Letter from a Reformed Grammar Nazi


IMG_20130130_193155 Take a second to look at this photo. What you are seeing is a cold-hearted, cruel monster, a villain of the highest order. I am a member of that elite dark order of cyber bullies about which you have been cautioned. I use my assumed superiority to publicly shame friends and enemies alike under the guise of helping them. I lurk in comment threads with daggers of indignity, waiting to pluck at the failures of my fellows. I am that creature who cannot allow even the smallest infractions to pass, eagerly poised with an asterisk at my fingertips for the least grammatical mistake. That’s right. I’m a Grammar Nazi. Or I was.

It all started when I became an English Major. I’m certain many of you understand how such a descent into malevolence can begin with such a choice. After taking so many classes on the “proper” use of English, I began to feel that I was master of all words, which was great for my own confidence. Unfortunately, that supposed mastery made me feel entitled to judge others, to correct their mistakes regardless of the context in which we interacted. I corrected status updates and clucked over spelling errors in blog posts. I shared memes that explained how English grammar is so simple, one must be an utter moron to confuse “your” and “you’re.” I scorned the practices of text-speak as base and pitied those who foolishly ended a sentence with a prepositional phrase. I was embarrassed by the ignorantly written posts by my own family. I’m an English Major and my own brother doesn’t know how to use capitals and punctuation! How could I ever show my face if people found out I was related to someone who used “lol” as a period?

This snobbery leeched its way off the computer and into my life. I was most critical of my fellow English Majors, who should certainly know better. How could they expect anyone to take them seriously if they talked like that? Ums and uhs and likes and you knows and, the most hated of all phrases, “I was just gonna say.”  You probably said that exact phrase today and perhaps caught the look on my face of utter contempt. Forget the fact that “just” implies that you are apologetic about your own opinion and that it is obvious you’re “gonna say” something as your mouth is open and words are falling out. I can’t stand the “I was.” It implies that you are correcting your own assertion (I was going to say this, but now I am going to say this), which isn’t what you mean at all since you never correct yourself. What you mean is that this is what you think but it is probably wrong and you just wanted to point out something you thought was significant fully aware that it might not be. You’re asking permission to speak your mind and it drives me out of mine.

It was all going so well. I was fully entitled to label others as dumb or ignorant at the drop of an apostrophe. Then I started taking linguistic-based classes and my world of supremacy began to crumble. As I learned more about the history of English as a language, my certainty that there was a wrong way to use it eroded away. It seemed that correct spelling and grammar was an invention of xenophobes looking to protect the “purity” of the mother tongue from the scourge of foreigners. Further study of English showed that it was a fluid language, evolving over hundreds of years in clear linguistic patterns until we reached its youngest incarnation, African American Vernacular, which turns out not to be some broken conglomeration of English and slang but a legitimate dialect with its own grammatical structure. It became ever clearer that not only is there no wrong way to use English, there may not even be a right way, either. Language is for communication, so as long as someone is communicating it doesn’t matter whether she says “it’s going good” instead of “it’s going well.” I can believe I have been so petty that I will deliberately misunderstand someone’s post if it isn’t written to the same standard as my formal essays.

When I see a bigoted rant about how foreigners should speak English if they’re going to live here, I feel truly smug because there is always some kind of grammatical or spelling error. But is my editing any different from people complaining about having to press “1” for English? My claims of superiority over others based on language use, I now realize, is no different from bigotry in other forms. Racism, sexism, grammarism: all ways to make people in power feel that they deserve to be in power.

It will take a lot of work to reform myself of this unfair bias. I will probably always mutter “well” under my breath every time “good” is improperly used and I will flinch at misspelled or confused words. However, I will try to keep my proofreading to academic papers and resist devaluing people according to arbitrary linguistical rules, allowing such insignificant errors to distract me from the glory that is expression through language. Language is the greatest gift of the human race and I am ashamed that I ever saw it as a tool for belittling other human beings.

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15AM00000092011 · 09:42

Angry War/Grammar Rant


This post is rated NC-17 for strong language.

 

I’ve been more ignorant of the news recently, choosing to listen to audiobooks on my drive than NPR (the only news source I can stomach besides Daily Show and Colbert Report).   Mostly this started because I discovered just how much a treasure trove my local libraries are.  But as ISIS (and whatever else the American Devil is calling them) becomes more and more active and word spreads of terrorist cells and attacks on American soil, I find that I am less inclined to shut off my book (currently Dexter’s Final Cut => yes, I would rather listen to a book about a serial killer than listen to the violence in the news) and catch up on recent events.

Before you start crying “isolationism won’t make it go away,” know that I am perfectly aware of this fact.  Even without basic history to demonstrate this, I’m married to the Army.  Can’t really pretend things don’t exist when they’re knocking at your door with a reminder that soldiers don’t exist for peacetime.   It’s getting serious again so something has to be done and the rumors are already flying about who is up to bat first.  Isolationism isn’t my goal at all.  The problem is that if I’m this angry all the time, my health is going to suffer.  You know, ulcers, headaches, insomnia.  And the jail time for all those murders isn’t going to help anything.  It’s just hard not to be angry when you hear all that craziness.  Especially spouting from the mouths of normally rational people.

