Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Twas the Nightmare Before Thanksgiving

I think I'll take a small break from my regular series and do some pure humor, which I haven't done since my very first post: "Refrigerator Etiquette." I just wrote this one and posted it to another blog I contribute to once in a while just for fun.

How about a Thanksgiving tale of nonsensical proportions?
Hold on to your wits. Here goes.

'Twas the Nightmare Before Thanksgiving
By Rattus Scribus© 24 November 2009

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the land,
every turkey was afraid ending up a meal plan.

The dinner table was arranged with the greatest of care,
but mysteriously not a turkey was found anywhere.

The mother was embarrassed, the father nonplussed;
the children began to complain and to cuss.

The turkey, meanwhile, was partying up,
for avoiding becoming this Thanksgiving's sup.

But then it decided: "Enough is enough!"
And armed to the beak it stormed the house rough.

The chairs it upturned, the china it shattered.
We flew down the stairs to see what was the matter.

Then what to our wondering eyes should appear,
but a crazy-eyed turkey with not one shred of fear.

Its beard, snood and dewlap -- grotesque rubbery folds;
its razor-sharp spurs were a dread to behold.

Like lightning it turned when we all at once squealed,
and looked at us, drooling, as if we were the meal.

We tore open the shutters and flew out the window,
and landed like rags on the stones down below.

But we shut out the pain and fled down the dirt track,
that Thanksgiving nightmare shouting, "Don't even look back!"

So I share this tale truly from my heart to thine.
Become vegetarian while you still have the time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy and Appreciated: It Starts with You. Part 4b

By Rattus Scribus© 16 Nov 2009
Newcomers may read the previous parts of this series by clicking the links in the blog archive.

Rule 4b: Don't Get Lost in Translation: Mishearing.

When Anita and I moved from California to Massachusetts to pursue graduate work, we experienced a mild culture shock. As diverse as southern California is, having been raised there since about the age of six, it was not until we moved to Massachusetts that I became truly conscious of the cultural "Pluribus" in our national "Unum."

One micro-shock was trying to understand the New England accent and its variants. For example, -a words are pronounced with an -er sound; and -er and -ar words are pronounced with an -ah sound. My wife's name is Anita, but it was pronounced "Aniter." Car is cah, yard is yahd, lobster is lobstah, and so on. "Ha-ha. Cute," I said to Anita when we first heard such words pronounced. And indeed it was cute, and at times downright hilarious.

One time we were at a Christian fellowship in the home of some lovely friends in the town of "Manches-tah by the Sea." There was a time of Bible study led by a fellow seminarian from South Carolina who had one of thickest southern drawls I'd ever heard. He was a real southern Christian gentleman and a dear friend. (And his wife was the first truly southern belle I had ever met.) But I mean when he spoke, his whole mouth, indeed part of his face, shifted downward and to the left; that will give you an idea of the force of his drawl. The study was followed by a time of worship led by me on guitar. So there we all were -- New Englanders, Southerners, and of course the only people who know how to speak English properly, you know, like us Californians like -- singing the old tune:
Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. (clap, clap)
Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. (clap, clap)
That we should be called the sons of God. (clap, clap)
That we should be called the sons of God. (clap, clap)
The last words and robust claps faded sweetly away, as we enjoyed a moment of silence, eyes closed, our hearts peaceful and aglow in the Spirit. Then Marge (excuse me, Maahj) -- a delightful no-nonsense older woman, whose home we were in, and whose "seen it all" life had made her skeptical to the core, especially of any thing new -- shattered the mood, her cynical words creaking like an old door: "Aaahh...I don't know. What does manner have to do with anything?" [Remember, -er words are pronounced -ah, hence manner = manna]

Silence...blank stares...thirty seconds... illumination...uncontrolled laughter (by everyone but Maahj). "No, not manna" [food miraculously provided to the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings]. "Manner" [see how, in what way], "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us." "Oh, OK," said Maahj, a little embarrassed. "Because I wasn't sure why we were singing to God for manna. It sounded fishy."

