Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Roger U Roundly- Cunning Linguist

One regret I have in life is that I'm not fluent in another language. And it's my own damn fault- I could've knuckled down and gained at least a  working knowledge of German or French or Spanish, all languages I've studied to varying extents in school, but just never got into it at the time. Okay,  all three times. Welll, it was mandatory, and anything(especially at that age)that's Someone Else's Idea you have a built-in resistance towards. So there you go. 

Funny, I'm still like that as far as going along with Someone Else's Idea, to some extent. Some things never change. But as far as foreign language goes, my great regret at not knowing another tongue(yes I know, I could do it now, but..) shows that I have a great love for language. I think language is cool. 

So even though I haven't mastered another tongue(at least not as yet), I have picked up a lot as far as the linguistic landscape. Well, actually a little about a lot. It's truly amazing, if you think about it, how much language you just pick up by your own osmosis, and by how many sources. 

My Mom told me about my coming home from school, from Kindergarten, all of five years old, speaking Spanish, but the earliest foreign language I remember was, believe it or not, Armenian

Yes, Armenian. Two phrases: duru paz(open the door); and duru pak(close the damn door). Courtesy of our Dad, who got them from his Armenian roommate from Law School, one Shahen Igian. My brother and I heard duru paz and duru pak constantly growing up(our Dad, God love him, had a tendency to overdo things--a trait which his elder son seems to share at times, unfortunately), and I don't know what became of it in my brother's household, but I think that the duru was pak from there. 

Okay, Armenian. That's one. Coming up as a music student from a young age, since all directions in classical music are written mainly in Italian, I have a few words under my belt- a lot more than I thought I did when I took a look at an Italian Language book. Still, I probably couldn't ask directions based on what I know--but I could ask how fast or slowly something was going. 

From reading Philip Roth(and Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People), I've picked up a few Yiddish words. Even a few relatively obscure ones like rachmones, which means compassion; and shaygets, which means disgusting, repulsive. The book Be Here Now yielded a handful of words in Hindi and Sanskrit. As a kid of 17, 18 years old I read Be Here Now so many times that a few of those words are just etched into my brain. Siddhis, which means powers. Sadhana, which means one's spiritual work. Hridyam, one's heart. 

Some years back, there were a couple of unusual films on cable TV's Independent Film Channel, both of them from Copenhagen. I got on a kick for a little while of watching movies from over there, and in the process ended up learning about 100 words(and some phrases)in the Danish language. Many of those words are floating around up there in my noggin as well. I think my favorite Danish word is Endetarmsåbning- pronounced en-de-tahms-OH-bning. It means rectum. I think it's medical. 

They have the same alphabet we do, plus three extra letters: ø(pronounced ur);å(pronounced OH-which we just saw in my favorite dansk ord); and last but not least, æ(pronounced eh). I met a lady from Denmark fairly recently, and tried out some of the dansk sproge(Danish language)I knew- or thought I knew. It came out more German. Actually if I ever found myself over there(and I do have a few musiker venner som kende jeg på Internet--musician friends whom I know from the Internet), I'd limit myself to only three of their words: taler de engelsk. It means, do you speak English? 

Hm, during that same period, I worked with someone who was fairly conversant in Czech, so there's another one. Trying to remember some of the phrases he taught me- will fill in as memory supplies-the only one I can think of right off the bat is kind of appetite-reducing, but it's all I've got, so: kermit ryby. Pronounced ker-mit ree-bee. It means, literally, feed the fish, but refers really to ralphing. Retching. Regurgitating. Okay, that's enough R's. Or any other letter of the alphabet. Whoever's alphabet..  

I don't know how many characters are in the Czech alphabet(yes yes, I could look..)but they do have their own weirdass notations on some of the letters, and- speaking of R's-some strange half-rolled/half-guttural rrr sounds. Czech belongs to(and again, being too lazy to look it up for sure)the Cyrillic group of languages, of which Russian is also a part. All I know about the Russian language, besides da, nyet, and das vidanya, is that they have 33 characters and one of them looks like a sphincter. End of story there. 

