Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Motivation for the Unemployed (and Otherwise)

I’m starting the week with this Curious George predecessor and his long-necked pal to remind all of us that if we thrust our minds far enough into the clouds, we can rise above the gloom … see better … and think differently.

[This illustration is part of Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City (and traveling to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco). Read about it in the New York Times.]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Overheard at the Unemployment Office

I visited my local unemployment office again on Thursday determined to get specific answers about why my payments stopped in January. Amid the cacophony serenading my wait (I was no. 115 and no. 79 was called just as I sat down) were these gems:

from a one-sided phone exchange “Yes, I’d like to discuss the project. … The thing is, I’m in recovery and I have a curfew. Could we meet in the afternoon instead?”

from a mother to her crying toddler “Will you just shut up?”

from one of the security guards as he looked out a window, presumably watching a car being towed away
“If you parked at the Burger King, the post office, or the mall, you WILL be towed.”

from various conversations

“As soon as I got laid off, I sold everything I owned that I didn’t absolutely need.”

“Yeah, I’ve been unemployed for 15 months.”

“I worked there for 15 years. They laid off me and one other person. Everybody else got their pay cut.”

And the kicker?
“I like being unemployed!”

Geez. I guess there’s one in every bunch.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Subtle Signs of Spring

“Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.”
—Lewis Grizzard

[Photo by Nino Barbieri.]

Friday, March 26, 2010

WordGazing: Filling in the Gap Between Grammar Books and Facebook

It’s March—as in March On, Press Forward, Advance, Progress. The month of March, then, seems entirely appropriate for honoring women (it’s Women’s History Month) and obsessing over a basketball tournament (March Madness is in full dribble). How best to acknowledge these disparate events on Lull? With a language lesson, of course!

Let’s start with this:
“Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”
Lev Grossman, in Time magazine, December 2006

Journalism professor Lynn Klyde-Silverstein (aka The Cranky Copy Editor) would certainly agree with Grossman. In her mission to cultivate a new, thoughtful generation of journalists and writers, Klyde-Silverstein collects examples from the Web and elsewhere of poor English usage, sloppy fact-checking, and all-around subpar reporting and writing. I found an item on her blog some time ago and thought this month would be a good time to discuss it.

Klyde-Silverstein pulled this from Facebook because it pushed one of her buttons.

Before you read her rant, take a close look at the headline. What do you suppose spiked her blood pressure?
University of Northern Colorado Men’s and Girl’s Basketball

If you said the pairing of Men’s with Girl’s, you’d be right. As in the age-old proclamation “I now pronounce you man and wife,” the gender references aren’t on equal footing.

Let’s play a game to see how easy it is to get these pairings correct. Match these words—women’s, male, gals, man’s, girl’s, wife, gentlemen—to their parallel counterparts in the list below:

1. ladies
2. woman’s

3. boys’

4. female

5. husband

6. men’s
7. guys

Now check your answers against this list:

1. ladies / gentlemen
2. woman’s / man’s
3. You’re right! There’s no match for this.

4. female / male
5. husband / wife
6. men’s / women’s

7. guys / gals

You don’t have to be able to parse a sentence to get these right. I would bet that even the person who wrote the bad headline could ace this quiz. The problem, then, is thoughtless writing rather than ignorance. If we think about WHY a pairing works, we’re more apt to get it right. After determining that it sounds right, we must next assess the following characteristics of the two words:

1. Number. Both words should be either singular or plural—not a combination of the two. In our example, the first word is plural and the second is singular. Already, we know we must change Girl’s to Girls.

2. Possessiveness. If one word is constructed as a possessive (e.g., Men’s), the other should be as well. In the Facebook example, both words are possessive. However, Men’s is a plural possessive and Girl’s is a singular possessive. The placement of the apostrophe in this instance determines the number: Inserted before the s makes it singular, after the s makes it plural. Girl’s should be changed to Girls’.

