Blog Archive

November 22, 2019
With Expert Precision: Sticks & Stones

What is racist language? Sexist language?

Is it language that makes you think about race? Sex?

I like Jesse Lee Peterson’s take: you choose good, or you choose evil. Simple. You can’t ride two horses, serve two masters, at once he says. You choose language in the spirit of good, or in the spirit of evil. We don’t need to create any more sublevels of language to make people feel just a bit better about being racist because they’re not evil.

We had a sing-song saying growing up as a kid, maybe you too: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me … I wonder if we got that from the First Amendment. It was surely around by then.

If I say that I’m going to read The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ by Joseph Conrad, can we separate that from a justification, a Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler?

Otherwise, we wind up like China and nobody can use the Internet. Well, maybe only to look up Mao Zedong. That’s safe. Yikes.

I talk about language a lot because, as with all things, we gotta watch momentum. We’re always building momentum. We allow the sale of one person and suddenly we’re knee-deep in an institution. We believe an SA propaganda poster and suddenly we’re participating in Kristallnacht. But wait. Someone cries and says they’re oppressed. Someone smiles and suddenly we can’t find our $5,ooo, and suddenly we’re knee-deep again too. Sleight of hand. Someone’s moving the bowls, the eggs are disappearing, and you’re losing track. You’re losing. Trick, tricky.

I read a stunning piece of literature recently that had the anecdote for the master of all tricks. A way to uphold speech that may be “racist” and “sexist”, but is, first and foremost, free. A way to uphold the “racist” and “sexist” speech of a private citizen professionally representing a public institution. No, we’re absolutely not going to cave into demands and fire him, Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel said. We have a foundation; we are bound by the First Amendment. A way to publicly limit the scope of a professor’s professional duties as potentially influenced by his free speech as a private citizen. Brilliant. Because you gotta watch the bowls carefully. The spirit of the devil moves, disappears, reappears, moves and might be clever. But he relies on changing faces, skin, body, sleights of hand, because he’s not smart. There’s no racism or sexism because there’s no “non-racism” or “non- sexism”. Only the devil and the spirit of non-God.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist

P.S. Read: A Statement to the IU Bloomington campus community by Provost Robel here


November 20, 2019
Sandwich Boards & Shakespeare

You’re Thirty … Fortysomething, and suddenly horrified by how the dust of your personality has settled.

I wait for a bus and look at the yelling black Caribbean lady handing out Watchtowers and wearing a sandwich board about Jesus or a scripture predicting the Rapture, and I think,

That is me. I am that lady. I have jeans and a t-shirt on and I look normal, but I feel like I am wearing a sandwich board on the inside.

Get off my lawn, you damned kids! Pull your pants up! Remove your hat inside the building! Take those piercings out of your face and love the Lord. Jesus loves you!

I feel like this lady. Extreme like this lady. Did I take the atheism a bit too far in my early 20s? Pop too many of those pills my ex best friend was getting online in 2006?

Do I seem extreme to myself because I’ve now become the center, grounded in place while the old mes, juxtaposed against me, dance like Macbeth witches around me, stirring the pot, fair is foul, foul is fair; your knees will ache, you will love plants and come to have a love for talk radio. Am I aging or boring? I am hallucinating. The lady yells again, around my head, and I come to. She offers me a pamphlet and I shake my head, and she begins yelling toward someone else.

F**king wack job, I say to her sandwich board back. Shakespeare never existed! I shake my fist.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 14, 2019
Linguistically Political: a Language of God

I talk a lot about language because it’s really important (to me). Not so much because of my opinion that it’s important, but because of the idea that we need to start somewhere with rules and a sense of order. Words are words because they are not other words. Meaning, we understand that a cat is different because it is not the word dog. This seems simple enough.

Yet we are now living in a maelstrom where the devil is in the details and we play mad scientist by switching the heads and bodies of old words and meanings. It’s now as difficult as understanding that a man is a woman and the definition of a woman is that of a man. A prepubescent child as “trans”. We are confused by our own language: we talk without meaning, understanding each other. It seems that in attempts to escape the intolerant cruelty of who we once were, we run to the extremism of all inclusivity, not understanding, a language without borders.

I recently watched a clip of a Muslim man with a cross wrapped around his hand, wrapped around a mic, debating a gay black man who described himself as Christian and conservative, and went running for the hills of a dictionary.