I'll never forget how a simple mishearing due to pronunciation differences made someone think that us newcomers might be trying to introduce some new-fangled heresy into the church. My stomach hurt from laughing.

Sometimes, however, mishearings are not funny but frustrating. A road sign in Massachusetts says "Gloucester" (three syllables: Glou-ces-ter) but it is pronounced by the locals, "Glos-tah." This matters when you're completely new to the area and you drive past Gloucester and stupidly keep heading til kingdom come because you're looking for Glosta. "That's what he said, right Hon?" "Don't look at me." "Arrgh! Now you know why men don't ask for directions. From now on, I'm having these people write it down."

Of course the Bostonian will say that the problem is MY mishearing due to MY accent. Because, I mean sure, any reader of the English language knows that Gloucester is pronounced Glostah, Haverhill, Havrl, car, cah, yard, yahd. So I scowl at him and give him the "thumbs up" and walk away, because, I mean sure, every American knows it can't mean anything other than "excellent."

There are of course times when mishearing can be costly and even rupture relationships.

I have my wife's permission to share this story. One time Anita and I ended up in a big argument as a result of mishearing on both our parts. I was trying to encourage her artistic drawing skills and how I thought she had a gift and should pursue it. But Anita heard something like this coming out of my mouth: "I think you should pursue this artsy-fartsy avenue because you have no significant intelligence or admirable skills to do anything that's really important in the world." I of course proceeded to defend myself vigorously that I did not say or mean that; and Anita -- who started out, I thought, as the object of my compassion and was now my opponent -- was just as recalcitrant that encouragement was most definitely not the way it came out.

But what I did not know, and what I only learned after we cooled down and spoke later, was that in the past some people had made similar statements that were a veiled way of saying, "We don't expect much from you; but maybe you can justify your use of air on this planet by doodling."

Anita had misheard me based on past hurt. I said one thing; she heard another. But I made matters worse because I also misheard her explanation. What she said was, "I don't want to be limited to this career path because people in my past have said things like this because they had so little expectations of me." But what I thought I heard was: "If someone I just met for the first time in my life, two seconds ago, were to tell me the same thing you just told me (in the exact words, vocal tone, and body language), I would have joyfully received it as praise, encouragement and support, and I'd be drawing them a thank you note right now." Translation? "I respect anyone but you."

I know of many, many blow-ups due at least in part to mishearing that has caused marriages to rupture, former friends and family members to hate each other, and even nations to go to war. I am grateful that Anita and I have had, in our 27 years of marriage, actually few blow-ups. But I would say (Anita can comment about what she thinks) that probably all of those major arguments had a significant element of mishearing to them, and some of them were the result of pure mishearing alone, and not on the basis of a fundamental difference about an issue.

Imagine how many fewer hurt feelings, fall-outs, and broken relationships there would be if we all made a conscious and consistent effort to clean out our ears daily of that annoying build-up of waxy gook in the form of excess baggage from our past, mood swings, poor listening habits, defensiveness, insensitivity, and self-centeredness? What a wonderful world it would be.

Next: Misinterpreting

Monday, November 9, 2009

7 Things You Don't Know About Me

By Rattus Scribus© 9 Nov 2009.
Please read the previous blog (Kreative Blogger Award) before this one.

Here are seven things that most of my blog readers don't know about me:
One part of me wants to say that some of these things would make me who I am today. Another part of me wants to say, "And you're bragging this?"

1. When I was an infant (that's my excuse) my mother (so she says) found me once in my crib covered from head to toe in a thick brown substance. Apparently, I had worked my diaper loose and, well, let's just say I was born an artist. I still think my mom told that story so that no matter my educational or professional achievements, I would always remember that I was one of the little people.

