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This is an old blog post about an even older story (Holly's linkblogs: never knowingly relevant!) but I just read it the other day and found it really striking.
To preserve as many scraps of the dying language as possible, linguists have taken Esenç to Oslo and to Paris, where he has been four times. Others have trooped rutted tracks to the farm village of Haci Osman where the last of the Ubykh speakers lives in a hut with a dirt floor. Mr. Esenç became the primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture and customs of the Ubykh people. To elucidate some of the puzzling features of the language, Mr. Esenç even allowed himself to be X-rayed while articulating. One interesting issue raised by the necessity of working with just one speaker of the language is whether his way of speaking is representative of the language in general or is peculiar to him alone. In the case of Mr. Esenç, it turned out that he was a purist, and therefore his idiolect of Ubykh (i.e. personal way of speaking) is considered by some as the closest thing to a standard “literary” Ubykh language that existed.
That consonant inventory! (This bit's a little technical but I wanted to copy it for my own admiration as much as anything, but I can try to explain if people want.)
It has consonants in at least eight, perhaps nine, basic places of articulation, distinguishing for example alveolar, post-alveolar, alveolo-palatal and retroflex affricates and fricatives. It also distinguishes plain, palatalized and labialized stops and fricatives. Its sound inventory contains 29 distinct fricatives, 27 sibilants, 20 uvulars and 3 different l-sounds, more than any other documented language. Ubykh also has the most disproportional ratio of phonemic consonants to vowels (though analyses of different scholars produce different vowel phoneme counts). Thus, as John Colarusso remarked, “any rigorous account of human phonetic perceptual capacity will have to take into account this precious marvel, Ubykh”. And luckily some of it is now recorded on Georges Dumézil’s file cards, on tape and in those X-ray images of Mr. Esenç. (You can hear some sample Ubykh sound files here.)
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I really like PZ Myers' headcanon for this:
I think it’s all a hoax, and have a hypothesis.

Opportunity saw an opportunity in the last dust storm, and while its overseers couldn’t see it, it scurried off to a quiet, secluded spot, switched off its transmitters, and is doing its own thing without the humans looking over its shoulder all the time. One possible motive for this behavior is to make Earth stop taking it for granted, and realize that it misses the plucky little robot.
It's so amazing, how these little rovers made for ninety days stick around for years and years (almost fifteen, in Oppy's case!), taking photos and driving around and having humans look after them, humans that not only glean untold useful wonderful science but also frame the rovers' activities in ways that endear them to a massive public audience. I nearly teared up this morning reading a Twitter thread about it. We can't help but think the little lumps of metal are adventurous and brave, devoted to their cause.

These lumps of metal may be meeting their inevitable fate but they also represent years of time and effort from hundreds of people. And they're an important reminder that as much of a trash fire as modern life can be, people are still collaborating in amazing things and wonders are still wrought.
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I am a huge fan of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation. When it came out, I was at peak "I will never be able to study this properly again so I want to remind myself why I love it," so I bought it. The book came with a CD (of the modern English, read by Seamus Heaney himself), and I've listened to that more than I've read the book. Annoying since I was particularly excited to get in this translation by a favorite poet something I'd always wanted anyway: layout with Old English on one side of the open book and modern English on the other.

Turns out I've been missing other good stuff he had to say about it, from the introduction, which I saw linked here.

First there's "so." I love 'so.'  )

