Ode to Being Placed on Hold

Robert Okaji
via Ode to Being Placed on Hold — O at the Edges

 

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Paper Telephone; Jennifer Collier

The music rarely
entertains,
but I find
peace between
the notes,
sometimes,
and embrace
the notion that
I’ve been inserted
in that peculiar
capsule between
speech and the
void, imagining
myself somewhere,
floating, free
of care and
gravity,
beer can
satellites
orbiting my head,
with bites of
pungent cheeses
and baguette
circling in
their wake,
a gift, you see,
like rain in
August or
a warm voice
saying hello.

©Robert Okaji, 2016

Jennifer Collier’s art can be found at http://www.designsoak.com/paper-art-jennifer-collier/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DesignSoak+(Design+Soak+Magazine)

Little Martha

The story is disputed, as stories often are. And a song without lyrics…well, the story will rush in and, with the help of its listener, tell itself, and it will be both different and the same to everyone who hears it. It can’t be bothered with the facts.

Or, rather, it will take facts and make with them whatever it pleases. Stories want to be told, and heard, and passed along and told and sung and heard again, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to ensure that, seeking out those who have the craft and skill to get them out into the world and nagging away at them until they surrender, sit down, hammer it out, set it loose. And as often as not, even as they take a circuitous and often ‘unfactual’ path, even as we might never get back to the strict truths underlying their origins or inspiration, stories arrive, eventually, at something greater than the sum of their parts.

Here are some facts: Martha Ellis was a little girl who died of peritonitis, just shy of her 13th birthday, in 1836. She was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia. Duane Allman was a young man, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, at the age of 24. He was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia. The Allman Brothers’ best-known album, Eat A Peach, was released soon afterward and dedicated to his memory. Little Martha, a short instrumental piece that guitarist Leo Kottke has called “possibly the most perfect guitar song ever written,” was written by Allman and recorded for the album in October of 1971, only weeks before his death.

Duane Allman and his bandmates (one of them his brother, Gregg; another, bassist Berry Oakley, who would also die in a motorcycle accident not long after Duane did; he, too, is buried at Rose Hill), often wandered through Rose Hill Cemetery. What were they doing there? What a weird place to hang out.  Because stories hate a vacuum, possible explanations rush in: it was a quiet place to think, compose, arrange, escape the crush of new fame, get wasted, be alone with a woman, any or all of the above. And maybe the dead exerted a pull on them they’d have been at a loss to explain: one of the band’s other best-known songs, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, written by guitarist Dickey Betts, also took its name from a woman buried at Rose Hill.

It’s an arresting image: a group of most likely scruffy, most likely stoned, assuredly brilliant young musicians stepping over the threshold between the ’60’s and 70’s, riding the first giddy wave of success (their first couple of albums had tanked but their most recent, the live release At Fillmore East, had put them on the map, and Eat a Peach would assure they remained there) wandering separately or together through a graveyard. They stop occasionally to kneel and squint at names carved into headstones: women’s names that maybe conjure melodies or lines of lyrics. A young man, fingers numb and calloused from constant playing, gazes up at a little stone girl, reads the poignant epitaph, and the notes come floating up, fingers to brain, brain back down to fingers by way of the heart and gut. Music has sprung from stranger sources.

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Our Baby
She was love personified and her memory is a sweet solace by day,
and pleasant dreams by night to Mamma, Papa,
brothers and sisters. We will meet again
in the sweet bye and bye.

But the story is disputed, as stories often are. It is said that Betts and Allman insisted the songs ‘were named for one person, while actually being about someone else,’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Martha)- written for, to, and about women with whom they were involved, women fortunate enough to have survived childhood, fortunate enough to still be living and in love with *musicians*. Duane is said to have nicknamed his girlfriend Martha, a riff on Martha Washington, because of the old-fashioned clothing she favored; Dickey Betts gave Elizabeth’s name to the woman he loved who had another boyfriend, one of Dickey’s closest friends, to protect everyone involved.

Okay; fair enough.

It is also said that Duane Allman claimed that he received Little Martha‘s melody whole in a dream, a gift from Jimi Hendrix. He visited Allman as he slept, plucked it out for him on a hotel bathroom sink-in that peculiar reality common to dreams where what is absurd is utterly ordinary-using the faucet as a fretboard.  Hendrix had died only a year earlier, and it stands to some sort of reason that he might not have been finished making music yet, that visiting the dreams of another gifted musician was his way of passing that gift along, making sure the story didn’t end with him.

