Auto-Correct

A few months ago, I took an old notebook, half-filled with Russian words, out of a cupboard, and appointed it my new diary notebook.

It has more ink in it now than it could ever have as the kind of notebook you take to classes. In fact, it’s almost full by now. When I wave it goodbye and take on a new one, I know I’ll remember it with fondness because it is the place where I’ve learned and am practicing a new life skill: auto-correct.

The pages filled with Russian words are the only pages from my notebook that you're allowed to see...
The only pages from my notebook that you’re allowed to see…

Let me explain. For most of my life, I thought I lacked self-confidence but that that was the way I was. I thought that not being sure what you want and not believing that you can get what you want was something you were born with and that you couldn’t change regardless of how much effort you put into it.

“Being the way I was” in this aspect never made me happy. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided I can get rid of tendencies that make me unhappy.

One of the eye-opening events during that time was reading Anna’s post about women’s lack of confidence in their dreams, plans, and abilities.

It was this post that made me start to notice the little “I think’s” and “maybes” that I slip into my utterances, my diary entries, even my thoughts. And when I became aware of the number of those seemingly harmless words in my language, I decided to… one after another, get rid of the fuckers.

So when I had filled some of the new notebook those few months ago and, flipping through it one lazy day, spotted several sentences starting with “I think I may want to…” or “maybe I will…” crowding it up, I corrected them to what I actually wanted to say: “I want to”, “I will”.

Since then, I’ve crossed out many “I think’s” and “maybes”, and you know what? Over time, I’ve begun to feel more confident about what I want and how I feel about things. In fact, I’m just beginning to believe that I have the right to want things, and to feel about things the way I do. In other words, I’m beginning to feel that my life is actually mine.

Auto-correct may well sound silly to you, but to me it sounds like the best way to start. I have always experienced words spoken out loud as “heavier” than ones you just turn over in your head. That’s probably because I don’t like talking very much, so when I do talk, I try to at least make the words “heavier”, that is more meaningful.

The same goes for words that get crossed out on paper — the act of crossing them out means that I don’t want them in my language. It’s a manifestation. It means that I want to change.

So if you also want to change something about yourself… why not try out auto-correct?

Word Issues #8: Disrespect

This post is an experiment for me. I wrote it ten months ago and after I opened the file yesterday, it intrigued me because I didn’t quite remember writing it. And although I would write it differently now, I’m posting it here as is, only with some editing*.

 

Disrespect

When I was being prepared for confirmation (yup, actual Catholic confirmation) some eight years ago, the priest who taught religion at my school (yup, they actually “teach religion” in schools in my country) told us to make one forever-binding promise to God.

So I made the promise to myself instead that from then on, I’d respect every single person I meet.

I made this promise although I didn’t feel particularly respectful towards that priest at the moment. (Seriously, what kind of a moron makes teenagers make such promises?) Nor did I feel respectful towards many other individuals around me at that time.

I guess that in my own way, I was being idealistic: without actually idealizing anybody around me, I idealized my capability for kindness, respect, tolerance, and so on.

But the older I get, the more apparent it becomes that I can’t fulfill this promise. All those nicey-picey, cuddly-wuddly things like love, kindness, tolerance, and even respect, just aren’t there for everyone. I wish I had them in me at all times, but I don’t.

I lose respect when I see cruelty and stupidity.

I’m not tolerant of people who knowingly confirm all the bad expectations society has about them.

I’ve grown out of the belief that you have to be kind to those who have wasted their time on earth.

From the few of Charles Bukowski’s poems that I read, I liked one:

we are always asked
to understand the other person’s
viewpoint
no matter how
out-dated
foolish or
obnoxious.

one is asked
to view
their total error
their life-waste
with
kindliness,
especially if they are
aged.

but age is the total of
our doing.
they have aged
badly
because they have
lived
out of focus,
they have refused to
see.

not their fault?

whose fault?
mine?

