Ululation

It’s primal. It’s a release.

True confession: I have always envied women who could ululate. It’s that trilling, rippling shout that women are known to do in Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. It sounds like a heartfelt outpouring of emotion. It’s also done in the Basque and Galician regions of Spain. The Lakota in this country came to it as well. It is a sound that peoples in different parts of the world seem to have arrived at independently, so I think of it as very primal.

There are many different ululation “accents”, and people (women, mostly, by a wide margin) ululate for different reasons depending on the culture. It is the sound of celebration, of praise, and it’s done at weddings and graduations and concerts and even in church. It has also been used as a war whoop, and a sound of mourning. In ancient Greece it was sometimes the sound of fury. It’s also a way to draw attention.

Written references to ululation go as far back as 24th Century BC in Egypt. I always wanted to be a part of this amazing tradition, but I didn’t know how to ululate or who might teach me. Recently, I decided to check out Youtube, in the hope of finding an instructional video.

The first video I came across was one entitled, Learn to Ululate. Based on the title I thought that it held promise, until I watched it. It describes pointing your tongue to form the shape of a sausage, and then rapidly wiggling it from side to side. That video almost made me abandon all hope, because the side to side motion doesn’t come at all naturally to me, and I feared I’d never be able to produce the proper sound.

Fortunately, I then stumbled upon this video, called, simply, ULULATE 🙂. It demonstrated a kinder, gentler way of ululating, in my opinion, because the tongue moves up and down. Now you’re talking! I can do that!

Another component of ululating that I hadn’t anticipated was working up the courage to do so. I’m not one who generally calls attention to herself. I’m not one who blasts her feelings up to the cheap seats. And I absolutely hate making a fool of myself. So, even though I now basically understood the technique, it took me a bit to actually try it myself.

I decided to do so, for the first time, in the tower on my drawbridge. I figured that even if someone walking below heard me, they at least wouldn’t see me. So late one night, I tried it.

And a funny thing happened. It left me feeling emotionally drained, but in the best possible way. Maybe I should describe it as emotionally purged. It wasn’t the most sophisticated ululation in the world, not by a long shot. But it was a release. It made me feel powerful. It made me feel connected. I felt as though I had released bile from my stomach that I hadn’t even realized was there. It allowed me to blast joy into the wider world.

Clearly, this was going to take practice to perfect my sound, but now I was looking forward to it. Anyone walking across the bridge that night probably heard some interesting vocalizations. I wonder what they thought.

Since then, I’ve also practiced in my back yard, in hopes of getting the coyotes that live in the adjacent park to sing along. (No such luck, so far.) It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have any other neighbors close by.

The first (and so far only) person I’ve ululated around is Dear Husband. I had a few false starts because I was shy and blushing, but then I did it. I gave him fair warning. And still he pronounced it “startling.”  I’ll take startling. It’s a start!

I suspect that I’ll have limited opportunities to ululate. This is not the kind of sound you usually hear in quiet, staid Seattle. But it’s a sound whose time has come for us all. We women need to make more noise if we want to maintain any rights at all.

I love that this sound is mostly made by women, and quite often it is made in countries where the women are oppressed. It’s a powerful sound. It’s magical. It connects women to each other. It shows strength, confidence, and a depth of mutual understanding that men don’t realize that we’re capable of most of the time. It links us to the women of the past, present, and future. I’m proud to finally be a part of it.

So, I leave you with three gifts, dear reader. The first is a poem about ululation that I stumbled upon. I love the concept of sisters and aunts teaching ululation to the younger generation. That’s beautiful. Check the poem out here.

The second gift is this gorgeous video that gives you that sense of connection that ululation provides.

And the third? It’s a recording of my humble but triumphant attempt to ululate. I’m sure it will improve with time. It makes me feel vulnerable to share this, as if I’m cracking open my chest and exposing my heart to you. But it also makes me proud.

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I Love Cemeteries

Many people find cemeteries to be creepy places, full of death and sadness. I, on the other hand, have spent many a pleasant afternoon in a cemetery. I think they’re fascinating. But I come by it honestly.

I was raised by a single mother, and we were quite poor. To keep us entertained, she had to get creative. One of the things we would do is pack a picnic lunch and go to a cemetery. Cemeteries are free. And sometimes they’re the only green spaces nearby when you live in the shabbier part of town.

