We Don’t Know Why We Remember… Life Differently

joe-and-danny

I Don’t Know Why I Remember… by Daniel Patteson

I don’t know why I remember always wanting to watch my father shoot squirrels out of the flower garden. My father had beautiful flower gardens. There seemed to always be a magnificent color scheme of flowers surrounding the premise of our yard. Rings of dew covered rainbows poured around the huge Oaks and Sweetgum trees in the front yard. There the squirrels would be, those little rascals, digging up all the pansies, roses, and other assortments of flowers my father planted for my mother, trying to find all the acorns they could shove in their overflowing cheeks. Then I would hear it, the stomp of footsteps coming from the hallway closet; it was time! My dad would come running to the glass door with his brown pellet rifle in one hand, bbs in the other, checkered boxers his only clothing. Quietly he would open the glass door as to not startle the little creatures. At the first shot chaos ensued; blurred balls of fur shot fast as lightning to the nearest trees. Somehow my dad managed to hit every single one.  There I was, little five year old me, jumping up and down at his side, one hand holding his underwear, the other waving wildly in the air along with shouts of enjoyment and laughter. I don’t recall how often this occurred throughout the week, but I remember it being quite enjoyable.

I Don’t Know Why I Remember… by Josiah Patteson

I don’t know why I remember skinning a squirrel with my biological father when I was three or four years old. The expanse of our backyard consisted of a beautiful array of flowers, stepping stones, an older swing set and play house, and a koi pond in the making: the creation of a skilled landscaper. This was his domain. Every blade of grass, every flower, and every stone was exactly where it should be. He was the creator and maker of this land, and the squirrels only disrupted it. It was within the realm of the pond-in-the-making, on the wall of clay which resembled a water fall that cascaded into the pooled ground, that the furry critters met their doom. My father calmly walked out the back door, pellet gun in hand, as my brother and I played on the play-set. I watched as he raised his weapon towards the darned rodent. The squirrel was completely unaware of the danger it was in; for, it continued to paw the earth and dig up my father’s grass. A click sounded and a puff of air escaped the barrel. Down the enemy went, my father victorious. I followed my dad as he casually walked through the lush blades and soft pine straw to retrieve his kill, curious to see what he had done. Once the squirrel was in hand, we retraced our steps and made our journey to the picnic table. I remember the large skinning knife my father used to remove the scratchy, bristly fur and how it revealed the pink muscles and warm maroon blood that hid underneath the skin. I was fascinated by the colors and shapes of the inside of this small mammal. Once the skin and the guts were removed, my father grabbed a Ziploc bag and placed the squirrel inside. He then went back inside the house and placed his fresh kill in the freezer with the others, never to be touched again.

Advertisements

The Earthly Struggle

the earthly struggleMany think of humanity as an inescapable state. They believe it is a condition that all humans are born into. Contrary to this belief, Robert Capon asserts that humanity is something different. It is indeed inherent, but it is also something that can slip away from man’s grasp. In the culinary reflection, The Supper of the Lamb, Capon discusses what being human means and the importance of embracing humanity. Throughout the book, he defines the human experience with elements of enjoyment, light-heartedness, and a love for living. Capon has passion for living and he calls his readers to share in this passion. Overall, humanity is the creation of an infinite God, and its “real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are.” Capon further asserts that there is a way to lose this humanity. He points out ways that people deny their humanity. Many times, people practice things inhuman. Capon admonishes people who take part in the inhuman act of self-preservation and idolatry. Throughout The Supper of the Lamb, Capon weaves together a definition for humanity, the purpose of the human experience, and discusses the ways that people make themselves less than human and the dangers of living in these practices.

Man is ultimately God’s creation, forever subordinate to Him. Capon writes that being human is being made in the image of God and because of this, man should look on the world with a similar love. To him, love is key to the existence of man, ultimately, “we are not simply the users of creation; we are, all of us, called to be its offerers.” Capon continues by saying, “The world will be lifted, as it was always meant to be, by our priestly love.” This priestly love illuminated in The Supper of the Lamb is a great part of humanity’s purpose. Fundamentally, we are priests, the lovers, and builders of this world. Through love, man will lift this world up as an offering to God. Being human is to be, like God, a lover of the things of this world and a priest, carrying the things of this world with us. It is a popular within the Christian realm to believe that humanity is bad and something that you should work against; however, Capon explains that being human is essentially good. It is in the image of God and man is to take part in this world and to love this world as God loves this world. This is because humanity is ultimately made in the image of God.

According to Capon, it is important to experience humanity without trying to save oneself from the less attractive aspects of life. The human experience is costly, but it is a calling and it is worth it. The ultimate inhuman action is for humans to try to save themselves from the pain of the greater heartburn. Capon recognizes a greater heartburn that people experience as opposed to the lighter physical heartburn of eating something too acidic. The lighter heartburn is an echo of the greater. No man enjoys pain, but Capon suggests that it is less human to save oneself from pain and heartburn. The heartburn is the “disquietude of having been made in the image of God.” Being made in the image of God means there is some greater passion and desire for something that is other worldly. This is thematically similar to what C.S. Lewis asserts in Mere Christianity; “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Both Capon and Lewis discuss being otherworldly in similar ways. Because humanity is made for another world, there is a deeper ache that resonates within each person. Capon says that some things should, in fact, break our hearts. To “make our beds” with tender things is not only inhuman, but it is not divine. Because God man man in His image, man is called to things both human and divine. When humanity falls into things such as idolatry and self-preservation, they are running far away from their purpose and their humanity. Living the way we are supposed to in this world will result in pain. This is what being human means. Even Christ, the God-man, saved the world by becoming vulnerable. Capon says that “He died, not because he despised the earth, but because He loved it as man loves it- out of all proportion and sense. And when he rose again, He stood up like a man indeed: with glorious scars- and with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature.” This is a beautiful picture of how humanity should stand. Their flesh and bones are made of dust and their scars are utterly glorious because this is what it is to be human. Their love is disproportional and nonsensical because this is how God has loved them. This is how humanity was created: it means pain, scars, and struggle, but it is glorious to be made in an imperfect image of a perfect God. When man tries to save himself from scars, in reality he denies himself the glory of living life the way Christ did. He denies himself ways to love this world as a reflection of God’s love for him.

