A personal linguistic history, chapter 3: Not with a bang but a whimper

•March 8, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Grad school. Working toward a PhD in linguistics. This is where my language story really explodes and gets interesting, right? Sadly, just the opposite. I was in grad school for only two years full-time before a lot of things changed for me personally, professionally, and intellectually. I won’t go into details, but things kinda stalled. But I did advance a bit on my language study.

First off, one of my degree requirements was proficiency in two research languages other than English. I made short work of those, learning Russian (finally) and French — the only other languages with a significant amount of research on Eskimo-Aleut languages. By the end of my second year I’d passed my French exam. The only reason I hadn’t also taken my Russian exam was a lack of confidence, not ability.

To set the stage for the rest of the story, I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of an intellectual vagabond. A major reason I didn’t finish my PhD is that I don’t have the focus necessary to hone in on a single topic. I learn the basics and then something fresh and shiny comes along and grabs my attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I learned a LOT about Eskimo-Aleut. But my eye wandered. I started reading more about adjacent language families of Alaska and the Russian Far East. That led me to read more about the historical linguistics of the indigenous languages of North America more broadly. I didn’t yet know everything there was to know about Eskimo-Aleut, which meant I was learning more than I needed to know about Athabaskan. Not a great formula for finishing a PhD. So while I craved more knowledge about indigenous North American languages more broadly, I needed to put together a narrower reading list that could lead to a degree.

During this time I also became enamored with Johanna Nicholls’s theory of population typology. Without getting technical, that theory led me to a fascination with the idea of the northern Pacific coast of Asia as a linguistic “residual zone” — i.e., an area of great linguistic genetic diversity. Not unrelated, I’d been growing more interested in Chukotko-Kamchatkan, a family of indigenous languages spoken on the Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas of the Russian Far East, because of its geographic proximity to the range of Eskimo-Aleut. (Note that one of the languages of this family is Chukchi, those dog breeders that started me on this path). I hadn’t previously been able to learn much about these languages since almost all of the scholarship on them is in Russian, but that was no longer a barrier. My advisers agreed with my choice for an official “minor field” — the historical linguistics of Eskimo-Aleut and Chukotko-Kamchatkan.

This is the point in the story where a series of life events occurred that pulled me out of academia and into my book-publishing career. My time and attention turned to other pursuits, and even when my mind was more intellectually engaged, I wasn’t really thinking about languages or linguistics. I think part of that was backlash. Grad school was a pretty stressful time in my life, and I was eager to put it behind me.

I went a really long time like that. But a couple of things happened recently that sucked me back in. One is a silly little app you’ve likely heard of — Duolingo. My family and I will be taking a trip to Costa Rica this summer, and my wife was looking for ways to improve her Spanish. She stumbled on Duolingo in her research. It took me a bit before I succumbed to its temptation, but once I did I jumped in head-first. It’s certainly not a great method for learning a language deeply. But damn is it addictive. I decided to pick a new language I knew nothing about. Duolingo doesn’t offer a huge variety of weird languages, so I selected Turkish. Hell, Turkic languages are spoken in Siberia, right? Before I knew it, not only had I completed the Turkish course, but I plowed through their courses in other languages I’d already studied, freshening up my Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian. During this, I was reminded that not only am I good at learning languages, but it’s FUN. So much freakin’ fun. In the past, learning a language involved dedicated study and large blocks of time. But I could complete a Duolingo lesson in five or ten minutes! It’s been so easy to fit in to everything else going on in my life.

The other thing that happened to me was Mongolia. My interest in the country began in an unlikely place — music. Listening to Mongolian music led me to learn more about the country, and things snowballed. I fell in love with the place. I can’t get enough knowledge about things Mongolian into my skull. Juxtapose that with my Duolingo kick, and of course I’ve dived into learning Mongolian. It’s much slower going than the app-based courses (I’ve since slowed down on Duolingo and am using Memrise to brush up on my Japanese). But it’s transporting me back to my early days of learning Japanese. It’s not just about the language. It’s the mind-expansion that accompanies learning it. Maybe East Asia just holds a place in my spirit that the Arctic couldn’t replace. But I feel at home learning Mongolian.

I’ve been pretty surprised at the feeling that regaining my interest in languages has created. Not to wax overly melodramatic, but I feel like I’ve regained a part of myself that had been lost for a while. Learning languages — not just linguistics but languages — feels right. Time will tell if I stay the path, of course. But I love being back on the journey again.


