacy. The farmer would address his lord as “you” and his child as “thou.” The Lord would address other nobility as “you,” but address both the farmer and his child as “thou.”

However, at the same time, the rising middle class began to blur the rigid class Thou2distinctions, and adopted using “you” in all interactions. In part, to show they were not from the lower classes and provincials and in part because the formal was the language of business. One says: “How are you today, sir?” as a courtesy and a sign of respect to any customer walking in the door, but one also expects that courtesy to be returned. Similarly, everybody became “Master” or “Mister,” and “Mistress” or “Mrs.” Digression227

Thou8What was gained by this change to you was an equality of address, but a formal equality. What was lost was the familiarity and intimacy of thou-ing someone. It has its few remnants, but for the most part it sounds archaic. Emily Dickinson’s:
Wild nights – Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury!
          …sounds sweetly archaic, like an ancient ode. It doesn’t sound like wild nights.

The Quakers became known for always using the familial “thou” to demonstrate their belief in universal brotherhood, as well as their unwillingness to Thou4participate in inequality. In a way, it seems odd that the leveling of English chose the genteel formal, instead of the Quaker’s familiarity. Then again, maybe it says something about us that we don’t miss the familiar pronoun. The informal formality of the second person might be an accurate indication of who we are and how we interact. We can be friendly while keeping a distance, casual without being intimate; that is who we have become.

We have acquired the easy manners of the sales person, showing respect and being friendly, but at the same time easily disposing of the conversation and forgetting about it as it passes. We laugh at the second person’s joke in an open, friendly way, all the while thinking of something else. We can get personal without recognizing persons, as well as “nice” and “sweet” without bothering to be genuine.

Of course, we are not slaves to the laws of language, even if we are grounded by them. Like the laws of gravity and inertia, we can defy language occasionally by acts of will and imagination.

We must remember to ask ourselves: Who is this you? Each second person—singular or plural—is their own first person. When we ask “How are you?” we must remember that the you is an I with his or her own concerns. When we say “thank you,” whom are we thanking? When we say “I’ll be with you in a moment,” who is the person thinking “Great. Now I have to wait again?” When we yell “FUCK YOU!!” who is the vulnerable me we are yelling at?

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Why separate the sheep from the goats?

Happy Chinese New Year!

In today’s recipe, I suggested adding root vegetables, and realized Turnipsthat there are a large variety of names & nicknames for turnips and rutabagas  (turks, swedes, neeps, tumshie, etc.).  Since Americans so seldom use these, the names aren’t important, but some places they are, especially as the name says something about how they are to be used.

Libraries (19)We cannot think without categories, and cannot share our thoughts without terms for these categories. Because I encounter them rarely (especially in this weather), it is not necessary for me to distinguish between different kinds of monkeys. It is possible, in fact even probably, that there are people for whom the differences between the 260-odd kinds of monkey are much more important, and much more pronounced.

Many 20th century thinkers dealt with the question of categories, Michel Foucault, George Lakoff, to name a few. In his piece  ‘El idioma analítico de John Wilkins’, Jorge Luis Borges, writes of a fabled Chinese dictionary entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which animals can be:

  • (a) those belonging to the Emperor
  • (b) those that are embalmed
  • (c) those that are tame
  • (d) pigs
  • (e) sirens
  • (f) imaginary animals
  • (g) wild dogs
  • (h) those included in this classification
  • (i) those that are crazy-acting
  • (j) those that are uncountable
  • (k) those painted with the finest brush made of camel hair,
  • (l) miscellaneous
  • (m) those which have just broken a vase
  • (n) those which, from a distance, look like flies.

Today, according to the lunar calendar used in China, is the beginning of a new year. The sign for this year in the astrological calendar is (yang), not to be confused with  陽 (yang), one of the elements of the Taijitu - Small (CW).svg. If you look at  , you might notice that it has little horns on the top. It refers to a general kind of horned animal, sometimes a sheep, sometimes a goat, goatsometimes a ram. The BBC, The Old Gray Lady, NPR and other western news sources are unsettled by the vagueness of this name and category, but China has managed to get by with it for centuries.

