In Lieu of Silence

There are moments when I crave silence.

 This is in no small part due to my job as a teacher.  Educating students is a loud, boisterous endeavor, and the constant, never-ending hum and thrum of student chatter and commotion can easily leave my nerves rattled and frayed.  It’s tough work, and so when the moment comes for a little peace and quiet, I gravitate to it, like a moth seeking the light, like a bee to honey.

 There are times when I crave quiet.

 This is also partly due to my own children.  I love them to pieces, don’t get me wrong, but after listening to kids jibber-jabber all day long, it’s not the first thing I want to come home:  more kids jibbering and jabbering.  I get a little crazy, but fortunately, my children are very attune to my sensitivity with noise, and tone it down accordingly when it’s clear I’m at my most volatile.

 There are those days, nights, and mornings when I crave stillness.

 The movement of sounds sometimes is just as jarring to me as people:  the scrap of chairs against the floor, the bustle and turn of papers being shuffled, the clink of silver against fine china, the clomp of footsteps up and down the stairs, the tap, tap, tap of fingers on a keyboard, the vroom and rush of cars passing by my window, the rush of water pouring out of the faucet while my husband does the dishes.  The list could go on and on, but ultimately, it all serves a singular purpose:  to get on my nerves.

You want to something funny with this post?  When I started it a while back, I really had no objective.  That’s not usually a big deal; sometimes, I latch onto an idea and start writing on it and figure the objective and the purpose will eventually come to me.  And so for this post, I had completed everything in italics before I finally stopped, intending to revisit it the next day, look at it with fresh eyes, and then continue on.  Except the next day turned out to be the day after that, and the day after that, and so on until it was kind of forgotten.

Lame, I know.  Until something not so funny happened yesterday and brought me back to this post here.

The elementary school shooting.

Because as much as I crave the silence, the quiet, the stillness, there was no sweeter sound to me this morning than everything but that:  my daughters laughing, my son watching TV, the commotion of them making breakfast, the step of their feet up and down the stairs, my husband in the bathroom shaving.

As much as I love to write, I don’t know that I have the sufficient skill or talent necessary to write about the horror that was witnessed yesterday.  The insanity.  The blackness.  And as a wife and a mother, no matter how horrible I imagine this unthinkable tragedy to be for the families of the victims, I know that what I imagine still does not even come close to their pain and suffering.

And at a time when for the families of the victims when silence means their homes are empty of soft chatter and giggles, bereft of energy, deprived of the hustle and bustle of children at both play and war, I pause to revel in the tiny chaos of my own home, and I am glad for it.

EMJ

My heartfelt prayers and sympathies go out to families of the victims.

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Dead Man’s Alley

                “Okay,” he began.  “Here’s the street.  Dead Man’s Alley.”

                She hugged herself, rubbing her hands up and down arms.  “Oh, yea, it’s creepy, alright.”

                He nodded and extended an arm, pointing.  “The gallows were over there, but the victims walked this street last before their executions.”  He looked up, gesturing to the darkened windows above.  “People shouted down at them, cursing, throwing food…or worse.”

                She shuddered, but her eyes shone.  “Jeez.  I couldn’t imagine.”  Her fingers grazed the old stone walls of the buildings.  “But is it really haunted?”

                He shrugged.  “Who knows?  But at night, they say you can still hear the victims screaming as they take their final walk.”  He leaned closer to her, flashing a wicked grin.  “I’ve heard them, anyway.”

                She arched an eyebrow, and her breath quickened.  “Oh  yea?  How so?”

                She wasn’t prepared when he slammed her against the wall and squeezed his hands around her throat.  “Because frequently, I’m the cause.”

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

The Evil Among Them

       

The news was tragic:  the girl had killed herself.

They talked about it in the hallways, between classes.

“All because of those rumors,” some said.

“But if they weren’t true, then why?” others countered.

Amidst the gossip and speculation, he giggled.  In his pocket, he stroked her locket.

    They’ll never know.  It’ll be our secret.

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.

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Being Fluent

As a linguist, I love languages.

I’m enthralled by the broad nature of language, and how, through its words, an entire people can be reflected.  I’m a big believer that language is the first introduction to into the nature of a nation, a culture, a people—and not only by their words, but by how those words are expressed:  through pitch and tone, through speed and tenor, through inflection, nuance, and accent.  In Haitian Creole, the lively nature of even the most mundane discourse is a reflection of the vibrancy of the people who speak it.  In French, the very even rhythm of the language hints at the balanced essence of a people who equally celebrate and lament both the joys and sorrows of life.  By contrast, the German language is a structured, tightly woven tongue that mirrors a highly ordered, logical people in thought and deed.  In Japanese, inherent to every syllable to be uttered is a note of respect that defines the culture itself:  respect for self, respect for others.  Even in the dead vernacular of Latin, the language exalts the virtue of man and all things masculine, which is very much evident in the historical accounts of the relationships of men to women.

Yes, languages speak to us about who we are as people, why we believe what we do, why we live as we do.

I find it wholly enchanting.

