Monthly Archives: August 2008

Tragic End to a New Life

I read a story online at CNN this morning about a baby who died from being shaken.  Normally I try to avoid these tragic tales because I empathize so deeply that it colors my whole day a dark depressing shade of gloomy.

But in this case I feel the need to give testimony from my own life that I wish would prevent this from happening to anyone else.

I remember among my life lessons with my first baby, stuck at home all day with this little being that depended completely upon my good will, the first time I got violently angry when she wouldn’t stop crying.  I remember there came a point when an clear image popped into my head of me throwing her against a wall.  I was just at the edge of losing control.

I wish I could tell new parents, this is okay.  This moment does not make you a bad human.  You are probably going to feel this angry, these feelings are normal, they happen, don’t freak out.

Somehow I knew to do the right thing.  As soon as I saw that image, I put her down where she was safe and I went in the other room.  She was still crying, but I knew she was safe, so I just sat by myself for a minute and tried not to be scared at how mad I was.  When I felt a little calmer a couple of minutes later, I went back in to her and I tried again to soothe her.  

I don’t feel proud of myself that I’ve never shaken or otherwise injured a baby, I just feel lucky.  I  know how strong the feelings of anger and frustration are, and I know how hard it is to be alone for extended periods with a baby.  To the people who have succumbed to the violent feelings, I feel the deepest sympathy.  I feel like it could have been me.

But no one ever talks about this.  No one ever admits to young parents how there might arise violent feelings, and how to just let them pass, which is not easy.  No one ever talks about how unnatural it is for a parent to be isolated with a young one; we are supposed to live in a tribe, are we not, with people all around to help us when life threatens to be too much to handle?  But too often we are separated in our own little box, expected to be independent and deal with things on our own.  

I am so sorry that this ever happens.  I cannot express that strongly enough.  I don’t feel like an ad campaign by the Department of Social Services is going to do the trick (I’ve seen the posters), though it might get the ball rolling.  I feel like we all have to talk about it, give genuine support to new parents and tell them the truth.  Not laugh and say, “Well, you’ll never get any sleep now!  ha ha” but tell them about the real frustrations, and let them know that we can offer advice and support if they’d like.  

I can’t stand to see this sort of tragedy happen and know in my heart that, if we behaved as if we were all in this together, we might prevent it.

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Filed under family, society

Police brutality?

There is an article in the paper about a recent Taser incident that ended with the suspect in intensive care.  Some claim it is the result of racism, and while I acknowledge that there are unfortunately still problems such as profiling, I cannot help but feel for the law enforcement officers.  When they are faced with situations of non-compliance day after day, and when these situations are often dangerous to the officers as well as the general public, I have a hard time feeling terribly sympathetic for the non-compliant suspects, though I do hope that the young man in this case recovers from his injuries.

The only weak part of the story as regards the police officer was the fact that one of the Taser leads was in the back of the suspect’s head, and when he didn’t comply with the cop’s direct order not to stand up, perhaps the man was disoriented due to the jolt of electricity he had just received so close to his brain.  I can understand those who speculate that the cop might have done better to jump on the guy during the first Taser shock (a person cannot receive a shock by touching someone being Tasered) and put cuffs on him at that point.  

It is also true that his original charges were somewhat trivial, two misdemeanors for open container and possession of marijuana, but why not just show up for court?  Once you miss your court appearance, you must know that there will be a warrant out for your arrest.  So if the police find you and attempt to fulfill their duties by arresting you on that warrant, why run?  You must know that the police will chase you, that is the job we have assigned them, and that your situation will just become worse.  

At the same time, I know that we have to keep those with power in check.  We have to make sure that the police do not abuse their authority, that they are behaving in a fair manner toward the public.  It is possible to have a camera mounted on the end of the Taser so that the whole scenario can be replayed and investigated carefully, but the police budget won’t allow for it.  

It seems to come down to the fact that we the public expect the police to keep us perfectly safe using perfectly safe and fair methods, whether we comply or not, and to do it all with a minimum of funding.

Since Tasers are being more widely used, we hear more often about the dangers associated with them, but the truth is that any chase and any method of subduing a suspect is going to be dangerous.  Shouldn’t a lot of the responsibility for the consequences of these situations be with the runner?