The categories by which we interact with the world make them our worlds, but they also make the world for other people. Heidegger once wrote that “Language is the house of being.  In its home human beings dwell.  Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.”  So be careful whom you call a sheep and whom you call a goat.

I’ll leave you with my best wishes, and this quote from Borges:

The impossibility of penetrating the divine scheme of the universe does not, however, dissuade us from planning human schemes, even though we know they must be provisional. 

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Of logical syllogisms and poets

saphhoἢ ὥσπερ Σαπφώ• ὅτι τὸ ἀποθνῄσκειν κακόν• οἱ θεοὶ γὰρ οὕτω κεκρίκασιν• ἀπέθνησκον γὰρ ἄν.
“…Or [as] Sappho [writes],
‘Death is an evil;
the gods have so decided,
for otherwise they would die.'”

Aristotle quotes the poet Sappho constructing a logically valid modus tollens syllogism to argue that death is not, as some suggest, a blessing but rather a curse.

A modus tollens (denying the consequent) syllogism is structured like this:

  • It can be shown that if [insert first statement] is the case, then it follows that [insert second statement] will be the case.
  • It can be shown that [second statement] is not true.
  • Therefore, [first statement] cannot be the case.

Or, to put it in symbolic terms:

modus_tollens_ornament_roundHer argument goes like this:

  • If death were a blessing, then the gods would have it–they being blessed, and able to have all good things.
    (Logically, if [death is a blessing], then it follows that [the gods would die])
  • The gods, however, do not die.
    ([the gods would die] is not true.)
  • So death cannot be good, but is a terrible evil.
    (Therefore, [death is a blessing] cannot be true.

But, of course, the greatest curse is being separated by those we love…

Sappho_Loison_cour_Carree_Louvre

Sappho, fragment 94

Honestly, I wish I were dead.

Weeping many tears, she left me and said,
“Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho.
I leave you against my will.”

And I answered: “Farewell, go and remember me.
You know how I cared for you.
When you remember, remember
these good and beautiful times.

Beside me you put on
many wreaths of roses
and put garlands of violets        Sapphomet2
around your soft neck.            

You poured precious myrrh,
and royal perfume on your body,
pouring out your longing on soft beds.

And there was no dance,
no ceremony, no celebration,
without us.

 


 

Guilt is a piss-poor basis for morality

The interns and I are continuing to discuss Greek philosophy, so don’t be surprised if that seeps into a lot of these entrées.

One of the hardest differences to try to make clear between our culture and the ancients–just one little facets of La querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, is how fundamental to their view of the world things like pride and honor and respect were. Since the interns handle money, a lot of my focus is upon ethics.
Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_079

For most Americans, ethics is almost synonymous with morality, and morality is generally seen in terms of transgressing a set of imperatives. Obviously, the result of transgressing or even failing is guilt.

 

Socrates, descend from your clouds and talk dirty to us.

Put another way, we think of right and wrong in terms of a code or a bunch of rules. Somewhere in the back of our heads or hearts, we have a series Jiminy_Cricket_standing_up_to_Lampwickof “thou shalt not’s” and “don’t even think about it’s,” or our mother’s  voice saying: “do you really think that’s a good idea?” We live in a selfish, self-obsessed world, but at the same time are haunted by the voice of a little cricket tsk-tsk-ing us.
It seems unavoidable that we will break these rules and fail to live up to this code–in fact, it is virtually impossible that we do not. When we do, the result is guilt; in fact, the fear of guilt, the fear of having to walk that long dark hall to face the wrath of Jiminy is what is supposed to keep us in line.

piggy's glassesNot that that is always a bad thing: those without guilt are psychopaths, and we do, after all need something to keep us in line, something to avoid descending to chaos and anarchy and cruelty. After all, look how poorly we remain moral with guilt?

See, the problem with guilt is that is insatiable–there will always be more to feel guilty about. It is also much better at motivating us to avoid acts than to actually act.

