Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trap Doors. Part I.

As today is Wednesday, and as Wednesday's child, I'm primed to launch into the woeful bugaboo that really coaxed me into the blog-o-sphere. Anyone who's suffered recently through a dinner party or other social gathering that involved too much wine has heard me wax spastic about this concept I call the "trap door." I now intend to exploit my blog as a stage for my personal peccodilloes.

To the right of the screen, I've provided a picture of one genre of trap door. A particularly creepy trap door at that.

Side note: Recent discussions regarding the endangered hyphen push me to it trap-door, or "trap door." Surely we haven't devolved so much that it's now an overly Teutonic "trapdoor," have we? I found multiple uses of the term with and without a hyphen. Since the on-line OED requires a monthly payment of $29.95 or a yearly subscription for $295, I'll have to wonder until I get home tonight.

Back to the trap door at hand. This creepy trap door reminds me of "Deliverance," or "The Hills Have Eyes." Which is only to say that despite my quasi-rural upbringing, man-made holes in the earth make me think of deranged maniacs. A useful association, actually, when one thinks of the trap door as a bugaboo.

Another, and I promise the last, aside in this post: "Bugaboo" is a fun little word, isn't it? It has two equally fun meanings:

1. An object of obsessive, usually exaggerated, fear or anxiety.
2. A recurring or persistent problem.

The fact that marketers have co-opted this term as though it means "cute little children" is hilarious to me. For I, mostly, see children alternately as objects of exaggerated, obsessive anxiety or recurring, persistent problems. Delightful misstep, don't you think?


Trap door is the term I have begun to apply to rhetorical devices which allow writers (or speakers, though I'm much more interested in how this manifests in text) to evade battering out cohesive, balanced thoughts on an issue just after introducing a topic--especially topics of an uncomfortable, challenging nature.

Via the trap door, the writer/speaker evades any responsibility for the stickier implications of his or her point. A trap door is the hole into which the "response" part of "call and response" falls to a bloody death, especially if one is dealing with this phenomenon in conversation. (There's that Wednesday's child again...bloody death indeed. For shame.)

What makes the trap door insidious is the fact that its ultimate goal is comfort. It is more comfortable to end a complicated conversation with a platitude, or to change the subject, or to use a joke, or (worst of all, I feel) to fall back on irony. (Irony is another bugaboo, which I'll get into a bit later in my explorations of the trap door.)

My goal for the rest of the week is to find solid, illustrative examples. Right now, the most boorish one will at least begin to sketch out what I'm getting at.

[The setting is a trendy restaurant in New York]

Party A: Honestly, this neighborhood has become unbearable. I moved to New York for dirt, for passion, for art and transgression. And now there's a Baby Gap on every corner of the Village.

Parties B-D: [sighs] Yeah. It's so true.

Party A: I mean, I'm starting to wonder what I'm staying here for.

Party C: Well, the city does still have it's strong suits.

Party A: Yeah. Like restaurants! I cannot WAIT to try the foie gras's supposed to be fabulous. And who doesn't like a little foie gras with their urban discontent?

Parties B-DL: [laughing] True! Pass the wine.


Now. We've all tried to avoid the tedious, never-ending conversation that is how-our-city-town-or-village-has-changed. Especially at dinner. Especially when we're tired, and not all that interested in really digging into a socio-political debate about the relative rise and fall of Manhattan's cultural scene.

What gets me is the trap door -- the use of humor (in this case) to dismiss the question and move on to easier and more palatable topics. If you call foie gras PBJ palatable. Which I do.

Trap door.

It would be very, very simple for me to end my blog entry with that snarky comment about foie gras. If I may applaud myself, it was a stylish way of summarizing a rather tedious topic, and evading taking any responsibility for what I'm arguing.

It also means that you, as the reader, can stop working, too.

And that will not do, black shoe.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Rose is a Rose is a Flower with Many Petals

Language, like love, is a many-splendored thing. Or splendoured, if you're British. Or sometimes, a splintered thing.

Every so often, I encounter a hole in the English language. This is not an uncommon or English-centric phenomenon, I'm sure. If it were, than expressions like, "c'est le timing" or "c'est flash" would not exist in French. Clearly, the English terms "timing" and "flash(y)" capture sense (the je-ne-sais-quoi, if you will) a tad more purely than their French analogues.

(adj./n.) - je-ne-sais-quoi.

A term we use in English to emphasize that we don't know what we're talking about, literally translating to: "I don't know what."


I don't know why I'm so attracted to him, Mom. He has good posture. His smile? Maybe. Definitely not his fanatic intimacy with Wagnerian opera. I don't know. . . there's a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about him I just can't resist.


There's a certain I-don't-know-whatness about him.

Was language ever so bereft than in the moment illustrated above? Or is it that language, the actual exchange of signs and signifiers, benefits from this inter-lingual transposition? I tend believe the latter, even if je-ne-sais-quoi remains an overwhelmingly dumb example.

Now, saying anything in French seems to lend authority, élan (or is it panache?) and unbearable snoot to any conversation.
Which brings me to my main point of interest today--the phrase "l'homme de ma vie."

