Monthly Archives: October 2012


How about a writerly, postmodern ghost story for Halloween?

Kind of.

It’s my latest contribution to CASE Magazine.


my neighborhood after sandy

Yesterday, Hurricane Sandy paid a visit to New York City and blasted through midtown and downtown in true tourist style.  She stopped by my neighborhood, too – really just brushed by.  Today I went outside for the first time in over 24 hours to take some “after” pictures.  I share some of them here simply to say, “This is what happened in my neighborhood, and isn’t it strangely mundane.”  I have divided the photos into two categories: (1) broken stuff and (2) people doing stuff.

Today I stood in the middle of the FDR drive.

updates from the eye of the storm

Hurricane Sandy, the feared Frankenstorm, has arrived.  She has become a nationwide trend on twitter, notably trailing the top trend of the moment, #YoFollowBackDaddyFlocka.  Although I’m not sure how Hurricane Photos ended up among twitters that I already follow, it may be my current favorite source of updates.  As Sandy leaves New York’s dogs at a loss, I am simply thankful that, for the time being at least, my home and neighborhood still have power.

Priorities leading up to Sandy’s landfall include, for most of us, grocery shopping, testing the flashlights, and figuring out what other household appliances can take batteries.  What happens when you’ve got time to spare, though?  Well, if you’re not living in an evacuation zone, you might spend the last few hours before public transit shuts down in the Whitney, which is exactly what I did yesterday thanks to free admission.  Each of the three exhibits I had time to see seemed to have a linguistic element or a comment to make about the way Americans use language.  Most notable in its linguistic commentary, though, was the Signs & Symbols exhibit of 1940s and 50s American artwork.

A highly curated exhibit, Signs & Symbols focuses not on artistic storytelling, but on the artist as scientist or anthropologist, each room suggesting a different kind of study or linguistic development.  While I sometimes felt the presence of the curator was a little overwhelming, I also appreciated the editorial angle of the exhibit.  Today, without notes or visual references, I can only recall one piece particularly clearly… and I can’t remember the title or the artist.  (If I don’t write something down, I have little hope of remembering it…)

The piece itself is a small rectangular collage: a rectangular off-white base, with a smaller rectangle of pink tissue paper centered on the base, containing a grid of even smaller rectangular paper elements of various colors – three rows, four columns.  The wall text insisted upon the rhythm of the piece and suggested its relationship to the sonnet form (which the artist had apparently worked with in prior writing projects).

The leap from somewhat-structured, gridlike collage to sonnet seemed a bit vast for me… and I was ready to throw my hands up at the overwrought argument of the exhibit, when I took a moment to count the elements of the collage.  Two larger base pieces, and a three by four grid.  Two plus twelve.  Fourteen.  Okay, I get it.  Although I would still hesitate to agree with the analysis of the wall text, I will say that I enjoy this imagining of a sonnet.  A Shakespearian sonnet comprises twelve rhyming lines of the abab/cdcd/etc variety, which come to rest on a final couplet.  It follows a rigid structure, although there is still room for color and embellishment.

I appreciated the moments of linguistic synesthesia Signs & Symbols managed to create… and I am beginning to wonder even more about the connection between language learning and our other senses.

Where does language come from? –

Where does language come from? –

Plato and de Saussure are doing a little dance together, I think.

study abroad: writing the personal statement

Dear Prospective World Travelers and Global Students,

As you collect your materials for your study abroad applications, which are probably due presently, you are also drafting your personal statement.  Many of you are writing in your language of study.  Some of you are terrified.

For once, I will refrain from posting a list or creating a formula that will help you perfect your personal statement.  A list would be unhelpful and a formula would be dishonest.  Instead, I will offer you a single piece of advice: WRITE. IT. YOURSELF.

To back up, I don’t think any of you are plagiarists and this is not an indictment.  In fact, you are probably most guilty of being over-conscientious.  Some of you probably have friends who speak French, Spanish, German, and will ask them to edit your work.  You should, in all your communication, check that your readers understand you and work tirelessly to unite word and idea.  You should not, however, ask your knowledgeable friends to help you write a more authentic-sounding language.

You are not a native speaker, and that’s okay.  In fact, it’s great!  Your personal statement is a forum for you to demonstrate your drive to learn a language, not your mastery of it… which brings me to another key piece of advice: MAKE. MISTAKES.

I mean, obviously, don’t make mistakes on purpose, but don’t be afraid of them either.  Say what you can using what you know; this method occasionally produces awkward results, but it demonstrates your desire to think in a language rather than to translate to a language.  When applying to a study abroad program that includes study of a foreign language, define yourself as a student and a curious mind – not an expert.