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©Gered Mankowitz

Which of these stories is true?  Which a lie?  Is it maybe just a little too narratively perfect, a little too symmetrically sentimental, to find the song’s origins in a young man’s wistful gaze at the grave of a dead child, a man who would be sharing the ground with her only a short while later?  Does the welter of conflicting accounts muddy up the picture a little, and is that a good or a bad thing, story- and life-wise?  Some assert, others deny, and on and on it goes. Does that make the account more plausible, or less?  Does the fact that Allman’s real ‘little Martha’, after his death, sued for control of his estate curdle the purity of the song that bears her name? Is it futile to try to square faulty reality with perfectly crafted art, or to make private creation publicly understood, to explain how and why we tell a story, sing a song, paint a picture? Maybe it was none of these stories; maybe it was all of them.

In the end, though, who cares? We have the song, and the song, once we’ve heard it, is ours to sing (or hear again and again in our heads, often to the point of distraction) in our turn. We can hear its melody any way we like. The dead speak amongst themselves, they speak to the living; the living speak to the dead and to one another. The story is the conversation, picked up and told and retold by those who follow. And we’re all trying to figure out the same thing.

A little girl died in 1836, of an illness easily treated today by the antibiotics that didn’t arrive on the scene until 1928 (the year my father was born), far too late to save her.  My third son fell gravely ill with a similar illness in 2007; he was promptly cured and released from the hospital after the most harrowing week of his and his parents’ life. A young man who had only begun to express his brilliance (he and the band were best known for their skill at onstage improvisation, which often carried their live performances, to the delight of their fans, into wee hours that rang with extended instrumental solos) died after crashing his motorcycle, which he of course was driving too fast, into a lumber truck.  He’d assumed he was more indestructible than anyone is, or maybe it’s only that death is something that no one, particularly a young man, can imagine. My middle son, at one time an ardent guitarist and with, on many occasions, a similar tendency to skate along the edges of profound risk, once texted me a YouTube video of one of the Allman Brothers’ epic performances, dazzled by their talent and endurance.  I wish I could tell you that he was 24; the little shiver that might run through my reader is worth a lie or two. But he wasn’t.  He was 16.

Did the fact that there are stories, and music, help me as I faced down horrible days when I feared I might lose my children? Maybe. I don’t know. But what else did I have?

Lorrie Moore once said, of the fact that we will all, someday, lose the people we love and with them their gifts and loving presence, ‘this is not acceptable. This is a design flaw.’  We are left to do with this what we can. So we tell stories with words and music and paintings and sculpture and film, and we visit others in their dreams, passing them along. It’s all we have. It’s the best we can do.

Duane Epitaph

Duane Allman, November 20, 1946-October 29, 1971

©Melinda Rooney, 2017

Recycled Inauguration

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Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama…
and all you other big swinging dicks who thought I was a joke until today
…fellow Americans…
where are you all, anyway? I mean, this crowd, it’s pretty thin when you come right down to it. But you’re not gonna hear me say that.
…and people of the world…
Like I give a shit. Still, a nice touch.
…Thank you.

Where is everybody?

We, the citizens of America…
who maybe could’ve been bothered to get their sorry asses out to the Mall
…are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
Because if it ain’t broken, there’s nothing to fix, and if there’s nothing to fix, well, who needs me? Therefore: broken. Fact established. Let’s move on.
…Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
Together. Yes. Which is, yes, okay, for as long as you are paying attention, which is maybe—what? Five minutes? Then you’ll just get on back to whatever it was you were doing. That’s why you voted for me, right? Because a leader is someone who says you don’t have to solve your own problems if you can blame them on someone else? Right? I ran on the suspicious lazy-ass pass the buck platform! And look at me now!

Man, I love me some short attention spans!

…We will face challenges.

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…We will confront hardships.

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…But we will get the job done.
I mean, to be honest, which I am, by the way, I don’t think you’ve ever seen anybody more honest than me, what would that even look like? The American people getting the job done? It’s, I mean, it would be Wal-Mart in a funnel cloud. I’m telling you. Seriously. Right? Am I right?

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.
Ivanka was right. I should’ve peed before I got up here. She’s always right about these things, which, to be honest, gets pretty old after awhile. I remember one time, she’s ten years old and she says in this prissy voice well Daddy you should have thought about that before we left. Sometimes I’m thinking you know what, girlie? It wasn’t too many years ago I was changing your diapers.

Well okay. I wasn’t. But the point stands.

 …and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.
I mean, I would never marry a woman taller than me. Not gonna happen. Nice coat, though. And I like the messy bun thing. Melania’s got one too. You know, like they just rolled out of bed. Just you watch. This time tomorrow and every woman in America will be walking around with a giant roadkill hairball on the back of her head.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.
Can y’all back there in the cheap seats see the eye roll?
Yeah. I didn’t think so.
For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital…
Hey assholes! Sitting behind me! Yeah, right there! Looking at my presidential backside! I’m talking about you!
has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.
Whenever I’m nervous. Which I’m not, by the way. I just have to pee, like any other citizen of America. I am their voice, I am their bladder. And you can’t rebuild a country with a full bladder. For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has been hogging the john.
Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.
Thank God I’ve never had to look for a job.  I mean, I’ll be honest, I’d last five minutes in a factory. Tops.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs…
…a little Martin Luther King action going on in there; nice touch, right? Little speechifying trick called repetition and antithesis. Like a little song. See? It’s not just the black man who can preach.
…and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
Where was that place we were? Was it during the campaign? Or the Victory Tour? Florida? Southern California? A restaurant? No, some house, some photo op. Little girl goes outside and picks an orange right off the tree, makes me juice? They do that every day, she said. It’s one less thing they have to attach to the shoestring. Seven in the morning, I’ve never been so totally exhausted, this is a younger man’s job, I’m telling you, and that was the best juice I ever had in my life.
That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
Actually, it’s mine. You know, if we’re going to split hairs. I’ll give it to you someday, maybe. When I’m done with it. But for now, well, yeah.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.
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This is your day.

Except, you know, the illegals. Not your day. Muslims. Not your day. Women over 40. I mean, let’s be honest, ladies, it was never your day. Maybe some black people. Not all black people. A few black people is fine. Fags. Well, okay, I don’t really have a problem with fags. Just don’t be waving it in my face all the time. And all those other BGTQIPDQ letters, I mean, who can keep track? I’ll tell you what bathroom to use: the one that isn’t locked. And actually? You guys out there waving your signs, wearing your hats? Not your day either. Watch and learn.
This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.
More or less.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.
Which is kind of a scary thought, frankly.
January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
No, really, it’s actually quite scary. Most of you folks, let’s be honest, you couldn’t organize an orgy in a whorehouse.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
I mean, guys! Give me a challenge!  I stand up here and throw out all this warmed-over meatloaf, all this stuff that, let me be honest, I figured out was what you wanted to hear, ’cause that’s how you get people to love you-I mean, I don’t really care about all that much, when you come right down to it.  It got you to march out there to pull the lever, but I gotta tell ya, I start to get a little bored. That whole grabbing pussies thing, I mean, you missed the point. My point being that when it’s too easy, you know, I start to lose interest.
Everyone is listening to you now.
Actually, they’re listening to me now. Your work here is done.
You came by the tens of millions…
Throw out a number. See if it sticks. It’s not a lie if it’s not even bothering to sound like the truth.
…to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

emperors-new-clothes

Especially if you don’t know any history. Finally you have a president who knows as little history as you do. Feels good, doesn’t it? 

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
This ONE DAY. Only the most important day of my life. And all I can think about is how bad I have to pee.
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.
Look at all those porta-potties down there.

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These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
Have you ever been in one of those things?
No, seriously. What’s it like?
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities…
Broken toilets
…rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…
Plumbing supplies

Unknown-1…an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge… which has really come in handy throughout this campaign, I have to say

…and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. See, I don’t even know what that means. Wouldn’t being robbed of unrealized potential be a good thing? I mean, then you wouldn’t have it anymore. Maybe then it would be realized. Right? I mean, am I missing something? Lying media? Intellectual elite? Hello? Help me out here.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
There. That’s the word. Get‘em right in the nuts.
We are one nation — and their pain is our pain.
Wait. Whose pain are we talking about now?
Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.
Who’s they?
We share one heart,
one bladder
one home
fourteen bathrooms
and one glorious destiny.
Pee pee pee pee pee

The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
More or less.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry…Although to be honest, which I am, who can even untangle it all anymore? Honda in Ohio, Toyota in Kentucky, but fuck it. Let’s blame the Mexicans.
…subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military…
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 …we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
I would so use one of those disgusting things right now. I would, believe me, I’d go right in there, slam that plastic door shut, look down that hole at all that wadded up toilet paper, all that shit, all that American shit, the shit of our people, the mothers and children trapped in poverty, our young and beautiful students, the gangs, the righteous public. My voice mingles with theirs. My piss with their crap. I am their crap. We are all in this together.

Wait. Wait a second.
*Deep breath *
Okay.

 One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores…
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…with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
…and, well, let’s face it, folks; factories were never all that good at thinking anyway, right? And after all you’ve done for them!
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.
Where they don’t have the kind of problems we have. How could they? They have all our money!
But that is the past.
Which when you think about it doesn’t even really exist, right? I mean, you can do all kinds of things with the past. You can say it was anything you want.
And now we are looking only to the future.
And hey! That doesn’t really exist either! I can promise you anything! Sky’s the limit here!
We assembled here today…
DaodeTianzunThere is only the present. What’s that thing someone said? Some monk or king or philosopher or something? If you live in the past you’re depressed. If you live in the future you’re anxious. If you live in the present you’re at peace. Something like that. Which is kind of a load of crap, frankly. The truth is that if you live in the present there’s no time to think, everything’s happening at once, you’re in a freakin panic. That has really worked to my advantage, believe me.
…and are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
Kid at my school? My roommate? Great guy. Great sense of humor. Drove his dad’s car into a neighbor’s living room and ended up upstate in a gray uniform. Lot of kids like that in military school as you might imagine.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
I never gave my folks that kind of trouble. They, you know, maybe they’d say different, if it wasn’t for that gag order, you know, sealed legal rulings, the fact that they’re dead. I mean, you can’t be too careful, right?
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
Anyway, Scott. Great guy. Kept a gallon milk jug full of water on the back of the toilet, and when you do well with your grades, which I did, by the way, I was a spectacular student, you get a room with a bathroom. So we’d have these friends hanging out in the room, you know, and he’d go in there, leave the door a little bit open, trickle that water out of the bottle into the toilet for, like, I am not kidding, five minutes, ten minutes, and all of us in the room, I had a lot of friends, by the way, great guys, we’d be looking at each other and thinking ‘Scott! What the hell!’, right?

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products…
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…stealing our companies…
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…and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
Scott. Haven’t thought about him in years. I never laughed so hard in my life. I used to love to laugh, back when I didn’t have to pretend to.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.
I mean, maybe I was kind of a weird kid. A difficult kid. A problem child. Second youngest, you know, parents get tired. I look at Barron, I mean, I really only started thinking about this stuff when he was born, and I think oh no. Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 10.30.47 AM Please, Barron. Don’t be me. I mean, there’s that resemblance, right? It kind of creeps me out, to be honest. The other two–I don’t know. They’re their mother’s sons. And the girls…Jesus. I never knew what to do with them. But Barron. Please. No matter how it looks I don’t want that for you. I would never—I mean, my parents, they just wanted me to be strong. I know that. And I want you to be strong. It’s hard, you know? The stuff kids do, I mean, maybe they can’t help it, the tantrums, the bad dreams, the occasional accident in the bed here and there.  I mean, I was lucky I had people to keep me in line.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.
But, I mean, did they have to send me away? I don’t know. I think about that sometimes. I do.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

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A do-over. A whole new thing. Do it differently this time. Be a good kid. No more bankruptcies. No more ruined marriages and stiffed contractors. Release the tax returns. Try to be satisfied with enough. Don’t fuck people over. Don’t turn into your dad. 

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAT_AAAAJDVkOTZiZWMxLWZiMTYtNGRlMC1iOTJhLTJiNmE0ZGY5OGMxZQ
Could they maybe have talked to me about it? It’s not like I drove a car into some living room. I mean, I admit it, okay? I was a handful. But, I mean, a kid admires his dad–
I mean, the guy was a glorified slumlord, okay? I mean, look at him! He looks like a used car salesman! He treated us like shit, when he wasn’t ignoring us, and being second youngest? Well, let’s just say. If I wasn’t making a scene I basically didn’t exist. But I idolized him. I admired him anyway. And a kid 
loves his mom, thinks she’s the most beautiful mom in the world.

