17 August 2016

Watcha say?

I have lots of questions.  About Life and how to live it.  And about people and the choices they make as they live Life.  And about my particular life as I live with myself and interact with people.

I'm not talking about the deep mysteries:  why are we here?  what happens when we die?  If there's an after life, is there also a before life?  I ponder those mysteries too but that's not what I want to talk about today.

Today I'm looking at a little thing that I experience over and over in social settings but I just don't "get".  I've always considered myself an intelligent person but the absence of intelligence in this regard -- an apparent inability to look, learn something and apply the acquired knowledge -- makes me wonder about my so-called intelligence.

So here's what's up for consideration today:  In more than 9 out of every 10 verbal exchanges with people, their response to my first statement or question is either "What?" or "Huh?"  I don't include my students in this number because, given the context in which we interact, I understand that much of what I say is probably new information for them.  I encourage them to question what I say.

Yes, I recognize the issue of regional dialect. I've lived a lot of different places, each with its own distinctive dialect.  But this place, Holly Springs, MS, is the first place I've lived where people routinely seem unable to understand my speech. Judging from past experience in other places, I speak a kind of generic American dialect that is decipherable for most American listeners. 

But not here. 

I was sitting in Wendy's recently, one of the few wi-fi spots in town, taking care of online business and browsing social media.  Fox News blared from the big screen TV while a female crooned a pop tune through the restaurant's sound system. At a nearby table, the adults in a rambunctious family group were engaged in a lively discussion of something they'd just heard on TV, apparently able to understand everything the news anchor said.

As I passed the table I paused to alert the young woman holding the infant that "Her little shoe fell off." 


"The baby's shoe fell off.  It's under your chair," I intoned slowly while making eye contact.

"Oh!"  She bent to retrieve it.  "Thank you, ma'am."

I proceeded to the counter to order a beverage. "Welcometowendy'smayItakeyourorder," the young cashier trilled as I approached.  After considering my options for a few seconds, I said "I'd like the green tea, please."


"The green tea," I repeated, speaking a bit louder and a lot slower.



Is it easier to understand newspeak than everyday conversation?  Or is it easier to hear the human voice through a TV speaker?  Or is real-time human interaction so off-putting as to disrupt cognitive processing?  Or do I talk funny and it's only coincidence that people in New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, Colorado Springs, Rio de Janeiro, ETC., are able to understand my funny talk? 

Or ....?

01 August 2016

The Landlord's Gallery

On the morning of the day I moved into the Yellow Fever House, the landlord and I spoke by telephone. I asked when I could move in and was told "If you can give me a few hours to take down the art, you can move in this afternoon." I offered there was no need to remove art from a space I would inhabit. We met an hour later, I signed the lease and was given the keys.

The photos below chronicle the current installation of paintings by Del Stover. One painting was removed a few weeks ago. The ghosts in the house are fond of nudging the hung works into slightly lopsided alignment. Straightening the paintings is part of my housekeeping regimen. Last fall one of the paintings was nudged so forcefully that it fell off the wall and was separated from its frame. After repairing it and rehanging it, only to have it forcefully ejected again, I returned it to my landlord.

Many of the paintings hold little to no appeal for me but I don't find any of them disturbing enough to remove from the gallery.  As far as I know, none of the works is titled.

The paintings hang in every room except my bedroom.  I've informed Del that that space is reserved.

I won't live here forever. These photos are for the record, documentation of one the stops along the way.

How Our Children See Us

"How foolish to think you can tell your children about yourself before they're at least fifty. To ask to be seen by them as a person and not as a function. To say:  I am your history, you begin from me, listen to me, it could be useful to you." from  The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

In a few weeks I'll travel to Kansas to visit my son and meet second grandchild, a girl named Georgia, for the first time.  The last time we Skyped she hardly noticed me, more interested in crawling around and exploring the stuff on her father's desk. She'll have no recollection of me when we meet face to face.

Her older brother Henry calls me Gramma Alee. She'll probably follow his lead. It's evident she adores him from the photos I've seen. I haven't seen Henry in four or five years.

Georgia doing Frieda
Even though I'm always a little insecure with people under the age of 15 or so, once we've introduced ourselves in our own words I am usually able to focus more on them and less on my anxiety and we do just fine.

Georgia and Henry are both exceptionally bright children and, from what my son tells me, Georgia is as graceful a conversationalist as her brother. That always helps -- I like to talk to kids that enjoy conversation.

My son was that way when he was very young.  Curious about everything and courageous and highly gregarious.  I loved that about him and encouraged his fearless engagement with the world. I still love that about him. He knew I "had his back" as they say.

I still love that about him but his sense of me having his back has diminished. He just turned 38. I don't hear from him very often. Since he found his life partner -- a beautiful woman who mostly presents as my temperamental opposite -- he's been intent on protecting her and the children from me (his word).

When he was about 11, he asked me to tell him the story of my life and I did. I hope some day he'll ask me again to tell him the story of my life. I think he'll understand it better this time. I think he'll meet me at last and realize I was never a threat to his family.