Friday, December 10, 2010

Have You Heard?

Because I haven't! And in case you haven't heard either, on a random Thursday afternoon in September and over the course of ten minutes I lost all the hearing in my right ear.

One would think I'd be distressed, but I carried on with the sudden disability for nearly 24 hours acting as if nothing had happened before my roommate rightly suggested that I just might be insane for not seeking immediate medical attention. But two ear cleanings, an upswing in my zinc intake, a three-week dose of steroids, four doctor's appointments, and almost as many months later, and I am no closer to finding a cure for this sudden hearing loss.

The specialist said it's probably inner ear nerve damage, possibly caused by a non-malignant tumor. So, no, it's not earwax. I'd be thrilled if it were.

How has this affected my life? Not too much actually. I've long since grown accostumed to the tinnitus, though it did give me headaches the first week or so. I'm getting used to sitting on the right side of the person with whom I want to speak. And if it's particularly noisy in my house late at night I can just bury my good ear in my pillow and sleep blissfully.

My major discomfort is at big parties. I smile and nod. I'm thrilled to see everyone, but engaging in conversation amdist a lot of background noise is like trying to tune into a radio station by turning a tiny dial with oven mitts on.

Still, it's made me thankful for the hearing I do have. I'm also very grateful to all those who have prayed and fasted on my behalf, to my audiologist friend who looked at my ears for free, to a certain someone who drove me to doctor's appointments even though I nearly made her miss one of her best friends' wedding, and God for giving me my hearing in the first place and leaving all my other senses intact. I mean, I would've prefered he taken half my sense of smell instead, but thank goodness it wasn't an eye!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Metro

I spend five and a half hours a week on the metro train. This video is more true than you'd think:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Election Day

Because of the recent election and a few recent conversations I've had with family members, I decided to clearly state my opinions on matters of politics. The websites of those running for office inspired my format here. While I may seem to declare my opinion with certainty here, on some of these issues I'm still trying to weigh and consider:

Abortion: Legal only in cases of rape, incest, when the life of the woman is threatened, or when the baby has severe defects that would make its survival outside the womb impossible. I understand that any system like this rests on the honesty of the woman seeking the abortion and is near impossible to enforce, but it's the only policy that reflects my personal views.

Affirmative Action: No, but in education some additional consideration to first-generation college applicants, regardless of race.

Capital Punishment: No


Economy: No more government bailouts—-in my opinion, they are ineffective in bringing an end to the recession, not to mention costly.

Education: Steer away from standardized tests; instead, increase teacher’s salaries to make the job more competitive, attracting young professionals to this ailing market.

Environment: I support the expansion of public transportation, the reduction of industrial pollutants, the pursuit of cleaner forms of energy, and the preservation of American wildernesses.

Gun policy: Keep guns legal, but regulated.

Immigration: I imagine a system of fewer restriction, one not based on quota by foreign country. We should set illegal immigrants already living in the United States, especially those with dependents, on a path to citizenship.

Health Care: Universal health care run by local or individual state governments.

Iraq War: I'm saddened that we invaded because of faulty intelligence and desire a swift return of government and military control to the Iraqis.

Marijuana: Maintain its illegality, but mete out lighter sentences for possession.

Prison: Refocus on rehabilitation, not punishment; lower recidivism rate, not maximum sentencing.

Space program: Renewed funding; eventual goal being a manned mission to Mars.

Taxes: An across-the-board taxation of income (take-home pay).

Torture: No

War in Afghanistan: I support it as a war to end Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and bring justice to the individuals and organization responsible for 9/11.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Vegetarian Summer

This year, from May 29 to Sept 4--a total of 98 days--I ingested no meat besides the occasional fish.

For the bulk of that time, I didn't really miss the taste of animal, not until the very end. I also inadvertently lost over ten pounds. Ultimately, I learned that I need to listen to my body's nonverbal cues and that a vegetarian diet is not for me. Rather, for this body of mine, at least a little meat is best.