You defeat yourself when you falsely represent your ability.  About halfway through my semester abroad I discovered that, unbeknownst to me, a significant portion of my cohort had cheated on the French placement exam our program had administered during orientation.  The results, for those who placed into higher French classes, were unfavorable and even humiliating.  After seeming to breeze through the exam, they struggled in their classes.  Don’t be ashamed of your ability, and don’t ever be afraid to say, “I’m still learning.”  Everyone is.

Even the most confident people can experience insecurity when speaking a foreign language.  We become vulnerable when we risk error, so remember that, regardless of experience, everyone is at least a little terrified.

Bon courage!



linking about stuff

Hello friends.  Yesterday was a rough day.  Today is a little better… mainly because today’s article on Case builds a really subtle framework that we can use to think about my haphazard observations about vulgarity.  Not to mention, Salon just posted an article that further unites these discourses, positing slang as a universal language.

What I like about all of these articles is that slang becomes both a personal identifier and a geographical mechanism.  Displaying a knowledge of certain pockets of slang might render me an insider in New York and an outsider in Chicago.  Using one kind of language at home and another outside might organize our lives – a kind of social bilingualism.

Speaking of shared languages (so good at transitions), I have one more link to share.  Emue is a small publishing outfit whose name is an acronym for Édition Multiculturelle Équitable.  Founded by a French expat in Australia, Emue wants to share French as a literary language, wants to publish authors who write in French, regardless of cultural or linguistic upbringing.  Be still my Comp Lit heart.  Given the synchronicity of our sensibilities, I was probably always fated to join the very international Emue team… and I am very excited about the possibilities for Emue in the US.  So check us out, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter!

we have a cognate for that

If you were me this weekend, you spent your Friday night like this: playing iPad games, working through the last chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and leafing through someone else’s copy of French Elle.  In other words: babysitting.  Great night.  The kid is a nerd-tastic dream who goes to sleep before 9pm, leaving me plenty of time for both necessary and unnecessary reading.

I realize that many of my recent posts have been quasi responses to various articles I have read (from more reputable sources than this blog, for example), but at the risk of monotony, I offer you one more post in which I draw inspiration from the press, or in this case, la presse.

The texture and length of my hair have, for my entire life, proven obstacles in my ongoing quest to pull off wearing a hat.  A girl can dream, though, abetted by the promises of styling tips in the outdated copies of Marie Claire scattered throughout the waiting room at the oral surgeon’s office.  French Elle promised similar hope, offering an article on chapeaux and their mode d’emploi.  Since riding helmets and soldier hats featured prominently among Elle‘s style choices, I swiftly discerned that this particular guide would have little to no effect on my wardrobe.  I continued to read anyway, discovering one, and then a smattering of English cognates.

Actually, the term cognate implies a shared root, etymology that converges if you trace it back far enough.  In this case, I’m talking more about straight up stealing.

A list of Offenses

  • When wearing a riding helmet (for style, obvi), Elle suggests casually tossing on a pair of pumps over socks “parce qu’on est fun.”*
  • The primary pitfall of wearing a bomber hat, Elle cautions, is “du too much justement.”
  • A colored blazer is the key to pulling of a beret in a look that one could only describe as “très Ivy League.”
  • I don’t even know if it’s fair to call them out for anything they say about the stetson hat.  Don’t you have to say something about Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill?

For years decades centuries, the Académie française has battled the encroachment of anglicisms and foreign influence, inventing neologisms for the sake of preserving un Français français.  Technology provides perhaps the largest contemporary inroad for anglophone influence; as innovations pour out of silicone valley so do all sorts of new terms.  Of course, even some of the most basic words are universal.  In France, the Internet is still l’Internet.  And email by any other name is still email.  The Académie has proposed alternatives, though, one of my favorites being the clunky “courriel électronique” in lieu of “email” or “mail.”

Because so much of the culture of technology radiates from the United States, the appropriation of English words seems natural.  After all, these words are new for us as well.  Who would have even known how to pronounce “ereader” 20 or 30 years ago?  How global, then, for us to share our words as we grow and develop together, as a whole world (vom).

If we share words that emerge from developing industries, though, I really want to know how France lost its grasp on the fashion industry, when for so long French has informed our understanding of luxury – from haute couture to fois gras.  Perhaps “Frenchifying” English words is enough of an innovation, these days.  No idea is a new idea anyway, right?

*All emphasis is my own.