Fandango’s Provocative Question #122 is about REGRET.
Lucille Ball, the American actress and comedian, was quoted as saying…
“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
For this week’s provocative question I’m going to ask you to think back upon the life you’ve lived so far. And as you do so, consider this week’s question:
What is your biggest regret in life?
I suppose I could name several “regrets” I’ve had in my life, or the “biggest regret”, but I understand why I made the decisions I did at the time. So, I prefer to think of those things as mistakes, or the “roads most easily taken” without thinking ahead.
I understand myself a lot better than I did when I was young. I was always beating myself up for stupid things I did or said, but I am nicer to myself these days. I like the way my life is headed now, in spite of being a “senior citizen.” Actually, being a senior citizen, except for reminders that my body is slowly falling apart, is quite nice. People at this age are much more forgiving, and more accepting. Every day, I look forward to traveling again, pursuing hobbies I enjoy, and relishing time with family and friends.
So I have “no remorse, no regrets.” Easy come, easy go!
Where do you get most of your news from? Do you consider your primary news source (or sources) to be objective purveyors of truths and facts?
I admit to being a news junkie – or more accurately, an information nerd. I rely on a variety of media for news. I always watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and usually Lawrence O’Donnell right afterwards. Being on Central Time, these shows are on at 8 and 9 pm, respectively, not too late to then catch the local news at 10, followed by the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. These news sources are somewhat subjective, but there is good analysis and an attempt to present more than one side of an issue.
When I’m working in the kitchen or on laundry, or when I’m alone in my car, I tune in to NPR on the radio. National Public Radio is the most objective news source, in my opinion. I hear various opinions on there, and I also like the stories people tell.
I also subscribe to a regional newspaper. The Daily Herald that I get covers the northwest suburbs. I like this newspaper because they have a mix of national and local news, as well as human interest stories. And I always turn to the editorial page and read the letters to the editor and the columns. It’s interesting to know what people feel compelled to write to the newspaper about.
However, I am alarmed at the plethora of sensationalist “news” outlets, online, on TV and the radio. Some of these media outlets perpetuate conspiracy theories that are completely outlandish and untrue. Yet, millions of Americans tune in to these media outlets and are indoctrinated into believing the mainstream press is “left-wing” and “fake news.” I am concerned with the millions of Americans who live in a seemingly alternate world when it comes to current events. I visualize it as a chasm, such as a fault after an earthquake. How does one talk to a person who thinks, for example, that Donald Trump really won the 2020 election and that Biden is illegitimate? It may seem ridiculous, but a lot of people do believe this, and what will this ultimately lead to in a country with a proliferation of semi-automatic weapons? We’ve already gotten a preview with the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. As long as there are Republicans and Donald Trump fanning the flames of these false narratives (even though they know better), and states “recounting” the ballots from the 2020 election, there will be plenty of people who think it is real.
It’s also sad, because many people have become so jaded about the news and about journalism in general. I have noticed that some of the commenters about this question on Fandango’s page express their complete disaffection with the news. I have great respect for journalists and am an advocate of a free press which is necessary for democracy to succeed. But with social media and the easy access to online “information” there are a lot of lies being perpetuated. And therefore many intelligent people just tune out completely. An apathetic or misled public is a very dangerous trend!
Do you think that there is any chance that the U.S. Congress will ever take decisive, bipartisan action to pass and enact nationwide common sense gun laws to try and stem the tide of mass shootings, or is the best that the American Congress will ever do is to send thoughts and prayers to the families of loved ones killed in mass shooting incidents?
Sadly, my answer is no, but with a caveat. Right now, the U.S. Congress is so gridlocked, using the filibuster as a way to block any legislation put forth by the Democratic president and Congress. With this filibuster, 60 votes are needed for most bills to be passed, because it takes 60 Senators to end debate on a bill. Since the Republicans don’t seem to have ideas to debate about, they just declare that the debate is “open” indefinitely on bills they don’t approve. (Have you seen the Senate floor during debates on bills lately? The chamber is nearly empty.) Since Senate Republicans seem to be in lock-step with their leader, Mitch McConnell, votes on bills are strictly partisan. The House of Representatives does not have a filibuster, so although most votes are made along party lines, legislation moves faster through the House.
What’s more, Senators, with their 6-year terms and an equal number (2) from each state, no matter its population, are beholden to not only their constituents, but their lobbyists. The House also has lobbyists, but terms in the House are only 2 years, so Representatives spend much of their time campaigning when they are not in session. Furthermore, Representatives are a lot closer to their constituents and more likely to listen to them. Representatives are always holding town halls, while Senators are not. So the Senate is the “upper” house of Congress – read “elite.”
