Archive | August 2015

Wedding Weekend …

Yesterday, August 29, 2015, my Facebook news feed was sewn together with weddings! Summer holidays conclude in hope and celebration. I don’t get to witness many marriage ceremonies now – at least, not personally. Last one was my daughter’s. Part of the downside, I suppose, of having a small family and also growing older. But that’s okay, because my imagination takes me where my body cannot. I imagine the festivities, the beaming couples, the toasts and streamers and baskets of cards. The music and above all, the laughter that ascends to some special heaven set aside for beginnings.

I hover, invisible among the pillars or stained-glass windows or tents and gazebos and lattices. Nobody knows I’m there, but I am, sending out whatever good wishes my ethereal self can manage. I used to be an occasional wedding singer (another casualty of time). My song these days is one of thanksgiving for commitment, community, courage and faith.

So if you were one of yesterday’s – or any day’s – most fortunate brides or grooms, I wish you a long and varied journey of growth and discovery. I don’t wish you endless bliss and delirious love, because those are unrealistic expectations. Such intense feelings rise to their peak and then diminish in the realities of simply getting by. Paying bills, buying groceries, paying more bills. Facing disappointments, appreciating successes. Keeping a house of welcome and safety. Raising children with all their quirks, promises and challenges. Planting a tree, building a future. Sitting at hospital bedsides, holding hands at funerals, moving bags and baggage from place to place. Putting a “for sale” sign on one lawn; removing a “sold” sign from some other lawn. Missing absent friends and parents. Sucking in a deep breath the first hour of that new job. Hugging each other on retirement day.

Eventually, you find yourselves looking in the mirror and wondering how those grey-haired faces got there. You weep for the bitter loss of some dreams, and for the overwhelming realization of others. You reach an understanding that marriage embraces change – constant and continual change. You can no more stop that process than you can shrink yourselves back to nursery school. Nor would you want to do that.

And every now and then, something will catapult you backward across the years. It might happen when you need it most. Fate has a way of sending messages. Suddenly, you might be reminded of why you’re married to this one chosen person; of what you believed when it all started. This little nudge can be as mundane as opening a book, where a spare wedding invitation has marked your place for decades. Finding in a drawer, carefully-wrapped with plastic, a sugar rose from your fancy cake of long ago. Or a faded corsage. Or a crinkled program with the names of everyone you loved then, and still love now – printed forever.

You’ve selected this road to follow. You might have chosen another, but that wasn’t part of your destinies. As Robert Frost reflects, your decision will make “all the difference” to you both. You, in your own turn, stand to make differences to someone else. We all do. May your promises be joyous in their fulfillment.

Congratulations, best of luck, mazel tov!

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A Brief Gathering of Old Classmates

Class of ‘Sixty-Four

All our decades somersault, deposit us
in this circle of cross-legged strangers
whom I almost recognize. We put them
together like a wall of fragments: eyelid,
earlobe, bone. Laugh or grimace.

I cough without sound; nothing must smack
of mortality. We balance carefully, attentive
to hips and knees and feet, spines
no longer flexed like spring birches.

Backlight from a window casts our runes.
Her fine hair glows angelic. His shoulder
curves, a hillside traced on shadow.
Your eyes belong to the boy hidden
in them. We study each other, look away,
people the spaces with our own memories.

Dust spins in sloped rays that settle
on the floor. I think of stars slowly turning
until one finds us worthy, offers us life.
A hopeful fly circles my glass, perhaps
meaning to drown herself in bliss.

We speak quietly at first; explore
this new country. The room recedes
while stories form around us. The past
rebounds off our hostess’s painting
of a young girl, playing her flute forever.

Somebody mentions band concerts,
army cadets, gym, rifles. Male affairs.
I once stood with my swirly-skirt friends
– proper ladies – and wondered why.

But I have worn a dress today. I tuck
my legs, wish I could sit like a lotus,
then unfold, petals sharp as blades.
Glory from the mud. Surprise bloom
after such long and secret growth.

My chardonnay splashes, magnifies
the coffee-table grain. It’s like viewing
the universe through the wrong end
of a telescope. What we have become
is a contraction, yet the detail shines
with greater clarity than it ever did.

Science teaches us the definition
of gravity but we need no illustration
beyond a breast displaced, a chin
dropped, a belly tugging free from its
moorings. We bow to the dominion
of a force far greater than ourselves.

Yes. Gravity, regal and cruel, Henry VIII
of physical laws. I briefly rub the back
of my neck and this room shudders
with the ring of a crown falling. No one
else notices. You refill my drink and grin.

