Words

I have always loved words. In school, the vocabulary portion of my English classes was always one of my favorites. Today, I keep a Google doc of words that are new to me to try to amplify my vocabulary. Today’s addition: bivouac. I discovered it in Scott Stossel’s eloquent prose in The Atlantic, a heartbreaking but also empowering tale about his lifelong struggle with crippling anxiety. It’s inspiring that Stossel writes such a candid exposé of his mental illness, even if I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he described clogging a toilet at the Kennedy estate. I wish more people would be so brave–to write so honestly, that is, not to clog powerful political potties (insert “they’re already filled with plenty of shit” joke here).

Perhaps related to being a logophile is the thrill I derive from learning a new language. I’m currently learning Portuguese for an upcoming trip to Brazil. Throughout the process, I’m frequently amazed by the way the human mind works. Words I didn’t know I knew form in my mouth inexplicably. There are so many theories about learning a new language–the number of times you must repeat a word before it’s cemented in your brain, the amount of time you can practice a new language daily before the exercise is futile, the association of a word with a picture to create a better linkage in your brain. For me, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Portuguese is a beautiful, lilting language, with a cadence at times reminiscent of Italian. I try not to get self-conscious about how slowly I speak or the fact that I frequently butcher grammar. And my new Brazilian friends are always patient and encouraging. Como se diz, “I forgot how to say…?” Even with my constant blunders, the process of learning the words is fascinating–as I type the word words, my brain is buzzing palavras palavras palavras. 

In my opinion, the best part about learning a language is the way it makes you relate to yourself and shapes how you interact with the world. As I speak another language, I find that I take on a new persona, and I think this is true with any bilingual or trilingual person. I’m sure my mom, who was born in Poland, reinvented a part of herself through language during her transition to America at the age of 18. English gave her a chance to start over.

For me, the careful, calculated way I attempt to speak Portuguese serves as a reminder to me to be more selective in the words I choose daily. I’m more attentive to what I’m saying, how I say it, and the message I want to convey. Sadly, this is something I think most people (myself included) fail at daily. Comment sections on websites and YouTube always reinforce the fact that most people don’t think before they speak (or type). Sorry for so many poop references in one post, but we’ve become a world of verbal diarrhea. We don’t think before we excoriate others with our words. We call people ugly, stupid, bad parents, and worse at the drop of a hat. A journalist posts something we disagree with and there are those who tell him to kill himself. I’m not yet a parent, but I struggle with the idea of bringing my children up in a world where cruelty has become so convenient.

I don’t have an easy ending to this post. It’s been a lot of ideas in one, and I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness. But that’s the great thing about words–they eddy in all directions, and like fireflies, we catch the ones that sparkle most when they come along.

Yarnage

So we got a dog. Six months ago to the day I picked up Libby at the animal shelter. Simba and Fish Taco were like, “What the hell, man?” And, I’ll admit, initially I was asking myself the same question. Adapting to a dog is kind of a big deal. There’s a lot more fur to clean up. Your tiny objects are all in sudden peril of becoming chew toys. The cat litter becomes a sacred space that you must protect with your life lest it become puppy breathmints. Truth be told, though, she’s been great, and Patrick and I are both madly in love with her.

However, we’re still getting used to some of her antics. Over Christmas break, my mom taught me how to knit. I had left out several balls of yarn while I went to run errands one day.

And I came home  to find this.

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She did NOT think it was a big deal.

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Apparently, she had ripped the wrappers off each ball of yarn and then run through the house with them like she was laying a trail.

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It only took me about 45 minutes to re-ravel (is that a word?) the yarn, and as I did, I thought about some metaphor I’ve since forgotten.

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And the whole time, Libby looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I putting away the neverending toy?

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Later I found a ball of yarn in my bed. Libby says Fish Taco did it.

 

Rummaging (a new year, a month or so in)

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It’s hard to say when my obsession began with garage sales and thrift stores. My friend, Bryant, turned me on to a Meridian, Mississippi mirage known as Dirt Cheap a couple years ago. From my first step into the fluorescent-lit wreckage of the big box store shrapnel of yesteryear, I was smitten.

There’s something about finding an item that another person cast aside that fills me with an immense joy. On each visit to Dirt Cheap, I fill my cart with lamps with small chips, purses with muted stains and shirts with barely visible holes. I find the salvageable in the wasteland, the gems among rocks. The fact that the items are truly dirt cheap only enhances their value.

Thrifting (or Dirt Cheaping) is much like starting a new year. We take something, dust it off and give it a new life. We rotate the lamp so that the side with the chipped ceramic faces the wall. We rub baking soda on the purse with the stain and give it a sudsy baptism. We stitch up the shirt’s holes so that all that remains of the hasty flick of the box cutter is a scarred-over stitch.

Every year around this time, I find myself–like so many others–self-reflective, thinking about my chips, stains and holes. This year begins with new things to be thankful for, and other losses to mourn. Our reflection reveals new (or more noticeable) flaws for which we self-deprecate and new plans about which to worry.

As I do every year, I have made resolutions to myself about keeping a tidier home, eating healthier and, yes, blogging more frequently. But I’m also trying to take the time to be aware of the things about myself that are beautiful even if imperfect, and perhaps more beautiful because they are imperfect. I will try to beat myself up less for not making the bed. I will forgive myself for not making a home-cooked meal and opting for takeout instead. And I will not make excuses for myself when I skip blogging because cuddling with my new dog (more about her later) and cats sounds more appealing.

As we begin 2014, I urge you to join me in this endeavor. Let it be year of self-loving rather than self-loathing. Let us rummage within ourselves and find keepsakes amidst castaways. How’s that for some dirt cheap advice?