“It may be time to take the proactive approach and start rounding them up and putting them in camps or deporting them. Otherwise, they will be doing it to us Christians and Jews.” – Facebook

” These terrorists want to kill us, plain and simple.  We have to kill them first.  It’s better on their soil than ours.” – NPR interview of retired cop.

I suppose what sets me off first, besides the ignorance of such statements, is the obvious errors in grammar.  You see, they both use anonymous, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns.  They, them, their, we, us, ours.  But that’s not what is meant, of course.  When they say we, what they mean is “someone-not-me.”  I recommend to anyone spewing blanket statements of this sort to make slight changes to their pronouns and see if the message still holds.  “I must start rounding Troy up and putting him in a camp before he does it to me.  Because, well, Troy’s a nice guy and a killer bass player, and he was in the Army a while and deployed with my husband.  But he’s a Muslim and I just can’t trust him.”  Doesn’t sound right once I replace the impersonal pronoun and it becomes my responsibility.  Now, you may not personally know a Muslim, so imagination may be your fist step in this process.  I wish I could compare this sort of “proactive” response to the “camps” set up for the Jews (and sundry) in Germany or the Japanese in America, since that would be instantly understood by everyone.  But that isn’t exactly right because those atrocities have a slightly different flavor to them and someone could bring up a valid counter-argument.  The Jews weren’t terrorists and the Japanese weren’t “relocated” because of their religion.  Fair point.  So how about the Protestant burnings of England during the Reformation?  They were also terrorists, a threat to the State trying to bring down the Apocalypse upon the Empire.  Maybe the Hugoenots are more your style?  Or the Catholics?  Do you remember the outcry against JFK because he was a Catholic and his presidency would open the door for the Pope to take over?

There is a lot of pressure out there to sacrifice our freedoms to gain greater safety, but I cannot, will not give up the freedom of religion.  The minute we start rounding up (hear how dehumanizing that phrase is?) Americans based on their religious beliefs and not their actual criminal activity, we lose in every way.  I shouldn’t have to explain this.  Religious freedom means for all, not just those beliefs you like.  If you don’t care for Islam for religious reasons, it isn’t your government’s job to do something.  Get your Bible/Torah/Watch Tower, etc, and start evangelizing.  It is their right to believe and your right to attempt conversion.  It is not your right to imprison someone because an extremist thousands of miles away is committing a murderous rampage, even if that extremist is in this country.  That is all I’m going to say about that.

That second statement needs some changes, too.  “I have to kill them first” works better for me.  But that’s not how it works, is it?  No, when people say “we” in this case, they don’t intend to rush off to the recruiter the next day to join the good fight.  Their “we” actually means “you.”  As in, “You need to send  soldiers into an knuckle-dragging game of hunt-and-peck against an enemy that doesn’t play by conventional rules of war, and can’t even be classified as one coherent enemy, while I sit at home, stroking my hunting rifle and telling my buddies about how if I was only twenty years younger, I’d give those terrorists what-for.”  Sorry for the redneck stereotyping here.  I did say I was angry.

They never mean “I’m going to leave my family for a pointless war we don’t know how to fight.”  “I’m going to risk my life, my health, my sanity, while guys in fancy suits bicker over who has the most patriotic lapel pin.”  “I’m going to come home after a frustrating struggle with no guarantee that I’ll have a job or retirement benefits because some people need to make sure their kids have sufficient trust funds.”  “I have to pray that I don’t suffer injury because there’s no telling whether I’ll have health benefits to cover my medical costs when I’m no longer fit for service because the people getting those benefits are too worried about the long-term side effects of sitting on their *sses and b*tching about how the other side are a bunch of chai-drinking nancies who are too scared of war to send my friends and family to die for their personal jet and thousand-dollar shoes.”

In case you were wondering, YES, I AM PRETTY F*CKING ANGRY.  While those f*ckers are out there saying we should do something, it’s us or them, why don’t they just send in the troops already, I hear something completely different.  Their impersonal pronouns don’t exist for me.  The troops aren’t just vague camo-dressed extras in the back of the glorious war movie.  They’re my friends, my family, closer to me in many ways than my blood-relatives can ever be.  If I was still in, I would still make an uproar, I’m sure, but at least I’d be there with them.  I’d know they were okay, I’d share the daily frustrations and irritations and that vague worry that maybe today the IDF won’t land harmlessly in some open desert space.  But I’m out and those f*cking civilians are demanding that my husband fixes this sh*t-storm when I know perfectly well that he’ll just be another anonymous cog in the war machine waiting to be forgotten just as soon as they get war-weary.

War-weary.  That’s a funny term.  Americans wanted out of Iraq and Afghanistan because they were war-weary.  They didn’t want to do anything in Syria because they were war-weary.  They want to pay ransoms to terrorists because they’re war-weary.  (Note my heavy-handed use of 3rd-person pronouns.  Pisses you off when people generalize, doesn’t it?)  Less than a percent of the US population is in the military and yet everyone is war-weary.  Tired of hearing about it in the news, tired of their hard-earned tax dollars being spent on it, tired because it just doesn’t seem to matter to their everyday lives.  I think the term everyone is looking for is war-bored.  You can’t get weary of something you don’t experience, don’t see the effects of each day.  You can’t get weary when it isn’t you ripped from your family or your spouse is left alone with a new baby.  Or when you deploy just as you start reconnecting with your 8-year-old daughter who hasn’t forgiven you for the last deployment when she was 5.  When you have sat day after day, breathing toxins from burn pits, checking your boots every day for vermin, eating and sleeping and working out because you don’t have a mission and your job is to be there and then go home and shut up until the next time.  When you have sat impotent while your friends went without you and you have wondered if the randomness of this conflict will take out someone you know this time, if maybe that safety you felt when you were there was just complacency and you were only lucky, after all.  Come to me then and tell me of your deep-boned weariness.  Maybe I’ll believe you.

