All posts by witchyrichy@gmail.com

Language As Weapon

On the morning of November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington and nearly 700 United States soldiers attacked a village of 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Native American tribes comprised primarily of elderly, women and children. They had been placed in the big bend of Sand Creek by the military as they waited to negotiate peace. Black Kettle, one of the leaders, was known to desire peace. He was shot down as he waved an American and a white flag. If you are not familiar with the massacre, the National Park’s website has a detailed history that includes links to recently discovered and horrifying first-person accounts from soldiers who refused to participate.

Colonel Chivington is infamous for his dehumanizing language towards the Native Americans and urging his men to scalp and kill them all even as some soldiers resisted. In her essay “Deprived of Humanity: From the Sand Creek Massacre to Today“, Nellis Kennedy-Howard of The Sierra Club and a member of the Navajo Nation reflects on her 2018 visit to the massacre site and the continued use of dehumanization towards the oppressed, calling it “one of the steps on the road to genocide.” She is correct, according to the United Nations.

Kennedy-Howard warns of not ignoring this use of language:

No human being is an animal, or an insect, or an infestation to be eliminated. When people with power use it to dehumanize others — watch out. Learn from the experiences of Native peoples and other persecuted groups. This isn’t just idle talk. It’s a warning sign that we have a duty to heed.

Dehumanizing language may be used by both sides in a conflict, but as Kennedy-Howard suggests, the more powerful opponent will often control the narrative and thus the definitions.

Boston University’s Dr. Elizabeth Coppock, a linguistics expert, discusses the use of language as a weapon in war. It is a quick read and I encourage you to take a look. Her responses to two of the interviewer’s questions stood out for me:

How do we talk to one another when one side’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter?”

I think we should focus on listening to each other.

The one substantive comment to the interview makes it clear that while this sounds simple, it is a lofty potentially unattainable ideal and certainly not part of our current climate. Oh we listen but often only to those with whom we agree, taking hard lines and claiming the moral high ground. The commenter is defending his group’s definitions of terrorist that arise out of their world view, exactly as Coppock describes in her other answers.

But it is Coppock’s response to the last question that broke my heart:

Is this time unusual, in that every single word seems to carry so much weight and to be subject to scrutiny that makes some people fall silent?

There is unspeakable sorrow and trauma all around right now.

Sigh.

I was thinking about ending with a poem, maybe Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver. But, instead, I found this…Walt Whitman’s list of synonyms for sorrow that he probably used as he wrote his elegy to Lincoln. Language used to express human emotion at its rawest and deepest, not a as a weapon but as a solace.

Whitman, Walt. “sorrow.” The Walt Whitman Archive. Gen. ed. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price. Accessed 06 June 2024. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org>.

Here is the first section of Whitman’s poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d“:

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

The View from Sixty Two

I celebrated my birthday on Tuesday: low key with gardening in the morning and gel printing in the afternoon. I even made supper. Don’t feel sorry for me: I had been with my family over the weekend. Plus, I like to cook and it was easier than having to present myself to the world.

I was considering the typical “five things I’ve learned” blog post with advice about how to live your life. But, honestly, I can’t tell you how to do that. I have not always been that intentional about my own life. Absent some latent talent or burning passion, I followed my interests, wandering a bit both physically and metaphysically in the world until I found my place in education and, eventually, ed tech.

I suppose this blog is one of the ways I offer insight into the kind of life that brings me joy. There may be aspects that resonate with you. But, frankly, if you enjoy the hustle and bustle of an active, public life, you would probably be bored stiff here at the farm. And, I would find your life exhausting. I tried it for a few years and, while I loved working with educators as part of several programs, the relentless schedule and travel just wore me down.

I was describing the work to a younger colleague who commented that it sounded exciting. All I could remember was one particularly grueling week when, after negotiating Boston rush hour traffic on a Friday, I fell asleep on the shuttle bus after dropping off the rental car. The driver gently nudged me and then helped me down and into the terminal. Embarrassing but also a wake up call that this work was not for me. I began looking for other opportunities that would keep me closer to home.

What I realized was that I had a choice. That would be my reminder to you: you always have choices, and sometimes over the course of a life, those choices change. A friend was saying that she wanted to give up a particular activity but couldn’t because they needed her. I gently suggested that, while her concern was legitimate, she could give it up. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” You are allowed to change your mind, make different choices, pursue new ideas.

One big lesson I have learned is the uselessness of worry. As I was thinking about this blog post, Mary Oliver’s poem “I Worried” crossed my path. I leave you with her thoughts read by Helena Bonham Carter:

P.S. As I was getting ready to press publish, I thought of one more thing: I have written a lot about my meditation practice. I think, no matter how busy you are, finding time to just sit and do nothing even if for a minute, it important. Learning to be alone with yourself is a valuable skill.

Do Not Go Gentle

I have not had the energy for public writing these days: I write my morning pages and have been doing 500 words a day as part of the April version of NaNoWriMo. The latter is meant to be memoir but mostly I find myself ranting about the state of the world and wondering how much cash I should be hiding under the mattress. Then, in the midst of looking for dopamine hits amongst my Insta feed, there is this: Michael Sheen, all wild hair and Welsh intonation, performing “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas. Happy National Poetry Month! Stop, take a breath or two and just let the words flow over you.

Michael Sheen performs “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

Grass & Water

I spent a lovely long weekend with friends, playing games, listening to live music and sharing stories. I didn’t make any art but I did save lots of videos and pattern ideas. My friends live on a lake and I was inspired by the blues and greens. I made three version yesterday: two watercolors (one watery, one dry) and one acrylic using a printing block and stencil I made out of foam. I like that one the best and am finding myself drawn to printing.