Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Idiomatic Insults

I don’t keep up with slang.  Especially insults. Never have.  In junior high, “bitchin” sounded like an insult, so I never used the word.

Lately I have received an email from a man who called me a name I didn’t recognize, followed by a link to his website. He informed me that this term was an insult. He even told me to click the link and “look it up.”  Like I care what his made-up insult is supposed to refer to?  They’re all sex, toilet, and intellect jokes. Which one he chose is of no interest.

Then a woman I with whom I was arguing on facebook ended her argument by typing “bite me.”

I know she’s not a gold coin. There’s no purpose in biting her to determine if she is real gold or a fake.  But, what if she was one of those chocolate coins in a foil wrapper?  There is a good reason to bite them.  So, I could not resist.  I typed, “Why? Are you delicious?”

Then a man entered our argument.  He asked if he could watch while “you ladies get it on.”

I do not think this woman will be typing “bite me” any time soon again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Wide Path and the Narrow One

When I studied comparative religions in college, I learned the terms Mahayana and Hinayana, meaning the Wide Path and the Narrow Path.  I understood that the Hinayana path meant becoming a monk and living in a monastery.  I thought maybe the Mahayana path meant going to religious services once a week.

The Mayahana path was for most people and the Hinayana path was for a few people who were simply cut out for it.

Not being cut out for the life of a monk, I was interested to learn more about the Mahayana path, but nothing I could find made much sense.  Until yesterday when I stumbled on a website that wasn’t even talking about Hindu religion or different paths.

The website focused on thinking.  When we see dirty dishes in the sink we can think “I’ll wash them now,” or “I won’t wash them now,” or “I wish there weren’t dirty dishes in the sink.”  That’s pretty much it, as far as choices of what to think. (Okay, there are alternative: I think I’ll paint a picture of the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a poem about the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a story about somebody who has dirty dishes in his sink, but ultimately, the artist will decide – to wash or not to wash – that is the question.)  The first two choices are realistic choices.  They see the truth – the sink has dirty dishes.

In other words, the Mahayana path is the path of choices – what do we do NOW?  And the easier we make it on ourselves – sticking to the action choices, the simpler the path becomes.

It’s all a matter of choices. It’s hard to train the brain not to wish reality was different. That is the big challenge of the Mahayana path.

The Hinayana path is the path of no choices.  The monastery has a routine. Monks follow that routine. The only breaks in a monk’s routine come when the unexpected happens, like illness or natural disaster.  I’m sure the monastery has guidelines for these unexpected events, too. Yes, a monk could think “I wish there were no dirty dishes in the sink” but that thought would not affect his actions. And when thoughts cannot affect actions, they serve no practical function.  The one choice – to give up all choices – is the challenge of the Hinayana path – and that choice can be made an infinite number of times.

My choice was to blog about this topic which has intrigued me for decades.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Breaking in to a Dead Man's Computer

A client called me.  One of her co-workers had gifted her a laptop computer that used to belong to her recently deceased husband.  My client wanted me to check it out and put it on her network.

The computer looked okay – the keys were clean, the monitor was clean.

The first screen gave us a choice of Windows 7 or Vista. This indicated that the computer was probably 8 years old.  In my view, that’s pushing the lifespan of a viable computer.

I chose 7.  It failed to boot.

I chose Vista.  

We got the login screen.  The User ID photo was a woman’s crotch.  No comment.  I asked my client if she knew the computer’s password.  She didn’t.

I requested the password hint. The hint was Cat.  

I asked, “Did the husband have a cat?”

“Yes, Garfield.”

I tried Garfield, GARFIELD, garfield.  They all failed.

I looked again at that User ID photo.  By this time, my client was watching me work.  I suggested “Pussy.”  She laughed.  That wasn’t the password.  Also not pussy or PUSSY. We tried Kitty.  Not the password.

I went online on another computer on her network and searched for slang terms meaning vagina.
Cunt and Snatch didn’t work either.  Then I started finding some names I’d never seen before – but names that would not work for a cat.  Wizard’s sleeve. The Grandest Canyon.

My client said she’d been thinking about asking some of her teenaged male students to help with the computer.  Now she was glad she hadn’t.  She’d never live it down.