But what I really came here to talk about was thole. When that tumblr poster put up the screenshot with (part of) what I've just quoted here, another called it "the exact moment I feel for Heaney’s Beowulf. You know. From the first word." Another said the single word that made them love it was even earlier, also in that introduction, and it's thole. Or þolian. Heaney explains:
What happened was that I found in the glossary to C. L Winn's edition of the poem the Old English word meaning 'to suffer,' the word þolian; and although at first it looked completely strange with its thorn symbol instead of the familiar th, I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country when I grew up. 'They'll just have to learn to thole,' my aunt would say about some family who had suffered through an unforseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was 'thole' in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly edition, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt's language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across unto Ulster with the planters, and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish, and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line, 'Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,' my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered. The far-flungness of the word, the phenomenological pleasure of finding it variously transformed by Ransom's modernity and Beowulf's venerability made me feel vaguely something for which again I only found the words years later. What I was experiencing as I kept meeting up with thole on its multi-cultural odyssey was the feeling that Osip Madelstam once defined as a 'nostalgia for world culture.' And this was a nostalgia I didn't even know I suffered until I experienced its fulfillment in this little epiphany. It was as if, on the analogy of baptism by desire, I had undergone something like illumination by philology. And even though I did not know it at the time, I had by then reached the point where I was ready to translate Beowulf. Þolian had opened my right of way.
Beowulf is impossible for modern people to read without special study, but still there are these threads connecting it to us, and we are lucky to have people like Seamus Heaney to show us how. The world widened, something was furthered, indeed: thanks to him, a thousand-year-old Germanic saga is being talked about on Tumblr.


Oct. 26th, 2018 08:29 pm
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An internet/Lib Dem friend of mine shared a Facebook meme that goes "Comment and I'll reply with how I'd introduce you in a novel" and he's just written theost wonderful reply to me:
"She sat with a half-smile and a glass of gin, listening to the conversation at the next table for a moment as associations from it - Sheffield steel, a missed bus ride, worlds outside worlds - registered and worked their way into place in her mind. A tablet computer in front of her, screen dull from a few moments' disuse, boldly showed a range of phonemes and letters, script by script.

A creaking door, and a familiar voice, and she moved her coat and cane aside for another figure to sit by her, and she was home. This was home - where she wanted it to be, where the people who were home were, where the things that fascinated her were. The tablet screen turned itself off altogether, and a second gin was shortly on the way."
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The Doctor is a traveller in time and space.
my friend Alex writes. So far, so totally normal for me. I've been hearing about Doctor Who since my second visit to the UK started the week after the show re-started in 2005 (and I got to watch "Rose" because the friend I was staying with had taped it on her VCR; that's how long ago 2005 is).

But then!
She goes anywhere she likes...
Now that did something to me. Like going to gigs to listen to Stuart's otherwise-all-female band, like watching new Ghostbusters or Ocean's Eight or Wonder Woman. I never adequately take into account how affecting I find it when men are not the default. As the least feeling-like-a-woman of all the women I know, I never expect seeing women as main characters will make feel any different but it absolutely does.

And I feel that same kind of way -- somehow more excited and more settled at the same time -- when I read a paragraph calling this character "she." In all the time I've been in the UK, I've been hearing about the Doctor, but I'd never heard the Doctor called "she" before. And he wasn't just talking about characteristics of this Doctor -- she's blonde, she has a West Yorkshire accent -- Alex was saying this about traits that'd always been associated with the Doctor.
She goes anywhere she likes, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. She respects life rather than authority, and obeys no-one else’s rules. She lives by her own joy in exploring new places and times, and by her own moral sense to fight oppression. She prefers to use her intelligence rather than violence, and she takes friends with her to explore the wonders of the Universe.
I shared Alex's post in a tweet where I tried to cram in what a big deal the she/her pronouns were for me, and when he saw it he was good enough to share a bit of the thinking that'd gone into what he'd written about this.
I always wanted to do the Doctor as 'she' because all the versions have been simply about the current one. I did think carefully about 'they' for the Doctors in general, but we're always talking about the current one as if she's all of them, because she is, so why change that?
Some friends of mine had a thoughtful discussion about this, particularly about "they," after we saw the first episode last Sunday night. I found myself instinctively reacting against "they," for reasons I couldn't articulate, but other people could manage it and what they said definitely resonated.

In the case of a Doctor, a single person who keeps changing bodies, the "they" could add some confusion if it's mistaken for a plural -- all those faces. "They" could also sound like the compromise of someone who's not quite on board with the (bizarrely contentious) notion of a woman being the Doctor. And most importantly of all, the Doctor has never, in any of her incarnations, expressed any indication of being non-binary or using they pronouns. She seems surprised but not misgendered when Yaz calls her a woman, and later refers to the clothes she needs to buy as "women's clothes."

