Tag Archives: language

The Oxymoron of Social Media

Social media: the name implies communication (defined by me as an exchange of ideas only possible between individuals who consider themselves equals) yet most of us seem to use it exclusively to sell ourselves – our products, our services, our ideas. There is neither space (i.e., post limits) or time (i.e., lifespan of the average post) to conduct in-depth meaningful exchange, and the medium itself gives us the illusion but not reality of personal interaction, if only due to its inability to effectively transmit sarcasm, irony, humor, or any other subtlety. It is as a result the drink that temporarily sates, but does not satisfy. If it refills our “social” meter (to use a concept from the SIMS), it does so only vaguely, like a sugar or caffeine high that leaves us more tired and alone than before we indulged.

The media is indeed the message: Keep your thoughts brief, your repartee sharp and lightning fast. Use emoticons to reduce a wide range of human emotions to a small set of easily recognized and irritatingly vague options that transcend the need to maintain (or even develop) language skills at all. Show solidarity by sharing – but not by sharing reasoned, thought-out, and well-spoken dialogue between equals (see “communication”, above), but by changing your screen icons to the same colors.

These all-too-public gatherings are not water cooler conversations (at worst) or coffee shop klatches (at best). They are sound bytes that convince us we’re watching the same movie – and each hearing excerpts of an assumed larger and shared soundtrack to our lives. This assumption gives us “brotherhood” without commitment, “sharing” without sacrifice, “community” without neighbors, “friends” without relationship.

How does that work, exactly?

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Music and me

There are those who imagine “magical” places like they are scenes from the “happily ever after” part of a fairy tale: in a strange twist, they believe the hereafter, the great beyond, and the future tense of once upon a time to be like the world initially encountered by the young Siddhartha Buddha, one without care, disease, want or sorrow. But the truth is these places are just like right here, with their absence from our immediate view the only advantage given their fabulous and dazzling marketing brochures.

Music is one of those magical places. People say music is a language, a conduit, a means for connecting. Those metaphors make it seem like another world, or at least a foreign country. Extending that metaphor, people don’t really talk too much about the place whose natives speak that language as their first tongue: there’s not a lot of information on its geography, customs, and government, nor its climate, flora or fauna, be they beneficial and friendly, or poisonous and otherwise harmful.

I’ve know a lot of people who have visited, including myself, but I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who actually “lives” there year-round or calls it their original homeland.

There is no authoritative guidebook or CIA fact book about this foreign place – although to some it may seem one is necessary. A lot of people THINK they understand musicians, sometimes, but at other times must be content to shrug their shoulders, shake their heads and walk away, puzzled and confused.

Think of this as the beginning, then, of a travelogue, a descriptive narrative of these travels to the land of music. Because music, especially singing, CAN transport you to another place, where your body, mind and spirit are entirely wrapped up in a universal current. The danger is that when you come back from that place, you cannot communicate what you found there, because it does require a different language, a non-language. And getting back there is hard. It is tempting, so tempting, to fake your passport to that land, or at least grease a few officials’ palms, by artificial means. But those artificial means only make you think everyone else understands you while you’re there. And then, at some point, the artificial means can betray you, leaving you standing at the border only able to look in, but not cross over.

10 SEP 2014

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At Shakespeare’s Feet

At Shakespeare’s feet must surely lay the blame:
the histories he gave dramatic cause
put in the mouths of persons dull and lame
an eloquence to hide their actual flaws.

With words beyond their likely frame of mind,
he put this world’s past leaders up so high
that when comparing those we can now find
we have no choice but hang our heads and cry.

Because of him, we think our world decayed,
reduced to some sad shadow of the past.
The truth is such bold speech was never made;
at least not likely by those Shakespeare cast.

What history we do know surely lacks
such citadels; they seem, in truth, mere shacks.

04 APR 2013

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A word used in place of the word implied


There’s a little word that covers so much ground, fits in so many contexts, and feels so at home in so many social variations that most people don’t give it a lot of thought. It’s what I like to call a ‘Smurf’ or a word used in place of the word implied. ‘Smurf’ is an imaginary blue creature that exists in the world of celluloid and merchandising (and what a lovely place that is!) whose primary interesting characteristic, besides a total fear and loathing for witchcraft as represented by a bumbling, bald headed man in a monk’s robe and his more sinister, closer-to-earth familiar (speaking of familiar, does this attitude toward earth-centered religions remind you of any place in particular?), is a wonderful habit of replacing certain words in certain sentences said in certain situations with the word ‘Smurfy.’ A brief (and only brief, because I feel an entire linguistics volume could not do justice to such a concept) list of examples and the wide range of interpretation available to our young, eager-to-learn minds is (NOTE: Although the word ‘Smurfy’ is normally used in a seemingly positive sense, there always lurks in the darkness a negative, absurdly wicked (or suggestive) meaning to any potential word substitution game. This is also known as ‘pig subliminalese.’).


“I feel Smurfy today!”

MALE SPEAKER: could refer to being happy, rested, positive, adventurous, wonderful, god-like (see note on ‘Oh, Smurf!’) or angry, upset, disturbed, horny, out of control, evil, etc.

FEMALE SPEAKER: same as above except could also mean, “It’s a day before my period starts and I’m really on edge. Don’t fuck with me, because I’ve got a 12-pound sledge hammer ready to turn you into jelly.”

“That’s just Smurfy!”

SMURFESE for: that sucks, that’s wonderful, that’s totally beyond my comprehension, that really puts a whole new angle on our relationship, my little Smurfy one, etc., etc.

