What’s on Your Mind?

(c) Joseph Saling 2020

I said I was coming back, and here I am. Thanks to all of you who’ve been patient enough to look in from time to time and not give up. Thanks also to those who have prodded me. And, yes, I did need it. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say. It’s rather that I couldn’t say it. My mind just keeps getting in my way.

I was talking to Sandy about what smart TVs do for us in terms of what we watch and how we watch it. What I didn’t know was that my mind was going to shut me down. Big Little Lies starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and loads of other actors with names we’d recognize in instant, was the example I wanted to use. And in particular, I wanted to talk about Nicole Kidman’s performance. And BINGO. Her name wasn’t there.

And it wasn’t just her name. I was going to use the name of her husband and costar in Eyes Wide Shut — Tom Cruise, of course — to help me get her name back. But guess what, his name was gone too. I could name multiple movies we’d seen him in. I could talk about the focus on Scientology. But it was no use because both names were gone, and with them was the point I was going to make about watching smart TV.

The bottom line was I’m getting older and it’s doing bad things to my mind. I told my therapist about the incident and about how often it happens over and over. I know who these people are, but I’ve got no way to talk about them because my memory won’t give me a chance.

My therapist (whom I trust immensely) said I could see a neurologist, but odds were I’d ace all the tests. I talked to my regular doctor who echoed my therapist and told me I’d have no problem acing the tests. But she said it wouldn’t hurt to see the neurologist and that she’d refer me.

I saw him. He was young, but knowledgeable and charismatic. He told me I was not losing my mental capacity. It was just that as we get older, our mind starts to store and access memories in different ways, and there were things I could do to offset the changes. So I’m trying.

But forgetting things (including “what did I want that just made walk into the kitchen”) is not the only problem. We work out things we want to say in our mind before we actually reach for words. At least, it seems that way. But when things we ponder don’t yield themselves to words that convey what we are feeling, it becomes extremely difficult to talk about them. So here I am.

The poem below — “A Matter of Mind” — is the title poem of my book published in 2004. It can explain at least how it feels not to be able to express what you may desperately want to say.

A Matter of Mind

I had no way to tell you because words
made it a matter of mind. But that morning
two hawks in circle dance cried above me
as I longed for their wings, wished to grow wings.

Pictures, perhaps, but I was no painter
who could catch the crow flapping above mowed fields.
Nor was I a musician to make music
like the music of gulls rocked by the wind.

The mind would not do.  That night I heard owls
& felt bones of mice under foot while I let
my cigarette burn itself out, wishing
only to extinguish the mind that raced
through thought after thought like a mockingbird
caught in a web of meaningless melody.
 (c) copyright 2004 and 2020 by Joseph Saling 

Say, Buddy. Got time to explain something to me?

Can you explain something to me? I heard Paul Ryan at his press conference describe how the new tax code will help America “recover.” And to give an example of how cutting the corporate tax to 20% will bring American businesses back, he used an example from his own state – Wisconsin. He said the biggest company headquartered in Wisconsin used to be Johnson Controls (or something like that), but they’re not there anymore. Instead, they’ve moved their business to Ireland where the tax is something like 12.5%. But when America cuts its tax rate to 20%, the company will come back and build new buildings and hire new workers.

 Now I know my mind’s been clouded by all those years of teaching and defending the teaching of critical thinking. But I don’t even need to use critical thinking to figure out that 12.5% is significantly less than 20%. So are the operators and stock holders of Johnson Controls, who moved the company from America because they wanted to go where the tax was lower, just not smart? If that’s not the case, why will they be bringing the company back to America?

 Maybe it’s just something about trickle down that I don’t understand.

 

An editor told me they prefer to use the plural pronoun rather than he or she and be correct.

A Scene from Twelfth Night by William Shakespe...

A Scene from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare: Act V, Scene i (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Oxford Dictionaries Web site says the use of the plural third person pronoun as an alternative to the “he or she” construction is actually a throwback to 16th century English and is gaining in popularity and acceptance. But I can’t help it. It sounds ignorant or just plain lazy, especially when editors, whose job is to help writers be precise and effective in their use of the language, are the ones advocating it.

Correctness in the use of language isn’t about blindly following rules. It’s about meaning and clarity. It’s about being understood. Consider this:

If your child wants good grades they need to pay attention in school and study.

Who are they? And exactly how are they going to help my child?

An editor recently told me her company (I could have said their company but chose not to) are moving toward making the use of the plural pronoun part of the house style. When I pointed out that the use of they in the sentence above is open to misinterpretation and gets in the way of effective and efficient communication, her explanation was that the copy editor had pointed out that Shakespeare had used the construction, so it is ok to use it now.

I didn’t really have an answer other than to point out that Shakespeare also used “thou” and “hath,” which didn’t impress the editor very much. But then I got to thinking that citing Shakespeare’s use as a justification for unorthodox constructions could solve some problems a lot of people worry about. Here’s a sampling of Shakespearean constructions you can point to when someone tells you you don’t speak good:

English: banner Shakespeare

English: banner Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to use one part of speech for another (for instance you want to google something) Shakespeare said:

  • This day shall gentle his condition. (From Hamlet)

If you want to alter the meaning of an adjective here’s how Shakespeare did it:

  • Wherever in your sightless (= invisible) substances. (From Macbeth)
  • That is deceivable (= deceptive). (From Twelfth Night)

If you don’t want to bother checking for subject-verb agreement:

  •  These high wide hills … draws out our miles and makes them wearisome (From Richard II)

If you’re tired of determining whether it’s he or him or it’s who or whom:

  •  Yes, you may have seen Cassio and she together. (From Othello)
  • Pray you, who does the wolf love? (From Coriolanus)

If you’re not sure of how to form the comparative or superlative and it’s just too hard to look it up:

  • And his more braver daughter could control thee. (From The Tempest)
  • With the most boldest and best hearts of Rome (From Julius Caesar)

If you need to cut insignificant words (such as to or for) to stay within an arbitrary word limit:

  • As deep as to the lungs, who does me this? (From Hamlet)

I found these examples — and there’s more to see — at the Shakespeare Resource Center Web site.

Before you check it out, though, why not join the fray below…