A personal linguistic history, chapter 2: Looking east and north

•March 7, 2017 • 2 Comments

Last night’s post left off with me beginning my junior year of college and about to embark on my study of Japanese. At the time, Japanese was just a fun, weird language in a sea of fun, weird languages. I don’t think it scratched any itch that Arabic or Russian couldn’t have satisfied just as well at that moment. But that changed pretty rapidly.

I LOVED Japanese. No, guys, really. I LOVED Japanese. The language itself is a lot of fun. The phonology and grammar are really accessible to an English speaker, but different enough to keep things interesting. Sure, the writing system kicked, and continues to kick, my ass, but that’s just because I’m not special. Japanese writing kicks everyone’s ass. No exceptions. But it was so much more than just the formal linguistics.

Studying Japanese opened my mind in a way my previous language study hadn’t. Spanish was fun and different, but I grew up in a town with a large Latino population. Italian . . . hell, that was a daily part of my life before I even spoke the damn language. But Japanese introduced me to a culture and a place I knew nothing about. I had no existing context for the things I was learning. Every word and every character exposed me to a new part of the world. This was the good stuff.

By the winter term I’d really transformed intellectually. I was still majoring in psychology, but I thought and read more about languages and Japan than about psychology. My adviser even commented when he saw me reading a book about linguistic classification, “That’s not personality theory.” He just stared at me blankly when he asked me what class it was for and I responded it was side reading. (Aside: He was very proud of me when I was accepted for grad school. He told me I made the right decision — that I displayed a passion for linguistics that he didn’t see when we talked about personality psychology.)

By the time spring quarter rolled around I’d declared a minor in Asian studies, formalizing my obsession with East Asia. But that quarter held two more surprises. First, a friend asked if anyone would be interested in joining him in a historical linguistics course. I already had a full course load and had no reason to take another elective, but I said sure. Remember all those superlatives I applied to my first Japanese course a couple paragraphs ago? Yep, redux. I devoured the material in that class. The linguistics I learned in the intro course I took was fun, but this. . . . This was something else. I needed to know more about this stuff. But wait, there’s more. . . .

My part-time job on campus at the time was through the civil engineering department, but the database managers were both grad students in linguistics. One was in my historical linguistics class, and one idle afternoon we were chatting about how much I enjoyed the class. During that conversation, I learned that because undergrad linguistics education isn’t that widespread, most grad students in the discipline don’t enter their programs with degrees in linguistics. Wait . . . WHAT? HOLY. SHIT.

You see, my end goal had always been an academic career. PhD, tenure, ride off into the sunset. However, as my adviser astutely pointed out, at this point I wasn’t really feeling psychology anymore. But the basic life-track was still the same, regardless of discipline. If I didn’t need to complete another major, pivoting wasn’t that big of a deal. So pivot I did. I was only one course shy of completing my psychology major, but I registered for phonetics and syntax the following semester. I’d complete my undergraduate degree in psychology, but then I was going to grad school for historical linguistics. I was planning on researching the history and possible deep genetic relationships of Japanese.

In addition to my linguistics courses I had two elective slots available. One would naturally be second-year Japanese. But what about the other? I dared the unthinkable and decided to take two languages at once. The East Asia theme meant deciding between Mandarin Chinese and Korean. I chose Chinese based on the extremely misguided assumption that learning Chinese writing would help me in learning and retaining Japanese kanji. It didn’t work, but I did end up spending a year learning Chinese, which I don’t regret.

But I had an entire summer before I started my Chinese/Japanese twofer. Given my experience with Japanese, I was very eager to dive into some other weird language. At this point I had evidence that I’m really good at learning languages. Maybe I could find resources to teach myself something even stranger than what Northwestern University could offer me? My brother and I were discussing this question as his Husky lay on the floor next to him. That naturally led to, “How about Eskimo?”

(Note: I’m well aware that Siberian Huskies were originally bred by the Chukchi, who linguistically are no more Eskimos than Hungarians are Germans. Bear with me, I was new. More on Chukchi later.)

I know what you’re thinking. “How the hell does one go about studying Eskimo?” Thankfully, the Alaska Native Language Center exists. Their learning and documentation resources are amazing. Just as amazing, they had an Internet presence in 1995! I learned about the different Eskimo languages, five of which (depending on how one classifies Iñupiat dialects) are spoken in Alaska. I decided on Central Yup’ik, since it has the most speakers and thus the most materials. I made some decent progress with the language and really enjoyed it.

Studying Eskimo planted another seed in my head. While my knowledge of Japanese was growing daily, there were definitely other students that would be applying for grad school spots with a lot more knowledge than me. The historical linguistics of the Eskimo-Aleut family was more virgin academic territory. So I doubled down — while I finished out my Chinese and Japanese courses for the year, my grad-school applications described a research program based on Eskimo-Aleut. I was accepted on that basis.

