Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center:

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Most agents care only about the story and the quality of writing. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc.

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.

The Not So Big Blue Marble

earthriseThe single worst event to happen to our culture is showing the first picture of Earth from space.

I know what you’re thinking: “Huh? How can a single, awe-inspiring picture from space damage our culture? That picture shows the epitome of human determination, creativity, and risk-taking. It heralded countless technological advances that we now take for granted.”

All true, but as with everything, there is a down side.

When we see pictures of Earth taken by satellites and astronauts, on Google Earth and the map apps on our phones, our perspective of the size of our world has altered, irrevocably.

It’s not the vast, massive world that could never be tamed or disrespected. We instead see it as that little blue marble floating in a sea of sparkling black.

As such, we have elevated our own size, increasing our arrogance with the belief that because we can see any part of our planet with a click of the mouse, we can control it.

Yet we can’t predict the weather with more than a 30% accuracy from one day to the next. We’ll never stop a volcano from erupting, a tornado or hurricane, an earthquake or tsunami. Or as Tennessee sadly shows, we can’t stop all wildfires. We either have to get out of the way (if we have time) or pray that nature will intervene on itself.

We’ve lost our humility, and in some ways we think of ourselves as greater than or equal to God.

And part of that arrogance and self-delusion came from seeing a picture of our planet from space – making it appear thousands of times smaller than it really is.

Too Late Now

Whenever I submit a story or proposal to a potential publisher, I don’t look at it again.

The temptation is there, believe me, enough to make me break out into a sweat. It ain’t pretty that sweat, nor is the resulting odor wafting from my over-reactive pores. My poor family.

Did I spell the agent/publisher’s name correctly?

Did I remember to include all he/she asked for?

Are there glaring grammatical/spelling errors that I missed?

I refrain from verifying one way or another, because if I made all those mistakes above, it’s too late now. And why make myself cry and gnash my teeth over something I can’t fix anyway?

Yesterday I sent off my query letter. Last night at about 3am I woke up in a sweat and heart pounding, terrified I had misspelled the agent’s name. I know I didn’t, because I triple-checked it before sending it off. At least I think I didn’t. I hope I didn’t . . .

The only issue I have now (aside from night terrors) is when to expect a response. Nowhere on the agent’s website did I see a time-frame. I’ll give him about eight weeks, though. If I don’t hear anything back then, I’ll pursue another agent (is it me, or does that sound too much like stalking?).

Too Many Teeth, Not Enough Food

Turns out I didn’t bite off more than I could chew. Quite the opposite. I went overboard.

After working on the newsletter article for a week, and praying as I sent it off that I didn’t mess anything up too badly, I received the following email.

You have done an excellent job. Thank you very much.

We are going to do some minor changes. I should have told you, but this story is meant to be used for our next newsletter. I am sorry that I did not tell you the context. A newsletter requires the story to be a bit more concise. But, we are going to use your story for our blog, as well. And, what you have written actually fits in perfectly for a blog or even a book.

So, we will use your story as it is for our blog. Readers have a bit more time. But we are going to make it a bit more concise and direct for our newsletter.

Thank you, again, for this wonderful work. It is very well done.

Here I was, stressing that I wouldn’t delve enough into the world they wanted me to, and I delved too deep. I suppose as issues go, I could have done worse and instead left the readers wanting.

I emailed her back and asked what the limit was as far as word count/pages. That way I don’t force them to reedit what I was supposed edit. I also apologized and included the hope that I didn’t create more work for them.

Funny. After I first read the email, I couldn’t help but think it’ll be the last time they ask me to do anything for them.

Is it even possible to be fired from a volunteer job?

I doubt it, but my mind tends to over-think, over-analyze, and expect the worst every time I make a mistake. After I read the email a second time, however, I’m more assured they can still use me. Overall it was positive.

Are My Teeth Strong Enough?

Recently I was offered a volunteer editing job for an organization based out of Asia helping to start new churches and orphanages.