Donald-Trump-with-his-parents-Fred-and-MarySee, this is what a kid will do for his parents, give them way more than they deserve, way more than they work for, he’ll forgive them for anything. And they’ll do all kinds of miserable things, and maybe they love you, maybe they do, but it’s really all about how you reflect on them, you know, make them look good, and you’d think maybe they’d try to show it sometimes, that they love you, instead of sending you to some miserable place with all these miserable rules and so I figure okay, maybe it’s easier to just do what they want, go on ahead and say I was a great success there, model student, a star, believe me, because of course I couldn’t say I sucked at anything, could I? It’s the way it works: the mold is made, you pour yourself into it.  Garbage in, garbage out. Am I right? I mean, look at poor soggy Freddy. All that poor bastard did wrong was not turn into Dad. And Dad was not okay with that. Freddy, I mean, he had, like, he went off and got every little boy’s dream job. He flew planes. The uniform, the cockpit, I was all man, I want to be him

But in the end, you know, not even a plane could take him far enough away. There’s no escaping it. It’s very sad.  What can I say? It’s a legacy. It comes with obligations.

I know I’m a bastard. What? Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I’m sorry? Any of you out there ever up and told your parents to go…let me ask you something. Say you had everything I have. Say you were born into it. Say the only thing you had to do to keep it, maybe even snag yourself some more, was quit making a stink, keep walking the walk. Would you have tossed that all in because of principles, because you wanted to be your own person? Without having any clue what that would look like, where to begin, because you never learned anything different and got your ass kicked when you tried? Ever had everything anyone could ever want and still feel all sort of windy and empty inside? Ever felt like if you’re not in a room full of people oohing and aahhing over you that you’re not really even there at all? Ever gotten to the top of the mountain and looked around and felt this sinking shitty pain inside and realized yeah, no, this isn’t gonna do it either?

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No?  Yeah. I didn’t think so.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but
…BUT!
…we do so with the understanding
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…that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
You know these days they’d call me spirited, ADD, oppositional/defiant, hyperactive. A shrink, some pills; handholding and tutoring and special treatment. Therapy, anger management, autonomy. Coping skills.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
Because we all need an enemy. Face it, folks. I don’t care what anyone says. You don’t have someone to hate, nothing makes any sense. And let’s be honest. How many of you even know what Islam is? I could tell you they paint their balls green and fly through the sky.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
So get on board, my friends. Let’s not pretend you don’t understand what I’m really saying here.
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
See above
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear
…well, a little fear.
…we are protected, and we will always be protected.
…by our fear, as in:
We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement…

nsp-lav2

…and, most importantly, we are protected by God.
Take off your shoes, laptop in its own bin. Nothing in your pockets. Yeah, the belt too. 

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.
This is where we are.
In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
I’m just making hay, folks.
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
I would use a bucket. I swear to God. Right here. I’d turn right around and go in the bushes. I could do it. Tell you I’m watering the plants. And you’d cheer. Maybe George has an empty bottle under his chair. Now, I would never say that kind of thing out loud, okay? There are people, you know, I know there are people who would say I would. But I’m not going to mock the weaknesses of others. Exploit them, maybe. But, I mean, Freddy. I would never mock that.  I’m not going to be that guy. I never touch the stuff myself.
The time for empty talk is over.
Once I’m finished, at any rate.
Now arrives the hour of action.
And at the end of the day,  your guess is as good as mine.
Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.
I’m mean, I’m winging it here. I mean, Jesus; I got the job. Now I have to do it. I mean, what does the president do, exactly? What am I supposed to do here? Sign things? When am I going to get bored? I mean, how many of you actually know what the president does? You know, specifically? Anyone? And maybe now and then it has occurred to me, it has maybe not escaped my notice, that I’m only as useful to some of these folks up here as a big old parade float they get to hide behind and get all their nasty shit done. And you’ll only love me as long as I give you all a pass for being lazy assholes. In fact I tell you it’s great, you’re the greatest, you’re the real Americans. I’m a businessman, for Christ’s sake!  I know how it works! You know your audience. You find your mark. You flatter, you wink, you be whatever you need to be, say whatever you need to say. And I’ll tell you something. I’m this shitty guy, okay? I admit it. But you.  I say horrible things right to your face and you love me for it.  I trash your neighbors and flaunt my tacky wealth and you go nuts. I could tell you to run around in circles and bark like a dog and you’d do it. You made me, folks. Garbage in, garbage out.
We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
Meh. Whatever.
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
Or else.
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots
and suffer the agony of bone spurs
we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms
and revel reflexively in phantom fears and broadbrush resentment…man, did I ever ride that all the way to the bank!
…and we all salute the same great American Flag.UnknownAnd whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit
…Undrinkable water, but what do they expect when they have no pride? Can they not even respect themselves enough to insist on clean water?
Oh wait. That was Flint. What was Detroit? Oh yeah. Bankrupt. D’oh! You’d think I’d remember that one.
…or the windswept plains of Nebraska
fly-over wasteland
…they look up at the same night sky,
please don’t let me wet the bed tonight
…they fill their heart with the same dreams
please let me be rich and famous so that my dad will finally love me
…and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.
I mean, I’m the fucking president.
But it’s never enough, is it?