I am asked to hide
my viewpoint
from them
for fear of their
fear.

age is no crime

but the shame
of a deliberately
wasted
life

among so many
deliberately
wasted
lives

is.

The poem seems to be written from the perspective of someone young, and lacking in respect for the old ones who have aged badly.

My own disrespect transcends the categories of young and old. It’s trans-categorial, omni-present, and ever-growing. I can’t shake it, and I don’t think I will ever be able to do so.

If anything, it will get worse with age. I will be an old woman one day, hanging around and nurturing her misanthropy before it kills her. Actually, I can’t wait for this.

 

Well all right, I would probably write it pretty much the same way if I did it on the day I saw that stupid woman at the bus stop who was squeezing the hand of a boy, squeezing it hard with her big, fat, stupid hands of a grown-up and shouting just because the boy preferred to run around instead of standing in one place. Fuck you, woman at the bus stop.

And you who are reading this, please don’t get me wrong. I respect people and even like them but not when I see this kind of shit done.

 

* I know a fellow blogger who sometimes posts his short stories with little notes that he doesn’t remember writing them and stuff like that. It’s cheap but it works so I decided to try it.

Word Issues #4: Virginity

As I have already said in this post, I like words.

But some, I don’t. It might be because they “sound bad” to me, or it might be the way people use them with other words and create horrible images that reflect their horrible views of the world they live in.

Because words matter, and after a year of attending a seminar in cognitive poetics, I have become much more sensitive to this: words matter in the way their usage reflects how we see the world.

For example, we associate the upward direction with changes for the better, and the downward direction — with deterioration, and hence we speak of e.g. “uplifting stories” and “down-trodden workers”. Or we see certain actions as involving a transfer even if what is “transferred” is not a material object but, say, a piece of information (consider e.g. “leave a message”).

This leaves room for endless mooning over particular collocations that strike you as meaningful: you hear someone use an expression, and then you have something to analyse cognitively when you’re on a bus, or something. But it can also make life very annoying.

For instance, if you search for “virginity” in any collocations dictionary, the entry you’re sure to find is “lose virginity” (some also give “take away virginity”). You’ll find the same results in any language corpus and, needless to say, you’ll probably hear the word used that way more often than any other.

And if you think of this in cognitive poetic terms, like I do, you’ll soon be mad because you’ll see the error in it. These words put together show virginity as a thing you can transfer, something you can lose or take away from somebody, when in fact… it’s just a state.

You’re in this state, and they you might stop being in this state, but the moment this changes — the moment you stop being a virgin — isn’t an act of losing or taking something.

Like all error, this may influence the way we think about the world in stupid ways: for instance, some people see virginity as a value to be protected when in fact what we should protect is not made-up values, but people’s safety and health.

Of course, it may well not bother you at all, but I can’t just pass over it. Not as a cognitive poetics student, and certainly not when I’m in my annoyed mode.

Because, like all error, it’s annoying.

Word Issues #2: Independence

How do you decide whether a person you talk to is “independent”? Does the fact they pay for their own coffee make them independent? Or is it the fact that they’re not afraid to hold an opinion different from everyone else’s? Or does “independent” mean they’ll keep doing everything on their own because they don’t believe someone else could handle things just as well?

The initial question isn’t a rhetorical one: I’m seriously at a loss whenever someone uses the word “independent” with no additional context. It’s the next one in my collection of empty words.

In Gombrowicz. Człowiek wobec ludzi (“Gombrowicz. A Person in Relation to People”), a book about the social philosophy of Witold Gombrowicz, Leszek Nowak equates independence with resisting other people’s influence and remaining in your current form. Viewed in such terms, independence means you are a rigid structure that no one can change, and your life stagnates. Viewed in such terms, independence sucks. Who would want to never change, never grow?

Fortunately, humans don’t work that way (or those I know don’t): they grow, they change, they talk to others and change their opinions, they live with others and change their habits, they get emotionally influenced by others and change their whole attitude to life.

