Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Diminished Capacity

My pal Jack used to be a police officer in Scotland. As a beat cop, he was exposed to the seamy side of life…and that included becoming schooled in the art of Foul Language. Years ago, Jack told me that a judge presiding over the trial of one of his “collars” remarked that “foul” was the new “colloquial” and that obscenities were so common, they’d lost their shock value.

Perhaps foul language HAS become the new norm…but does that mean it is the best form of communication? Does something become acceptable simply because it is common-place?  And are we expected to become inured to vulgarity because it is uttered in abundance?

I work at a high school.  The students range in age from 13 to 18 years old.  Minute by minute, hour by hour, I hear obscenities.  Not occasionally, but every single school day.  During every class period, at lunch, in the halls and in the gym.  

I also have a Facebook page. Today’s so-called “social media” seems to have become far less social than it once was.  Vulgar language abounds; on FB memes, in “rants” and in simple posts.  A quick scroll can harvest a handful of four-letter words.   

Disclosure: I know how to cuss.  Sometimes I drop a language bomb.  I’ve been known to do it when I’m under extreme stress, although (to the best of my knowledge) I’ve only done it in a “safe space”, i.e. at home or in the presence of close family members.  I’ve also uttered salty expressions with treasured, trusted friends when we’ve been goofing off, venting or telling tales. I’ve also co-written a novel that contains a liberal sprinkling of foul language.  (Caveat: I campaigned to remove most of it…and lost the campaign.)

In truth, I respect – and will always defend – Freedom of Speech. But here’s the thing: Just because a person CAN cuss, swear and be vulgar…does that mean he/she always SHOULD?


It has to do with respect; respect for others, as well as respect for Self. It’s about the art of meaningful and productive communication.  It relates to empathy. It pertains to thinking about how your words affect others, as opposed to how those words make YOU feel when you say or write them. It has to do with what you hope to accomplish when you use vulgarity and then share it in a venue or a medium in which it can be heard or read by – potentially -- thousands of people; people who might be put off by your particular brand of vernacular.

Passion is great.  Colorful, expressive language is appreciated and can successfully make a point where banal prose might be ignored. However, it’s important to consider the purpose of our words.  To know what our goal is when we speak or write. Do we want to make a positive difference -- be it within our own circle of friends, or even within the larger community?  Are we encouraging people to learn, to hear our point of view…and then, to perhaps come to share and support that view?

Or are we just looking for attention, and if so – what kind of attention?

Years ago, I said the F-word during a conversation with my father.  It slipped out in a moment of anger.  Dad’s expression was almost…sorrowful. I’ll never forget what he said to me.

“That diminishes you, daughter.”

Over the years, I’ve thought long and hard about that.  While I don’t believe I regressed into a less valuable human being because I used a vulgar word when I expressed myself, I HAVE come to realize that my capacity for impacting others in a positive way is influenced by the manner in which I speak.  Comparably, I, personally, am less inclined to take others seriously if they can’t (or worse – WON’T) make a point without using foul or aggressive language.  

“I am so fucking sick of that asshole and the shit he’s doing! Someone needs to kick his ass to the curb!”

How do you feel when you read that?  Do you feel good?  Happy?  Energized in a positive, upbeat way?

And what do you think about the person who writes that? Do you feel respect? Admiration? Is that person someone you’d be willing to listen to at length? Someone you want speaking for you in a school, a courtroom or a municipal or legislative committee room? Is that someone you’d want to wait on you in a restaurant or a store? Would you choose that person to take care of your children?


“I’ve researched that man’s actions and he’s lost my respect.  These are my reasons and here is what I propose to do, in hopes of making a difference.  Are you interested in getting involved?”

Show me your facts. Share your opinions. Offer a solution instead of a diatribe. Speak with compassion rather than aggression.  Give me action as an alternative to an ineffectual rant…and I’ll listen.  Heck, I might even follow!

I don’t want to be “diminished” and I certainly don’t want to diminish my capacity for communicating effectively and productively.  I want to be inclusive instead of divisive. Yes, I’ll still have “real life” language in some of my fiction.  And yes, I’ll drop a bomb once in a while. But this “vulgarity as the new norm” business isn’t for me. If I wouldn’t say it to a grandmother, a minister, a judge or a school principal, I’ll try not to say it on social (or in other) media.

After all…grandmothers sometimes read these things, too.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


This poem was written for my friend Jack, a Scotsman living in Australia. I knew next to nothing about Rugby...OR Scotland...before befriending Jack. This was my gift to him, for sharing his culture (and friendship) with me. 


Seth Bessey was a rugged boy from out in western Maine.
A quiet lad, hard-working; he never did raise Cain.
His parents were quite proud of him; with honors he left school.
But that did not keep others from thinking Seth a fool.

You see, our Mr. Bessey – an easy man to teach –
Just happened to develop an impediment of speech.
T’is something not uncommon, but when speaking should be crisp,
It was so most unfortunate that Bessey had a lisp.