When man tries to break away from his humanity, he is breaking away from his Creator. According to Capon, “the heaviest weight on the shoulders of the earth is still the age-old idolatry by which man has cheated himself of both Creator and creation.” Idolatry is the danger of stifling one’s humanity. By trying to save himself from pain, man falls into trouble and will lead a life that lacks the love he is called to. Idolatry is also seen in loving the things of this world in the wrong order. These two idolatrous practices focus on man and skew the calling of love. Capon spends much time discussing the love of this world and he balances this with discussing the sin of idolatry. Capon asserts that it is important for humanity to love the things of this world, but in order is crucial. Man’s love for this world should never exceed his love for his Creator. Capon states that “we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us” when we give into idolatries. This is the danger of loving this world, but it is a danger that can be avoided by loving God foremost and remembering that this earth is merely a foretaste of eternity. Man should love the world as God loves this world, embrace this love, and keep it ordered so to stay far away from any hint of idolatry.

Capon’s beautiful thoughts on humanity and how humanity should behave in regards to God and this world is unique and different. Capon’s passion and love for this world are reflected through his writing, he conveys this passion and love with vigor through his food preparation and methods of cooking. Capon conveys a reminder of man’s priestly state of love that ultimately makes him human, and the practices that make man less than human. Man was made of earth’s dust and he should not forget this reality, nor is he to forget the glory that he is a part of. As Capon believes, “the road to Heaven does not run from the earth, but through it.” This earth is important to what it means to be human, we are made from its dust and we are scarred by its hardships. The road man travels to heaven leads through the earth to eternity. Capon continues, saying that the earth “is a place for men, not ghosts- for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthliness of the True Jerusalem.” Man’s earthliness is part of his humanity and it is a part of his future. God makes us new just as he will make the earth new. In the end, all things will be redeemed and “our Last Home will be home indeed.”


Bibliography 

Capon, Robert. 1969. The Supper of the Lamb. New York: Modern Library.

Lewis, C. S., and Walter Hooper. Mere Christianity: An Anniversary Edition. New York: Macmillan, 1981.

pablo (1)

The pickup truck sat idling in the pharmacy parking lot. It had been a warmer fall day, but as the sun continued on its sidereal path and brought the lights down with it, the windows were beginning to fog up. Jerry turned on the defroster to combat the rising tide of frosted glass. He took off his glasses, almost instinctively, and wiped them on his shirt. The edges were beginning to fog with grease. He cleaned them again, and again, until the streaks formed by a rushed job were gone. Patrons filled the lot, going from car to pharmacy, renewing prescriptions before the weekend, grabbing snacks for road trips, and picking up some last minute supplies. The sun glinted off the corner of the pharmacy and caught Jerry in the eye. He tossed his head back at the shock of the glare and put his sunglasses back on.

Out of the right side view mirror he saw Mark approaching the passenger door. A younger man, about six feet tall, Mark had his chin sunk down into his throat, hands stuffed in his coat pockets, and grocery bags hanging from each wrist. Jerry sat up straight as Mark got in. “You get everything?” asked Jerry.

Mark shot his gaze at Jerry, “If it was on the list, it’s in the bag,”

Jerry held out his hand. “Let me see the receipt.”

“Are you going to write it off?” said Mark.

“You never know what they’ll ask to see.” He scanned over the receipt. Mark grabbed a pack of gum from the bag and grabbed a piece. The smell of sugary mint filled the cab. Jerry looked up and glanced back down at the receipt. “Did you buy that somewhere else?” he asked. Mark just shook his head. “Did you buy it yourself?”

“Ain’t no way I’m spending money on this,” answered Mark.

Jerry tilted his head a little to the right, his brow raised with his tone, “You stole a pack of gum?”

A wide smile streaked across Mark’s face. “It’s what we do isn’t it?”

“What’d you do that for?” His mouth just sat there, hanging, as he finished the question.

Mark shrugged. “I don’t know. I just felt like it, I guess.” The smile still lingered.

“That’s the one thing you don’t do,” Jerry said. “Everyone knows that. My god, come on man.”

“What?” Mark threw his arms out. “It’s not like it messed with you or anything.”

“That’s not the point,” said Jerry.

“Well what is?”

“There’s just some things you do and some things you don’t do, and that’s just something you don’t do. What even gave you the idea to do it?”

“Would you lay off? It’s just a pack of gum. Doesn’t even cost two bucks.”

“Exactly. Exactly.” Jerry clapped his hands at each syllable. “It’s careless and foolish. What if you had gotten caught?”

“Not a chance.” Mark laughed. “It’s like taking candy from a baby.”

“Only punk kids take candy from the baby. You know better.” Jerry shook his head. “Gum?”

“I’m sorry, Christ. I’m sorry. Here, look, I’m tossing it out.” He rolled down his window and flung the pack to the curb. “See. You happy?”

“I’d be happy if you took this seriously. I’d be happy if you acted like a grown-man rather than the school-yard bully. I’d be happy if you could just do the job.”

“Effin’ A. There’s just no pleasing you. I got everything you asked me. I got the cables. I got the glue. I got the duct tape. And I wanted some gum.”