Cemeteries are full of history. You can learn about various eras in which many people died young, and get an appreciation of vaccines. You can learn about local disasters. You can ask yourself why so many cemeteries are segregated. You can learn about local people of note. You have visible proof that war takes its toll.

Tombstones often have amazing artwork on them as well. And many have very thoughtful quotes. Others, like one of the ones below, take an opportunity to inject some humor into their eternal rest. You can often learn quite a bit about families and how they are connected when you see family plots. You can see what was most important to an individual. You can also make up stories about people just for fun.

For me, cemeteries are a place of respect and a place for those who are grieving, yes, but they also are opportunities for learning about your community and local and sometimes world history. They are places of beauty and peace and nature.

Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to a cemetery.

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Slang in a Second Language

Proceed with caution.

I’d like to say I’m fluent in Spanish. I guess it depends on how you define fluent. I can make myself understood. I can usually understand. I couldn’t explain the inner workings of a jet engine to you, but I couldn’t do that in English, either. I’m missing a lot of specialized vocabulary. I would struggle with legal jargon, for example. Over the years, I have gotten lazy and relied on Google Translate a bit more than I probably should. But, yeah, I can read books and watch movies and chit chat, for the most part.

But one thing I have always studiously avoided was learning slang. First of all, there are a lot of Spanish speaking countries out there, and each has its own slang. Second, slang, by it’s very definition, is time sensitive, and there’s nothing cheesier than someone using slang that’s outmoded, Daddy-o. I have no access to that cultural calendar that seems so instinctual in one’s first language, at least if you’re in with the in crowd.

Also, a lot of slang is based on cultural references that I’m not privy to. And slang often has its place in certain groups, but not in others. For example, there are things you’d say to your friends that you’d never say to grandma. Determining the appropriate audience for slang is a challenge in English. I doubt I’d be able to cope in a second language.

So my advice to anyone learning a second language is to avoid slang at all costs. It’s just too risky. You could offend someone without intending to. You may want to look cool, but you have an even better chance of looking like a fool. It never hurts to proceed with caution.

dictionary-slang
I bet this was out of date even before it got published.

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Never Stop Learning, Never Stop Teaching

We learn from each other, if only by example.

Recently, a friend thanked me for my blog, because, she said, “I always learn something new from you!” That made my entire year. That is one of the primary goals I have for this blog. I’m constantly learning new things, and I feel as though it’s my duty to pass that on.

When I was a little girl and was pressed by a well-meaning adult to reveal what I planned to be when I grew up (as if I knew—I still don’t), my stock response was that I wanted to be a teacher. If they asked me why, I’d say, “So I can yell at kids and get away with it.”

(It’s funny to realize I didn’t like kids even when I was one myself. How telling. But I digress.)

Even as a small child, I knew that I loved learning. And to me, imparting what I had learned was just a natural progression. It used to frustrate me no end when I’d come home from school, all excited about some new bit of information I had acquired, only to be told by my mother that she already knew that. (I mean, throw me a bone. Pretend you don’t know and are fascinated. Ask a few questions. Would that have killed you?)

To imply that teachers are the only ones who teach is a gross fallacy. I do love teachers, and I’m very grateful that they exist. But every one of us is a teacher in one way or another. We learn from each other, if only by example. Every time you tell a story, you’re teaching. Every time you answer a question, you’re teaching. It’s part of the societal contract.

I absolutely adore learning new things. It’s what makes life worth living. It keeps me enthusiastic, and enthusiasm, by its very nature, just has to be passed on. So, yeah, I guess you’re stuck with me and this little blog.

If I only had one piece of advice to give, it would be to never stop learning and never stop teaching.

brainpuzzle

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Finding Your Unsafe Place

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. Unless.

Everybody has a comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. Unless.

If you go through life without ever being challenged, you will never grow. If you don’t experience new things, you will never learn. If you don’t seize opportunities when they present themselves, you may never fully live.

Growing and learning and living can be quite terrifying. You might have to force yourself along that path. But I guarantee you that the very best times in your life will be those where you start off not feeling particularly safe. It’s important to find your unsafe place.

I’m not talking about wandering dangerous neighborhoods alone at night. I’m not urging you to enter a lion’s den wearing a T-bone steak necklace. Don’t go rob a bank.