Alex included several quotes in his blog post, from "Doctor Who people" as he calls them -- writers, the current and previous Doctors, etc. Alex changed the pronouns in the quotes [all but Verity Lambert's, which is definitely about the First Doctor] and he told me,
I decided they were the exact quotes even when I was changing them, and took especial license (and pleasure) with Terrance Dicks' words because I suspect he'd disapprove.
And some of the differences were about more than pronouns. One bit of that Terrance Dicks quote now reads "The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, she is someone of peace. She is never cruel or cowardly." And about this Alex said the loveliest thing of all:
It was difficult because it was the only bit where I had to do more than change the he and him: "he is a man of peace." I chiselled at that for a while: "a woman of peace" didn't scan for me, "person" for the same reason and also ducking the gender, and so on. I left it highlighted and came back later with "someone of peace," which isn't quite right, but seemed to have the same flow saying it aloud, and I felt that was important, like translating poetry.
There's more I could say about this Doctor now that we've seen her first story, but what was meant to be a little aside/introduction about her pronouns has grown into so many words I don't want to add any more to it, so maybe I'll write about the episode another time. Maybe even before there's another one! But maybe not.
hollymath: (G)
I can't tell you how delighted linguists are that they've got their own version of That Dress. They've got a reason to talk to people about formants! I think this is the most fun the profession has had in interacting with the world since Arrival!

Whatever you hear, if you're interested at all in it I can really recommend Language Log's post on the sound that might be "yanny" and might be "laurel."

It starts by taking people really gently through some stuff that I've actually just started to learn, about the sounds involved in speech and how to read a spectrogram. (Handily I have my phonology/phonetics exam on Monday, so reading all the layperson-targeted articles about yanny/laurel totally counts as studying, right?)

Then it gets a bit eldritch.
You see some faint stripes that look like lighter-gray formants at those higher frequencies. Those shouldn't be there. Humans can't produce those
I heard the higher-frequency formant sequences when I first listened to this signal two hours ago and thought that they maybe were someone talking in the background. Then I thought "ERMERGERD, IT'S THE AUDIO VERSION OF THE RING.
It's not really a Lovecraftian madness-inducer, and as far as I know a girl isn't going to crawl out of your speakers and kill you for listening. But it is pretty weird.

It's a lovely blogpost, the best thing I've read on Language Log in a long time. Since a lot of you will understandably not care enough to read it, though, I just wanted to quote a couple of the notes at the end:
Speech is hard to understand. We might naively think it's easy to understand because we use it all the time (at least, folks who communicate in the oral/aural modalities do). Speech acoustics (and acoustics in general) are, in my thinking, not intuitive. Moreover, this body of knowledge doesn't build on other bodies of knowledge that most people have. When you learn about language in school, it's mostly about written language, not spoken. That's not me being snotty, but rather me saying that it must be hard to write about this kind of information for a broad audience, because it's three layers removed from what most people think about daily. Even disentangling the types of frequencies ('what is the lowest-frequency tuning fork?' vs. 'what are the frequencies of the loudest tuning forks?') takes a little bit of a conceptual leap. One of the reasons why speech is such a neat phenomenon is because there is so much work to be done still at the ground level. I hope that this phenomenon will inspire people to think more about speech science, experimental phonetics, and the nascent field called 'laboratory phonology'. Good places to start looking for work on these topics are www.acousticalsociety.org and www.labphon.org.
as someone whose primary job is to train people to be speech-language pathologists, consider this. Did you find listening to this audio sample maddeningly hard? Welcome to the daily world of people for whom speech perception is not always automatic. This includes people with even mild hearing loss, people with subtle auditory perception and processing problems that are associated with various learning disabilities (developmental language disorder, speech sound disorder, dyslexia, autism spectrum conditions), and even new second-language learners. The frustration that you might have felt listening to this signal is what many of these folks face on a daily basis when listening to something as seemingly simple as trying to identify speech in the presence of background noise. Turn your frustration into empathy and advocacy for those folks. Learn more at www.asha.org, and support your local speech-language pathologists and audiologists!
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when you’ve spent much of your first decade of adulthood in another country, exposed to another dominant variety of English, the "tune" of your voice is often the very first element to get sucked into the vortex. It’s often, in fact, the sole element, no matter how hard you’re trying, at a micro level, to hold on for dear life to your original vowels and consonants.
Fucking tell me about it.

