John Branyan makes the good point that Shakespeare had a much larger working vocabulary than we do (I think the numbers vary—our 2,000–5,000 to Shakespeare's 17,000–25,000). His rendition of The Three Little Pigs is highly enjoyable. Here's to a larger vocabulary!
This new interactive interview I gave Ambassador Campbell before she retired from the Foreign Service is now complete and can be downloaded for free. The format of this textual/audio interview is unusual, but it demonstrates the concept of using more than one form of expression to communicate. I hope to do more of this in the future with other stories. I enjoyed working on this with Ambassador Campbell, and I thank Eric Johnson for his technical assistance and Casey Richards and Yuko Carey for the images.
You can download the free PDF from my Free Downloads page.
Update on Other Projects: the Undefining Woman compilation of essays from twelve Mormon women is in the process of being concatenated and will be sent off to some lucky publisher soon, as will my anti-joke/meta-joke book (details on my Portfolio page). I encourage you to follow this blog in order to be notified of publications and more freebies, as well as learn more about experimental literature.
We are still trying to find sponsors for 17 of the 23 new Marshallese children's books as part of The Unbound Bookmaker Project; if you know someone who is interested in supporting literacy and creativity in the Marshall Islands, please let them know about this project.
For those interested in seeing what life is like for us in the Foreign Service, please see my family blog.
Despite the cacophony of English, it has some excellent words. Highly descriptive words. Words that perfectly assist you in explaining very accurately what you're trying to convey. Take, for example, the word acnestis. Acnestis, n., is the point on the back of an animal, between the shoulders and the lower back, that cannot be reached in order to be scratched. I have yet to find the human equivalent to this word, but what an image! Some words, by their very expressiveness, can paint a vibrant picture for the audience.
Wander is a nice word as it stands, but check out all its synonyms (courtesy of this interesting thesaurus) that we rarely use: perambulate, peregrinate, maunder, dromania, divagate, flâneur. And they all have a connotation that can more accurate describe your characters:
I have started writing a piece which includes mostly those words which have fallen away from our vocabulary in the attempt to be completely accessible, quickly, to the hurried reader. I suppose it will only attract those who love words and expression, but I hate to let go of these hyponyms. They provide breadth and depth to communication.
To this end, I heartily recommend Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. (It also makes a great gift for people who love words.)
Sign up for a synonym a day! And stay tuned for some more word fun. Experimental lit is all about expanding beyond the types of communication that we currently employ, or perhaps are enslaved by, or domesticated by, or are marshaled by, or take a back seat to, or . . .
It is easy to look down on others for what they do not know. "You've never heard of [x]?!" And x can equal anything from a film star to a celebrated novelist to a schwangin' song to a virulent—excuse me--viral YouTube video to an economic theory to a politically important town in Afghanistan to an NBA basketball coach to a grammar principle. And everything in between and beyond that people find important and find pride in knowing about and discussing with others.
We all want to be "in" with the hip crowd, to understand their allusions and cultural references, but the hip crowd is now so diverse in its likes, understandings, and sets of information that we would spend our entire lives trying to be culturally literate. E.D. Hirsch, Jr., in his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know ("Includes 5,000 essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts"!), lets us know that "only by accumulating shared symbols, and the shared information that the symbols represent, can we learn to communicate effectively with one another in our national community" (xvii).
While I agree with this sentiment, in that understanding common symbols can foster heightened communication on perhaps deeper levels, Hirsch perhaps did not account for, in his Vintage-Books-1988 edition, the fact that in this age when digital information makes so much available, the ante would be upped—that is, we would be expected to know everything about everyone or anything, and be considered uneducated or uncultured if we hadn't heard about it. As a self-referential example, "upping the ante" is a reference to raising the stakes in a poker game. I am not a poker player, although I did try to learn once, but I have just used an idiom that references an action within the game.
Which is why I would like to introduce the concept of cultural literacies. Choose what you like to learn and don't be too worried if you don't know the latest Olympic winners, if you're not a sportsy person, and don't worry about the latest New York Times bestsellers if you don't like reading. Find the type of cultural literacy that you like, and go for it. If you like knowing a smattering of everything, go for it. But don't learn for the sake of being able to say, "Oh, you haven't heard of [x]?!" Be culturally literate because you want to learn things, not because you're afraid you'll be left out.
In this vein, then, do I start learning about what's been done with experimental writing. Even though I don't yet consider myself "culturally literate" in this field, I really, really like it. I'll be writing about things that I've learned, and I'm not going to worry about professional experimental lit people coming to my website and saying, "She didn't know that? Pfft. Amateur." If I continue to learn, I won't be an amateur—but even so, I should never fear that appellation from "the initiated."