Next post, grad school and beyond!

A personal linguistic history

•March 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In the past couple of months I’ve rediscovered my love of languages. It might sound hyperbolic, but it feels like I’ve recovered a lost part of myself. This recent experience has caused me to reflect on the role that languages, language learning, and linguistics have played throughout my life.

I grew up monolingual. My mom speaks only English, and my dad understood Sicilian but I never heard him speak a word of it that wasn’t profanity. My Sicilian grandmother lived with us as well, but my old man forbade her from speaking her native language to me or my brothers. He didn’t want us to be able to say anything our mother couldn’t understand. In hindsight it pisses me off that the opportunity for me to learn another language natively was wasted. The flip side is that my father was absolutely right and there was zero chance I wouldn’t have abused the knowledge.

Now, just because I didn’t learn to speak Sicilian doesn’t mean I wasn’t exposed to it. I heard it constantly. My grandmother would talk on the phone for hours with my aunt and her friend from the old country, with nary a word of English spoken. When she spoke to my father, Sicilian was the default, even though he answered in English. I internalized more than I realized at the time. More than once my brother would demand I “stop talking like that” after spending a lot of time around my grandmother and I’d pick up her accent. I knew that what I called my grandmother wasn’t “nana” like I heard elsewhere, even if I didn’t know what geminate consonants were.

But really, my linguistic journey began, like so many do, with high-school Spanish. I wanted to take French, since that’s what my father and brother had taken (plus I think my old man felt that French was a “smarter” language than Spanish). But scheduling conflicts “forced” me into Spanish. And boy did I light up. Not only was I pretty good at it, but I liked it. A LOT. Enough that when I started working I wasn’t afraid to use it with my many Latino coworkers. My mom was a manager at the fast-food places I worked at, so she took it for granted, but I still have the flashbulb memory of the first time my always-skeptical father heard me chatting with a coworker. “This isn’t just a few words. You can speak this language. Jesus.”

But that was all behind me when I started college. I scored well enough on my Spanish placement exam that I didn’t need to take any more language courses. I did end up taking an intro linguistics course, but only because I had a crappy registration slot and all the courses I wanted were closed out. Granted, I really liked it. I think that’s what prompted my old man, as I was musing on an elective for the following fall, to recommend I take Italian. Didn’t have to twist my arm.

(A quick aside: Astute readers will have picked up on a theme so far. My old man was a great father in a lot of ways, but he really had a knack for making others’ decisions for them. That changed rather dramatically when he unexpectedly died right before I started my sophomore year of college.)

I very much thrived in Italian. I’m very proud that when I took my final speaking exam after just my first quarter, my instructor told me I shouldn’t have been in the class. I did so well that she assumed I already spoke the language and had bullshitted my way through the class for an easy A. She couldn’t fathom that I’d learned that much that fast from ground zero. It probably didn’t hurt that I still lived at home through college (not least because it was important to be close to my family after my dad’s death). I had an Italian grandmother at the ready to practice with.

Of note: While her native language was Sicilian, she did attend school through fourth grade in Sicily. The medium of instruction in all Italian schools is “italiano proprio.” So she was effectively fluent in three languages: Sicilian, Italian, and English. Speaking so much with her did Sicilianize my Italian a bit — I would overpalatize my s‘s in consonant clusters. a lot of my o‘s came out as u‘s, and to this day iddu and idda sound more natural than lui and lei. But no one would ever say what I spoke was Sicilian rather than Italian.

After a year of Italian, I had a good grasp of most grammar. When time came to register for fall classes, it was a foregone conclusion I’d be taking a language. But should that language be Italian? By this point I was communicating more with my grandmother in Italian than in English, a situation that only increased until she passed away about five years later. I felt that additional Italian courses would focus on improving my vocabulary and fluency, but that I could also get that at home. Besides, I was in college — when else would I have an opportunity to study some REALLY different language?

I’d toyed for a long time (going back even before high school) with the idea of learning Russian. I think I just saw it as a weird language that was present in the zeitgeist of the day (I was a child of the ’80s, after all). But I’ve also always had a weird fascination with East Asia that I can’t explain. At the time, a close friend had just finished a year of Japanese, so I figured what the hell, why not? I signed up for Japanese. It changed everything.

(I’m getting tired and this is getting longer than I’d thought. Part 2 to follow tomorrow.)


