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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

January 2017

So, one of my favorite things is etymology….

…… which is the study and history of the origin of words. Have you ever wondered how some words came to mean what they do? I did – as a kid, I always wondered how the word ‘cup’ came to describe something that held your drink.

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, the word ‘cup’ is an Old English one, from the Latin, cupa (meaning tub or cask). Such a funny word, when you stop and think about it long enough.

I remember holding a cup, a blue one with ridged sides, contemplating its meaning and why this particular word was chosen to identify this object. I think I was twelve and it was a hot summer day. I had just made up some iced tea and sweetened it with sugar, before drinking it down from that blue cup. Mid-way through the drink, I found myself wondering about the word and the object and their strange, symbiotic connection.

It’s one of the things I wonder about, a lot. Something I try to incorporate in my writing – words are chosen for their meaning, whether it’s a place name or a character’s.

Words have meaning and meaning has power. My fascination with etymology continues to grow.

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So, I was thinking some random thoughts this morning……

……..about life, the universe and everything (the answer is 42). I found myself thinking about Ireland again (it never really goes away, memories of places that claim your heart) and of the two, very different, reactions I got when I mentioned the trip.

Reaction #1 – “You’re going to Ireland! How exciting!”

This was the general response and it would devolve into the minutiae of what I was going to see, when I was going, how long, etc. I loved these conversations because they reminded me of what was to come. I had no idea of what to expect, beyond just getting there. So I learned to not expect anything.

A lot of planning and packing, re-packing and organizing went on in the six or seven months before I left. I like to make sure I’ve prepared for every contingency. Also, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

Reaction #2 – “I bet you’ll meet someone.”

Or variations of that.

I was always a little nonplussed by that comment. I was going to Ireland, not Mars – of course I was going to meet people.

Invariably, they meant that I would meet a man, a romantic prospect that would add a little sparkle to an already sparkling adventure, with the shelf-life of the trip’s duration.

This wasn’t wrong for them to hope and I appreciated their love for me, in wanting that for me, a little romance to garnish what I already had.

I didn’t plan my trip for any reason other than to visit the land of my great-great grandparents. I wanted to touch the ground they had walked on, maybe get closer to knowing where they may have been born and grew up. I don’t think I’m any closer than I was before the trip, but at least I’m not any further away.

As for love, well, it’ll happen when it happens. I’m too busy with my life to worry about it.

Irish countryside.
Irish countryside.

So, I’m reading Red Mars (1993)…….

……..by Kim Stanley Robinson, in part because I love good science fiction, like Dune by Frank Herbert or Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh. I’m also reading it because Mars is starting to look like a nice place to live.

I speak sarcastically. Sort of.

Science fiction is best when speaking to us about our social issues through the prism of the future and technologies that far surpass ours. Star Trek is famous for touching on politics, racism, sexism, war, and religion, among other things. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, regarded as the first science fiction novel, dealt with the humanity of the Other.

Set in the (not so distant) future of 2026, Red Mars and its companion books deal with the early days of terra-forming the red planet. Unlike the Genesis Project, which would take minutes as proposed in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, transforming Mars into a hospitable planet would take decades, if not centuries. Against this backdrop of traveling for nine months to Mars and creating a new home on a hostile planet, there are a cast of characters from various countries. Some of these countries are political enemies of each other.

English is the Standard language, which everyone speaks. This is also a hindrance to the American crew if they do not speak another language (1), which then creates another layer of tension. Suspicions arise if a conversation is going on and you don’t know what’s being said. I’m about sixty pages in and, given the enclosed space aboard their ship, the limited number of people and the long voyage out (no cryogenic sleep), pairings, jealousies and intrigue are already creating problems.

That’s where things get interesting. Historically speaking, people pretty much behave the same way, regardless of the time. Science fiction explores the now from the time frame of the future (or the past). Sometimes that’s the most effective way of starting and maintaining a dialogue about social or political issues. If you’re already open to listening to a fictional story, then you’re also receptive to the ideas and perspectives presented.

Sometimes the best way to learn about a new idea or gain a new perspective is to come at sideways.

Image source: 8screensavers.com
Image source: 8screensavers.com

(1) Learning a foreign language is helpful in many ways – it could lead to job opportunities you might not ordinarily find and it is very good for the brain. Also, it will help you navigate should you choose to travel the world.

Recommended:
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
Survival by Julie E. Czerneda

So, it’s Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday…..

……..and he’s still sending chills up our spines with his haunting tales. His life was as strange and unhappy as his fiction and the circumstances surrounding his death is still a mystery. I’m not sure what his reaction would have been had he known that his work would live on the way it has, but I’d like to think he would be pleased. Morose, drunk and writing about walled up people, black cats and quoting ravens, but pleased.

Of all my favorite Poe stories and poems, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven rank high on my list of go-to re-reads. His prose is suffocating, relying heavily on descriptions of the senses (sight, sound, etc.). I feel anxious when reading his work, even though I know it’s only a story. I want to reach in and stop the Narrator from killing the old man in The Tell-Tale Heart. I want to prevent the tragedy in The Fall of the House of Usher and keep the Narrator in The Pit and the Pendulum from suffering at the hands of his captors. I’m having a bit of anxiety just writing this post and recalling my experiences in reading Poe.

If one can pick up a regional dialect by reading aloud the written word, then I suppose one could also pick up on the author’s emotional state at the time a particular story was written. Of all the contemporary authors in the horror and supernatural genre, Shirley Jackson comes closest to capturing that suffocating and claustrophobic element in her writing. At least, she does to me – I get agitated reading her stories in the same way I do when reading Poe’s.

In honor of his birthday, I pulled out my copy of his collected works and am planning to read some of my favorites. His influence can be felt in the works of Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, and many others.

If you haven’t read any of Edgar Allan Poe‘s stories, you’re missing out some excellent reading and an insight into another century.

Edgar Allan Poe (writer, adventurer, action figure) standing next to a collection of his work.
Edgar Allan Poe (writer, adventurer, action figure) standing next to his collected works.

 

 

So, many years ago, I read Good Night, Mr. Holmes…..

…….a novel by Carole Nelson Douglas. It’s a re-telling of A Scandal in Bohemia, told from the point of view of Irene Adler’s companion, Penelope ‘Nell’ Huxleigh. Of all the novels written by various authors set in the Holmes-ian universe, I found these to be closest in spirit and tone to the original stories, while having its own voice and sense of humor.

There are eight titles in the series, of which I only have five (I know, a serious oversight that I am working to correct). Of these novels, two are closely related to the original story, A Scandal in Bohemia – Good Night, Mr. Holmes and Irene’s Last Waltz (it was later re-issued as Another Scandal in Bohemia in 1994).

Narrated by Nell in the same way as Holmes’ adventures are told by Doctor Watson, we follow Irene, Nell and their companions as they travel. Along the way, they meeting significant people of the time, such as Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (the latter two of whom were contemporaries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

Irene and company also find themselves involved in cases that remain a mystery today. In Chapel Noir and Castle Rouge, gruesome murders in Paris echo similar crimes that had occurred only months earlier in London, raising concerns that perhaps Jack the Ripper wasn’t finished. Nellie Bly, who helped Irene hunt down Jack the Ripper in those novels, later involves her in a case that delves deep into Irene Adler’s past.

It always seemed right that ‘The Woman’ would have her own mystery series, with Sherlock Holmes as a minor character. With the great detective enjoying a continued popularity in film, television and novels, it’s refreshing to step into that world and view it and him through the eyes of a villain, a friend, a nemesis, or a respected equal.

If you come across them, snatch them up and read. You’re truly in for a fun and exciting read.

The Irene Adler series, by Carole Nelson Douglas.
The Irene Adler series, by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Recommended:
Good Night, Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas
Good Morning, Irene by Carole Nelson Douglas
Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminisit (A Biography) by Brooke Kroeger

Author website: Carole Nelson Douglas

So, I love to watch scary movies……

…….and the spookier, the better, like Carnival of Souls (1962), The Haunting (1963), or Suspiria (1977). Haunting, surreal, these films engage your imagination and get under your skin. They’re scary because you’re emotionally involved with the characters and you root for them to escape until the very end.

Suspiria is an interesting film because the actors spoke their native language (English, German and Italian). Since they knew the script, they simply responded as if they understood. When the film went into post-production, the German and Italian languages were dubbed into English. The film would be dubbed in other languages for release in foreign markets.