I’ve edited one newsletter so far, which took all of fifteen minutes to do. It was quite well-written, especially for someone who’s English isn’t his native language.

I was also asked how many I could edit a year, and I told them one every two weeks would be doable.

Thinking all requests would be easy like the last one.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

A few nights ago I received the following email (in part):

“I have a very rough story (it’s a bit difficult story). You will need to work on it to be developed into a story. What I have in the attachment is a basic story and very rough outline. Will you be able to develop it into a story? The audience will be our friends in the US. If you need to do any research on alcoholism, winter or the plight of slums, you can always do a Google search. If you need any specific information, do let me know.

But you do have full freedom to do this story. You will have to rework it completely. You have that freedom.

So how do I describe the sounds, the smells and the overall sense of a place I’ve never been? I found hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the slums, so describing the look will be easy.

To create an immersion of the place for readers will be difficult, and more than a little daunting. And not only the five senses, but the spiritual sense of the place, the despair, the anger, and sorrow. How can I capture that in such a way without being over-dramatic, but to someone who has been there can say, “She got it right.”

I’ve never sat down and consciously prayed before I wrote anything. I just wrote. In this case, however, I will have to pray quite hard before a single word is typed, because I don’t think I can write this on my own — and have it be believable, and honest.

I’m writing, after all, about real people in real circumstances. To over-dramatize or change their life story to fit my idea of what it should be is the height of disrespect, both to the people who live it, and the readers who want to know the truth of what happened, and is happening.

An Opportunity, Not An Insult

Many are complaining that the guest list for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit is insulting and offensive. Even the Vatican has expressed concern.

Whether or not I think the White House acted appropriately or intended to offend, I don’t know or care, honestly. That’s not the point of this entry.

Jesus was not offended by anyone. He expressed anger (when he tore apart the marketplace in the Temple), and many times was frustratied with those who refused to hear his message.

Jesus sought out those who were hurting; who needed to hear God’s message of grace, love and forgiveness. He partied with the sinners; he didn’t sequester himself with the righteous. He came for all the sinners of the world, and that’s everyone.

If I were the Pope, I would be excited about the list, not concerned or offended. What a perfect opportunity to minister! Not as a religious figure, per se, because too many hearts are closed to religion, but as the representative of Christ, and what Christ came to earth to die for. I would treat every guest — regardless of whom or what they’re there to represent — with the same love and respect I expect to receive. Period, no judgements and no preconceived notions.

That’s our mandate after all: To go out into the world and spread the Good News. To everyone. No one can do that if they hide behind walls, or expect to be separated from those who need the Message most.

Holy Crap. Put Your Mask Back On!

Many have said, perception is reality. There’s a lot of truth to that. Too much truth. It’s like the meme I shared a few weeks back showing the cylinder and depending upon where someone is standing, they either see a circle or a square. Both are true, but neither sees the entire picture; the entire truth.

The same goes for the people we know. How we perceive them is how we know them. Much of the time, however, it’s not everything we want or need to know. How often has someone said or done something that has completely taken us by surprise, something we never expected them to say and do?

A friend of mine once told me that he didn’t want to reveal something he did earlier in his life, because he didn’t want me to change my opinion of him.

I said, “It doesn’t matter, because me knowing something new about you doesn’t change who you are, only my perception of you. I can’t hold my perception of you against you. That’s on me.”

Then again, all of us chooses how much to reveal to others. It’s a mask we put on every day. I think we’re all afraid that if we took that mask off, even for a second, we will be shunned and despised.

It’s always a risk to reveal something “new” about ourselves. People will either embrace it, or put their hands out and back away as if warding off evil spirits. I put quotes around “new,” because, although people can and do change, we don’t always reveal that change the moment it happens. It can often take years — if at all — because we’re afraid that change will result in lost friendships and even family members.