“This is not about what you want.”

“Well ain’t that right.” Mark sat back and stared out into the dark night. The street lights passed by; along with post-boxes, fire-hydrants, and newspaper stands. The busy-body pedestrians meandered down the sidewalk. His eyes followed any Rolex, or Coach purse, or pair of Corthay’s which happened to cross his gaze. Jerry kept his eyes on the road.

“Where’s our turn at?” asked Jerry.

Mark raised his hand, palm facing upward. “Hell if I know. I thought you were the map-man.” He continued to stare out the window.

Jerry reached into the middle glove box and grabbed out a map. He handed it to Mark as he turned. “We just took a left onto Walton. Follow the line I’ve traced and tell me the next turn.” Mark took the map from him and opened it, “Right on Turner.”

“How far?” asked Jerry.

“After that or till that?”

“Till it.”

“I don’t know, four miles maybe.”

“Ok, and how far after that?”

“The next turn? Or–”

“Both.”

“I don’t know. Hell, what is this?” Mark tossed the map onto the dashboard.

Jerry flicked the blinker on and turned into the parking lot of a small convenience store. He rolled into an empty spot at the far end of the lot. Mark made short interjections of “What?” and “Really?” as Jerry put the truck into park. “Pick up the map, Mark.”

Mark pursed his lips and cocked his head a little to the right. He stared into the eyes of the man twice his age. “Listen to me,” said Jerry, “Forget about the gum. Forget about all that. I told you I wasn’t going to parent you. Now take a step back from your macho-man routine. It’s a shame your dad never taught you how to handle a little confrontation, but do not let the faults of your father be the road to your destruction.”

“Are you fu–” Before Mark had finished that rhetorical question, Jerry’s hand, which had been propped on the headrest behind Mark, sprung up and knocked the back of his head. “I said, don’t let the faults of your father be your destruction,” Jerry said in a much less elevated tone than one would expect after such an episode. Mark sat there not saying a word. “Now, please, pick up the map, and give me exactly what I ask for,” said Jerry, this time dropping down to almost a whisper. Mark coughed. “Yeah, it’d be a shame if I let my father ruin my life.”

The evening sky was filled with a dark pink as a cloud, almost like a thick blanket spread across most of the expanse. The street lights shone as darkness crept along the streets, and the cooling fall air was beginning to become rather cold. Mark could feel the dropping temperature as he rested his head against the window. The cool glass sent a calm across his pounding head. His sighs were made manifest and apparent by the path of fog proceeding and receding with each labored and forced breath. Mark extended his hand to the dash. His fingers grasped the edge of the map and pulled it back as if he expected a stern slap for grabbing it wrong. “Thank you,” said Jerry. He put the truck into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot back onto the main strip. “We’re back on Walton. Turner should be a little over two miles away.” Jerry helped Mark get his bearing.

Mark blinked and tried to let his eyes refocus. “After Turner, we have about a mile and a half to East Cumberland, and we’re on that for say ten miles, right on Redwood. Fourteen more miles till we get to the house?”

Jerry smiled as Mark finished rattling off the specifics of the trip. “The specifics of the drive are as important as the specifics of the house. How many turn-offs, service roads, stop signs, traffic lights. Are there any traffic cameras. Which signals last the longest. You can know the alarm system, the number of turns, and everything within a house. But if you can’t get out of it in time, it doesn’t mean jack.”

Mark stared at Jerry as he began his mini-lecture. “There’s four stop lights on Walton alone, five including the one we turn at. Along Turner we hit one. And East Cumberland gives us seven more. The only stop sign is along Redwood, and then the one we hit going back to the shop. Turning off of Cumberland onto South Harpeth cuts the traffic lights but adds another six miles. You’re right, you know, about my dad. I don’t think he taught me much of anything.” Jerry continued to smile.

“How many police man are in the area?” asked Jerry.

“Two precincts cover the area from shop to job. Four hundred officers in one, two hundred and thirty in the other. Response time to an alert: about four minutes, maybe six if we’re lucky,” Mark said in a tone that never changed.

Night had settled. The dark pink had now vanished and the blanket had been stretched across the sky. The street lights grew less frequent as they continued onto East Cumberland. As they decreased, the number of glaring eyes along the road increased.

Little eyes of shining gold glinted at them as they drove. Mark turned his head, watching the passing darkness, towards Jerry, “What are their names?”

“Who? The people we’re paying a visit?” Jerry clarified. Mark nodded. “Does it matter, Mark? We only learn what we need to for the job. We know the type of vault. We know what should be in the vault.”

“You didn’t even look at their names when you were studying?”

“No, I learned their names. You don’t need to learn their names.”

Mark pursed his lips and nodded. “Sounds about right.”

“It’s not right, and its not wrong. It’s just not for you to know.”

“Stop with the philosophizing. We’re stealing from these people. Robbing them blind. Taking everything they’ve worked for. I don’t think they worry about me knowing their names.” Mark kept his hand in the air, and the sardonic smirk stayed curving the right side of his lip upwards.

“When’s my turn on Redwood,” Jerry said with a calm sigh.

Mark shook his head. “Up here in a bout half a mile.”

“Good. Now stop.” Jerry flicked off the headlights. He parked the truck right after they turned onto the road. He went off a little into a the grassy shoulder. Had anyone passed by they would have simply thought a late night service was off in the distance working on a power line. The house stood about fifty yards on the right. The bright lights revealed the cracks of the dense copse in between.

Both Jerry and Mark stepped out of the truck. “Grab the bag,” Jerry said. They both met at the back of the truck. Mark popped the top of the bed-liner and lowered the tail-gate. Jerry pulled a backpack forward and dug through it. “We’re going to need both bags. Make sure the drill and pliers are in there.” Mark grunted at Jerry’s instructions.