“Oh, Smurf!”

COULD BE a recognition of a smurfalene deity, or an expression of horror, pleasure or almost anything else. One could almost say, ‘Oh, Vague!’ and cover the same ground.


What is this all leading to in our own language? We have a word like ‘Smurf’ in our vocabulary. Surprised? Know what the word is, cousin?


That’s the word, and here are some examples of it in use:

“I gotta take a shit”

Oddly enough, this means a need for a bowel movement.

“I feel like shit!”

A comparison of one’s own state of health and being with that of fecal matter. Does shit often feel like us?

“This food tastes like shit!”

Again, how do we know?

“This is good shit, man!”

The best in life is always that which leaves us.

“Shit! That dude is the shit!”

Once again, we equate the best with the most mortal part of ourselves.

“Oh, shit!”

Could be a substitute for swearing on the earth, which is God’s foot “stool” (no pun intended).

SPEAKING OF SHIT: Shit Sandwich – A One Act Play

Have you ever wondered what goes into a shit sandwich? I got a feeling you ain’t gonna believe it, brother.

CAST (in order of appearance):

MERDE – A local heavy, working for the Sanitation Department
BREAD – A clerk at the local food bank
TOMMY ATO – A reproductively challenged playboy
ROSEMARY – A fresh, young girl from the country
MUSTARD – A friend of Merde’s, perhaps a relative

Scene One

The action takes place in the town of Countertop, where all the characters reside. As we join the action, MERDE enters from stage left and greets MUSTARD, who is hanging out center stage.

MUSTARD (seeing MERDE enter): Shit, man, you got any bread?

MERDE (shakes his head): Nah, man, I’m all dried out. You seen Mayo around?

MUSTARD: Saw him at the shelf coupla days ago; looks like he’s spreading himself pretty thin. I think he’s been hanging out with Tommy Ato.

MERDE: Never could figure that motherfucker out – people say he’s a vegetable . . .

MUSTARD: Nah, he’s just a fucking fruit.

MERDE: It’s all in where your seed ends up, man.

MUSTARD: Ain’t it the truth?

MERDE: Howz Spice doin’?

MUSTARD: That sage? Doing all right, if you know what I’m saying; heard he’s hanging down on Rack Street with ma boys Pepper and Dillon.

MERDE: Pepper still got that bitch Rosemary?

MUSTARD: Yeah, she’s still fresh. D’ya see her sister, man?

MERDE: Shit, yeah, I know . . . most beautiful onion I ever seen. We oughta call her up and get this thing goin’ on.

MUSTARD: We gotta have bread for that, man.

MERDE: Don’t I know it! Maybe we should call up The Knife, touch him for a spot.

MUSTARD: I heard Margarine and her lard-ass sister were buttering him up good. Plus, he’s been known to cut his shit, if you know what I’m saying.

MERDE (shivering): Nah, man, I’m not into that.


Excerpt from the unpublished Secret Undertown Ministry, 1994

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If Words Alone Could Change the World

If words alone could change the world
the poets would still reign as kings,
and those who may rely on swords
would spend their time on lesser things.

The lure of verse, both blank and rhymed,
would tempt young minds to greater heights;
to cast aside appearances
and reclaim beauty as their right.

If words alone could change the world,
then love would be the ruling act;
for more has been said on this verb
than said on any other fact.

The search for meaning would consume
that span that runs from birth to death;
and those who would conceal great truths
would waste both time and precious breath.

If words alone could change the world,
each pulpit, podium and stage
would needs be guarded night and day
lest some loose phrase escape its cage

and in an instant, raze to ash
our vain illusions, leaving naught
except the aching poet’s mind
that dreams of texts no longer taught.

19 AUG 2007

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Death of a Circus Lion

His speech was almost poetry;
I say almost, because to claim
such subtle acts of sophistry
as conscious art is to enflame
the ire of critics, who exist
with their sole purpose to decry
encroachment on their world as lies,
and play the constant pessimist.

The world’s not ready, they proclaim,
for such a mix of show and tell;
for movements that defy a name.
The vanity of hope won’t sell
a single copy on the coasts.
Besides, a voice we cannot tell
“be silent” is quite mad; to boast
its worthiness despite our well
intentioned praise, or degradation,
seems to smack of heresy.
I ask you, in this situation,
would you dare let such things be?

In these and other ways, more sly,
the world prefers its genius mute;
no small surprise that you and I
give up such goals as our pursuit,
and gambol, as if without care,
through life without a moment’s thought
to who built our cage bars just there,
or for what purpose we were caught.

25 JUL 2005

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As if the hazel mud

As if the hazel mud
its edges flecked with dull green
and salt-stain,
cracked and peeling along
the summer dry edges
of the viaduct
that ran its length,
a brittle concrete spine,
down through the
creosote valley
from cinder block to overpass
were somehow host
to hordes of unseen ghosts
where once the heartless roots
of dandelion split
the grey white skin into
psoriasis scabs and lesions.

That’s how the city’s heavy
mid-July became a poem;
rending itself, in slow catharsis,
from some meaningless
overpass photo op
into a metaphor
of urban blight.

As if that were enough:
to use each word from that
threadbare thesaurus,
marking up the boring proof
that being marble, made a statue,
with no sign of art
beyond the lexicon
of vague pretension.

That’s how you become a writer:
just convince yourself
your vision isn’t just another
meaningless sight.

In your world, I can never be a poet.

20 JUL 2005

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