Mojibake

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, only to discover at the end that you were talking about two entirely different things? It’s very disconcerting. It’s like opening an important document, only to discover it’s full of incomprehensible symbols like this: �.

According to Wikipedia, when you get that garbled text, it’s a result of it being decoded using an unintended character encoding. It’s called Mojibake (which means “character transformation” in Japanese). I’d go into more detail, but it would quickly get over my head. Read the Wikipedia article if you’re into that kind of stuff.

But what intrigues me about Mojibake (aside from the fact that it’s a really cool sounding word) is that you can look right at it and know instantly that something is amiss. But you can’t always do so with the verbal equivalent.

Miscommunication can be dangerous. Wars can start on a misunderstanding. And as I experienced quite recently, friendships can end.

Confused conversations can also be hilarious when two friends finally realize what’s going on. But surely those misunderstandings can occur between two people, and each of them walk away being none the wiser about the mistake. How often does that happen? There’s absolutely no way to know.

I don’t like the concept that the foundation of our day to day communication is resting on sand, and can be shifted without our knowledge or control. I hate being misunderstood. I like thinking that the world is solid, and black and white, and that we all grok it in the very same way. But no.

I’ll just have to comfort myself with the fact that I learned a new word today. (Thanks, Mor!) And the next time I have one of those confused conversations that end in laughter, I’ll look at the person and say, “Mojibake, my friend.”

Mojibake_UTF-8_to_ISO-8859

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For Real

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.

A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”

I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”

My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.

So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”

Long pause.

Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”

Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”

Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”

At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”

God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”

I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.

Or not. Who knows?

green and purple

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“It’s How I Was Raised.”

I was remembering a conversation I once had with a coworker when I worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. We were doing highway inspections out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there was nothing or no one around for miles except fields of potatoes, and for some reason he chose that moment to say something really racist.

I had to call bullsh**, as I am wont to do in these situations. I don’t know why I bother. It never ends well. But I can’t just sit back and let ignorance like that pass.

“Dude, I can’t believe you just said that. I can’t believe you believe it, let alone say it out loud.”

“I can’t help it. It’s how I was raised. I was taught—”

“Excuse me? You’re a freakin’ ADULT!!!  You don’t have to march in lock step with your parents. You’re not a potato. You don’t have to stay where you’re planted.  You’re not a stupid man. You get to decide what your morals and values are. I’d find it refreshing if you took ownership of your hate, and stopped blaming your parents for it. It would be even more refreshing if you got a clue.”

It was a long, quiet ride back to the office. Did it do any good? Probably not. But some things just have to be said.

potato field

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Do You Know What Your Problem Is?

Tell me: when a conversation starts that way, is there any chance of it going well? And can a person who is that tactless and cruel really think that he or she has all the answers? It beggars the imagination.

The way I see it, we are all like icebergs. Only the very tip of who we are is on view. There is a whole lot beneath the surface. Anyone who is looking at just the visible parts of you and then passing judgment is not dealing with a full deck.

Honestly, isn’t it hard enough to solve your own problems without attempting to tackle the problems of the rest of the world? I mean, criminy sakes, get focused. If you actually have the gall to talk like that to people, then you clearly have a lot of interior work to do.

The next time I’m asked that question, I hope I have the presence of mind to say, “Here’s my problem: I have been putting up with people who think they could live my life more effectively than I do.”

Boom.

iceberg

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A Modest Bucket List

An interesting text conversation with a dear friend, shared with her permission.

Friend: Did something on my bucket list that I hope won’t shock you too much.

          Me: Been trying to call. WHAT DID YOU DO?

Expect the worst and it won’t be so bad.

           Last time you did a bucket list thing, you bungee jumped out of a perfectly good hot air balloon.

You can guess and I promise I will tell you if you get it right. It’s nothing like the balloon stunt.

          Ran off to join the circus? Posed nude with a boa constrictor?

Neither of those. And not fond of tight hugs.

          Not fond of tight hugs… Boob job? Something medical?

Still braless. Nothing medical.

           Nothing medical. Nothing death-defying or snake-related. Are you a blonde?

No way.

          Tattoo? Some alteration of appearance? A new purchase of some sort? An experience?

Very slight alteration in appearance. (This is soooo much fun.)

          Nails? Teeth? Something above the waist or below? Did you shave your hoo hoo?

One of those. Darn you are good.

          YOU SHAVED YOUR HOO HOO?

Guess again.

          Teeth? Details.

It’s not teeth.

          Nails?

Yes. They are blue.

          Child, please. Why would that shock me?

Hey, it’s the most exciting thing on my bucket list. Maybe I will do my coochie pop next.

          I bet it would itch.

