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Deadlines

Deadlines. What a word ! Get it finished by then … or you’re … cooked!

Whether you set deadlines for yourself, or whether someone else sets them for you,  there they are. You can pick any date, any time of day … and you’ve got one ! A deadline. A date and time to be met, to be respected.

Mothers are among the first deadline-makers in our lives. From very, very early on in our childhoods we heard threats about the risks of not finishing on time : «No dessert until you finish your spinach! » or «If you aren’t ready in 5 minutes, we’re leaving without you!» «Time for your bath!»

Fathers could be just as bad but they often used just one pronoun for the word « deadline. » That word was « NOW» as in the imperative : « Listen to your mother. Now ! » (Or else !)

In our carefree worlds as children, we didn’t need to give ourselves deadlines. Somehow or another, nothing was so important that it had to be done, learnt, or finished by bedtime.

Then came school. And we began to encounter authority: the teacher, the one who taught Latin or Spanish or  … English or math … or in fact, anything that required some effort AFTER school.  In one word : homework.

« WORK » the beginning of the end! Not only the imperatives of  « You MUST » but, on top of that, « by Tomorrow!, Capital T. » « By Thursday.» Or else …

As we grew out of childhood and into adolescence and as we managed to meet deadlines or skirt them,  we learnt that a lot of adults were in fact « bluffing » about the dire consequences of not respecting deadlines.

Sometimes that was out of weakness … often, a reprieve, a warning, or the grace of forgiving kindness.

As we matured, we integrated the notion of deadlines into our mental routines. We put them on our agendas and calendars. We realized that they were everywhere. Your car needed its tune-up every 10 000 miles … you needed a tetanus vaccination one year and then again and then every 10 … And … yes… there was a deadline for sending in applications to schools or for work …  not to mention that in additon to your mother and and your father, you had an uncle too … and your Uncle Sam set a date for filing your tax return, too. And for paying.

While others plot out the deadlines they want us to observe, we make our own. Setting our own deadlines and setting deadlines for others is, in fact, the most human of activities. We like to do this so much that we not only set deadlines…. We have learnt to reset them, too. Over and over again. Free choice. Arbitrary? That’s not so sure.

We choose a date, a time, freely. And then we’re free to respect it or not.  We’re free to determine the consequences, set the sanctions and rewards, apply them … or not.

What time is it? 8:15 ? Already! I’d better finish this and post it before it’s too late!

Oh, what a powerful thing a deadline is!

Newsletter – July 20, 2011

My mother has always had a good way of summing up situations. When something didn’t turn out as expected … and this was the case more often than not in our family, she’d come out with this one:

“It’s a blessing in disguise.”

I think she must have used it after we had a fire in our house in Gary, Indiana when I was a child. She probably didn’t telephone my father and announce the blessing as the firemen were putting out the blaze but after the disaster … there was no choice but to  have a brand new kitchen rebuilt and installed.  The fire? A blessing in disguise.

About a month ago, I looked out my window … and what did I see? Rather, what didn’t I see? It took me a minute to look twice, and then a third time. My bicycle had disappeared … Oh dear! I couldn’t believe it. Stolen. I loved my bicycle. It wasn’t a fancy one but it had taken me many a mile and I took good care of it, too. Catastrophic? No…but I have to say that I really love the new bike I’m riding.

Life’s like that. If you let it be. And that was the name of one of the Beatle’s greatest hits, wasn’t it?

A number of years ago, I was traveling with my two daughters from Savannah back to Paris and, due to stormy summer weather in Savannah, our plane was delayed. By the time we reached Atlanta, the connecting flight to Paris has already left the ground … and … as the luggage had flown without us … we were put up in a very nice hotel and provided with an indemnity for new bathing suits so that we could enjoy the pool …

I just heard on the radio that the annual summer strike planned at Air France is for July 31st and August 1st – among the busiest days of the year as people go on summer vacation.

Surely, for the other airlines … and some of us … in one way or another,
this, too, can only be seen as another …

“Blessing in d’skies.”

 



Newsletter: July 3, 2011 – Look before you leap!

