Friday, March 18, 2011

Dear Somebody

Nobody writes letters anymore.  Nobody.  Ever.  It's a shame, really, because you can say so much in a letter that you can't say any other way.  I have five correspondents from camp with a rich epistolary tradition.  Now, here are the top five reasons to write letters more often.

  1. Complete emoticon freedom
:)  :(  ;) :D :P @@@@:)  (The last one is Marge Simpson.)  That is about the range of emotions you can cover in a text message or an IM.  On the other hand, I tend to draw doodles on my letters.  If you want to show that you are angry about something in a letter to a friend, you can draw a bull with steam coming out of its nose if you so desire.  Can you do that in a text message?  I think not.
     2.  Getting mail is exciting

Even in the digital age, it's still fun to get mail.  Whether it be a package, a new National Geographic, a birthday card, or a letter, we all look through the mass of mostly junk mail and bills to find something addressed to us.  And with so many "instant" forms of communication around, anticipating a letter is a rare, satisfying form of delayed gratification.

    3.  Confusing postal workers is fun

I love addressing letters to the correct address, but not the correct name of the person who lives there.  My friends and I all have Harry Potter-themed nicknames, and I love imagining the look on the postman's face when he tries to deliver a letter to Remus Lupin.  Do you know what else is fun?  Covering the entire envelope with stamps like the Weasleys did in Harry Potter (and the Goblet of Fire, I think.)

    4.  Physicality

We have not yet figured out how to make transporters.  (So don't beam me up, Scotty.)  Therefore, the only way my friend in Houston can send me a batch of cookies is through the mail.  I usually send little trinkets with my letters, and one of my friends burned me a CD once and sent it to me.  Additionally, letters themselves are delightfully tangible.  I keep all of mine in a folder, and I take them out and look at them from time to time.

    5.  A letter is a precious bond you share with someone metaphorically close to you, but physically far away.

Letters are like a private but slow conversation.  Think about this.  On the phone, others can hear what is said on your end, and IM conversations can be distracted and trivial since we usually surf the web at the same time.  A letter, oppositely, is both private and mindful.  I think if one of my friends died right now, I'd much rather have a letter she wrote to me than a record of her call history.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


If you live in Rocky Mount or adjacent areas, come to one of the final performances of Gypsy at the Imperial Center at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday or at 2:00 on Sunday.  We have a fantastic cast and a beautiful set.  It is a long show, but it's worth every minute.

Here's a little plot synopsis in case you want to know what it's about.  The show opens at a kiddie talent show, where headstrong stage mother Mama Rose barges in on the act of her two daughters, June and Louise.  June is talented and lively, whereas Louise is the quiet one.  (Sing out, Louise!)  We follow the family as they travel across the country, building up their act with the help of Herbie, their manager and Rose's romantic interest.  But when June runs off and gets married, the act falls apart and gets booked in burlesque, where Louise becomes the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.  Throughout all this, Rose's relationship with her daughters becomes increasingly strained, and her true motivation for pushing them so hard is revealed at the end.  But don't worry, there's a hopeful, if not happy ending.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Serial Comma Killer and Culling the Herd

Yesterday I was introduced to a punctuation controversy I had never encountered before--the serial comma.  Consider the following sentence, if you will.
"Mary, Peter and Josh went to the store to buy some bread."
This is how I would write that sentence.
"Mary, Peter, and Josh went to the store to buy some bread."
Basically, a serial comma is a comma that immediately follows the penultimate item in a series.  According to my English teacher, it is not good grammar to use them.  This prompted me to do a little Wikipedia reading and credible source follow-up.  It is conventional to use serial commas in everyday writing (which explains why I use them impulsively), but they are less common in British English and in journalism.  We just had a writing test at school with a possibility of an editorial or article format, so that is probably why my teacher brought it up; nevertheless, I like serial commas.  I remember eating out at a restaurant once and looking at a menu that read, under the specialty sodas heading, "grape, cherry, orange and cream".  Since menus sometimes leave out conjunctions altogether, I didn't know if it meant there were orange sodas and cream sodas, or if there was a particular soda that was both creamy and orange-y.  In a final testament to the ambiguity that abounds when serial commas go missing, there's somewhat of an urban legend of a writer who dedicated her book "to my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

In other news, apparently my school library has to throw out a ton of books that don't have recent enough copyright dates, yet some of them are classic fiction books that have been out of print for ages!  This is absurd!  I rescued a box full of them today and will probably go back for more, but too many books will still tragically go to waste.  At least I got my own copy of Heart of Darkness out of it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Game is Addictive

Happy Saturday y'all.  I just spent my morning playing Just Dance 2 on my Wii.  This is game that you can either a) play when you're home alone or b) play with a group of friends because if played near non-participants, it will make you feel like a bouncing idiot.  (Just kidding, I'm just self-conscious.)  It is a pretty decent work-out though, but only if you play the harder songs.  It is also really easy to cheat at if you move the arm holding the controller and nothing else, but then you're just no fun anymore, and you haven't spotted any camels.  (If you got that, you have good taste in British comedy.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Lexicon of Quack Science

From the Ancient Greece to about the 19th century, we didn't have the kind of understanding of the human body we do today.  The idea that was commonly held to be true was that the body was made of four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.  When all of the humors were in perfect proportion, you were healthy, but if they were out of whack and one was more abundant than another, you were sick.  This led to the practice of bloodletting, intentionally making a patient bleed to re-balance the humors.  Now, I can understand how this went on in the religious and not-so-innovative Dark Ages, but why didn't the Greeks look at a bloody body on a battlefield, look at a sick person, and think, "Hmm, maybe blood loss doesn't actually help that much."  Come on, Greeks!  We got our democracy from you!  That and water displacement.