As far as Asian languages, a few Korean words from a brief stint in Tae Kwon Do: a martial arts studio(a dojo in Karate)is called a dojang; one's teacher(Sensei in Karate)is Sabonym; the master instructor is Kwanjangnym. Plus a few Japanese words, from spending a very nice week there in October of 1995. 

Kwanjangnym. Is that a cool name or what? Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, courtesy of Charles Schulz. Opu. It's Hawaiian for stomach. (Lotsa cool stuff from Charles Schulz over the years, among my favorites the information about phobias: Hypengyophobia- the fear of responsibility; Ailoraphobia- the fear of cats; Gephyrophobia- the fear of bridges, etc..). 

So that's Armenian, Italian, Yiddish(just a dialect, I know), Hindi, Sanskrit, Danish, Czech, Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian. In addition to the French, German and Spanish I had to take- which, admittedly, I don't remember what I should but am still learning new words in each language. 

And finally, from reading A Clockwork Orange, a few words in Nadsat, the fictional dialect used by Alex and his droogs(friends), who later became millicents(cops)and gave him a good shot to the gulliver(head)and yarbles(cojones). Real horrorshow.

Like I said, it's amazing how much even a totally undisciplined(but inquisitive) slob like me can pick up, as far as that goes. As far as extraterrestial languages(since we've already covered our own globe), I don't know any Klingon, but I do know one word in Remulak, from The Coneheads: slarvak. It means sleep, which I'm sure I'm inducing(at least by now)in the reader. Sweet dreams. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Never mind, it just says 'helf'!

I wasn't able to bring you the whole image(and I guess you can chalk that up to my baby-boomer's lack of tech-savviness)but at least you get the idea. The full message is: Beware of Herion Addict on Corner. 

This is from an actual news story about a week ago, about a couple of junkies--a guy and his girlfriend-- living at the Bel-Aire Motel here in town. The people in the neighborhood, residents and business owners alike, were up in arms about these folks, since they've been panhandling for about a year now.  

                                        Interviewed in the story were both one of the junkies, and the author of the sign. The junkie made no bones about the fact that he and his girlfriend had been scrounging off the neighborhood for the past year, but said he'd been clean for a month and was looking for work. Naturally you feel extreme skepticism here but at least want to believe the poor shlub. I worked in the local unemployment office for 22 years, and have heard that story a million times. Sometimes they do come through, but usually not. 

                            As for the person who wrote the sign, he was outraged by the behavior of the doped-up duo, and  crying for their blood. He wants those folks removed from his neighborhood, and pronto!

                          And I can't say as I blame him. I wouldn't want them on my block either, at least not the panhandling. They can stay inside and shoot up to their hearts(and veins')content, but when they head out the door and start hassling everyone for money, that's when it's drizzle drazzle drozzle drome time. Time for this one to go home.

                         I have no problem with someone making up a sign to warn others in the area if something like this is happening. This kind of vigilance is what should go on in one's neighborhood(just as long as it doesn't become a re-enactment of The Monsters are Due on Maple Street). But I do have a problem with how it's written. Beware- herion addicts. Well really, the ignorance behind how it's written. My first reaction is to wince at the mis-spelling, but I know what he's trying to say. Someone else may look at the mis-spelled word and just dismiss it entirely, figuring the person is just too stupid to know what they're talking about.

                                     There's an old Far Side cartoon that comes to mind here(and, yes, the title of this blog). A guy is trapped on an island, and frantically trying to scratch an SOS in the sand. Overhead, a plane is passing by which could've saved him. "Never mind", says one of the pilots. "It just says helf". 

                         Or you could have one of those individuals who takes everything literally. People learning English often have that difficulty, particularly the Japanese it seems. I'm also thinking of Dr Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, who, despite(or maybe because of)his IQ of 187, would be stumped. "What on Earth is Herion?" He'd be unable to apply the Hillbilly Hermeneutics to the situation and correctly identify the drug as heroin- just with the hillbilly spelling. Actually, given his knowledge base, there probably is a drug called Herion, which is used to treat Planter's Warts in Uganda, something only he would know. "Why on Earth are they going to all this trouble for Herion?"

    Either way, the message would not get through. This is one of the two problems with bad English. It doesn't always communicate effectively because the listener has to translate it- and if it's not their native tongue, maybe they can't. In which case the message is lost completely. 

   As what I hope isn't too crass an example, there was a character years ago who was an assistant manager of sorts at a local nightclub. Nice guy and all, but he had a speech impediment due to a cleft palate(commonly, perhaps pejoratively)referred to as a harelip. You had to listen a little more carefully when he was talking. Someone made the remark that if there was ever a fire or something and he got on the intercom to warn everyone, we'd all perish, because no one would be able to understand him! (I remember laughing at this, as we all did, but feeling a little bit ashamed that I was laughing).

  Bad English like this is, in effect, giving your writing a harelip! People won't be able to understand you when you need them to. As I recall, the City had him take down his sign. I can't help feel that the way it was written had something to do with it. The second problem with bad English is that people(and particularly jerks like me, who are admittedly sticklers for good English)tend not to take you as seriously. Here's another one: bad English is like naming your writing Buffy

  The way I'd like to see this scene played out is thusly: two cars pull up. The first is a squad car, to take the junkie couple off to a Treatment Center. Secondly is a regular passenger car, to take the sign writer to Lawrence Adult Center for his Basic English/Writing class.   

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Happy New Year(?!)

Happy new year!

Right, you're thinking 'well, this nastyass season has done him in. Ol' Rog' has snapped his twig this Winter'. (And who's to say he hasn't--especially referring to himself in the third person like this..) But still-as far as I'm concerned, the year begins in March. Meteorological Spring is my calendar January, regardless of whether we have Spring-like conditions. 

The month of March has always been when the year starts to take shape. It's when I start planning things, mapping them out for the year ahead. I can't seem to do that in January or February, even if they're mild months. They still belong to Winter, the dark season. They're just months to get through

I've always hated the Winter- the cold temperatures, having to wear multiple layers of clothing and still freeze my ass off! Having to take an extra 15-20 minutes every morning to warm up the vehicle, and usually scrape ice from the windows. Then negotiating out into the snow and getting stuck. 

Let's see- did I leave anything out? Oh yes(my mind is already starting to file this stuff in a back drawer, but..)2 items: a nasty cold for about 3 weeks this Winter; and an equally nasty fall on the ice in January, which left me very sore on my right side for a couple weeks in there. 

So yeah,  those are not enjoyable months for me. It's a grit-yer-teeth-and-just-get-through-it sort of time. Survival mode. Thus the year begins for me when I can slide up a notch on Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. Until then I'm just putting one foot in front of the other. 

After working a series of dayjobs(as we musicians call them)--3 months as a Fast Food Worker, 4 1/2 years as a bank employee, and 22 years with the State--I retired from all that last June. It's been nice, particularly the Summer and Fall. 

The thing about working a dayjob is that it's just that: a job worked during the day because you're not making enough just playing(and/or teaching)music--or whatever your Art is. You're doing something outside your field, and you've got someone telling you what to do and how to do it. And it may well be something you'd really rather not do if you didn't have to. So, with all that going for it, your dayjob is often something you want to get over and done with. You want to get through it. 

I can't tell you how many days I just wanted to get through in my working years. Days I just wanted to crawl in one end and out the other , and then out the door. Each week after awhile was a Pilgrimage to Friday, a quest to the weekend. And every weekend consisted of Two Sacred Days, days I'd have waited for all week, and once they were here, hoarded like a little kid's new toy. 

So many days in there just traversed through, so much time just clocked in and out of. Looking back at it, I guess it was less-than-ideal in that I worked a job I didn't love(even though I made the best of it, and did have some decent times in there) but I do accept the trade-off that not doing what I wanted for all those years enabled me financially to break free of its shackles at a relatively young age. And a resolve from here on in not to half live any more days if I can help it. 

Not that one should turn into a carpe diem zealot and try to pack all the intensity one can into every day. You become like that nut on the commercial for--well actually there are too many examples for this one! Best to let your days be what they want to be. Some will be better than others of course, but they're still all Saturdays. I try to take 'em one at a time anymore. 