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Filed under society

Translation: The Ultimate Word Puzzle

I’ve started a new project that I’m liable never to finish, similar to most of the brilliant ideas I get.  I recently finished reading a book called “L’Oiseau de France” by Jean Jaussein, and I’ve now set about to translate it.  It is set in WWII and tells the story of a French soldier held prisoner by the Nazis.  

Surprisingly, it has a comic edge to it, not in subject matter but just in the way he tries to lighten up his description of the characters and the sometimes humorous things they do as they try to deal with their situation.

The writing style reminds me of Hemingway in its simultaneous depth and simplicity, which I always admire.

I am intrigued by the idea of trying to translate the slang of the period.  I wonder, should I use British or American soldier lingo from this era?  There is something distinctly false about substituting another culture’s slang for the original, since slang is such a personal form of communication that is quite rooted in a specific time and place.  But it would give the anglophone reader an atmosphere of WWII.

My main dilemma, as I work my way through page 3 of the original text, is that I still am not sure if there is already a translation published.  Not that anyone would publish mine, (not that I will even finish it!), but it would make it more fun to think that publication is a possibility.  I’ve looked online and come up with nothing.  About a week ago I emailed the publisher to inquire about the existence of an English version.  So far no response.

So until I find an answer, I will pretend that I am the only one, and I will gleefully struggle over every word, concentrating my mind not only on the true meaning of the work but also on the nuance of each phrase, the intention in each line of dialogue, never neglecting the suggestive importance of even a single definite article.

I am always aware that I hold in my hands someone else’s art, something they too must have struggled over and wanted to get just right.  And then when they’ve got it as close to perfect as it can get, someone wrecks it all by putting it through a mental wringer and squeezing it into a new-sounding shape that supposedly represents what they meant to say if only they’d been speaking that other language.  

How rude!

But I love it.  I love to teach people to understand another language so they can read it for themselves, but failing that, I love to bring a really great text a little bit closer to a lot more people.  And I love that this involves a brute force wrestling match with meaning itself.

Unless you too are a language aficionado (translation: nerd), you have not an inkling of the giddy, delicious fun of which I speak!

Trust me, dude, it’s awesome.

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Filed under writing

A New Spin on Cannibalism

My whole life I have had a fairly common neurosis: chewing my fingernails.  Except that mine goes beyond the nail to include the skin at the side of the nail and a fair way down the finger, especially on my thumbs.

Euw.

Periodically I go into remission.  Up until just recently I had managed to keep nice nails for a couple of years, so nice that they actually got filed and painted (with clear polish… that’s as froo-froo as I get!)

Then a few months ago I slammed the middle finger of my left hand in the car door.  Aside from feeling incredibly stupid and having to push my fingernail back down onto my finger (and my lunch back down into my stomach), it wasn’t a big deal.

Except then I had this awesome mangled finger to pick at.  And once I had the one, I might as well tug at another until it rips, and then I might as well straighten it out by removing more of the nail with my teeth, and then… 

I currently have four chew toys on my hands.  I don’t know how I manage to leave the other six fingers alone (when I was a kid I chewed all of them all the time.)  During the day I leave them all alone because I’m always doing something else with my hands… typing, cooking, changing dirty diapers, etc.  But when I sit down to watch tv or a movie in the evening, I won’t even realize I’m gnawing until I’ve already started in on the healed bits.

Once I bought myself a really cheap silver ring with a cool spiral on it and I made myself promise that if I wore it, I would have to stop decimating the finger it was on.  That made me quit for a while.  So I just need to buy myself jewelry?  What am I, courting my hands?  

Do I need to wear gloves?  It’s so hot, though!  Tabasco won’t work because I LOVE spicy food.  Do I need to include more protein in my diet so I don’t consume my own self?  Do I need extensive psychotherapy?  (Like THAT isn’t obvious!)

Could be worse, I suppose.  At least I have the opportunity to ponder the mysterious workings of the human mind.

I just can’t hold anything up for someone to look at closely or else they’re bound to remark, “Ooooh!  What’d you do to your finger?”

Sigh.  I ate it.

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Filed under psychology, Uncategorized

Yummy!