One of the more curious aspects of the human being is a taste for zeal. I haven’t looked this up in the dictionary but it seems to me to be expressed by a prefix we often use denoting excess: over.  Which has to do with the idea of “too much” “too many,” “too far,” in short … “too …”

“Overdoing it” could mean going too far, too fast. Providing too much. Too much, too fast.  Answering an unasked question with outrageous action. With an outrageous abuse of power.

Where’s the benchmark? the standard? the reference?

Apparently when the ego feels it’s safe to venture (hence, adventure) out with unhindered, non-defensive aggressivity and in the name of some pretext (read: reason, justification) be it security, law and order, policy, religion, country or tribe or heaven forbid, “justice” … we’re headed for trouble. Common sense has been subjected to some other “idea, some other pulsion.”

Speaking of ideas, years ago, Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of our time wrote two essays. One was entitled: “Ideas which have helped mankind,” and the other, “Ideas which have harmed mankind.” Probably went out of print … with vinyl 33s.  My father used to say “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

“I’m right ….  You’re wrong.” It seems to me that this is comparable to the law of the wild west:  “Shoot first, ask later…” And I’m not denying that this may be a means to survival, even a justified one in some case – albeit a potentially dangerous one!

How often do we say:  “You’re right….I’m wrong.”  Same words. Different order. This could be like … asking first.

Acting with enthusiasm is like a fresh morning.  Zeal? More like the militia sneaking out in the dark.

Moral of the story: Look before you leap!

Enjoy the 4th – even if you’re in Minnesota – and thanks for reading The Paris Savannah Connection.

Newsletter: 10 June, 2011 – free

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that native English speakers are lazier than anyone else … but in general, if we’re given the opportunity to take a short-cut, find an easier way of doing something or choosing between a short word and a long one, we opt for the route of least resistance, the most effort-free (effortless?) path … and that even when it doesn’t take us to our intended destination.

We love the idea of freedom and the ease and brevity of the word

free

Free in the sense that you get something for nothing – a situation which I, personally,  haven’t yet encountered – but which is promised day in and day out.

dash(-)free = without = ((sans)) and that’s easy enough, isn’t it?

By dash-free, I mean without … whatever comes before the dash.

A handier suffix would be hard to find. Advertisers love it: Because we are warned that sugar will shorten our natural lives,  “sugar-free” is the obvious weapon for the account exec.
.
Airports, especially the one in Dubai, I’m told base their economies on it: “duty free.” In that one, the dash vanished! dutyfree has become,  in fact, dashfree… how about trouble-free? worry-free? oil-free? phone-free?  These all carry the notion of not having a weight to carry … so of course, being problem-free. Yes, you can actually feel the freedom.

But not everything can be dash(-)freed. But no need to fear, the solution is near. How?  … what’s more? the other suffix: dash(-)less. This is the other way to say “without” without saying it. Yes, -less, is often in fact, really dashless: … as in weightless; homeless; or … blameless … even spotless …. or when something is worth so much that it cannot be given a monetary value … why, it’s priceless!

Like today. Can’t put a value on a day or night!  If only we could always be … as careless … no, not so careless …. as … just simply … carefree!

Newsletter: 27 April, 2011

Who values life more than the French? Who else has an expression ingrained in the language which says:  “Il n’y a pas mort d’homme.”

Literally, this could be translated as ‘No one died from it.” but it is most usually applied to put a situation in perspective and show that whatever happened, though not the positive, desired result, isn’t catastrophic.

In a world where there seems to be an immature tendency towards sensationalism, where the minor masquerades as the major and in which we are shocked numb by the repetition of history, this little expression which says “OK, we’ll get over it – It could have been worse” puts everything in its right perspective.

“Yes, it could have been worse.”

“Could have been better… Could have been worse.”

In any case, it wasn’t so serious that someone lost what was most precious; his or her life; the life of a loved, cherished one.

We tried … We didn’t succeed … but … so what? You’re still here and kicking, aren’t you? And so am I!

“Ce n’est pas grave.” It’s just not so serious. No need to get upset over it. No need to fret, to worry, to pout, to complain, to cry, to weep. It’s not the end of the the world.