3. Equality. The two words should be of the same age/character/vernacular. Not “Ladies and Dudes” or “Men and Females.” The words in the example are unequal in age. If college males are considered “men,” then college females should be considered “women.” Now the correction we made above—Girls’—needs further adjustment: not Men’s and Girls’, but Men’s and Women’s.

This type of agreement is easy to achieve when we think it through. But when we don’t consider the three items discussed above, it’s just as easy to get the parallel construction wrong.

The Cranky Copy Editor focuses on the sexism underlying this example. It’s one of her pet peeves.

But I suspect one of the causes of this particular brand of sexism is our English vocabulary. We frequently use “girls” when we’d really prefer to use an equivalent to “guys.” Short of “gals,” which has an old-fashioned ring to it, we have no replacement. The more we refer to “women” as “girls” in our everyday conversations, the likelier we are to slip up in our writing.

Funny. There are at least 500,000 words in the English language (excluding technical and scientific terms), and more coined every year. Yet we haven’t found a suitable, casual stand-in for “women.” Until we do, be mindful of your pairings. Grammar Snobs everywhere will be grateful.

[The pic: My great-grandmother played on this 1908 basketball squad in Oklahoma.]

Sunday, March 21, 2010

SH-HHH-HH… A Mainstream Press Mistake Might Just Save Tigers from Extinction

Earlier this week, these were the appalling numbers released in the news about the Asian tiger population:

In 1990, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, only 3,200 exist.

Last month on Lull, I gave you the dire stats on the lion population. And I warned you about the tigers’ plight as the CITES convention drew near. But this is worse than I thought. Whereas it took 50 years to eliminate 95 percent of the world’s lions, it took only 20 years to do similar damage (97 percent) to the world’s tigers.

Was this really true?!
The numbers were so catastrophic I fe
lt compelled to investigate. And guess what?

I couldn’t verify all those numbers through any animal conservation Web site or through the U.N., the organization that allegedly released the numbers to the press.

Somebody somewhere made a mistake that news media are now disseminating around the world. At least, I think that’s what happened. I’m waiting to hear from Time magazine’s editor on the subject.

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”
—Attributed to Mark Twain*

The real numbers are still grim. It’s true that there are only about 3,200 tigers left in the wild. And it’s true that at one time the population was around 100,000—in the early 1900s. But before you sigh a breath of relief, consider that in the early 1990s, there were a maximum 7,500 tigers in the wild. In the last 20 years, we’ve cut the creature’s population by about half.

Though depleted habitat is partially to blame for the tiger’s situation, Eastern traditional medicine practices are the bigger culprit. The black market for products derived of tiger parts is especially lucrative in China, where an expanding middle class can afford tiger-based delicacies and remedies. The Environmental Investigation Agency estimates that at least one tiger is killed daily for this market—even pregnant tigers.

This is the Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese Zodiac. By the next Year of the Tiger in 2022, there may not be any tigers left in the wild.

“[M]an is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. … I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
—Rachel Carson

* Note: Quotations are pliable, too. I couldn’t verify this one, but it’s most often attributed to Twain. Yet Twain was actually riffing on John Adams, the originator (supposedly) of “Facts are stubborn things.”

Photo above by Craig Kasnoff.]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Finding Meaning in the Everyday

It’s easy for some of us—especially those of us who are unemployed—to lose sight of our contributions to society. We naturally think of the items we’re no longer producing, the people we’re no longer teaching or managing, the ideas we’re no longer sharing. We feel sidelined and useless.

However, we make other contributions that are no less deserving of recognition: chatting with an elderly neighbor, helping a child who’s fallen from a bike, bringing a smile to someone’s face. Yes, these are fleeting moments with no tangible results. But they’re meaningful nonetheless and should not be discounted.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it for any one else.”
—From Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

Remind yourself to take stock of the myriad subtle ways in which you make a difference for others. View yourself through their eyes and you’ll see that you’re doing more than you think.