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: you will never be ignored again.
Well…
Y
our voice, your hopes, and your dreams…
all of which can be broadly interpreted, twisted to serve my purposes, or summed up in a Tweet
…will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
If you can turn off the television for five seconds. Oh. Wait. Scratch that.

Together, we will make America strong again.
A nuanced term, ‘strong.’  You think I don’t know nuance? Think again.
We will make America wealthy again.
Well, you know.
We will make America proud again.
It’s all about shame, folks. That’s why I’m standing here. And let me tell you, the only way out of shame is to be shameless. Who’s with me?
We will make America safe again.
Or we’ll just move the danger to a different place. Hide it in plain sight, you might say.
And yes, together, we will make America great again.
And you want to talk about walls? I can build a wall, folks. I’ve been doing it all my life.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.
Now somebody find me a goddamned toilet.

Melinda Rooney, ©2017

Part 1: Science

 

unknown-2The science of language is called linguistics.
So LINGUISTICS says (with a little help from archaeology)…
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                                            …that we really haven’t been at this for very long.

What were we up to all that time, in that massive ‘Prehistory’ pie wedge up there, aside from hunting and gathering, eating, sleeping, reproducing, seeking and finding or failing to find shelter, keeping ourselves alive, being born, growing older, dying? Maybe becoming human took all the energy we had. Maybe there wasn’t time or room for anything else. But what did humanity look like without language?

Why, and how, did the need to communicate arise? Doesn’t it seem like that was always there? How did this idea, kindled and stoked over eons, that we could make and shape noises with our mouths to exchange information, weave a social fabric, keep records, protect ourselves, tell stories, name all of the things of the world and take our place in it, become a reality

We’ll never know, will we?  For all its power, speech can only speculate about its own origins; it can only ask questions.   

There’s been a lot of guessing, though. The impossibility of arriving at an answer has never deterred us from inquiry; in fact it could be argued that it inspires it. Come to think of it, maybe that was at the heart of it: our incessant curiosity. Maybe words arose to shape all those unasked questions.

In 1866 the French Academy of Sciences, snowed under by papers and weary of warring theoriesUnknown and cranky scholars,  instituted a blanket ban on any further research into or speculation about the origins of language.  We will never know the truth, went the argument. We are beating our heads bloody.   Let’s move on to other things, shall we? Assez! Arrêtez!

But bans never work, right?  Stopping people from imagining, wondering, speculating? Good luck with that. The guesswork continues, the theories proliferate. Here are only a few from over the (many) years:

  • Self-Organization: briefly, the sum of the parts spontaneously adding up to more than the whole.images
  • Bow-wow. (also called the ‘Cuckoo Theory’): words are imitations of animal cries and calls. images-1
  • Pooh-pooh. words originate in exclamations in response to pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, astonishment.bizarrolanguage
  • Ding-dong. the first words as echoes of a mysterious, resonating, cosmic vibration.screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-4-42-14-pm
  • Yo-he-ho. Language arises out of the grunts and expostulations of people working together: hauling heavy objects, for example. The sounds they made established a communal rhythm that made the work go more smoothly. giphy
  • Ta-ta. Pre-lingual humans imitated their hand gestures with their tongues, wagging them in concert with their waving hands.