Of course, had they envisioned such a problem for their son,
Seth’s parents would have dumped his name for ANY OTHER ONE.
Alas, t’was almost three whole years before their son did talk.
Suggestions they rename him THEN, quite simply made them balk.

And so, this strapping boy of theirs, cursed with this appellation
Quite dreaded having strangers ask him of his designation.
His face would flame, his hands would sweat, he’d murmur, “It’th Theth Bethey.”
The spit would spray, the strangers flinch— it really was quite methy!

His classmates had been cruel, as children often are.
And after twelve long years of taunts, Seth wanted to go far.
He applied himself to research; for he was college-bound,
And after much due diligence, some relatives he found.

He wrote a nice long letter (for sure, he dared not call!)
And asked if he might stay with them, commencing in the fall.
University was near them; he’d pay room, board and berth,
If he could just be welcomed in their Scottish home in Perth.

He thought it serendipitous (a word he’d NEVER utter!)
That he could name their village and not suffer blush or stutter!
He’d found a town that suited him!  In comfort, he’d say ‘Perth’,
And when he did, there was no call for sniggering and mirth.

The Fitzgeralds answered speedily.  They housed almost a dozen!
But if he wanted, he could come and bunk in with his cousin.
Of room and board they would not take, but Scots are known as tight!
Instead, they’d make a barter!  For their Rugby team he’d fight!

It sounded like a bargain, though Rugby was a mystery.
But smart young Seth was confident.  He’d read up on its history!
He packed his bags; he kissed his mum; he shook his pappy’s hand.
And then he climbed aboard his flight and left his native land.

He disembarked the aeroplane in grand old Edinburgh.
His rugby book read end-to-end, his education thorough.
With open arms young Seth was met by cousins Garth and Mabel.
To say their names without a lisp, he happily was able!

His kin then drove him home to Perth, (though on wrong side of street!)
And soon enough, there was a mess of kinfolk for-to meet.
A Mary and a Maggie, a Maura and a Beth…
So far, the names pronounceable by their new cousin Seth.

There was a boy named Peter, another one named John…
But wouldn’t you just know it!  His roommate’s name was Sean!
With sinking heart, he met them all, then lifted up his sack,
But Sean — he gripped Seth’s shoulder and said, ‘You can call me Jack!’

His roommate, cousin…and now friend had already perceived
That Seth did not like ‘Esses’ and thus, made him feel relieved.
As soon as Seth was settled in, Jack said ‘Let’s hit the street!
‘We’ll find a pub and have a drink; I’ve mates that you should meet!’

Although young Seth had ne’er imbibed (for what would Mother say?)
He followed Jack along the roads that skirt the River Tay.
They walked along the South Inch, came to the old Ice Factory…
Bells Whiskey, learnt the boy from Maine, was more than satisfactory!

They gathered mates and bottles and to Railway Bridge they went.
Carousing over River Tay – his first Scotch evening spent.
The next day, Cousin Jack…he laughed!   Said “Lad, you don’t look frisky!”
Seth groaned, “I am tho very thick of Bellth Fine Thcottith Whithky!”

So Jack took pity on his friend.  To keep him feeling hale,
When they drank at The Foundry, he restricted him to ale.
And over at Grey Friars, t’was vodka they did guzzle.
While at the City Nightclub, he put red wine to his muzzle.

But Jack knew more than drinking and he showed young Seth the land.
There were so many lovely spots Fitzgerald had at hand.
They toured inside Scone Palace, where many kings were crowned.
St. John’s Kirk they did visit; the church was much renowned.
The Museum of The Black Watch; The place where they made glass;
Distilleries where they made Scotch to knock you on your ass.

Jack made his cousin feel at home and when Seth dared to speak,
He never mocked or laughed at him, or made him feel a freak.
He let Seth talk quite slowly, as his cousin did finesse
A language almost absent of the pesky letter ‘S’.

To Dundee Uni they did go, to get put through their paces…
North-easterly they drove each morn, the sunrise in their faces.
And after classes every day they’d gather at the pitch.
A sport Seth had deemed easy – was hellish and a bitch!

His Scottish mates were skeptics… this Seth was just a Yank!
They plotted to be hard on him, to see just how he’d rank!
Though Seth had not played football (for his lisp had made him shy)
He was an awesome worker and a tough and rugged guy.

He’d never kicked or thrown a ball, he’d never played a game.
But he could split ten cords of wood, and put the rest to shame.
He could throw a calf for brand; a garden he could spade.
And he could pile a thousand bales!  Yeah, he would make the grade.

Jack gave him many pointers.  “The referee’s the boss!
“Don’t ever, EVER give him lip, or we’ll end up with a loss!
“Be sure you wear the best of boots to stabilize your ankle.
“For once you leave the game, you’re OUT – and that can really rankle!”

“We’ll start you as a forward, since you’re a beefy chum.
“Make sure you give it all you’ve got, when we’re awarded scrum!
“And please, do NOT pass forward towards the other fellows’ goal!
“For Dundee needs a win or two to save our loving soul!”