The National Rifle Association is a huge lobbyist that has had tremendous influence on Senators. The NRA is so powerful that a low rating from them can cause Congress members to be defeated in the next election. In turn, the NRA is beholden to gun manufacturers. Over the years, the top brass at the NRA has become increasingly intransigent, so that common sense gun legislation, such as background checks or banning military-style weapons, has come to be seen by politicians as “leftist.” Some of the membership of the NRA is swayed by the propaganda, but polls have shown repeatedly that 90% of NRA members are in favor of background checks. This should not be a partisan issue!
Personally, I think the Second Amendment should be thrown out altogether, because its history is closely tied to the institution of slavery, to appease slaveholders of the South who hired slave hunters to track down runaway slaves. Its wording is also unclear and out of date. In the 1700s, conditions in the United States were very different than they are today. There were no automatic rifles; there were no high-capacity magazines; and 18th century-style militias were very different than self-styled militias today. In consequence, this amendment has been interpreted differently throughout U.S.. history, depending on which way political winds were blowing. Strict “constitutionalists” on the Supreme Court (and don’t get me started on that!) tend to have a very narrow interpretation of what the amendment means, as if you can transpose those exact words and they will have “the same” meaning today. They claim the “right to bear arms” applies to anyone aged 18 or older, with no questions asked, no matter what that individual’s criminal record and mental state has been. Somehow the right to own a gun is more sacred than a person’s right to be free from fear of being killed by a maniac with a gun at any number of normal places one frequents – supermarkets, schools, churches, movie theatres, nightclubs, etc.
Automatic, military-style weapons were banned in recent times – during the Clinton administration – but the ban was for 10 years, and when George W. Bush was president, the ban was allowed to lapse. And even during the ban, it was still possible to obtain such weapons at gun shows, as the Columbine shooters did in 1999.
Meanwhile, people die from gun violence every day – killings that rarely are reported, because they are localized, such as the inner city of Chicago where gang members rule and many people own handguns (cheap and easy to conceal). There are groups of parents and other concerned citizens who are trying to put an end to this senseless killing. Kids in their apartments doing homework, killed by a stray bullet that go through a window; high school seniors celebrating their upcoming graduation in a park, one of them gunned down because the shooter thought she was someone else. People are shot for wearing brand-name shoes or jackets, because the person in possession of the gun wants to steal those items. Little children can get hold of their parents’ guns that are not safely stored and accidently shoot their brother or sister. These things happen a lot – way too often.
But somehow, making people wait to purchase a gun for a few days while their background is checked is a violation of their civil rights. Yet people who go to a supermarket to buy groceries or get a Covid vaccine don’t have the right to go about their business safely. The situation is so twisted in this country that people’s right to live is literally trumped by another person’s right to not only own a gun, but to carry it around in plain sight for everyone to see. This is why death by gun violence in the U.S. is hundreds of times higher than in other countries.
However, IF Senate rules can be reformed, so that the filibuster can’t be used if there isn’t active debate about a piece of legislation going on in the chamber, then a simple majority can make a big difference in passing urgent legislation, like gun safety reform or voting rights. The Democrats WON the election! Yet the president and 51 votes in the Senate aren’t enough due to these ridiculous rules.
As for the House of Representatives, although currently having a Democratic majority – barely – the people are not going to be democratically represented as long as there is gerrymandering. This is a problem on the state level too. For example, the Wisconsin Legislature and Senate are dominated by Republicans even though the Democrats got more votes due to the way district maps are drawn! The state’s Supreme Court is filled with right-wing justices who put the kibosh on any Covid restrictions the Democratic governor tries to mandate; and they do the same to any challenges to election irregularities and undemocratic voting regulations.
Unless there are MAJOR CHANGES to our election system, gun safety will remain a distant dream, even though a large majority of the American people approve of common sense regulations. I am not deluded that the 2nd amendment will ever be repealed, but it can be interpreted according to modern society’s needs and technology. But this only if citizens vote no matter what barriers are put in their way and remain engaged in the political process – and that includes being in the streets protesting whenever necessary. Public pressure can work.
Meanwhile, people all over the United States of America lay wreaths at mass shooting scenes and offer their thoughts and fervent prayers.
Have you gotten vaccinated for COVID-19 yet? If not, are you planning to? If you have, or are planning to, how do you think your life will change afterwards? If you’re not planning to get vaccinated, why not?
Yes, I got both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in February. I was lucky because of where I live. Seniors had priority and many senior living communities contracted with one pharmacy or another to have their staff and residents vaccinated. That’s what happened here. We were strongly encouraged to get the vaccine, and 97% of our residents and 77% of our staff got it.
I had no reaction after the first dose. After the second dose, the next day I felt a general malaise. No particular symptom, except headache, but just sort of achy and yucky all day. This was easily alleviated with a nap and Tylenol for my headache. At first I thought it was because I had exercised heavily after the vaccine when I found the fitness center nearly empty and had the machines to myself as well as time. So, I expected my legs to feel achy and weak, but it was more likely a reaction to the vaccine.
I think everyone should get vaccinated unless one has medical counterindications. In my opinion, the fear and distrust of the vaccine is silly. We’ve watched our political VIPs and celebrities get vaccinated on TV to encourage people, but unfortunately, everything about Covid has been politicized in the U.S., so there is a swath of people who refuse to get vaccinated, wear masks, etc. A lot of people, close to a majority here, don’t trust the government period. It doesn’t help that over 20 states have either never had a Covid mitigation strategy and have kept their economy going full speed, in spite of spikes and super-spreaders of the disease, or just arbitrarily decided last week to lift all mitigation because their governors have declared Covid to be “over.” No, it is not! Whatever people say about Illinois, I am glad we live here because our governor has been very sensible and cautious in his approach to controlling the pandemic. But I get angry that other states have the right to do nothing and their citizens can travel to other states and infect other people. At this rate, we’ll never beat the pandemic!
However, the good news is that, since the last week in January, a much more serious and effective national strategy has been implemented and we are now AHEAD of the goals set by the Biden administration in terms of number of people vaccinated. In fact, in a total reversal from last year, we are performing ahead of other nations in vaccinating our population! Yesterday, it was announced that since our supply of the various vaccines will exceed our population’s needs, we are going to share some of it with other countries, such as Canada and Mexico. We are on track to have every adult fully vaccinated by the end of May. Those who don’t get the vaccine will still benefit from “herd immunity.”
So more sensible states are now starting to cautiously “open.” There are many variants of the virus, some more virulent than others, which are circulating around the world, so we can’t celebrate totally yet. School districts, with restrictions in place in classrooms, are starting to have students go back to school in person. Teachers and other school personnel were given preference for the vaccine. Restaurants are opening, as well as other venues, with reduced sized clientele.
Our daughter and son-in-law, who are in their 30s/40s, have appointments for the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine next week, and so in a few weeks we’ll be able to visit each other again. Our senior community is slowly bringing more in-person activities back: our dining room will open, by reservation only, next week. A Great Decisions group will be reconvening in April. An art workshop is now being allowed, and more people (15-20 instead of 5-10) are being allowed in the activities that are already meeting. However, in spite of our high percentage of vaccination, we are still required to wear masks and stay socially distanced. A lot of people, including us, don’t wear masks outside on campus, unless we stop to talk to others we encounter. In public we do, though.
As for life after Covid, I am not worried. My husband and I are going to take a road trip in the fall regardless of what the status of the disease is (although we will avoid states with high infection rates). Also, we plan to take some 4-day trips in the summer to visit relatives in the Midwest.
At the beginning of 2022, we are planning a delayed cruise to the Amazon. Right now that area is a hotspot of infection, but I feel confident that this will improve by the end of the year. If not, then we’ll postpone again. Later in 2022, we still plan to go to Australia & New Zealand, and I don’t anticipate any problems by then. I guess we have to stop postponing renewing our passports!
I think life will change post-pandemic in society in general in several ways. Long term problems have taken on greater urgency due to the pandemic, or the pandemic has showed us that we cannot ignore them anymore. I think President Biden, a moderate, has moved a little leftward, due to the urgency of problems exacerbated by both the pandemic and the 4 years of Trump, such as climate change, poverty, access to affordable health care, racial inequity, and hate crimes. Currently his administration is laser-focused on overcoming the pandemic and getting needed funds to people and institutions that need it. Anyway, I believe we will see more movement on solutions to problems that have long festered.
I think – or hope – also that people will emerge from this crisis with a greater appreciation for things that they have taken for granted: family, education, clean air, nature, and simple things like having lunch with friends or hugging our kids.
I personally am looking forward to a couple of live art events, “Immersive Van Gogh” in May and a Frida Kahlo exhibit at a regional community college in June. My husband and I are members of an organization that provides ushers to plays and concerts, and I’d like to get back to that, but I don’t know how long it will be before theatre and concert venues go back to normal.
Remember, WEARING MASKS WORKS! It’s the best way to avoid infection.
Fandango’s intro to this week’s Provocative Question: Valentine’s Day is just four days from today. This coming Sunday is a day that people in love all around the globe — well, okay, in the United States, for sure — celebrate love and romance. So my perhaps not so provocative question this week is all about Valentine’s Day, how you feel about it and how you plan to celebrate the day.
Here’s my question….
How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Do you consider it to be a special day, one where you express your deep love and appreciation for your significant other? Or is it just a commercialized “Hallmark Holiday” where you feel pressured to spend money on cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and/or expensive dinners in order to stay on the good side of the one you love? Either way, what, if anything, are your plans for Valentine’s Day this year?
I do believe in Valentine’s Day as a way to celebrate our love for others. Some people need to be reminded to remember loved ones or to say “I love you.” Those who don’t express themselves well verbally can get a card and a small gift. My husband, Dale, used to get me flowers every year.
