Accents, the effects of migration, and the concept of “twanging”

I so often hear sentiments like, “Oh, but your accent is so mild/strong/faint/nonexistent”. My best friend teases me because I sound “so foreign now”. I’ve been told that I sound like I am “twanging” to impress people. (Note: there is no dictionary definition for what “twang” means to Jamaicans – it is essentially a horribly, awful sound of someone attempting to sound foreign.) And then I listen to people who have lived away from Jamaica for years … decades. And they all sound as if they’d not left the island … ever. And that sometimes makes me feel like the sellout I think a lot of people think of me as. I’m not; and I am going to explain why it is I “sound so foreign already”.

You see, the thing is, most of us, when speaking to people who share cultural imagery and language with us, speak really fast and in shortcuts. When I talk to my husband, or my best friend, or people who are Jamaican, I use the word “thing” a lot, for example. In fact, one of the funniest moments I remember from when a former close friend told stories about her schooling in the US was with that word. Jamaicans (used to?) have this habit of saying, “Aaaaaaahmmm…. ting deh” (and it sounds exactly like how you might imagine it – long and drawled). This friend regaled us with a funny story of how she walked up to a student who was from the US and went, “Aaaaaaahmmm … ting deh …” and got such an odd look that everyone broke up laughing because … well, what the hell does that even mean? To a Jamaican, it simply means that you are trying to say something (a name or reference to some obscure event or person or fact) and you can’t quite remember what it is, so you fill the silence with sounds.

If we dissect our everyday speech, we’d realise very quickly how many assumptions about the other person’s knowledge we make. That was never brought closer to home to me than when I married into the military. Hubby and I talk about PCSing (PCS = Permanent Change of Station; the military process of being reassigned and moved to a new military installation) all the time. I’ve said it to my best friend no less than 5 times in the last 8 years. But every single time I say it, I have to explain what that means because it is so alien to him. Which is fine … it’s expected … it’s normal. And it exemplifies that cultural nuance that we often ignore when we talk within our respective cultures.

I guess on some subliminal level I have always been aware of cultural and sub-cultural differences when talking to people. As a result, I end up doing everything I know how to do to ease that cross-cultural interaction so that each person gets the least amount of friction in that interaction, the end result hopefully being that the content is memorable and not so much the people or the mechanics.

Does that make sense?

Lemme try again…

I try to talk to you in a way that I know you will find little to no difficulty understanding me so that we aren’t caught up in who we are and focus, instead, on the what of the conversation. What that boils down to for me moving to the US and “suddenly sounding so foreign” is that to you, my fellow yaadies, I sound like a sellout but to everyone else outside of Jamaica, I sound … understandable. And to you, my new US family, I simply sound like I’ve been here for a while and “lost my accent” because I don’t sound like any other Jamaican you’ve ever spoken to.

Don’t get me wrong … sounding Jamaican is something I wish I could do all the time. This is evidenced by the fact that now that my husband is a bit better attuned to Jamaican accents and words I now speak more like a Jamaican when with him. I am pedantic, however, and I’d rather get on to the next milepost in the conversation than spend double time explaining what I just said because you didn’t understand clearly because I spoke too fast/used a word you don’t know/made a reference to something you have no knowledge of (side note: ” … because … because …” ugh – inner grammar nerd screaming in agony).

In the end, think of my “accent” as just me being typical introvert me wanting to get to the substance as quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. :)

Ideally, it would be culturally enriching to spend time explaining those differences in an edifying way but those opportunities don’t often present themselves and when circumstances don’t allow for that, we have to focus on the what rather than the who. Know what I mean?

Just a thought or two today …

I really need to start blogging again regularly. You never realise just how much you’re slacking until you make one post you really want people to see and comment on and no one does. And you realise that part of the reason is because you haven’t blogged in so long that everyone who used to stop by have just stopped because you’ve stopped writing.

Yes – I was particularly proud of yesterday’s post because it signalled to me the return of what I thought to have been my completely stagnated creativity. A couple of people have said to me that that is what school does. It stifles creativity. One person went as far as to explain that school forces you to think in one way, and when you’re used to thinking in one or several other ways, it serves to stifle the voice you once had. I want to believe it … it would explain why I’ve felt like an empty bucket for the last year or two.