I don’t know what to do about ISIS.  I’m not a war strategist.  I’m not even good at chess.  I don’t think sending in ground troops is going to be effective at this juncture, but I’m not in a position, nor do I have the full scope of the situation, to make that decision.  I just have to hope that the powers-that-be will actually take the time to develop a strategy before they start chucking soldiers/marines/sailors/airmen at this problem.  It is horrific what is happening out there, yes.  But this is not the time for simple solutions like “kill them before they kill us.”  War is not, can never be a simple solution.

What I ask is that you, my individual readers out there, think before you make grandiose statements about this problem.  If you follow my guidelines and become a liar with a simple adjustment to 1st-person pronouns, maybe you should rethink posting it on the Facebook.  If the boots on the ground aren’t going to be your boots, then shut the f*ck up.

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15AM00000082011 · 08:44

Preventing Sexual Assault: A Predator’s Guide


There are many disturbing statistics concerning sexual assault. According to the CNU S.A.V.E website, 84% of rape victims on college campuses knew their attacker. Clearly, students are not limited to the role of victim. They can just as easily be cast as the attacker. So, perhaps it would be prudent to teach students how to avoid becoming the attacker, as it is unlikely that a student’s goals for the year include standing before a disciplinary board and explaining his/her side of the story. We were all drinking. I didn’t know. I didn’t realize. I didn’t mean to. It is time to educate the aggressors, but only those parties that are interested in a consensual sexual encounter. Any parties interested in a non-consensual encounter should seek professional help.

The most well-known mantra and only guidance given to aggressors is “No means no.” That means that even if your partner has been flirting all night and giving you all the indicators that intimacy is welcome, “no” should not be misconstrued as “playing hard to get” or any similar kind of reverse psychology. If you are making your intentions clear and your partner appears to be of the teasing variety, it is advisable to abandon the endeavor entirely. That being said, when alcohol or other impairing drugs are involved, “yes” still means “no.” Even if you have both been drinking (and you have been dating for a long time and earlier in the night, before the drinking started, there were hints given that this could be the night), once alcohol is consumed neither of you can legally give consent. The reason for this is fairly obvious when one takes into account all the bad decisions people make after drinking. Karaoke, for instance. Tattoos in questionable locations. Texting exes. Eating Taco Bell. Falling asleep while wearing shoes and being in close proximity of permanent markers. Deciding to drive home because you aren’t that drunk and it’s only a couple of miles from campus. Decisions you make under the influence can get yourself and others killed. It really isn’t the best mindset in which to take your relationship to the next level, even if it is just a one-night-stand situation. You don’t want to find out that your “consensual” partner woke up the next day and realized you were the Taco Bell decision. Protect yourself from that situation. Don’t have sex with drunk people.

This advice is purely to prevent those instances of grave misunderstandings, when things got out of control or you were both being stupid or you didn’t realize your partner was that incapacitated. However, there are other incidents that occur for far more sinister reasons, mostly having to do with arrogance and power. They are the reasons victims are given so much advice about safeguarding themselves. For the aggressors, here are some tips for avoiding pepper spray, slapped faces, and kneed groins. Provocative clothes are not an invitation. They are clothes, nothing more. If you feel this is unfair, perhaps that it is false advertising, you are invited to walk around in skimpy clothes all you like. Then, when you are molested by undesirable suitors who insist that your ensemble dictates your sexual proclivity, you may perhaps understand how it feels to be approached with that sort of logical fallacy. No one is “asking for it” with their fashion choices.

Further situations that are not invitations include a potential partner being passed out. There is no reasonable argument for having sex with someone just because they can’t stop you. You cannot give consent for another person. Consenting for someone else implies that you own that person and slavery has been illegal for a long time. Again, if you feel it is your right to take advantage of someone because they have unwisely made themselves vulnerable, then you are encouraged to drink until you pass out so that you can experience being assaulted in your sleep. Just keep in mind that your partner will not be some kind of fantasy liaison with a porn star, as you are likely not the fantasy partner for your victim.

Phrases along the lines of “s/he was asking for it,” “I couldn’t help myself,” or “if s/he didn’t want it, then s/he shouldn’t have flirted so much” are invalid excuses. If you feel that sex is one of your self-evident rights as an American, you are within your bounds to abuse yourself. The Founding Fathers did not write a Nookie Amendment. Your rights only extend so far as they don’t impede on the rights of others. Your need for sexual gratification is trumped by your potential partner’s need for personal sovereignty. Moreover, sexual assault is a crime and can lead to jail time, where it is likely you will meet others who feel that they have every right to have sex with you and care not at all for your consent in the matter. For the sake of your own sovereignty, it is best to practice self-discipline.