So what is a person to do, then? Do we keep that mask on, making sure we avoid revealing everything that could offend or otherwise hurt someone? Or do we say to ourselves, “This part of me is important. It’s a passion of mine I want to share”?

That’s not to say we should reveal everything. Some things are definitely meant to stay private. I’m sure you don’t want to know my every, shall we say, appetite. I’m certain I don’t want to know all of yours.

Like everything, it’s a matter of balance.

This entire entry is my bloviating way of saying that whenever we reveal something new about ourselves, we risk angering or alienating people. We should always be prepared for that, as terrible as it is. We should also keep in mind that when someone reveals something new about themselves that changes our perception of them, they didn’t change. Only our perception of them did, and that’s not entirely their fault. We, too, are responsible for that perception, and we shouldn’t be angry or hateful to them because of it.

Just as we want to be loved, ugly and frightening* as we are under our mask, we, too, must always be loving to those who also show their honest, true, ugly and frightening* countenance to us.

Because it always takes courage to remove that mask.

* As an aside, we are not all ugly or frightening inside or outside. We are all beautiful and lovable, even when we have ugly thoughts or do ugly things. I use those words only because that’s how we too often see our darkest and deepest parts of who we are — whether it’s true or not.

Old Lady Kayaking

IMG_0893Last Thursday I attended a Bloggers and Writers Workshop at Fort Lincoln State Park sponsored by North Dakota Department of Commerce.

The first part of the day consisted of travel writer and filmmaker Joe Baur who gave the attendees advice such as conquering fear of new places and new people. He shared some of his own fears such as even leaving his hometown to visit larger cities. Other sage advice he gave is since the internet is so visual, if we want to gain more readership, we must add visual elements such as photos and videos.

This in particular grabbed my attention, because I love taking pictures. I’ve also wondered how I could work it into my writing, or even if I should. It takes a bit of extra time to add visual elements to a blog post, but if it means gaining more readers, certainly the extra five to ten minutes adding the photos would be worth it.

He also mentioned that we must set a schedule for our releases (something I’ve slacked on of late). If we’re not consistent in our writing, we very quickly lose our readers.

Jenna Cederberg, Editor of Montana Magazine spoke next. Her focus was on knowing what you’re submitting your writing to. Know the magazine or publisher, because an editor will know right away whether or not you read their publications. She also stressed the importance of relationships. Successful publishing is largely due to good relationships between author and editor. Once you establish good ones, hold on to them.

After we broke for lunch, we had round-table discussions with Joe, Jenna, and Kim Schmidt, the public relations manager of the ND Department of Commerce where we could ask more in-depth questions. Kim gave us all advice on how to use social media to its fullest. Her focus was on the relationship we can build with them. They need North Dakota writers to help promote the wonders of our state that the rest of the nation doesn’t see. The best part is, when we promote them, they’ll link and add our writings to their publications and social media. It’s a win-win. She also said (and I’ve seen it, too) looking at North Dakota nationally, we’re the windy, cold, vast prairie with nothing to offer but agriculture, rising crime and oil.

When we are so, so much more than that.

But that’s another entry – or twelve.

Afterward, we had the choice to either tour the Custer House, Barracks and Indian Village, or go on a bike ride, hiking and kayaking. I chose the latter, because I’ve toured the Custer House before.

They were kind enough to provide the bikes, which, surprisingly enough, I only wobbled a few minutes before my muscles remembered that bike-riding thing. I guess it’s really true you never forget.

We rode down to where the Heart River converges with the Missouri. Waiting for us was a father and son team from Missouri River Kayak Rentals with enough kayaks for the small group. I told Kim I was staying on shore, and that I would take pictures. She said, “You really should go.”

I remembered Joe saying that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I said okay. After all the instructions (and there weren’t many), we donned our life jackets (also provided) and proceeded down to the water’s edge. I managed to step into the kayak without capsizing the small craft, which made me a bit more confident. The father of the team pushed me off and I started to row.