2. At around age 11, I fell into a bout of sadness about what I cannot for the life of me remember. But I do remember that I had had it with home and was going to run away. It was a day or two after Halloween, so naturally I grabbed my pillow case and filled it with all the candy that all four of us kids got trick-or-treating, which would sustain me for the circumnavigation of the globe. Although it was in the afternoon and I could just as easily have run away through the font door of the then empty house, I chose, dramatically, to climb out of my sisters' bedroom window (there were big bushes outside the room my brother and I shared). I got to the corner, vagabond candy pack over my shoulder, and ran straight into my mom who was driving home. She gave me that, "Your arse belongs to me" look, and I ran tout de suite back home, thus ending my wunderlust. I never traveled over seas until 2003.

3. When I was about 13, I was with my brother in a store that sold everything from penny candies to live animals. Without warning, my brother opened the cage of parakeets at the rear of the store, grabbed one, stuffed it into one of the pockets of his levis and started walking across the entire length of the store to the door, the bird chirping away, though sounding like it was bound and gagged, and me sweating my youth away thinking we were going to Alcatraz for sure. That was the least stressful and least dangerous example of what could happen at any given moment hanging around my brother in those days.

4. Right around the same time, my brother and I (and the whole world) were into the Beatles, so we begged our parents Christmas after Christmas to buy us musical instruments: a guitar for my brother, a drum set for me. We were going to be the brown Puerto Rican Beatles. One Christmas morning we awoke to unwrap a plastic toy guitar-like thingy for my brother, that was impossible to tune and play (indeed, I am certain it was not meant to be), and a 3 piece all METAL infantile toy drum-set for me that was only slightly better than overturned coffee cans. I would tell you how that Christmas changed my life. But I'm trying to keep my blog positive.

5. In middle school, my parents took us to buy shoes. Since we NEVER (I say again, NEVER) dressed in style, I was biting my nails all the way to the shoe store. What O sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would our dear but so not fashion conscious parents buy us? They bought us each the same pair of chalk white indestructible humongous bricks (I'll not call them shoes) that would have been our last choice if it was between them or walking across the burning sands of Arabia barefoot.
These are the only shoes I could find on the web that might give you a feel for what we had to endure.

Our friends could see us coming from a mile away and we never heard the end of it. My brother and I tried to color them black with roll-on black shoe polish. But the fiendish things would just keep absorbing it, succeeding only in looking like a bad Earl Scheib paint job. We tried everything to shorten their life: kicking trees, scraping them against stones, nuclear detonators. OK, OK, it wasn't my money. Maybe my parents just couldn't afford the latest shoe styles. But was it too much to ask that my shoes not look like a pair of great white sharks?

6. Right after high school a second cousin of mine came back from Vietnam and started hanging around us "kids." These were the days when I used to inhale. One time we planned a camping trip for a bunch of friends. Willy and I left a day ahead, and we brought all the necessities for a one-with-nature experience: pot and plenty of stupid foods. By the time we got to the camp site, we were so high, that we couldn't even figure out how to make our dinner, let alone put up the "five-man" tent (which back then required an advanced degree). We laughed for an eternity under the starlit mountain sky, eating uncooked beans and candy. We slept under a totally collapsed canvas tent that acted as our 50 pound blanket, under which the effects of the beans and candy made themselves known. Those were the days, and it's a wonder we came through them alive.

7. I went to high school with Marie of Dancing in Tattered Shoes (who nominated me for the Kreative Blogger Award), though we did not "hang out" together. She and a couple of people here of course know this. But what most of you will not know, and what I myself could not have known in my high school days is that I would (8 years later) marry Marie's cousin, Anita from Castles Crowns and Cottages. We are still happily married 27 years later. My brother has calmed down and has long been one of my best friends. And my mom and I are as close as we've ever been, though the tables have turned and it's me the one telling the stories now.

Now you know the real mind behind the blogs, Rattus Scribus and Rattus' Tales. I hope you still like me.


