Just when I was beginning to gnash my teeth and overthink my first blog post, I was tagged in a bloghop! What is a bloghop, one might ask? It’s like a chain letter, except with more introspection and less stamps. Writers send each other questions to answer in their respective blogs, then tag additional writers and ask them questions. I was invited to this bloghop by my friend Raya, visual artist, dancer, and astrolabe specialist. In turn, I am tagging my friend David Tanimura, digital artist, social media curator, and judo sensei.
So, onto the questions:
Have you ever invented a word and/or wished that you could use a word from another language in English?
Yes and yes. I have a very distinctive idiolect, which the Husbandit has dubbed “Amelian.” Amelian consists of a lot of invented words and diminutives; many of these are terms that I used as a child, which my mother started using, then I picked up from her later on, completing the cycle. Here are some examples of Amelian:
Bite-y things = all bugs, mammals, and monsters that I think might bite me. Spiders, bears, alligators, T-rexes, Shelob, and Godzilla are all Bite-y Things.
Munskies = money
Snackles = snacks
In addition to English and Amelian, I speak Spanish; not fluently, but enough to read a newspaper, listen a podcast and carry on a conversation. There are many things I love about Spanish, but I particularly love the extensive diminutive use that is common in Mexican Spanish. For example, a cup of té (tea) or café (coffee) is often referred to as un tecito, or un cafecito. I wish I could use Spanish diminutives more in my everyday speech.
However, I have integrated a Mexican Spanish word into Amelian. Back in 2003 I interned with an anthropologist in Morelos, Mexico, collecting personal narratives from women in the village of Xochitlan. Many of our consultants in the Xochitlan used the word escuincles to refer to children. I learned that the word was derived from the Nahua word itzcuīntli, meaning puppy dog. I loved this word and used at every opportunity. My mother picked it up from me, but couldn’t remember the exact word, so she said squinkles instead. Eventually, I started calling little kids squinkles as well. Thus, I both invented a word and integrated a foreign word into my everyday speech. I’m gunning to have squinkle included in the Oxford English dictionary before I die.
Tell us something about your life (other than reading and writing) that has come to bear significantly on your writing.
The experience of feeling that my family was different than the rest of my community had a profound effect on me and continues to inform my writing. My parents were and are full time working artists, lefty liberals, vegetarians, and my mama was a single mother for some time. While these qualities are not unusual in many communities, they were a Very Big Deal in my Indiana hometown in the 1980s and early 1990s. I went to a Christian school in the early Bush years, just as the American Protestant churches were forming an alliance with the Republican party. I remember feeling that lines were being drawn by the adults around me, and that my parents and my school friends’ parents saw each other as wrong and threatening to their way of life.
As a child, I felt like had a foot in two worlds that were actively trying to separate. There was the world of my family, full of boycotts and tofu and long conversations about Alice Walker’s new book; and there was the world of my school friends, full of Bible classes, and mashed potatoes, and long conversations about embracing the Godly life. Both worlds had a sense of moral righteousness and were absolutely convinced that the other was either evil and/or stupid. I liked the certainty and food that came with my school world (it took a while for me to become a tofu fan and American vegetarianism was still finding its feet) but my mom’s job and marital status and politics made us suspect. I felt both fiercely protective of my weird family and embarrassed by our oddities. Although my experience of being singled out as different (and thus threatening) pales in comparison to many people’s experience, I’ve always felt empathy for anyone that is marked as “other.” As a writer I find myself creating characters that see each other as “other” and exploring how that affects their actions and perceptions.
I’m also fascinated by culture and contact across cultures. There is a snapshot of me aged 13, sitting apart from a group of middle school girls, taking notes on the scene. That pretty much sums up my relationship with writing and people—I write to understand people. I find the fact that as a species, we find so many different ways of eating, forming communities, creating a moral code, and presenting ourselves. We’re just such interesting critters, capable of breathtaking benevolence and assholery at the same time. We invented both napalm and silly putty, as George Carlin pointed out.
If you could travel anywhere—past or present—to research a story, where would you go?
It’s a toss up between hanging out with early hominids 800,000 years ago, spying on my maternal great-great grandparents in Tuscany right before they emigrated (around 1914), and chilling out with late Mississippian culture (1440-1500 AD) in my home state of Indiana. All of those folks left behind limited records and I would like to find out how they saw themselves and what their lives were like.
It’s difficult to pick though…I need to write a grant for a writer time machine.