I also discovered Japanese horror films, starting with Ringu (after seeing the American remake, The Ring) and then Ju-on (The Grudge). I was delighted – they are surreal and spooky and go in directions you don’t quite expect. Nor are the stories wrapped up in a tidy bow – there are loose ends that don’t get explained and an unsettling feeling that even happiness has an underlying sense of sorrow.

From my experience, Japanese horror films have an ambiguity to them that modern American horror films do not. I find that ambiguity fascinating, which is present in The Haunting – is the house haunted or is it Eleanor? – because with each viewing, you feel closer to uncovering the answer to the question, even as it ends. This kind of story-telling isn’t as present in American horror as it used to be, and I wish it would make a come-back.

Because I enjoy their horror films, I want to learn Japanese. This is due to the fact that a lot can get lost in translation. There may not be an English equivalent to specific word, so the line or meaning gets changed. Language is important – emphasis on the wrong syllable or vowel, and it can turn a compliment into an insult. One word can have multiple meanings, depending on context.

Thus, learning the language. Besides, it’s good for the brain, it’s a useful skill (because you never know when you’ll need it) and it makes it easier when traveling to a country where that language is spoken.

🙂

A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.
A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.

So, I’m feeling a little bereft……

……now that I’m done re-visiting my trip to Ireland. I’m not sure what course to plot next, but I have some ideas that I’ve started working on. Not necessarily another travel-log, but things that should at least be interesting.

In any case, I’ll try not to mourn the end of my trip down memory lane too much. It was a grand adventure, I feel very lucky that I was able to manage it and I hope to find my way back. Not to repeat it, one can never do that, but to deepen my experience by spending more than one day in a specific place.

That’s the goal, anyway.

In the mean time, I’ve got a novel to finish, a play to revise and a show to act in. Also, it never hurts to plan the next big adventure.

I think I’ll look at Middle-Earth, see if I can convince Gandalf the Gray to take me on one of his quests.

Oh, wait. That’s New Zealand. 😉

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An American Tourist in Ireland (13)

Dinner the night before had been fun – we were entertained by some of live Irish music and a trio of Irish dancers. Lots of laughing and teasing and good food and drink. And then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the journey home.

Saturday. My last morning in Ireland.

What else can I say? Other than I had to make sure everything was ready, I had showered and dressed. Then, with all my luggage in tow, I made my way down to the restaurant for my last breakfast in Ireland. It was an early trip to the airport, which is always best for checking in one’s luggage and going through the security check points.

I also went through customs at the Dublin airport, prior to getting to my gate. I was prepared to do this when I landed in San Francisco, but because the customs check-point was in the Dublin airport, I didn’t have to. I actually think this is a far more efficient way of doing things – you have the security check-points, then customs, all of which are designed to prevent trouble from getting on the plane.

On the flight back to San Francisco, I finally got to see The Martian (2015) and one other film, before I settled in for a long nap.

On the flight to Dublin, however, I treated myself to The Hobbit (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013).

How else to start an unexpected journey?

bilbo

I enjoyed writing about my trip to Ireland. I was able to recall and embrace certain moments that I’d almost forgotten. It seems to have been an enjoyable read for many.

Thank you for joining me in remembering.

An American Tourist in Ireland (12)

After we left Kilbeggan Distillery, we traveled back to Dublin. We were given the option of staying in the city for a couple of hours or going straight on to the hotel, to clean up and rest before dinner. Some of us (including yours truly), elected to spend a couple of hours in the city before going onto the hotel. The rest of the group went on to the hotel.

I joined a couple from the group and we walked along the streets, exploring some shops. I found some coins on the sidewalk, but half a block later, gave it to someone who needed it more. We had a specific time to meet back up with our tour driver, so even though it felt like a leisurely pace, it was actually the opposite.

I didn’t get many pictures here, either. Again, too much to see and observe than to just point the camera and take pictures. I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Dublin my first day, however, and I’ll share one here:

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

I was the only one of thirty-five people on the tour to be traveling by myself. I knew no one, not on the tour or in Ireland. If I’m very lucky and keep up my efforts in tracing my family history, I may find relatives in the Emerald Isle.

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