This really all began in the summer of 2008 when I went about 60 days without meat. I found during that time that I ate healthier in general because I had to prepare meals in advance or choose from the veggie menu. I don't know if cutting out meat was the real health-boost, or if it was simply my new conscientiousness about what I put in my mouth.

I resolved to repeat the experiment for a longer duration, not only to increase food awareness, but also to more strictly follow the wording of Doctrine and Covenants 89. In it, the Lord's charge is that we eat meat only in winter or times of famine. I'm not saying it's LDS doctrine to follow this wording to the letter, but in my mind it was worth trying.

And aside from near lapses in memory, it was surprisingly easy to forgo at first. Since meat is expensive, the new diet saved me a bit of money. I supplemented my diet with a lot of beans, peanut butter, eggs, and other protein-rich foods. I rode my bike a lot and worked out in the weight room downstairs in my building. All seemed to be going well and I wondered if I should become a permanent vegetarian.

With only two weeks to go, my cravings wildly kicked in. Evenings often found me spooning peanut butter into my mouth from an open jar. What's more, I started to really crave meat, to feel pangs of jealousy and hunger when a roommate made a delicious meat-tainted meal. It was strange to me that this only occurred as Labor Day approached and not earlier in the summer.

I also started to lose weight. It's not atypical for my weight to drop in the summer as my appetite naturally decreases and outdoor exercise increases. But I lost over ten pounds without really trying. I've gained five back since Labor Day, but for a stick figure such as myself it was worrisome.

So at a cabin in Pennsylvania over Labor Day weekend, I broke my months-long meat fast with a simple turkey sandwich. No fanfare, no averse reaction. In fact, after a few meat-laden meals, I felt healthier than I had in over a month.

Still I don't think I'll ever eat as much meat as I used to. I just don't think it's environmentally sustainable, physically healthy, or in accordance with even a loose interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. But I doubt I'll ever entirely omit meat from my diet either. As with so many other things, I'll stick to the middle road.

I've cut out sugary desserts from my diet now. I guess we'll see how it goes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reality Check

In perusing my blog, I realized that I haven't actually updated you, gentle reader, on the goings-on of my actual life. This post is to remedy that.

My ignorance as to how many people actually read my blog causes me some trepidation. It used to be easy to write about intensely personal things. No one read my blog, except family. Now I feel I'm flinging my secrets to the far corners of the world, to the scoffs of potentially any English-speaker equipped with internet.

Well, no matter, here's the open book. My life, right here, right now, laid bare:

* Last week I started an online relationship. Ask me about it sometime.
* I'm studying French. Very soon I'll know all the Romance languages and then I'll, you know, really be able to talk to a girl.
* I've begun writing a novel about a young, narcoleptic man. I'm predicting it will be riveting.
* I starred in an amateur video this week. The choreography was stellar, in my opinion.
* I told my class last week that our goal is to find ultimate truth. Also, when they raise their hand, I acknowledge them by saying yo. It's Spanish, you know.
* I'm studying the universe. It's one of the biggest books I've ever read.
* Having witnessed flood, earthquake, and blizzard this year, I wonder when Charlton Heston is gonna show with his list of demands. Also, I drove against traffic on Interstate 495, deliberately.
* After going on a diet, I felt unhappy when I lost weight. Now I'm trying to gain it back through exercise and swearing off sugary desserts.
* I defended Glenn Beck, but I really dislike his favorite book.
* I cut a few hundred words out of my favorite Shakespearean play and felt a twinge of regret about every blessed one of them.

I promise the aforementioned items are true, albeit veiled and misleading.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Whole Nother

Here's my latest English nerd video:

So, he makes some good points, but I really don't like grammar nazis. English is a living language, so let's not treat it like it's static. Language is about choices. Let's teach the choices and let people speak as bad or as poorly as they want. Sometimes it's fun to deliberately mangle a sentence. (And he's wrong if he thinks we can't say, "I feel bad.")

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Call for Music

In an effort to build my collection of gospel-themed music, I'm asking you, gentle reader, to send me music suggestions.