Must admit, though, this works best in Spring, Summer and Fall. I tried to apply this approach to our soon-to-be-preceding season, and did enjoy a few days in there. But it's still something like the old work-week, which I just wanted to be over and done with. 

So that's my conundrum I guess. Winter still sucks.  

Monday, March 03, 2014

Blow Me, Bernice

I had her for two courses during my Senior year of High School: English and Creative Writing. Creative Writing  was something I elected to take, and her English class was a higher-track course I was placed into- "kicked upstairs" as it were. I was in a regular-track English class prior to being with her, and happened to write an essay (on Richard Wright's Black Boy)that the teacher liked enough to recommend me for this more advanced class. 
Being promoted into her English class was one of only two academic distinctions I enjoyed throughout my entire tenure as a student. I was something of an underachiever as far as all that went, and also pretty shy at that age, so being 'moved up'(and thus into the spotlight just a bit)was something with which I wasn't all that comfortable. So I probably got off to a shaky start, both with her and the material we were studying(as I remember, an 18th-century play called A School for Scandal--from where we get the word malapropism: a character named Mrs. Malaprop, who would comically misuse words- i.e. a supercilious education-  she was perhaps the precursor to Norm Crosby).
  There are teachers you have in school whom you remember with unequivocal fondness and respect, perhaps even as a mentor; others you revile through and through, either as teachers or human beings or both; and still others you may not have liked at the time, but respect later--and for the very thing you didn't like about them: they told you what you needed to hear! She would fall in this third category.

 Now this all happened some 42 years ago, so I may not be 100% accurate, but the things I remember her saying are all negative criticisms: your stuff is so pedantic.It reads like Legal Briefs. Do you think I wanted to hear that?! Hell no! I resented it, and hated her for telling me. Well okay, hated is a bit strong. Just like blow me. But then Bite Me, Bernice sounded a bit weak as a title. I imagine she herself would've advised me to go with what I did. Leave the edge in there.

There was probably some positive feedback in there as well. She was not an uncaring teacher by any means. But what I remember, what stuck with me, is the negative stuff. Pedantic. Legal briefs. Probably what burned my ass the most was that she was right! At age 17, my writing was very self-conscious. At age 17, I was very self-conscious- which is going to produce writing with that quality.  My Mom critiqued it as stilted. Pretty much telling me the same thing, only maybe more diplomatically. 

I've always thought of myself first and foremost as a musician, but the writing has long been an ancillary thing, something I even considered making a primary thing(in one form or another)at one time--that time, as a matter of fact, age 17 to 19-or-so. Never really followed through with that(yeah, that underachiever vein in me), but I did write a few music reviews for (then)Sangamon State Univ's weekly periodical, my only writing job. Haven't seen any of my reviews since I wrote them, back in 1973 or so. They'd probably embarrass me now, for one reason or another. Maybe for being too pedantic, or stilted. Although I don't think they read like Legal Briefs. 

But just as I've worked on my musicianship over the years, I've also done this with my writing. Those criticisms I mentioned earlier, about my stuff being pedantic and stilted, were taken to heart and I've endeavored to work on my writing as far as the flow of words, the rhythm of it. Tried to give it an ease of expression, a looseness. Ten-dollar words may find themselves in here, but hopefully they're used to support or express the idea at hand- akin to a blistering show of technique on the guitar, which should also be used in service of the idea. 

When we remember our teachers, however many years later, as well as the way we recall them, we also remember whether they believed in us. I do have a few of those, both in music and regular academics. The English teacher who liked my essay on Richard Wright's Black Boy evidently believed in me. I'm not so sure, though, about the English teacher whose class I got promoted into. Even though she was a good and caring teacher, I never felt like she was in my corner. I didn't feel like I had her personal approbation. But still- whether or not she believed in me, she did tell me what I needed to hear.

For that, I must say- thanks, Bernice. I hope I've become a better writer over these 42 years, and if so at least some of the credit goes to your brutal honesty. Otherwise, maybe I'd still be writing Legal Briefs.