“And here.” He tossed him a little case of black paint. Jerry’s own face was already smothered in the stuff. “We’ve got that skin that shines white like snow in the dark.”

Mark peered the cracks of the wood as he smeared the paint across his face. He saw the Hydrangeas and Gloriosas brightening the front yard. The two spot lights at the corners of the house revealed a whole row of privot, evenly cut, running along the front. A stone path led from the front door to the driveway. “A beautiful garden,” Mark said. “They’re just asking for someone to drop in. If their collection is as nice as their garden, I don’t doubt this’ll make our year.”

“And they’re gone till Thursday. They didn’t ask a neighbor to check in or anything,” said Jerry, pointing to a flyer hanging from the front door. “I left it there two days ago.”

“You sure about that one?” Mark smiled. “Last time we basically walked in on them getting ready for bed.”

Jerry shook his head. “Don’t remind me.” Both of the men, faces smeared in black paint, grabbed one of the duffel bags from the truck. “You’ll only be pointing out my mistakes for so long, and then you’ll have your own son to point out yours.”

“Aww, come on now dad. Where would you be without me?” Mark poked his father in the side. Jerry smiled and turned towards the house. Mark followed.

Travel

travel

Traveling is a luxury that many people allow themselves to indulge in; however, it is not vital to life. Man cannot live on travel alone. It is not necessary to the wellbeing of a human. While it is unnecessary to the survival of a human being, it is not true that travel is unimportant. Humanity has the elements needed to survive on earth, but is mere existence everything? If a person has simply what he needs, has this person reached his fullest potential of living? Life should go further than basic needs. It should touch the person on a different level. God gave humanity far more than the essentials. On earth are many possibilities for a deeper and better existence. Among those possibilities is travel. Humanity should take part in travel for the leisure of travel, the experience of travel, and the education received from travel.

Travel is a luxury that is best enjoyed in leisure. When a person takes time to enjoy and experience travel in leisure, that travel can lead to deep joy. In On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, James Schall advocates a contemplative life, a life with time set aside for leisure and enjoyment. He asserts that “Aristotle suggests that oftentimes the closest we come to contemplation in our lives is when we play. And neither play nor contemplation can be, strictly speaking, necessary.” Play leads a person to contemplation and contemplation leads a person to deeper existence. Schall suggests that it is typical to think of work as “obviously serious, but play and the deeds of leisure frivolous, or at least unnecessary.” This is a backward way of thinking and those who hold to this belief have it all wrong. Work is less serious than many believe, no more necessary than leisure and play. God worked for six days, creating the world and everything in it; on the seventh, he set apart that day to rest from His work. He didn’t need the Sabbath. To say that would suggest that He is less powerful and mighty than the Bible teaches. But God still set apart this day of leisure to abstain from working. It was a noble thing that he has called humanity to observe to this day. Like the Sabbath, play can be noble. The fact that play is so unnecessary and yet humanity still takes part in it is the sort of freedom that makes it noble. Travel is unnecessary to human existence, yet it is still enjoyed and done by many people. In this fact -the unnecessariness of it – it is necessary. Setting apart time for travel is a noble act. It can lead to a more contemplative life, which often results in the discovery of God Himself.

There is a certain beauty about people losing themselves in things other than themselves. Children are experts in the art of absorbing themselves in their play. Boys will sit and build small, blockish kingdoms for hours, while young girls lose themselves in dressing their favorite dolls and acting out their futures. Traveling can surface the inner child in people. When they travel, they experience different places and people. They become absorbed in something that is more that themselves. “The world is too much with us, and we are too much with ourselves,” the philosopher George Santayana wrote. “We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running.” Escape is not something a person should live for, but it is good for a person to escape occasionally. There is value and rest in solitude and aimlessness. These things are only frivolous in excess. It is important to remember the value to being absorbed in something other than oneself. Travel can open the door to solitude and aimlessness. It can also lead to absorption in a different culture, in other people, and in new experiences. When a person experiences new things and travels to a place beyond their own home, they remember that the world is larger than their own lives. While travel can lead to solitude and self-inspection, it can also remind a person that more exists beyond their small world.

Besides all these things, travel has educational value. By travelling, people learn about different cultures and the world around them. In ancient Greece, a man was not considered fully educated until he had spent time traveling. Traveling in ancient times was vastly different. It came with difficulties and more preparations than traveling today comes with. Traveling was not easy, but it was necessary. Today, it is less necessary, but much easier. A person can live a “successful” life without ever traveling far from their hometown. With the internet, a person does not have to travel far to understand different cultures, thus making it an option to settle with never going far from home. While the internet can be helpful in many situations, it should never replace real experiences. The real experience of traveling is far more valuable than a digital one. If a person has the means to travel, travel can further their education. Experiencing different surroundings and cultures is important to understanding the world. When traveling, people face so many opportunities that are impossible to find at home. Schall asserts that the best education is the one where “our souls are involved.” He explains that sometimes, even in the most expensive colleges, students don’t receive great educations because their souls are not engaged. While traveling cannot be the sole method of education, it is a method that engages a person’s soul. This leads to increased understanding and knowledge. All that is needed is the courage to pursue the highest things.

Schall concludes his final chapter by saying “joylessness is not our destiny. Joy is the receiving of what we love, even in the highest things. The highest things absorb us, and this is our pleasure; this is why we are at all.” The unnecessary things in life give joy. They make the necessary things worth doing. Just as people should not absorb themselves in the unnecessary things completely, they should not become completely absorbed in the necessary things. Travel, among the unnecessary things, should not become the sole purpose for a person’s life.  However, travel can add so much richness and depth to life that it is an important thing to be involved in. It can bring joy, abandon, and education. Experiencing new surroundings and people can result in a sort of joyful abandoning of oneself that can be educational and beneficial to a deeper, contemplative life. When a person works hard in the community he or she calls home, the luxury of escaping occasionally to another place becomes a sweeter and a more joyful experience. In a way, travel makes living at home worth it.