On my reading list: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf, and The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, edited by Joe Bray, Alison Gibbons, and Brian McHale. Any other suggestions?
by Jamie Zvirzdin
________ had soft eyes, a strong, brown body, multiple scars on her legs from scrapes and bug bites, a white t-shirt and some black shorts, and an easy smile. I met her at the LDS girls’ camp this year out in Ajeltake. She was animatedly telling a story, in Marshallese, to some other girls sitting around her. She told a story about a boy who was named “Niñniñ” (“Baby”). She laughed as she recounted that she hadn’t seen Niñniñ in many years and it was strange to see him grown up and still call him by his name. I asked her if she would tell me about her life. This is her story.
I am ________. I am 16 years old, and I am half Marshallese and half ________. My parents met at the local college on Majuro Atoll—he the teacher, she the student. My dad was also a gambler, and he and my mother split when I was 2 years old. I lived with my dad for most of my life in another Pacific country. My dad was like my best friend. He was sad when I said I wanted to live with my mom in the Marshall Islands, but he was going back to school and would be busy, so he let me go. My dad didn’t want me to live with my mom since he said she was struggling with 8 kids, had no life, and no education (she dropped out of college when she got pregnant. It happens a lot in the Marshall Islands).
My dad has 5 kids: 2 from my mother, 1 from another partner, 1 from another partner, and 1 from another partner.
My mom has 8 kids: 1 from one partner (my half-brother is now an LDS missionary), 2 from my father, 1 from another partner, 3 from another partner, and 1 adopted child from a relative that didn’t want her.
My dad had an interesting view of his partners: he wanted to take them, teach them, and make them turn out all right, but it didn’t work out as he planned. “All Marshallese women are stubborn,” he said. Two of his girlfriends were my babysitters growing up.
I used to hear from my aunties the stories about my mom’s abusive partners. Most of her boyfriends abused her. I heard the stories about my mom running away from them because they would beat her up.
Kids in the Marshall Islands are easily influenced, especially by their parents. Kids get really depressed when parents split. One of my friends used to be really bubbly, but she turned from bubbly to a hag or a dog when her parents split. We tried helping her—tried getting her to talk about it. She started using drugs and drinking. She liked cigarettes, weed, and Tamiroff Vodka. She got a lot of it from Chinese stores on Majuro, until they made you have an ID. That was just a year ago.
My dad was protective of me. He wouldn’t let me date. I tried alcohol when I was 14, but I didn’t like it. I told my dad that I did it because of my friends. I thought it was strange when he asked his Jamaican friends to bring him liquor-filled chocolates for my 16th birthday. I didn’t want them, so he gave them away to a cousin who’s drunk all the time.
I lived on Jaluit Atoll for a summer. One of my friends was very frightened of her dad. He gets a weapon and threatens his girlfriend, and the kids watch the whole thing. He gets angry easily. No one can stop him because he’s drunk.
Other kids drink with their parents. They let them do it. Parents don’t give babies alcohol (of course!). Mothers often don’t seem to care about what their daughters do, because they’re still growing up themselves.
There’s a Facebook page called “You Know You’re Marshallese When . . .” I think it’s funny. You know you’re Marshallese when you and your family live in the living room and the private rooms are for . . . well, you know. Girls don’t know what to do when it comes to that stuff. It’s not taught in school, and it’s not taught at home. But they watch things in the media, and they think that’s what modern girls do, and then they try it and think it’s fun. They want popularity and attention. I have about 10 close friends who have gotten pregnant—my cousin, 2 friends in Jaluit, 1 in America (in Arkansas, where there are a lot of Marshallese people), my 18-year-old nephew, my classmate, and some other friends.
We have a word in Marshallese--ļōñ—that means “men lust.” It’s like they just want to have fun but they’re not aware of the girl getting pregnant. Guys with ļōñ think they know everything. One girl for a Marshallese guy won’t be enough.
I heard a lot of my friends promise each other that they weren’t going to get pregnant. When I ask them what happened to that promise, they say things like, “We were young.” I tell them, “You’re still young.” All of them have dropped out of school except my cousin, because the baby stays with his dad. The father goes to work at the Tyson chicken factory. Lots of Marshallese work at the Tyson chicken factory. They peel off the chicken skin and feathers. It’s their only way of living in America.
Parents aren’t strict enough and don’t give their kids any advice, but the kids are arrogant and don’t want to listen anyway. Children will suffer and parents will have to pay for it. They pay because when they’re grandparents they work more hours to buy things like diapers for their grandchildren. Parents have to be truthful to each other—even though it’s too late.