LIVING LIFE BY THE BOOK


“Islandia” is a a classic novel of utopian fiction by Austin Tappan Wright, a U.C. Berkeley Law School Professor. Written as a hobby throughout his life, it was posthumously published in 1942, after being edited down from a bulky 2300 pages! Wright created a fully realized world much like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, but without magic, so it is much more a utopia than a fantasy.

My friends enjoyed this book so much when they first got married and had no money, she told me, that they read it together every evening, and with the length of the book it furnished a lot of entertainment for a struggling young couple dreaming of the future.

Creating Islandia’s civilization became Wright’s lifelong leisure occupation, and included a detailed history, geography, language, geneology, literature, and culture. An amazing feat of imaginative writing.

After borrowing the book twice from my friend in the 70’s, then buying it and reading it a third time, I was thoroughly hooked on this believable civilization which lay “at the tip of the “Karain semi-continent in the Southern Hemisphere,” and which was fully accessible by an adventurous spirit, though one of the interesting factors was their rule of limiting access to Islandia to a bare one hundred visitors at a time. Now that is a brilliant concept!

Islandia’s culture has many “progressive” features. For example, prostitutes are rehabilitated back into respectable society, in this sexually permissive community. Another attractive feature is the citizen’s love of nature, which brings about their rural lives. As a confirmed city dweller, I am fascinated by the thought of living in a society where people know one another, where we grow our food, and where our homes are built and decorated with natural materials. There is handmade pottery, woven fabrics, handmade heavy wood furniture, and the larders are filled with the spoils of their gardens preserved for later use. Throughout my three readings of this book, I have lived with these people, grieved at their mishaps and deaths, and wondered what happened to the rest of us! Why didn’t we get it?

Over the four decades I have known my friends, and enjoyed the beautiful home built by them, with its handwoven wool fabrics, pottery, furniture made by the husband, heavy handhewn gates with their wrought iron hinges, I finally “got it”, they are living life by the book—living an Islandian life.

BUT I CAN’T SPEAK SPANISH GRANDMA


Mark Twain once said, “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”

Well, how hard it is to learn a language depends on what language you speak to begin with. If you speak English you have a head start as it’s a Germanic language. But German doesn’t make it any easier with all of its genders, 12 ways of forming plurals, etc.—and that’s only scratching the surface.

Some years ago, when a grandson started high school, he needed to choose another language to study, so he chose Spanish. However all the classes were full, but as he was passing an open door to the German classroom he saw it was nearly empty, so he went in and took a seat. A clever way to choose a second language.

Another grandson took three years of Spanish in high school, 4 years at university, and went to Spain for a semester of study. He lived with a Spanish family, and took his classes in the language, but when we went to visit him in Granada, and I said how happy I was he could translate for me he blithly told me “But I can’t speak Spanish!” The pronunciation was different, and people spoke much faster than he could translate.

A granddaughter fell in love with French and made it her major at University. I’m sure she speaks it beautifully, as it is a beautiful language, and the best part is that she married a man who also speaks it, so they can chat away and people like me who doesn’t even speak Latin can’t understand a word. I’m beginning to watch a lot of French movies though.

We live in the age of possibility though. Living in a diverse community, our schools teach a variety of languages. At the voting polls this month alone the ballots were printed in five different languages. English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Russian!

When I was a student the choices were limited to Spanish, French or Latin. I chose Latin, probably because there was a very good looking boy signing up. But I took it for four years and I can’t speak a word of it, and had no desire to become part of the medical community. But yes, it is possible to become somewhat fluent in a number of languages today (maybe not Latin.)

EVERYDAY TRANSLATING


“The art of wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

Previously I said I was in awe of translators, but heck, we’re all translators. Everytime we talk to our family, our dogs, our friends—we’re translating what they are saying into something we want to hear.

What did your friend really mean with that look she gave you after your third glass of wine? What did your husband mean when he flounced out the door in the morning just because you were a little late getting home from your bridge game the afternoon before?

Your three year old doesn’t really mean he hates you when he says he does, he wants you to set him straight about who really wears the pants around here. It keeps him in his comfort zone.

We all have to live in this family, this community, this world. It behooves us all to darn well get over it and get together.

Get over being miffed at your friend and just give her that recipe she’s been begging for. Friends aren’t all that easy to find anymore. Go ahead and buy your kid that toy he’s whining for (unlkess it costs more than the mortgage payment.), And believe me, your husband will be home tonight and grateful for that special dinner you’re going to fix him. After all you could have called him yesterday.

Don’t make it too difficult for others to translate you.

THINKING AND READING


I’m in awe of the people who translate from one language to another. Granted that some things which are interesting in one language lose much nuance of story in the hands of the translator. But still we feel the essence of the story.