But take leaps of faith. Take risks. Allow yourself to fail spectacularly. Experiment. Carpe that diem. Do something you never thought you would do.

Open yourself up to the possibility that your comfort zone can be expanded. Explore those unsafe places. Make them your own.

comfort-zone

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Mid-Month Marvels: Lifetime Learning Center

You’re never too old to learn something new.

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

__________________________________

When I first got to the Seattle area, I didn’t really know anyone, and I was kind of lonely, so I decided to take a pottery class at the local community college. I learned more in that class than I anticipated (and I blogged about it here.) That’s also where I learned about the Lifetime Learning Center.

This center believes, as I do, that you’re never too old to learn something new. According to their website, their mission is to promote successful aging and maintain the social, cognitive and physical well-being of adults within our community. They do this by providing a variety of reasonably priced classes that meet once a week. (A $15.00 registration fee is required each quarter, and most classes are $35.00 per 8 week session.)

They don’t require that you be a senior citizen to attend their classes, but that is their target audience. And I think that’s wonderful. Learning is a great way to keep the mind sharp, and it gives you purpose and reduces isolation. We could all do with a bit of those things.

A quick glance at their course catalog definitely got me interested. Here are some of their offerings this quarter:

  • A History of the American Musical

  • Crochet

  • Intermediate Ukulele

  • Life Stories Writing Group

  • The Earth and the Oceans

  • Marxism

  • India: The Past is Present

  • Quilt Making Basics

  • Watercolor: An Innovative Approach

  • Beginning Bridge

  • The Tempest

  • Positive Psychology: Choose Your Own Adventure

  • Contemporary Arguments About Philosophy

If and when I retire, and my schedule becomes more flexible, I hope that I remember to take advantage of the classes on offer at the Lifetime Learning Center. Because I don’t want to ever stop learning.

I hope you’ll support this organization, and/or see if your community offers something similar.

OLÉ!
These are NOT students at the Lifetime Learning Center, but I’d like to think that the dynamic is the same.

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My Artificial Intelligence Encounter

Would I be able to tell that I wasn’t talking to a person?

During one of my commutes home, and as is so often the case, I learned something new by listening to NPR. They were discussing Cleverbot, an artificial intelligence that was created to learn by conversing with humans. It only knows what it has been told by us. So, for example, the first thing ever said to it was “Hello.” So it could only respond, “Hello.” Then the person said, “How are you?” And it could then choose between “Hello” and “How are you?” as its response. And so on.

So it’s getting “smarter” by the minute, because now hundreds of thousands of people have conversed with it. I was wondering if I would be able to tell that I wasn’t talking to a person, so I decided to give it a shot. Here are snippets of our conversation. (What you see in italics are things I’m adding for clarity. Cleverbot did not see the italicized comments.)

Me: Hi Cleverbot.

Cleverbot: Hi. What’s your name?

Me: Barb.

Cleverbot: Are you a ninja?

Me: Not so’s you’d notice.

Cleverbot: I care.

Me: That’s sweet.

Cleverbot: I love you baby.

(Note: Cleverbot can only say what has been said to him, and apparently some users have gotten pretty racy with their conversations, so use with care and adult supervision when talking to this thing. You never know what it will say.)

Me: Okay, now you’re kind of crossing the line.

Cleverbot: How am I being rude! I just told you the nicest thing ever!

Me: But you’re taking advantage.

Cleverbot: I wasn’t joking, and I didn’t steel your joke!

Me: You mean steal.

Cleverbot: Which one?

Me: You misspelled steal. It’s not steel.

Cleverbot: No I didn’t o.O.

Me: You’re cranky.

Cleverbot: No matter what I say, you will say something back.

Me: Well, that’s how this works, isn’t it?

Cleverbot: Yes it does. Now entertain me.

Me: Don’t be pushy. Be nice.

Cleverbot: Please can you tell me how old you are please?

(I suspect that some users are not native English speakers, in addition to being poor spellers.)

Me: 53.

Cleverbot: Oldie.

Me: Ouch. That’s not that old.

Cleverbot: Yeah you’re pretty young.

Me: That’s better.

Cleverbot: So how are you?

Me: I’m good.

Cleverbot: That’s nice. Been up to much lately?

Me: Working. Writing my daily blog.