Actually, Valentine’s Day isn’t like other “Hallmark holidays” – it has a long history, although the facts are a little uncertain. One story says that Valentine was a priest during the Roman Empire. Emperor Claudius II forbade young men from getting married because he thought unmarried men made better soldiers. The priest thought this was unjust and continued to marry young lovers in secret. He became a martyr (either this priest or another religious figure, the Bishop of Terni) when he was imprisoned for performing these secret marriages. He was held in the home of a noble, and there he healed the noble’s daughter of blindness, which caused him to be considered a saint. Before he was tortured and put to death on February 14, he sent the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”
Whatever the story or legend, Valentine’s Day began to be associated with love during the Middle Ages, and St. Valentine became one of the most popular saints in Europe. When selecting a date to celebrate this saint, some believe Feb. 14 (originally Feb. 15) was deliberately chosen to correspond to the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, celebrating the Roman fertility god, Lupercus. Unlike Valentine’s Day, however, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent, and sexually-charged celebration of animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling to ward off evil spirits and appease the god of fertility. To learn more about St. Valentine and Lupercalia, go to the History Channel’s website page about the history of Valentine’s Day.
There are what I would call Hallmark holidays (like “Sweethearts’ Day” and “Grandparents’ Day”), but Valentine’s Day is not one of them.
However, I have a special reason to “believe in” Valentine’s Day as a special day – it’s Dale’s birthday! So I have a special valentine all of my own!!
It’s not necessarily fun to have a spouse with a birthday on a special day like Valentine’s Day. It’s hard to get restaurant reservations for that special birthday dinner, and some places have special menus and the cost is higher! If you’re like me, who tends to forget to do things until the last minute, you’re out of luck calling around to get reservations on the actual day of Valentine’s Day. I look for that special combo Valentine’s Day birthday card, and I can usually find one or two. But generally, I give him two different cards and a gift more appropriate for his birthday than the token gift I would give for Valentine’s Day.
A popular Valentine’s Day gift is candy. Especially if you are a woman looking for something to give your spouse or boyfriend, candy is usually the default. But neither Dale nor I need to have such temptations in the house! I could get flowers for him – after all, why shouldn’t a woman get flowers for a man? Men like flowers, too, at least most of them seem to. But if I got him flowers and he decided to surprise me in the same way (since candy is a no-no), we’d have too many flowers and it would seem more like an even exchange than something special. I think this is why neither of us bothers to buy the other one Valentine’s Day gifts anymore. I have to find a gift for him anyway.
It used to be a double whammy when I was teaching, because invariably there would be a Valentine’s Day party for the kids, and parents would bring in all kinds of goodies that I generally found irresistible. That would be after hustling the night before to sign a Valentine’s Day card for each student from the packs of 10 or 12 that I’d bought at a store. I didn’t usually worry about providing treats, because parents usually did that, but I generally would get at least a bag of candy so I could give one or two pieces to each child along with the card.
Then after the festivities at school, I’d go home and…there’d be candy or possibly a birthday cake. Fortunately, I am not teaching anymore, and being retired, it’s our job to sit back and let the kids do special things for us! In fact, our daughter has already warned us that she plans to make her dad a cake this year, which she hasn’t done the last few years. (But she’s all domesticated now that she’s married – she or her husband often cook special dishes for us.) That said, instead of being able to get together and share it, she’ll probably have to drop it off over the fence of our complex and we’ll be stuck eating the whole thing! I shouldn’t complain – everything she cooks is great and often quite innovative, but I seem to be in a perpetual struggle to lose weight!
My brother-in-law celebrates Valentine’s Day every year by performing “Singing Valentines” with his barbershop quartet. I don’t know if they will do it this year, but I will miss seeing it in our community dining room (which is closed due to Covid). Anyway, it’s a great surprise gift for someone’s special sweetheart and the group earns quite a bit of money that day!
Whatever the case, although we should celebrate love every day, I think it is a wonderful thing in these always challenging times to have at least one day called Valentine’s Day.
Our first full day in Cairo began with a trip to Giza to see the famous pyramids and the Sphinx. Egyptologists have identified 118-138 pyramids commissioned by ancient pharaohs as burial tombs. The oldest known pyramid is the step pyramid located in Saqqara, which we did not visit.
Egyptian pyramid building was developed over time. The step pyramid was the first pyramid structure, but to develop a smooth, continuous line took several attempts before the geometric measurements were just right. If too wide at the base, the pyramid would cave in for lack of sufficient support. If too narrow, it would become “top-heavy” and collapse under the weight of the stone. There is a pyramid known as the “bent pyramid” (which is not at Giza), that has sides that are somewhat curved.
The pyramids of Giza, including the Great Pyramid, are located in the Giza complex about 13 km (8 miles) from downtown Cairo, on the edge of the Western Desert.