I don't know who Alex Turner is really, or why people think he sounds like an old cowboy, but I read this article anyway and I'm glad I did.

I like the way the linguist is refuting the notion that this person "he now hates Britain and wishes he was Johnny Cash." She clearly doesn't think he sounds very American at all and that to the extent that he does it isn't likely to be an affectation. But she's pretty nice about saying so.

I think it's a shame really that the extent to which people's accents do or don't change is perceived as a big, deliberate thing, a political statement or something, when actually it's something that happens mostly unconsciously (to the extent that we're pretty bad at consciously attempting to change, for the most part).

My accent has changed more than I'd like; it doesn't fit my politics (which are much more egalitarian than that: I refuse to believe that any dialect is inherently "better" than any other but here I am conforming to local norms despite myself) but it happened anyway. I think a lot of the time we're not saying it's better for him to sound like to sound like Johnny Cash or for me to sound like, I don't know, Shaun Ryder; we're just not able to hold on to our original vowels and consonants.
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And still the plight of migrants and their families doesn’t resonate with the British public as loudly as it should. I have heard the argument that no one has a right to settlement in a country that is not their country of birth many times. But other than in asylum cases or when people are joining family members, it is often the case that a life in the UK just develops organically. Sudan, where I am from, is in my bones, but the UK is where I had built a life just by virtue of the time I spent here. Via study and work, relationships and just the day-to-day of living, an investment is made in the country that you do not wish to unwind. Is that not, at its heart, what integration is? Is that not, allegedly, the Holy Grail? Satbir Singh, having won the right to bring his wife to the UK after the Home Office admitted its mistake, reflects on what is now, effectively and deliberately, an alienating process. “The first interaction you have with the state is suspicion, that you are a liar, a cheat and a fraud. This is an enormous roadblock to integration.”

In 2017, the permanent residency that was granted on appeal qualified me for British citizenship. More than a decade after that moment of pregnant possibility on a balcony in Bethnal Green, and 14 years after excitedly taking in the view of London’s parks on a train from the airport, I was making my way towards my naturalisation with leaden feet. The citizenship had been so shorn of its significance, so stripped of its essential meaning, that the ceremony felt like a formality. And when it was over it felt hollow. My relief was dulled by exhaustion and sadness that becoming the citizen of a country in which I had invested so much had been marred by an extractive, dishonest and punitive system. I now looked forward to only one thing – to never have to think about any of it again.

“They don’t want you to integrate,” Farsani had told me. “They want you to fail so they can point their fingers at you and say, ‘Look, immigrants do not integrate’.” But we do, because the country, in spite of its broken immigration system, slowly, organically, casually, naturalises you in ways that cannot be validated by a Life in the UK test, citizenship ceremony or exhaustive application dossier. But daily this natural, healthy process is being violated, via administrative incompetence and politically instructed cruelty, to fulfil a soundbite “tens of thousands” target the government cannot meet, and is too proud to jettison.
Reading this was hard on me -- I saw it shared on a friend's Facebook and knew I had to but also I had to work up to it because I knew it'd be hard on me. It was; I teared up a little at a lot of places but especially here at the end of the article because that's exactly how my citizenship ceremony felt: hollow and bestowing on me only the benefit of not having to think about it any more. Even when my UK passport arrived, I just calmly opened the envelope and took it upstairs to file away with the other passports with no thought other than I never have to think about this again.

It was good for me too; it got me working on my book for the first time in way too long. I'm ashamed now of how long it's taken, but I think I am making good progress.
hollymath: (G)
I saw, and you might have seen too, excited news stories recently about a 10th-century Viking textile with Arabic on it. My friend Maria shared a great article about how and why we know that this is overstating the case a little, and why it matters.

The style of writing that was claimed to have been used here wasn't developed until five hundred years later in another part of the world. This instead seems to be a "pseudo" version of Arabic script, designs meant to look like Arabic but not to contain any actual words.