Kreativ Blogger Award

I humbly thank Marie Leonard Boza of "Dancing in Tattered Shoes" for giving me this award. Marie's blog posts about her personal stories and reminiscences have a vivid humor that never fail to make me laugh. I find that to be a gift. You can find her here: http://dancingintatteredshoes.blogspot.com/

The goal of this award is to honor bloggers we believe grace the worldwide web in kreative ways that capture our attention, make us think, encourage and inspire us, provide information and ideas, and more. Current recipients then pass the goodwill and attention to other worthies. If you are nominated, please follow these seven rules. So far I've completed rules 1 - 3. I will do rules 5 - 7 here, but leave rule 4 for my next separate blog post. I'm new to blogging (two months) and I'm afraid that most people whose blog I follow may have already been nominated. So I apologize in advance if I nominate you again.

1. Thank the person who gave this to you
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog
3. Link back to the person who nominated you
4. Name 7 things about yourself that no one would really know
5. Nominate seven 'Kreativ Bloggers'
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate
7. Leave a comment on each blog letting them know you nominated them

I nominate the following bloggers:
1. My wife Anita, who discovered blogging, took off, and kept encouraging me to use it as an outlet for my writing itch. Thank you sweetheart. Her blog Castles Crowns and Cottages is a fun and inspirational place to visit.

2. My sister Nancy from Fete et Fleur whose amazing, awarding-winning blog (and gorgeous shoes) and encouragement first got Anita hooked, and later, stubborn me.

3. The Dutchess who has graciously allowed me to join the fun at Nowhere. And one of her other blogs (The Garden of the Grand Dutchess) is a world so close to my heart.

4. Patricia "Tita" Cabrera of Woolytales Miniatures whose creations are truly wondrous, and which reflect the love and magic of her own soul. Your children are blessed. http://woolytalesminiatures.blogspot.com/

5. Bonnie of Bhive Buzz and Diamonds and Daisies, whose posts and personality are simply a delight.

6. Marie from Creations by Marie Antoinette, who not only sells beautiful things online, but has some very charming posts. See her latest, "My Daughter, Me, and Halloween." http://tonidolls.blogspot.com/

7. Sherry from Edie Marie's Attic: not only for her charming blog, but her sweet friendship. http://ediemariesattic.blogspot.com/

There are so many others like Jacqueline of Once Upon a Fairyland and a contibutor on Nowhere, and Marie, who just got the award, and many more who also deserve it.

Thank you so much
Rattus Scribus

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy and Appreciated: It Starts with You. Part 4a.

By Rattus Scribus© 1 Nov 2009
Newcomers may read the previous parts of this series by clicking the links in the Blog Archive.

Rule #4a: Don't get lost in translation: misreading.

Wisdom, peace, harmony, love, these words have been pondered by sages, debated by pundits, depicted by artists, immortalized by poets. But I suppose if I had to narrow down to one thing that prevents us from truly experiencing these most desirable qualities, it would be misunderstanding: those times when thinking and acting in good faith are not enough, and we fail to comprehend persons, places, times and events.

First of all we must note that to misunderstand -- to get lost in translation -- is not a sin. It is not the same as to deceive, evade, obfuscate, misinform, misrepresent, trick, betray, con, cheat, dupe, or otherwise fail to act in good faith in communication, relationships and endeavors. Nevertheless, while getting lost in translation is not a sin, it still has consequences. Sometimes it can result in the stuff of comedy; but at other times it can rival or surpass the saddest of Greek or Shakespearean tragedies.

I want to talk about three inter-related ways of misunderstanding or getting lost in translation: misreading, mishearing, and misinterpreting. In this post, I will focus on misreading.

The stuff of comedy: "Sa - ve Bova Bakery"

When Anita and I used to live in Massachusetts, on one of our many excursions to Boston's "North End," with its wonderful Italian shops, restaurants, and bakeries, I noticed a sign at the top of a corner building that read: "Save Bova Bakery." I looked at Anita and asked: "What does 'Sa - ve Bova Bakery' mean?" She burst into laughter: "Not, sa -ve (two syllables)! Save, rescue Bova Bakery!"