Understand that the campus is not divided into aggressors and victims. Everyone has the capability to be a victim or an aggressor. Making yourself immune to victimization is incredibly challenging because there is no way to prepare for every aggressive eventuality. Carrying pepper spray and going to parties with friends is no guarantee of safety, especially if the aggressor is someone you know. Avoiding becoming an unwanted aggressor is merely a matter of situational awareness and consideration for the sanctity of fellow human beings. Be cautious. Be selective. Beware of drunk people. Don’t let unbelievably poor judgment ruin the lives of two people.

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15AM00000022011 · 02:46

The Not-Angry Rant about Football


Well, it’s football season and already the news is rife with scandals, none of which are the subject of this rant. If you want to hear about the violent actions of men who are paid unimaginable sums of money to be violent, please look elsewhere. I’m more interested in the recent debates concerning college football, specifically whether college athletes should be paid.

Now, I have looked at the subject in an unbiased manner, ignoring my deep loathing for professional sports since that particular emotion need not apply to this situation. The deal is, as far as I understand it, students are bringing in money for their colleges through ticket sales and merchandise yet they are receiving none of the benefits of said profit. And I mean a lot of money, especially down south where college football is king. Students want a cut. Schools don’t want to give it. The debate gets pretty involved and, as with all debates connected to football, the sides are extremely polarized.

I think they are missing a major factor in this debate. Let’s look at professional football like it is a real job for a moment. There is no way to become a professional football player except through college football. Well, okay, there are many jobs out there that require higher education in order to be a competitive applicant. If you want to become a teacher, you major in education. If you want to become a professional musician, you major in music performance. If you want to be a pro-football player, you major in, um, business? Oh, that’s right. Football is an extra-curricular activity, not a major. There are no classes on game strategies, optimal exercise programs, and how to manage the millions of dollars you’re going to make so that your aren’t bankrupt two months after retiring at the ripe old age of 35.

I am not suggesting colleges start creating degree programs for sports. What I am suggesting is that college should be for higher education and job training, not for pursuing a hobby that may or may not land you a career. What football needs is a minor league, and I don’t mean arena football or anything similar. I mean, there should be a way for athletes to become pros without going through the college system. Because, frankly, they don’t need a four-year institution to teach them how to play football. They know how to play, they just need experience and training. Athletes who are serious about their sport should be allowed to focus on it and be paid for their work. They shouldn’t have to pay $40,000 for classes they don’t want to take if the real focus is practice and games. To put this in perspective, let’s compare football to a similar career choice: Ballet. Both are physical, take a great deal of time and training, and have only short durations for careers. You can go to ballet academies or major in ballet at many four-year colleges. But football has neither academies nor majors. Yet athletes get scholarships to attend college in order to play football, on the condition that they pass their classes.

There are many athletes out there who want to go to college for educational purposes because they acknowledge the unlikeliness of a professional career. However, there are also athletes who have no inclinations in that regard. They want to play. They could care less about school and only attend because it is the only way they can play. Players get drafted based on their skills, not on how they did on finals. No scout is out there asking if a player is good at writing essays if he just returned a 90-yard touchdown. I’m not saying that higher education isn’t useful to athletes, because it can be useful to those who seek it. I am saying that it isn’t necessary and forcing kids to shell out tuition money and attend classes they have no interest in has created an unsavory educational environment. In many of those big-name schools football over-shadows academic achievement so that students are passed in order to keep that talent on the field. That’s not fair to those kids and it’s not fair to everyone else who did the work. And what about athletes who want to play but can’t afford tuition? There are only so many scholarships. Is it really right for the already bloated college system to demand more money just so a kid can participate in an extra-curricular activity and hate his way through classes?

No. No more scholarships for non-degree programs. No more making money hand-over-fist off students. No more lost talent because of scholastic failings. Unless you want to start making everyone play sports in order to graduate. Then we’d all be in the same boat, eh?

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15AM00000022011 · 02:43

Premature Pumpkin Nation


To everything, there is a season. A time for sowing and reaping, for flowers and snow, for beaches and fire pits. I’m beginning to wonder, though, who is dictating the seasons these days. Whoever it is has some pretty interesting priorities.

Take Halloween. I love Halloween and given a choice, I would celebrate all year with ghoulish treats and ridiculous costumes. However, I know that in actuality I would tire of plastic vampire fangs and stripper-quality Bride of Frankenstein heels within a week. What makes holidays and seasons special is the limited time you spend with them. The novelty can only last so long before you start wishing for fewer zombies and more reindeer.

This basic reality seems to have escaped producers out there, who appear to be of the opinion that more is better ad nauseam. According to candy companies, I should have been devouring on ghost-shaped chocolates back in August, presumably to make sure I’m properly fattened for the traditional mid-winter sacrifice to ensure that the sun rises on January 1st. Companion to Halloween, Pumpkin Season is already laying claim to coffees and confections a whole month before pumpkins are normally harvested. And don’t even say “Black Friday” to me! It’s a despicable display of consumer greed and big business chicanery that we fall for every year, lambs obediently led to financial slaughter. Do you think they’ll finally make that one day of x-games level elbowing stretch to a week this year?

Then there is Christmas, which starts earlier than Halloween, barely holding back long enough to let the Back-to-School rush cool down. I have long had a touchy relationship with “the most wonderful time of the year,” primarily because of Christmas songs. As an Army musician, we logically started preparing for holiday concerts in October, and after doing two or three parades in freezing weather, Frosty the Snowman became a sickening dirge in my soul. Since getting out, I have cringed through the piping of Jingle Bells before Halloween, have sickened at the crass commercialism, and dreaded the ever-increasing expectations for the latest toy for the nieces and nephews to tire of before the colorful wrapping paper hits the floor. I have to tell myself that the season of joy and goodwill toward men is only for children, because the adults are demonstrating none of these things. The adults are too busy bickering over what the holiday is about, how it should be celebrated, and who is allowed to celebrate it.

If this is upsetting to you, good. It should be. We have allowed Starbucks and Walmart to define our needs. Yes, needs. We do not equate the holidays as a time to splurge a bit on “wants” for others. We need to fill the stockings. We need to cover the lawn in giant, inflatable Charlie Brown Halloween tableaus. We need to drink clove-heavy “pumpkin” coffee for four months. It’s for a limited time only! We only have a third of the year to enjoy cloves and nutmeg and cinnamon! BUY ALL THE THINGS!!!

Well, I love pumpkin season. I love pumpkin coffee, cupcakes, and donuts. I am well-known for my pumpkin muffins, which I roast my own pumpkin for. But I am tired of it being shoved down my throat for more profit. This season, I will not be affirming their marketing practices. I will not pretend that it’s sweater weather when it’s 80° outside. I will not force fall on my senses. I will enjoy the lasting vestiges of summer until the season has passed. Then I will glory in the changing colors and the crisp air with a pumpkin coffee.

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15AM00000022011 · 02:41

Insecurities


I got a bit of backlash for claiming I’m not that pretty (http://ithilen.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ironic-whistling/).  So I thought I would clarify.

You don’t see it because you aren’t looking.  Everyone has self-image issues.  When I look in the mirror, I am looking at the same face I see every day and it isn’t often that I dwell on the positive.  I see the scars from compulsive picking and the zits and the jaw line that’s a little too round and the atrocious teeth.  I see eyebrows that need tweezing and skin that needs smoothing.  But it’s my face and I accept that I have a pretty good set up, all things considered.

I also had a childhood where I was called ugly, where my flaws were pointed out, where I couldn’t live up to the ideal.  Didn’t we all get that?  So even though I’m a grown woman with a decent figure and pleasant features, I don’t measure up.  I could be taller, trimmer, could dress better and make an effort with my hair.  I could wear make up every day like every other woman on the planet (it seems).  But at the end of the day, or rather, at the beginning of the day, I’m tired and don’t feel like making an effort.  I may feel guilty about that sometimes (don’t ask me why) and I may dread leaving college for places where jeans and a t-shirt don’t cut it.  So when some stranger pays me a compliment, my immediate thought is that he must be joking.  Girls who dress up in frilly sun dresses and wear make up and high heels get whistled at.  I, in my flip-flops and jeans, lugging my back pack, am not on display.  It just catches me off guard and sets off all the insecurities that we all deal with all the time, even when we have wonderful people who point out the truth of our individual beauty.

Thank you for saying I’m pretty.  It means a lot more coming from friends and family than it does from some lurker on the street.

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15AM000000122011 · 00:53

How It Should Have Gone


The boy who stands before his father-king, puffed up and swaggering, most beloved and gentle, has brought war to his kingdom.  The girl is indeed exquisitely beautiful, in a vacant way, and looks at his son with something bordering on worship.  Children, pleased with their escape and ignorant to the consequences of their foolishness.  But what can he do?  This poor fool is his son and family is everything.  It is the basis for all civilization.  If he abandoned his son, his people would never forgive him and the kingship would be lost to him.  He must think of his legacy, his elder son who is honorable and just.

“Send her back,” Priam says, though with little hope.  The impetuous boy would not have stolen her if he had any common sense.

“What?  Why?” he asks, genuine confusion in his dark eyes.

“Why?  Why?  Can you really not know?”  Rage moves the king to pace the elegantly decored room, gesturing vastly to banners of neighboring kingdoms and tapestries of battles.  “Can you be such an imbecile, so blind to the slaughter you have brought to our door?  All of Greece shall be at the walls, her husband at the fore.”  His hoary finger stabs at the girl, who remains unflinching.  Priam begins to wonder if her intense beauty has rotted her mind.  “Have you no concept of the destruction you cause?  We had peace, boy!  We had prosperity and trade and honor among our neighbors!  Now, we shall suffer privation and shame by you hand!  How will I look my neighbor in the eye when my own son has proven himself a sneak-thief!”

“I am no thief!” he exclaims, line-less face turning bright crimson.  “She is my reward, a gift from the gods and I will fight any man who calls me thief!”

Looking at that petulant anger, Priam is tempted to slap the boy for his impudence.  “Gift from the gods?  Know you not that our gods gift roses with poisoned thorns?”  His fury is finally exhausted by this exchange and he collapses to his cushioned throne.  The boy is mad to think the gods would simply give him with the wife of a powerful king.  Unless, the blasphemous thought comes unbidden, as a means of sport, to make the mortals play at war for their divine entertainment.   “You must send her back on a ship laden with treasure to alleviate this insult.”

“I will not.”  Priam looks up sharply, his grizzled face darkening, but the boy continues.  “She is mine, my prize, my wife.  We have shared the rites and the gods have smiled on our union.  If she goes back, it will be to watch me dispatch her slovenly husband.  Send an emissary to the pig-king and demand that he release her from her bonds to him, else he will end upon my blade.”