They were built at the height of pyramid building during times of absolutist rule, about 2580-2560 BCE (Before Common Era – formerly known as BC, Before Christ). The largest and oldest of these, the Great Pyramid, or The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), was part of a complex consisting of a valley temple (which no longer exists) and the mortuary temple of the pharaoh Khufu (2nd pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty in ancient Egypt’s “Old Kingdom”), of which only the basalt pavement remains. The mortuary temple was connected to the pyramid containing the pharaoh’s tomb. The complex took about 20 years to build and the pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.
Originally the Great Pyramid was covered with a smooth layer of limestone and some of the stones used can be seen around the base.
The pyramid consists of 2.3 million blocks of stone obtained from nearby quarries. Since building it took 20 years, this means that an average of 12 of the blocks would have to be put into place every hour, 24/7! The largest granite stones used in the King’s burial chamber, weighing 20 or more tons each, were transported all the way from Aswan, more than 800 km (500 miles) away!
Although the Greeks suggested the pyramids had been built by slave labor, modern discoveries of a work camp associated with Giza indicate that they were probably built by skilled workers, organized into groups according to skill level.
Most of the limestone casing that covered the structure were loosened by a massive earthquake in 1303 CE (Common Era, formerly known as AD). In 1356 AD these were taken away to build fortresses and mosques in Cairo.
The original entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north, about 17 meters (56 feet) vertically above ground level. This entrance, although blocked off, can still be seen today. You can also climb partway up the pyramid under this sealed entrance.
This diagram shows the entrance, passages and chambers inside the pyramid, but access today is forbidden. In the King’s Chamber, the only object is a rectangular sarcophagus, which was likely lowered into the chamber before the top of the pyramid was added.
On the east side of the Great Pyramid were three smaller pyramidsfor King Khufu’s three wives and it is possible to go inside one of these. A cavernous hole in the side of this structure is the entrance. You descend into a lower chamber on a ramp fitted with slats to maintain your footing. I took one look and said, “No, thanks!”
However, Dale and some of the others in our group did go down there. Inside the chamber there is really nothing at all to see. Someone took these photos of Dale and fellow group member Nancy Wheeler inside the empty chamber.
Around the outside of Khufu’s pyramid are boat pits large enough to hold full-sized boats. The ancient Egyptians believed that boats would be necessary to transport the king and his family to the afterlife.
One of the ships sealed inside the pits has been reconstructed and now resides in the Giza Solar Boat Museum.
Next we took a camel ride.
I had never ridden a camel before so my only experience riding an animal was on horses. First the handler has the camel get down into seated position so the rider can mount. Its front legs bend first, then its back legs. Camels have very flexible knee joints! (I hope they don’t get arthritis!)
Mounting the camel wasn’t that easy – I had trouble getting my right leg over its back! Once I was on, the handler motioned for me to hold onto the saddle horns, both front and back, while the camel stood up again, going through the same motions it used to sit down. It was like being on a bucking bronco!
I continued holding onto both saddle horns, even though it was a bit awkward, until the handler told me to hold only the one in front. He also motioned me to sit farther forward, almost until I was practically sitting on the camel’s neck.
I then gripped the front saddle horn and hung on for dear life. A camel moves very differently from a horse – it’s almost an undulating motion, as if we were at sea…perhaps that is one reason why camels are called the “ships of the desert.” Their bodies, while seemingly gangly, are uniquely suited to the desert environment.
My experience, however, was not helped by the fact that my camel was a naughty beast! Instead of following the handler’s instructions, who eventually had to hold him on a tighter rein, he would wander in the opposite direction until pulled back, or approached another camel for a little tête-a-tête! Also, he kept bumping up against another camel ridden by a young woman in our group, so that my foot was crushed between two camel bodies! (No harm done, except that my shoes smelled like camel for the rest of the trip!)
I was greatly relieved when it was time to get off – although it required that “bucking bronco” movement again!
Here are some sketches I made of my camel in my journal later:
After this memorable experience, we visited the Sphinx and the Valley Temple of Khafre (see map above), but first, we viewed the Giza plateau from the vantage point of a hill where we had gotten off the camels.
The Sphinx, while it dwarfs in comparison to the pyramids behind it, is the largest sculpture in the world carved from one solid piece of rock: cut from limestone bedrock, the head has since been restored using layers of blocks.
The Sphinx was a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human head. The Great Sphinx of Giza is thought to represent the king Khafre, whose pyramid tomb stands behind it. Although the head and much of the body has eroded over time, its long front legs and paws are solid rock.
The Great Sphinx faces east and is 73 meters (240 feet) long from paw to tail. At its highest point it is 20.21 m (66.3 ft) tall, and 19 m (62 ft) wide at its rear haunches. It was built during Egypt’s Old Kingdom, during the reign of King Khafre (c. 2558-2532 BCE).
