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Archive for the ‘Language about Language’ Category

I’m Part Cherokee

You know, I hear this everywhere. “I’m part Cherokee.” Dude you’ve got a full beard, light brown hair, low cheekbones, UnderArmour workout shirts, a lower Mississippi drawl, lard-white skin, and a monumental ignorance of history, and . . . you’re part Cherokee?

What is it about Cherokee that is so appealing that everyone wants to be one. Was it the Trail of Tears, and unwarranted pity that you’re trying to evoke? Is it the legacy and longevity of a thousand-year national bloodline, or the silent admiration for your bravado as the descendant of a respected Brave?

I don’t know what it is, but the next person who tells me he is of Cherokee descent, I’m going to tell him I am full-bloodied Apache, and defy him to challenge my assertion.

Let me ask you this: since 100% Native Americans are not held in the highest esteem by many in our culture,  (somewhere above Gypsies), then why is it such a badge of honor to say you are part-Indian?

I’m met so many people who say they are part-this-and-that tribe. It’s become like peanut butter, spread so thin. 1/16 or 1/32 this or that. Why, you can spread peanut butter on so many things: crackers, bread, apples, celery. Yeah, PB  (part-Cherokee) is so widespread (no pun intended), but where are the whole nuts? The full-blooded Indians. I’ve heard of Irish-Cherokee. How about Afro-Crow, Scot-Penobscot, Mexican-Mohican, Dutch-Natchez, Jewish-Ojibwas, and every other Anglo-Micmac. There even may be somewhere out there a Greek-Creek.

I saw a real Apache at my church the other day, and he didn’t have to announce his Native Americanness (indigenousness/indigenuity?)It was written all over him. He was a complete, transparent 24-ounce jar of nuts, not a smack of peanut butter.

It is often said that my mother was part-Indian, but I never use that moniker to push back at these European mixed-up people, to which I also belong.

I admit it – I’m part-Cherokee. 1 in one million parts, but by golly, that’s what I am.

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We’ve all heard funny oxymorons, like  “twelve-ounce pound cake” and “law-abiding illegal,” and some oxymorons come to be accepted as standard, such as “working vacation” or “plastic glasses.” Others have become so much a part of our culture and beliefs that their meaning is never questioned, such as “devout atheist” or “evolutionary fact.”  What would a “serendipitous plan” look  like?

I heard someone once characterize Americans as people who could comfortably hold contradictory thoughts. If that is true, then stories such as Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm should not be very entertaining. Recent developments in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the so-called “Arab Spring,” – possibly an oxymoron in itself – have proven that some of us are indeed capable of holding to contradictory beliefs, namely the notion that any change is ultimately for the good, and anything with the word “democracy” associated with it is positive. We somehow characterize what happened in Gaza when the people had a democratic vote as quirky or some anomaly. Can anyone say “Hamas”?

So, when people attempt to redefine ideas like “fairness,” we tend to accept their right to do so. In just a few short years, fairness has gone from being the notion that it is fair for someone to have the same opportunities or equal justice, to the belief that the wealthy have somehow cheated the system or oppressed the poor. The outcome of this is that people will demand the government to make society fair.

When the meaning of words becomes an intellectual property right, and meaning is in the eye of the beholder, based on the private interpretation of the speaker, then there is confusion among parties as to what something means. This confusion results in arguments and a breakdown of communication, and ultimately the party with the most power wins out, leaving meaning successfully reconstructed, however short- or long-lived.

Mother Theresa famously said, “War begins at home.” If we look on a grander scale, the US Civil War was basically a war on meaning. The meaning of words, yes, but more widely,  the meaning of institutions.

To the North, Slavery meant oppression. To the South, it meant prosperity. To one side of the conflict, it meant intransigience; to the other side, it meant tradition. To one side it meant union; to the other side, states’ rights.  We all know that the stronger side won out, not by argument but by force.

The real danger in redefining meaning is that, along with words and institutions, people can be redefined. In Cher Bono’s song “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” she was basically using three words to define a race, not three behaviors or even types of people. The Roma are commonly called Gypsies and they are stereotyped as being vagabonds and thieves.

Who, fifty years ago, could have envisioned an era where evangelicals in America would be called right-wing extremists on primetime television and that such a statement could elicit uproarious applause. Ever heard of Rosie O’Donnell? Today, evangelicals are standing up to attacks on the meaning of marriage and they are being called “haters.” The meaning of criticizing proponents of homosexual marriage has changed from “phobia” to “hate” in less than a year. Funny, I thought criticizing was part of free speech. Anyway, with this kind of evolution of meaning, it would not be surprising to see people who hold to traditional moral values labeled as bad citizens who are holding up progressive culture. It is not a far walk from “bad citizen” to “threat to society,” and a much closer walk to “criminal.”

Yes, people who hold to traditional moral and Biblical values could indeed soon be seen as criminals. Criminals because they will be seen as those who hate a minority in society, who speak out against something which government has not only codified and protected, but sanctioned.  Free speech will have become hate speech, and government will be compelled to stop it in order to keep the peace and to promote what is seen as a good law.

It will look innocuous at first: fines for pulling your kids out of school to prevent them from hearing bullying propaganda; fines for advertising traditional marriage and family seminars at businesses. American Christians are pretty soft now, so government fines aimed at stopping such hate speech should be sufficient to stop any dissent. There are already instances where pastors have been reported to media outlets for speaking out in their own pulpits. These stories regularly appear on national news.

Sadly, once meaning of long-held traditions and institutions has been redefined, it will be open season on all types of freedoms. Loss of religious freedom is the death knell for other civil freedoms. Freedom as a word will endure, but what it will mean we do not know.