I first learned this phrase when I was living in France. A friend referred to her ex-husband as "l'homme de ma vie," by which she meant to communicate that in spite of their permanent estrangement, he was and would always be first in her heart. The romantic in me loved this gesture. The cynic in me assumed she was being melodramatic.

But then I saw the phrase in an article. And then I heard it on t.v. And on the street. Was it that this seeming overwrought phrase was common currency? Was it that the French really were over-sexed and hyper-romantic sops? Or was this phrase hitting on something else?

By the time I moved back to the States, I had come to the conclusion that this was one term commonly used to describe a romantic partner, with whom marriage may or may not be the tie that binds. In France, one spoke about living together, or having children together, with the man or woman of one's life. A copine or copain is just a copine or copain, but the "homme/femme de ma vie" is an entirely different thing.

What does this mean for English speakers? Well, it means that there is a phrase, ergo a recognition, of a type of relationship that we just don't have here in the good old U.S. of A. Or, apparently in British English, either. Here's a great look at the limits set by English when it comes to referring to the romantic being in one's life:

S. and I have had this conversation over and over again. What do we call each other? I've taken to referring to him as my partner, which many have pointed out leads people to assume that I'm gay. I don't not enjoy that confusion. However, I chafe at the business-like aspect of it.

We both hate "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." I especially get a kick out of friends who introduce us as "dating," given that dating implies to me that two parties meet in a place for the purpose of getting to know each other, and that that place is not their shared home.

A few times I told people he's my roommate. That led to a funny situation with a woman who found S. to be particularly toothsome. While the confusion amused us, it was not kind to the third party, so I haven't used that since.

S. likes the Spanish monniker of "mujer." I hate the idea of being referred to as "woman," even if it's in another language. So I suggested "l'homme/la femme de ma vie." We both like it. But are we going to use it? In conversation?

Only at cocktail parties where that brand of je-ne-sais-quoi guarantees us a quick exit and zero future invites.

Anyone have any other ideas? This is becoming a bit of a quest.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday's Child is Fair of Face

I was born on a Wednesday. In fact, I was born on the same Wednesday as Heath Ledger. I discovered this after doing a cursory Google search to determine which kind of child I was predicated to be. Not, apparently, fair of face.

Now there are two things I have in common with Heath Ledger: we both were born on Wednesday, April 4th, 1979, and we both live(d) in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY. I bet he also liked his burgers with the full Aussie lot. Now it's three. This is close to being a macabre game of Seven-Steps-to-Kevin-Bacon.

That I am making any of the connections above should clue you in, regardless of any fairness-of-face, to the fact that I am wholly Wednesday's child. Oh, Wednesday's children! What are we full of? Woe.

Woe is us. Or would it be, "Woe are us." I'll keep that in mind just in case I end up working for Toys R Us in the midst of a hot "Welcome to Tim Burton's Wild, Wacky World of Childhood Development" trend. Woe R Us, indeed.

So, we are woe. Pretty dramatic, right? I propose a rewrite of this nursery rhyme to better suit my personality. The late Mr. Ledger unfortunately has made a strong case for Wednesday's children. Which makes me sad. . .until I think about Zimbabwe, and proportion trumps particulars.

Shall we read the ditty?

Monday's child is fair of face,

Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child must work for a living,
But the child that's born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

And shall we pause for a moment to consider how this verse casts radical doom on not only Wednesday's, but Thursday's AND Saturday's child? Or, to put it another way, a good 3/7ths of the population? (Assuming, of course, that births are proportionate to the number of days in a week.)

While I'm assuming (and flagrantly risking ass-making), it might be fun to ponder whether this nursery rhyme has its foundations in Christianity. Let me get out my tattered copy of King James and remind myself what was created on the third, fourth and sixth day of Creation.

On the third day, God created dry land and plants.

So....obviously, this means that vegetarianism is woeful....? Let's check out day four.

On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon and stars.

Okay, so Thursday's child has far to go. This can be interpreted as meaning space travel, perhaps. Neil Armstrong was born on July 20th, 1930. That was a Sunday, which is the Pass-Go-&-Collect-$200 day. But Sally Ride was born on May 26th in 1951 -- a Saturday!!! Which brings us to our next day-o'-birthin'-doom. (Attention, young feminists. There is a masters thesis somewhere in this...)

On the sixth day, God created the land animals and man.

Well. I suppose I can see the "work for a living" theme, although I'm not too thrilled about the idea of turning the mythic consequences of Original Sin into a nursery rhyme.


Today is Monday, and that's where this tangent began, as well as this blog.

Why "even the fleas" for a name? Suffice it to say: it was the first combination that I could claim both from Blogger and the Domain Mafia.

Sorry, Mr. Porter. After I found out Wednesday's Child was an adoption organization, I really wanted to name the blog "Educated Fleas." 'Twas not meant to be.

Could "Even the Fleas" be a good name for an adoption organization? Points to ponder. Don't let's ask Elna Baker. (We already know it's a BAD idea anyway, right?)