I got nothin’.

          And having a boring bucket list means you are satisfied with life. That’s enviable.

Do you have anything on yours?

          Mine is 5 pages long. Mostly travel related. Remind me to show you.

Sounds exciting.

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The World’s Best Bedside Manner

A little over a week ago I had surgery on my wrist. I was scared silly. Mostly because I’d be all alone during my recovery, but also because it’s downright unnatural to voluntarily subject oneself to getting sliced open. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind says, “Here. Cut me, please.” You have to be in a heck of a lot of pain in order to seek out pain as a remedy for that pain. After many months of procrastinating, I had reached that point.

I had every confidence in my surgeon. Her name is Dr. Elizabeth Joneschild, and she’s part of the Seattle Hand Surgery Group. I’d seen her several times prior to this last, surgical resort, so I had developed a great professional relationship with her. Not only does she clearly know what she’s doing, but she’s very patient when you ask her questions, has an excellent reputation, and, let’s face it, she wouldn’t have an office with such a spectacular view if she weren’t doing something right. So if you have problems with your hand or wrist, I highly recommend her.

The anesthesiologist, on the other hand, I only got to meet on the morning of the surgery. That’s, of course, pretty standard, but it doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. Here’s someone who can knock you out in a variety of ways, who you don’t meet until he’s about to knock you out.

In this case, I was to remain conscious. They were only numbing the arm and putting a drape across so I couldn’t see what was happening (for which I was extremely grateful). But I was still scared and I’ve no doubt that it showed.

But I was lucky enough to have Dr. Stephen Markowitz as my anesthesiologist. I’ve known a lot of great people in the medical field in my lifetime, but this guy really went the extra mile. Obviously Dr. J had to concentrate on what she was doing, so Dr. M started asking me about my job. What’s it like to be a bridgetender? What bridge do you work on? How high is it above the water? Any question he could think of.

Not only did this conversation distract me, but (and I have no idea if he was conscious that he was doing this or not) it also allowed my mind to leave a realm where I was feeling pretty helpless and scared, and enter a realm where I was an expert and actually had something to teach and contribute. The surgery was over in about 15 minutes, and I didn’t feel a thing, not even panic. What a gift.

I’ve got to say that my hand was definitely in good hands. I’ll be forever grateful for that. When you only have two of something, you tend to want to hold on to them at all costs.

HomeHands

Oh, I Get It. You Don’t Care.

I have a friend that I enjoy talking to, but I’ve long since discovered that she is not someone to seek out if I want to vent or feel the need for compassion or commiseration. She just doesn’t want to hear it. She’s a classic See-No-Evil type of person.

Oh, she’ll be quite happy to talk about herself, or about things that we do together, She enjoys making plans with me. She likes to get advice from me. She loves to discuss current events or movies or politics. We can go off and do fun things and she makes me laugh.

But if, for example, I say something like, “I think I might be fired from my job,” any typical friend would say, “My God, why?” Not her. Never her. Probing questions are not in her nature. A statement such as that would be met with stony silence.

It actually used to bug me a lot. And yes, her behavior can and should be construed as a little bit selfish. But I’m no longer a young girl who thinks that all friends can be all things for you. People have different strengths and talents. Listening to my drama and being supportive thereof is just not one of hers.

The older I get, the more I realize that crop rotation allows for more fertile fields in the realm of friendships as well as in the realm of vegetables. Variety is the spice of life!

veggie pic

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I Love Your Mind

In this modern computer age I have quite a few friends that I haven’t met face to face. In many cases we are a half a world away from each other, and the likelihood of us ever breaking bread is pretty slim. Even so, they’re as dear to me as any partner in crime from college ever was. We banter, we chat, we meet on Facebook or in the virtual world of Second Life. We exchange e-mails. We skype. I have even made several friends through the comments here on my blog. I’ve also connected with distant relatives and reconnected with long lost friends on line. I love being alive at this point in history!

Granted, you can’t always trust what you learn on line. That girl of your dreams might be a fat old truck driver with bushy chest hair pushing out the top of his wife-beater shirt, and pedophiles and perverts love the internet even more than I do. I have met my fair share of crazies, believe you me. But generally speaking, crazy is hard to hide for long. It usually oozes out of the cracks in one’s façade fairly quickly.

But what I love most about meeting people this way is that you skip right over the assumptions and judgments that come along with the usual first impressions. You get past that two foot long beard because you aren’t aware it’s there. Obesity, deformity, race, bad taste in clothes, and really bad cologne do not factor in when you are getting to know someone on line. You aren’t meeting face to face. You are meeting mind to mind.

