Words & Language


While I didn’t like how the trilogy His Dark Materials turned out, nor do I subscribe to Philip Pullman’s theology, I *did* enjoy reading The Golden Compass. The premise and fantasy world established is fascinatingly unique; his characterizations and plot development in this first book gripped me to the point of sacrificing a night’s rest so I could finish reading it in one sitting. A movie, based on the first book, is being made (starring Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green), to be released on December 7, 2007. I am very curious to see it. It will be controversial, especially among conservative religious circles.

Anyways, I was alerted to this bit of movie marketing by ziasudra, where you get to figure out what your daemon is. Mine is a gibbon named Thalius. Great. (If you’ve really got nothing better to do, feel free to comment on my results. Very possibly, your input might morph it into something else.)

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I’ve been sick the entire week beginning last weekend. Came down with a sore throat, which has developed into a persistent cough. Getting sick is not a surprise to me, because I was really worn out from my trip. In fact, I noticed some lymph nodes swelling up during my last few days in NYC. My doctor couldn’t really tell what was wrong with me … he just put me on some antibiotics and sent me in for some blood work. Went back to work for a couple days, but by Thursday, it became clear to me that I was getting worse, not better, so I went home early and then took yesterday off to rest properly.

Hence, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, lying down, because I notice that I have fewer coughing fits on my back. Finished The Namesake this morning, and now moving onto Volume 7 of the Tin Tin 3 Complete Adventures in 1 Volume series.

During my time in NYC, I managed to squeeze in a visit to The Strand, an pretty amazing secondhand bookstore. Picked up the two books mentioned earlier, as well as Mark Bittman’s highly readable How to Cook Everything. I was so excited to see the Strand carry all of the Tin Tin volumes at very discounted prices (I have only vols. 3 and 4 at home), but reality set in very quickly regarding how little room remained in my luggage, so I disciplined myself into choosing just one to bring home. Also, at the time, I couldn’t remember which volumes I owned, so it was good to play it safe and pick the one I was absolutely sure I didn’t have yet.

Anyways, after I complete this editing job over a modest meal of noodles and fishballs, I will get to fully absorb myself in the world of Tin Tin. It is a way of “being kind” to myself, which the Spirit is exhorting me to do in these uncertain times.

Lauren Winner will be teaching a course on writing as a spiritual discipline (1 or 2 credit option) at Regent College this summer, which I would love to take if I can scrape enough money together ($430/credit + $35 registration!). Lauren Winner is a keenly observant, intelligent writer and author of a couple books I enjoyed reading a few years ago, namely Girl Meets God and Real Sex. She (and therefore her writing) is refreshingly thoughtful and frank. Her style is highly readable and accessible; at the same time, she brings a certain academic rigour and scholarly inquiry to her writing. And she’s young! It would be sooooo cool to take a writing class from her.

Yes, there is a perfectly reasonable context why I uttered these words, and in front of my boss, of all people!

This past weekend, Pauline from work invited me to dip candles with her and a few others at Bee Cee Wicks & Wax. The group consisted of a small party of seven, including a few librarians from work (including my Division Head) and their family and friends. I was really curious to try candle-dipping because I remember seeing it demonstrated on Sesame Street as a kid. That, and making ice cream by hand. I had always wanted to try doing these things myself.

Did you know that hand-dipped candles last a lot longer than ones made via molds? The ones we made last about 10 hours, which is pretty darn long for a candlestick.

I forgot to bring my camera to document the process, but here are the steps, quite simple really:

  1. Take a piece of wick and tie a nut (or any weight) at each end. The wick is actually long enough to make a pair of candles.
  2. Using a clip with a wide mouth, clip the middle portion of the wick and let the weights hang at about an inch apart.
  3. Dip the pair of wicks into a vat of melted wax just up to where the wick is clipped to squeeze out any air pockets. This step enables the wick to burn longer. Let the wax dry for a couple minutes.
  4. To lay the foundation for the taper, dip the pair of wicks one third of the way up. Let dry, and then dip the pair of wicks two thirds of the way up.
  5. Then continue to dip the pair of wicks just up to where the wick is clipped (letting the wax dry for a minute in between dips) until the base of the stick-in-formation builds to about 1/2 in. in diameter.
  6. Clip the weights off while the wax is warm.
  7. Then dip the sticks in a vat of coloured wax, as many times as you need to get the shade you want (somewhere between 1-5 times).
  8. Unclip the sticks and let cool. There, you now have a pair of hand-dipped candlesticks!

If you follow, Step 5 is repeated the most to build up the layers of wax. In between one of my Step 5 dips, I swung my sets of sticks out of the vat with too much momentum, and the waxy weights (we used nuts) ended up sticking to each other. Without thinking, I exclaimed to the entire group (all women, fortunately), “My nuts are stuck together!”

While the words tumbled out of my mouth, my brain was screaming, “Noooooooo …….!” I desperately hoped no one would think anything of it, but a few of the older women quite obviously did because they snorted and snickered amongst themselves. Aware of the couple of minors in the room, they pulled themselves together quickly and did not dwell on it, although Pauline pointed out to me, “You’re turning all red!” I laughed it off sheepishly and muttered some sort of apology.

