Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

31 October, 2013

DOUBLE NEGATIVES: ONLY IN MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD CANADA YOU SAY!

A double negative is the use of two negatives in a sentence which cancel each other out and create a positive. In today's world double negatives are used a lot, but are considered bad grammar. How many times have you heard a child say "I didn't do nothing." If they didn't do nothing, then they did something. That is a typical double negative. But, true to form, Canadians give the double negative a different twist.
Have you ever noticed that we Canadians are in the habit of using negatives to express positive feelings and aspirations?  Increasingly, when we look at our situations, we start from a negative perspective.

Just think about it.  Ask someone "How are you today?" and the most frequent Canadian reply will be "Not too bad."  Or ask them how they are feeling and the answer is quite likely to be "Could be worse."  What is there about us that we cannot express ourselves more positively and with conviction, short of telling the truth on occasion about how lousy we might really be feeling.

The political visionary Preston Manning, founder of the now decommissioned Reform and Conservative Alliance parties, once suggested that Canadians are typically a bunch of fence sitters taking the middle ground approach because they are leery of committing themselves on any question or situation, hence we are "not too bad" and we "could be worse."  Seems like we are right down the middle kind of people and old Preston may have have been on to something..

Ask a Canadian if they like something and it is not unusual to hear the answer:  "Well, I can't say I do not like it, but..."  See what I mean?  If you can't say you do not like it, then you must like it.  Here's another one where the same logic applies..."She is not unattractive."  Maybe she's somewhere between attractive and unattractive, which in truth would no doubt apply to most of us.

Just the other day, I heard this mind-boggler: "Not that I'm not thankful or anything, but..."  Wrap your mind around that one for a  few seconds.

While not a double negative, but still on the subject of irritating expressions, have you ever made a request to a service provider or asked a coworker for a favor and they reply, “No problem!”  That one always annoys me.  “No problem!” seems harmless enough – even downright cheery. Kind of like “No worries” to the Aussies or “Fuggedaboutit” to actor Al Pacino.

When someone says “no problem” to a request, however, what they really mean is that the request potentially is a problem and they are not really interested in doing this particular favor. But  they are forced to comply; hence, “no problem” nonchalantly rolls off the tongue.  Some restaurants have started training employees to eliminate this response, both with customers and each other and this is a good thing.  Nothing I hate more than a "no problem" after thanking a store check-out clerk or service provider for a handful of change after completing a substantial transaction.  I often respond with a curse "I didn't expect that there would be a problem."

Now they should start working on the word "grab".  How many times have you asked a waiter/waitress for a glass of water or a utensil and the reply is "Okay, I'll go and grab that for you!"  There is something about the action of  "grabbing" that just rubs me the wrong way.  I much prefer to picture the person simply "getting" the requested item for me.

Really glad I got all of these sloppy language issues off my chest.  It's not like it hasn't been weighing me down or anything, but it could be worse!

Now I'll get on with the rest of my day, no problem.

15 October, 2013

"THE FORTY-FIVE GUARDSMEN" BY ALEXANDRE DUMAS: HOW DID THIS NOVEL END UP IN A DRESDEN SCHOOL LIBRARY 100 YEARS AGO AND WHAT ABOUT IT INTERESTED MY FATHER?

The library I inherited from my parents continues to reveal surprise nuggets of history.  My recent discovery is a novel "The Forty-Five Guardsmen" written by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) in 1847. Quite remarkably, the book was "borrowed" from the Dresden (ON,) Continuation School library by my father in 1915 when he was 16 years of age.  It is in remarkably good condition for a book that is 168 years old.

I cannot explain why this 484-page publication, the third in a Valois Romances series by Dumas, has escaped my scrutiny for all these years other than to say that it is one of the few books in the family library that I never got around to reading.  The find, thanks to a Thanksgiving Day reorginization of book shelves in my study, sparked my curiosity and set me off on a new research project, leaving all else in its wake.

It is really curious how this novel, written by a 19th century Frenchman with black bloodlines, ended up in a school library in the Southwestern Ontario Town of Dresden 100 years ago.  Most of Dumas' writings were translated to English and "The Forty-Five Guardsmen", a sequel to "LaDame de Monsoreau", is a tough study especially for a continuation school student at the turn of the last century.

Here is what I have uncovered about one of the most famous and controversial French authors of the 1800s.

Dumas is best known for the historical novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both written within the space of two years, 1844-45, and which belong to the foundation works of popular culture. He was among the first, along with Honoré de Balzac and Eugène Sue, who fully used the possibilities of roman feuilleton (serial novel or contempory soap opera). Dumas is credited with revitalizing the historical novel in France, although his abilities as a writer were under dispute from the beginning.

Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterêts, France. His grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo; his paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a black slave in the French colony. Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk in Villers-Cotterêtes and went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orléans - later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born in 1824.

