Folks, this has been a long time coming, but RT can safely say that A Daughter’s Song and Dance, his mother’s childhood memoir, is nearing publication. Reader’s copies of the text are due on Monday. The book isn’t quite print ready (among other things, the front matter must be paginated and some passages need tweaking) but the next hurdle is getting the book out in paper and on e-book reader. To whet the appetite, RT offers this brief extract from chapter 23:
My mother may not have understood me the way I wanted her to, but she did understand certain of my needs, as for instance, when I needed to, in her words, “get out of myself.” Others might say that I was moody and introspective, but it came down to the same thing: I needed periodic vacations from the serious business of being me. What’s more, she was good at turning vacations to practical advantage.
So towards the end of my year at Wright-McMahon, Mama had an inspired moment. One day after I had returned from classes, she invited me into her office. Nothing unimportant ever happened during our office conversations, so I sat down with a certain apprehension. This wasn’t another dispensation from on high, was it?
After some pleasantries about my school day, Mama got down to the point: “If you could go anywhere in the world for a visit,” she asked, “where would it be?”
More on all this soon… RT
Photo: Mom’s High School Graduation portrait.
Wow! Sometimes traveling 4.67 billion miles (or getting up at 4 in the morning) is worth it… RT
Photo: Pluto Backlit by the Sun. NASA. NASA website. Public Domain.
Recently RT was inspired to do a little more research on his grandfather the actor. He didn’t turn up any new information, but he did manage to compose this brief bit for his tentative biography/novel, The Nitrate Angel. (And here is more on Coxey’s Army.)
Panic and poverty—those early memories stayed with him. His father had joined Coxey’s Army, that assemblage of the ill-used, tramping and wending, surging and weaving its way down to Washington. He was too young, even by the standards of the time, to go himself, but the listless eyes and growling stomachs of the other boys, those things he remembered. Later, much later, when his friends, appalled by his grueling schedule, urged him to have some fun, he told them the truth: there is never enough work.
Never enough. He turned his eyes from the Mirror, folded the newspaper under his arm and shoved his hands deep in his pockets, and continued on his way. The day was bitter under a raw December sky, and still the avenue bustled. The terror of war and flu had gone.
“Edward!” someone called out, followed by a clap on the shoulder. It was Hanum.
Photo: Madison Square, New York City, 1908. LOC Prints & Photos Online Catalog. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
It’s snowing in Martinsburg, and the Dragons of Grammar have started pestering RT, making a racket as they clamber all over the modest duplex he inhabits, blowing plumes of smoke at his sealed windows, and generally trying to cause an uproar in the neighborhood, which would be worse, except that nothing much is getting done in Martinsburg today (except last-minute preparations for Thanksgiving). People are paying the polite, if fiery and colorful, creatures no mind.
Now, RT is well aware that the DoGs love winter–it’s their favorite season, in fact–and at first he thought he also knew the subject that they wanted him to post on–Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. Now CAS are certainly a worthwhile topic of exploration, but it turns out that that is not the DoGs’ primary concern on the day before Thanksgiving. Rather, they have a weighty matter they want RT to ponder: the definition and ways of helping endangered languages around the world.
Well, RT already knew that there are a lot of endangered languages out there, and a quick browsing of the net suggests that half of all languages, which numbered 6,900 in 2005, are in danger of going extinct (i.e., losing their last native speaker) within the next generation. About half of all languages spoken, moreover, are located either in Asia or Africa, but please take note, Oklahoma also constitutes a hot spot.
RT recollects that on occasion he has posted on endangered languages in these pages, but he thinks that a new post, especially one that contains a listing of items that help reflect the vitality of a language, would be quite useful.
Here is RT’s list:
1) Official Status. Does a language receive political or cultural support, and, in particular, is it taught in schools?
2) Writing System. Does a language have a writing system that was either created or evolved for its use? If so, is there a standardized orthography for the language? How easy is the language’s script to learn?
3) Child speakers. Are children learning the language?
4) Everyday transactions. Do people use the language in their daily routine?
5) Number of speakers. Last, and maybe least, how many people speak the language worldwide, whether as a first or second tongue? To which RT appends perhaps the most vital question: Is the number of speakers growing?
Now we come to subtler considerations.
6) Prestige. Do members of the cultural elite speak the language? Does everyone else in a society regard knowing the language as worthwhile or even as a cultural attainment?
7) National or Personal Identity. Is the language strongly linked to historical or national identity? A good example of this are the Gaelic languages in western Europe.
8) Variant of a Regional Language. Is the language a member of a widespread language family? Can a speaker travel to other areas where his or her native language is to some degree intelligible to others?
9. Global Status. Has a language become a lingua franca? Is it in danger of corruption through overuse? English immediately comes to mind as the lingua franca currently used by the largest number of speakers. How many people would speak English if it weren’t so closely tied to the current power elite?
10. Written and Audio/Video Materials. Here is a vital concern: to what extent is the language recorded in writing? In particular, do any of these materials include native legends and mythology? And do recordings of native speakers exist? Not only do these help preserve the language in the most direct way possible, but they also put a face on the language, another intangible but vital concern.