Here is how the bread turned out.  We haven’t quality controlled it yet, I figure we will wait and eat it with the roast and veggies tonight.

See, I really am nutty enough to celebrate my lucky number!

When I told the kids I was making “8 bread” they all thought I said “ape bread” and proceeded to jump around making ape noises for the next hour.  (Actually, I think I still hear them at it!)

I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I took half the dough and made this:

Yes, I know, it looks more like a cow, but what can you do…

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Filed under food

The day of 8’s

Happy 8 Day to everyone!

In case you hadn’t read my previous post on the subject, today is the day of 8’s, which is special to me because when I was little I found 8 four-leaf clovers in my yard, and from that day on my lucky number has been 8.

I think I will make some kind of figure 8 shaped bread to celebrate.  

Not too many things have happened in my life to reinforce this attachment I have to the number 8.  The only one I can think of right now is that I waited tables at a Chinese restaurant for several years, and my waitress number was 8.  I wasn’t given the choice, either, that was just what the boss assigned me when I first started.  The cool thing was that all the numbers on the light-up board (used to tell you when you had food up) were sideways, so I liked to joke that my number was actually infinity.

My husband said he is going to buy 8 lottery tickets today.  I think lottery tickets are a waste of money, but it makes me feel good that he is playing along, and that he is always trying to be positive about the future.  I love that we are able to be silly together and keep life light when it is always trying to be overwhelming.

I wish I could say that the number 8 had always been so lucky for me that I could infuse this post with good fortune and everyone who read it would have a wonderful thing happen to them, or at least that I could somehow share the celebratory bread with you (I do make good bread…)  

But in a way, it seems lucky enough that we are able to make this brief cyber-connection, that even though the subject matter is goofy, we are able to play along together and enjoy each other’s company.

And know that I always wish the best for all of us, no matter how many 8’s are in the date.

(Okay, see I really am a goofball, I just remembered another big 8 in my life… I graduated high school in ’88!)

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Filed under Life

Think Big

Occasionally my fantasies include teaching a high school English course.  (Is there any greater admission of nerdhood?)

I imagine how I would present the all-important lessons designed to develop a rich vocabulary, vital not only because an enhancement of one’s lexicon is generally recognized as a key to increasing intelligence, but also because I totally dig words.

Having a wider range of vocabulary seems to be especially vital in our modern world where language as dictated by pop culture becomes formulaic.  “I’m lovin’ it!”  LOL   BTW,  “Don’t just buy stuff- do stuff.”  

However, despite its power, vocab seems to be almost universally hated and resisted by students.

Perhaps a handout would convince them:

Reasons to apply yourself to the study of vocabulary:

  1. To impress your girl-/boyfriend’s parents
  2. To impress a potential employer
  3. To be able to understand people who are smarter than you, or think they are, who are trying to manipulate you in person, in writing, or in a speech
  4. To think deeper thoughts

Though I know the students would categorically refuse to be persuaded by any amount of reasoning, I myself find the last reason to be the most compelling.

Peter Gabriel expressed the idea on his album, “So.”

“The place where I come from is a small town/they think so small/they use small words/-but not me/I’m smarter than that/I worked it out/I’ve been stretching my mouth/to let those big words come right out”

No offense to small towns. I’ve spent some good years in a few small towns.  But you have to admit the perspective tends to be on the narrow side.  Though I believe the song has a sarcastic, almost satirical edge, still there is a grain of truth — when you use exclusively small words, you tend to think small, that is, shallow thoughts.  There is no nuance to the representation of your ideas, if indeed they are ideas and not just thoughtlessly repeated cliché.  IDK  “Live well.”  WTF

In his novel “1984” George Orwell told of Big Brother who sought to abolish “Oldspeak,” which is English as we speak it.  “It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought… should be literally unthinkable… Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”

Students who refuse to learn “big words” are unwittingly participating in this narrowing of thought; with fewer shapes to use, when we fit the pieces of life’s puzzle together, we can only create the same old tired designs.

Thus we must encourage the enthusiastic scholarship that seeks to master the utilization of a cornucopia of expressive terminology, that our most intimate mental machinations may emerge fully illuminated.

Or else, we all may as well speak in trademarked slogans with our brains turned off.

OMG.  Just do it.

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Filed under education