[Art by Mary Cassatt.]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Today’s Leisure Pursuits Share Victorian Roots

Last year I saw an unusual exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago called Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage. It’s in New York City now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and from there it will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. I’ve been meaning to write about the show since the day I saw it. Kay Tuttle’s illustrations, which I briefly wrote about yesterday, reminded me yet again of the exhibit. I’m taking this as a sign that I should give up my original intention of writing an analysis on the connections between a Victorian pastime and the hobbies of the 21st century and just provide you with an overview. Otherwise, I may never finish the article.

Calling cards of the 1
8th century were replaced during the latter part of the Victorian era with the popular cartes de visite, patented by photographer André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri. The carte de visite resembled today’s baseball card, sporting either a photo of an individual or of a group. English noblewomen were the first to collect and insert these calling cards into albums—either on blank pages or on pages removed from periodicals and books. (You see? Yet another example of grangerizing.) Each album is a miniature showcase of a woman’s artistic abilities, the network of people she’s related to or friends with, and the culture of the times. (The previous link takes you to some historical notes on the album of Madame B. and, if you scroll to the bottom right, a link into the actual album. Beneath each page is a link to the next.)

Later, some companies produced preillustrated albums to sell to lower-class women (who weren’t skilled in the finer arts) who could purchase calling cards of the rich and famous and mingle them with photographs of the people they really knew.

Do these hobbies sound familiar to you? If you’ve ever indulged in scrapbooking, or followed someone on Facebook, or collected baseball cards, or networked over cocktails, you have something in common with these Victorian pioneers.

If you’re able, I encourage you to attend the show and see the albums for yourself—see how history (even if slightly modified) does indeed repeat its

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Artist Revives Vintage Print Castaways

For some print lovers, Kay Tuttle’s art is sacrilegious: “Uphold All that’s Been Published,” they might scold.

But the truth is that if a few artists weren’t recycling books and periodicals, the published works would be in a landfill somewhere instead of drawing the attentions of appreciative gallery visitors—some of whom might not otherwise realize the specialness of these bygone publications.

“What art offers is space—a certain breathing room for the spirit.”
—John Updike

This first photo is an example of Tuttle’s animal paintings on the covers of vintage leather-bound encyclopedias. The second photo shows her illustrations on pages of the Victorian-era Peterson’s magazine. (The links in this paragraph will take you to Tuttle’s explanations of her art.)

Ah. The beauty of recycling.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seeing Green

The closest we ever get to being Irish is eating corned beef and cabbage once a year—with the best-ever soda bread made by our local Swedish bakery.

However you prefer to celebrate, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Overwhelmed by Biblioguilt: “Bless Me, Readers, for I Have Sinned…”

las, for many weeks now I’ve wanted to write about books. Start a new “After the Year of Unenjoyment” reading list. Share insights.

But the truth is I haven’t completed any books. I’m too fidgety right now and so have turned my attentions more often to magazines.

This morning, my daily word from was edacious—as in “I am an edacious reader.” I see this as one of my more positive characteristics.

Then I read the usage example cited by editor Anu Garg:
“For too many years my edacious reading habits had been leading me into one unappealing corner after another, dank cul-de-sacs littered with tear-stained diaries, empty pill bottles, bulging briefcases, broken vows, humdrum phrases, sociological swab samples, and the (lovely?) bones of dismembered children.”
—From In Defiance of Gravity, by Tom Robbins

Do I read too much? Have these near-bookless weeks been healthy for me?

Then the word bibliobibuli popped up in some research I was doing. I confess I was unfamiliar with the term. But it didn’t take long to find its origin: H. L. Mencken coined it. It first appeared in his Minority Report in 1956:
“There are people who read too much: the bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.”

Again, I ask—only this time with a teeny, whispery intonation—Do I read too much? (According to my mother, who was always pushing my kid self out the door toward a neighborhood game of tag, YES.) How is that possible? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line? Is there a recovery program for bibliobibuli? And if there is, do I want to sign up for it?

Oh, most assuredly, NO!