 

—-

Schall, James. 2001. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books.
Santayana, George, and William G. Holzberger. The Letters of George Santayana. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2001.

Bears, Beets, and Ancient Philosophers

 

bears, beets, and-2

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a man. This man lived on a farm. One day, as he was watering his beets, he looked up. The sun was high and the bright rays obscured the image which was before him. He squinted, catching a glimpse of a late-middle-aged man with the longest beard he had ever seen (excepting Gandalf, of course) and dressed in a toga. The toga-clad-long-bearded man was walking directly towards him. “Slave!” toga-man called out. The farmer turned to look behind him, wondering who could possibly be addressing so impertinently. “Slave!” the man shouted again, this time louder. The farmer was aghast to discover toga-man was actually attempting to speak to him this way. While the farmer collected his wits, contemplating which words could possibly express his utter indignation, the toga-clad man saw the farmer’s metal name tag flash in the sunlight. He tried to sound out the strange word. “Dee-white,” he said slowly.

“DWIGHT! My name is Dwight!” shouted the beet farmer. “And I, sir, am no man’s (nor woman’s) slave. I am Dwight K. Shrute III, son of Dwight K. Shrute II, son of Dwight K. Shrute I, and I expect never to be addressed by you (or anyone) by any other title. What do you think you are doing on my land?  I do not recall inviting cross dressers to parade around my beets. Be aware that I am always acting in self-defense . . . occasionally preemptive defense.”

The man in the toga noted Dwight’s pale yellow shirt, which was only slightly more yellow than his skin, the large, odd mirrored rims around his eyes, and the short, stiff, oily hair split down the center of his head. The bearded-toga-clad man began to speak.

“I certainly will be aware, D-white K Shoot. Let me explain myself. My friends call me Crates. You may address me as King Socrates. It was yesterday that along my journey I had an enlightening conversation with–”

Dwight: “Stop. You can’t just parade around my beet farm telling me that you are Socrates. You’re just Jim in a toga. Well, you can’t fool me, Jim! I thought I told you never to try this again.”

Socrates: “What is a ‘Jim’?”

Dwight: “This is not funny. Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!”

Socrates: “I do not know of whom you speak. I have no knowledge of a ‘Jim’.”

Dwight: “Well, if you’re really Socrates, prove it. What is the greatest form?”

Socrates: “Why, that which is good must be the greatest form.”

Dwight: “You’re right. Jim would never know that. Hello, Socrates. I’m now going to take your picture and post it all over the web to show everyone else how inferior they are. I’m sure they’ve never had Socrates standing next to their beets.”

Socrates: “I see your mouth moving and yet the words which you speak mean nothing at all.”

Dwight: “Just stand still.”

Socrates: “What is that thing?”

Dwight: “Siri, open camera now.”

Siri: ‘Opening camera now, Jedi Master Dwight,’ came the robotic response.

Dwight: “I trained her to call me by my correct title. And you, Socrates, may feel free to refer to me as such, too.”

Socrates: “The black box speaks?” gasped Socrates. “Is this magic? Is it from the gods? And what is a ‘web’? You must be a philosopher.”

Dwight: “Correct. I am. This black box is only the government’s weapon of mass destruction and means of knowing where everyone is and what they are doing, looking at, and searching for. The web is the World Wide Web. It’s a giant black hole of Chinese merchandise and cat pictures just waiting to be bought, seen, and known by all — another weapon of the government to slowly brainwash humanity.”

Socrates: “The government? Do they use this weapon for the good, the true, or the beautiful? This powerful black box must be a god, then?”

Dwight: “False. It is plastic. The government would not know what is good, true, or beautiful if my mother hit them on the head with a cast iron pan.”

Socrates: “Your government is bad, then?”

Dwight: “Correct.”

Socrates: “In order to create an ideal society, you see, we must have superior guardians. The government is essential. That is why we philosophers must teach them what is good, true, and beautiful.”

Dwight: “They won’t listen.”

Socrates: “Then we must have our auxiliaries overthrow them. Have they a strong militia?”

Dwight: “Against me? No. I can take on anyone. When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and discovered she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered I had absorbed the fetus. Do I regret this? No. I believe his tissue has made me stronger and I now have the strength of a man and a little baby.”

Socrates: “So I see. But, to return to what I was previously saying, we must teach the people what is good. In order to do so, we must inform them that their lives must be communal, for the goodness of the whole depends on its parts.”

Dwight: “Question. No, statement. You must follow me inside. Now that your picture is posted on Facebook, the government will be at my doorstep in no time looking for you and asking where I’ve hidden my time machine. That’s none of their business, so we must hide you.”

Socrates: “You keep using these words without any meaning. What is a ‘Facebook’?”

Dwight: “It is the largest social media database known to man. I use it to inform fellow humans how inferior they are. I feel it is my duty to humanity, although it is a heavy one to bear. Here. See for yourself.”

Socrates glanced at the glowing box, on which he read that Jim and Pam got married and Angela Houston changed her profile picture to a picture of a scrawny, frowning cat that appeared to be as old as Socrates himself. He saw that Phyllis was “eating a sandwich,” and Kevin commented, “ooh, what kind?”

Dwight: “See? Utterly inferior. The whole lot of them.”

