I hold no truck with your burning my goat

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Friday, I do believe, may have been a/the sobriety anniversary for someone I know/knew. At least that’s what my memory started telling me on Thursday – or actually Wednesday – while walking in central Oslo passing some of the things I had seen with him the last time I wandered through the city center. All those hi-fi stores – I will never understand how they all stay in business. And there was even a semi-sung rendition of “Just Like Christmas” by Low. Strange how far away all of that, and even winter itself, feels. Things that happen in the permanently dusky, fictive period that is December/holidays/early new year are like that: they happened but take on an almost invented quality later when looking back.

Yes, these spring days in cold but sunny Oslo: This time it was a work dinner (at a restaurant that seemed to serve little, other than ceviche). I winced my way through the whole day, hobbling through a good 28 waking hours by the end of it, despite feeling a kind of searing pain surging wildly in much of my body. I, however, was more annoyed at the complaints I voiced and the visible indications of pain I showed than with the pain itself. (Back pain, which has been on and off for weeks, had abated but came roaring onto the scene again after an ill-advised long drive coupled with other stuff.)

This drummed up different thoughts, none of which were linked.

For example, I wondered how one comes to realize s/he is an alcoholic in a country and culture that is technically full of them? Where is the line?

As David Sedaris writes: “Turn down a drink in the United States, and people get the message without your having to explain. ‘Oh,’ they say, ashamed of themselves for presuming otherwise. ‘Right. I should probably… quit too.’ In Europe, though, you’re not an alcoholic unless you’re living half-naked on the street, drinking antifreeze from a cast-off shoe. Anything shy of this is just ‘fun-loving’ or ‘rascally’. Cover your glass in France or Germany — even worse, in England — and in the voice of someone who has been personally affronted, your host will ask why you’re not drinking.” (from When You Are Engulfed in Flames)

I thought of a colleague who kept using the word “pivot” but pronounced it “PIE-vot”. The kind of guy who suffers from a kind of Napoleon complex, driven by a must-boast, one-up, must-be-right, I-was-there(-first) syndrome – but luckily only at first (he has to mark his territory when you meet him) because eventually this gives way to a smart, sarcastic personality that is also warm, competent and insightful. I recalled one of his humbler moments, “I fucked up. And from the fuck-ups of our lives, we learn a lot. Immense amounts.” Or another colleague (although that implies there is something collegial or cooperative about our working together) who said, “Let’s not rewrite the wheel.” What?

I remembered also all those times people said things to me that smacked of other motives than what they thought they were transparently offering, betraying true intentions that lurked just beneath the surface. Much like a child who draws attention to his transgression before there is ever any suspicion aroused. The, “Oh, I might have this Mexican woman move in as my new roommate. But she’s not my type or anything; I am not attracted to her.” Hmm. Did anyone say you were? But you just showed your hand, friend. Or, “Nothing happened. I just got her phone number because she has the right look for my photography.” Um, okay. All the things that illuminate without lights.

But then, just as quickly, the mind shifts to asking what the difference is between ceviche and poke. Or to figuring out if I can finish reading all 13 books I have going right now before the end of April. Or to how expressions get muddled – the aforementioned “rewrite the wheel” or, my favorite flubs from Mr Firewall (of which there are many), who at least can laugh at himself first and longest, saying “burns my goat” instead of “gets my goat” and “tans my hide”.

Many thoughts but nothing too coherent – that’s how it goes in the delirium of too little sleep. Often it comes back to Pessoa:

“All that was lost, all that should have been sought, all that was obtained and fulfilled by mistake, all that we loved and lost and then, after losing it and loving it for having lost it, realized we never loved; all that we believed we were thinking when we were feeling; all the memories we took for emotions” –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Photo by Medena Rosa

Culture Jamming

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Yesterday I went on a wee tirade about language and pronunciation. Because I was thinking so much about the word “jam” and its various uses, I remembered working on a blog project from my last master’s degree. We had to get into groups and write a blog (a new media outlet) demonstrating our learning from that term (which was a lot about culture jamming).

Culture jamming is, according to the University of Washington definition:

“Culture jamming is an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life. Practitioners of culture jamming argue that culture, politics, and social values have been bent by saturated commercial environments, from corporate logos on sports facilities, to television content designed solely to deliver targeted audiences to producers and sponsors. Many public issues and social voices are pushed to the margins of society by market values and commercial communication, making it difficult to get the attention of those living in the “walled gardens” of consumerism. Culture jamming presents a variety of interesting communication strategies that play with the branded images and icons of consumer culture to make consumers aware of surrounding problems and diverse cultural experiences that warrant their attention.

Many culture jams are simply aimed at exposing questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture so that people can momentarily consider the branded environment in which they live. Culture jams refigure logos, fashion statements, and product images to challenge the idea of “what’s cool,” along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption. Some of these communiqués create a sense of transparency about a product or company by revealing environmental damages or the social experiences of workers that are left out of the advertising fantasies. The logic of culture jamming is to convert easily identifiable images into larger questions about such matters as corporate responsibility, the “true” environmental and human costs of consumption, or the private corporate uses of the “public” airwaves.”

This sort of “jam” rather than “yam” is pretty cool although I am not particularly creative enough to go down this road. I just thought it would be fun to revisit the blog my group created over a year ago. My post naturally went way over the word limits but did get to incorporate the Yes Men – love them!

And rather randomly connected with one of the guys from culture jamming musical pioneers, Negativland, thanks to knowing something about culture jamming.

Likelier to be a Dirty Astronaut: Five Admissions

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It’s the last day of March, and I am not fond of listening to most English accents. I admit it. I have gone from an adolescent anglophile to… well, this person who just does not want to hear it. I like to joke about it and imitate it à la “You don’t know me at all. I don’t need to be drunk to talk dirty.” (Because one of the only words that sounds best in English-English and can really only be taken seriously from the mouth of an English person is “dirty”.) Admission number one.

Admission number two. Watching movies in which a character finds out she is pregnant and then has to tell someone else she is pregnant (especially someone who has a stake in the pregnancy, i.e., the father), sort of freaks me out emotionally. Seeing these reactions – fictional though they may be – the processing that takes place… the characters’ place in life – some wanting a baby, some not at all, some shocked or horrified, not even thinking “baby” is on their life’s radar when it comes into being. Watching these reactions makes me think about how I doubt I will ever have this kind of conversation – and up to this point would not have had this conversation even in the event of pregnancy. It occurs to me right now as sort of sad because I have been determined to go it alone. No illusions, no expectations, no surprises – the hard work would be mine alone.

I think this all hit me the other night when I watched the film Short Term 12. The main character (played by the suddenly-everywhere Brie Larson) discovers she is pregnant and eventually tells her boyfriend. His surprise, initial reaction (which seemed almost as though he was stunned – negatively – gave way to a lot of joy and support), interested me as well. The actor’s face registered such shock and surprise in that moment… the reality dawning on him in just a few seconds – I am not sure I have seen a purer reaction in a film before. (Incidentally, I had never really seen the actor – John Gallagher Jr before except in the often-grating and thankfully almost-over The Newsroom, in which he portrays one of the only likeable characters.) I am, and I say this with a tinge of regret and wistfulness, more likely to become an astronaut than a mother at this point in my life.

Admission number three. I am always – always – too curious about things and particularly about people, which almost never ends well. When someone seems really out there and bizarre, I find that I want to get to the heart of their pathology – or at least their deep-seated irregularities. Several years ago, I briefly talked to/had a few conversations with someone who was, for lack for a better or less repetitive term, way out there and completely fucked-up. His proclivities and perverse predilections (insofar as I knew the extent of them, which, as it turns out, I didn’t. What I knew was only the tip of the iceberg – and not illegal) were so bizarre that it was like watching a building collapse in slow motion. He slowly revealed things about himself that were disturbing and sad – but did not even begin to reflect what would come later, long after I no longer knew him. It was a brief acquaintance that ended almost as soon as it began. But my too-curious mind Googled him after a couple of years and found that he had apparently been arrested for something very serious, tried to commit suicide, was put on house arrest and then disappeared before his court date (or something resembling this chain of events). He thus ended up on his state’s most-wanted list of fugitives. The whole thing was rather shocking but satisfied (or even overly satisfied) my curiosity. Then, the other day, after a couple more years had passed, I looked up his name again to see if he had been captured or if anything new had come to light about the situation… only to learn that he is dead. Apparently he died on the opposite side of the country from where he was a wanted man, using an assumed identity – and died of pneumonia!? From the little I knew of him, he was someone who wanted to die and therefore took all the risks a person can take. I am not surprised to learn that he is dead, but it still rests uneasily in my mind – like what a horrible end. What a horrible life, really.