And certainly no cause for mourning.

In French, there’s another saying that says:

“Il faut appeler un chat un chat.”

Newsletter: 17 April 2011

As some of you know,  I’ve developed a vey specific method to deal with a fundamental language issue: forgetfulness.

The method is simple enough. We start with a word or a concept that’s used in everyday speech. It can be an adjective like “hot,” a verb like “to sit down” or even an adverb like “forward” or a preposition like “on.” It could also be a noun like “ceiling” or “night” or a pronoun like “us” or “here.”

What we then do is explore our memories for the opposites of these words. Sometimes the contrary comes instantaneously while for others, it takes a moment or two and for some, we just can’t find them even though we … “know” them.

Where are these words we can’t find?

Assuming they’re not new, never-encountered words but merely inactive or latent, are they just lost in our memories – covered in dust, or rusty … like an old bicycle in the back of the garage or is there some other psycho-linguistic reason we can’t recall them? Do we know them … but ignore them?

It seems that most of the time, these words we “know” but can’t remember – or seem to have forgotten – have fallen asleep … and like Sleeping Beauty who wakes up with a kiss from her Prince Charming, only need their complementary partners, their “other halves” to wake them up and come back to life!

And when this waking up happens, we’re bringing something up from our unconscious to our consciousness. And what do you know? Recognition happens.

Déjà vu?

Newsletter: April 5, 2011

I loved algebra. It was a lot of fun. Figuring out angles and working through theorems. Finding the logic which would take us from one hyothesis to a proven conclusion. And on top of that, we had a very pretty teacher who must have spent a good part of her salary on her wardrobe.

Fascinated I was by Venn diagrams. Those overlapping circles which showed an area in which two or three or more ideas intersected. And as she explained it all so well, we really paid attention!

Words are like that: first, in just one language and even moreso in two or more languages. They have common areas where they can be used synonomously or are in the same semantic field. The words I’m thinking about right now are passionate ones, too:  jealousy, envy, desire. These three overlap but each has its own identity, its own uses, its own connotations – often sharing some of those with other words.

  • Jealousy has to do with a feeling that you’re missing out on a privilege, an advantage, a favor that’s being enjoyed by someone else … and you deeply resent it. A fear of potential loss, perhaps.
  • Envy – a hungry feeling to possess something you don’t have … but something someone else does. Could lead to craving.
  • And then, desire, coming from within, a wanting, feeling, sensation. Primitive. Sensual. Animal. These are the English words.

Now if you open up an English-French bilingual dictionary, you just might see that jealousy is translated as jalousie … that envy is translated as envie … and that desire is translated as désir … Don’t be fooled! That’s just one part, maybe even one VERY SMALL part of the story … Beware of imitations. Misunderstanding comes lightning fast.

Because while the origins of these words might be the same … that started a few thousand years ago … over time our civilisations and our literature has enriched these with more precise meanings, uses and connotations. Today’s words are built on yesterday’s foundations. They may come from the same roots, the same concepts but they’ve evolved into different species.

What is a little curious is that like with fractions in math, these words also have common denominators. And to find out just what those might be, you need only to open the newspaper. Because, from their ancient origins to their current contexts, they’re as alive as ever. Living history, so to speak.


Newsletter: 28 March 2011

“Out of the blue” – “Out of a clear, blue, sky”

The unpredictable, unforeseen, sudden, unexpected.

Totally unsuspected. Not a cloud to be seen to warn of the thunderstorm to come or the manna to fall.

Just didn’t see it comin’ …

While wel know that it’s unwise to count on anything that doesn’t have a reasonable cause, we also relentlessly gamble in unlikely futures.

Whether sunny days or thunderstorms! Who can tell the future? Who can read the tea leaves? Who can consult a crystal ball?

And it’s understandable, “normal” as the French would say for the event is just that – an event, a happening,  a result of circumstance.

Humbly human. Even if we’re getting a little better at forecasting the weather, we’re ready for … surprises which have no discernable direct causes or are far beyond our understanding, far beyond the abilities of present-day science.