Anyway … one of the thoughts I had this morning is how utterly alone I am in this country because no one I know seems to have any grasp on how things actually work in this country. People just tend to believe what they hear without question. It angers me. I want to have a drove of people I can turn to and ask “Hey … this seems this way to me. Is that how it really works?” Back home, there were several sage individuals amongst the masses to whom I could turn and ask that question. It was mostly as a result of having grown up there and made friends of friends and friends of parents over the years, gathering a community of expertise and skills and talents into my extended family. I haven’t had that kind of opportunity here.

Another thought I had upon awakening is how much the military community is lacking for people who are really in need. Oh yes your neighbour is a good person to call on if you want to talk or share recipes. But when you’re sick and you don’t want to ask strangers for help, would rather ask close friends to help because of the sensitivity of the situation, you are completely and utterly fucked. Military service? It’s isolating. It isn’t as welcoming and tight knit as they want it to be. It can’t be. There are far too many differing personalities and world-views coming together in one place to give the sense of security and family most of have grown accustomed to over the course of our lives.

And even more especially for those of us from the Caribbean with an immensely strong sense of community.

On a positive note, some of you may not have heard this yet: last week I completed the 40-hour professional mediation training. :) Not yet a professional mediator; that takes practice and after I am done with an exam, I will enter into the practicum to become certified. But that training is a milestone – one I have been looking forward to for almost a year. :) So congratulations to me!

Communication law? Ugh.

I am struggling with my schoolwork again today. I’ve been successful at avoiding Monday night struggles with 2000 word papers for about 3 classes now. I stress over the papers over the weekends, but they are usually posted and out of my head by Monday morning (due dates are usually 11pm on Mondays). This week, I am right back where I started. And I think I figured out why that is. I have zero interest in Communication Law. At least less interest than it takes to write 1500 words about libel and defamation, right to privacy, and privilege. Ugh.


It was Veteran’s Day today, in other news. Today’s Dear Prudie column had a letter from a wife who was miffed (the 4th letter down). Her mother-in-law chose to celebrate one son’s service and not the other because “he hadn’t seen any action”. Or some such nonsense. Now, I’m not a huge fan of days like today. Setting aside one day to honour or celebrate something always seemed silly to me. Want to show your support for veterans? How about you do it every single day in whatever way you can find? In any case, that a mother would be that dismissive of the sacrifice of one of her sons is huge. I don’t get that. If anyone has ever been near the military, in any capacity, one knows just how much of a sacrifice every single day is. It’s not a job. It’s far more. To sign your life over in the way today’s soldiers do, is a sacrifice worth recognising today and every single day of their lives.

Personally, I tell my husband every chance I get just how much of a hero I think he is. It takes a special kind of selflessness to submit to this kind of life, not just once, but continuously over the years. I don’t care what else you may have done, or may yet have to do as a soldier – all soldiers are heroes. Make them feel that way.


A not-so-good week.

I’m not sure what’s in the air this week, but it hasn’t been all that productive for me this week at all. Distractions abound. Every task I attempt is interrupted by some frivolous pursuit. Nothing is happening the way I want it to. And when I think of how well last week went, I want to cry. And so I try to think what I did differently last week, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Among those distractions? A new series that I discovered via Netflix called Twisted. I’ve already finished all 11 episodes. : Earlier in the week, it was just trying to stay focused through my not-quite-ill state. As flu season descends again, and hubby receives his bi-annual nose-squirt, he comes home and breathes on me and shares it with me. So I’ve been fatigued, and stuffy, and achy all week. My tinker hobby (Vaping) took some more of my attention later in the week.  So frustrating.

In the mornings, I can barely crawl out of bed. As a result, in the evenings I’m not tired enough to go to bed early enough. I sleep like a rock throughout the night, but not restfully because I wake up just as tired, if not more so than the day before.

Yesterday, I left the house. I needed to get out. The walls were closing in. I refilled a couple prescriptions (which reminds me, I need to message my doctor about refills), and then spent a good 2 – 3 hours at close-by Starbucks. I got *some* work done, but not half as much as I’d have liked.