Anyway, I digress.  What good came out of this bogus medicine was an interesting set of descriptors that all go back to Latin and Greek.  Blood was thought to cause a red, healthy pigmentation (this at least is kind of true) and a happy disposition, so from the Latin "sanguin-", or blood, we get sanguine, a word that you can use to describe those really cheerful people you want to punch in the morning before you've had your coffee.

From phlegm, we get the word "phlegmatic" which means stoic, calm, or unemotional.  Mr. Spock is phlegmatic, and his blood is green.  He would have died had he lived in the Dark Ages.

The Greek word for bile is "chol."  Black bile= melan (black, as in melanin) + chol = melancholy.  A melancholic person is gloomy, depressed, and not fun to be around.

Yellow bile is sort of just bile.  Hence, we have the word "choleric" which means bad-tempered or irritable.  Bile is produced by the liver, so perhaps if you're angry you should down a couple drinks to try to kill it.  Unless you're an angry drunk.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Cannot Exist


I have not seen this movie, but the premise is enough to give me a brain aneurysm.  It's Romeo and Juliet... with gnomes.  Why?!?! 

I am by no means a Shakespeare purist.  I think many of his plays can and should be adapted to new settings (I've seen A Comedy of Errors done in the Old West before), but this is just stupid.  On the other hand, it could be endearing and true to the source material, but from the reviews I've read, probably not.  Elton John did do the soundtrack, though, so it can't be too bad.

I wonder what cute Shakespeare updates for kids I can think up...

  1. Twelfth Night... with clownfish!  It takes the gender-bendery to the next level!
  2. Othello... with Star-Bellied Sneetches!
  3. Hamlet... with lions--wait, never mind.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Journey to D.C.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington D.C.
Shalom, guys!

So, I just got back from a pilgrimage with my church to D.C.  (Quick tangent: of all D.C. has to offer, why is Duke Ellington on its quarter?)  I haven't seen the tombs of any saints, as in a traditional pilgrimage, but I have come back glad to be an Episcopalian.  Here's why.

Yeah, I don't know what that means either.

Basically, the purpose of the trip was to expose ourselves other faiths and places of worship.  Working backwards in the order visited, the above excerpt is from one of St. Nicholas's church programs.  St. Nicholas is a Russian Orthodox church, and the entire service was in Russian!  (Or Slavonic, says the program; I won't pretend to know much about these languages.)  They're into incense, candles, icons that you're supposed to kiss, and crossing your self while bowing about a bajillion times.  Even if I did understand the service, I still don't think I would feel at home there.  People came and went throughout the service, and the priest didn't address the congregation for most of the time we attended.  And most importantly, Orthodox churches put a lot of emphasis on God's transcendence and divinity, and not so much on Jesus's humanity.  I like some balance there.

The previous evening, we went to a Catholic service.  Episcopalians are sort of like Catholic-Protestants, so this wasn't so different.  I did find out that I don't like airplane hangar-sized churches, though.  In the morning, we went to the National Cathedral, which took almost a century to build and has beautiful stained glass windows.  Before that, we visited a mosque, wore hijabs (I can explain--whether or not you're a Muslim, women have to cover their heads in a mosque), and did not get to talk to an imam.  That makes this the second time my attempt to understand Islam has been foiled, the first being at TIP.  

Work it, Stephanie.

Our synagogue experience was pretty neat; the reform service was nice and easy on us Hebrew-lacking Episcopalians.  There was a pretty unorthodox thing going on that night--interpretive dance.  Overall, I was pretty comfortable and at home there, except for the no Jesus part.  Oh, and small children wearing yarmulkes are adorable.

Etymology tie-in for the night: The word "pilgrim" comes from the Latin "peregrinus" for "foreigner," from peregre, "from abroad."  Dunno, I guess peregrine falcons are foreigners to the ground?  And then there's Peregrine Took, or Took from abroad.  (Fool of a Took!)  For more information, click here.

Top Eight Words That Are Fun to Say

Some words just roll off the tongue so perfectly that you'll want to say them over and over again, or three times fast.  Such words can be real stinkers for me because I won't remember what they actually mean.  However, some sound like what they describe in a quasi-onomatopoeia sort of way.  In any case, enrich your vocabulary with these gems and impress your friends.

  1. lugubrious (adj.)- sounding or looking sad and dismal, lug-oo-bree-us.  Maybe Eeyore wouldn't be so lugubrious if he got a better architect for his house.  
  2. kerfuffle (n.)- a commotion or fuss, esp. one caused by conflicting views.  This budget problem in Wisconsin is causing quite a kerfuffle.  I guess there wasn't enough cheese to go around.
  3. aplomb (n.)- self-confidence or assurance, esp. when in a demanding situation.  Harry snagged the golden snitch with aplomb.
  4. corpulent (adj.)- fat.  I know an acting warm-up that contains the line "four corpulent porpoises," but who wants to think about fat dolphins?
  5. blasé (adj.)-unimpressed or indifferent to something because one has experienced or seen it so often before.  Hipsters are blasé about everything.
  6. brouhaha (n.)- a noisy and overexcited critical response, display of interest, or trail of publicity.  What's all this brouhaha about the Justin Bieber movie?  Oh, never mind.  It's just among pre-teens.  Or at least it should be.
  7. rutabaga (n.)- a large, round, yellow-fleshed root that is eaten as a vegetable.  Drop the Twinkie you corpulent slob; have a rutabaga.
  8. *pamplemousse- yeah, yeah it's French for grapefruit, and it shouldn't count, but it is so fun to say!
All definitions taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary.