As promised. From the top (or bottom) as it were, in Q and A format:
Why not? I started tweeting as a way to keep track of mental notes for essays and other projects. Very quickly, it turned into a way of communicating with others who share my interests in politics, religion, spirituality, meditation, guitar, cooking, wine, and raising young children (not necessarily in that order).
Why the Red Sox?
Are you serious? They’re my hometown team! Sure I spent my first eighteen years cheering for the Yankees, because of where I was raised. But now I’m a proud metropolitan Bostonian, and a natural part of that is hating the Yankees and loving the Red Sox.
Besides, both my girls cheer for the Sox, and what kind of example would I be setting for them if I did otherwise?
Incidentally, the 2004 Red Sox taught me more about Christianity than anything or anyone else. Cheering for them that year provided an object lesson in hope (warranted and otherwise), faith, death (the ALCS), and resurrection (the World Series).
So yes, the Red Sox are my religion. I live and die with that team, long for opening day, and notice how much more beautiful the world is the morning after a Red Sox victory.
And no, I can’t think of a more noble chariot to chain my self-esteem to. Besides, I’m a Buddhist, so none of this matters in the end anyway.
Heck, I could just as easily have remained a Yankee fan had it not been for the divine winds that blew me north. So I lost out on easy access to good Indian food. What I gained in terms of soul continues to be priceless.
Besides, I cook. Pretty good in the kitchen too [rimshot].
Where do you get your Latin?
Five years of high school Latin (see below), dictionaries, the Internet, and books like this one by Henry Beard. This little gem I read to my daughters right before their bedtime.
Some baseball words I just make up, cross my fingers, and hope that the grammar’s correct.
To know this, you’ve got to know a little bit about where I come from. Where I grew up, it was tremendously uncool to be smart, nerdy, or interested in school. The cool kids were the ones who excelled at sports and got good enough grades in school without having them too much higher than everyone else.
Learning for its own sake was definitely frowned upon. Everyone — from peers to parents to teachers — just knew that the only reason you went to school was to do well on the test, so you could go to a good college, marry someone attractive, get into a prestigious occupation that would pay well, and get ahead of your neighbor. Period, end of story.
Come on, was it really all that bad?
I remember reading, as a teenager, about time travel and the fourth dimension, and got to thinking how Jesus could be understood as an extradimensional being who popped into our space for a while before popping back out.
Full of excitement, I rushed over to our parish priest and tried it out on him. He just scowled, and told me to be “mindful” of “the simplicity of our faith,” and to stop trying to “make it all fit into my ideas.”
Like a glutton for punishment, I then tried it out on my geometry teacher. Figured she might help me figure out some of the details, or at least point me in the right direction. She just sighed, telling me to make sure not to spend so much time on this that my homework would suffer.
Going to school because you actually liked what happened in the classroom? The collective answer on the part of my environment was, “what, are you nuts?”
Reading for pleasure? An idle task at best, unless it was about how to beat the SAT, make more money, or get into a better college.
It could also be dangerous, especially if it took time away from your blessed homework. I wish I had a nickel for every teacher who told me to cool it with the reading and focus on my studies. Interesting thing is, I maintained an A- average throughout high school.
And just about everything I read was nonfiction. That is to say, very few novels, short stories, or poetry (fixing that now). Books on politics and American history were a particular favorite of mine.
One day, I discovered my high school offered Latin, and I decided to sign up.
How did you justify your decision?
I told my parents it would look really good on college applications, and that it would unlock other languages for me. They groaned.
Like Spanish, I said. “You already speak Spanish,” they said. “Like French,” I said. “Well, then I guess that’s OK.”
Most of all, though, I remember the questions from almost every adult in my life: “Latin? Isn’t that a dead language? Who speaks Latin these days anyway? Why don’t you spend your time studying something useful like French or Spanish?”
So why’dja do it?
Well, for the typical adolescent reasons: I wanted to stick a finger in the eye of the culture I was growing up in. It was like, “oh, so the nerds are the rejects? Then fine — in addition to playing Dungeons and Dragons, I’m also going to take Latin.”
My poor parents are still recovering, bless their hearts.
Deciding to take Latin also connected me with the lady who was to become my intellectual mentor for the rest of my life: my high school Latin teacher. By the eighth grade, I thought I’d already had a pretty bad addiction to learning (just about anything) for its own sake. In her class, I learned just how much worse such an addiction can get.
Over the course of five years, I learned more than just Latin. I discovered things like philosophy, religion, literature, the parts of history (US and ancient) that nobody talks about, and the inside of language itself.
I learned about Catullus. Whoa. Then I found the poems I wasn’t supposed to read. Double whoa!
Odi et amo would get me through many a dark night in high school and college, as I struggled to figure out the female heart and my own simultaneously.
And over the course of a lifetime, I got to learn all about Burma Shave, the Depression, the War, Adlai Stevenson, the Civil Rights movement, and how you learned to just keep your mouth shut during McCarthy.
And it was all so very, very cool. Not to anyone else but her and me, but that was just fine by all concerned.
Sounds like quite a lady.
She was. She’s gone now, but there isn’t a book I pick up that doesn’t have her name, face, and voice written all over it. She rescued me, she did.
So why didn’t you stop after high school? Surely there were skilled clinicians and/or solid treatment programs in your area.
Well, then there was college, you see: the first and last place in my life where what and how well you thought mattered so more than what you earned, drove, or wore. The “net net” of it was that soon I would be doing everything I could for the rest of my life to support a compulsive book-buying habit.
Don’t get me wrong, I have champagne tastes and, very luckily, the means to sustain them. But part of that means helping others out too, and helping myself to the occasional bottle of wine, cigar, suit and tie (yes, bow tie; deal with it!), plus a weekly book from Amazon about the new idea I can’t let go of.
Last week it was mind viruses. The week before it was the paintings of Mary Cassatt, and this week it’s the role of creeds in religion.
So why Latin?
Well, because it reminds me of a delightful old lady, and represents the first thing I ever came to love that no one else did (or perhaps could): learning for its own sake. The older I get, the more it seems this is a value that gets more and more lost in a world of materials, self-esteem, and rat racing.
However, Latin also represents something deeper for me: a middle finger extended gently in the direction of those — especially but not exclusively politicians — who try to discourage you from thinking for yourself. Here I have in mind all the religious types in the world who’d much rather you swallowed their answers for the questions of your life than turned over a few rocks (like theirs) for yourself.
I’m also thinking of those politicians and their followers who not only don’t know something, but try to make a virtue of not knowing. Sarah Palin and George W. Bush come to mind. They remind me so much of the jocks, misfits, frat boys and sorority girls of my childhood who always saw school as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
These anti-intellectuals would have us believe eggheads are awful people simply because they like to think, learn, and accumulate knowledge. Worst of all is the philosopher who aspires to – dare I say it? – wisdom.
Didn’t you get the memo? Knowledge is for informing and entertaining consumers, not forming citizens. Philosophy? That’s just plain uppity.
For some, you’d think there’s no worse sin than reminding them of what they don’t know. Me, when I’m reminded (every moment) of what I don’t know, I go look it up or find out. Always have.
They, the goons, just get mad at you for showing off and call it a day. Then they go about not bothering to find out what it is they didn’t know. For them, knowledge is and may never be anything more a cudgel other people use to lower their self-esteem.
So the Sarah Palins of the world come by their anti-intellectualism honestly. I was lucky enough to be good at something I was forced to do the first 18 years of my life. Imagine if I’d had trouble decoding symbols, reading to myself or out loud, or learned visually instead of linguistically. I’d be pretty mad too, if I didn’t get the help I needed.
Lucky for me the only help I needed was fitting in, and I’m more than making up for lost time now.
But look, egghead doesn’t have to mean evil person. It’s not up to those who know something and want to share it to shut up or get in the closet; it’s up to each and every one of us who wants to grow to hop on the Internet, go to a bookstore, hop into a library, or open a book and learn something.
Sure there are pedants. Anyone who purposefully tries to make you feel bad for not knowing something is doing more damage to the cause of learning than they realize. I had several teachers like that in college, actually.
Tweeting in Latin is my way of fighting the power that says learning is bad unless it’s done for a “good” purpose, like controlling nature (or other people), or earning a living.
Aren’t you afraid of pissing people off? Read my nom de plume. What do you think?
Isn’t that, like, really rude, impolite, and ungracious of you?
Only to my detractors.
Look, when I tweet in Latin, I know I’m pissing some people off. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, it’s still a free country, and they can regard me and/or my behavior as snobby, elitist, or whatever.
They can also look the other way, like on TV or radio. Or block me, I don’t care.
I know I irritate people whenever I converse with a clerk or salesperson in Spanish. That’s why I quickly learned to provide a fast English translation to anyone who I think might have overheard.
Look, nobody likes to be on the outside of what seems like an inside joke. But when you find yourself on the outs, especially when you’re not used to it (or feel like you ought to be on the “ins”), it seems to me you have a choice to make. Ask or find out what the joke was about, or just let it go.
Just don’t seethe, holding ferners and the eeleetes fully and exclusively responsible for your displeasure. It’s just not good for you, your cardiac health, or the health of the nation to blame all of your misery on someone else’s (“mis-“) behavior. That’s how fascisms start.
Speaking of which, it should go without saying that if you think Sarah Palin is worth electing to high office, you are more than welcome to disregard anything I have to say whatsoever.
So what are you trying to prove here, really?
When I find out, I’ll be sure to keep it to myself, thank you!
Consciously, though, my main hope here is to catch the eye of those kids taking Latin for the first time, or those who can remember getting excited learning about declensions and conjugations.
I’m also aiming for those who think it’s kinda neat to (want to) learn about something that has little to no “practical” value, that carries so many of the messages of our culture, and that opens doors onto learning everywhere.
In short, I’m looking for Latin geeks like me, brashfully unapologetic about who they are and how they got to be that way, and who enjoy the Red Sox and the occasional bawdy joke as much as I love food, wine, and good music.
So there. Satis est. Enjoy.