Within three seconds of meeting an adolescent in Second Life, I can tell. They have no life experience, and therefore very little to contribute to a conversation. I move on. It also doesn’t take much time to determine if you have nothing in common with someone. If someone is pushy, aggressive or rude, they’ll usually be the same way in cyberspace.

But just as in real life, when you click with people, it has nothing to do with the physical. It’s their sense of humor, their integrity, their intelligence and their point of view that makes you like them. You have a better chance of meeting these gems on line, because you won’t discount them for their scary biker attire or their severe facial scarring.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we’ve all dismissed someone due to our assumptions based on their appearance. What opportunities have we missed for life long friendships? The internet is the great equalizer in this instance, and I’m forever grateful for the many friends I’ve made through its agency.

read your mind

On Letting Things Percolate

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not very quick on the uptake. My snappy comebacks are usually delayed by a couple of hours. Oh, they’re pithy. They’re trite. They’re just a little late.

If you throw me a set of car keys, my first reaction is to duck, not catch, so let’s hope I’m not standing next to a very deep abyss, or we will be stranded. If you’re looking for someone with razor sharp reflexes, I’m not your girl. I like to let things sink in.

In short, I’m a cogitator. If I weren’t human, I’d probably be a cow. I like the idea of being able to chew on something several times before fully digesting it. Well, not in terms of flavor, but… you know what I mean.

Someone will say something to me like, “I know I shouldn’t have f***ed that cheerleader. I was old enough to be her father.” Two weeks later I’ll say, “Wait, you did what???” It can really throw off the flow of a conversation, believe you me.

This is probably why I love to write. Before I submit my final draft, I can revise. I can edit, delete, and improve. You just don’t get that with snappy comebacks.

But you know, after having thought about it for, like, days, I wouldn’t change my sluggish reaction time for the world. Some of my biggest regrets in life revolve around the rare occasion when I’ve reacted quickly. That nasty e-mail response. That snap judgment. That ill-advised investment.

So I’m not ignoring you. I’m not dismissing what you said. Just give me time to chew on it. Bear with me. I’ll get back to you. Eventually.

percolator

It’s a vintage percolator. Get it?

[Image credit: eclectisaurus.com]

Language Barriers

When I was around 14 I rode the bus to school every day with a bunch of kids from migrant worker families. I was the only one on the bus who didn’t speak Spanish. It drove me crazy and they knew it. They’d say something, look over at me, and laugh. I hated being left out of the conversation. I despised the idea that I might be missing something important, which is part of the reason I majored in Spanish and Latin American Studies the first time I went to college, thus inadvertently starting down my lifelong path of pursuing useless degrees. But hey, at least now I can listen in on the conversations of a much larger portion of the population of the world, so that’s good, right?

I spent the summer after my freshman year in college in the Netherlands with my sister, who was stationed there in the Air Force. We’d go to restaurants and people would of course be speaking Dutch all around us, and once again I was completely at a loss. I spent that three months highly frustrated. But when I came home and went to restaurants, I discovered something quite interesting while eaves dropping on people’s dinner conversations: Most people have absolutely nothing interesting to say. In fact, my hyper-focus on the conversations of total strangers in subsequent weeks made me realize that I was actually better off when I didn’t understand what people were saying.

After that, during my many trips to other countries I relaxed a little and actually enjoyed the challenge of getting my point across without being fluent in the native tongue. Inability to speak makes the connections that you do manage to form all that more poignant. (Except, maybe, in France, where they take that stuff very seriously. I was once cursed out in French when I accidentally broke something at a bed and breakfast. When I asked a woman what the lady had said, she said, “You don’t want to know.”)

During my trips to the western United States, I delight in tuning my radio to KTNN, the Navajo radio station. Much to the irritation of my fellow passengers, when not playing music, the announcers on this station can ramble on for hours in Navajo, punctuating every few phrases with something that sounds like “Aye-doo-di-Ah-Jay” to me. I find that listening to a conversation in which I don’t really have to pay attention to be a massive relief. I can just be hypnotized by the sounds and the emotions I perceive behind them and let my thoughts wander.

But I also learned another very good lesson while studying abroad in Mexico. I walked up to an American friend of mine who was talking to one of the most gorgeous men I’d ever seen in my life, and I said to her, in English, something to the effect of, “My God, but he’s hot. If he were looking at me right now the way he’s looking at you, I’d probably melt into a big old greasy puddle.” He turned to me and said, “Oh, you would, would you?” The 18 year old me wanted to die right on the spot. Turns out he grew up in California. To my chagrin, he didn’t ever take a liking to me.

You never know when barriers are going to be breached, but when they aren’t, you never know if you might not just be better off.

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[Image credit: zengardner.com]