16 April 2014

Pedant

"Pedant: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning", Google Dictionary says. And here's what's at the head of the Wikipedia article on the same topic: "This article is about a person who is excessively concerned with formalism and precision. For the piece of jewellery, see pendant."

Hehe - now that cracks me up. I suppose only a true pedant would appreciate it - somebody who's picky about detail. No, I'm not a pendant; I'm not wont to dangle off pretty necklaces. And as for being a pedant - who, me? Naaah.  I never show off academic learning, do I? The fact that I tend to feel smug about being able to use grammar properly, down to the correct use of the apostrophe in the possessive case, has nothing to do with any of this. (This all sounds better when you say it with your mouth pursed and your nose elevated just ever-so-slightly.)

What got me thinking of this was that I just wrote this sentence, referring to the country of Bordavia (in Christopher Bunn's latest novella, Rosamonde): "…it's famed for its roses." Hah, get it? Two i-t+s words, one with apostrophe, one without. It's not so hard, is it? Its rules are quite simple: when it's a contraction, you use the apostrophe; when it's a possessive, you don't. Huh, you say? The apostrophe is there to replace a letter (or two) you've left out, in the case of "it's", the space and i of "it is". When it's a possessive, the "s" is part of the word itself, just like in "his" or "hers". Think of it this way: if the country of Bordavia was a "he" instead of an "it", you'd say: "…he's famed for his roses", not "hes famed for hi's roses". See? Same thing for the itses. "He's/it's" and "his/its". Simple, no? My inner pedant is purring right now.

Now, as for pendants, I'm quite fond of those, too. I have some lovely pieces in my jewellery drawer - a silver locket, a jade maple leaf (I think that was a gift from Canadian relatives when I was a kid in Germany), a silver-and-tiger-eye teardrop, a small brass goblet (made by one of my sons in art metal shop), my mother's silver cross with a small blue stone in it (an aquamarine, perhaps? I wore it at my wedding.). In fact, my favourite pendants all have meaning - they've got provenance, i.e. I remember where they came from.

There, and that's the penultimate piece of pedantry for today, explaining to you what "provenance" means, as if you didn't already know or couldn't figure it out for yourself. Pedants of the World, Unite! You have Nothing to Lose But Misplaced Apostrophes! And the really funny thing is that I just mistyped "pedantry" as "pendantry".

Life, the Universe, Pedants and Pendants. Maybe we should stick with the latter, they're prettier.

09 April 2014

Social Realism

Steve got a book! Well, okay, I got a book. A friend found it for me at a second-hand store, and at first I wondered why - I mean, I love kids' books, but why this particular one? Then I cracked open the cover, and all became clear: it's not for me, it's for Steve. Obviously.

It's called Teddy Edward in the Country, by Patrick and Mollie Matthews (published by Golden Pleasure Books in London in 1962), and it's the story of a stuffed bear, Teddy Edward, on a visit to the country with his human, Sarah (they normally live in London), as chronicled by lots of interesting photos. You don't see much of Sarah in the pictures, but lots of cows, swans, rabbits, and even some hedgehogs. And Teddy Edward, of course.

Steve considers it the best thing in Social Realism he's read in a long time; it's very true to life, he says. At least to life in England in the early 1960s.
It kind of threw him for a loop when I told him that the Sarah-girl in the picture is well over fifty now and probably has grandchildren; a bear's lifespan is very different from a human's - some only make it a few years before their plush is loved off, others last decades. For all we know, Teddy Edward is still alive and kicking somewhere in the home counties, and conversing with calves and kittens every summer. Maybe we should try to look him up if we ever make it to England.


Life, the Universe, and Social Realism for Bears. It's all in how you look at it.


27 March 2014

Me, Too

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day: "Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy". The gist of the article is that GenY people, born between the late 70s and mid-90s, are unhappy because of the expectations they have on life - expectations that they're special, and therefore should be extra-successful, not like everyone else. There's a gap between expectation and reality, and that's what makes for unhappiness. Happiness, the author says, is Reality minus Expectations; if the expectations exceed reality, you end up with a negative balance.

Now, I'm not a GenY person, I'm a GenX'er (that's those of us born in the 60s and 70s, between the Boomers and GenY). But what this article is saying applies just as well to us. See, one of the points it makes is that GenY'ers are set up for overblown expectations because of what they see around them, namely on social media. What they - or rather, we - see is the carefully crafted public image of friends, relations and former classmates, the image that is presented to the world via Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else is out there. And guess what? That image is always a pretty one - a flattering profile picture, stories of success, status updates about what a good time we're having at our resort vacation, and so on. So when we take a look around our virtual reality world, everyone else seems to be doing well - everybody else but us.

So do I do it any differently? Nope, I don't. My status updates are chirpy, funny (well, there are great jokes circulating on Facebook), occasionally sentimental, often trivial, sometimes triumphant. But what I don't tell you is that at 4:30 that morning, I was lying in bed sobbing into my pillow because I woke up early (again) and depression crashed in on my head, making me feel like a failure on all fronts. I don't tell you that I've gained thirty pounds in the last three years and hate it (and I certainly don't post a profile picture showing off that fact). I don't tell you that those thirty pounds are the direct result of my habits - too much sitting, too much eating, too much wine, and too little of whatever else one is supposed to do to counteract the poundage accumulation and be generally healthy. I don't tell you these things because I value my privacy, but mostly because vulnerability of this kind of profoundly scary.

It is for all of us. But if you listen to Brené Brown, she'll tell you that it's that very vulnerability that is the pathway to health (emotional health, anyway). Those two little words, "Me, too!", are immensely powerful. And the realisation that behind it all our friends' glowing public profiles hide a whole lot of mess can go a long ways. Our lives are messy. My house is dirty (no, really, it is. I'm not one of those people who apologise for the state of a house that looks like a picture from Better Homes and Gardens. I've got mould on my window frames, dust bunnies in the corners of the rooms, a rim of grunge around the bottom edges of my cupboards, and, please, let's not even talk about the storage area in the basement.), my children didn't turn out the way I had anticipated back in my idealistic twenties (I thought if I raised them "right", they would become a certain kind of person. They didn't. I can't show them off as products of my superior parenting or homeschooling. They're great people whom I like a lot, but they're not what I thought they would, or should, be.), and I never yet did do that amazing, world-saving thing that I thought I would do with my life (I was never quite sure what it would be, just that there would be one). My whole lifestyle - heck, my whole life - isn't what I had expected, what, twenty-five years ago, I would have thought was the "right" way to be.

And if I've ever given the impression in public that my life is, in any shape or form, perfect, I apologise. Because it isn't. I can't stand people who have it all together, who exude that smugness of "I'm right, and my life is right, and if only you did what I do you wouldn't be such a [insert insulting epithet]". Well, I certainly don't have it all together. Not by a long shot. I'm still working on that balance, the happiness equation from that article - Happiness = Reality - Expectations. We usually can't do much to alter the "Reality" variable of that equation, but the "Expectations" one, that's changeable. Our expectations are shaped, in part, by what we see around us, what we perceive others' reality to be. Admitting to who we really are, what our actual reality is, might help make the answer to that equation into a positive number for each other.

And just by way of illustration, here's a picture of Johnny and Steve (Steve just got a cat tongue wash, that's why he's looking a little exhausted). They never have problems with this issue, even though Johnny, for one, well might have: all other cats have four legs, he's only got three. Talk about a gap between expectation and reality! But he never lets it bother him. Maybe it's because he doesn't go on Facebook much.

Life, the Universe, and Expectations. Me, too, friend, me too.

19 March 2014

To Every Thing There Is a Season

March kind of got away on me. It's a really busy season; my head is full of thoughts and my soul and body too tired to process them all. But then the other day I heard this poem read at a gathering, and I was reminded of how much I love it. It brings up the image of a pendulum, swinging slowly back and forth, ticking away the times.
There is a time to every purpose under heaven.

SEASONS

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


Rain-drenched crocus buds. Spring is here.

26 February 2014

Ontological

Steve meditating on the ontology of a walnut
I reached a milestone today: I was able to use "ontological" in a sentence. If you're going "Huh? Onto-what?", believe me, I know where you're coming from. That word has been the bane of my grad school existence. I've been telling myself that if I ever learned to use it in a sentence, I'd have arrived - and that day came today.