My. I feel much better now—not as guilty as I felt about reading too little, not guilty enough for reading too much. I’m reveling in a Goldilocks moment.

[Illustration by Margaret Evans Price; drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

Monday, March 15, 2010

Never to Old for an Olfactory Workout

My 13-year-old pooch’s playtime is limited by what she’s capable of doing these days (those darn back legs won’t take instruction from her anymore) and by what she’s interested in doing. Running alongside other canines means injury; toys get no more than an acknowledgement from her. But one sure way of engaging her in a pleasurable activity is to let her sniff as much as she wants on her walks.

Last night on our final outing for Sunday, the pooch stopped at a corner. This has become habitual for us—this stopping—and draws all sorts of comments from passersby. To onlookers, it appears that she’s too tired to go farther, or she’s misbehaving and I don’t know how to control her, or I’m kidnapping her. But those who have spent time with geriatric dogs know it’s an age thing. It can take a lot of coaxing for me to get her to make a turn. Once she does, she’s fine until we reach the next cor
ner. (Thank goodness we have unusually long blocks in this neighborhood.)

However, in last night’s case, once I got her started in the new direction, she made an abrupt about-face back to the corner, nose to the ground.

Ah. Something had caught her nose’s attention. Something really important. I was reminded of this passage from Paul Auster’s Timbuktu, a unique tale about a homeless poet, Willy, and his faithful canine companion, Mr. Bones:
“[I]f Willy happened to tug on the leash before Mr. Bones was ready to move on, before he had ingested the full savor of the turd or urine puddle under scrutiny, he would plant his legs to resist the yank, and so unbudgeable did he become, so firmly did he anchor himself to the spot, that Willy often wondered if there wasn’t a sac hidden somewhere in his paws that could secrete glue on command.”

I let the pooch l
ead me east, and while she alternately vacuumed the sidewalk and desperately searched the area, I saw what she could only sense: a raccoon. It crossed the sidewalk ahead of us and ran down an alley.

I tried to hurry the pooch along so she could catch a glimpse of it, too, and then a second raccoon crossed in front of us into the alley.

The pooch missed seeing that one as well. But it didn’t matter to her—she could SMELL them. She could smell them and the scent was glorious!

It had been a banner week for the pooch’s senses: a bunny, an opossum, a skunk, and two raccoons. I don’t mind these detours—investigative sniffing keeps her young at heart and in my world.

[Raccoon pic from the Global Action Network Web site; skunk pic from Jim Buchholz’s Wild Wisconsin Web.]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

From Here to Infinity…

Happy π Day!

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”
—Albert Einstein

They Can Read Me Like A Book!

The other day, sent me one of those recommendation e-mails. You know the type: “Because you bought Blah Blah Blah, we thought you might like to know about Bleh Bleh Bleh.” Often, the assumption is correct because the items are usually related by genre or subject.

However, this e-mail read: “As someone who has purchased or rated The Dwiggins Marionettes: A Complete Experimental Theatre in Miniature by Dorothy Abbe, you might like to know that Mencken on Mencken: A New Collection of Autobiographical Writings is now available.” At first glance, I thought the binary system had been slipped a new number. How in the world had it connected marionettes to Mencken?

I considered these possibilities:
• They’re both books.
• The grammatical construction of the titles is similar.
• Both titles include a word that begins with the letter “M.”
• On a more conceptual level, perhaps they’re similar because one entity (marionettes and Mencken, respectively) is possessed by or acted upon by another (Dwiggins and Mencken, respectively).

I tucked away these thoughts with the intention of poking fun at this apparent software glitch/shortcoming in a future Lull post. But after a cursory Google search on the books, the eerie truth began to surface.
• William A. Dwiggins and H. L. Mencken were both born in 1880 and both died in 1956.
• The marionette book was purchased by my husband for his own interests. But curiously, puppet-maker Dwiggins speaks to my interests: He was by trade a graphic designer. In fact, he was the first to use that term to describe his profession and he created a number of classic fonts still used today in typography.
• Both men worked with letters and contributed significantly to the publishing industry (again, pursuits that interest me).