In between the paws of the Sphinx, there is a stela (an upright stone slab on which is carved some kind of inscription, like gravestones) created during the New Kingdom by Thutmose IV (son of Amenhotep II) describing a dream which justifies his right to rule. A brief description of this dream is in an online article Between the Paws of the Sphinx by Dr. David Livingston:
Thutmosis had been strenuously driving his chariot over the desert. After awhile, he lay down in the shadow of the Sphinx’ head, all that was visible above the sand. While sleeping, the Sphinx came to him in a dream and assured the future Pharaoh that if he cleared the sands away, the Sphinx would, in turn, make Thutmosis the next ruler.Thutmosis did so and, sure enough, he became the next Pharaoh!
Although it is possible to look at this stela between the Sphinx’s paws, we did not do this, instead going into the Valley Temple of Khafre which is in front of it.
“Blogging is a medium of words,” says Fandango to introduce this week’s Provocative Question. “All of us who blog are wordsmiths. We use words almost exclusively to express ourselves, to tell our stories, to weave our tales, to write our poems, to help others to understand and possibly even appreciate our perspectives.
In the real world, words can take on different meanings depending on context, inflection, facial expressions, body language, and other countless factors. But in blogging, such visual cues are, for the most part, absent. Thus, the challenge of conveying your intended tone and the underlying meaning of what you write can be daunting. It gets down to the age old writer’s dilemma. Is the content what matters, or how the content is portrayed or presented?
So, as we are all writers who use words to paint pictures, my provocative question is simply this:
In the context of blogging and writing, what do you think is more important: what you say or how you say it?”
First I want to say that I straddle two blogging worlds: writing and photography. Writing and photography (art in general) are two consuming interests of mine, so I do some of both on my blog. I always intersperse written posts with pictures (even if they’re not my own*), which I explain below.
I didn’t think this question was particularly controversial until I started formulating a response. To me, writing is a lot easier than speaking, because (even though I do talk a lot, I admit) when speaking, I tend to blurt out what I want to say without thinking about it too much first. I know that is correctable by thinking carefully before I speak, but then whatever my thoughts were, I’ve forgotten parts of them and I don’t end up sounding as brilliant when I voice them as they sounded in my mind! My husband says writing doesn’t allow for nuance (such as tone and inflection) but I think it does. My husband is not a writer, although he reads a lot.
I think WHAT one says is ultimately the most important thing, but if it is not conveyed properly in words, its proper meaning may be lost on some readers. And there is something to be said for beautifully written pieces. Fine literature certainly is enhanced by the author’s style and some readers will gravitate toward certain writers for that reason. On the other hand, a poorly written book will turn me off to that writer even if I enjoy the story. Lots of times that means using very standard phraseology and clichés, making the story sound simplistic. The worst thing to me is bad grammar. I have read books in which it appears no editing was done. There are lots of misplaced apostrophes, one of my pet peeves, or commonly misspelled words are misspelled. Or things like “I got used of it” is wrong – it should be used TO it, but this is a common mistake. I accept such things if the author is writing the dialogue of a character that speaks that way, but not in the general narrative. Bad grammar and wording can so detract from the text that one can lose track of what the author is trying to say.
However, the meaning IS most important. I don’t want to read the elegantly written screed of a right-wing fanatic. If I don’t like the message of a particular writer, I will ultimately stop reading his/her work. People inject their writing with all kinds of hidden messages and subtext. Good writers do this. But in daily life, the words one uses matter. Then there is the general written message of most people out there – the stuff we read on signs and instructions in our every day life.
Someone made a serious blunder when coining the phrase “Defund the police.” I don’t think that is what they really meant. Yes, it’s concise and fits well on a protester’s sign, but its message is a real turn-off. Because my political beliefs are slanted to the left, I have heard the entire dialogue of the meaning behind this phrase. It should be “Reform.” It is the idea of taking some of the money that is poured into police departments with the expectation that the police can and should respond to, and appropriately handle, every conflict that might arise, born out of any number of society’s ills. The idea is really about how to use state and local funds to alleviate poverty, homelessness, drug use, etc.
Other written slogans are imbued with a particular subtext that the slogan’s originators want us to believe. “Pro-life,” for example, is used by people who oppose legal abortion. They are more accurately called “anti-choice.” I say this with no political agenda – I respect and understand their position, but anti-choice is more accurate. What they want is for women who get pregnant not to have the choice to abort the unwanted fetus, or at least for no public funding to be used for abortion. If they are truly pro-life, do they care about what happens to unwanted children after they are born, who may suffer poverty, neglect or abuse? I am not convinced that they do, because their sole focus seems to be on abortion. Many of them are right wing politically, who want smaller government, which usual means fewer public social services. Would pro-life people support transferring a good chunk of the defense budget to public education? That would save lives on both sides of the equation. Does that pro-life protester support the death penalty? If so, how can (s)he claim to be pro-life?
I know that I have deviated from the topic and injected even more controversy into it, but though I am using public slogans as an example to talk about meaning and subtext in writing, inaccuracies – deliberate or accidental – in writing are important. If one is writing a persuasive essay, it is necessary to provide reasons with as little bias as possible, if the writer is to convince readers of their point.