Admission number four. I have often laughed at Swenglish – the fluent but strange Swedish-English concoction that escapes Swedes’ mouths when they quite ably speak English. One of the things that gets me, much more than the “yoy” rather than “joy” and the “shat” for “chat”, is the tendency to form a “dju” sound at the beginning of words that start with a “u” sound when combined with some other preceding sound. You will thus hear something like, “When we worked in the UK” as “When we worked in the Ju-Kay”. Recently I heard someone say, “The views that we works with” but it sounded like “The Jews that we work with”.

Admission number five. “I love everything about you.

 

Urinal cakes: Flushing it out – “Nothing’s wasted if it’s human”

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I was recently told more than one story about someone who seems to have a sick and unnatural obsession with urinal cakes (that is, removing urinal cakes from urinals and throwing them around in a public place – like a bar). Yeah, no details, but my thinking was less about how disgusting and freaky this quirk of obsessively handling urinal cakes and more about how the word “urinal” is pronounced.

In American English, we say /ˈjʊr.ən.əl/and in UK English they say /jʊˈraɪ.nəl/. Have a listen. Hearing “urinal” the UK way in the course of hearing the aforementioned story, I almost spit my coffee out all over the place. I had heard it before but had somehow forgotten how it sounded – the stress being on a totally different syllable. Lots of words like that between the two Englishes.

Amidst all this urinal talk, I suddenly remembered the episode of Frasier in which Niles finally gets a satisfactory divorce deal. He had labored under the false belief that his wife’s family fortune came from the timber industry. His wily lawyer discovered that the family fortune really came from urinal cakes. Niles decided to phone Maris, the soon-to-be-ex-wife, who refused to come to the phone until Niles craftily and smugly stated, “I have flushed out the family secret.” Haha. Maris immediately came to the phone.

Frasier was such a fantastic show.

Urinal-cake talk makes the brief but vivid poem “Bladder Song” from Leonard Nathan spring to mind.

Bladder Song
On a piece of toilet paper
Afloat in the unflushed piss,
The fully printed lips of a woman.

Nathan, cheer up! The sewer
Sends you a big red kiss.
Ah, nothing’s wasted, if it’s human.

Technical difficulties and language questions

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Under the wire, I finished my school paper and since then, there has been a technological meltdown. Okay, I exaggerate. I just had a full day fighting against internet disconnectivity chez moi. That’s really one of the most frustrating “first-world” problems I can encounter.

In my academic readings, I found that the writers used the term “unpacking” too many times for my liking. Rarely have I seen so many texts referring specifically to “unpacking” the meaning of things. It annoyed me. Then, annoyed thoroughly, I used “unpacking” myself in my own hastily penned paper.

Today my mother said “we visited with her…”, and I realized that it is not very often that I hear the term “visit with” someone in the sense that means to “talk with”. “Visit” generally connotes that you have gone somewhere to see someone. But in this sense, “visit with” is basically just having a conversation with someone. I have been hearing my mother say this all my life, so it never struck me as odd, but when she said it today, it suddenly sounded strange. I don’t recall hearing very many other people use it this way.

I heard someone say “eighth” today, and it also annoyed me a bit just because the pronunciation can vary. I like “eighth” pronounced with a hard “T” (eighT-th) but many people pronounce it as “eigh-th”, and this always throws me. Neither way is wrong. I just do not like the latter pronunciation.

End of yet another rant.

Will I bake this week? I don’t think so.