My goodness! The web of connections between Dwiggins, Mencken, and me expands the more I think about it. Just how much does know about me? Does secretly partner with the CIA, the FBI, and/or organizations that conduct background checks for hiring purposes?

Well, well, well. The binary system I thought was flawed is just super-sophisticated. The joke’s on me.

Standing Out from the Crowd

I’m still struggling with Internet access. Thought I’d give you a little eye candy to enjoy until I can post something more substantive.

I love this little Goth penguin and the fact that he’s accepted for who he is in his Adelie community. This is not always the case for similar melanistic members of other species. For more pics and information, check out researcher Noah Strycker’s Among the Penguins blog—where you’ll also see a blond Adelie and a black Emperor.

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”
—Martha Graham

[Pic by Noah Strycker.]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Books, Babies, and A Fuzzy Crystal Ball

We have a new twig on our family tree, so I spent part of yesterday afternoon shopping online for a baby gift.

I haven’t paid attention to the baby scene for years and I have no idea what’s trendy, what’s passé, what’s useful, or what will end up at the Goodwill in short order. My ignorance meant that I was easily wowed—by Peruvian handmade mobiles, vintage fabric blankies, BPA-free bottles, animal-shaped rattles each designed to elicit a specific behavior or reaction from infants. And then the line of lullabies based on the music of popular bands like The Cure. (Really? I wanted to buy this CD just to hear for myself how the music was arranged. Other CDs included The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Coldplay.)

But even after all my browsing and ooh-ing and ah-ing, I still felt compelled to send the new little soul the same gift I’ve always given to our youngest Earthlings: a book. Typically, an alphabet book.

This makes perf
ect sense when you consider the fanaticism the gift-giver (me!) has for books. And I take care to purchase books of such quality that they could become keepsakes. However, we’re not only in a new century now but in a new publishing era as well. I don’t have a clear view of the future. How will my intended keepsake be viewed 25 years from now by the next digital generation? As an obsolete waste of paper? A treasured relic? I’m hoping for at least hipster cool—so “out” it’s “in.”

This, then, may
be the future of the book—a collector’s item. Talked about affectionately by older generations who recall the smell and heft and texture of favorite tomes. Discussed among antique dealers and their clientele as investments and commodities. Viewed as dust-catchers by nonreaders, noncollectors, and digital zealots.

I’m okay with that. But before it becomes a collectible, I hope my baby gift help
s cultivate a reader.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Promise Rising

Walks with the pooch now begin with coaxing her off the front steps. She’s wary of the fog enshrouding our neighborhood, just as she is of the shadows in our hallway. Her eyesight is not as sharp as it once was, so I can only imagine how she’s interpreting the indiscernible darkness I pull her into every day.

But since this weekend, whiffs of green have been inching up from bulbs beneath the soil. Cardinals pierce the fog in song and color, a welcome avian change from the decapitated pigeons we were dodging on previous mornings. Spring is surely on its way and I hope for the sake of the pooch that she can smell it in the air.

Unless Miss Fortune steps in to turn my luck a different direction, this will be my last Spring in northern Illinois. I intend to note every new leaf and bud and irritating squirrel and hawk repast I encounter. Of course, I do this every year. But this season I want to commit it all to memory, to take with me wherever I’m headed next.

Spring never lasts long enough in this part of the world, but it’s weighted with renewal and hope—two keys to the future of the jobless. Cling to these and don’t let go, my fellow job-seekers. As the landscape alters, so will we.

[Pic by Kevin Bolton from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.]

My Twisted Get-Rich-Quick Scheme


If I had a nickel for every time my Internet service provider dropped my connection, I wouldn't need to get a job.

I'll write again whenever I can. If you're new to Lull, please find an older post to read in the meantime. If you're a Lull regular, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Want to Ensure Your Career Longevity?