Sometimes the topic is good but the author rambles and repeats. No one is going to want to read past the first few paragraphs. I took a writing class once that was about writing for an online audience. The instructor advised us to break up our essays with photos because otherwise we will lose an audience that is used to a quick read, especially online. I myself am guilty of that, but if the writing is absorbing enough, I will continue reading. And to do that, the writer must draw me in and keep me interested – so although meaning is important, how one writes about it is important also because if you lose your readers, you will never convey your meaning.
So, bloggers (note to self)…
Be concise. Write what you mean. Mean what you write. Use visual images. Don’t ramble.** Show off your writing skills. Remember, writing is a balance between WHAT and HOW.
*All images in this post were downloaded from Google.
This is the Word of the Day prompt, whose host defines this term thus: GABBLE-RATCHET. As well as being an old English dialect word for a noisy child, a gabble-ratchet is any nocturnal bird (particularly geese) that makes a lot of noise at night, once considered to be an ill omen.
I was attracted to this prompt today due to this unusual word!! The definition I found for gabble-ratchet is a bit different, from New Miriam-Webster Dictionary online:
Definition of gabriel ratchet Miriam-Webster says the term derives from gabriel-ratchet, whose definition is:
dialectal: the cries of migrating wild geese flying by night which are often popularly explained as the baying of a supernatural pack of hounds and to which various superstitious significances (as forebodings of evil) are attributed.
I like the first definition better, but I am very familiar with the sound – a lot of Canada geese hang around our community’s campus when the weather is warm enough, and when they fly, they gabble-ratchet! So I am incorporating this unique word, with two other prompts from Fandango’s FOWC and The Daily Spur into my poem about
Canada geese everywhere In pond and grass, and in the air They leave their poop all over the place When I walk, I look down, just in case At the path where they have wandered Poop here, poop there and over yonder A gun is fired to scare them away But they don’t care, they come back anyway The swans in the ponds only chase after them When their cygnets are young, but mostly ignore ’em In the fall, those darned geese fly overhead In V formation, full speed ahead Their gabble-ratchet is music to my ears They’re finally gone…until next year! BUT I wish I could say they really go away But mild winters invite them to stay! Call grounds crew to complain or snitch But Canada geese have found their niche I guess living with geese is just the price We have to pay for a campus so nice!
I haven’t participated in Fandango’s Provocative Question lately, but I’m back! And #104 is a good one for me, because I am a former teacher and education has always been an interest of mine:
Today’s provocative question is about formal education. We all have our opinions on how best to educate and prepare our children to succeed in today’s highly complex world. So this begs the question:
What do you think is the one subject (or thing) that should be taught in school that isn’t?
Oh, there are many answers to this question! Students today don’t learn about half the things they should nowadays, and especially in the U.S. Therefore, I cannot just name one, but three, but grade level may determine the priority given to each.
Life skills: this includes how to maintain a bank account, how to treat others in a civil society, how to live on your own, conservation, the responsibilities you have as an adult, parenting, managing a household or a budget, etc. This encompasses a wide range of topics, which are always changing (for example, in the past I might have said “how to balance a checkbook” but young people don’t use checkbooks anymore). This should be taught in middle school and high school. In middle school it could be more about decision-making, civility, and diversity. The curriculum should be somewhat fluid, because different communities might have particular needs and students have different needs. High school students maybe even should have some input about what is taught.
Historyshould be a required subject every year of high school, and also middle school. One high school year is not enough to learn all of U.S. history, which is always being added to. And standards for teaching history include many things that we weren’t taught when I was in high school, such as Native American history, and minorities’ contributions to our society. (When I was in school, it was mostly about leaders, dates, etc. We had Black History but it was a separate subject and not mandatory.) At least two years should be dedicated to U.S. history, possibly three, and at least one year should be world history.
Starting in elementary school, from kindergarten on, all students should learn a foreign language. This is a very rare thing in American schools and most Americans are not only monolingual but woefully ignorant about the rest of the world. Even high schools don’t always require it. All research shows that the best time to learn another language is before the age of 12. My local school district in Des Plaines used to have Spanish classes as part of the curriculum in elementary school but only once a week and this program was discontinued along with the dual language program when budget cuts had to be made. It should be as important a class as math or English. One of this country’s major shortcomings is ignorance of other peoples and cultures. We are a large country and a world power but so is China and all their students learn foreign languages starting in elementary school. In fact, BECAUSE we are a world power, we should be more knowledgeable about the world . If other nations can teach these things, why can’t we?