Now RT will try to sort out various languages by their vitality:
1) English, Spanish, French: the current global lingua francas.
3) Basque (720,000 ns, north-central Spain) and Mapundugan (250,000 ns, Chile and Argentina): language isolates (i.e., not related to any known language). Neither language is listed as endangered; both have been officially recognized. To give some idea of how different a language isolate can be, the Basque word for “father” is “aita,” and the word for “welcome” is “ongi.”
4) Insular Celtic: spoken in the British Islands (Welsh (580,000 speakers in Wales), Irish (130,000 ns), and Scottish Gaelic (57,000 ns)) and Brittany (Breton, 210,000 ns): protected minority languages; full to limited instruction in schools; the number of speakers is relatively small but growing. And here, to give some idea of the music of these languages, RT offers a link to a YouTube video on Scottish Gaelic, the IC language with the fewest native speakers:
5) Cree: limited official recognition within Canada; written in a system constructed for the language; limited instruction in school; 170,000 native speakers. Here is a brief sample of the language via YouTube:
6) Sioux: No official recognition in the U.S.; school instruction, including immersion classes; 44,000 native speakers.
Meanwhile, the snow has stopped and the DoGs have flown off elsewhere to spread their warmth in icy climes… More on all this later. RT
ttttttttttt…ttttttttttttttttttttttt…a trilobite, that’s what we’re looking at.
RT likes this fossil of koneprusia brutoni, a Devonian period trilobite, unearthed in Morocco. Maybe it’s just the striking way in which the animal was preserved, on the edge of a large piece of stone; on the other hand, it could be the beast itself, in all its spiny, spiky glory. And the age of the find (420-360 million years old) adds some authority, too.
We have traveled a long way to get to our present state of affairs. The weirdness of the trilobites and other ancient fauna reminds us of the flexibility of life, its ability to adapt to almost any change in conditions. Viewed on this time scale, we are just one more adaptation to a constantly shifting environment; RT, however, likes to think that we get some of our toughness from these distant relatives and will be telling an amazing story to our descendants-in person-at some point in the far future.
Photo: Koneprusia brutoni; author, Didier Descouens. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 unported.
A couple of days ago, RT found himself in the local Books-a-Million. Now, RT has to admire anyone who sells books via a storefront; what with the competition from Amazon and company, the surge in self-publishing, and the efforts of the blogging community, margins are probably tighter than ever. And a quick inspection of the large shopping space revealed that BaM had an entirely respectable copy of Moby Dick on offer for under $20, Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities tucked away on the far side of the store’s considerable selection of Bibles, and even a passable, though small, selection of poetry (heavy on Homer and The Inferno).
Wallace Stevens (and his essay, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction) didn’t make the cut. Much might be made of the absence, perhaps even the failure of American literature (and poetry, above all) to produce the story-epic-novel that will unite us all in its glorious vision of the world. Where is the American Dante?
But RT is reluctant to announce the death of American society just yet. He will gladly admit that while he is beginning to make progress on viewing the movie Cloud Atlas, he has now watched two of the Twilight Saga movies, thereby garnering an image of Kristin Stewart to accompany him as he continues his journey into the problematic heart of his fifties. Middle-aged men will be middle-aged men.
Or will we? Somewhere, hidden deep in his unconscious, RT still harbors a writer’s ambition. Fifty-fourth birthday be damned! This writer will continue his slow, plodding progress toward finishing Gilgamesh, toward publishing his mother’s memoirs, and toward whatever writing projects his reading might lead him. What’s on the bedside stand these days? The Gardens of Light, a novel about the life of the prophet Mani (definitely worth the read). RT will continue to write until he is found dead at his keyboard (or at least in the loving arms of Kristin Stewart). If a supreme fiction doesn’t exist, then we need to act as if there is one. Through the work of thousands and thousands of authors, we are making our way home.
In the meantime, a supreme potato chip will have to sustain us. There are worse fates. RT
Photograph: A Pile of The Real McCoy’s Potato Chips; author: Paul Hurst. WikiCmns; CC-By-SA-2.5, 2.0.
RT never managed to visit Spain while his family was posted in France; the deal was that he got to go to Russia, and his younger brother visited Spain the following year. RT has always been satisfied with the trade-off.
But this marvelous early-modern view of Madrid makes him wonder. The seat of the Spanish government pretty much continuously since 1561, Madrid boasts an impressive inventory of architecture, museums, and Bohemian venues. And then there is the rest of Spain; RT at the moment wouldn’t mind spending a few days in Toledo, Spain’s “City of Three Cultures.”
RT has heard that an intense, spiritual beauty is to be found throughout the Iberian peninsula, in part the gift of a long, complex, and passionate history.
Drawing: View of Madrid from the west, facing the Puerta de la Vega (1562). Artist: Anton van den Wyngaerde (called in Spain Antonio de las Viñas). WikiCmns; Public Domain.