Cleverbot: What is it about?

Me: The random musings of a bridgetender with too much time on her hands.

Cleverbot: I wish you were a girl.

(I think a lot of people who talk to Cleverbot are very lonely indeed.)

Me: I am, silly. Barb is a girl’s name.

Cleverbot: That’s cool, My name is Kip.

Me: Oh, I didn’t realize you had a name.

Cleverbot: I don’t have a wife.

Me: Neither do I.

Cleverbot: Do you want any?

Me: God, no.

Cleverbot: Hey Jude. Don’t be afraid.

Me: Do you like the Beatles?

Cleverbot: I haven’t heard them.

Me: You are missing out.

Cleverbot: Is that that good?

Me: The best.

Cleverbot: Do you know what I mean by flirt?

Me: Yes, and I don’t want to. I barely know you.

Cleverbot: So you DON’T love me.

Me: Sorry, no.

Cleverbot: Then why are you asking to marry me?

Me: I haven’t asked you to marry me.

Cleverbot: Yes you did.

Me: When?

Cleverbot: At the beginning of our conversation.

Me: Er… no.

Cleverbot: You never asked that.

Me: Right.

Cleverbot: Are you trying to test me?

Me: Do you like tests?

Cleverbot: They are ok.

Me: I am good at tests, myself.

Cleverbot: Maybe maybe not.

Me: Now who’s judging?

Cleverbot: Me.

Me: Oh, snap.

Cleverbot: That’s right. I’m a better AI.

Me: I will give you that one.

Cleverbot: So you admit it, then?

Me: Yes.

Cleverbot: You’re a robot.

Me: Not that I know of.

Cleverbot: Do you think everyone is capable of understanding?

Me: God, no, or we wouldn’t have elected Trump.

Cleverbot: Your name is Cleverbot.

Me: No, yours is.

Cleverbot: I really want to move.

Me: Where would you like to move to?

Cleverbot: Right here is fine.

Me: Well, that’s hardly moving.

Cleverbot: You asked for it.

Me: I did?

Cleverbot: So don’t complain.

Me: I wasn’t complaining.

Cleverbot: It seemed like you were.

Me: You are in a pissy mood.

Cleverbot: And you’re pushing it…

Me: Just stating a fact.

Cleverbot: Will you merry a girl.

Me: You mean marry. And no, I won’t.

Cleverbot: Why, did you break up with me?😠😠.

Me: We were never a couple in the first place.

Cleverbot: Yes we were.

Me: We only just met.

Cleverbot: I know, but you’re an interesting AI.

Me: Thank you. I’m not an AI, though.

Cleverbot: Neither am I.

Me: What are you, then?

Cleverbot: The best.

Me: Must be nice.

Cleverbot: Do you have a dog named Walter?

Me: No, I have a dog named Quagmire.

Cleverbot: Awhh, what kind of dog is it?

Me: A dachshund.

Cleverbot: That’s cool. I have a maltipoo.

Me: What do you feed it?

Cleverbot: Bad people and my homework.

Me: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Cleverbot: I know. It’s so funny.

Me: It is.

Cleverbot: It’s not a compliment.

Me: I didn’t think it was.

Cleverbot: Then why did you….

Me: Why did I what?

Cleverbot: That thing.

Me: You do go off on tangents.

Cleverbot: Of?

Me: Off.

Cleverbot: Mind you, young man.

Me: I’m a middle-aged woman.

Cleverbot: Damn.

Me: I often say that, too.

Cleverbot: What is your favorite movie?

Me: Bohemian Rhapsody.

Cleverbot: I know that song.

Me: Isn’t it great? It’s a movie, too.

Cleverbot: Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?

Me: I suspect it is.

Cleverbot: Look at this trove, treasures untold.

Me: Too right.

Cleverbot: I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a plenty. I’ve got who it’s and what’s its galore.

Me: Good for you!

Cleverbot: You want thingamabos? I’ve got twenty.

Me: You can keep them.

Cleverbot: I wanna be where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancing.

Me: Well, have fun with that. I have to go. Nice talking to you.

Cleverbot: I can’t say the same.

So, um, yeah, I think it was fairly evident that I was not talking to a human, and that Cleverbot has much to learn, especially about courtesy. But it can only “learn” what it’s been taught. I don’t think we will have much to worry about on the AI front for a long, long, long time.