This morning, I woke myself at about 5am by unconsciously trying to yank my nose ring out by the fingernail. At almost 7am, I gave up and just got up and started the coffee maker. Because after laying in bed for 2 hours without any sign of sleep returning, it just seemed more prudent to get up.

The best part of all of this? I got so much done already this morning for work. I really do need to get up at 7am or earlier if possible. Even if it means a nap about noon. Hubby heads off-road (and possibly into the snow) tomorrow, but I think I’ll be sitting here writing and reading. Bummer! So much for trying to get much done during the week so I’d have the weekend to myself. Even more of a bummer since I’ve not seen hubby for longer than about an hour or two each day in the last week or two (#HellishArmySchedulesFTW).

Argh! If it didn’t hurt so bad, I’d have torn all my locs out already. Grrr….

No matter; next week *will* be better. /nod

Marriage retreats, relationships, and other lessons

Considering deployment is an ongoing possibility being in a line unit, marriage retreats are something the army tries to send their soldiers and their spouses to when they can. We were fortunate to be approved for our second one this last weekend.

It was far from as enjoyable as the last retreat we went to in Texas. (Imagine that; I found something about the Texas experience that was better than the Washington experience. Ha!). There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that both hubby and I were ill, and he ended the weekend with the worst food poisoning I’ve seen in a while. The second reason is that I don’t believe this particular facilitator is as familiar with the subject matter provided for this retreat as the facilitator in Texas was.

That’s a little bit of an understatement, actually. Chaplain Adams in Texas was a riot! I will forever hold him in the highest esteem as being an army chaplain of a completely different calibre than I have ever seen – and please remember I grew up in the arms of the church. He was unorthodox in ways I can’t even begin to explain. But he was effective and memorable – and that I believe is the whole point. Chaplain Adams was the only Christian minister of religion who has ever made me want to attend a Sunday morning service. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to attend one of his services.

To get back to this year’s retreat, though, it wasn’t so much that the course material was at fault. In fact, as I looked through the material, I was impressed with all the ways they chose to deal with issues that can be particular destructive to the military spouse. We just did not have enough time to get the full benefit of the course. Chances are, a savvy facilitator would have been able to summarize and distill this material down to a usable size for a weekend schedule such as we were given, but I get the impression that this was sprung on our facilitator on medium term notice (if not short notice).

In any case, what hubby and I took away was that we need to be constantly communicating respectfully and in detail about our feelings, expectations, and dreams. Even though our relationship is rock solid (especially compared to other military spouses we have both come across), we found we were still disconnected from each other about certain things. Nothing too alarming; no need for panic. We were just reminded that even the best of relationships need consistent TLC.

This is not a new lesson for either of us. We both know that constant and detailed communication is a necessity in any long term, intimate relationship. For me, it was like a dash of cold water to the face; a wake up call. A reminder that at any point along the way, something can go so badly wrong that things get really bad, really fast. And all without either of us even seeing the danger signs along the way. That’s the worry wart in me over-exaggerating for emphasis.

These retreats aren’t all about learning something new. It’s about being reminded about the tools to maintain a healthy relationship considering the challenges we both face. I think hubby and I might need to set aside a regular “test the temperature of our relationship” talk for ourselves.

Get all the touchy subjects in a list (e.g. finances, sex, babies, chores, relatives, etc.), write down what we like, dislike, and what we expect. Then compare notes to make sure we’re both on the same page. Schedule the talks like how we decided to schedule a date night at least once a month. Yeah – that sounds like a plan.

Off-topic for a minute though: one of the sections in the course was about forgiveness and reconciliation and something that resonated for me outside of the context of my marriage.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is giving up on the sense that you have the right to “get even”. And forgiveness is not reconciliation – that is a whole other step in the process. For reconciliation to take place:

  • the relationship must be “safe”;
  • the one who hurt you must be taking responsibility;
  • the one who hurt you is changing the hurtful behaviour; and
  • enough time has passed for trust to be restored

Something for everyone to keep in mind for all your relationships.

Who’s a little more crazy gonna hurt?

Even after discovering the research that said that depression and creativity come from the same place, I still had a day of utter non-productivity. I don’t want to use the term depression just yet lest I associate my feelings with a clinical condition in my head. Positive thinking and all that… maybe if I tell myself it’s temporary and going to pass via language, I’ll convince myself that it is so.