The Tower of Babel is a biblical story that goes that God gave all the people of the world the power of all understanding by one language, and instead they used it to build a tower high enough to reach God. (D’oh!) I don’t believe in the Bible, but it goes that God punished them by scattering them all over the world: we now have different languages, the same language, and still don’t understand. The audacity of playing God.

conservative (as defined by Oxford)

adj holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

noun a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Horrified, is the only way I can explain it. Not only by the appearance of bias in a dictionary, but also by the implications. Did a liberal write this? If I had no semblance of the word before, I would think that conservative was “bad”. Was the gay black man “averse to change” and holding to traditional values even though he was publicly black and gay and a conservative and a Christian? Huh? Was the gay black man bad? I could almost now predict the definition of the word “liberal”.

liberal (as defined by Oxford)

adj open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

noun a person of liberal views.

You know, I’m apolitical, and I really resent appearing political because political people misuse language for politics, and I care about language.

I have ideas, you know, they don’t belong to me. They come and go like the wind, as formless and lacking in identity as ironically something we call a cirrus cloud. I have ideas that work and ideas that don’t. I’m 37 because I’m not 23, a whole trail of bloody ideas left as a crime scene behind me. I have an idea until I don’t. Until it works and then it doesn’t. I have ideas. But I’ve never had an idea to change the meanings of words, language. Otherwise, it’s chaos; The Tower of Babel collapses, the details of the devil. To say that a cat is different because it is not the word dog is precisely why we have language, right? That’s what supposedly makes us better than animals, people say, as the world changes and they build another tower.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 13, 2019
The Writer’s ‘Spective’ 💐

I was wondering about Artist Retrospectives, those things that artists have while, apparently, they’re still alive, looking at all the work they’ve done in their life as if they’re dead. But right on, man: I’m totally team giving people their flowers while they live.

Let’s look at all the work that you’ve accomplished in your life as a writer, I can picture my agent telling me. Sure, I think. There’s thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of stories, papers, articles and books that I’ve written as a writer. But I live in a tiny shoebox studio and I’ve never had nor believed in storage: all I see in a corner is a file folder with some mostly drawings in it. The last back-up flash drive that I had had a lot of stuff on it, but I don’t know where it is. I lost it along with the other flash drive I left plugged into the library computers then walked away from a couple of months ago. I almost cried.

I also unpublished that book. I know why in my head but I can’t really explain it. Sorry.

And the manuscript? Well I burned that. The second time I was poor again and needed to make some kindling for warmth.

Huh? The story? Oh that story. Well that was rejected a number of times back in the 90s and, actually … that’s a good question. What ever happened to that story?

The editor never sent it back. It was my last copy. I didn’t know my house would catch on fire a couple years later.

Just poof! up and gone, that article. I forgot to save that one, cut and pasted then cut and pasted something else and lost track of the original document, it’s all very sad you see.

And as you know, well the 2000s was the time of a great many retractions … The Internet, you know, it was a scary time … The idea of living on forever … no, I just can’t.

We both sigh, I can picture it. But can I still take the flowers? I say. I’ve lost a lot of work.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 12, 2019
Casting Shadows Everywhere

by L.T. Vargus

My life (as a writer) is a very storied story, judged not by the actual things I’ve gone through, but by random remembrances of things that I’ve done that alarmingly ring no bells of recognition for who I am today.

I’ll see the word “haiku” for instance and automatically say, I remember when my haiku was published, but then my 37 year-old self, looking out of the corner of my eye, will suddenly wonder when the hell I ever wrote haikus. Then I’ll real-time remember that this was during my I’ll-Say-Anything-to Be-Published phase, and that it was my first and last haiku to be published, centered around how many times I’d been rejected by the publication that published it.

I’ll run into people from my past and they’ll say, Girl, I still have your poetry book! And I’ll mouth, ‘poetry book’?, then recoil in remembered horror. It was my Rhyming-Angry-Poetry-Make-Your-Own-Chapbook-with-8 1/2-by-11-White-Paper-and-Pass-It-Out-on-the-Street phase.