If, like me, you found yourself jobless after many years of devotion to your craft, you may have begun your stretch of unenjoyment with some vague notion of starting a new line of work, or reinventing yourself, or turning your dedication toward a charitable cause or organization.

These are all honorable endeavors. But imagine, instead, digging your way deeper into your craft—examining its edges, experimenting with them, and pushing your boundaries beyond what was expected of you in your last position. Imagine discovering new elements of whatever your life’s work has been.

It’s this continued drive and curiosity to fully explore your work/art/craft/vocation that will sustain your interest and success in it. For a dose of inspiration, watch It Might Get Loud.

This documentary features three generations of guitar legends—Jimmy Page, Edge, and Jack White—and their approach to music. You won’t learn anything about their girlfriends/boyfriends, children, pets, pet causes, or fave hair product. You’ll see their connection to guitars; you’ll hear their passion for music; and you’ll want their enthusiasm for the new and untried.

You don’t have to like their music to appreciate how they create it. And you don’t have to be a veteran worker or a dislocated one to feel reinvigorated after seeing It Might Get Loud.

You might, however, start pining for a guitar.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

From Court to Cabal: How to Expand Your World Without Leaving Home

On the way to court this week, scrunched in the backseat of a car between a victim of Mr. Tirade and a Court Advocate, a wealth of information encircled me about my neighbors. I heard tidbits about people I’d encountered on the street yet had no deeper connection to. And I was reminded of how similar our lives are despite appearances.

“If our inward griefs were seen written on our brow, how many would be pitied who are now envied!”
Pietro Metastasio, poet

There was chatter about the fellow (another dog person) who made it through his divorce, sold the condo at a loss, bought a new smaller condo and 10 days later lost his job. Yes, people are still losing their jobs.

There was chatter about the unemployed woman who had to sell her condo and is now a renter, visiting her beloved husband every day in the nursing facility he required after an early and aggressive onset of some neurological disorder.

The chatter felt good…warm. It wasn’t chatter to fill time and space. It was people caring about one another and sharing ideas about helping one another. It was real community.

I tell you this because if, like me, you seldom experience this kind of goodness—if you stay too often at home because you can’t afford to be with your old circle of friends anymore, or you’re embarrassed by your joblessness, or you simply don’t have spirit enough to leave your four walls—there’s another option for you:

FREE Webinars.

Yup. You can attend a workshop or presentation by sitting at your computer, which is exactly what I did after my day in court.

Now you’re probably already familiar with TED, which is a wonderful way to keep up with the big thinkers of the world. But people like Penelope Trunk (see the link to her blog and company in the right margin of Lull) are giving their time and sharing their expertise in real-time broadcasts.

I attended one of Trunk’s Webinars on Tuesday night. (I saw most of it anyway. Since Tuesday afternoon, my Internet access has been more off than on. I signed up for another Webinar yesterday and lost my connection 20 minutes into the session. Couldn’t post anything here either. Aggrrravating.) While listening and watching, you can see who is in the audience with you (their names are listed), you can ask a question and get it answered on the spot, and you can learn something while feeling like you’re part of something. It’s not a static, solo experience. It’s interactive and invigorating.

Trunk uses a site called Vokle for her Webinars. Admission costs you only a one-time registration and then you have access to whatever other Webinars Vokle is broadcasting. The recent lineup included speaking Italian, trends in the green movement, meditation, photography, and living the “untemplated” life.

Professional organizations sometimes present free Webinars as well. If you belong to one, take advantage of the opportunity. You’ll feel part of a new community. And those four walls you’ve been hugging won’t feel so oppressive.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

WordGazing: Today’s a Holiday for Word Nerds

A friend brought my attention this morning to the significance of March 4: It’s National Grammar Day! And even if you’re a grammarphobe, you can still celebrate the moment by watching this video of the late Great Dane Victor Borge expound on punctuation.

If you ever need help with your writing, here are a couple of the many sites available:
Grammarphobia—where you’ll find an engaging series of books on the subject written by Patricia O’Conner
Grammar Girl—a Web celebrity in some circles

If you fall more toward the grammarphile end of the spectrum, here are a couple of blogs you might enjoy:
You Don’t Say—Editor and professor John McIntyre’s continuing commentary on everything editorial
Talk Wordy to Me—Editor Brian White’s observations about the English language from an admittedly youthful and inexperienced position

Now raise a glass to Mistress Grammar, the foundation of all communication.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A-Courting We Will Go: Learning the Importance of Networks in Surprising Places

esterday, as my husband pointed out late last night, was 3.2.10. For me, the word blast-off naturally follows this numeric sequence, which sounded like the perfect beginning for an uplifting post on Lull. Yet nothing in my life right now has taken off or is ready for take-off—except, perhaps, the wisdom teeth that have been pressuring me this week for a new view (which I can’t wait to give them, if I have to do it myself with a doorknob and piece of string).

But the more I reflected on yesterday’s events, the more I realized how radical they were for me. 3.2.10, indeed.

Yesterday I went to court with one community and joined a different one in the evening to hear a Webinar. If you know me, then you know how unusual it is for me to become part of a group. And these two groups were worlds apart—generations apart, even—but both offered a cohesiveness that is especially foreign to many of us caught in the economy’s net of joblessness. It felt good.

And it felt bad.

Let me explain: I was in court again as a witness to a verbal assault on my neighbor, but also because the one network I’ve been a fringe member of for the past 11 years has come under attack by someone within the network.

My neighborhood isn’t tony. Realtors call it “up-and-coming,” but dollar stores are our shopping options and we need look no further than the nearest street corner for our drug supplies. Waves of immigrants, their nationality dependent on the current tribal turmoil, get their American start here. The diversity is wondrous but can be isolating. Which is why being a “dog person” is an icebreaker and a bridge to neighbors. Without the pooch, I’m not sure I could see all the beauty of the ’hood; without the pooch, I probably wouldn’t walk down every street and alley, wouldn’t stroll along the lakefront at night, wouldn’t fall into conversations with other dog people about politics, art, life, recommendations for doctors, groomers, restaurants. Dog people are the web that holds my neighborhood together and makes me feel safe here.

Until he showed up.

He’s a dog person, too, with a sweet, adorable, golden mutt who’s well behaved. But he isn’t. He has an alarming habit of verbally attacking people and wishing harm upon them: “I hope you get AIDS,” “I hope you get raped,” “I’m going to kill you,” “I’m going to kill your dog.” This last threat, of course, spurs dog folks to action.

Some dog people, like my neighbor, have been on the receiving end of these tirades multiple times; some only once. I’ve merely witnessed one episode and heard about many others. But it’s enough to rend the fabric of the community.

Now, in addition to the usual suspects, we’re scanning the horizon for the one dog person who might hurt us. Since there is no apparent trigger for his outbursts, there’s no preventive action we can take other than to avoid him. My neighbor has been granted an order of protection from him but is continuing to press charges against him. And several of the dog people are standing behind her—including me (one upside to unemployment is the freedom to go to court as often as needed).

Yet being part of a community that’s in the right isn’t necessarily enough to feel good about it. It was painfully obvious in court yesterday that Mr. Tirade has no one in his corner. He should be part of our community but he’s not; I doubt he has any community. And I believe his tirades are the result of a neurological or psychological condition that is not being treated. I don’t want to see him punished. I want to see him become the person other dog people can embrace. Or I want a guarantee that he’s more bark than bite.

It’s odd to feel alienation while at the same time feeling a sense of belonging and empowerment. As soon as we belong to a group, we have drawn a line between us and others. We have defined the other. And I think no matter how much I take pleasure in the networks I belong to, no matter how grateful I am for them, I will always feel a little uncomfortable for having exposed the other.

[Artful drop cap by illustrator Jessica Hische. Not all these dogs are in my 'hood; none is Mr. Tirade’s
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