Sunday, September 28, 2014

How I am Learning a New Language

Actually it would sound more like How-I’mah LARN-nin a-newLANG-widge. It is in fact English but the one that comes out of the mouths of folks living in the Deep South or, as another friend calls it, ‘Merica. And please note that I am not talking down to the manner in which they speak, I am merely pointing out how very different it sounds to me since I grew up in the greater Toronto area of Ontario in Canada.

I met my friend who lives in Alabama and has roots in Louisiana, as well, on the Internet playing an online game and it evolved into online chat sessions that soon also included quite extensive long distance conversations with her. I quickly realized something I never really thought of before as to how chat room sessions leave out a very important part of the message and that is the flair of the local culture of the person on the other side of the somewhat sterilized verbal banter you do in those windows. Simply stated, most everyone sounds the same to you as the way you speak.

But nothing could be further from the truth as the first telephone conversation made so clear because it was not at all clear to me. It wasn’t because of any electronic interference or line noise because in today’s world that is pretty much non-existent. You can actually hear the pregnant pauses in a telephone conversation which are sometimes just the precursor to a dead connection, so I have found out. Unlimited long distance plans coupled with redial make that not much of problem.

The lack of clarity (as I now realize) had more to do with the fact that it was much later in the day and anyone can be drowsy or very relaxed that their local dialect becomes even stronger and so the difference between my dialect and hers becomes even greater. So there we were me talking in what she described as “it was like I was back in school in English class again with that perfect English the teacher wanted us to use”. (I am not even gonna attempt the drawl at this point). And I pretty much didn’t understand much of anything that she was saying but I am thankful we persevered.

So I now have a much greater appreciation for something I kept hearing growing up in a largely Italian district of Toronto with me not being of that descent (my parents both arrived in Canada at a very young age from their native Poland in very separate ways). The comment was that northern and southern Italians really have a tough time understanding each other because the dialects are so different and that can even be said of others in the next valley or region. Not any different than Canada to Alabama as sure as this dumb boot found out. (Yah I know I’m not a dumb boot or dumb azz but I sure felt like one for a while).

And from it I learned some “local” words that quite frankly were not ones that I had ever heard before and specifically: gollybills and poot. I thought min pin was another but that was just me and not really a southern phrase which I will explain a little later. Gollybills is a term that is really more of an Old South term that you would start a sentence with way back in the day sort of like “Gollybills, it sure is hot enough out thar today to fry an egg on the old tin roof”. It could be a little like gee whiz, shucks or even shoot.

Now the definition of poot was one that still makes me laugh so hard that I snort at the end of it to catch my breath. (I can’t ever remember doing that before but maybe that is just more southern stuff rubbing off on me). I thought she was saying toot (like toot your horn) because we were talking about a term that a gal in the south might use in reference to expelling excessive bodily gas in a polite and controlled manner. So try to follow this one as she starts to explain it:


The reason for the question mark is no matter how she tried to simplify it the drawl still masked the “P” sound (for me) until she used something like “PAAAY as in Peter” (and no she does not sound like that really. I just use this for exaggeration). I honestly had never heard of the word until I googled it and found some descriptions in the urban dictionary via google and confirmed that this was indeed the word she meant.

I think the explanation approach she used is something that is truly much more American in nature, that when one of them has trouble speaking to someone else who does not speak their version of English (‘Merican), they talk both louder and slower as if that is going to correct the communication problem. I first saw that in action in a ski trip to Italy, back in the day, and just kind of scratched my head on that one. I did speak a little Italian (due to my neighbourhood and one year of study) and so I sort of acted like a bad interpreter and I got big smiles from the local folks for trying my best to talk them in their language.

I mistakenly misunderstood min pin as a southern phrase but it is, in fact, a term for the breed of dog that she owns and so lovingly cares for—aka miniature pinscher. I got introduced to a very insightful website on dogs via googling “miniature pinscher”.

If it truly has rules, boundaries, limitations, a true pack leader and a daily pack walk, it will be a wonderful family companion.

I plan to read through that website in greater detail to understand my friend’s other dialect and that is related to canine obedience training which she is now pursuing as a career. And so I think I will try to write a few stories relating to dog behaviour and training because it is clear to me that bad dog behaviour is pretty much the result of a bad owner and not a bad dog.

The best thing about learning a new language is it is a lot of fun and most definitely leads to a clearer understanding between two people which is a pretty good thing if you like to talk as much as I do.

And the drawl will rub off on you much like when I went to the local grocery store and greeted my favourite cashier on check out with “how-y’all-doin-taday” and she looks at me with a smile and says “You’ve been talking to your friend in Alabama haven’t you?”. And I smile back and just say “Yes, mam” and we both kind of laugh and wish each other a genuine “Have a nice day” or “You too”.