Alexandre Dumas
1802-1870
Before 1843 Dumas wrote 15 plays. Historical novels brought Dumas enormous fortune, but he could spent money faster than he made it. He produced some 250 books with his 73 assistants, especially with the history teacher Auguste Maquet, whom he wisely allowed to work quite independently. Dumas earned roughly 200,000 francs yearly and received an annual sum of 63,000 francs for 220,000 lines from the newspapers La Presse and the Constitutionel. Maquet often proposed subjects and wrote first drafts for some of Dumas' most famous serial novels, including Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844, The Three Musketeers) and Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844-45, The Count of Monte-Cristo). Dumas himself claimed that he only began writing his books when they were already completed in his head.

As a master dialogist, he developed character traits, and kept the action moving, and composed the all-important chapter endings - teaser scenes that maintained suspense and readers interest to read more.

Dumas' role in the development of the historical novel owes much to a coincidence. The lifting of press censorship in the 1830s gave rise to a rapid spread of newspapers. Editors began to lure readers by entertaining serial novels. Everybody read them, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie, young and old, men and women. Dumas' first true serial novel was Le Capitaine Paul (1838, Captain Paul), a quick rewrite of a play. It was addressed to a female readership and added 5,000 subscribers to the list of Le Siècle when it was serialized. Along with Balzac and other writers, he also contributed to Emile de Girardin's weekly, La Mode, which became the voice of an aristocratic and wordly tout-Paris.

Dumas lived as adventurously as the heroes of his books, and his way of life created a number of anecdotes.

In 1851 Dumas escaped his creditors to Brussels. He spent two years there in exile and then returned to Paris and founded a daily paper called Le Mousquetaire. In 1858 he traveled to Russia and in1860 he went to Italy, where he supported Garibaldi and Italy's struggle for independence (1860-64). He then remained in Naples as a keeper of the museums for four years. After his return to France his debts continued to mount. Called as "the king of Paris", Dumas earned fortunes and spent them right away on friends, art, and mistresses. He was professed to have had dozens of illegitimate children, but he acknowledged only three. According to a story, when Dumas once found his wife in bed with his good friend Roger de Beauvoir, he said: "It's cold night. Move over and make room for me."

Dumas died of a stroke on December 5, 1870, at Puys, near Dieppe. It is claimed that his last words were: "I shall never know how it all comes out now," in which he referred to his unfinished book. Dumas' son Alexandre Dumas fils, became a writer, dramatist, and moralist, who never accepted his father's lifestyle.

Dumas did not generally define himself as a black man, and there is not much evidence that he encountered overt racism during his life. However, his works were popular among the 19th-century African-Americans, partly because in The Count of Monte-Cristo, the falsely imprisoned Edmond Dantès, may be read as a parable of emancipation. In a shorter work, Georges (1843, George), Dumas examined the question of race and colonialism. The main character, a half-French mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated in France, and returns to avenge himself for the affronts he had suffered as a boy.

As I said earlier, perhaps we'll never know how "The Forty-Five Guardsmen" ended up on the book shelves of a school in Dresden all those years ago, nor what there was about it that interested my father, but I plan to keep working on it, if only to speculate. 

10 October, 2013

MY STRUGGLES WITH MISUNDERSTANDING INVOLVED RATIONALIZATION AND, IN THE END, FORGIVENESS; BUT YOU CAN'T EXPECT TO WIN 'EM ALL SO JUST LET IT GO...!

I recently ran into difficulty justifying a cautionary comment that I made in discussing an online virtual history group matter. Some of the responses I received were undeservedly borderline rude and insulting. I was accused of being overly critical, insensitive and ignorant. God Lord, I was even called "pompous".  The more I tried to explain the reasons for my position, the worse the verbal attacks got. Plain and simple, I was not being understood by several young women who did not really know me.

Something had triggered their angst and they spared no punches in expressing themselves for reasons known only to them.  After all said and done, the consternation caused by the exchanges was not warranted and totally misplaced, in my mind. I can only speculate on the timing of the reactions. I did not stoop to disrespectful retorts, although I did allude to the potential for libel in what was being said to me.

One male respondent, not fully familiar with the background of the issue, attempted to inject a little humour into the dialogue by saying that I was being "redickulous".

Eventually the moderator of the site cut off discussion(?) on the subject and deleted "heated" comments that were not in keeping with the spirit of the group. She questioned why I always found it necessary to have the last word -- "even when I think I am right."  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

Something about that unpleasant experience penetrated my normally thick skin. My convictions had been tested. I was offended, frustrated and angered. My immediate response was to entirely cut myself off from Internet connection with the group. I even wiped out an entire web site dealing with fond recollections of my hometown (Dresden, ON) which represented years of work and personal passionate reflections...Gone with one click of a computer key -- never to be recovered. A knee-jerk reaction, perhaps.  A mistake, maybe. I just wanted to distance myself from it all and erasing a previous labour of love was one way of doing it.

I kept replaying the scenario in my mind for many days and nights. Why was I not being understood? Why did I feel so terrible? Why could I not let go of the matter? Was I wrong to have had the courage of my convictions?  For all intents and purposes, I was allowing resultant depression to rob me of passion and joy in my everyday life.  Funny how things like that can fester and magnify if you let them.