My old Anatolian home

•July 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I know most of you arrive here via Facebook, but I’ll recap just in case. For my birthday, my wife bought me a DNA test from AncestryDNA, one of those outfits that analyzes your DNA to determine your genetic makeup. The results held some surprises.

For background, I know my family history going back a little over a hundred years. Going back that far, all branches of my family trace back to southern Italy before things get murky. Note that all of my parents and grandparents (except my paternal grandmother) were born in the United States, mostly in or very near Chicago. My maternal grandmother was born in southern Indiana, in the small town of Oolitic, but relocated to Chicago at a young age (I think 6-8 or thereabouts). Now, taking each branch in turn. . . .  (Note: If any of my family members read this and want to clarify/correct anything, please jump in in the comments.)

My father’s family goes back to the Agrigento region in southwestern Sicily. His father was born in Chicago Heights in 1905 — I believe his family had immigrated from the Sicilian city of Sciacca not long before then. His mother was my only grandparent born overseas, in the village of Burgio, in 1907. Her family immigrated to Chicago when she was 15.

I’m less certain on the specifics of my mother’s family. Her father was born in Chicago to Sicilian immigrant parents in the early 1910s. I had it in my head that they were from the east coast of Sicily, but I also have in my head that they were from near Marsala, which is on the west coast. Since I vaguely recall the Marsala thing coming from my grandfather’s sister, we’ll go with that.

My grandmother’s family immigrated to Indiana from Kentucky before she was born in the 1910s. They were from Calabria in southern mainland Italy — the toe of the boot right across the strait from Sicily. There’s also evidence of some Albanian heritage in this branch. My grandmother knew of a marriage certificate (I believe from her grandparents) from an Orthodox church — and let’s be honest, no self-respecting ethnic Italian at the turn of the 20th century was anything but Catholic. Also, she knew a couple of Gheg Albanian words she’d picked up from listening to relatives in Indiana.

AncestryDNA breaks down DNA similarities by region, one of which is “Italy/Greece.” You can see why I expected my results to be a snoozefest — like 95% Italy/Greece, maybe 5% Middle Eastern from Sicily’s proximity to Tunisia. I did NOT expect only 69% Italy/Greece! What’s more, the remainder wasn’t just trace elements! A full 22% of my DNA matched what AncestryDNA calls the “Caucasian” region, predominantly comprised of the modern countries of Turkey, Iraq/Syria, Iran, and the Caucasus countries (Armenia/Azerbaijan/Georgia)! Combine that with only 3% Iberian and less than 1% Western European (and the Albanian evidence) and it’s clear that my ancestry traces back to the eastern Mediterranean. While the test can’t differentiate between Italian and Greek roots, this (along with the historical colonization of Sicily by Greeks) points to me having a lot more Greek blood than I previously thought. My people definitely came from the east.

How to account for this thickened plot? Clearly the most likely culprits were the western countries of the region, those that overlap the Italy/Greece region. I think the Levant countries (Syria, Iraq, etc.) could be ruled out because of my surprisingly low percentage (1%) of Middle Eastern DNA. That leaves Turkey, historically an active participant in the eastern Mediterranean.

So where did this newfound Turkish heritage enter my genetic equation? Certainly there’s been a lot of genetic admixture in the region in question over the centuries, so it’s not an easy question to answer. My first thought is a larger Balkan presence. The Italy/Greece region covers most of the Balkan Peninsula and we have a known Albanian and presumed Greek component, right? The Ottomans ruled the area for a hefty amount of time, so Turkish soldiers could’ve spread their stuff around in Albania and its neighbors to eventually make me, right? My wife brought up an excellent point, though: the known Albanian only comes down through one grandparent. The Albanian community in Sicily is concentrated around Palermo, so it’s not likely to have entered through any of the others. We’re talking about 22% of my genetic material here — which means either my grandmother was a LOT more Albanian (or even directly Turkish) than anyone’s ready to admit or something else is going on here.

But for it to come through multiple lines, there had to be some kind of significant Turkish presence in Sicily, which just didn’t happen. Is it possible my roots in Sicily don’t extend as deeply as I’d always assumed? This, combined again with very low percentages of North African and Middle Eastern DNA, might suggest so. More research is clearly necessary.

Thoughts, anyone?

The divine Ms Plath

•January 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A couple of Sylvia Plath quotes I discovered today that resonated with me:

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.” 

“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.”



•January 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

Most of you know about my lifelong struggles with depression. While my case has been classified as “chronic,” “severe,” and “treatment-resistant,” I’ve been lucky enough to only have been hospitalized for it once. It was a terrible experience. It’s been on my mind lately, so I decided to write out my thoughts.