It all really just contributes to making the world a little better place and we can all use a lot more of that, for sure.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Hurricane is like the Human Psyche

Inside the eye of Katrina

You might even consider it to be more like the makeup of the human soul than just the psyche. It happens to be that season in the Gulf of Mexico and it seems that small hurricane sightings appear on an almost daily basis in central Alabama, well at least for me. I have learned that a hurricane has significantly more impact than just a simple breath of fresh air. It is much more powerful and has the potential for great destruction if its force is not dissipated before it comes into contact with land.

A hurricane builds up its strength mostly over water which is much like the human psyche being deprived of meaningful exposure to others that helps dissipate the built up energy (frustration and even anger in the human version). If a hurricane does not find a way to dissipate its building strength, it lashes out at whatever is in its unpredictable path of destruction. Katrina is an example of just how devastating one can be even though it was only a Force 3 version when it reached land. And so too can the human soul lash out if proper attention is not paid to what nourishes it. Much like the powerful force of nature, the human hurricane can be somewhat tamed by it releasing its forces over water (the absence of a lot of people) if it comes into contact with a calming force which a large mass of water can also be. Travelling over a long distance can also have this same calming effect.

The human version of a hurricane responds much better to suggestion than commands. In fact, a command is often a trigger for rebellion and sends it in a much uncontrolled direction that catches the unwary very much off-guard. And if the human version meets up with another hurricane, the combined forces can result in more than the sum of the two parts, especially if the second hurricane is also fraught with frustration and anger. Beware the land mass (a large group of people) that lies in their wake.

One curious thing that I noticed about the aftermath of the forces of a dissipating hurricane was far removed from the start of a major one (maybe Katrina or Ike) while working at a golf course in southern Ontario. As a hurricane releases its might across land, it leaves an area of bright sunshine, virtually no wind, fresh air, comfortable temperatures and generally a massive high pressure zone (similar to the eye of the storm with the exception of the high pressure since the eye is actually very low pressure). In fact, if you look at a radar map you are hard pressed to find anything but a huge high pressure zone left in the wake of the storm (a natural high). You might even call it heavenly or blissful and it lasts for several days.

I am reminded of a song by my all-time favourite female singer with her group, Gladys Knight & The Pips from the Imagination album which was easily one of my favourite albums of all-time as well. The song was simply called Storms of Troubled Times and talks very well to how one human being can support another. “…take my umbrella; it will shelter you from the rain…”

…Gladys you just sing your heart out, girl
…I had the good fortune of seeing her perform live and every song started out with goose bumps running up and down my neck, head and back
…she sang from her toes!!!

This happens to be a 46 minute video of a 1977 concert of them performing in Los Angeles and, despite the poor quality of the day and the sometimes too-fast stage production tempo; it captures them in all their glory. “The Way We Were” seems to capture Gladys releasing her very own hurricane (on her 4th marriage) in a beautifully controlled manner. The Ray Charles/Gladys Knight duos are worth it all alone. (I see Jamie Foxx in my mind every time I see or hear Ray sing. Jamie did one amazing job of capturing the hurricane in Ray in the great movie simply entitled “Ray” resulting in him getting an Academy Award for Best Actor)

…to Berry Gordy, you chose the wrong diva in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Creating Music in an Apartment

I am an old school musician and pretty much prefer the realistic sounds of my youth like the power of the Hammond B3 organ and the sound that only a Steinway piano has like the one in used by Native Instruments to create the so realistic digital versions that they do so well (so well that Steinway does not let them use their name, it seems, since it could possibly cut into sales of that fine instrument).

Living in an apartment pretty much means that one cannot find the space to even begin to set up the equipment and secondly no neighbour would put up with the sound for very long, no matter how good one's chops might be (and mine are so-so). And even just one is more space than one has so having a multitude of these vintage and classic instruments available to play or practice whenever one likes is just amazing and one of the niceties of today's technology.

Add to it the ability to hear them through wonderful sounding and comfortable headphones (Bose are my choice always now) is just another amazing feature of the modern electronic music world. I still play a conventional electric guitar since modern technology can only go so far in recreating that fine instrument. The problem is that the only real interface would be just another guitar so why try and reinvent the wheel here.

The keyboards are another thing since they can recreate the feel of the keys on a controller board and then it is up to the technical wizards to sample the death out of a real instrument to get that sound. It is impossible to get the spacial warmth of playing a piano in just an apartment but when you use the tools available in Native Instruments various collections, well you just can't do much better than that really in such a small physical space like a 1-bedroom apartment.

Now if I can only get past the part of trying to be my own recording engineer, I might actually get some of the stuff I have written recorded since that is all there thanks to Cubase Artist but it is still too much like work yet since it is pretty much the same thing used in the professional studios.

Meanwhile, I have a grand old time just practicing and seeing how the higher quality sound also makes you become a better player at the same time because now you hear the subtle differences that a top quality instrument can bring out in the player and, might I add, at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. My hat is off to the folks at Native Instruments. You continue to outdo yourself in the field of vintage instruments and for others that want even more with new creations that digital can provide, they have those too.