Socrates: “You are right, Shoot. These people must learn to control their desires and extinguish their unintelligent thoughts in order to reach the realm of the true. Cats and sandwiches are illusory. They are nothing. We must seek that which is beautiful. As a philosopher, is it not burdensome knowing that the earth is full of inferiors, that no one truly knows, and that we philosophers must occasionally lower ourselves to lead this fallen race?”

Dwight: “I couldn’t have said it better myself, Socrates.”

When they reached Dwight’s rustic abode, Dwight led Socrates into the kitchen. “Would you care for any water?” he asked.

Socrates answered, ”I suppose I must. Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.”

After discussing whether the happy man was the most moral, to which Dwight simply replied, “False. The strongest man is the happiest,” the two became fast friends. They bonded over their mutual belief in philosopher male superiority. Dwight moved Socrates into his basement and taught him more about social media and fed him all of the beets he could ever wish for. Meanwhile, the two plotted to overthrow the government in order to lead the people to that which is good, true, and beautiful.

THE END.

The Good, the Bad, and the Hip

the good, the bad, and the hip

By: Seth Heard

African American Vernacular English “…has been called ‘this appalling English dialect… gutter slang… the dialect of the pimp, the idiom of the gang-banger and the street thug.’” Americans as a collective tend to bad-mouth African American slang. Considered synonymous with ghettos and the poor, its reputation is overall a negative one. Ironically, the word bad-mouth is a sample of African American English history within itself. Bad-mouthing originally entered English from the West African language Mandingo. The original word was da jugu which meant slander or abuse, literally a “bad mouth.” It is one of the many words white Americans have borrowed from Black English.

The history of African American English starts with the Creole theory. The Creole theory explains how Black speech came about. This theory states that Black Speech originates in West Africa, at a trading post named Mambolo. Here English speaking slavers brought the English language to the African middle men who sold the slaves. Blacks and whites here communicated in a basic language called pidgin which is a mixture of both their languages. Even today, the language still persists in the area. In that time, there was a fort along the river where slaves were kept before being sent of to various new lands. The slavers mixed the different tribes of Africans so that they would not understand each other’s languages. This was done to stop revolts. The slavers spoke to the slaves in pidgin English. With little choice, the slaves learned it to speak amongst themselves. Slaves started speaking in Black English before they even set shackled foot in America.

Also, some Black speech partially derived from the dialects of their slave owners who hailed from multiple parts of England. One interesting example comes to modern day African American English as saying axe instead of ask. Interestingly enough this difference is firmly based in Old English. The original Old English word was acsian. As time passed the “ks” sound was reversed by English speakers. A reader can find the verb axe, meaning ask, fully conjugated in Chaucer’s Troilous and Criseyde as axe, axen, and axed. The verb appears again four centuries later in the novels of Anthony Trollope. Axe is used by the country squires when they speak in their local Barchester dialect. Even somewhat recently axe was used by white Southerners. The word stopped being so widely used because it became so closely associated with black speakers.

On a smaller scale, the city of Philadelphia bears an interesting story of Black English. It was a haven for freed and runaway slaves. A legislative act in 1780 stated that any slave that came to Pennsylvania and who remained there for six months would be free. The black population grew rapidly in 1790 with the Haiti slave revolt. According to the census for 1790, 10,000 African Americans lived in Pennsylvania.

Though sometimes difficult to identify, Black speech was certainly influential in Philadelphia. Though written evidence is scanty, black people groups would most likely have been employed at sea in the shipping business during this time period. African Americans of the time were more likely to travel broadly and speak multiple languages. There is even a record from 1762, where a runaway slave from the Caribbean lived in Charleston and New York. According to the records he spoke fluent English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

In many ways, with their multilingualism and travel experience, Black communities would be exposed to many different types of culture, which in turn, would have enriched their speaking. It makes sense then, that one of the first readily identifiable words of African origin had to do with shipping. A Georgia planter, writing from Savannah, explained a way to extract sesame oil from seeds. However instead of using the word sesame, a word which had been well established in the English language, the planter employed the term bene. Bene is another West African word. It is probable that the seeds themselves and the manner in which they were cultivated hailed from Africa as well.

Even more than a century later, Black speech was changing the language landscape of the time. Southern blacks started to move north for the plentiful factory jobs that existed there. During the 1890s over ninety percent of African Americans lived in the rural south. Sixty years later over ninety-five percent had moved to the urban north. Here African Americans did not leave behind the stigmas associated with their race.  They lived on “the wrong side of the tracks.” It was during this time period, it seems, that the birth of widespread “ghetto talk” was born.

The speech of the poor blacks began to dominate the language of the people for which they worked. The words and phrases which were picked up into general society often had to do with pleasure. Dance names readily illustrate this principle. Dances like the “cake walk” and the “hootchy-kootchy” were followed by “the shimmy”, then the “jive” and “boogie woogie.” Even earlier musical terms and genres such as “jazz” and “blues” had completely renovated the idea of music. Interestingly enough the word hip, used in popular culture to denote something in vogue or “cool,” probably came from the African word hipikat which in the original language meant someone finely attuned to their environment. Eventually, “Jazz” came to mean having sex, so did “rock’ n’ roll.”  “Boogie woogie” was used as a nickname for syphilis. “Boogie” was a southern word which originally meant prostitute. Even the phrase “shacking up”, which first meant living together in a common-law relationship, came from black speech contemporary with this time period.