This foot-in-mouth ranks up there with my interview gaffe from a few years ago for a job at the Joe Fortes Branch. My interviewer asked me, “How would you respond if someone comes up to you and asks for books from the queer section?” I was so nervous, my tongue got twisted. I responded, “When people ask for information, you have to be absolutely queer [I meant to say “clear“] about what they are really asking for.”

Obviously, I didn’t get the job.

As a follower of Christ, I take my relationships seriously. I try to anyways. By the Spirit’s lead, I try to be sensitive to the health of my relationships (most of which aren’t that great), so that there’s a chance in high heaven for improvement. Unfortunately, the hope for improvement requires me to have difficult conversations with people. Although it depends on who I need to work things out with, I generally dread doing it. I REALLY hate it, it feels like death. I get stressed out, knots form in my stomach, can’t sleep properly, sometimes I will put it off for a long time, even for years.

There was a time this year when I anticipated (and dreaded) having to engage in difficult conversations with certain members of the church board I’m on, so Nick recommended me Difficult Conversations. At first, I was dubious about reading yet another self-help book, but when I found out it was partly authored by the same person who wrote Getting to Yes, I became more open. [Background: Getting to Yes was suggested to me by Lisa (who picked it up from her MBA program) when I was figuring out how to negotiate the private sale of the apartment I now live in. That book helped me to stick to my bottom line and obtain a deal that I could live with.]

This morning, when I passed by a book truck that carried a parenting resource entitled It’s Not a Plot to Drive You Crazy!, I was reminded of this common sense, but easily forgotten principle that Difficult Conversations imparted to me: it’s the idea that how you feel (because of what someone did or said) may not have been the intent. That is, just because I feel hurt doesn’t necessarily mean that the other intended to hurt me. The implications? Resist responding retaliatively.

I think this principle applies equally to positive feelings. That is, just because I feel cared for doesn’t necessarily mean the other actually cares for me (although it’s great when it’s true). Someone’s attentions to me may make me feel attractive, but he may not be attracted to me. This realization is particularly helpful if I’ve taken a romantic interest in someone whose intentions aren’t clear. Implications? If how that person makes me feel (i.e. good) has nothing to do with his intentions, I had better not try to explain what his intentions are based on how I feel. It’s just stupid to go down that road.

Anyways, my two cents of wisdom for the day, for whatever it’s worth.

You know the saying, “knowing is half the battle?” I tend to disagree with this. Although I grant that “becoming aware” is often a difficult, laborious, and painful experience, I think it’s more like, “knowing is 30% of the battle,” for a certain kind of person anyways, one who is relatively self-aware and introspective.

In fact, believing that “knowing is half the battle” can be deceptive. It makes progress in authentic change in character or behaviour sound easier or further along that it actually is. For simply knowing is a false indicator that a significant amount of true change has taken place. Don’t get me wrong though. I think knowing is an important and necessary part of change, but I also think it is only too easy to stay the same, in spite of knowing, in spite of being more self-aware.

Sometimes I think that to know or to become more aware and STILL not do something that leads to real change is even more damning. When those of us (with sensitive consciences) still do what we know better not to do (especially after having become more aware of the problem), we end up feeling even more frustrated and wretched (doesn’t this sound so Paul-ine?). Truly, “ignorace is bliss.”

I would even go so far to say that, for some people, knowing actually serves as an obstacle to real change (this is hard to explain, but I’ll try). I know that I have taken many an opportunity to “confess” my self-awareness or admit my limitations in conversation. And in doing that, I actually come away feeling justified to stay the same. I actually give myself the license to keep doing what I do. I mean, I’m aware of the problem after all, which counts for something, right? At least, 50%. This reasoning is a weird, subtle form of control. It’s kinda like, if I get to admit my faults first before anyone else points it out to me (because it isn’t anyone’s business), then wow, good for me, at least I’m aware of my problem (how open and honest is she!), which is more than we can expect from the average person. But that simply ain’t true, is it. It is so self-deceiving! Can you not sense a prideful, resistant control freak lurking underneath?

At the end of the day, the will always trumps knowledge. While knowledge may move us further along the path of change, or increase our chances of authentically changing, it is still our will that actually makes us decide whether or not to do something differently. And even if we are unaware or ignorant, it is the will that moves us to know more, to become more informed. There are situations, of course, where people do stupid things because they genuinely don’t know any better. But I think adults can use that reason only up to a certain point. Beyond that point, it becomes an an excuse.

Hmm, perhaps authentic change depends on the kind or depth of knowledge gained. That is, for someone like myself who considers herself to be fairly self-aware, maybe she doesn’t know as much as she think she does. Maybe I don’t have or am resistant to the “right” kind of knowledge; I am unwilling to be infused with a kind of knowledge that truly convicts or inspires change. I suppose this kind of knowledge is called Truth.

Thank God, then, for his Spirit, who is at work perseveringly on/in a tough nut like me.

Here’s an interesting article forwarded to me by my desk partner, Neil. This is especially for those of you who take an interest in language and words, or have a need to maximize the likelihood of getting people to do what you want in an age where clear assertions of authority and certainty are frowned on.

Those who know me well have heard me lament on numerous occasions what Yagoda calls the “decline of the imperative mood.” To me, it is not so much an expression of authority as it is of intimacy, familiarity, and trust.

It’s all very understandable (because we don’t like to be denied our wishes) and I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it, but it drives me insane when someone I consider close feels the need to pussy-foot around me. But I guess if that happens, it is telling about where the relationship (or the other person) is at.

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