By contrast, honor is an attempt to become better, and to take pride in being better. Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogIt is striving for excellence, and taking joy in both the accomplishment and the striving–like the glory of running fast. It sets goals and standards–virtues and examples–and allows us to construct a narrative of being ethical, instead to just case studies of being unethical. It calls us to act rather than encouraging us to focus upon prevent illicit acts. We shouldn’t be regretting ethical failures–which is what guilt is–but instead we should be cultivating virtues that will allow us to act justly, kindly, honestly, generously, courageously, and so on, in the present and in the future.

And when we do, we should feel the reward of pride in an action well done, and look to the next task to accomplish.

The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae had no reason to feel guilty if they had backed down from the Persians–the Persians did, after all, outnumber them, and the Spartans had fulfilled their obligations to the other Greeks. No, the Spartans defended the fiery gates out of pride; they wanted to perform what they were called to do well.

Guilt prevents the worse from happening, and also nags us to help others, but the cost is an insatiable gnawing self-loathing, and ultimately the problem that the one who can best avoid guilt is the monk in the cell doing nothing.
Pride encourages us to outdo ourselves in living well and doing good, and can see ethics as something to build upon and strive for, but at the cost of encouraging the outward show rather than genuine goodness.

Better than either, though, would be compassion.

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Let us now praise Loud-Mouthed Broads!

The interns and I were talking about Plato’s dialogue Charmides in the afternoon during prep, and then on through tea (apparently, some of them don’t appreciate muffins that leave a warm after burn on your tongue. I, however, thought they went perfectly with today’s post).

Here is my paraphrase of the first part dialogue (Plato’s, not the interns):

Socrates is chatting up Charmides, a handsome, athletic, sweet-natured young man with good manners and a great personality. Charmides is known for having all the virtues a young man should have, especially temperance, so Socrates asks him to explain what that is.

Dr. Bear - Eyes(Editor’s note: the Greek word here is σωφροσύνης, pronounced soph-ro-sun-ace, and involves self-control. We could translate it prudence, but temperance–in the sense of tempering one’s desires and passions–works best, even though I have rarely heard that word used that way since the beginning of the 20th century.)

The young man says it’s like being quiet, or not being too fast.
Socrates points out in how many situations being quiet or slow is actually bad– in Statue_of_a_kouros_Getty_Villa_Collection)classes, the quiet and slow students are not the best, with musicians, the quiet hesitant ones aren’t the best, those who can play loud and fast are generally the best. Do you want your memory to be slow and quiet? Your wit? Your ability to solve problems? No–swift and active.
I might add how many times I haven’t been informed of something until it was too late because somebody was quiet or slow. (“Oh, sorry. I meant to tell you that burner was on.” “You know, there is a tool we got in last week that would have made that easier.” “Didn’t somebody tell you we don’t have to save those anymore?”)

The poor young man says maybe it’s like modesty or meekness.
This won’t do: Homer says that meekness is of no value to the man in need, after all, if you are modest and meek, you won’t be able to speak up for yourself, which would be bad, and certainly a virtue like temperance would be good and not bad?
wode looking rightPersonally, I only value modesty for people who have much to be modest about.
As Wode Toad says: “Modesty is the opiate of the mediocre.”

The young man suggests he heard somebody say it was minding your own business.
Well, says Socrates, if everybody just minded their own business, the plumber would never come to your house, that would be meddling, physicians wouldn’t concern themselves with your body, but would only mind their own, folks couldn’t cook for others, or make clothes for others–it sounds like a pretty chaotic community, doesn’t it?
I might quote Marley: “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again
“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Now, what struck me this time through the story, was how familiar the youth Charmides’ account of this virtue was. Not that young men today are prone to temperance, but it sounds like a Madeleine_au_miroir,_Georges_de_la_Tourcertain model of what might be called “feminine virtues,” or “acting like a lady,” or “biblical womanhood,” or some other cheap brand name. Be Quiet. Be modest. Mind your own business.
Even girls who don’t have any of these things overtly said to them, have the practices of being feminine–or, by contrast, not being seen as a pushy broad, or a bitch, a tomboy, or (gasp!) a lesbian–conditioned into them. Don’t be too loud, don’t run and jerk around so, will you sit still?, stop putting yourself out there, let others talk first, don’t be so demanding, don’t be so proud, mind your own business–all of these are part of being nice, and we all want to be nice, don’t we?
I keep expecting one year to have a woman in my classes who is not aware of these expectations, especially since I get a lot of athletes, but all of them are aware of them, and of how often they have failed to live up to them.
Boys get the nice stuff a little, but women of all ages are taught to wear it like a heavy flak-jacket.