No matter what the circumstances are, we’re right to be optimistic.
Got that from my father. A man who preferred unrealistic optimism to realistic pessimism.

In fact, there is a pretty reliable way to predict the future. It’s in the history of our clear, blue sky.

Newsletter: 20 March 2011

Just a little while ago, I was talking to my cousin Sherry. It was just after lunch there. And warm! Already in the upper 80s. Getting towards dinner time here.  Still cool. Among other things,  she told me about the Girl Scouts being probhibted from selling their traditional Girl Scout cookies in front of the Juliette Low House in Savannah because they hadn’t obtained a permit to do so. Juliette Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts. We got to talking about zero tolerance and … common sense.

Can Common Sense and Zero Tolerance get along?

In the name of obedience! Oh we have so many rules! So many that unless you’re careful, you might get caught, arrested, stopped, or otherwise interfered with for doing what your common sense, (pardon the verb but here goes… ) dictates!

Zero tolerance: strict discipline, absolute observance. There may be some cases in which this is appropriate though, I can’t think of one offhand but that must be because I live in a world in which exceptions are the rule. Language is like that. And isn’t language the reflection, expression of life?

Common sense is human. It’s the result not of applied theory, but of applied experience.  Sense=reason. You have to think a little, to choose, to make some sort of decision. You take the situation into consideration. You put things in perspective. There’s a context. You do what’s right.

Zero tolerance? It’s so easy just to follow, just to obey. And we all know where absolute obedience leads … There’s no choice, no decision, no difference, no exception, no circumstance. No doubt.  But there is dissuasion. That must be the key!

Common sense, on the other hand, seems to be appreciated by the vast majority of us. Bob Dylan wrote these words:  “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Common sense. But maybe common sense isn’t so common, either.

Sherry told me that, in the end, there was such a protest that the rule was rescinded and the young ladies were allowed to sell their cookies …  Common sense wins.

Newsletter: 11 March 2011

Eleven is one of my numbers and I can’t even tell you why. I don’t know if I was born with it and only realized it later in life or whether I adopted it because it just kept showing up the way a stray cat seems to wander close by until you finally give in and feed it …  Is it because it’s two ones put together? Because it’s neither the round ten nor the dozen of twelve? It is a recurrent number. Over and over again, I look at my watch, glance at a clock on the wall or my eyes happen to fall on the clock on the dashboad while I’m driving or I just “happen” to cast a glance at my phone …  and what do I see? This: 11:11. It’s happened so many times that I actually began writing down what was happening at that moment. Funny coincidences like getting an unexpected email message precisely at 11:11. Or the phone rings and the number 11 11 shows up. Other events. Open the mail. It’s the balance on my bank account. 1111 or even -1111.

Numbers are like that: They’re prices, they’re times, they’re serial numbers, they’re addresses, they’re page numbers too though I don’t think I’ve ever never gotten that far. The fact that this year is 2011 must be coincidence, I’m sure. Like all the others. Am I superstitious? Of course not!  You book a flight? What?!! 11 11 – Come on, you’ve got to be kidding! Check into a hotel … Room 11. Let’s go for a hike! How far? … 11 km. I give up! It’s too much. Why look for meaning where there is none?

Born in which month? November … ? Oh no! What’s this? 11 points in Scrabble???

This nonsense being said, there are a few things posted on the The Paris Savannah Connection right now which might strike your fancy.

The most recent is a geography quiz about the Middle East which came my way via Freda R.’s newsletter out of Tybee. Thank you, Freda! This is greatl! By the way, if you happen to be in India or China and say the “Middle East,” no one will know what you’re talking about … Over there, our trans-Atlantic view of the “Middle East”  is their … “Western Asia.”

There’s a link to a wonderful de-complexing article on varieties of American English by Jan Freeman; a few words about the word “coup” with a link to the Visual Thesaurus; A.O. Scotts’s look at the 1940 film classic  “The Shop Around the Corner”  as well as a beautifully written answer to this question: Can most people really say whatever they want, whenever they want, without even thinking about it

And more … like the reposting of say … tell… speak … and talk. And there’s a lot to be said about that!

Have a wonderful March weekend,