I need inspiring, uplifting music that doesn't resort to being sappy or cheesy (please no "Scatter Sunshine"). Any recommendations?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Not To Do

I have no great love for Glenn Beck, his message or his methods. But when I see a writer who should know better use ad hominem, a classical logical fallacy my 18-year-old students know to avoid, to attack him and offend anyone who has been in or benefited from a 12-step program, I'm a little incensed.

By the academic powers vested in me, fail Washington Post columnist. Fail.

I just read that this particular columnist tends conservative. That changes nothing except make me still more grateful I'm a morally-conservative, politically-moderate, socially-liberal individual. I defy you all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

In My Opinion, No. 6: The Universe

My good roommate CC bought me a Borders gift card for my birthday a couple of months ago. I have a weak spot for large, fully-illustrated Smithsonian Institute coffee table books. I've already read Animal cover-to-cover and plan on buying Earth some time in the future.

This time around I redeemed my gift card for a book entitled Universe. I think this all stems from my fascination with creation. Whether it's the complexity of life, the distant galaxies, or the earth around us, if it has to do with the whats and how-tos, I'm hooked.

So, I sit in my living room with a book about a quarter of my height in size draped over my lap and have repeatedly mind-blowing experiences reading it. Not only do I attempt to grapple with the idea that there is an elastic space-time continuum that bends and attracts not only light and matter but time as well, but also that there may be ten dimensions or more:

Also, there is so much stuff in the universe that we have no way of even detecting some of it: the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that sound like something out of science fiction.

I aver that the whole of creation says something about the Creator. Take one example: God prefers symmetry. Whether one looks at the spinning galaxies, spherical stars and planets, bilateral animals and plants, single-celled organisms, and even individual atoms, there is usually a reflection in shape around one or more axes. Asymmetrical matter and beings do exist and actually thrive, but they are the exception, not the norm.

The universe is also extremely good at recycling, turning seemingly bad events into the seeds of positive change. Often cataclysmic destruction is the catalyst for the next generation of stars, the next form of life, the next stage of the universe's evolution. There's an object lesson in there, methinks.

It's also becoming increasingly apparent that what makes the universe work is not a series of laws and forces, but matter itself. Scientists used to believe that light was simply a phenomenon, trackless, massless, almost nonexistent. Now we know that photons are light embodied, zipping about the universe at a (possibly) constant, unthinkable speed. Some scientists also believe that even the force of gravity is actually made up of bodies called gravitons, and there may be other trickier types of matter called bosons and gluons that control weird but inherent forces in the universe.What does all this tell me? God uses physical "stuff" to make the universe operate. It makes me wonder of what exactly is the "light of Christ" and "spirit matter" composed. Gluons?

Archaeologists are certain that even prehistoric humans looked up and studied the heavens to understand their place on earth. I like that even with all we know now, we still do the same. Glory.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eat to Live

I found out last week that I can, in fact, continue eating this coming fall. I have contracts lined up for next semester and I'll still tutor a little on the side. I can breathe a little easier now.

What's better, no more evening classes. I'll be home before 7 p.m. every night of the week. Movie night is coming back!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Greater Follower

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about my wrestle with selflessness. Specifically, I went through a phase of asking for blessings for others and not asking for anything for myself. I learned quickly (well, quickly for me) that God doesn't want it that way.

And then my roommate lent me a collection of addresses by an old Cambridge professor named C.S. Lewis who had already written down the lesson I was trying to learn, in "The Weight of Glory," words both eloquent and insightful:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.

Lewis goes on to claim that instead of trying to be unselfish, we should endeavor to love better, others and ourselves. And it makes sense: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

God has promised us blessings in heaven we can't now imagine. This is no mere bribe, says Lewis. This contributes to two things--first, if we love ourselves then we will desire the best for ourselves, which is exactly what God wants to give us. Wanting good things for ourselves is a way of actually attuning our own will with God's. Second, if we love others, then we will want to help each and every one of them to achieve the blessings of exaltation too:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. [...] There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

So, the problem is not wanting too much, it's wanting too feebly. Lewis says,
we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us [...]. We are far too easily pleased.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In My Opinion, No. 5: Masculinity

“You must treasure and protect the masculine part of your nature.” ~President Boyd Packer

The above quote comes from a priesthood session address in the April 2009 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member. Since hearing that talk I’ve thought again and again, how exactly do we define this masculinity President Packer wants us to treasure and protect? In a society where we have terms like “metrosexual” and “hypermasculine” and everything in between, how should I, personally, put this counsel into practice in my own life? Just how much does righteous masculinity differ from the world’s definition?

We often hear, and rightly so, about the unrealistic expectations placed on women. With the evils of pornography, the plague of eating disorders, the glass ceiling of the corporate world, cruel and sexist jokes, and the stereotypes and limitations society is responsible for or seeks to promote, women all over the world are often forced to fight for the rights of respect, appreciation, and equality.

But in my experience, society also has unrealistic and damaging roles for men to play too. These harmful expectations are more subtle. I believe even many Latter-day Saint men have false beliefs about what it means to be a man.

So, what manner of men ought we to be?

The answer is, even as Christ is.

If Christ is the perfect man, then he must also possess the perfect masculinity. So what kind of a man was He?

1. Jesus was emotional, even in front of other people. Even more amazingly, an instance of his crying preceded a miracle wherein He immediately alleviated the cause of His own pain. When His friend Lazarus died, the scripture reads that Jesus wept. Why did He cry, seeing as how He had power to raise His friend from the dead? The Jews ascribed it to an outpouring of love for His deceased friend. I think they were right. I also believe that this story teaches that crying is natural and healthy for men and women alike. I wonder at our society that tries to tell men that crying is a sign of weakness or effeminacy. If the most powerful being on earth and greatest man to ever walk it weeps, how can it indicate weakness? Additionally, the scriptures tell us that there are those who are “past feeling,” including the Nephites at the height of their debauchery and the brink of their extinction. Certainly then, emotions, even stereotypically non-masculine ones, are good.

2. Jesus loved children and deliberately took time to listen and talk with them. One might say, How very domestic. But it’s true. The New Testament records that He suffered the little children to come to Him and blessed them. The Book of Mormon has an even more detailed, and touching account of Jesus blessing the American children. The world teaches that it is women who interact with children, but Christ took time out for kids. How very different today when men abandon their own children, or simply neglect to teach and bless their lives.

3. Jesus, who could do all things, felt weak sometimes, probably just so He could experience what it was like to be a man, with all the weaknesses appertaining. He suffered fatigue, thirst, hunger, disappointment, betrayal, and the agonies of sin and pain, literally everything. Additionally, it doesn’t seem like He tried to hide it. In fact, some of the most wonderful things about Jesus were those very expressions of weakness. Who doesn’t feel deeply for Him when He asks the Father to remove from Him the crushing responsibility of taking the sins of the world? The Doctrine and Covenants records that “He knows the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.” Too often men feel like society expects them to be completely in control, supremely confident, and almost superhuman. Jesus was a man who wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability. Isaiah described the Messiah-to-come as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Even a perfect man can ask for help, can show weakness, can need and call on the powers of heavens and friends to assist him.

4. Jesus showed men how to treat women. He forgave them their sins, He comforted them in their distress, He looked after them, He taught them. At no time do I get the sense that He coddled or spoke down to women. And what an interesting role-reversal occurs when Jesus reproved Martha for fretting in the kitchen and praised Mary for educating herself! Society today teaches that men are sex machines and generally treat women like objects. Christ was the exact opposite. I find it telling that the last disciple Jesus spoke to before dying on the cross was His mother and the first person Jesus visited after resurrection was also a woman. He reproved and instructed equally, and out of love.

In all honesty, this blog post is a little self-serving. There are many ways that I fall comfortably into the world’s definition of masculinity, but with some notable exceptions. I have no great love of any organized sport (except maybe hockey, the perfect marriage of grace and violence). I occasionally enjoy a “chick flick." I am on a vegetarian diet. I cry when I feel like it. I worked as a nanny. I like 19th-century literature. And sometimes I feel vulnerable. I am not what the world would call a “manly man.” But, in weighing the above comparison, I feel that the world’s definition has little value for me.

I don’t know exactly what President Packer’s definition of masculinity is, but I feel comfortable trying to emulate the type that Christ exemplified.

I Sought for the Blessings

For some time now I have been trying to be more selfless than my norm. In this effort, one of the things I changed was instead of asking God for personal blessings, I began to only ask for blessings for others.

Still, I suppose I continued to ask for things for myself, but in a deliberately round-about way that would emphasize my role as friend, son, and priesthood holder instead of a blessings sponge. For example, instead of praying for a good day, I would pray for a good day so that I might be cheerful with others and brighten their day as well. Praying this way made me realize how much I'd gotten into the habit of petitioning for blessings I wanted, rather than seeing how I might positively influence others' lives. This new attitude felt like a very healthy way to live.

Imagine my surprise then in a very recent communique with Heavenly Father that He expressed to me how much He wanted me to be happy. I guess I'd missed out on some valuable insight somewhere. Acting on that valuable bit of information, I gathered the guts to try to find a bit of happiness that same day. (No regrets, by the way.)

But as I go on, my question is this: How do we go about both being selfless, and also seeking happiness in our own lives as well? Where's the balance, or is there a synergy between the two I haven't put my finger on yet? Some things seem self-serving on the face of them, but still absolutely the right thing to do or strive for.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bronte sisters

When I have kids, these are the action figures they'll play with:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Penn State

I applied to a few Comparative Literature Ph.D programs (in order of preference: Penn State, Chapel Hill, and UPenn) last fall and spent my time daydreaming about the acceptance letters pouring in. UPenn sent a rejection notice early on, but that didn't phase me much. After all, I'm not a huge fan of Philly.

But I learned yesterday that I, unfortunately, was not accepted to Penn State either. It's not as sad as I thought it would be; on the plus side, chances are I will live in the DC2 ward and teach community college for another year. And I do love my fellow ward members and students.

I, currently waitlisted, am still waiting to hear from Chapel Hill. I'll probably visit them if they accept me to see how I feel about the town, campus, and department. (Road trip!) But right now I'm leaning toward waiting a year and trying for Penn State again. They have the best Comp Lit program for me.

Who knows what the future holds? I still might find myself at Penn State someday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

All Is Love

While watching Where The Wild Things Are recently, I was impressed with the soundtrack. It also smacked of something very familiar. Turns out the tracks were sung by the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. See what happens when an indie rock artist tries her hand at children's music:

Friday, April 23, 2010

In My Opinion, No. 3: Space Exploration

What value is there in exploring the vacuum of space?

Though I detest the Metro Express newspaper, I occasionally read it when I forget to bring a book with me. This week one poll asked a very similar question to the one above, eliciting this response from a reader named "Steve":

No. Sending humans into space to explore Mars or any more of the solar system or beyond is an incredible waste of time and money. We should continue only with unmanned space exploration until such time as we find some new technology to send humans very cheaply[...].
This argument is problematic for two reasons: First, "Steve" does not understand economics very well. We do not improve a technology, if not through its constant use. The technology to send a human farther than the moon will never become inexpensive except through experimentation, trial, and refinement. We do not build a better bicycle by thinking about bikes. We test what is available, make possible improvements, test the new prototype, correct for errors, ad infinitum. If there was one good thing to come out of the Cold War, it was the money poured into NASA and the technology that developed as a result. And I'm not talking about the technology that only rocket scientists use. Next time "Steve" uses his cell phone to make a long-distance call, he should think about whether this technology would even exist today had Russia not been innovative enough to launch Sputnik.

The second reason Steve's comment bothers me is because it dismisses space exploration, calling it an incredible waste. The attitude strikes me as very utilitarian. What's in it for me? he asks. Moon rocks are worthless; therefore, exploring the moon is worthless. This sentiment is uninspired, to say the least.