Thrice-bound fool.  Menelaus, drunk and half-dead would be more than a match for the womanly strength of his son, whose only skill lies with the bow and the swiftness of his feet.  The boy must know this, else he would have challenged the king directly.  A true warrior would not have snuck away with his prize in the night, and never would have dishonored the guest rites in any case, let alone as an emissary from his father-king.  “This travesty is my doing,” Priam decides suddenly and with great melancholy.  “I indulged you too long.  I made you this fool who boasts and brags to impress a simple-minded girl.  Fine.  You may keep her and we shall defend your dishonor because I am the one who allowed it.  The weeping of the widows will hound our sleep, but we shall live on behind our walls, diminished in honor, but alive.”  Hector, who has been silent for the entire discussion, shakes his head and departs.  The boy, Paris, smiles broadly.  “I will not be grinned at in such a way, boy,” the king says venomously.  “You will be gone from my sight with your strumpet and I will see you again only as I lay on my pyre.  You bring shame on our family and death to our kingdom.  If we are very fortunate, you may be given the opportunity to die gloriously in battle.”  Paris storms out angrily, the girl dragging behind him, her face still a lovely blank.

That night, he is visited by a dream.  The next decade of bloody war stretches out before him, gore-drenched beaches and the death calls echoing off the walls of the city.  He sees ten thousand ships sailing for the sake of foolish desire.  He sees the gods feasting above while the sons of Troy spend their lives.  From the massacred masses arises a man shining with the fury of the gods.  Golden armor bears down on his people, crashing upon Hector without mercy or humanity, culling the soldiers as a skilled reaper-man, ash spear skewering his warrior-son like a pig.  His son is dragged for days behind a chariot, his body desecrated for that fury.  There is further shame coming on Paris for his failures as a warrior and a man.  He sees a giant wooden horse and his city in flames, children slaughtered, women enslaved.  Hecuba and Andromace and Astyanax, speared and bleeding at his feet.  He follows Aeneas to Rome and Rome down the ages of blood and war and death, follows the tale of the great war which is believed to be utter myth because it is so preposterous.  He watches the desert bury his city and turn it from history to legend to mere fairy tale.  All this passes in his dream, filling his mind with horror and fear, endless screaming from dying soldiers and raped women, all for a vacant-faced beauty and a spoiled little boy.

Priam awakens with cold purpose in his heart.  He leaves his wife to her sweet sleeping and dons a robe against the chilly predawn air.  Hector is standing outside Paris’ room, his tunic belted with his sword, the echoes of the nightmare in his hard face.  He nods to his father and offers the old king a ceremonial dagger, the kind used to sacrifice yearlings in the spring.  The handle is cool and worn smooth by years of dedicated use.  Silently, the two men enter the bed chamber.

Paris and Helen are entwined on the bed, limbs bare and cotton blankets tangled.  They sleep soundly, wrapped together snugly like cats.  Priam covers his son’s mouth and in one smooth motion, draws the sharp blade across his lily-white throat.  The boy struggles briefly, but Hector holds him so there is no flailing to awaken the girl.  In moments, the thrashing stops, the gush of black blood slows and stops.  Priam considers taking the knife to the girl, but decides against it.  Let the Menelaus have his pretty doll back.  Hector drags his brother from the bed, rolls him into a blanket, hefts the bundle over his broad shoulder, and leaves the room as silent as before.  Priam gently awakens the girl and explains that Paris wants to go to the beach.  Her eyes light up at his name and she makes eager sounds in her throat but says nothing.  Priam guides her by the hand down through the palace to the stables where Hector awaits with a handful of loyal soldiers, horses, and a palette bearing the wrapped body and several lengths of sturdy wood.  Helen mounts a docile mare and follows the procession out of the stables, a vague smile on her face.

When the Greeks arrive on the beach, they discover a curious tableau.  A rapidly decaying naked body has been displayed on cross-beams standing up in the sand with an accompanying army of kites and seabirds.  Little remains of the handsome face, no ruddy cheeks, no lover’s eyes to woo the unwary.  There is evidence that the cross has been reinforced to ensure that it would be on display for their arrival, however long it might have taken, through winds and rains and great waves.  At the foot of the cross is a small shelter, just an assemblage of driftwood and plants enough to offer shade and protection from the rain.  Lying in the shelter is a vacant-faced girl, a pretty creature, though dirty and thin.  She has a bowl filled with some kind of gruel and a heavy chain on her ankle attached to the cross.  On the opposite side of the cross is a long boat filled with treasure.  Inscribed in the side of the boat is a message from the king.  “Praise to the gods for saving us from great folly.  Here is your queen, stolen dishonorably from your king.  The thief hangs before you, shorn of heritage, honors, legacy, family.  Recompense for you journey is here.  A feast shall be prepared for your departure.”

From his window, Priam can just make out the dark, ragged form on the cross and the ships crowding the harbor.  “After all, I have other sons.”

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Craft Beer Weekend


This weekend, Buddy and I celebrated not having kids.

Don’t get me wrong.  We want kids at some point, after I’m done with school and started on a real job.  We’d really like to wait until I’m rich and famous.

For now, we’re happy being parents to cats, who can be left at home in the care of friends if we want to skip out.  Which is exactly what we did.