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.23.05 PM
…yes, these are really the names of theories. Never let it be said that linguists have no sense of humor. 

But wait, there’s more! (…and this is a woefully incomplete list):

  • ‘Mother Tongues’ & ‘Putting the Baby Down’: unknown-1briefly (and simplistically), language originated in the bond between mothers and their children, in the interests of the survival of the species. These theories elegantly fold in the necessity of mutual trust as an essential element of communication between individuals: if you can’t trust your mother, who can you trust?  The circumstances and demands of prehistoric life (hunting, gathering, the fact that we gradually became hairless, so there was nothing an infant could cling to) made it impossible for women to hold their children all the time; they had to put them down in order to have their hands free to work. ‘Motherese’ developed, a reassuring murmur: ‘Mommy’s right here.’ There is even one theory that suggests ‘Mama’ may have been the First Word, the sound of an infant nuzzling at its mother’s breast. 600-07453952
    I’ll have lots to say later about how our individual journeys from birth to adulthood bear a striking resemblance to the big picture of human history and evolution (I wish I could, but I can’t claim this conceit; it is a spin on what Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century German biologist, put in fancier terms: ‘Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny.’ main-qimg-19ad9e44696a0bcb2af5fdda5c493a1e-cPut simply, an organism’s growth contains within it, stage by stage and step by step, that organism’s entire evolutionary history (the fact that this is not strictly true will have to be explained by better scientists than I am). But for the moment, how cool is it that the birth and infancy of language might coincide with the birth and infancy of each of us
  • Nativism: Linguist Noam Chomsky asserted mri_blackandwhitethat the deep complexity of language argued for an innate capacity for speech that came with a human being the way cars come with power steering: a ‘language organ.’
  • 200wBiosemiotics: way too complicated for me to explain well, but it’s the one that–forgive me–speaks to me most persuasively: 

    “… the deciphering of the genetic code has revealed our possession of a language much older than hieroglyphics, a language as old as life itself, a language that is the most living language of all — even if its letters are invisible and its words are buried in the cells of our bodies.”— Beadle, G. and M. Beadle, 1966. The Language of Life: An introduction to the science of genetics.

Kinda makes you understand how those guys at the French Academy of Sciences felt, right? Assez! Arrêtez!

EXERCISE
Individual or Group or Class: I mentioned that I’d compiled a woefully incomplete list.  SO….

FIRST:
Sit quietly and come up with a theory of your own.  Write it down (taking a moment to realize how integral the ability to write is to the ability to think. More on this later). SECOND:
pull out your phone or laptop and do a quick search for a theory I didn’t mention above (There are tons!), and scribble a brief, summary description. Push past Wikipedia, although you can start there, as it has many references to other sources.
THIRD:
tell us what you’ve learned of the existing theory, and what you think of it. Plausible? Implausible? Why? There’s no better way to understand an idea than to take a few potshots at it and see if it survives.
FOURTH:
offer your theory. 

[and then, if I’m lucky, conversation ensues.  Often, of course, nudging is required. Sometimes I’ll make a crack about getting a sense, now, of what the world was like before we could speak.]

[This is also when I pull a stunt that I repeat as necessary over the course of the semester/workshop/class/whatever venue I’m in at the moment. Once a student/participant has presented her spiel about an existing theory and offered her own theory, I turn to another student and ask him what his classmate just said.  There are initially some real deer-in-the-headlights reactions, and I make sure to apologize to the hapless victim. But repeated a few times, I’ve found it to be an incredibly effective way to get them listening to one another.]

[Sometimes I put part FOUR at the very beginning of the class/group/workshop/session, before the big old information dump up there. As I mentioned in a previous post, some groups or individuals need the inspiration of other ideas in order to generate their own; others want to jump right into it. Depending on what kind of time is available, I’ll do this exercise in class or assign it for the next one.]

Up next: Up next: STORIES!…Origin myths, legends, stories, magical thinking…also attempts to explain and understand.  When we bring art and science together we inch a little closer, maybe, if we’re lucky and diligent, to cracking the code.

images

©Melinda Rooney, 2017