“Be careful with your knock-ons!  And with foot the ball is hooked!
“With hands, don’t touch the ball in scrum, or our asses will be cooked!”
Seth took his words at value.  Jack was a pro at ruggers!
But all Seth really cared to do was thrash those other buggers!

A couple of the other mates had mimicked how he spoke.
At now, at eighteen, Seth was sick of being someone’s joke!
They’d hinted that — because he lisped — he would be ineffectual!
Now Seth was gonna screw ‘em good – and it was nothing sexual!

A Wilson, a McGregor, a Rawden and a Fife
Were about to get a lesson that they’d carry throughout life!
Testosterone was flowing as the game went into play,
And all that Bessey cared about was entering the fray.

The rules, well…they meant nothing!  He wanted them to scream!
Instinctively he took out HALF of that opposing team!
And then, the ball was in his hands!  His legs were pumping high!
He crossed the goal, pushed down the ball, and got the game’s first Try!

“Take THAT, you Thcottith thithies in your thilly thriped thockth!”
He flashed a sheepish grin at Jack. “What idiotic talk!
“I think when next a player be for a beating begging…
“I’ll call him ‘Gaelic weakling-- in daftie banded legging’!”

He slung his arm around friend Jack and walked him past the mound
Of rugby players lying there in pain upon the ground.
“That game hath left me feeling parched.  How ’bout we find a nip?
“There mutht be thome Bellth Whithky that I could thlowly thip!”

Saturday, February 20, 2016


            Researchers Say Spinach and Blueberries Improve the Mental Abilities of Rats! 

Naturally, this headline caught my attention.  I've always been interested in rats, and most particularly in their mental abilities!  It’s apparent to me that these rodents aren't nearly as smart as they ought to be -- and I have first-hand knowledge of that fact.  I recall one rat from my childhood who, if his mental facilities had been up to snuff, would have turned tail and run when presented with the grim visage of my mother staring squint-eyed down the barrel of a twelve-gauge shotgun.  Instead, this pest returned the stare and met its demise on our cellar steps. 

The stairway didn't fare much better than the rat -- but that's beside the point.
             It's obvious to me that our tax dollars are well spent in performing experiments on rats.  Don't they deserve to have improved mental abilities?  If rats were smarter, maybe they'd know enough to ring the doorbell when they wanted entrance to a house, instead of fighting their way through the less-than-sanitary conditions of a home's sewer pipes.  Surely they would prefer to make their appearance on the front porch, instead of poking up through the water in the toilet bowl, especially when they can't be sure whether or not said throne is in use at the time.  I wonder, too, how many times they have almost reached their goal, only to hear a thunderous WHOOSH that signaled a speedy trip back down the pipe to the rodent's point of origin. 
             What really interested me in the article was how scientists go about testing the mental abilities of rats.  I have always associated rat tests with mazes, but not a single mention was made of that time-honored puzzle.  Instead, the scientific conclusions were arrived at by another test.  I quote the article in question.

"Rats fed with a normal diet that contained 2% freeze-dried spinach learned to associate the sound of a tone with an oncoming puff of air faster than those fed regular rat chow.... The test measured the interval between the sound of the tone and when the rats blinked."
            Several questions come to mind.  The first is, well…is there truly such a thing as rat chow? Is that something you can pick up at the Farmers' Union or at Agway?  What is the size of the market for such a chow?   

            I confess to calling rat chow by another name: De-con.
            Then, I wondered how these scientists induced their subjects to eat spinach.  I know of only three people who actually like the stuff, besides Popeye.  But then I remembered that these subjects were rats... rats that crawl through sewers...and I realized that spinach was probably a real treat.

             As far as tones and puffs and blinking -- well, this seems like a bit of wishful thinking on the scientists' part.  How can they be sure that the rats' blinking wasn't just an involuntary action?  Maybe rats are prone to dry eyes, especially if they are confined to cages that are constantly being buffeted by blasts of air from well-meaning researchers? 

Perhaps rats were already smart and they figured out that if they blinked properly like any respectable rat should, they would continue to be fed that delicious spinach instead of ordinary, humdrum rat chow.     
            Reading on, I learned that the antioxidants in spinach blocked the effects of free radicals.  I'm assuming that free radicals are people like the members of PETA, who no doubt became enraged upon discovering that rats were being puffed at with air, and began campaigning for their release.  Apparently, as long as the scientists can continue to supply their rats with spinach, these free radicals will stay blocked and the rodents will remain status quo in their exalted position as scientific subjects.

           It seems that blueberries fight the decline in rats’ memories.  Another valiant effort!  What a joy to realize that part of the money that we send to the government each year supports this heroic endeavor.  I can imagine the benefits now....

"Hey, Ralph! Do you remember that puff of air we got on December 12, 1996?" 

"Sure do, Rudy!  We flared our nostrils and blinked three times, just to mess with their heads!  What a riot!  We set them back six months, that time!" 

"Yeah, Ralph, but at least it got us off that diet of freeze-dried spinach we'd been on for nine months, and into blueberries, instead!"
              And this, my friends, is how our government allocates those tax monies we faithfully send to them each year on April fifteenth.