Brenda Levy Tate

for my Wolfville High School companions

With Regard to Irregardless (and other date-match considerations)

   Recently, I’ve been following an internet meme that suggests one should not consider a partner whose language usage includes nonstandard diction. In this case, the word in question happens to be irregardless – clearly not acceptable in formal speech or written work, yet often used informally. The meme implies that a potential date must be able to use irregardless correctly in a sentence. Ironically, to a purist, this would mean never using the word at all, because it hasn’t been accepted into the nonstandard English lexicon. This might happen eventually but it hasn’t yet done so. Irregardless may appear in dictionaries but that doesn’t confer acceptability – merely acknowledgment. It IS a word, just not an especially good one.
   Regardless of other criteria, the prospective mate must be able to use – or avoid – this word before he or she will be deemed worthy of notice. 🙂 The meme is being widely circulated. Clearly, it has pounded a significant nail on the head. Debates over usage and other issues of syntax, mechanics and vocabulary can generate both friction and heat. I’ve refrained from commenting. Personal insults aren’t my thing. It’s astonishing how nasty some grammar mavens can become! Life’s too short – trite but accurate.
   However, there comes a point at which one must take a stand. The meme has shown up once again on my feed. I’ve contained the urge to enter the comments fray on Facebook – but this isn’t Facebook. It’s my own personal space. The time to take a stand is now.
   I’m an English teacher. I’ve been following these irregardless threads – and, indeed, others sharing the theme of language-shaming – with considerable interest despite my refusal to be drawn into them. That having been said, I’ve learned through many years’ experience that correct English usage and colloquial or nonstandard English usage can function equally well for communication. It depends on a combination of social context and personal background. When I was marking NS provincial English exams, part of our mandate was to determine whether “communication remain[ed] clear” and if this were the case, we were instructed to assign at least a minimal pass to that portion of the marking scheme.
   Having read student essays that were brilliantly-written, with a veritable showcase of fancy language – correctly and effectively used – I know from grammar. Still, some of those essays lacked any power to persuade the reader of anything. There was simply no emotional or intellectual connection. On the other hand, I’ve encountered papers that were liberally sprinkled with spelling and syntactical errors, yet evoked a significant and often-visceral response. One can be fluent but dull. One can be awkward but exciting. The key is the writer’s, or speaker’s, ability to slice to the bone and force an audience to feel that cut. Therefore, it follows that a powerful argument is often described as incisive. Do we pause to red-circle every mistake along the way?
   I have discovered – although I’ve known this since childhood, so perhaps reaffirmed is a better choice – that people whose speech includes grammatical boo-boos can be highly intelligent, insightful and imaginative. They can also be well-educated but not necessarily attentive to linguistics. I’ve met a fair number of scientists and several doctors whose casual-conversation skills were, to put it mildly, deficient. I’ve also chatted with grade-ten dropouts who could have put a PhD candidate to shame when it came to clear, cogent and creative speech.
   Some folks, however, have never been given much of an opportunity to master the niceties of mechanics, except in the local garage. More than a few are bicultural and may have grown up speaking Frenglish (or Spanglish, or whatever else combines two different tongues). This combination incorporates some peculiar diction choices. I find their speech quirky and colourful. Yet it is easily understood. Then there are those who struggle with dyslexia or some other speech/language disability. Once we begin to dismiss a human being’s worthiness on the basis of grammatical perfection – even in fun! – we gradually lose the capacity to accept variation. One of my most memorable students, from many years ago, was so severely dyslexic that he required transcription of everything he wanted to write. He could dictate entire essays during exams, organized and developed in his head, on the spot! He could discuss Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Harper Lee and Hemingway with obvious awareness of their contributions to art and literature. He was probably one of the brightest young men I’ve ever taught.
   I believe he’s a landscape architect now. I’ve lost track of him but that was his goal and I see no reason why he wouldn’t have achieved it. Universities and colleges have come to the realization that certain students may require support during their studies. This support is being provided. The onus remains with the student, however, in terms of mastering course material and producing work of merit. Otherwise, capable but not-necessarily-routine thinkers would be set aside. The losses would be ours as well as theirs.
   Poets tend toward verbal oddities as well. We coin words; we shift parts-of-speech. We use adjectives as nouns and nouns as verbs. We’re not above constructing sentence fragments, reversing syntax or playing fast and loose with pretty much every grammatical rule. Most of us do operate from a broad knowledge base when it comes to language. That doesn’t stop us from choosing whatever wonky devices will best serve our purposes.
   Still, there exist certain intellectuals to whom the slightest slip in the writing process is anathema. There are others who seek to understand the individual behind the words. If I were in the “dating market”, I’d look for a compassionate man whose powers of observation are keen and whose mind embraces a vast variety of information. Whether or not he uses irregardless is secondary to his character and behaviour. Whether or not he is educated in a formal sense, he’ll impress me if he’s been educated in the lessons of empathy, loyalty, determination and kindness.
   (Ir)regardless of my own preference, we will each follow our own roads through the language – if not the date-bait – landscape. May each of our journeys bring its desired reward.