Then again - maybe not. I still haven't used "ontological" in a word combination of my own choosing, I'm just able to quote something someone else said, and actually understand what they're talking about. But that's a big step in the right direction, isn't it? It represents an ontological shift, for me. There, I did it, I did it! Except I'm not entirely sure that what I just said actually makes sense.

Okay, "ontological". What does it actually mean? The word kept cropping up early in my grad school experience, in philosophy readings and such. I kept looking it up to try to get a handle on it, but it still didn't really make sense. The definitions all say something like "Ontology: the study of being", and some go on much longer about it. And usually, when I encountered that word, that definition didn't really help me make any sense of what I was reading. But then, a while back, I was reading some folktale theory, and the word popped up in a context where I actually understood what they were saying (Score!). And then the other day, I ran across a book review on this blog which was talking about Brian Boyd's book On the Origin of Stories, and what Jenny was saying about it made me rush out (metaphorically - into cyberspace, anyway) to get a hold of this book, which was well worth it (I waffle on about it here).

What she said was this: according to Boyd, "people find stories most memorable when the characters of the stories cross ontological boundaries." Huh, you say? Well, here, let me explain, out of my new-found state of enlightenment. The passage in question in Boyd's book analyses Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who. Dr. Seuss constantly messes with our ideas of what's real - specifically, by creating these really weird creatures, with what animals are. We have a quite clear idea of animals' being, and he crosses that boundary and gives fish antlers or puts wheels on some critter. That's ontology - he is saying something about a state of being.

As for finding stories most memorable when the characters "cross ontological boundaries", that's what our fascination with fantasy stories is all about. Think about it: of the blockbuster movies of the last twenty years, probably some 80% (if not more) were fantasies. A neglected boy finds out he's really a wizard. An injured soldier finds himself on a planet of tall blue creatures. A group of small woolly-footed people team up with a wizard and elves to destroy an evil magical ring. (And so on.) We know what things are really like, we have a clear grip on the nature of being - and we love stories that cross those boundaries, that tell of an alternate state of being. Ontological boundaries.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and "Ontological" Used in a Sentence. Oh frabjous day, I have arrived.

21 February 2014

Olympic Hockey

Steve ready to cheer Canada in the Olympics
I don't give a rip about hockey. Oops, did I say that out loud? I might have just jeopardised my chances of ever getting Canadian citizenship. Oh, wait! Wait! Before you send me hate mail, delete the link to my blog, unfriend me on Facebook and refuse to ever speak to me again, hear me out.

It's true, I'm afraid - I don't care about hockey, and I really know nothing about it. But one thing I do know, and that's that Canadians care passionately about this game. I found out just how passionately four years ago, this very Sunday, during the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. The Man and I wanted to go for lunch, and we made the mistake of picking the local pub to get our eats. We got into the pub, and it was crowded - really crowded. Maple leaf motifs everywhere. And there was such a sense of excitement the air was practically crackling with it. We did get a seat, and then we realised that on the big TV screens there were guys on skates, and a big arena - that, in fact, they were winding up for the gold medal game, the final day, the BIG ONE - men's hockey, Canada vs. the USA (which tells you right there where our heads were at; we didn't even know it was on that day). I tell you, it was just a little scary. We were there early enough to be able to get our food and get out of there before the game started - slink out, rather. It would have been more than my life would have been worth to say out loud what I just said up top there; the crowd might have just torn me to pieces and fed me to the nearest coyotes. Besides, we knew our seats would get snapped up the minute we left. So we went home, and the Man and the offspring watched the game on TV - I went and had a nap, I'm afraid. But when I got up from my nap, I found out that Canada had, indeed, got the gold; at overtime, in a very dramatic play, no less.

And you know what? I was thrilled! I was so very, very excited. Not because the game means anything to me, but because the whole country erupted in celebration. All around me, people were ecstatic. The atmosphere of triumph, of victory, was fantastic. And it was EVERYWHERE. To have won the gold medal in Canada's sport on Canadian home soil - there was nothing like it. Canada was one big party zone that day. It was wonderful.