I asked my client if she still had her Windows 7 installation disk.  She did.  The DVD drive on the laptop was broken.  Next stop, I’ll bring a USB DVD drive and reinstall Windows 7.  

Guessing a dead-man’s password clearly isn’t one of my talents.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Art and Science

Taking an art class is a different world from the science world in which I got my BA.  Yet there are similarities.  Both world teach techniques.  Both worlds have expected results as well as surprises. And both worlds teach a new way of seeing.

The first time I saw a scientific article with a title like Calcium Transport in the Muscles of Bullfrog Tadpoles, I laughed. The extreme specificity of the headline surprised me.  Now, I understand exactly why the headline was so specific.  Calcium transport varies by tissue, by species, by temperature, and other factors.  Anybody studying calcium transport knows which details are important for the question being asked.  Until I understood the question, I did not understand the answer.  The world is more fascinating when I have a sense of what goes into the inner workings of life.  

Painting asks different questions. A key question is how can paint be used to represent a natural object?  I didn’t know how to look at natural objects in order to see all the colors.  To help us learn to see, our teacher had us paint first in white, black and grey.  Then we added shades of grey.  Finally we were allowed to use colors.  Then we went back to shades of grey to learn about warm and cool shades of grey.  And now, we are using full color again, attempting to paint even more of what we are now able to see.  

With my new way of seeing, I found myself making my dog sit while I stared at a squash somebody had placed on a front door step.  This squash had at least 20 shades of orange, plus shades of grey. The world is more fascinating now that I can see more of what I look at.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Voodoo Doll on the Refrigerator

A man at Quaker meeting stood to speak the message that was in his heart.

He awoke in the morning to see a voodoo doll on his family’s refrigerator.  Someone had given this doll to his wife as a gift.

His wife explained that the doll came with two pins: one for enemies and one for friends.  He thought about this, since he is the kind of man who would never intentionally hurt anyone.

A pin is not only to cause pain.  A pin can also pinpoint something that needs focus.  The pin for friends could be used as a reminder of those friends who are in stress and who need to held in the light.  And a pin for enemies could be a reminder of those folks whom he needs to forgive.

He goes to the refrigerator at least 3 times a day. This doll is a reminder at least 3 times a day to think about the people who matter to him.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Correct Spelling?

I’m working on a book in which an egg hatches a caterpillar.  I want to describe the egg as miniscule.   My spell checker immediately changes it to minuscule.  When I insist that I want miniscule, the word gets a red underline as an error.

So, I looked it up.

Merriam-Webster says:

“Usage Discussion of MINISCULE

The adjective minuscule is etymologically related to minus, but associations with mini- have produced the spelling variant miniscule. This variant dates to the end of the 19th century, and it now occurs commonly in published writing, but it continues to be widely regarded as an error.”  

The OED says:

The word was originally minuscule, borrowed from French. The minuscule spelling has always been the preferred spelling. However, miniscule is not as simple as a typo. According to the OED, the first citation of the miniscule variant is from 1871, so this is a form that has been around quite a long time.

The OED says the following about miniscule:

Variant of MINUSCULE adj., probably arising partly from shift of stress from the second to the first syllable, and partly from association with MINIATURE adj., MINIMUM adj., etc.
So, there are two reasons that miniscule persists as a variant.

The first is the shift in stress. In English, unstressed vowels are often reduced to schwa, [?], no matter what the fully stressed vowel would have been. Minuscule used to always be pronounced with stress on the second syllable (containing the "u"), and was therefore unambiguously an [u] sound. When minuscule began to get stress on the first syllable, it was no longer clear from hearing the word what the second vowel was.

The second was the existence of semantically similar words that contained the spelling mini, such as miniature and minimum. The word mini is associated with small things.

Therefore, a person spelling the word minuscule, having no auditory cues to indicate the spelling "minu", and knowing other smallness words contain "mini", has every logical reason to think the spelling should be "minuscule".


This is a book for children. Am I obliged to use the “correct spelling” or may I get away with the “logical spelling.”