About five hours from here is a brewery which was doing a special limited release of one of their annual beers.  Buddy, being a craft beer enthusiast, really wanted to go and, because they were limiting the number of 22 oz bottles each customer could purchase (6), he needed me along as a mule.  It’s not that the beer is so amazingly good that he plans to drink all 12 bottles himself.  He has a vast network of friends with whom he trades hard-to-find brews.  Those 12 bottles are trade currency.

The brewery was going to hand out purple bracelets to the first 300 customers at 6:30 am on Saturday.  Those lucky customers would be let into the brewery at 8 am for some inexpensive sausage biscuits and then allowed to make their purchases starting at 9 am, lining up based on the number on their bracelet.  When they ran out of purple bracelets, they switched to gold bracelets.  Those customers had to wait outside until all the purples were served and then hope that the brewery hadn’t already run out.

People weren’t supposed to start lining up until 2 am.  When we got there at 12:30 am, we were extremely grateful that our friends had gotten there at 11:30 pm.  The parking lot was full and the waiting party was well on its way.

You see, when craft beer people get together, they do “shares.”  Everyone brings a couple of bottles of rare, limited edition, or even aged brews.  Then they offer up tastes.  It’s part of what makes the craft beer community so strange to me.  Most people, when they get together to drink, are just trying to get drunk and have a good time.  Craft beer people are like oenophiles in their appreciation of the product (they use some of the same terminology), but they are more like foodies in their egalitarian attitude.  Wine people frequently come across as rude and stingy, mostly because good wine is expensive and it behooves the serious collector to save it for as long as possible to increase the value.  From what I can tell, wineries are trying to change this attitude and engage younger generations, probably because craft brewers are so successful with this strategy.  Foodies, in contrast, have very limited shelf life for their products.  Half the fun is eating and the other half is sharing with other foodies, who will appreciate your offering and make you feel justified for spending $8 on goat cheese.

Beer doesn’t have the shelf life of wine, but some are made to be aged for a year or so.  It’s also a controlled substance and is difficult to ship long distances safely.  The fans of this product love sharing, but only enough to give samples.  That night in line was spent by most people moving through the crowd and sharing stories and beer with complete strangers.  It was an unexpected atmosphere, rather exuberant and welcoming.

There were a couple of police officers there for the event.  They basically let everyone know that as long as they didn’t see anything (like open alcoholic beverages on a public street after midnight), they didn’t have to notice anything.  And, even though people were drinking steadily the whole time (and we could smell some less-than-legal smoking), the cops didn’t need to get involved.  They were just a friendly reminder to keep things amiable, which is exactly what happened.

Down sides to this trip were few, I think.  The brewery piped out loud music the whole night, mostly crap.  I think they were trying to give their fans a party environment when many just wanted to get some sleep or chill with their friends.  The group of guys behind us seemed to be of the opposite opinion and spent the night yelling and swearing aggressively.  All this added up to a bad night of not-really sleep.  It wasn’t going to be good to begin with, given that our “beds” were lawn chairs, but a little less noise would have been welcome.

Still, the breakfast was tasty, the beer was great (even to me, a non-beer drinker), and it was actually a good time.  We probably will never go to that event again (we were told that the crowd was twice the size as last year).  It was a long drive and we really enjoy sleep.  And I’m being amply compensated for my mule duty (I get to build up my professional wardrobe up to the amount he spent on the beer and we’re getting my favorite almond macaroons).

We finished up at the brewery around 10 am and then went to visit Buddy’s Aunt and Uncle who live only an hour beyond the brewery.  They weren’t home when we got there, so we spent the afternoon in Barnes & Noble (me writing a paper, Buddy trying surreptitiously to sleep).  That evening, we went out for some excellent German food (after a most-needed/desired shower) and spent some time playing with Auntie and Uncle’s new puppy and kitty.  Oh, they were so cute.  That night, we slept in a soft bed we were unusually grateful for.  Spending the night on a sidewalk in a lawn chair really makes you feel for the plight of the homeless.

It was a good weekend and only possible because no kids.  Next weekend, we’re going on another short trip.  Independence is fun.

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Victory of the Excuses


Friday, the excuses won.  I didn’t even fight it.

However, that evening I got back at the excuses.  Buddy and I dug a fire pit.  It was hard work and it was really hot out.  Saturday morning, after I went to the farmers’ market, I changed into my heavy-duty jeans and my boots and attacked the forest.  This involved pruning shears, a branch trimmer, and a rake.  I took down a couple of small trees and took out about 2 square feet of tangled vines.  I also found a couple of purple flowers that I moved to the front flower beds.  This took about 2 hours and was exhausting.  It wasn’t as difficult as what Buddy did that morning.

The first time we tried to clear out some of the forest (Buddy and me plus our friend with his chainsaw), we found a huge concrete slab at the base of a tree.  It’s at least 5×5 feet.  The boys attacked it with a sledgehammer, breaking of chunks at time and lugging them over to a different part of the yard. They eventually gave up on getting rid of the entire slab and it is still a sizable annoyance, though the greenery has completely obscured it from view again.