The 2010 Olympic Flame coming through our little town
I might not care about the game, but I care about the people who care about the game - so I guess, in a sense, I do care about hockey, after all. I care because others care. I care because I live in Canada, and Canada cares about hockey. I'm actually quite nervous about the game that is being played as I write this, Canada vs. the US in the semi-finals. I'm not watching it, because, other than the fact that I really don't know what's going on on the ice, I find the tension hard to handle. There are too many people to whom this matters so very much. As for the men's gold medal game on Sunday, I'll be sure to stay out of the pub. I might just stay off the internet, too, until it's over - just tell me who won afterwards, will you? If it's gold for Canada, I'll be very happy.

Canada is terribly passionate about hockey - my boys got to watch yesterday's women's gold medal game in school, one in math class, the other in the school theatre on the big screen while they were supposed to have gym class. I ask you, what other country would put their high school classes on hold so they could watch a sports game? Canucks have their priorities.

Life, the Universe, and Olympic Hockey. I guess I'm a hockey fan by proxy.

15 February 2014

Love

So it was Valentine's Day yesterday. E. L. Bates of StarDance Press just posted a really great little story about it, how she had hurt herself, and her husband just took over and did small, unromantic, utterly loving things for her (like wash the dishes). That, people, is love. Never mind the chocolates and roses - although they're all good in their place, too; I'm very fond of chocolates and roses. But nothing says "Love" like the washing machine that got fixed (again), or the flood from the burst pipe in the basement which is cleaned up without a murmur, even though it's 2:00 AM and the person in question is sick with a cold.

Valentine's Day is all fine and dandy. I love celebrations, they're wonderful. But I think for the most part this particular special day has totally got out of hand. I saw an ad on an online bookseller's website last week, adjuring the site visitors to surprise their Valentine with a $150 newly-released tablet-style ebook reader. Say what?

And then, someone else pointed out that Valentine's Day is the day of year which most hammers home the singleness of those who are NOT in a romantic relationship, or, conversely, reminds those who are in a less-than-glamorous one of just how unfulfilled they are. I remember some years ago a single woman going on a trip to Mexico, and stating that since she didn't have a husband to take her on those kinds of trips, she had to take herself. She seemed to feel that she was in need of an excuse for doing that. At that point I had been married for about ten years, and the number of times my husband had taken me on a trip to a resort in a tropical location was, umm, rather small - to be precise, nil. But that didn't impact the quality of our relationship in the slightest, and it still hasn't.

See, Valentine's Day seems to be above all an occasion for feeding completely unrealistic ideas of what "Love" is all about. If you haven't got a man who gives you flowers, chocolates, expensive ebook reader tablets, and takes you out to dinner in a fancy restaurant or on a trip to the tropics, you're obviously missing out, you poor thing. Yes, that's me, too; I've been missing out for decades now. I even had to buy my own ebook reader a few years ago, and it wasn't even on Valentine's Day.

You know what we did for Valentine's yesterday? We didn't go out for dinner, because our usual Friday-night-date-location, the local pub, was having some kind of Valentine's party going on. Too much fuss for our tastes. So we stayed home with the people we love - our kids - had homemade pizza (which is very loved around here) and chocolate cake with raspberries and ice cream (more love), and watched The Princess Bride. Oh so romantic. We didn't even talk about the movie afterwards, but I'm sure our marriage won't suffer for that omission. We spent plenty of time during the movie tearing it to pieces, though; it's such an eminently mockable film. Great fun.

Love isn't about flowers, chocolates and ebook readers. It's not even about the romantic, sexual relationship between two adults. Of course, that's a really important part of it, and it's a part that ought to be celebrated, shouted from the rooftops. But it's not what the sellers of ebook tablets and confectionery would have us believe. Love looks very different from those glittering stereotypes we are presented with in the media. Love is about people - husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends.

Do I like romance? You bet I do. Dyed-in-the-wool romantic, that's me. And I like flowers and chocolates and romantic movies and dinner dates, too ("Aaaas yooooou wiiiiiiish!"). Lovey-dovey mush is the best thing ever (I'm a total sucker for weddings, for one). But I know that when it comes down to it, what matters is doing the dishes for the other person, and fixing that dryer, and baking them a pizza because that's their favourite. And picking up your socks because they've told you that it irritates them when you leave them lying about. That's Love, and that's what we need to celebrate on Valentine's Day.

Life, the Universe, and Valentine's Day. Mine was lovely - how about yours?