Natalia J. Garland
Notes are tough to write, even though I relish the creative
challenge. Today's Notes are only the fifth installment I
have written since 2005 (and I have been writing essays since
2001). I had planned to write Notes, over time, for every
month. That is not going to happen, however, because my intention
is to cease writing essays by the end of 2010 and start a new
as a way to compile some of my essay topics that that were never
completed. I took the core ideas and tried to condense the
material (ideally) into just one, two, or three paragraphs per
topic. It was a time-saving technique and it enabled me to use
material which somehow was not coming together in essay form. It
also presented me with a different conception of creativity. It
required that I stretch my ability to structure language and
When I began writing
essays for the web, nobody was writing blogs. E-mail and chat
rooms were popular, but blogs had yet to evolve. If you wanted to
run your own website, you had to learn H.T.M.L. Anyway, Notes
afforded me an opportunity to be bloggish without actually
producing a blog. But, I discovered that bloggish writing was less
satisfying to me than essay-writing. I need space. I need words
to clarify other words. I need introductions and conclusions, and
a theme woven in between. So, accordingly, included in today's
Notes are some thoughts about the impact of texting and
tweeting on the English language and good writing.
Typewriters are not dinosaurs
When I walked into
my local office supply store and saw two typewriters for sale, I
thought I had stepped back into the 1970's. I have not used a
typewriter since I was in college, and I did not know they were
still being manufactured. I thought they had become as extinct as
dinosaurs. I still own a word processor, which I regard as perfect
for just plain typing, but I do not even remember what happened to
my old typewriter (which was made from metal rather than plastic).
Who would buy a
typewriter? I suspect there are some older people who still feel
more confident with a typewriter than with a computer. Although I
think it would be a disadvantage not to be able to cut, copy, and
paste, computer screens are hard on the eyes. If an older person
still had nimble fingers but had poor eyesight, and if they only
wanted to write and not access the internet or play games, then a
typewriter would be a sensible purchase. Also, a typewriter is
much less expensive (both models were under $150), and you do not
have to buy virus protection software. Maybe I should go back to
the store and get one.
Biden's choice of words
On March 23, 2010, as President
Obama and Vice President Biden were announcing the passage of the
healthcare bill, Biden shook Obama's hand and said into his ear:
"A big f---ing deal." How do we know this? Biden had
left his microphone turned on. There are three reactions that I
have to Biden's use of vulgar language.
First, although I
recognize that language(s) is always changing (vocabulary words,
pronunciation, even the rules of grammar), I find it reprehensible
that the most hostile curse word was used by a high-ranking elected
official. Apparently, Biden was quite comfortable using the f-word
with Obama. One would expect, publicly, more sophistication from
our highest leaders.*
Now, at the risk of
contradicting myself, I will venture that not all curse words are
equally foul or totally taboo--depending on the circumstances.
Certain curse words are used to express intense frustration or
anger, or sometimes to emphasize a point. It enables some people
to release or calibrate emotional pressures. However, it can have
a negative effect on people within hearing range of the curse
words, especially children or subordinates: it creates an
atmosphere of tension or toxicity. When curse words are used to
express hostility or contempt, then it becomes verbal abuse.
Personally, I do not curse--I do not believe in it. It is a
lifestyle choice. However, I will make a Jimmy Carter confession:
I have sinned my heart. Occasionally, I have given mental consent
to a curse word within my own mind.
words and other vulgar expressions have become habitual for some
people. There are people who do not just utter the occasional or
rare expletive, but who daily intermix curse words into their
conversation. In that regard, the f-word is especially flexible
because it can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. You
could use the f-word several times in the same sentence without
even realizing, for example, that you had switched its usage from
noun to adjective and back again. Despite its being common, it is
still the most hostile, shocking, and vulgar curse word.
Second, Biden's use
of the f-word showed a lack of respect for the Office of the
President. Even if Obama was not offended, that is not the way to
speak to the President of the United States in an official context.
Now, at the risk of sounding sexist, I think men still use language
differently from women. If Obama and Biden have a familiarity with
each other in the backrooms of the Capitol, and if they want to
talk macho with each other, then I suppose that is their
prerogative. If they ever visited me in my home, however, they
would not be allowed to talk that way. And, I do not want to hear
them talk that way on television. It is degrading. What poor role
modeling for America's youth!