Even English, with all its variations and dialects, tells the story of the people who speak it.  In Britain, English is very refined and clipped, with a strong, almost condescending accent that suggests privilege and high culture (I mean that in the best possible way!).  Australian English is to me as feisty and rugged as its speakers.  And of course, there’s American English—my own native tongue—with its many accents and reincarnations that are a reflection of the varied and diverse of make-up of our citizens (this would be my own personal shout-out to my great country:  USA!).

Yes, language is the great bridge that broadens my worldview and acquaints me to people everywhere.

I tend to find that pretty cool.

It is also the great bridge that I use to bring people to my world.  Of the languages I know–I speak English fluently, dabble frequently in the Romance languages, flirt sporadically with the German tongue, and dream wistfully of the Cyrillic vernacular–I am also very proficient in one language that is not always so obvious:  the language of writing.

Okay, I’ll admit it:  I’ve written about this topic before but as a linguaphile, it’s a topic that I’m drawn to again and again.  The idea that writing itself is a kind of language appeals to me, for various reasons, and because I’m still a couple of hundred words shy of meeting my word count for this post, I’m going to share them with you (oh, no attempt at meeting the word count in that bit of dribble there, no sir…hehehe…)

One reason I’m always fascinated by this is that not everyone is fluent in writing.  Oh, sure, anyone can pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words and phrases, but not everyone can write to communicate a clear, concise message or tell a story.  If we understand that this is the function of language, than writing itself—in its own unique function as a language as opposed to being a vehicle for language—is no different if it serves the same purpose.  It doesn’t matter if what we’re writing is real or imagined, fact or fiction, speech or story—in order to convey the message, a person needs to be a fluent, coherent writer.  If you want to share your tale, even when writing, you have to “speak” the language, and you have to “speak” it well.

And yet, interestingly enough, the great thing about writing is that it’s never wrong.  The nature of writing is such that though its form may sometimes be incorrect (a clear indication that the writer is not yet “fluent”), its expression is always true.  There is never a false aspect to speech or accentuation or tone because when I think of writing as a language, I understand that this particular “language” is an extension of the human experience itself that is so broad—if not infinite—there really is no flaw.  I can create characters, scenes, or settings with any breadth of tone or speech I want, and although there may be mistakes in grammar or syntax or punctuation, my story elements are always as real as I imagine them to be, written in a voice that serves to characterize the writing itself.

And like with any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied, the more I work at it, the better I become.  My syntax improves and my vocabulary grows.  I gain more and more control of nuance and meaning.  My words develop a signature rhythm, a particular style, a certain je ne sais quoi.  I manipulate more and more different registers, from humor to prose to verse to essay.  The more I write, the more fluent I become.

Because when you love languages as I do, spoken or written, it’s all about being fluent.

EMJ

A Faerie Tale

“Are you sure?”

She nodded.  “This is where I belong.”

“So let it be.”  He sprinkled the golden dust into the air; it fell on her softly, shimmering upon her skin.  Her ears lengthened to a fine point; delicate wings sprouted behind her back.  Her eyes sparkled with delight.

“Welcome.  Now you’re one of us.”

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.

 

 

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Perfume

“Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.”  John le Carré

I smell something in the air

A soft delicious scent

Like floral, herbs, or spice

To me it’s heaven sent

I step a little closer

Into the confines of our space

The odor is beguiling

And yet, it’s foreign to our place

So I venture further still

And I see you there

You’re smiling

With tender words you welcome me

But the odor is beguiling

An essence does distract me

Unfamiliar to my senses

It floats on air and lingers there

And I think of past offenses:

Of little slips of paper

With words that whispered love

To those who were not me

To those whose flesh you loved

And the fragrance still is stronger

And I’m reminded of a lie

Of a promise that you made

But that you did not abide—

I smell betrayal in the air

And things do seem amiss

As you stand and start to tremble

In the wake of my soft kiss

And the essence is now bitter,

It’s becoming vile

I look to you and I do see

That you no longer smile

I know then your heart is heavy

With the burden of your guilt

And the pain that you’ve inflicted

In the name of selfish pleasure

In the name of your addiction—

The fragrance is a murmur

That tells the simple truth:

You’ve brought another to our bed

And the smell is her perfume.

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

 

The Monster and the Ghost

 

“So, what do you think’s waiting on the other side of the door?” Tommy asked.

“I’m sure it’s scary, whatever it is!”  Jason’s voice quivered with fear and excitement.

The older boy looked down at the younger one.  “Think so?  Monsters, maybe?”

“No, no monsters.  Ghosts.”

Tommy squinted.  “Ghosts?”

“Yea, of those boys that went missing a few months ago.  No one ever found them.”

“Could be.” Tommy cocked an eyebrow at Jason.  “You sure you want to open it?  See what’s on the other side? You brave enough?”

Jason hopped from foot to foot.  Hesitating only for a moment, he nodded.

Tommy curled his fingers around the handle. He pulled it up, then down, but it didn’t yield.

Jason sagged his shoulders, and kicked at the door. “Damn it! We’re locked out!”

Tommy shook his head and shrugged.  Releasing the handle, he turned slowly to Jason.  “Doesn’t really matter, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because the monster isn’t on the other side of the door.” From his jacket, he pulled out a long, serrated knife.  “He’s right here.”  Even in the semi-darkness, the blade gleamed.  “And you’re gonna be the ghost.”

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.