In the summer of this year, I decided to review books. That’s what I’ll do! I thought. Except, when I stumbled upon my bio from the Amazon account I’ve had since 2008, I looked at 3 books that I’d reviewed back in 2013 as, apparently, my I’ve-Already-Decided-to-be-a-Beta-Reader-and-Book-Reviewer phase.

But this story isn’t about how scared I am about considering what else I’ve done and forgotten, or name dropping, because I had no idea who the author was. I volunteered to beta read for an author named L.T. Vargus who had written a book called Casting Shadows Everywhere. I submitted my review in 2013 and forgot, only to be reminded of it in 2019. The book now has over 300 reviews, a slow and steady trickle and burn over a 6-year time span. I googled her name and apparently she was a pretty well-known author … Now. Wow, I said. That’s so cool!

One of my favorite parts in a book is the opening scene of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan when Peter keeps trying to put his shadow back on because it keeps slipping off (so Wendy has to sew it back on for him).

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 11, 2019
The Art of Prioritizing, Spirituality As a Writer

My last job taught me how to prioritize for the first time in my life at the age of 35. As a kid in elementary school, I had a really hard time grasping the concept of “the main idea”. What is the most important idea here in “Henny Penny’s” “the sky is falling”? The question asked. But search as I might, there was no bubble for my answer:

That there’s a hen in the story?

I managed a caseload of 150+ people: there’s one message from someone saying that they didn’t get paid, and 20 messages from the same person who is saying that this is an emergency as they always do. Each day, I had to approach my job with the reminding question, what is the most important thing here? Important because there’s so much bullshit to do, other people’s bullshit … I can’t separate … defining what’s important for me, I don’t know what’s important.

When I quit my job 9 months ago, I was lying in bed awake at 4am when, suddenly, out of a million thoughts, I got up and turned on my computer and began to write my book. I was very tired and only able to write a few paragraphs, but I don’t think without that job I would’ve learned how to recognize and prioritize my inner voice. What I can finally separate … the bullshit … is important to me. Having faith that even though the sky seems like it’s falling, to stay calm by learning to listen for and prioritize the inner voice that will work everything out for and regardless of you.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 10, 2019
Flipping Mortality (Off): He Dead!

So the reason we should rise up and destroy technology is because I opened a Flipboard account the other night and it made me feel old. I’m 37.

I was peering over my glasses the entire time, saying things like, Well what in the … ? And, finally, oh to hell with this Board Flip or Flippey Board, or whatever the hell it’s called!

Of course, when I returned to Flipboard the next day, what did I do? I started following the Obituaries. Flipboard made me realize that I have an interest in reading the Obits. Not to burglarize houses like that black lady who figured that nobody would be home but at the funeral, but to set the record straight about mortality. I’ve never been correct about it.

If I haven’t talked to someone in awhile, my brain automatically assumes a file folder in my head named “Dead”.

I often think that people who are dead are still alive, and that people who are still alive are dead. I find things as new that people have known about for like 10 years. I’m not good with keeping up with technology.

I never really had “close” relationships with either side of my family, so I don’t know if that has something to do with it, losing track of death, attachments. I haven’t experienced much of it. Three people that I’ve ever really cared about died and only one was difficult. I don’t know death like people usually know death. Always at my door. I’ve always been separated from it in a way that makes me unsympathetic. Detached. Unemotional.

Like, I didn’t necessarily want my family to list my father as a bum in his obituary when they called me out of the blue in my early 20s. But, no, I don’t want my name listed in his obituary, I said. They called me specifically to ask, then got angry with my answer and listed my name anyway. Why would you list me as his daughter when he didn’t take care of his daughter? I asked. But that wasn’t really the point; I didn’t want my name to live on forever in an obituary that eventually ended up online like I knew it would. I’m not even dead, I thought. I called to have it taken down. What the hell is wrong with you people? You’ve got to honor the living in truth. Not honor the dead with lies that serve the living. The dead are dead. They don’t need a makeover. Leave the dead to bury their own, Jesus said.

And live on.

He dead!

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 8, 2019
Google Sh*t

You lose hope in the world in the most profoundly simple ways sometimes … well until it’s restored again.

In my case, I was happily on my way to the Google Play Books Partner Program when I came upon the following “Violent, Threatening, Or Disgusting Materials” Publisher Content Policy:

“… we will not allow extremely graphically violent or scatological materials.”