Third, Biden's use
of the f-word seemed to express an attitude of arrogant
triumphalism regarding the passage of the healthcare bill. There
seemed to be an us-against-them attitude. Again, the f-word
is the ultimate expression of hostility. Biden could have said,
"Congratulations, Mr. President," or "Good work,
sir." If the healthcare bill was truly on behalf of the
American people--and not a desperate and stubborn attempt at
personal victory over Republicans and not an expansion of
government power and control--then the reaction would have been one
of happiness rather than what seemed an indirect expression of
contempt for the opposition and the people.
(1) Petunias provide a beautiful winter treat in
the Desert Southwest. While other areas of the country are covered
in snow (and I like snow), the flower-planting season is underway
in the desert. Not every flower is adaptable to desert conditions,
even in our mild winters, but petunias are hardy plants. I planted
some petunias last mid-October and they just finished their
lifespan at the end of March. However, petunias are still
available at the nurseries. So, I bought another batch of these
multi-colored marvels. They are doing well, but the weather is
getting hotter each week--I hope they continue to thrive.
(2) There are many
educational DVD's available nowadays, some of which are reasonably
priced. I can watch these DVD's over and over, and never get tired
of them. There is a lot to learn, and it also inspires me to do
more reading in areas which are not my specialty. I have DVD's on
American history, ancient civilizations, animals and wildlife, and
the planetary system. And, I am collecting more as my budget
permits. I think what makes educational DVD's especially valuable
is that they are suitable for homeschooling. As hardcore
liberalsim and extreme multiculturalism continue to define our
worldview, however, it might be wise to purchase some of the older
programs while they are still available. Even now, you have to be
careful regarding bias toward history (revisionist history) and the
creation of the earth (the unnecessary divisions between reason,
science, and faith).
Probably everyone has a fascination for some
other time and place. I have always been intrigued by ancient
Egypt and the Medieval Ages: two very different but amazing
periods of time. I happened to find two books on these cultures
that provide me with reading for pure pleasure. Then, getting back
to our world's current problems, I will also discuss a document on
the economic crisis.
Tombs, & Hieroglyphics, by Barbara Mertz. This book is a
popular history of Egypt. In other words, it is not academically
technical, but accurate and enjoyable for the average reader.
Mertz combines her keen intellect with creative expression. And,
there are pictures! Mertz has also written a lot of
fiction--another new world of literature that I can look forward to
in the years ahead.
(2) Historia del
Rey Transparente, by Rosa Montero. This book is written in
Spanish. It is very difficult to find Spanish language books in
America's major bookstores--that is, books written originally in
Spanish and by native Spanish-speakers. The majority of Spanish
language books are translations of popular American fiction, most
of which I do not read even in English. Although I am not fluent
in Spanish, having studied it later in my life, I find it a great
pleasure to be able to read in Spanish. My main foreign language
is French. Even though my French gets rusty from time to time, it
still feels natural--like English. I can think in French. I
cannot think in Spanish and probably never will.
Montero lives in
Spain, has written other novels, and is a newspaper reporter.
Historia del Rey Transparente takes place in the 12th
century, and is nicely written at an intermediate level of modern
Spanish. If you took a year of college-level Spanish, and if you
have a good dictionary and verb book, and if you have the desire,
you could probably read this novel which offers just enough
challenge to make it a learning experience. Montero won Spain's
Que Leer award for this novel in 2005.
(3) A Roadmap for
America's Future, by Representative Paul D. Ryan (R-WI). This
document, Version 2.0, is 87 pages in PDF form and was written
in January 2010. It is "A Plan to Solve America's Long-term
Economic and Fiscal Crisis," and is an alternative to Obama's
policies. Part of the Roadmap suggests a new route to
Social Security benefits. Although Ryan wants to ensure the
continuation of Social Security for future generations, part of
this plan involves the incremental raising of the retirement age:
not to exceed the age of 70. This will not affect anyone currently
aged 55 or over, but will apply only to the younger generations.