Why?

In an age of speed and communication, why do we want to tell half the population they should be slow and quiet? Why would we want to tell young people to be quiet? How much do we lose by that?Klimt_-_Pallas_Athene

In an age of loud voices, why are we telling so many bright, insightful voices they should be meek and modest? If they cannot speak up for themselves, who will? Even more, if things need to be said, they should be said, even if they are critical–especially if they are critical and we don’t want to hear them; that makes any culture stronger.

Commerce, of course, blurs the lines of minding one’s own business, but so does minding animals or children, cleaning up a creek, asking somebody how they are doing and really wanting to know, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, improving the world, showing compassion, fixing flats, and so much else.

Dancin'I once told my daughter that she comes from a long line of strong-willed women and a long line of men who somehow got a kick out of strong-willed women.
Now, my grandmother and her sisters would never want to be thought of as loud-mouthed broads–they were all proper ladies (I just wanted a catchy headline). I do, however, owe a big chunk of my notion of what a woman should be like through them, the Thomas sisters. They were all out-spoken, and that was one of the things that made them so wonderful. My grandma was demure and directed the church choir, but she could also command a crew to make thousands of hoagies in one morning a few times a year as a fund-raiser. They could all be deferential, but I would have hated to have run up against them when someone was treated unjustly–they were outspoken; they were forces of nature beautiful and terrible to behold.

Most of all, men or women, why do we make virtue about what we don’t do?
Shouldn’t it be about what we do?
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Lovely, lovely Notes

Like anyone else, I have a tendency to form an opinion and then let that opinion shape my perceptions. Of course, this is wrong; I should not let my opinions do the work for me, but should try hard to listen to my experiences and let them shape my opinions.
Opinions are a useful and necessary tool for getting a handle on this messy busy world, but aren’t as useful–and are often harmful–if they do not fit the actual world. A flat head screwdriver isn’t the best tool to unscrew a Phillips head screw; a shot-gun is even worse.
That seems hyperbole (Overstated Hyperbolic?!? From Dr Bear?!? I am shocked! Shocked!), but I am certain that each of us have encountered people who use opinions like shotguns, or even heavier artillery.

Experience is our teacher–although not always our friend–and we much be open and pay attention to her.

…But I digress, in my usual New Madrid river flow kind of way.

I have written in the past about the importance of the hand-written note,  and have spoken disdainfully about electronic communication.
While I still believe in the importance of a hand-written note, in the past few weeks I have had to re-think my view. You see, I received two lovely notes electronically, and I had to admit that they were wonderfully human, and gracious, and authentic. The writers each took time to personalize them, and each of them carried the personality of the person writing, as well as a bit of the conversations we had shared in the past. They showed a respect for me–treating me with kindness and dignity, and even some empathy.

The odd thing about them was, they were both negative responses to requests.
One was a letter from a prospective employer for whom I had made the short list, and with whom I had interviewed; it told me they would be going with another candidate, although they were very affirming of me and my credentials, and were very open about the reasons they had decided to go with the other candidate.
One was a negative response from an RSVP, but it was punctual, gracious, and very kind.

Both were so much more than a computer generated “Thank you for your interest, but…” e-mail, or a dashed off “Sorry, something came up, but let’s do coffee sometime” text.  Each was so much better than the growing tendency not to answer at all. Each of the rejection notes treated me with dignity, as a human with feelings. Each note communicated, was specific, but also was clear and firm, as adult to adult.
Both of the notes were written by human beings.

I guess that is more important than paper or pens and ink or stamps; when we communicate with other human beings, what we say should be able to pass the Turing Test–it should be clear that it is being said by a human being.

Even better, what we write or say might have some basic empathy, so that it is clear that it was said by a real Mensch.

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