Scatological? I thought. Hm. What does that mean? And as it turns out, “scatological” means exactly what I thought it meant as in scat!, as in “scat play” and …

.
.
.
.

down the rabbit hole,

Is scat poo? Wikipedia asks,

“In sexual fetishism, scatology (usually abbreviated scat) refers to coprophilia, when a person is sexually aroused by fecal matter,
.
.
.
eyes rolling back, Dry heaving
.
.
.
whether in the use of feces in various sexual acts, watching someone defecating, or simply seeing the feces.”

Huh? What’s happening? Where am I? What was I doing before … ? *Locks then relocks apartment door, How do I get back to the happy place?

It reminds me of the time my poor 70+ year-old aunt went onto her computer and typed in “juicy mouth” because she always claims she spits when she talks, and got more than she bargained for.

I mean the things that came up on the computer screen, she said, horrified.

Scat! I said.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 8, 2019
The Principles of Language, Order of the Recipes

Since my aunt is 70+ years old, most of our conversations are centered around God and housework, which, really—as I’m getting older, is there anything else?

Anyhow, I asked her, what do you think? Does a hard boiled egg go with a potato?

She chuckled. No.

I thought, then said, but you put potatoes in deviled eggs. Eggs in your potato salad?

No. She said. Maybe egg salad. You put potatoes in your egg salad.

My eyebrows knitted. So if you put potatoes in your egg salad, why can’t you put eggs with potatoes?

… well, I guess … wow, she said, she never thought about it like that, and since I thought this was going to be a deep installment about the principles and order of language, I called my aunt back several hours later and asked,

so just to get this straight, are you saying that potato salad with eggs is different than egg salad with potatoes? And it’s one of these situations where I start with what I believe to be is a point but then the wheels fall off completely but I am still driving the car.

But, yes, she said, because with one you have a bowl full of potatoes that you have to cook and one that you just boil eggs.

So why’d you appear surprised when I said that eggs really do go with potatoes then, I asked.

Anyway, I texted my friend a couple of hours after that and asked her if a bowl of potato salad with eggs in it was different from a bowl of egg salad with potatoes in it and she said yes, it was all about ratio but she was confused.

So how did the eggs/potato salad come out??? She said, and I said that I was never going to make it! She then urged me to, after asking if I’d ever even had potato salad and I was really ready to exit this roundabout. I wanted to say that was all besides the point, but for the egg all over my face?

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist


November 6, 2019
Words Mean the Most when They Mean Nothing at All

One of my favorite books is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. And one of my most favorite parts in a book is when Gulliver encounters the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses governed by pure logic and reason. I’m not sure how it goes specifically, but one of the horses says something like,

why lie? If the whole point of language is to be understood?

A couple of weeks ago I got into a misunderstanding with my cousin. She was trying to be helpful, I know, in suggesting things I should do to promote my book, but I wondered aloud the merit of her suggestions, considering that she hadn’t even read my book for starters, even though I’d given it to her for free. tl;dr.

She then got angry, telling me that, yes she did “read” my book: she “glanced” at it and “read” three pages. I swooned. She accused me of accusing her of lying and not knowing what all she did in her life, and I was dumbfounded that she was giving me tips on how to promote material that she had “read” the whole not thing of. ¿ I couldn’t have cared less about her “glancing” my whole book. ¿

Denotation vs. Connotation, or, the literal meaning of a word vs. whatever the f**k is going on in someone else’s head depending on whatever they’ve gone through in life.

It’s how a word like “cunt” can mean something good with black Americans and something bad with white Americans.

How, in American culture, we don’t say “fat” even if they are, but “overweight”. He’s a “big guy”.

How we may describe someone or something as “interesting” or “wild” instead of “crazy” or “bad”.

I dunno. I thought about my kerfuffle with my cousin and I think that I went to public school and got a good education. I remember an elementary school teacher, Mrs. Flynn, mostly because she wore eyeliner just beneath her bottom eyelid, and how she and all of my elementary school teachers sent us home every week with new vocabulary lists. But what if someone didn’t go to school or like school? I wondered. They learned definitions of words by context, context of the culture of their experiences. Context of feeling. Talking without vocabulary. What if they don’t really care about the meaning of words? Are we really talking the same thing? Anyway, I think I’ve always been a Houyhnhnm.

Sincerely,

The Unwitting Memoirist