Linguist I

19 03 2008

I’ve recently developed a fascination with words, types of words and origins of words. Just in my surfing, I picked up a few new things.

Déjà vu – (from Merriam-Webster) 1 a : the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time

The literal French is “already seen“. According to Wikipedia, what’s more commonly experienced is Déjà vécu, the sensation of having already lived. According to a poorly cited source, as much as 70% of the global population has experienced Déjà vécu.

Jamais vu (“never seen”) is the condition of not recognizing a situation, place or person as familiar despite the knowledge that such a thing has been experienced before. A Times report cited by Wikipedia explains one example:

Chris Moulin, of Leeds University, asked 92 volunteers to write out “door” 30 times in 60 seconds. At the International Conference on Memory in Sydney last week he reported that 68 per cent of his guinea pigs showed symptoms of jamais vu, such as beginning to doubt that “door” was a real word. Dr Moulin believes that a similar brain fatigue underlies a phenomenon observed in some schizophrenia patients: that a familiar person has been replaced by an impostor. Dr Moulin suggests they could be suffering from chronic jamais vu.

Presque vu is the sensation of having something on the tip of your tongue. Try impressing your friends with that phrase… just don’t forget what it is.

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Weather Here

17 02 2008

I was walking home today from the library appreciating the beauty of a Midwest winter. I’m one of the first to bitch and moan about the cold, the slush, the snow and everything else. I like the summer more, simply because it’s easy to get out and do things. I can stay more active.

We broke the all-time record for most snowfall in Wisconsin, last set in the 70s. Since then (about a week ago), we’ve had about three more snowfalls. Late last night, it started raining, and the rain froze to everything. If you’ve never seen freezing rain before, it’s fantastic. Imagine everything outside covered in a half inch of ice.

I stepped out the door this afternoon, and I heard crackling. The wind was blowing the tree branches, and the ice was fracturing in thousands of places at once. On my walk home tonight, I looked up. In the orange glow of the sodium vapor lamps, all the trees looked like some cross between antlers and icicles. When a wind gust came up, instead of whipping, the branches swayed rigidly together.

After that, I smelled the smoke of a wood fire. I felt and heard the crunch of the snow, frozen in the tread of the tires that had run over it before. I stomped through five inch puddles of slush and enjoyed the cold air in my lungs. I remembered what it was like playing in the snow as a child. I smiled.





Stop to Smell the Pine Boughs

19 12 2007

A great piece by Garrison Keillor, from the International Herald Tribune :

Stop to Smell the Pine Boughs 
by Garrison Keillor

It was Christmas in the New York City subways last week, musicians heading off to play Christmas gigs, and in the Times Square station a wild-haired old man out of a George Price cartoon pounded out “Winter Wonderland” on an electric organ, a rhythm attachment going whompeta-whompeta-whompeta, and two crazed battery-powered Santas dancing the boogaloo, nearby a young trumpeter giving “Oh Holy Night” a good working over, and then the doors closed and we racketed uptown as an old codger came into the car and launched into “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” as he limped up the aisle, jingling his Styrofoam cup.

I am pretty much hardened to Christmas music, except at the end of the Christmas Eve service when the lights dim and the glories stream from heaven afar and the heavenly hosts sing Alleluia and then, from long habit, tears well up in my eyes and I weep for the dead who enjoyed Christmas so much and for humanity in general, and then we go sashaying out into the cold starry night and walk home.

A big orange and some fresh pine boughs and “Silent Night” are all I need, and cookies, of course.

They are the strings that when I pull on them I pull up the complete glittering storybook Christmases of my childhood.

Even when I’m in in Manhattan, the combination of orange and evergreen and the holy hymn brings back a snowy night in Minnesota and the colored lights, the mound of gifts, the deluxe mixed nuts in the cut-glass bowl, the candles, the faint air of Lysol from the toilets, and the cologne of my uncles as they sit munching their peanut brittle.