Kayaking never interested me. I wasn’t adverse to it, per se, but it also didn’t look all that fun. Mostly it looked like a lot of work.IMG_20150604_143510856_edited-1

And these old bones aren’t used to work. Sitting at a computer and typing all day doesn’t exactly keep the muscles in prime form. At this point, I was glad my body didn’t rebel riding a bike down to the river’s edge (even though it was mostly flat with a slight downgrade).

As I paddled around in a few circles to see how stable the kayak was, and how sharply I could turn, I realized just how easy it was. After ten minutes in the calm water, and finding a rhythm in paddling, I was surprised how relaxing it was.

With the cloudy skies, little wind and mild temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), we couldn’t have asked for a better day for kayaking. I even managed to keep up with everyone who had obviously kayaked more than me (which wasn’t saying much since this was my first time).

After about an hour paddling up and down the Heart River, I understood the allure of it. How can something that took physical effort (although well within reason) could be so relaxing? Kayaking manages, and is something I hope to do again. Having traipsed many times on the river in a speed boat, fishing boat and pontoon, floating on a kayak makes a person feel closer and almost a part of the river itself. I highly recommend it.

Even (or especially) if you’re an old lady like me.

Why I Am Not Beautiful

I took a picture of a friend yesterday during a church pool/pizza party. I didn’t notice until after I downloaded the photos her expression looked like a mixture of disgust and surprise, as if she just watched someone eat a bug. I emailed it to her, because I knew she’d find it just as hilarious as I did.

Much to my surprise, she made it her profile picture on Facebook. I wouldn’t have. Heck, whenever I see a picture of myself, I literally cringe. I hate seeing pictures of myself.

As my sister and I went through our mom’s stuff after she died, we found picture albums and many loose photos of us both as children and adults. My sister told me that she didn’t want even pictures of her when she was little.

It surprised me and made me think, why would both of us be so against photographs that it’s almost like a vampire to sunlight? Was there something in our past to make us think that we never were, nor ever would be lovely enough to photograph?

I looked back and tried to remember a time when someone of importance, such as our mother, told us we were ugly. There never was a time, but neither do I remember an incident when my mom told me I was beautiful.

It’s not to say she didn’t think we were at least pretty. She did tell us a few times, but — at least to me — thought it was her way of being kind, and that she may not have truly believed it.

She did tell me once that part of the reason she and her mom didn’t get along was because her mom expected my mom to be a great beauty, and she simply wasn’t. Mom then told me that she promised herself not to do that to her own children. What mattered to her was character, intelligence and strength. She pushed us to be the best we could be mentally. Intelligence and knowledge were king. And manners. Good manners was second to anything else (to which I frustrated her to no end).

I don’t regret my mom concentrated on those things, because they are far longer lasting than perfect skin, hair and figure.

Even though I was a tomboy growing up, there was always a little girl inside who wanted to be the beautiful princess. It would have been nice to believe that I was indeed beautiful at least once.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so inclined today to cower from the camera, and turn away in disgust when I see a picture of myself posted on Facebook.

But that’s not quite fair. I have no one to blame for my reaction to photos of me. It’s certainly not my mom’s fault. She gave me the best gift of all — the desire and will to be the best person I can be. I like who I am; inwardly I think I am quite beautiful. Outwardly, on the other hand . . .

Doesn’t matter. The people who know and love me don’t see the moles on my face, my thinning and graying hair or the fact my pants are getting too tight in the buttocks.

What does that have to do with my friend’s willingness to post a photo of herself with a facial-contorted expression for all to see?

Because she knows that those who know and love her will laugh with her. To them she is beautiful for not only making them laugh, but by being vulnerable. She’s showing off to the world her — oftentimes messy — humanness. She’s not above anyone; she’s just like the rest of us. It’s that courage that helps make her beautiful.