We used some of the concrete chunks to make a base for the massive woodpile that resulted from our first forest culling.  The rest went to a pile to be disposed of at some later date.  Except it never got disposed of, for various reasons, mostly laziness.  This lack was actually fortuitous for our spontaneous fire pit.  We’ve been talking about buying a fire pit for some time, but it was really something for when we do the BIG PROJECT for the back yard (clearing the forest, building a deck/patio, putting up a shed, etc).  Last week, though, was a bad week for Buddy.  Work was non-stop stress and frustration, so much so that he is really looking forward to Korea.  For a normal person, that’s kind of like looking forward to your dental appointment because of a toothache.  No one looks forward to Korea unless their current duty station is toothache-y.   They had their last summer concert on Thursday, the rehearsals for which were a non-stop source of aggravation.  There was a bake sale that night for the unit, to which I contributed a double batch of mixed-chip cookies.  I had a ton left over, so I said let’s build a fire pit and have s’mookies with our friends.  Thus, last-minute fire pit in the yard (which made us upgrade our small get-together to a full-on BBQ).

Now, we watch DIY a lot and they show little projects we can do at home, like fire pits.  You’re supposed to dig down and line the pit with sand and then surround it with paving stones or something.  We dug down about a foot and then dumped those concrete chunks into the center.  We spread them out some and then Buddy went after them with the sledge-hammer.  He didn’t get them down to a sand level, but he broke them up enough to make a pretty even base for the fire.  Then he took some other slabs of red concrete and used those to line the edges of the pit.

Fire Pit

Ta da!  Great example of up-cycling.  I am still sore from that work.  Take that, excuses.

So far this week, I’ve used my walk time to do homework.  I was behind last week on my reading because I didn’t have all my textbooks, so this whole weekend was catching up as well as reading ahead and doing side research for all the papers I have to write this semester.  I don’t think I’ll get my chocolate this week, if only because I got a surprise 5-8 page paper due Sunday on a book I haven’t read yet because it hasn’t been assigned yet.  I miss walking a bit, but I’m considering doing yard work in the morning instead.  We’ll see what happens tomorrow morning.

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Baby Steps


Today was a baby steps day.

Last night, I had a friend hang out for a couple hours while Buddy was at rehearsal.  It’s her last week in town, so it was really important to both of us to get together.  She is my only close school friend, but she graduated last spring and it’s time for her to move on to the adult world.  She’s the only school friend with whom I’m comfortable discussing all the dumb people and other frustrations.  I don’t have to introduce her to my favorite authors because she’s already a fan.  We didn’t hang out too much outside of school, but that’s why she’s a school friend.  Last semester was the first time we didn’t have classes together and lunch at the same.  It made me sad.  I don’t make friends easily so I had a very quiet semester.  So she stopped by and we drank some Spumante Rosso while I put tray after tray of cookies in the oven.

The wine went straight to my head, riding high on those delicious bubbles.  Buddy and I had a late dinner after she left and I put off cleaning up and homework until my brain was unfogged.  By the time I was clear-headed again, it was nearly midnight.  Still, I watched several episodes of the Simpsons before going to bed…and realizing that I still had a mountain of laundry that had grown beyond the capacity of the laundry basket and had avalanched onto the bed with which I so wanted to be in a serious relationship.  After hastily folding most of my clothes, I propped myself in bed to attempt getting through my reading for today.  It was about 2:00 am when I finally caved.

I snoozed my alarm until around 6:20.  It starts going off at 6:00 because that’s when we feed the cats.  By 6:20, Ninja was braving the motion-detecting air sprayer (the “alarm”) to scratch at the door, so I crawled out of bed to be a good mommy.  That was the first and most pivotal baby step of the morning.  I have made the morning feeding of the kitties my responsibility, so it is not an option for me to hope that Buddy will do it.  That first effort to leave the warmth of the bed is the Everest of my day.  Once achieving that victory, I have a 90% chance of finishing my morning routine, barring migraines or other illness.

Kitties fed, I returned to the bedroom, a large part of me dead set on getting back into bed.  My legs are sore.  I’m really tired.  My eyes are itchy.  It’s gonna be a long damn day.

Well, at least get into your work out clothes.  You’re already up.  It will actually take you more effort to get back into bed and back to sleep (that’s the type of whopping lie I will only believe when I’m really tired).  Besides, you like your work out clothes.  They are really cute and so comfy.  No one says you have to actually go for a walk.  Just, you know, get a little more comfortable.

Fine.  But I make no promises.

Now, maybe you could see your way to grabbing your water bottle and going to the kitchen.  You can refill your water bottle.  You like water.

Yeah, so?  What’s it to you?

Oh, nothing.  Just wanted to point out the nice cold water in the kitchen.

Mmmm, water.  Drool.

And now that you’re in the kitchen, I mean, you can see the front door, right?  It’s just a matter of putting on your watch and sunglasses.  And now your shoes.

Fine, Ms. Bossypants.  But you can’t make me enthusiastic, got it?  I’m gonna take an easier pace because my legs are sore and I just don’t feel like pushing myself today.  Is that okay with you?  Huh?

Oh, no, you’ll get no objections from me.  Just pretend I’m not even here.

I will!

Because, of course, I’m not here.  Just a figment of your imagination.

Damn straight!  And don’t you forget it. I’m the master of my own decisions!

Crap.  How did I get outside?  Now I have to walk because a neighbor saw me.  You win this round, nagging conscience!

 

I did take a much slower pace, but it was fast enough to warm up sore muscles and keep my breathing up.  It was really warm out, too, so I’m glad I slowed down some.  And I saw a wild turkey.

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