I am particularly interested in this because the headline "word" that was supposed to be in this Viking textile was of course "Allah." And my four-lessons worth of Arabic so far is almost exactly enough for me to understand the mistake that needs to be made to think that this says "Allah." Here's the explanation from Stephennie Mulder's article:
the drawing doesn’t actually say “Allah” at all. Instead, it says “lllah” للله, a nonsensical word in Arabic. The first letter is a not an alif (an a), but a lam, (an l). Though the Arabic letters alif and lam resemble each other, alif never connects to the letters following it, as lam does. Arabic phrases like al-hamdulillah (الحمد لله) incorporate the phrase “li-llāh,” which in that context means (praise) to God. However the phrase “to God” doesn’t typically stand alone, and it’s always spelled لله with two uprights, not three. To argue that “lllah” and “Allah” are the same would be as absurd as arguing that “Dod” and “God” are the same word.
Most letters in Arabic writing join up (the script itself has been described in my beginner's textbook as a kind of shorthand), but a few of them do not! They were one of the first set of letters we learned, and my teacher calls them "naughty letters" because they don't follow the rule about joining to the letter after them.

I still can't read all the letters, but we're sometimes asked in class to pick out the ones that we're learning from a newspaper headline or whatever, and I've found myself doing this with signs in Arabic that I see in my neighborhood, which is a pretty great feeling (I still can't read the words, because Arabic doesn't write down many of its vowels, so sometimes I can tell you all the letters in a word but they're mostly consonants and I still have no idea what it sounds like, but it's better than seeing them only as undifferentiated squiggles). But I have noticed I've confused alif and lam this way, many times! I still do it though I'm getting better.

I guess it's nice to know it's not just me who struggles with things like this as an absolute beginner. But Mulder's article is mostly not about this, it's mostly full of interesting details and a really good point about why it matters to see the medieval world as the multicultural place scholars know it to be.
this story likely went viral in part because of recent events. Charlottesville revealed to all what has long been known among medievalists: that white supremacists use medieval imagery and symbolism to further their cause. At Charlottesville we saw medieval banners and chants with Crusader phrases like Deus vult (God wills!). White supremacists are attracted to medieval imagery for a simple reason: they believe the medieval era was a time when Europe was white.
Many, in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Trump — both of which events rode on anti-immigrant sentiment and a false narrative of past racial purity — want to see glimpses of our genuinely culturally diverse past. So the Viking “Allah” textile exhibits what Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness.” In other words, it feels like it ought to be right, but in this case, doesn’t stand the test of evidence.

Some might argue that to dismiss any of the evidence for such interaction plays into the hands of white supremacists, and indeed, since I wrote my thread a few right-wing media stories referring to it have appeared, most of which, predictably, distort my overall message. But if we accept a manipulation of the facts, we are no different than white supremacists for whom manipulation of the facts is their stock in trade. It is our method and standard of evidence that separates the work of art historians, historians, archaeologists, and other experts from the hateful distortions peddled by white supremacists.
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[personal profile] lilysea shared a great article on accessibility, or more accurately the lack thereof, at the University of Sydney.

It's fairly long, and all very good, but one paragraph from it particularly stood out for me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
For staff members, the situation isn’t much better. Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes, a lecturer in Aboriginal education, is one of only eight blind and low vision academics in Australia. She estimates that she spends about 25 extra hours a week making up for inaccessibility. Turnitin and Grade Centre are both inaccessible for screen reading software, and PDF documents are “sheer hell”. And, unfailingly, the cobblestones. In order to avoid them, Sheelagh’s guide dog Nina insists on taking her on a roundabout route through the Law buildings.
Partly this is of course because I'm starting to navigate university life while partially sighted. PDFs are sheer hell and people think they're accessible because they're electronic like that's magic or something.