Why does it matter if words are spelled in various ways, if the reader can understand what is meant?  How long does it take for a spelling to become accepted?  1871 is 144 years ago. Do I want to be part of the spelling police, and use the “correct spelling” when I didn’t even know it existed until a few hours ago?

What exactly do I want to pass on to the children who read my book?  Love of butterflies, yes. Love of words, yes.  I have always loved the word miniscule.   And until today I did not know it could be spelled any other way. 

I am sharing the world I love in this book.  Some child may lose the National Spelling Bee if I use the non-standard spelling of minuscule. Is this a reason to continue using a spelling that makes no sense?

And no, I don’t want to use a synonym, like minute or tiny.  I want to use the word that best expresses the smallness of the egg.

I’ve always had a problem with authority.  Now the problem is which authority – my own sense of the right spelling, or that of a dictionary?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Visit to Planned Parenthood

I was 17. I did not consider myself a sexual being. The sex-ed class at my high school was mainly a vocabulary lesson. And I had no idea what an erector set had to do with babies. And whatever sex was, we weren’t supposed to do because it would cause babies. And babies would ruin our lives.

I’d had trouble getting a tampon in and I didn’t believe my then boyfriend (now husband for the past 48 years) when he explained what he wanted to do.  Biology took over.  I called Planned Parenthood the next day.  I figured they would be nicer and less expensive than a doctor.  I wasn’t even making minimum wage, and my take-home was $34 a week.  My rent was $40 a month including utilities. I also had payments on my motorbike. And regular expenses like food and books.

Planned Parenthood gave me an appointment for a week later, at 9 AM on Saturday.  When I showed up, they ordered me to change into a paper costume and sit in the waiting room.  I did so, along with about 20 other women, also wearing scratchy paper costumes, that tended to flap loose in embarrassing ways..

We had to sit through a class on how many sperms are in a typical ejaculation, and we passed around a plastic breast with a lump in it, so we’d know what cancer felt like. Then we got called back one at a time for an interview. 

My interviewer kept asking me if I could pay for it.  I was terrified of being denied birth control, so I said yes. Over and over.  She said the bill would be about $60 including a one-month supply of pills.  That was nearly my entire savings, but I kept saying yes.  Later, one of the other women told me if I’d said, no, they’d have given me a discount.  But I didn’t know that. 

After over 2 hours of sitting around, my paper costume was getting tears in it.  I was feeling totally embarrassed.  Supposedly I _knew_ better than to be in this situation. After all, I’d taken Sex Ed. (Later, my city ranked highest in STDs in the entire state – which probably is a comment on the quality of the sex ed program.) My mother would be furious if she knew I was here. And I might be pregnant.  Abortions were  illegal. And in my mind, pregnancy was not a good reason to get married. My mind kept going in loops about what if, and how scary!

Finally, I was called back to see the doctor.  He saw my name on the form I’d filled out, so while I was lying there, legs in stirrups, and he was poking and prodding me, he asked if I was related to Richard (with my same last name) who lives in Chicago.  “Yes,” I said.  “He’s my uncle.  You aren’t going to tell him I was here, are you?” 

The doc just kept going on and on about how he and my uncle were such good friends, and they’d gone to school together. Finally, he promised not to tell my uncle. Then he wrote a prescription for birth control pills, but told me not to start taking them until after my next period.  He made I big deal about taking them at the same time every day, and never skipping a day.

Then he left.  I wiped the goo off my crotch, put my clothes back on, paid for the visit and the pills and knew I’d have to find an extra $16 every month to pay for more pills.  If I wasn’t pregnant.  If if if.. (Luckily, I wasn’t.)

And I wondered if a regular doctor might be cheaper, and take less time, and not make me sit around for hours in a paper costume, and didn’t know my uncle.  But then, I didn’t know what kind of regular doctor prescribed birth control pills, and if they’d even see a 17-year-old. And if they did, would they repeat the Sex Ed lecture about how bad I was being? Planned Parenthood seemed like my only option.  I wanted to rename them Planned Unparenthood. And I wanted to redesign the entire system so there wasn’t a 2 hour wait in a paper costume. And the doctors didn’t get to see the women’s names. And if they give a discount based on income, they should say so.