Progress is all about a kind of dependence: the good kind which makes you think, and re-think things; slip into some sort of disguise to later discover “this is not your real self”; beat your bad habits and become who you want to be [1].

Man is created by other people […] he may think that it is different, that he is governed by his own spirit which ‘fires where it will’, but these are only humanistic illusions […]. There is really only one thing that man can do: abandon the humanistic ideology and find the courage to understand his own poverty. Understand that it is beyond his power to shape himself, because he will be shaped by others anyway, whether he wants it or not […]. Understanding that it is the Inter-human that shapes his personality, he can manipulate his contacts with people. Feeling that he lacks something, man can get entangled in such a net of relations that will necessitate the desired fulfilment of this shortage. He can direct himself among people, becoming – thanks to them – the person he desires to be […]. Man, being most sharply conditioned […], can therefore develop a sharpest awareness of his conditions […]. To utilize these conditions so as to achieve the desired self-image [2]

A friend once told me I was the most independent person she’d ever met. I don’t really know what she meant, because she didn’t attach a glossary entry, but I wasn’t too happy when I heard it: my immediate interpretation was something along the lines of Nowak’s notion of independence. So I was afraid I was becoming this rigid structure of beliefs, habits, and attitudes that no one could change. I felt it might be the case because I knew I was afraid of change, and wouldn’t let people influence me.

Her remark influenced me more than I could suspect back then: I’ve grown out of this fear since.

I remember once buying a flower baseball cap spontaneously because my friends encouraged me to do it, and then thinking: “Wait, I actually did that? But I never buy things on the spur of the moment… That’s interesting.” Life in general gets more interesting when you open to other people’s influence. It’s actually fascinating for me, the possibility of change.

Which isn’t to say I myself want to be a completely different person tomorrow morning; I just like watching how people strangle their old habits and develop new ones, stop missing their well-remembered places and go in search of new ones to live and love in, express strong beliefs and then are happy contradicting them with all their hearts.

By the way, I no longer like that flower-pattern cap. I wear a one-colour one now. One-colour caps are cool. 😉 But this wasn’t meant as a headwear post; it was supposed to be about independence, but it seems I still don’t know what I’m talking about…

So tell me, how do you define an independent person? What does the word “independence” mean for you? I don’t want to keep it in my Empty Words basket — I’d much rather move it to the People Disagree over the Definition one.

[1] Or alliterate like you actually believed this practice will one day make you a writer as good as the ones you admire.

[2] Nowak Leszek. Gombrowicz. Człowiek wobec ludzi. Warszawa 2000. Page 55 (my own translation).

Word Issues #1: A Love Letter

Dear old lexicon of the Polish language,

As much as I love and adore you, I want you to know that there are parts of you that have stopped meaning anything to me, and there are also parts of you that never meant anything to me. It’s a cruel thing to say but they say love is cruel, and this doesn’t mean anything to me either but I repeat what I’ve heard many times because you’re supposed to repeat what you’ve heard many times. As in, you know, repetition.
Oh, please, don’t! You really don’t have to remind me that you don’t like repetition. I don’t like it either but I do it because I’m supposed to do it because you’re supposed to do what you’re supposed to do.
Hang on. I’ve some meaningful things to say to you.

