creative expression and balance

I’ve been gathering perspectives on creative expression for some time now, mostly unintentionally. There’s the college friend who had disdain for anyone who did not feel compelled to express themselves creatively on a regular basis. He considered creative expression the indication of an inner life and an inspired soul. Those who did not have that creative energy bursting from them, who did not have to find outlets for it, were probably not worth his time. While I have always been drawn to people who have creativity oozing from their pores, I never agreed that these are the only worthwhile people. If anything I have difficulty with those who are in a constant state of expression, since they tend (in my experience) to be somewhat oblivious to the needs of those around them. I don’t actually know anyone like this anymore, probably because our personality types just don’t mesh well and we don’t get beyond the first awkward conversation.

When the subject of creative expression comes up, I often find myself referring to an interview with Sting I heard on the radio. I can’t find it online anywhere, unfortunately, but I think it may have been a rebroadcast of an edition of Fresh Air from 1996. Anyway, a caller asks Sting when fans should expect him to release a new project, and Sting replies that he finds himself fluctuating between “input” and “output” in terms of creative process, and that he is currently in an “input” stage, so he has no way to tell when his next project will come to fruition.

This perspective appeals to me in part because it reflects the cyclical nature of humanity and of the Earth. Continue reading


places to go 1.16.10

Lately I’ve been exploring more blogs that focus on language. A couple of short posts I’ve particularly enjoyed:

• The virtual linguist: Man – “…in Old English there were two words for a male human being: were and wapman. Both these words became obsolete after the 13th century. The only vestige of the former in modern English is the word werewolf. Were here is a cognate of Latin vir meaning man (cf virile) and of the earlier Sanskrit vira, also meaning man.”

Spanish-English Word Connections: hippocracy (hee. Does the Evil League of Evil in Dr. Horrible count as a hippocracy?)

• I also came across a site called Save The Words. I know you all are inveteratists with a traboccant love for obsolete words, so fix yourself a prandicle and spend some time with these suffarcinated delights.

success, accessories, and receding hairlines

One of my favorite things about studying Latin, ever since my first days as a freshman in high school, has been thinking about English words that seem to have nothing in common until one identifies the Latin root they share. What do success and accessories have to do with each other, at a linguistic level? What about legal proceedings and receding hairlines?

In this post I’ll focus on the Latin word cedere, which is usually defined as “to yield/withdraw/give way/allow”—basically “to go” with a sense of motion away from. English-speakers pronounce it with a hard “c”: something like “KAY-de-ruh.”

In English, we get cede and cease from this verb. Add the prefix in- and we get incessant: unyielding, ceaseless.

Why the change from “d” in cede to “ss” in incessant? Latin verbs are shown in dictionaries with their “principal parts”: different forms the verbs take that allow the reader to see potential changes in the stem. The four principal parts of today’s verb are cedo, cedere, cessi, cessus. So, some English words that derive from cedere will have a “d” in one form and an “ss” in another. One can see the “d” to “ss” shift carry into English in recede/recession.

Continue reading

places to go 12.19.10

• On dressing like a Stay At Home Mom in order to get more respect and better care for one’s children, Women in Disguise:

“So I lie. Well, actually I don’t really lie, I just don’t dress the part. It’s like being undercover to see how the other half live. I am proud that I am a working mother […] but I do realize that in some situations I am clearly labeled before I walk in the door.

In my high heels, black suit and patten leather purse, I am a working mother who drops her children off at daycare. In my jeans, flats and diaper bag I am a mother concerned about her child and willing/able to invest the time in their care.”

• Also, I wrote a guest post for Shakesville a few days ago that got a positive reaction from that crowd and ended up being reposted by a number of people on Tumblr.

writing anxiety – one step at a time

I know a number of people who are too hard on themselves when it comes to, well, pretty much everything. Perfectionism has its place, and can produce fantastic results as long as it’s a drive forward and not an impediment to progress. The key is figuring out how to apply it sparingly.

Some perfectionists have anxiety around writing because it’s so very big. It’s overwhelming to know that there are probably 30 things that “need to be better” about one’s writing. When I was teaching high school, I attended a workshop that was designed to help us teach our students to be better writers. The English teachers who led the workshop advocated an organized, compartmentalized approach to improving writing skills. They suggested that we announce one or two criteria that we want to focus on for each assignment, make sure the students understand the expectations well, and grade only on those criteria. With each new assignment, the students are responsible for the previous criteria and one or two new ones. Of course, if they have a chance to get feedback on drafts and to rewrite, they should be held accountable for the totality of their work. This approach was meant more for quick daily assignments, essays on tests that they take in class, etc.

I think that a lot of adults who are inhibited by anxiety and perfectionism would do well to apply this strategy to their own writing. Continue reading

annihilate, decimate, and our many other words for destruction

Is there such a thing as a synonym? I seem to remember a character in Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume arguing passionately that there is not, that each word in English has its own distinct meaning and proper usage. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think that the beauty of English, as big and messy as it is, lies in having so many options and striving to choose exactly the right one for what you want to express.

For example, I hear annihilate and decimate used interchangeably, but they actually have substantially different meanings. Annihilate has the Latin root nihil (“nothing”) while decimate has the Latin root decimus (“tenth”). So to annihilate something is to reduce it to nothing; to decimate is to reduce either by 10% or to 10% of the original amount, depending on how much of a stickler one wants to be to the original meaning. The term originates in the Roman practice of punishing mutineers by killing one in ten among their ranks, but I’ve almost always heard it used to mean “to reduce by a significant amount.” It’s been used that way since the 1600s, and it’s in the OED, so it’s fine by me.

In any case, one can decimate an army, or a town, or a pie, but not, strictly speaking, an opponent at Scrabble. Though maybe one could decimate an opponent’s pride?

We have so many ways to express different shades of destruction. Destroy in fact has a sense of building in its root (Latin struo, struere, struxi, structus: “to put together, pile up, build”), like its antonym construct. Demolish has this sense, too, from Latin molior, moliri: “to build, erect, work at.” The de- prefix is just motion downwards.

Obliterate contains the Latin word littera (“letter”), giving it a literal meaning (ha!) of something like “against the letters” (the ob- prefix is often difficult to render into English), hence “to blot out, wipe out, or cancel,” as one would debts, and from there “to destroy” in the sense of “to erase from memory.” Our delete has the same root and similar original meaning.

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Tony Porter on the collective socialization of men

via Shakesville, a moving speech by Tony Porter on violence against women and social constructions of manhood. I’m so grateful for men doing work like this. We need more of them.

Shakesville has a full transcript at the link above.

maintaining privilege

Those who benefit from systems of privilege and oppression must work constantly to maintain them, since there are so many people out there working constantly to dismantle them. A few examples of efforts to maintain these systems, albeit with relatively minor gestures, jumped out at me in the last few days.

As Think Progress reports, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) was on Fox News this week to discuss his refusal to attend an annual seasonal parade in Tulsa because organizers had decided to replace the word “Christmas” in the title with “Holiday,” now calling it the “Holiday Parade of Lights.”  Although Inhofe had participated in the parade for 30 years, he sees this name change as enough of a reason to stay home.

During the interview, Inhofe states, “I think there are a lot people of other faiths who wonder also, why do they always pick on the Christians?” (you can watch a video at the link above). I do understand how it feels when one’s privilege is threatened, but trying to pass one’s own concern off on “a lot of people of other faiths” is pretty offensive, especially given the history of oppression and aggression committed by people in the name of Christianity.

Continue reading

NPR covers teen trafficking in Oakland, CA

Luke alerted me to this highly disturbing and informative piece on NPR from a few days ago: Trafficked Teen Girls Describe Life In ‘The Game’. It’s a two-part series produced by Youth Radio that details the experiences of a number of girls who have been involved in sex trafficking in Oakland, CA. The second part focuses on the ongoing efforts to arrest these girls for prostitution and includes criticism of that tactic.

For more information on domestic human trafficking and efforts to address it, particularly in Colorado, check out Prax(us), an organization that “uses a community engagement model intended to empower participants, advocate for equal rights, and address the root causes of human trafficking.” I know people who work for Prax(us) and can vouch for the important work they do, so if you’re inspired to do something and are in a good place financially, please consider contributing to their work.

places to go 12.2.10

• Apparently, for only one species of praying mantis (out of over 2000), the female has to remove the head of the male in order to mate properly. But the myth lives on! Sociological Images considers the problem with the post Shoddy Research & Cultural Tropes: the Praying Mantis.

If You’re Black in Philly, Every Day is a TSA Day. For some of us, the new TSA regulations are the first time we’ve had to seriously worry about our bodily integrity being violated by the authorities. For others, it’s a daily concern.  —(via Racialicious)

• Via Lindsay S., a satisfying take-down of a piece in the New York Times by a blogger for NPR: Please, PLEASE, No More Trend Pieces About Women Based On ‘Sex And The City’.

• Lena Chen has a post about shifting definitions of virginity here.

“When I say that there is no such thing as virginity, I’m not trying to dump on what other people “believe”, but I am saying that they’re wrong in thinking that virginity is anything more than an idea. And this is simply an objective observation based on the economic, religious, medical, and socio-legal function that virginity has served in Western society. And if more people start to come to this conclusion, perhaps they’ll ask themselves how they can put so much stock into something that is defined differently across history?”