Allow me to respond
by admitting that I deeply resent the retirement age already having
been raised from 65 to 66/67. I feel cheated, defrauded;
victimized by own government. I have always loved my work, but I
was also planning my retirement. The prospect of an extra year or
two is sufficient, after many years of schooling and working, to
prompt re-appraisal of retirement goals. Depending on one's
working environment and on the type of work, the added stress of
staying on the job until age 70 (or 67) could become a burden for
some people. Age 70 is already old age. Five good years--now 65
to 67 and later possibly to 70--would be lost. As you get older,
time is precious. If you still have unfulfilled dreams, the
retirement segment of your life is your only hope for final
fulfillment. For those under 55, take heed and live your life with
double carpe diem.
Allow me to add just
a short, poignant, extra note: my good neighbors, who were in their
late 70's, died of cancer a year apart from each another. If they
had retired at age 70, that would have given them seven or eight
years of leisure--and a portion of that span would have been
consumed with suffering and medical treatments.
script-writing, and acting
Although my age might be
showing, as it sometimes does, I remember when movies and
television shows were written without the inclusion of cell phone
conversations--because cell phones had not been invented yet. There
were scenes in which an actor or actress would be talking on the
telephone, but they were often written as real monologues which
required talent and the memorization of lines in order to perfect.
Shakespeare wrote a lot of monologues: it was an art to write them
as well as to deliver them on stage, and they were an integral part
of the whole performance.
The cell phone
interspersions in current script-writing, however, are frequent and
mundane. They add nothing to the artistic value of drama and
acting. It is like listening to someone talk on their cell phone
in the supermarket: my reaction ranges from annoynance to who
cares?! It is not entertaining or meaningful to listen to
numerous cell phone interspersions in a television series. At
most, they might help to carry the plot forward, to put events into
sequence, but they are overly used, poorly done, and boring.
The problem seems to
be one of duplicating real life in a script as opposed to
artistically portraying real life. Cell phones are a reality--it
might appear phony (pun intended) if they were eliminated from a
script. However, cell phone conversations are not conducive to
good drama. The challenge is to insert them in such a way that
they add interest to the story.
Offhand, I recall
an actress who was particularly adept at doing old-fashioned
telephone monologues: Patricia Routledge in her role as Hyacinth
in the British series, Keeping Up Appearances. She
was masterful at captivating her audience using only her talent
and one prop--her slimline telephone.
Cell phone users
are possibly using their phones more for texting nowadays than for
phone calls. I read that the average American cell phone user
sends 584 texts per month. I have not really seen much texting in
television shows. How boring to watch someone texting! Does
anyone remember when personal computers first went on the market?
Remember those big, beige, bulky monitors and rickety keyboards?
In those days, some television script-writers began to include
computers in the story. Usually, someone would be trying to locate
secret or deleted files, and the camera would zoom on the computer
monitor--as though to involve you in the process and make you feel
like you really were getting inside information. It was a waste of
film and a poor substitution for the arts of acting and
photography. Give me Shakespeare's soothsayers any day.
What can you say, and how can you say it,
in 140 words or less? I just recently joined Twitter
[mynatalia2010]. This is my first attempt to undertake a project
beyond my website. Most people use Twitter to give brief messages
or to provide links to other articles on the internet. There seem
to be a few people, however, who use Twitter to write poetic
messages. Tweeting can be used for quick, up-to-date
communication, or for artistic expression if you exert your
My tweets are sort
of free-verse poems. Since Twitter allows only 140 letters per
message, including spaces and punctuation, it requires effort to
compose a succinct yet complete message. I try to avoid using
e-mail or text lingo--you know, ur for you are, or
b4 for before. To me, the challenge is to stay
within the measured format (however arbitrary) and to use standard
English and to make it work. Sometimes, I use only a single space
after periods in order to have more spaces available for a short
word. It is a pleasant challenge: not too easy, but not too
While browsing Twitter, I noticed there are many
people tweeting around the world and in different languages. For
example, Newt Gingrich is tweeting in Spanish now
[GingrichEspanol]. I have always thought that conservatives should
make their views available in Spanish. No, I do not think we
should be a bilingual English/Spanish nation. But, it is a reality
that there are many Spanish-speakers in America, some of whom speak
no or very little English. Whether these people are here legally
or illegally--it does not matter for the purpose of informing them
of conservative views. Without a conservative voice in Spanish,
this segment of the population can only listen to (and believe) the
hardcore liberal and radical voices.