Ultimately I found the following to be of great assistance in rationalizing this dark, nightmarish moment in my life.  I know that there will be those who can relate.

"Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones." Ecclesiastes 7:9 (Online Bible)

There are times when you aim to help others and people impute other ulterior motives. This can be very distressing. In 1 Chronicles 19:1-19 we read that when Nahush the King of the Ammonites died, David decided to reciprocate the kindness he had shown him and sent a delegation to his son Hanun to convey his condolences. However Hanun listened to his advisers who told him that David’s envoys had come to explore and spy out the country so that they could overthrow it. “So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved them, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away (verse 4)." As a result of this misunderstanding war was declared and more than fifty seven thousand people died.

Many relationships break because of misunderstandings: family, marriages, friendships and alliances/groups.

When others misunderstand, we should seek an opportunity to explain and make amends. However, this is not always possible. You cannot force people to understand you. If they put themselves in your place they might understand, but many people are led by their preconceived notions about you and selfish regard for themselves. Sometimes they have hidden motives and were looking for an excuse to blame you. Their experiences may also not have opened them up to understand or sympathize with your position.

Do not be unduly worried that you are misunderstood. Do your best. It is only important that God understands. Jesus’ message is plain and simple yet many people misunderstand it. If they listen with a discerning heart instead of closed minds, they will understand it but it is their choice, Jesus does not force. “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.”

When others misunderstand, we should always leave a door open so that people can explain their side of the story if they feel inclined to do so. Sometimes people are hot tempered and judge hastily. In Joshua 22:10-34 we read that some tribes of Israel built an imposing altar which others mistook for an idol and wanted to cause war with them, lest God’s curse fall on them all. However they sought for an explanation first and were pleased that the building was only a monument so that future generations could be reminded of God’s goodness.

When you are misunderstood remember also that you are not perfect and may have misunderstood others many times, and deemed them evil when they had only good intentions towards you.

God calls us to forgive others without any reservations. This is also for our own good because bitterness destroys the soul.

I pray that the foregoing helps others who may find themselves involved in similar misunderstandings as they "communicate" with friends or foes.

CLOSING NOTE: Earlier this week I posted an apology on the virtual history group site, not for wanting the last word but to those who felt that I had been overly critical in the past (I always thought that I was being constructive, but...). With time for the air to clear, I also offered one last rational explanation for my position on the subject of a century of racial discrimination in Dresden and why I originally responded the way I did. To date, five members of the virtual history group have "liked" my post while 190 remain silent. Happily, no "dislikes" -- yet.

Admittedly, my contributions to Dresden nostalgia had pretty much run their course.  While this incident has tainted intense fond memories of my hometown and involvement in its virtual history, I refuse to let it curtail my sense of mission and commitment to passing on self-expressions and tidbits of human interest through my own web site, for what they are worth.  I especially enjoy the exchange of pleasantries with true blue "friends" on Facebook...That's what it should be all about anyway.  It would be wrong to allow a bad experience to deprive me of that.

Not one of my more popular posts, I am sure, but this too is reality.

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"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."
--Mother Teresa

A QUESTION: WHERE DO WE GET OUR ETHICS?

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that people who strongly believe in God are more likely to reject the notion that life has no purpose than people who believe less strongly in God. Even so, most people who believe less strongly in God still rejected the notion, challenging the assumption that God is necessary to give life purpose. We must then ask ourselves: if God does not necessarily give life purpose, what does?

Respondents were asked whether they believed in God without a doubt, or whether they did not believe or were unsure. They were then asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “In my opinion, life does not serve any purpose”. Of those who believed in God without a doubt, 33% mildly disagreed with the statement, and 61% of them strongly disagreed with it (for a total of 94%). Of those who did not believe or were unsure, 42% mildly disagreed, and only 49% strongly disagreed (for a total of 91%).

What the figures show is that most people in general reject the notion that life has no purpose, but strong believers slightly outnumber non-believers and weak believers in their rejection of it. Most importantly, although the level of general disagreement was similar between the two groups, a significantly greater number of people who believed in God with certainty disagreed strongly with the notion. That is, strong disagreement with the statement correlated with strong belief in God.

The fact that most atheists and agnostics still have a sense of purpose in life without a rock-solid belief in God means they have to derive their sense of purpose elsewhere. Perhaps the purpose of life is to practice compassion, and this life purpose is determined by ethical reasoning. In other words, helping the sick and needy is meaningful in and of itself because it alleviates suffering.

Most people seem to believe that life has a sense of purpose, but not everyone agrees that this purpose is rooted in the existence of God. Whatever our belief, hopefully we can all agree that doing good is its own reward. At the same time we as Christians cannot afford, by ignorance and apathy, to quit the field and give ground. If we do, this entire culture will pay the price when those with no Biblical foundation are left to determine the the aforementioned "ethical" standards of future generations.

Just think, where would we be today were it not for the biblical "Ten Commandments" passed down to us, generation to generation?  Something for all of us to ponder as the proverbial handcart to hell awaits.