Let me begin by saying that there aren’t no things metaphysical (“metafizycznych”). As in, you know, I wish for something metaphysical to start happening in my life. Every time I hear a thing like that, I want to throw up my very physical last meal from the dark abyss of my also very physical guts. Why? Because it makes me sick to hear someone speak of love (they usually mean love; we’re so very much concerned with love here) as something metaphysical. Why? Because I’m a picker-on-words. And why else? Because I have a very deep, profound, indeed almost metaphysical conviction that love is physical.
I’m feeling childlike as I write it, so I’ll ask once again: Why?
Because love happens in the physical world among physical people who on a very physical level experience attraction, and lust, and uncertainty, and attachment, and suffering, and happiness. Because it’s also about sharing vaginal fluids, and a flat, and plans, and thoughts, all of which are physical. And no one will convince me that the activity of a person planning a life with another, or thinking (as in I’m thinking of you all the time when I don’t think about anything else), is anything other than physical. Aren’t neurons physical?
I once thought of love as metaphysical because I heard some story saying that it was that, and you’re supposed to think what you’ve been told, and if you’ve been told things beautiful but untrue, you’re supposed to think things beautiful but untrue.
But then I found out that love is physical, and beautiful, and true; and the part of you, my dear language, which describes love as metaphysical has lost its meaning to me.

Crushing as it may be, my dear, there is also a part of you that never meant anything to me. A broken part with identity issues and a long history of abuse, it occupies a rather uncomfortable place in your structure. I’ll squeeze my fingers so as not to throw up, and I’ll say it: this part is the word romantic (“romantyczny”). Now, why do I get nauseous at that? That’s so unromantic of me. Even more so than not having watched Love, Actually, right?
I get (metaphorically! almost like meta…) nauseous because I can’t stand the abuse to which this word has been subjected, and the way that has shattered its very identity. This is serious shit, you know, when people describe the practice of giving flowers or useless presents as romantic. The shit’s equally serious when they use this word to refer to a sky that you’re supposed to admire because there are white and pink smudges on it, and for some reason you’re supposed to think of them as admirable. It’s dead serious when they then use it in the negative to refer to you if you don’t find the smudges admirable.
But seriously, the shit reaches its utmost level of seriousness when you hear someone dismiss someone else altogether because the useless presents mentioned before aren’t provided. Like the rings, and teddy bears, and stuff are what romance is about. Like being romantic is a requirement. Like I no longer know what to think when I hear this word because it has so many meanings, none of which means much to me, and what am I supposed to do now!?
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do but you have to think something up when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, so I did think up the idea that I can dismiss a word from my private lexicon when I don’t know how to use it. It has stopped meaning anything to me since then, and now every time I hear it I have to construe its meaning anew. This is serious… but quite a useful practice in this case.

I have to finish. My heart is broken because I repeat things like My heart is broken, and it breaks my heart to do so. I’ll end this letter by saying that I love you. There are parts of you that are truly shitty, and I love you in spite of them. But please: don’t ram these parts of you down my throat. It’s not fun, and I might throw up.

All yours,
Mulan

Ben Howard–induced blabber

If you’ve got 6 and a half minutes to spare and haven’t so far listened to the word love repeated over and over by a crowd of people for half of that time – this weird experience is waiting for you here.

I’d like to be there with those people, but watching them on youtube is fun, too. I love this song, and I love Ben Howard’s voice, and the jacket or whatever it is he’s wearing here is also kind of cool.

But I meant to write about something else, something which is also weird, and which is also love.

I love words. Not all words, and not always. I simply fall for certain words that people let out in certain particular orders, and on the sole basis of their beauty I obsess.

I may be listening to someone speaking to me, or speaking to someone else, or delivering a lecture, or fucking yelling at a fellow driver on a crossroads and suddenly get intrigued by a word this someone’s just used —

and start thinking, wondering, considering, getting impressed (like I do when someone uses the pluperfect form in Polish) or itchy (like I do when I don’t know the meaning), and putting it down in my memory as if something happened.

Or I may be reading a book — it happens with books mostly — and come upon an order of words that I can’t resist. And I read it for the second and third, and fifteenth time, and soon I have it stolen and secreted in a notebook, or a Word file. As if I found something worthy of theft.

I write as if, but I really have no doubt that words are worthy of that, and that something actually happens when someone uses a word that I can’t let by.

So what happens, exactly? Nothing much, I probably just get more weird.


With love to all of those who also love words,

Mulan