I stood in line at a pine-bough-decked-out Starbucks behind a tall, beautiful, dark-haired woman who ordered a venti mocha latte, 180 degrees, seven pumps, 2 percent, no foam, and though the headphones around her neck were playing the Beatles who were back in the U.S.S.R. spreading their broken wings and learning to fly, and finding Gideon’s Bible to help with good Rocky’s revival, the smell of chocolate and pine brought back the lights, the snow, the whole blessed day.

The advantage of growing older: a few details stand for the whole, just as in poetry.

The aim of a festive season is to attain amiability, and perhaps actual joy, which we may find in our private moments but which at Christmas we seek to attain together, thus it is a true test of the power of the community to elevate its members, without which we may as well take to the woods.

The family gathers, with its checkered history of jealousies and resentments, hoping to share warmth, to instill the most sullen member with a measure of cheer, and if it cannot do this, then it will break apart.

We left our families to escape our disapproving elders and find friendlier authority figures who give us permission to be original and write our own stories.

All we parents, no matter how wonderful we may seem, have said and done bad things to our children, and so we are relieved when they escape us without apparent permanent damage. And we hope for forgiveness, and for them to want to be with us at Christmas.

But how can we make them happy this time, when we have failed so often in the past?

The beauty of Christmas is that it is not about us, our creativity, our fabulous décor, the glittering gifts we can afford, but about a story and ritual that lift us all.

The other night I saw a young man standing on the corner holding a gas can and asked him if he needed a ride.

He said he’d been to a party at his sister’s house and a guy started beating up his sister and the young man jumped the guy and the cops came and broke it up and the young man had forgotten to ask his sister for money to buy gas for his car which was now out of gas and here he was on a cold night, far from home, a little drunk and very broke.

I did what anybody else would’ve done, and all the way to the gas station and back he was a little incredulous, but that’s Christmas. It isn’t about me, just as it isn’t about the shepherds in the pageant who are worried about forgetting their lines.

Not a problem. We all know the lines. Just do what the others do and try to beam when it seems appropriate.

Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” can be heard on U.S. public radio stations. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.





Frank Warren Speaks!

22 10 2007

Tonight I went to see Frank Warren of PostSecret speak. He was really inspiring.

He spoke about how he got started with the project, what the secrets mean to him and what he hopes to accomplish. He told a lot of good stories, some funny, some sad and many hopeful. He read some fresh secrets that he had never read before and even opened an envelope with some secrets that had been handed to him at his last speaking engagement.

At first, when he spoke, Frank came off as a little cheesy. His talk of the secrets and how they help him learn and grow reminded me of pastors and teachers speaking to us during high school devotion. In school it felt insincere, but Frank’s talk slowly pulled me in, and I felt myself following with what he said.

He spoke about the first big media exposure he got after the initial bit from the site. It was a video for an All American Rejects song called Dirty Little Secret (which I can’t link to. Thanks, YouTube, for making my version of Flash incompatible with half of your videos.) Frank was offered $1,000 to use his secrets in the video. Instead, he requested that they donate $2000 to Hopeline, a suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE.

The sentiment of his that I felt most in tune with was that he felt he does not censor the cards of others. I felt like sometimes he might have wanted to, but he said he only takes down cards by request. His feeling was that so much of art, be it music, photography, painting or otherwise, is chosen to be displayed in boardrooms. This is raw, though. This is created by people and shot directly to Frank’s mailbox. He’s absolutely right not to censor it. I was fortunate to go to the talk.

By the way, he shared a secret with us. It’s in the first Post Secret book.





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26 04 2006

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I’ve posted this before

27 02 2006

This is a monologue taken from a song called Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed you! Black Emperor. Their genius is in finding moving interviews and monologues, then adding music to it. This sometimes sums up emotions I’m feeling, especially with the music that accompanies it.

the car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark wind blows

the government is corrupt
and we’re on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn

we’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death

the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles

it went like this:

the buildings tumbled in on themselves
mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair

the skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze

i said: “kiss me, you’re beautiful –
these are truly the last days”

you grabbed my hand and we fell into it
like a daydream or a fever

we woke up one morning and fell a little further down –
for sure it’s the valley of death

i open up my wallet
and it’s full of blood





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21 01 2006

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