Privilege Blog

When To Break And When To Embrace, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:52am

Words don’t link sound directly to import, of their own accord. That’s down to us humans. But enough self-evident abstraction. Also known as, “Yeah, so?”

Take, “senior citizen,” often truncated to simply, “senior.” Which is what I am at 66 here in the USA. It would be silly to deny that I’m getting older, but I have resisted the appellation. For one thing, I’m still a renegade in my heart. Seniors should surely shouldn’t feel everything as strongly as I do. For another, I walk fast. But also, I haven’t wanted to take unfair advantage of discounts and programs offered to those who need them.

Well, as it turns out my town offers a bunch of classes for seniors for free, I am displacing no one in need, and they are fun. Conversational Spanish, free! Muy bueno! The landscaping is pretty! Bonito! And next session I’ve signed up to embarrass myself beyond words in a Mexican folk-dancing class. Free! Apparently learning dance steps is one of the best practices in avoiding dementia, something to do with motor coordination and new information and neurons. Que graciosa! (I don’t have a Spanish keyboard for the upside down exclamation mark but that means, ‘How funny!’) Soy una “senior!”

Some words grow you only if you accept them?

Other terms we may have to break asunder. Take “hvot.” (Coded. Walk each letter one step back in the alphabet and you’ll see what I’m referring to.) A loaded word in America, pun intended but wholly without humor. No April Fool’s.

Maybe if we use this kindergarten code, I can be allowed some reasoning to accompany our grief for the children and the families. Let’s say hvot are a poison, of sorts, in that they can kill. Right? Now, some poisons are for ants, sure. Many of us might support this domestic usage. And the hvmt used for kitchen insects are pretty mild for humans and other mammals.

But some hvot are terrible toxins. Related: I worked with industrial gases when I was in my 20s, some so poisonous that after 25ppm for 30 minutes you die. Unsurprisingly, they were treated as controlled substances and tightly regulated.

We need to regulate any hmvt that kill at a metaphorical rate of 25ppm. Regulate effectively, while of course people can keep their kitchens free of ants. If we respect human life, there’s no argument to the contrary that holds up.

I guess I’m making the simplistic point that language, albeit our primary tool for creating shared meaning, can also bind us. In deconstructing with words, the art of trying to consider a problem without assumptions, in hopes of a clearer solution, sometimes you have to take apart the tool itself.

Related: Have you read Maus, by Art Spieglman? By telling a Holocaust in a graphic novel he freed a known history to strike us anew. Protect us from our own protections. Constitutional or nay.

What do you accept despite internal resistance, and what do you throw against the wall hoping to reveal a nucleus of something truer? The basic task of having a mind.

Have a wonderful weekend. Hasta luego, amigos.


Related: how it feels to be a non-native speaker of the language of the country where you live

16 Responses

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and timely post. I’ll start by saying that I don’t live in your beautiful country and am therefore mindful of the need to tread very carefully as I try to express the cycle of feelings I experience every time there’s an incident like the recent tragedy in Nashville. The cycle starts with immense sadness at the senseless loss of young and not so young lives, and at the dreadful impact on those left behind who loved them. Then I’m touched by the immense bravery of those who put themselves in harms way trying to protect others as each horrific episode is unfolding. Then comes heartbreak at the inability to take action to reduce the incidence of these events. Many countries, including my own, have enacted measures to limit access to certain classes of weapons with demonstrable success. Finally, I return to feelings of profound sadness that a country I admire, which has achieved so much for its own citizens and contributed many wonderful things to the world at large, is unable to take decisive steps to reduce the incidence of these tragedies.

    1. Maria, I find your reaction cycle very clear, and remarkably less angry than it might be. I can only hope we somehow manage to force our way out of this painful, tragic circle. Thank you.

  2. Lisa, thank you for your observations as we reel from yet another unspeakable loss of children.
    Indeed there is no understanding.

  3. Good for you taking new classes! I’m not following the hvmt / hmvt – if it’s code for guns it doesn’t match up…? And, why is a code needed? What is that all about? Yes, they are a poison in our country – no doubt.

      1. You are so right. And not mincing words, what a perfect comment. Because I am mincing words, in a way, to get at my underpinning values.

    1. Now you see why I need new classes! You’re right, it would be hvot, and I’ve changed it. The point of a code is to approximate what Maus did, i.e. allow us to look at the naked structure of the problem, the horror, without the centuries of cultural assumptions. Or else it was just my brain doing somersaults;)

  4. I’m not ready to add much about this latest massacre, except to say I’ve never felt so hopeless about an issue in my life. I’ve been really incredibly sad.

    As for senior citizen courses, I guess I’m not ready (although I’m 4 years older than you) because I’m not ready to be with a group of old people? Crazy right? I guess it’s a form of denial for me. I think one of the things I love about pottery making is that I’m around a lot of young people and it energizes me.

    1. I’m sorry you’ve taken such a hit for the shooting, but I wholly understand.

      As for the courses, that’s precisely it. Almost everyone I spend time with is younger than I am. At 66, for the first time I was starting to feel that I am truly of a different generation than my friends who are 30 and 40. The other people in the classes are mostly 5-10 years older than I am, but people who take classes, in this very small sample size at least, are even more energetic than I am:) Maybe it’s just nice to have a mix.

  5. Have long resisted labeling of any kind. It was my dad’s way of looking at the world, unrelated to the use of the word seniors. He had a habit of examining each thing without accepting predefined terms. It was sometimes exhausting, but it has come in useful in my life to keep me from accepting anything without first understanding it to the best of my ability. When I think of age, I think in Bob Dylan’s terms, “He not busy being born is busy dying,” so I’d rather get on with it without being put into any box, and I try to do the same with those around me. My mom objected to *euphemisms* for aging. She was kind of hilariously indignant on the subject:” I don’t want to be called a Senior! I’m old!” I object to the separation of people by age. We’re all so much healthier when we intermix. Good on you for the Spanish classes. I’d like to do the same with French, though I’d like to do it by living in France for a year, which is, alas, probably not going to happen. Three years of Spanish, and then three years of French from middle school through high school, left me with portions. I’d love to be fluent. As to our weapon horrors? It breaks my heart. I used to believe there would be an end. Now I’m astonished by the lack of caring. (BTW, if you’re on a Mac, you can make a Spanish inverted exclamation mark with the option key + the 1 key = ¡)

    1. Your father has always sounded to me, in your tellings, like a wonderful man. I’d love to learn a new language via immersion, but I agree, unlikely at this point. ¡Thank you as always, Katherine!

  6. Maus is targeted in book banning efforts. We don’t need to guess why. We need to stay angry to paraphrase Madeline L’Engle (another target of banning, but I digress.)

    1. It’s targeted for banning? Every time I think we see the boundaries of this trend, new tragic vistas open up. Stay angry, and it’s so hard.

    1. Orwell and Brecht. The emotional fortitude required to keep creating and speaking out, in the face of this sorrow, so hard.

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