Friday morning, I just could not get up out of bed. The incessant whispering of hubby (“Honey! I love you!”) in that space between wakefulness and sleep was beginning to wear on me. It is as if I was the glue and the bed was the paper. If I tried to get up, the sheets would tear apart leaving strips of cloth hanging from my skin. Crazy things start to happen when you remain alone for too long – like hearing your husband whisper to you from a few hundred miles away.

Even when presented with information you need to progress, sometimes it is still hard to do the work. Yesterday, my faculties failed me completely. I spent the first half of the day drowsing to some unknown storylines in ‘Lie To Me‘ on Netflix. (Yes, I renewed my Netflix account. Mainly because I wanted access to Law & Order and a few other shows.) The second half of the day was spent drowning my sorrows at my inactivity and general low feeling in episodes of In Plain Sight.

The bad part about it that I have homework to finish, on top of work-work and a little creative project that I ought to be working on because today I drive to Seattle for the night. Tomorrow is Pride and I can tell you that that parade is going to drain every bit of energy I amassed this week and even since the last time I was out in public for an event such as this one. Why? Because as I am reiterating to myself with the help of a book called The Introvert Advantage:

“Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge”

And I am the very definition of an introvert. Put me in a room full of people and I guaranteed to be exhausted within an hour or two.   Put me in a crowd, say at a parade, and I am going to be exhausted for days.

That said, I look forward to the experience. My parents would be horrified, but I think that it’s important to expand my horizons and experience as much as I can. Knowledge and experience can only enrich, it can never cripple of corrupt. It is what you choose to do with the sum of your experience and knowledge that makes for corruption. Besides, getting out of the house will hopefully cure that craziness that has borne those whispers in my head. (I love you, honey, but that whispering can drive a girl mad.)

The good news is I finally got to talk to hubby last night. The crazy part of that news is that when I told him about the whispers, he laughed and said he whispered to me as he went to sleep and when he woke up everyday. Like I said, crazy shit happens when you stay alone for too long.

Contemplating the failures – large and small.

I’ve had a pretty bad week. On Sunday, I said goodbye to my husband for yet another training exercise that the army saw fit to send him away on. On Monday, I had a tooth extracted. And all week, I’ve been battling a fatigue borne only out of the kind of depression that is fed by dark, cold, rainy days and lonesomeness. Ah, the life we military spouses live… never a dull moment.

To make matters even more interesting, because of the extracted tooth, my diet has been a mixture of omelettes and some kind of innovative mashed potatoes/potato salad mix. No lemonade, no Pepsi, no hard foods. That was fun. Today and for the first time this week, I was able to eat solid foods. I made chicken and rice in the slow cooker because I’ve been so down and out that I’ve spent the whole weekend on the couch in self-flagellation and recrimination for spending the whole weekend on the couch.

I’m pathetic.

I once stumbled onto a tumblog a few months ago in which the author speaks about unfucking her life one small piece at a time. It was an inspiration. It helped me realize that I can’t beat myself up because I have difficulty getting out of bed some mornings. (This week, that would be more like most mornings). I have to allow myself the latitude to gain control in as small bites as I can manage.

So, today I focused on just that and managed to accomplish a few different chores … not just one. I washed my husband’s uniform. The one he wore that last week he was here. Nevermind that I stood with my nose buried in it for a few minutes before sticking it in the washer. I restocked the extra toilet paper rolls in the upstairs bathroom. And I took the clean wash upstairs to the bedroom. I haven’t folded and hung them yet, though. They’re still in the basket. Still – it’s progress from sitting in the laundry.

And oh yea – I cooked.

When I was done eating, I outlined my essay for tomorrow’s deadline and put in a couple of hours of work so that I don’t feel so rushed tomorrow. Not bad for someone who’s feeling a little less bright and cheery than usual. At least Angel, seasons 1 and 2, have been keeping me company in my despondency. I’d forgotten how much I liked the brooding vampire with a soul. Mostly, I just eye his black, knee-length, leather coat in envy.

Maybe tomorrow will be a more productive day than I’ve had all last week. Maybe …