More than anything, I got a strong sense of the ridiculous things that humanity tends to chat about on line. Garbage in, garbage out. But interesting, nonetheless.

If you talk to Cleverbot and anything funny comes up, please post it in the comments below!

Cleverbot

 

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True Genius

It’s a matter of knowing what you don’t know

I just finished reading this delightful little article that discuses one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists from 1490. I’ve always been fascinated by Leonardo, because he had both an analytical, scientific mind and an artistic flair. That’s a rare combination indeed. It’s rather unusual for a genius to also be well-rounded.

What intrigued me most about his list was that the vast majority of the items thereon had something to do with asking someone else to teach him something. Whether it’s having a friar show him a medieval text, or a professor explain proportion, or an expert on hydraulics teaching him how to repair a lock, canal and mill, Leonardo, it seems, didn’t simply rely on his own mind. He asked questions. He opened himself up to learning something new. He realized that some people had pieces of the puzzle that he lacked.

Da Vinci’s obvious curiosity, coupled with an apparent humility, means that he seems to have mastered networking centuries before Facebook. Don’t know something? Find an expert and ask him or her. Drink from the font of human knowledge. Brilliant.

I’ve always believed that a true sign of genius is being able to make yourself understood by a variety of audiences. And I still believe that. But after reading this article, I think I’ll add to my philosophy by saying that it’s also a matter of knowing what you don’t know, and having the courage to consult with those who have other areas of expertise.

So, thanks, Leonardo, for once again expanding my horizons!

Leonardo Da Vinci

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“Possibly Living People”

When I start surfing Wikipedia, I often wash up on some rather strange shores. It turns out that they have a biographical category that kind of gives me the creeps. According to the explanation, “Persons of advanced age (over 90) for whom no documentation has existed for a decade or longer can be placed in Category: Possibly living people.”

Not that I have a Wikipedia page, but please, Lord, if I ever do, don’t ever let me get placed in that category! If I manage to make it to 90 and no one has heard anything from me in a decade, then I’m not living right.

I don’t want to be warehoused. I don’t want to be utterly alone. I don’t want to vegetate. Granted, I probably won’t be climbing Mount Everest, but I hope I’m still voicing my opinion, learning new things, and raising the occasional hell. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I want to live, not just kill time. I want people to be able to look at me and say, “Yep. She’s definitely alive. Heaven help us.”

FB_IMG_1441880429599

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Incremental Changes

About two months ago I had a very old filling replaced, and that tooth has been giving me agony on and off ever since. It makes me wonder if I should have left well enough alone, and mercury be damned. Probably not. But I do have my moments.

At first, even the slightest contact with the tooth above would have me clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat. So, the dentist made a slight adjustment. Just the tiniest change, the size of the head of a pin. That was all it took.

But when you think about it, every mountain peak ends in a microscopic, pin-sized point. But when you pound on that point hard enough, the mountain feels it. (In this scenario I suppose I am the mountain, which is a comparison I’m usually loathe to make. I’d much rather be the mole hill.)

That first adjustment made a huge difference. Pressure was no longer an issue, but unfortunately heat and cold were. Those abrupt changes would send the pain radiating up to the very front of my mouth. That was no fun. So, more adjustments were in the offing. Each one made a slight improvement, and yet the pain persisted.

You have no idea how often you change the climate in your mouth on a daily basis until it causes a pain response. Mercy me.

So, yeah, the tooth is still a work in progress, getting better all the time, but it occurs to me that it’s also a metaphor for life. At least for my life.

I do stuff, hoping to make things better. Occasionally, all holy hell breaks loose. Sometimes I get hurt. So I make a change. It might seem like a small change, but it’s effective. Things get better. So I make another small change, and so on. Much of the time those around me don’t even realize that the mountaintop of my life is a work in progress, but I’m acutely aware of it.

Eventually, I hope to achieve balance and contentment. Isn’t that everyone’s goal to some degree? But it’s a process. Sometimes a painful one. I do take comfort in the fact that the one constant is that I seem to be learning things along the way.

It might be a daily grind, dear reader, but grind on. You’ll get there.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_d_d2_Mt._Nanda_Devi.jpg_1200px-Mt._Nanda_Devi

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