One good way to start elementary school students to learn another language is to implement a dual language program. Many school districts have bilingual programs, but that is not quite the same. Each school would select a foreign language that is predominant in their community and hire teachers fluent in both languages. Then the regular curriculum – math, reading, science, social studies, etc. could be taught in both languages from the beginning! Instead of trying to figure out how to find the time to teach foreign language, just integrate the foreign language into the regular curriculum. This would have the benefit of teaching children academic as well as social language. There are some good examples of dual language programs in the U.S. (which in some cases have replaced regular bilingual programs) and Canada has had them for a long time. But it isn’t a priority here, so therefore, unless you live in an enlightened district, it won’t be done. I have taught in a couple of dual language programs and it is definitely the best way to teach children a second language.
You may wonder, how on earth is it possible to add all these extra things to the curriculum? I don’t know about life skills, but these other subjects (language, national history and world history) are part of the regular curriculum in most countries and judging from recent studies, the major industrialized countries are all doing a better job at educating their kids than American schools. I remember learning that in a typical British school, kids may have up to 11 regular subjects each year! (If you are in Britain and reading this, perhaps you can verify if this is still the case.) In the U.S., we have for too long emphasized the teaching of subjects that are part of standardized testing, so social studies and foreign language became less important or even ignored. Learning about other countries – history, geography, politics – and their languages is so important in the world we live in today, and I think we do a great disservice to our students by not giving these subjects the emphasis they deserve.
Oh, and by the way, ALL students should have, as part of their regular school supplies, an iPad, tablet or laptop computer. Yes, all this costs a lot of money, so why not budget more for education and less to build weapons?
By provocative, I don’t mean a question that will cause annoyance or anger. Nor do I mean a question intended to arouse sexual desire or interest.What I do mean is a question that is likely to get you to think, to be creative, and to provoke a response. Hopefully a positive response.
Last week I asked for some suggestions for potential provocative questions and a few of you came through with some good ones. This one comes from Paula Light over at Light Motifs II.Her question revolves around interpersonal relationships. She asks…
When it comes to your friends, your spouse, your significant other, or members of your family, is it better to confront them about things they say or do that bother or upset you or is it better to try to ignore those things in order to maintain peace in your relationship?
It depends on several things: how close I am to that person or how well I know them; what the issue is (really important or trivial); my mood; the kind of person I’m confronting.
With my husband, I sometimes ignore whatever it is that bothers me (like leaving the toilet seat up) or if I am in a prickly mood, I will say something like, “I really wish you would…” But if it is really important, I will say something right away. Sometimes Dale is on the verge of saying something inappropriate (well, I know it’s inappropriate – Dale has no filter sometimes!), and I intervene to stop him, so he doesn’t offend the people he’s talking to or embarrass me (because he rarely gets embarrassed – that’s part of having no filter). What really gets me is when he picks on me to correct a habit and then HE starts doing the same thing! Like turning off lights. OK, I know our monthly payment to this senior community includes utilities, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about wasting electricity! I am always concerned about the environment, and don’t like to waste resources unnecessarily. He used to tell me to turn off the lights, but now he is the primary guilty one. I often just do it myself, because he does a lot for me, for us: laundry, dishes, and other things for the umpteenth time without complaining.
There are some people who are very sensitive, however. I have a friend that I really have to be careful what I say. I don’t criticize her ever. Sometimes she’ll be telling me something, and I say, “Oh, really?” – which is a common response to show interest – she takes it the wrong way, getting very defensive as if my response implied that I didn’t believe her.
I usually don’t confront family members, either – I’m too accommodating. My sister, for example, does something that is really annoying – during a concert or play, when I’m sitting next to her, I hear her murmuring to herself. She always does this, so I figure either she doesn’t realize she’s doing it or she can’t help it. I don’t know why she does this. Maybe it’s not that I’m accommodating, I’m just chicken! I don’t want to provoke or offend her, and I know I have little habits that offend other people too. Would I want them to confront me? I guess I would if it were serious, like if I had really bad body odor. I would want my friend or relative to tell me so I could do something about it.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t confront most people about stuff that annoys me. Sometimes I avoid the person, if it’s possible – it depends on my mood. Dale is the only one that I do confront now and then. After all, I have to live with him, and nowadays, while we’re stuck at home, we’re together almost all the time.
In fact, when other people confront my son, I defend him even when I know they are right. That is because I don’t want him to be provoked because he easily gets out of control and starts yelling and swearing. He is very sensitive, so if someone hurts him, he overreacts. Then the other person gets mad and starts yelling and swearing back. But I know that he is fundamentally a kind person.
I’m also very sensitive. When someone hurts me, I tend to withdraw and lick my wounds, but if it happens often, I will confront the person. Dale sometimes yells “SHUT UP!” at me when he could react less strongly, or he yells at me from across the room in a tone of annoyance when we are on vacation, in other words, in a situation where others in our tour group witness it – that is very embarrassing. I do talk to him about this, but only when we are alone in our room. I have gotten into the habit of reminding him about this BEFOREHAND – because I know it’s going to happen when he gets annoyed when I linger to look at something or take a photo.
I think I know why I am reluctant to confront people about the things that bug me – I just want PEACE and HARMONY among the people I’m with.