My mom was right to not push the importance of physical beauty on her daughters. It never lasts. But at the same time, I have no need to hide. None of us is without blemish or scars, nor should we expect it of ourselves, especially if we don’t expect it in others. To do so only separates us from everyone else.

By continuing to shy away from cameras and want to burn every picture of me, I may miss out on making someone laugh and to show someone like me it’s okay to be imperfect. In fact, those “imperfections” could be the very things that make me beautiful.

Still, if you happen to see a booger hanging out of my nose, please tell me!

Christ’s Mandate

When the Aurora shooting first happened, I wasn’t surprised at the wellspring of prayers and expressions of horror on Facebook and other social sites. It was nice to see that it took about 48 hours before the baser part of our nature surfaced.

There were the expected calls for more gun control, but one person surprised me by saying her first thought was whether or not the victims had health care. Now I was going to give the commenter a hard time about it, but that would be a bit hypocritical on my part. My thought – once I got passed the incomprehensibility that someone could commit such a heinous act – was not much better. I wondered how long it would take before people started politicizing and placing blame on everyone except the person who actually pulled the trigger.

The purpose of this entry is not to disseminate what happened in Aurora, or why. I want to instead concentrate on the healthcare comment noted above, and how God expects us as both a country and individuals when faced with the poor and hurting.

I prefer to look at the world and its problems through a Biblical perspective. I’m no scholar, so it’s possible the more scholarly may find problems with my analyses. By the same token, the Bible wasn’t written by or for the scholarly, but for you and me, so I don’t think I’m too far from what God meant.

In looking up scripture with regard to giving to the poor, it shouldn’t come as a surprise I found many. I want to focus on but a few:

“But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.” ~ Deuteronomy 15: 7

“Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.” ~ Proverbs 28:27

“Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” ~ Isaiah 58: 7

“John replied, ‘If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” ~ Luke 3:11

Some argue it’s anti-Christian to fight against higher taxes in order to help the poor and needy, and they could easily use the scriptural passages above to bolster their point.

I maintain that is our duty as individuals and communities to dig into our own pockets and pound the concrete to help the needy. Read carefully the scriptures above. Notice how each one is talking directly to us. Nowhere is it mentioned that we must depend on (or pay through taxes) our government to do it.

When we decide that our taxes are supposed to help the poor, it too easily becomes an excuse to not accept the responsibility God gave us. We can simply sit in our easy chairs and vegetate in front of the television or computer and say to ourselves, “I don’t need to help my neighbor. My government is doing it for me.”

I don’t have all the statistics, but I do know we’ve spent billions of dollars “on the poor” and they are still with us. I remember hearing on the Paul Harvey radio show about twenty years ago that for every five dollars given to the government that was meant to help the poor, the poor received one dollar. I doubt it’s improved over the last twenty years.

The lady who lamented over the possible lack of insurance for the Aurora victims, I have an answer to the problem with the following news articles:

Aurora Blood Banks Booked Solid (http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_21128567/aurora-theater-shootings-blood-donation-centers-booked-solid?source=rss )

Children’s Hospital to Give Free Care to Aurora Theatre Shooting Victims (http://www.denverpost.com/theatershooting/ci_21158943/childrens-give-free-care-aurora-theater-shooting-victims?source=pkg )

Aurora Victims Relief Fund Raises Near $2 Million as of July 24 ( http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2012/07/25/news/doc501003dca5ae3366888696.txt ) with Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures to donate a large but unspecified amount.

Those are just three I found after a 2 minute search, and I’m sure there are many others, others we may never even hear about. Yet, these are perfect examples of people meeting Christ’s mandate to care for those who need it.

And not one of those acts was mandated by our government.

As an aside I found this scripture: “When this offering is given to the Lord to purify your lives, making you right with him, the rich must not give more than the specified amount, and the poor must not give less.” ~ Exodus 30:14.

The offering in this case pertains to maintaining the Tabernacle, but with all the calls for the “Rich to pay their ‘fair’ share,” lately, I thought it ironically appropriate.