I contest that exploration has intrinsic worth, and its value, then, is immeasurable. While I am well aware that Columbus' expedition was at least partly fueled by commercial interests and certainly led to cross-cultural complications, I admire his guts and attitude. Sure, he could have stayed in Europe. And Latter-day Saints could have stayed in the Salt Lake Valley. And Hagoth could have stayed in Bountiful. Lehi could have stayed in the Arabian peninsula. The Israelites could have stayed in Egypt. Adam and Eve could have stayed in Eden. And we could have stayed with God in heaven and never come here. And really, that's all we would ever do without exploration, sit in the bottom of a valley and believe the sun revolves around us. The attitude to leave things be, lead a sedentary lifestyle or run in the same course we always have, is not only uninspiring, it's damning.

Earth is our home, and I hope we always feel that way, no matter where we go or what happens. But it is the tiniest of blips in the cosmos. Aren't any of us still the least bit curious? And don't we want our grandchildren to see a little more of it firsthand? Looking at postcards of France or actually traveling there: I choose the latter.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's a Date: The Right Stuff

So, let's imagine you've been dating a variety of LDS women and you find yourself wondering exactly what is it you should be evaluating. How can you tell if one is more right for you than another? "Of course she should be attractive to you, [but] one good yardstick as to whether a person might be the right one for you is this: in her presence, do you think your noblest thoughts, do you aspire to your finest deeds, do you wish you were better than you are?" (Ezra Taft Benson, May 1988).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"And, of course, moderates!"

For many years now I've identified myself as politically moderate. But John Cleese makes this very convincing case for an entirely different political stance:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's a Date: Live in the Moment

Today's dating tip is almost a direct quote from Sister Oaks. The idea Courage Wolf, in all his ferocity, wants to impress on you is that you don't want to pin your happiness on some event on the horizon, but to enjoy life taking advantage of today's dating opportunities. A bunch of tomorrows lead to empty yesterdays.

Sister Oaks: "Many of you are in singles wards. [...] in this environment of possible future mates and with only a short window of time, some singles focus almost all their energy in a frenetic search for a husband or wife. Instead of enjoying this unique time to meet others in a similar single situation, they become preoccupied with a nagging fear that marriage is escaping them. They become frustrated with their single condition."

President Uchtdorf addresses this very concern: "[...] do not wait for someone else to make your life complete. [...] Instead, seek to reach your potential as a child of God."

In short, carpe diem. What you do with the "diem" once you've "carpe-d" it is up to you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Statistics": A Poem

For an FHE activity last night, we wrote poems using only the words found in assorted magazine and newspaper articles. I liked mine, so I thought I'd post it here. It's tentatively titled "Statistics":

Presents, staggering, were not ready;
the numbers reportedly are serious;
10 minutes,
10 questions,
10 years;
significantly higher, contrary to perceptions;
panelists, programs, presentation, puzzlement;
spend less, get more;
too little, too late.

A number noted, know names;
new national need to work more closely;
a supermajority in research and service
says a survey of reconciliation,
reception, perceptions, referendum, information;
demographics should not be dismissed but determined.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gasp! Another Nephew?

I know what you're thinking: I just had a new nephew a couple of months ago! Well, eat your hearts out, because, that's right, I've been blessed with yet another. My sister gave birth last Wednesday to a handsome little boy. His name is Madsen Kevin Whittier. Welcome to the world, man.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's a Date: Up to Bat

Today is Friday and that means it's date night. Working up the courage to ask someone out (which should be done at least 48 hours in advance) can be difficult and daunting. So here's an inspiring poster, brought to you by Courage Wolf, to all single men everywhere:
(Actual results may vary)

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Sorry" Just Doesn't Cut It

I love the English language for many reasons--it's versatile, with between 600,000 to 1 million words to choose from; it's literarily rich, the first language of many a great writer; it's global, the lingua franca of the modern era; and it's familiar, my first and primary language. But, despite its charms, English and I don't always get along, especially when it comes to the phrase "I'm sorry."

Don't get me wrong; I'm not unapologetic. But English's limitations are to blame for a lot of confusion in my life, because it simply fails me when I want to say "I'm sorry." The word itself can mean so many different things: regret, empathy, apology, compunction, even surprise. How can my addressee know which of these eclectic meanings I wish to express?