It is interesting that the general conception of Black language is jaundiced, synonymous with the ideas of the poor, the uneducated, and the unrefined, yet the culture surrounding it is of such an interest to white America. Some authors even goes so far as to describe it as “one of the paradoxes of American life.” English speaking youth of the later twentieth century embraced black culture as a mark of their generation. Some authors attribute this to the fact that youths find “ . . . a covert prestige or generational protest in imitating black speech.” Put simply, “You wanted to be ‘cool,’ ‘groovy,’ ‘mellow,’ and certainly not ‘square.’ Then there’s ‘to blow your top,’ ‘uptight,’ ‘right on,’ ‘hassle,’ ‘far out,’ ‘bread’ (for money), ‘make it,’ ‘put down,’ ‘ripped off,’ ‘cop out,’ ‘no way.’” Even the English word man is a very early example of Black English first recorded in 1823. All of this is interesting because African American English came to be widely integrated even though its speakers had no military or political dominance. This brand of English originated from a largely poor, often oppressed minority who originally spoke a different language than English, yet it shaped the way Americans talk.

Even more interesting, millions of Americans speak a dialect of English not easily understood by the rest of English speakers. Most of the usage of this dialect occurs in inner cities. It is a speech which is surprisingly consistent from place to place. An African American in Detroit will sound more alike to an African American in Philadelphia than a white American from Detroit will sound like a white American from Philadelphia. Black speech is a national speech. It is the language of the urban ghettos.

This form of speech which so closely ties people from all over the United States together, also serves to alienate the same people from others around them. In 2014,  a study, published by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, explored children who were born into households which spoke African American English. The study’s goal was “to examine the relationships among minority dialect use, language ability, and young African American English (AAE)-speaking children’s understanding and awareness of Mainstream American English (MAE).” Eighty African American English speaking children ages three to eight participated in the study. The ability to notice differences between the two dialects was judged, as was the children’s lexical comprehension of Mainstream American English. “Receptive and expressive vocabulary, receptive syntax, and dialect density were also assessed.” The results displayed that children with larger expressive vocabularies completed the experimental tasks better than did those will smaller vocabularies. The children with higher levels of dialect density, those who spoke mainly African American English, found it harder to comprehend mainstream English. The opposite was true for those with less of a dialect density. “The results suggest that children with high levels of non mainstream dialect use have more difficulty understanding words in MAE . . . .” This could explain why inner city communities maintain their own languages and often live so insularly, they simply understand each other. Further, they have trouble understanding those who speak outside of their dialect. This could explain why African American English has continued to flourish throughout America, it is a lingua franca of sorts.

From its very inception in the slave prisons of West Africa to the modern day inner cities of the United States, African American English has a colorful and unique history. It has bled into the American vernacular seamlessly and often unnoticeably. English would be a very different language without the influence of African American English.

 


 

Works Cited

Bailey, Richard W. Speaking American: A History of English in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ©2012.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. u.s. ed. New York: Arcade Pub., 2004.

Edwards, Jan, Megan Gross, Jianshen Chen, Maryellen MacDonald, David Kaplan, and Megan Brown. “Dialect Awareness and Lexical Comprehension of Mainstream American English in African American English-Speaking Children.” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 57, no. 5 (Oct. 2014): 1883. Accessed February 25, 2015. http:// go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE           %7CA386919932&v=2.1&u=tel_s_tsla&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=e284199e6ae4f 8b734de026a4a50537c.

MacNeil, Robert, and William Cran. Do You Speak American? A Companion to the Pbs Television Series. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2005.