The California School of the Deaf is in our community, and we often see groups of people communicating in a lovely ballet of hands, making me feel again that I need to learn ASL. When there is a hearing impaired person in the classroom, a translator comes if necessary.

Thinking and reading are thrilling experiences. Reading about interesting real subjects can be inspirational as well as entertaining. My great-aunt and uncle had a small library, and since I went to stay often with them, I became familiar with most of the books in it. It was heavy with old-time children’s books, and shaped a steady reading habit which has lasted all my life.

Reading requires that you must think, but when you are in an anti-acquisitive mode, words are just words. If the mind becomes burdened with outside thoughts, you may be reading words, but you aren’t thinking.

My grandson in the painting below is studying his family’s photo album, sorting out where he fits in the stream. His ancestors are mere shadows in the background.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be continually part of unanimity.


“Tyler Reading” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

GEMUTLICHKEIT


NOUN: WARM FRIENDLINESS; COMFORTABLENESS; COZINESS.

The sense of wishing to be known for what one really is is like putting on an old, easy, comfortale garment. You are no longer afraid of anybody or anything. You say to yourself, ‘Here I am–just as ugly, dull, poor, beautiful, rich, interesting, amusing, ridiculous–take me or leave me.’ And how absolutely beautiful it is to be doing only what lies within your own capabilities and is part of your own nature. It is like a great burden rolled off a man’s back when he comes to want to appear nothing that he is not, to take out of life only what is truly his own. (David Grayson, journalist and author)

It’s like being caught wearing no makeup, with shaggy hair, still in your pajamas, and answering the doorbell at 8 o’clock in the morning while restraining your over-friendly Jack Russell Terrier, yet feeling no embarrassment when your perfectly groomed neighbor stops by with a request.

It was like the feeling I had on the first day of teaching at the community college when I entered the classroom with shaking knees, and facing all those fresh young faces, when I realized I really did know more than they did.

RICH TRADITIONS OF STORYTELLING


Stories, either written or oral, are the base of our civilization Stories are limitless, and connect people from all walks of life. Cultures who had no written language had storytellers.

At a lecture by F. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian, he stated that at some time in everyone’s life, he must know from where he came. The Native American has no such problem, because he has been taught the legends of his people over and over his entire life. He can recite his family tree for generations back, and can also remember and tell stories about ancestors long dead.

Stories are painted and carved on rocks throughout the world. Reminders to us that we are not unique, and that those who have gone before us left their legacies for us to interpret.

The time honored Indian pueblo pottery tradition of working with clay and telling stories has merged into a modern art form of “storyteller” pottery dolls. The art of making clay effigies is as ancient as the Anasazi peoples who inhabited the deserts of New Mexico many centuries ago. In recent history, it is the Cochiti pueblo potters who are knlown for clay effigies depicting many different aspects of their everyday life.

Helen Cordero of the Cochiti pueblo created her first ‘storyteller’ figure. Cordero’s storyteller mode was her grandfather, who gathered his grandchildren around him to play the drum, sing them songs, and tell stories of their Indian heritage and traditions.

Due to the decline of the number of speakers of native languages in various parts of the world, oral storytelling has become less common. In recent years many of the stories are written down, though many people argue that the telling of the story is just as important as the words within. Story telling, once confined to people in our own community, due to the virtue of the internet, allows us to tell our stories to people around the world.

Language is the archives of history. Ralph Waldo Emerson

OUR VANISHING VOICES


I Am Home sculpture by kayti Sweetland Rasmussen
“One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly one half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on earth will disappear as communities abandon native tongues in favor of Enlish, Mandarin or Spanish”.
As one Native American in Parker, Arizona, who is one of the last speakers of his Chemehuevi language says “It’s like a bird losing feathers. You see one float by and there it goes—another word.”
Many people around the world speak dialects, and broken languages (those whose country ajoins another often collect words from their neighbor and add to their own, thus contaminating the original language.)
When languages disappear, they take along with them the legends, customs, etc. of the people. It takes away knowledge.
Language identifies us. The Seri people are an idigenous group of the Mexican state of Sonora. The Seri language is distinct from all others in the region and is considered to be a linguistic isolate.
The people say “Everyone has a flower inside, and inside the flower is a word.” The petals from the Seri flower are dropping rapidly, and with a population of slightly below l.000, it won’t be long before the petals are gone from their flower.

When governments attempt to destroy a native language, much as the United States did to the Native American, the language in its pure form loses much of its flow. In the sculpture above, the returning child is enveloped by his mother’s robe which is embellished with the stories of his people. A familiar story told in another language, never achieves the original tempo.
I found it interesting to read that the three languages proposed to substitute the remaining languages are said to be “English, Mandarin or Spanish”. In California alone, those three languages are readily apparent.