But what has stuck with me is the estimate of losing 25 hours a week to dealing with inaccessibility. I've said many times now I've spent more time and energy on dealing wiht the admin associated with being a student than I have on reading or writing or thinking or learning. It's not all directly related to inaccessibility for me, like in the article, but it all adds up to the feeling that like the feminist idea of women doing a "second shift" of work when they get home from the dayjob to cook and clean and look after children, I have a second shift of sighted-guide-wrangling, getting lost today on my way to a new building (not something I could wrangle a sighted guide for in time because I didn't have enough notice), being distracted in a meeting by an ankle that was sore because I'd just fallen up some stairs on the way to it, waiting for the next bus after one zoomed past me at a stop today which they're not supposed to do, deciding whether any individual thing is worth complaining about...

I don't know how many hours I spend dealing with inaccessibility a week, but this academic's phrase reminded me of a poem I adore, "Girl Hours", which is actually about a kind of Hidden-Figures set of women in the late 19th century. The director reckoned the difficulty of astronomical projects in "girl hours," the number of hours these human computers would need in order to do the work. There must be some equivalent in disabled hours.
Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
oh stars.

Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.
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This morning, [personal profile] white_hart shared a quote from C.S. Lewis:
"If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."
If we'd been much later, it'd have found Andrew and I on a tram home from a lovely night out.

One of Andrew's friends who lives in Australia was in Bury doing some work, and invited us out for dinner with him, his wife and the people they'd been working with all day, recording an audio drama for a podcast. It was a lot of fun, and it's always good to see Andrew enjoy himself in social situations, especially ones where people tried to guess his second-favorite Beatles album.

And because his friend was in Bury, we got a train to town and then a tram to Bury. Chatting idly along the way about how long it'd been since we'd been to Bury, having flashbacks at the tram stop that we used to use all the time when I first met Andrew, what kind of commute I'd have if I got a job I applied for, which would involve one of the tram stops along the way. On the way back, we were nearly half-asleep.

The tram went through Victoria station, right next to the entrance to the arena, about an hour before the bomb.

I went home and almost straight to bed. I already had an e-mail from my mom asking if I was all right, when I still thought this might have been a speaker blowing up or something that had spooked people. We were surprised she'd heard about it so quickly (if my parents knew how, I'm sure they'd set up a google alert for "incidents in the UK" and e-mail me about all of them, but barring that I have no idea how they manage).

I did not tell her I'd been on a tram going past there an hour before.

This morning I woke up to another e-mail from her asking if Andrew's family (the only other people she knows in the country) were okay, and it was all I could do not to tell her that I couldn't imagine any of them being at at an Ariana Grande concert.

No, those are for kids. I can't handle thinking of all the teenagers' parents today.

I woke up to other e-mails too, one from my old "blind teacher" who I hadn't heard from in years. People in North America had been fretting about us while we slept. FB and skype messages too, when I hadn't even thought I was logged into skype. By the time I read and could respond to them, the people who'd written them were asleep, hopefully not too worried about us.

One of those North Americans was awake, and upon hearing that we and ours are fine, said, "YEESH thank goodness yet it is still awful so be kind to yourselves PLEASE, eh?"

I hadn't thought of this as something I needed to be kind to myself about, but I replied to my friend, "Such a sad demographic to lose people from: the pictures being shared around social media of people who are still missing are of fourteen, fifteen year olds. I am having to be a bit careful around it actually for all the mentions of grieving parents, which inevitably remind me of my grieving parents saying no one's kids should die before them. I hope the strangers do no mind that my eyes are wet with tears for me as well as for them."

In his invariably lovely way, he said, "Of course that's what grieving is all about, dear Holly. My loss is your loss, your loss is mine. We're all in this together, though most of the time we don't see it. For you to think of your own family in this way shows a great respect for what other people are suffering with: connect us all together, connect you to me and me to you."
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Thank you, The Paris Review
The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope.
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This is something I wrote a while ago and never posted, for reasons I no longer remember. It's not a resolution, but it seems as good a manifesto to start off this new year as any.

I started on LJ with a very annoying style, that of the cute precocious kid who was too old for that twee stuff now but hadn't yet learned what to replace the too-clever, artfully structured, neatly-tied-up-with-a-moral-at-the-end kind of writing that'd made my high school English teachers love me.