The Bus Stop

stockmen

As I boarded the bus, the notion struck me that I had forgotten something significant. I inched down the aisle, hoping I could find a seat not too far back, hoping my worry didn’t show on my face. What had I forgotten? I ran through my morning checklist, even as I spotted an empty window seat by a preoccupied businessman. His gray eyes were unfocused, and I felt half-tempted to wave my hand in front of him. I settled for speaking instead.
“Excuse me?”
No response. People tend not to hear me the first time.
“Sir? Excuse me.”
By now, three or four people had clustered behind me, peering beyond me, looking for seats of their own. I pressed myself against the side of the seatback in front of the man as they squeezed past. The motion caught his attention, and he shook his head slightly, as if to call his mind back to the discomfort and bustle of the bus.
“Yes?”
“Yes.” Even as I said it, I knew it sounded stupid, and it continued to sound stupid in the answering silence. “Sorry, I mean – ”
He nodded toward the open seat. “Yeah, you can sit there.”
“Thanks.”
I started to shuffle past his knees, but his legs were long and his briefcase sat on the floor in front of his feet. He rolled his eyes and stood up. Avoiding eye-contact, I slipped into the far seat and stared out the window at the foggy bus stop. Everyone leaving the bus had cleared out except a small boy. His hair struck me at first – white-blond and unkempt – but as he looked down the length of the bus, his dark eyes took me by surprise even as they held my gaze.
“Huh,” said the man.
The noise brought my thoughts back inside as I instinctively glanced at him. He too was watching the boy. I looked out the window again, but the boy had turned his focus to the front of the bus. The doors closed, and the motor shuddered to life again. We pulled away. I watched the bus stop, and with it the child, disappear into the fog even as the window steamed up. The sensation of forgetfulness returned, so I drew patterns on the window with my pinky finger. Figure eights turned into vines and leaves, which spiralled into words.
“Rosemary? That your name or something?”
I had forgotten that I was on a crowded bus for the moment. “Something.” It struck me that I’d already been a bit of an inconvenience for the man next to me, and I felt adequately guilty enough to try explaining myself. “My baby’s name – maybe. I dunno.” I nearly started to tell him about the appointment today but decided not to.
Even with my focus still on the window, I knew he was considering my abdomen. “I’m not showing yet.” I started to wipe away the letters one at a time with my left hand, so he would see my rings, but – oh. That was it. That was what I forgot. I had been washing breakfast dishes, not a common occurrence. Usually I just leave them to soak until I come home again. But I had made French toast and the last slice had burned and stuck to the supposedly-non-stick pan. So, off came the rings. By the time I had made decent headway on the layer of burnt eggs and bread, I was already running late. Of course it would happen today, when I was meeting Chris.
I switched hands even as I heard the man say “huh” again, and my left thumb began to trace the spot where my rings usually sat. The skin felt unfamiliar; my hand felt lighter. I didn’t want to think about that. Instead, I let myself wonder if “huh” was his default sound, or if he only made it in judgment, and if so, what in the world he had against the lone child at the bus stop. I wished I was back at the bus stop, far away from the heat and the noise and the opinions of strangers.
He was still studying my remaining window sketches, head tilted. “It’s a good name.”
I sighed, giving up on avoiding conversation with this determined small-talker. “Yes, I’ve always liked it.”
“My next-door neighbor growing up was named Rosemary, but we all called her Mare.” His eyes grew unfocused again. “She could run faster than anyone our age and knew more ghost stories than I’ve ever heard.” He trailed off, quiet and still for a few moments. Then, he blinked and jerked his head, shaking himself back to the present. “It’s a good name,” he repeated.
I didn’t reply, and he didn’t try again. The bus slowed to a stop, the doors slid open, and few people got up to hurry down the aisle. No one new got on, but when I glanced out the window, a shock of white-blond hair among the departing passengers caught my eye. I wiped away the smudges on the pane to see more clearly, and sure enough, it was the boy again. But how? I had seen him stay behind at the last stop. His gaze met mine, and he smiled slightly. I was too confused to smile back, but as the bus pulled away I wished I had. I kept watching as the fog and increasing distance swallowed him again, deliberately not caring that my cheek was pressed up against the filthy window.
“What is it?”
I looked up. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Try me.”
For the first time since getting on the bus, I looked at him. Really looked. He seemed to be in his late forties, or thereabouts, with gray in his thinning hair and on the fringes of his beard. Earlier, I had thought his eyes were gray too, but I was mistaken. They were pale blue, so light they were almost eerie. His knuckly hands fiddled with his jacket buttons, some of which were on the verge of falling off. I couldn’t help noticing he wasn’t wearing any rings either.
“Did you see that boy at the stop before this one? The one where I got on, I mean.”
“The one all by himself?”
“Yeah, him.”
I waited for him to ask what my point was, but he just watched me attentively. I went on. “He was at this stop too.”
He nodded. “And the stop before.”
“Wait, what? Why didn’t you say something at the last stop then?”
“You didn’t seem to be in a talkative mood.”
He had a point. I considered dropping the subject, since apparently I wasn’t ‘in a talkative mood,’ but I was too curious about the boy, and my seatmate seemed to have information that I didn’t. “So you saw him three times?”
“Yes. See, I got on the stop before you, but I don’t remember noticing him until I was on the bus. Then, of course, I didn’t think much of it, but at the next stop, I was surprised. Didn’t think anyone could run that far and that fast and not look winded, even a teenager.”
“A teenager? Sorry, I’m talking about a young boy, barely six, I’d say. I noticed him right away because he looked far too young to be by himself.”
“But that’s impossible,” the man insisted. “There was only one person standing around at the last stop and that was a teenager.”
I shivered, maybe from the cold, maybe from the apprehension of something incomprehensible. “Describe him?”
“Tall, skinny, barefoot. Hair practically white, eyes so dark they looked black.”
“That’s who I saw, I think. Only, younger, of course. Much younger.”
We sat in silence for a moment, unwilling to attempt to explain that which we already knew to be inexplicable. He flipped the handle on his briefcase from side to side, catching it each time before it could quite land against the leather. I drew zig-zags on the once-more foggy window with the tip of my fingernail. The thin lines turned into shaggy, unkempt hair framing a young face, and I was struck by a resemblance. While I hadn’t perfectly captured the likeness of the strange boy, my sketch looked remarkably like someone I had known in elementary school. His family had moved away the summer before we started third grade, but before then we had been classmates, neighbors, friends. I hadn’t heard from him since, or really thought of him until now. I wondered where he was, what his life was like, what his name was. I’ve always been bad at names.
“Louis,” I said, not realizing I said it aloud.
“That’s my son’s name,” the man remarked, as if that had anything to do with me.
“That’s nice.”
“You really are quite rude, you know.”
I rolled my eyes. “Pardon me for not wanting to hear your life story.”
He shifted away from me in his seat. I leaned against the window again and exhaled, the steam from my breath erasing the face I’d drawn. The chilly glass against my cheek started to cool my temper. “Sorry. I guess.”
He didn’t reply.
I tried again. “That was rude of me.” The bus halted once more. “Also this is my stop.”
He stood up and let me slide out. My foot knocked against his briefcase and he winced.
“Sorry.”
As I started toward the front of the bus, buttoning up my coat to face the cold, he called out, “It’s a good name.”
I turned. “Which one?”
He shrugged. “Either.”
“Huh,” I said.
I was the last off the bus, and the doors shut behind me. Hesitantly, I looked to my right and there he was.
The bus was starting to move, but I located the window I had been sitting by, and spotted my erstwhile companion. He had shifted over into the window seat and was waving at me. Or perhaps, he was waving at the boy, who was waving back. I blinked, and the boy’s form shifted for a instance from a six-year-old’s frame to that of a teenager and back again. As the departing bus’ taillights seemed to grow smaller, closer, fuzzier through the fog, the boy turned to me. I took a step away.
“Lacey!” someone called.
“Chris,” I said, relieved. He came up to me, grinning. His cheeks were redder than ever, and I liked how the wind made his eyes brighter.
“Ready?” he said, putting his arm around me.
I tucked my left hand into my coat pocket. “Ready.”
We walked off, leaving the bus stop behind, with the boy and all that he might have meant. I don’t even know if Chris saw him. I never asked, and I made a point of never riding that bus again either.