March 20, 2007

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First Language Hwæt! No, it’s not a typo (assuming the gods of cyberfonts are cooperating today). It’s the opening word of the epic poem Beowulf, written before the year 1000, in what we now call Old English. What does it mean? It’s one of those very useful words that means, “well, so, ahem: listen to me! I am about to say something! I’m starting now, so pay attention!” Handy, right? Actually, my daughter introduced me to the word—that’s the daughter who’s about to graduate from an expensive college with a shiny new degree in…comparative literature. And no job. But along the way she did acquire the ability to speak some Old English. She already spoke French, and added German in college. She’s following in my footsteps. My mother used to tell me that when I was very young, I had a Swiss nanny who spoke to me in French (I don’t remember her at all). As a result, when I first learned to talk, I was bilingual—I could switch back and forth, speaking English to my mother and French to my nanny. French obviously came easily to me when I studied it in school. But then, so did Spanish, Latin and German. I like languages; I like words. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I ended up a writer. And now I’m trying to learn Irish. Irish is an extremely difficult language. Irish doesn’t relate to any other language. And the Irish have a frustrating habit of changing the spelling and pronunciation of words depending on how they are used, and that usually means adding a lot of letters, to the many, many letters that are already there. Lots and lots of vowels—except that you don’t pronounce most of them. They’re just…there. So why am I torturing myself? For one thing, William Shatner said I should. No, he didn’t talk to me directly, but on Boston Legal his character said that learning a language would help to stave off senility by exercising the brain. Good idea. But more important was the fact that my father’s parents were both Irish-born, although they met in New York after emigrating. I never knew them. My (Yankee) mother met them once or twice, hated them on sight, and made sure my sister and I never had any contact with them. So I started taking Irish classes as a way to get to know them, albeit a bit late. Maybe it sounds silly to hope that understanding how a culture constructs and uses its language can tell you something about its people, but I thought it was worth a try. After all, Ireland has produced some renowned writers, poets and playwrights. And the ordinary people of Ireland have a long tradition of story-telling—in the days before television and radio, sitting around the smoky peat fire spinning tales was an established form of entertainment. Maybe it’s something in the water there, but maybe it’s also something in the sound of the words. I wish I could tell you that I can now carry on a meaningful conversation in Irish about the subtleties and nuances of literature. Sorry, I can’t. So far, after three years, I can say, hello, how are you? I am fine. Nice weather. I want meat and potatoes, please. And a pint. When somebody aims an Irish sentence at me, I freeze like a deer in the headlights, my mind blank, my tongue numb. And yet…sometimes the power of the language comes through, when you hear it spoken by someone born in Ireland. Like the music, much of Irish writing is sad. Maybe all that rain is depressing—that and a few centuries of poverty and English oppression and watching all your relatives sail away for a better life somewhere else while you’re stuck with a muddy farm too small to support anyone. Still, sometimes you catch flashes of the verbal brilliance that has kept Irish writing alive--the easy flow of sounds, the crafting of images that capture a time and place that we have all somehow incorporated into our own sense of nostalgia. Tá mé scríbhneoir. I am a writer. And maybe some small part of that is due to my Irish grandparents. Go raibh maith agat.
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Life, the Universe, and Everything Posted by Doranna Why are we here? Relax, I'm not about to go existentialist. I save that for 3 a.m. when the ceiling looks particularly dark and the dogs are sleeping so heavily there's not even gentle snoring in the background. No, this is my practical self in broad daylight, pondering the also practical nature of this spankin' new blog and how it fits into my online life. I already have a newsgroup, where I hold forth at length and chat with online friends just as though we were in my living room (only better, because I don't have to clean it before they get there). I have an author newsletter--that one goes out once a month, and is full of announcements and reminders about the books, along with some brief chattiness up front. And then there's the Amazon Plog, which is a more sporadic endeavor; I haven't really decided what to do with it, except to know that it's a good opportunity. There's MySpace; I'm still learning the ropes there. And last but definitely not least, there's Connery Beagle's LiveJournal. Connery is very much an "it's all about ME" dog and has plenty to talk about--whether it's about his latest song or his performance sports training, or an event we've gone to. All from his perception of it, of course! But there seem to be itches that these venues don't necessarily satisfy. Amazon issues tsk'y guidelines and then offers readers the chance to approve or disapprove of each post. Hey, converse with me, but don't grade me--! And the SFF Newsgroup is wonderful...I can hardly bring myself to stay away when I should be working! I love my little living room there...I just want a bigger room on the side. Greedy, I know. I also like the way my friend's bulletins and blogs show up on my MySpace home page, but reading them is more fun than interactive. And on the LiveJournal, Connery's delightful celebration of Himself is a hoot! But the interaction is obviously limited, even when I bring in older packmate Kacey (and resident evil genius) as a guest blogger. So what do we have here? A Writers Plot. A delightful and many faceted pun, just for starters. As if I can resist. But unlike my beloved SFF living room, it has high accessibility. Unlike MySpace, it's got interactivity. Unlike Amazon, no one's going to be grading me (and if that relieved observation inspires comments with grades, I can delete them if I want to. Mwah ha ha!). Unlike my newsletter, it's not all about the books. Unlike Connery's blog, it's not...well, all about Connery! And most importantly? Here I'm in the company of four other writers. In other words, it's not all about me! Not only do I get to chat about the things that strike me as noteworthy in my own little life plot, but there's the whole mix'n'match gestalt to share. It's a gathering of minds and experience alike enough to compliment each other and different enough to fascinate each other. Boy, I can't wait! The missing ingredient here, of course, is our guests. Whatever we are, you'll make us more so. Here's to that!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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