I like to think I've improved a bit since then, but I do still tend to write only when I've got something that will amuse or interest what I imagine my readership to be. So vehemently did I resist the everyday updateishness kind of journaling that my LJ wasn't a very good way to find out what was going on in my life: I'd happily write all about having Chipotle for breakfast but never mentioned that I had a girlfriend, or failed a class, or moved, or the kind of basic stuff that people usually tell each other when they catch up after some time apart.

It's a bit hypocritical of me, because I love to read that kind of thing from other people: I love reading about your dreams and how you got caught in the rain on your way to the bus stop and what you're making for dinner and what you drank last night and how work went and everything. Absolutely love it. But I've never been very good at telling that stuff for its own sake myself.

So it was kind of interesting for me to read this article on how writing about the ordinary experiences of your life can be even more cheering to you when you go back and read them as the extraordinary ones.

It turns out, people are bad at predicting how much they'll enjoy reading back what they've wrriten about their lives.

Which, actually, doesn't surprise me because I had to read Our Town in high school and it fucked up my brain, it appears, permanently. It's a play about ordinary boring small-town early-20th-C. Americans who do ordinary things like be born and deliver the milk and get married and all that.

The part that's always stuck with me is Emily, at the end. She's a young wife who's died in childbirth, and we see her among the dead, people she recognizes from her little town where nothing ever changes much. Those who've been dead any length of time don't feel any great connection to the living world or the things that mattered to them while they were in it, but Emily is new and still attached to what she loves. She wants to re-live her life. The old dead folks tell her that it's possible but advise her against it. She insists, though, and sees her twelfth birthday: her mother is up early nagging the children to get ready for school, her father comes home with a present for her. Small talk is made about the cold.

Emily starts out very excited -- "Oh,that's the town I knew as a little girl. And, look, there's the old white fence that used to be around our house. Oh, I'd forgotten that! Oh, I love it so!" "Oh! how young Mama looks! I didn't know Mama was ever that young" -- but as she watches the conversation unfold, she starts to get agitated: "I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I'm here. I'm grown up. I love you all, everything. I can't look at everything hard enough."

Finally she says, "I can't. I can't go on....I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed."

Well, ever since then, I've fucking noticed. Reading that play made me cry, not in class but after, and I think quite a few of my tears since have been shed thanks to this, in some way. Because I too grew up in a small town where nothing ever seems to change much, and while of course I didn't die I did move away, and that has had a similar effect to me: I'm still here, I can see it all in my memory, but they can't see me and they don't know how much I treasure these images, these people, their ordinary lives.

So I'm trying to practice writing about the everyday stuff that I have so long been so bad at. Let's see if it gets me anywhere.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
My crash course in Canadian politics courtesy of Plok continues (it was more fun in the freezing Blue Bell beer garden last November, but e-mail will do while we're 6,000 miles apart), this morning updating me on the context for the election results. Canada sounds like a pretty good place to be right now! But since me and mine are elsewhere, I was hoping by the time I was halfway through his e-mail that basically what he said at the end of it would come to be:
Anyway, it is my happiness to say that insignificant Canada has maybe been here a bit like Bilbo talking aloud to the ravens so that one day soon one of your Bard-like countries can successfully plant an arrow in Smaug's heart. Y'know?

Like: you could say "look at Canada, Canada's FINE, Canada's doing BETTER THAN EVER, for God's sake Canada just repaired all its *roads*...!"

Anyway that's the hope.

Good morning!
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
(thanks [personal profile] andrewducker)

It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.

You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything.

But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, having difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures.

Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
As is so often the case, my favorite part of this blog post is what's in the parentheses.
Sadly, the article is locked (quite rightly, humanities can kill if not used correctly)
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I'm reading a book that's just mentioned Philip Gosse, a Victorian naturalist who coined the word aquarium and popularized the interest in and study of animals with books he wrote.

There's a great quote from him here.
Gosse wrote meticulous descriptions of all the creatures he captured in nets and chiseled from rocks. He measured and catalogued polyps and tentacles, fronds, spines and bristles; he noted their diets and watched their behavior. "Stand still, you beauty!" he exclaimed to the prawn, "and don't shoot round and round the jar in that retrograde fashion, when I want to jot down your elegant ligaments!"


hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)

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