Tips on how to
read a novel in a foreign language
This is how I
approach a novel. It works for me; maybe it will help you, too.
(1) Remember that reading does not require good listening or
speaking skills. It only requires a knowledge of grammar and a
grasp on pronunciation. Even if you cannot easily understand
people who speak, let's say Italian, you can still enjoy reading a
novel in Italian.
(2) Begin by
skipping around the novel, reading the easiest paragraphs or pages
first. This will give you some confidence. Do not approach the
novel rigidly: reading from page one and straining your way through
to the end. This can make language a miserable experience and
prompt you to give up. Relax. You are in charge. (3) Next, get
out your dictionary and verb book. Go back over the difficult
paragraphs and pages. Look up the words you do not know and figure
out the verb conjugations. Work at your own pace. Even if you
master only one paragraph every couple of days: that is an
accomplishment to be proud of and to build on.
(4) Then, read one
chapter from beginning to end. If this goes well, continue with
another chapter (in order or out of order, whatever you prefer).
Or, repeat the same chapter until it flows smoothly. (5) Finally,
read the entire novel, in order, from beginning to end. At this
point, it will feel almost like reading English. Enjoy.
Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) wants to ban salt in
restaurants. He introduced Bill A10129 on March 5, 2010, the
purpose of which is to prohibit restaurant cooks and chefs from
using salt in food preparation. How can Ortiz possibly enforce
such a ban? Will President Obama appoint a Salt Czar? Are
Americans really going to legalize marijuana and outlaw salt?
What about alcohol and tobacco? Is Ortiz saying that Americans can
have a martini before dinner and a cigarette afterwards, but no
salt in their beef stroganoff?
Since I seem to be
looking at bygone days in today's essay...I remember a type of
bagel which was known as a salt bagel. You could buy them
in real Jewish bakeries. They were a water bagel, or a
plain flour bagel (not an egg bagel), with coarse salt
sprinkled on the top (sort of like a pretzel). Delicious. I have
not seen this type of bagel in a long time. Maybe they are no
longer available. If I ever find one again, maybe I will send it
to Ortiz--then maybe he will change his mind about the salt ban.
not invited to White House
Only public school children
were invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll (scheduled for
April 5th). There were 3,000 reserved tickets spread among 11
public schools in the D.C. area. Many other tickets were available
through a lottery system which was open to Catholic and other
private school children both inside and outside the D.C. area.
Could Obama's focus on public schools and omission of private
schools not be interpreted as a pursuit of federal control? If
you are a kid in the public school system, which is already an arm
of the government, then you get preferential treatment.
apparently no explanation from the White House regarding their
omission of Catholic children from the reserved ticket list. The
White House Easter Egg Roll is taxpayer funded, and the parents of
Catholic school children pay taxes. Let us remember that President
Obama also ended the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program which
provided private school vouchers for low-income and minority
children. I wonder how the University of Notre Dame--the Catholic
university that awarded Obama an honorary degree--feels about this.
I wonder how the Easter Bunny feels about this.
As I said, writing
Notes are difficult for me. The proof is that some of my
categories today nearly turned into short essays.
(Written 04/05/10: bibliography available.)
[*ADDED NOTE 1: It
appears that President Obama indeed approves of vulgar cursing in
public. When he recently gave a speech in Columbus, Ohio,
commenting on the number of road projects made possible by the
Recovery Act, he said this was a "big.....deal." Obama
paused between big and deal, which could only have
been in reference to Biden's "big f---ing deal." This
reference, combined with Obama's recent remark about kicking
-ss, seems to indicate an immature attitude and a lack of
respect for voters.] (Written 06/22/10)
[*ADDED NOTE 2:
Yesterday, on July 21, 2010, the White House Official Twitter
Account [http://twitter.com/whitehouse], posted the following:
"A Big Deal: Obama signs Wall St Reform..." Again, this
appears to be further evidence of a lack of civility toward the
public. Of course, A Big Deal (notice the upper case
letters) had to refer to Biden's "big f---ing deal."
Instead of reprimanding Biden, the White House seems to have turned
this vulgarity into the rebellious motto of hope-and-change
politics.] (Written 07/22/10)
Until we meet