To this day I have no idea why Bova's Bakery was going under, or if it still even exists. All that was lost in translation. I could try and defend myself by saying that my intermediate-level knowledge of ecclesiastical Latin, and the cultural awareness that I was in an Italian community, caused me to draw the perfectly logical conclusion that I was reading something exotic. But the truth is, I was looking for something that wasn't there and I just misread the thing.

The result was hilarity (at least for my wife), and to this day, whenever we are witness to a humorous misreading of any kind, we look at each other and say: "Sa - ve Bova Bakery."

The stuff of tragedy

However, not all misreadings have happy endings. As an historian of Christianity, I could recount to you story after story of misreadings, which, when joined as usual by its evil twin, misinterpretation, have resulted in tragedies enough to make the angels weep. Devotees of the Judeo-Christian scriptures have misread "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) as permission to pillage and destroy the environment, ignoring the fact that we are supposed to be stewards commissioned to "take care of" the earth (Genesis 2:15).

Catholics and Protestants both misread certain Bible passages (e.g., Joshua 10:12-13; Psalm 19:1-6) and condemned as a "heretic" the Italian astronomer Galileo for scientifically proving that the earth revolved around the sun instead of being at the center of the universe.

Christianity is certainly not alone among the world's religions in such tragic misreadings. Millerites (Adventists), Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Peoples Temple, and Branch Davidians, are but a few examples of religious groups that have at one time or another misread texts, misread current events, misread their own human nature. The followers of William Miller awaited a prophesied end that did not come, resulting, as you can imagine, in the "great disappointment," all the more so as they had previously given away their homes and other possessions. Mormon founder Joseph Smith sought to establish polygny (no, that's not a misspelling) in America based on precedent found in the Hebrew Scriptures (or Christian Old Testament), but later Mormons rescinded concubinage in order to secure statehood for "Utah territory." Charles T. Russell predicted an apocalyptic period of tribulation, and that people should prepare for it by buying his exorbitantly priced "miracle wheat." The end did not come then either, but that did not stop the new religion, Jehovah's Witnesses, from raking in the converts.

But these were all lucky; at least they lived. Jim Jones' Peoples Temple surrendered their wills and "drank the koolaid": over 900 died that day in 1978, the largest mass suicide in history. Apocalyptic followers of David "Yahweh" Koresh engaged in a 51 day standoff against the ATF and FBI in 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas that ended in the death of 82 members, including Koresh. It is an understatement of the greatest magnitude to say that religious misreadings can have tragic consequences.

The stuff of needless confusion and ill

Misreadings also occur between people and cultures. Linguists, cultural anthropologists, and communication experts tell us that many verbal and non-verbal forms of communication that we Americans think of as positive are actually offensive and insulting to other cultures.

Patting a child on the head may be a gesture of affection to us, but an insult to Asian Buddhists who believe the head is the repository of the soul.

Forming a circle with the thumb and index finger of the hand means "OK," "good to go," or "terrific," to Americans, but in places like France it means "zero" or "worthless." In Brazil or Germany it is a blatantly obscene gesture.

And our "thumbs-up" gesture means "good" or "well-done," but in most of Latin America, the Middle East, West Africa, Russia, Greece, and parts of Italy, it is the insulting sign for "sit on it."

Many a tale has been told depicting needless tragic misreadings between people. Shakespeare's play "King Lear" is a case study in the tragic consequences of misreading people and circumstances. Marriages have been sundered when couples misread each other. Kindness can be misread as weakness; a positive outlook misread as blissful ignorance; heavenly-mindedness misread as being "no earthly good"; challenge and exhortation misread as "holier than thou"; discipline misread as meanness; critical questioning misread as unpatriotic; diplomacy as cowardice; no as yes (comments ladies?); ad infinitum.

Misreadings have resulted in comedy as well as needless tragedy. In the hopes of reducing the latter, I therefore leave us all for now with an important safety tip: learn to read.

I know that I, for one, can certainly improve my reading skills. "Sa - ve Bova Bakery."

Next: Mishearing.