Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Accents and Attachments

I take notes in my car a lot. I use the voice-to-text feature to do this so I don't kill anyone. On certain words, Siri reveals to me that I have a trace of a Southern accent, based on growing up partially in the South with two Southern parents. It doesn't sound to my ear as if I have it, especially now that some Californian cadence has started to sink in to my speech, but Siri's transliterations tell the tale.

I can't remember the recent text-to-speech example that made this so clear to me, but as an example from long, long ago, in high school I attended a youth journalism conference with kids from all 50 states. The girl from Kentucky was from the mountains (i.e. her accent was very heavy, not modulated by town living), and she picked the letter I in an organizational context. She pronounced it "ah", and the proctor, from Massachusetts, did not understand her the first, second, or third time he asked for her letter. Siri is from California, so she, too, cannot understand me sometimes.

Recently I was taking notes about some titles I'd like to get on audiobook, and Siri recorded me as saying "From Here to Maternity". I'm pretty sure this was not a quirk of my accent, but instead a mistake. An annoying one. No more or less annoying, though, than the Facebook ads about fertility clinics and kids' clothes. I get tired of what other people tell me I should want.

Probably I shouldn't blame Siri. She can't even pronounce Sepulveda.


The writing has been going pretty well lately. I'm plugging at a few projects at once: something turning into a novel about Casablanca, a fragmented memoir thing about houses and spaces, and a hybrid essay I'm still dithering about. I need to hand in something for workshop in about two weeks, and I'm either going to write about fraudulence and Singin' in the Rain, or body mutability and Last Tango in Paris. I think the first one would be better for this context, but it might not be fully formed enough. The second one has been brewing for a year or so (part of it for 15 years or so), and I have enough to say about it that narrowing the scope will be the problem. So perhaps it's better to do that on my own time.

Reading has been going even better. I'm in a voracious phase, so I'm getting through an awful lot of books.

And the in-between of those two pursuits has borne some fruit in the recent past. Here's a book review I wrote of two terrific books of poetry, and watch this space for an exciting new project I'm doing with other writers. I can't tell you more than that until it comes to first fruition, and the timeline is TBD.


Have you ever dishonestly read a letter of recommendation about yourself that you weren't supposed to read? I did that this week, and I sort of died at all the nice things said about me. It was like a page and a half, closely typed, of pure praise. The past three years have been a gradual process of feeling better about myself, no longer thinking I am the literal worst and starting to think I'm maybe pretty cool (one recent morning I looked in the mirror and said "good to see you," which is, like, enormous progress from 2013), but this letter of rec was insane. Part of the reason it was difficult to read was the source: a professor I admire so much that I am shy of her and don't want to intrude on her time. Maybe I should have worried about this less over the last couple of years.

Them's the times, Fred


Last week I finished the audiobook of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'm going to have to be more careful about checking for "plague novel" status in books recommended to me, because I do not like plague novels, they are scary and they make me lingeringly mournful for weeks, but by the time I realize that's what it is I'm hooked and I can't quit reading. This one was beautifully a novel, fully realized and characterized and interwoven, but on the sentence level I couldn't wait for it to be over. I had a little bit of the same reaction to it that I had to Never Let Me Go, in that I didn't see what all the fuss was about; I could see the seams and had read better books in pure genre reading. But I enjoyed this one more. More ideas in it that resonated with me (Shakespeare, fame, light). The thing that's stuck with me, that I keep thinking as I peek at the news through my fingers, is the endurance in the novel. Humans endure. Maybe the species is in decline - it's possible, it's not crazy, the dinosaurs had their day and passed on, as well - but maybe not. Maybe the species will just change the nature of its influence on this biosphere. Cheery thought, I know, but the Buddha warns against attachment.

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