I think Portuguese does a much better job. There is no direct equivalent to the English phrase "I'm sorry" in Brazil. One must pick between three phrases: com licença, sinto muito, and desculpe. Each has its place and, if used appropriately, delineates exactly what the speaker means to say.

When you're on the metro escalator and someone is standing on the left side, instead of the right, you might say com licen
ça to let them know you're there trying to pass. If you know you must brush up against someone to get by them in a jammed place, there's another place to use it. Com licença literally means "with license," a polite way of asking permission to slightly inconvenience. A polite Brazilian might say sim, i.e. yes, I give you permission.

Sinto muito is one of my favorites, and literally means, "I feel much." Its role is to express empathy and does so in a way that I cannot adequately replicate in English. Americans tend to compensate by saying "I'm so sorry" instead of simply "I'm sorry," but that just doesn't seem to be enough. I had a friend in college who was in a tremendous amount of pain after back surgery. She was sitting on a sofa in the study hall visibly crying because her meds were not giving her much, if any, relief. We were all concerned and each said "I'm sorry," to which she repeatedly responded, "It's not your fault." That exchange stands out to me now as the must wretched failure of the English phrase "I'm sorry." We knew it wasn't our fault, but lacked the words to really express how much we felt for her.

Finally, desculpe is for when you've hurt or offended someone and seek to make amends. Fights with family members, repentance, betrayed confidences, or wounded feelings all might warrant a heartfelt desculpe. The word literally means "un-guilt." If that is not enough, the words me perdoa, "pardon (or absolve) me" really express deep contrition, penance, repentance, and hope for a restoration of trust and good-feeling. It just seems to mean so much more than the lame, unspecific "I'm sorry."

So, com licen
ça, I may start using these Portuguese terms around you instead, especially if I know you read my blog. Believe me, life will make a whole lot more sense once you learn them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nephew and Interview

I'm going to against the grain and not blogging about the Snowpocalypse. I may do a recap once all the hype has died down.

Instead, first of all, I need to congratulate my brother Isaac and his wife Katie on the birth of their new son, Hudson. I have two nieces and two nephews now and another one is expected in a couple of months. Hudson was born a whopping 9 lbs. and, as legend has it, already able to hold up his own head. He was born 11 days overdue and he must have spent that extra time doing crunches. Hudson looks just like his dad to me--dark hair, Isaac's nose. I hope to see him really soon. Anyone want to buy my train ticket?!
Second, turns out I am a finalist in the application process for the Ph.D program at Penn State. Professor Beebee of their Comparative Literature department called me early last week to schedule a phone interview for the following day. He had tried to reach me by e-mail but the power had been knocked out. I was fairly excited and nervous in the intervening 24 hours, especially since PSU has the best program of the three to which I applied. The interview actually seemed fairly informal and conversational. Part of it was in Portguese, at which I felt rusty but still fairly fluent. I think it went well overall and I'm excited to hear back from them. But It will be sad to go; I feel rather attached to D.C. now, but I know that this is the right direction for my career.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Avatar Review

A friend's recent blog post got me thinking about a recent decision--

Avatar has made more money than any other film ever. But that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is a fan. Initially, I had very mixed feelings about it. In fact, I had to wait a full 36 hours after seeing the movie before I could tell whether I liked Avatar or not.

I finally decided that I did. I know it's endlessly formulaic. Fern Gully, Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, The Last Samurai. This latest incarnation is doing the same dance over again that we've seen countless times.

And that's why I find it so fascinating. No matter how much we deny it today we still believe that there are superior and inferior nations ("developed" and "developing" ring a bell?). And when you realize that nation is just the modern and repackaged concept of culture, that's not a comforting thought.

I think we're trying to deal with an unsettling theme we haven't been able to collectively process yet. I've often wondered what I would be like if I stepped into the life and circumstances of a Darfur native, a North Korean, an Israeli or Palestinian. Perhaps we could all use an avatar. Walk in another person's "shoes" for a while.