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COLORS

COLORS

Alluring Wyoming

on a midsummer evening before the storm:

A sun-kissed, bubbling creek

beneath an aura of ivy laurel

The forest, deep in magenta mist

and whispy, icicle blue angel wings of ivory hue

An electric yellow sunbeam glow

Turns jadesheen, then juniper green

The serene terra cotta terrain

with its ashen sagebrush,

cornhusk and rye

Like desert dust against a copper sky

Lava stone sits like a cathedral gray scone

On this tender night— 

my secret haven.

 

These are the names

of some Valspar Paint Colors

at Home Depot.

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pencil-lead

I have a piece of lead stuck in the palm of my right hand

It happened in 1967 behind my school

I often wondered if it would go to my heart one day and kill me

Now I use graphite – the harmless carbon used to lubricate machinery

It is not deadly, like lead

I write, not because I have a piece of lead stuck in my hand

not to be praised

nor to prove I can

not from lead bottom boredom

or the graphite can’t-help-its

or to doodle my brains out

not to release steam from a leaky brain valve

I write for meaning, truth, beauty

Alternately raw shocking

numbing graveyard-shouting life 

I want to write the rigor back into rigor-mortis

Prayer back into the praying mantis

To put the leap back into the boiling frog

To draw condensation out of rolling fog

To light up the city with the electri-city

To see the things we all praise pitied

Not to worry — I will not jam my lead into your flesh

But I will take the sigh out of your synapse

and put the fight back into graphite

So, if you ever shake my right hand,

squeeze tight, pause

and know why I write.

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H_M_S_X_ _L_TY

Redefining marriage

It’s easy. Just add vowels. Then hmsxlty  won’t look so weird!

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Writing poetry without inspiration is like trying to relish a dessert by sampling its ingredients one-by-one. It is cheating the Muses by cutting off their locks while they sleep. Awake the Muses! Then write as they finger their tresses, contemplatively. Then mix, shake well, and savor the ambrosia of the gods.

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x-manger.jpg

 

Feliz Navidad is roughly translated Merry Christmas, with the word navidad corresponding to nativity. Sometimes it is used as an adjective, such as in Luces Navideños  (Nativity Lights). As far as I know there has been no political attempt to use substitutes for Feliz Navidad, as there has been in recent years with Christmas. Everywhere I go, there is a preponderance of things holiday and a scarcity of things Christmas. Last Christmas I happened to be looking for the word in Home Depot and I chanced to read an Hispanic man’s name tag on his company’s shirt. His name, I kid you not, was Natividad. Sadly, that nametag was the closest thing I saw to the word Christmas.

Christmas takes me back to the settlement of the New World. We all know from memory the names of Columbus’ three ships – the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. I’m not an historian and have no idea what happened to the Niña and the Pinta, but I do know what happened to the Santa Maria, and it a curious-enough story.

The Santa Maria did not make the return trip to Spain. It ran into a sandbar on Christmas Eve, 1492 and sank off the coast of Hispaniola. With the wreckage from the ship, Columbus had his men build a fortress. Because the ship sank the following day, Columbus named the colony fortress La Navidad. Amazingly, the first settlement in the new world came from Santa Maria, Saint Mary, and was called Christmas.

Today, many people, businesses, and governments feel they have found a safe word to use for Christmas – the word holiday. What they seem to have forgotten is that holiday is a conjuction of holy and day.  Removing Christmas from this most holy of holy days is comparable to removing James, the King of England’s name, from Jamestown. Imagine people arriving in Virginia to get a tour of Kingville (wink,wink) rather than Jamestown. Someone somewhere, we don’t know who,  might be offended when they hear the word James  in Jamestown. That would be the Mount Everest of absurdity, and the subject of intense mockery by everyone who heard it. But very little fuss is made today over the omission of Christmas.

I thought I had heard every euphemism ever dreamed up until this Christmas season. Holiday tree, winter concert, season savings, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, holiday reindeer. Even companies like “Merry Brite,” which sell Christmas lights. Recently at Lowe’s, I saw Miracle Trees. I was surprised by this. Wow! It’s a miracle . . . tree. Makes me want to ask, “What the heck is a Miracle Tree?”

I’m not advocating that businesses be forced to put Merry Christmas on their white signs, the ones with black magnetic letters, or that government officials be subjected to the Heimlich maneuver to get them to belch out “Merry Christmas!”  I’m simply saying why be pressured not to say it?

When Columbus returned to Hispaniola on November 27th of the following year, 1493, he pulled into the port near La Navidad. He was met by some natives he had befriended the preceding year. The brought him a gift of two gold masks. After this meeting he hurried to see his little Christmas village. He was dismayed to find La Navidad burned down and all thirty-seven of the Christians murdered by the natives. He found no one there, only the local natives slinking around at the edge of the forest.

Maybe La Navidad was a portent of things to come in the New World. Do civilized people really want us all to forget Christmas, and at the heart of Christmas, Christ? If so, I venture to say that they are trying to hide the secret truth that they are motivated by an anti-Christ spirit. That they want to keep us appeased and happy, appealing to our own secret love of gold, lost in the glitter of it all. To cover the lies, they offer – and we must accept – their materialistic masks.  And while we are looking out from behind the smiling masquerade, La Navidad is burning, and our enemies are slithering around at the edge of Western civilization with the blood of hope dripping off their fingers. 

I smell the smoke of La Navidad.

 

Notes:

1To read about “La Navidad” search for The Fate of the New World’s First Spanish Settlement by Edward T. Stone, managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for twenty-two years before his retirement in 1965.

2Congress passed acts recognizing Christmas as a holiday in 1870, 1885, and 1894.

3The US Supreme Court adheres to the federal legal holidays, including Christmas Day (see Government Federal Holiday web page)

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