This was three or four years ago, during the summer. It started as a run-of-the-mill episode, but I couldn’t shake it. As weeks went on it grew more intense. My psychiatrist at the time, who I hadn’t been seeing very long, decided to up one of the two antidepressants I was on (Wellbutrin XL, for the informed) to the elephant dosage. It seems that in some cases that does the trick, and in others it increases the symptomatology (especially suicidal thoughts). I’ll let you guess which happened to me.

This culminated in me not being able to get out of bed the day of our neighborhood block party. I called the psychiatrist, who wasn’t available (he wouldn’t return my call until six hours later). In desperation I called my old therapist, who knew my condition and history better than anyone. She recommended I get to the ER. Off to Resurrection Hospital I went. I figured I’d meet with a resident psychiatrist, get my meds adjusted, and be sent on my way. Not so much. It turned out that Res doesn’t have an inpatient psychiatric wing. I dealt with an ER doc, who felt like I was beyond her capabilities to deal with. They needed to transfer me to a more dedicated facility. Down came the social worker to set things up.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that depression is an entire self-reported condition. It can’t be diagnosed by measuring blood pressure or reading an EKG. Any veteran of the mental-health-care system knows the battery of questions they ask to assess you. The wily patient knows exactly how to answer those questions to achieve one’s desired outcome (a quick shrink visit, a medication adjustment, etc.). The primary no-no is NEVER answer “yes” to any of the suicide-related questions. Mental-health professionals take those very seriously.

So when the social worker was interviewing me, I made sure to say that I wasn’t immediately suicidal. Sure, I’d had a few suicidal thoughts over the previous weeks (hence needing a med adjustment), but I didn’t need anything more than that. I even used the term “suicidal ideation” to show I knew what I was talking about. So when she asked one of the standard questions, “Do you have a plan?,” I smartly answered no. But then she one-upped me: “But hypothetically, if you were going to do it, have you thought about how you would?” I slipped up and gave too many details.

(Fun aside, I’d had a Costco poppyseed muffin for breakfast that morning — either lemon or almond. The social worker was quite concerned about the trace amounts of narcotics in my bloodwork. I lived the Seinfeld episode.)

You see where this is going. Everyone involved felt I needed to transfer to an inpatient facility. For all my machinations, at that point I really wanted to feel better so I acquiesced. Hell, the dedicated attention would do me good, right? A psychiatrist continually monitoring my meds, regular access to a therapist, all that good stuff. An ambulance whisked me away to Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital.

Here’s where the story really starts. I thankfully have no experience with any correctional institutions, but I proofread a book on the subject early in my book-publishing career. The author described the persistent processes of dehumanizing prisoners, starting with intake and continuing throughout the prisoner’s sentence. The parallels with what I experienced are disturbing.

Remember that every patient undergoing intake into a mental-health facility, not just me, is in an extremely vulnerable state. I was still in a hospital gown. They collected a bag from the original hospital with all my stuff — clothes, phone, wallet, everything. What was the first thing the smiling, friendly young man who greeted me did? Asked a few routine administrative questions and strip-searched me and went through all my stuff. He went so far as to go through the contents of my wallet card by card. I understand the need for security, but really? Was this necessary? Even after my possessions had been evaluated, the only items returned to me were my clothes. No shoes (laces were a suicide hazard), no belt (same reason), no phone (contact with the outside world was discouraged so patients could focus on treatment). Taking my belt away was an issue because I have a 37″ waist so I wear 38″ pants. My shorts perpetually felt like they were about to fall down my ankles.

Needless to say, I felt very uncomfortable with what I felt was a gross invasion of my privacy. When I asked whether I could rescind my admission and return home, I was told no. I’d signed the paper committing myself and only they could decide when I was fit to leave. Institution 2, Don’s freedom 0. So again I told myself that the benefits would outweigh the costs. It was late, and once I met with the necessary professionals in the morning I’d be on the road to recovery.

The next morning I woke up and showered (no door on the bathroom, mind you). I had to put yesterday’s clothes back on, but that was OK because my wife would come soon with fresh clothes. I walked down the hall and saw there was some presentation about medications. I figured I didn’t need it and I wasn’t really feeling in the mood for interacting with people anyway. I was politely informed (by both staff and fellow inmates) that if I didn’t engage and participate in their programming, I wasn’t going home. They didn’t want people wallowing in misery by themselves. I dragged myself to the presentation. It was the furthest thing from helpful or insightful– especially since the presenter talked to the patients as though we were idiots, children, or both. I was to learn she wasn’t the only staff member with that attitude.

Luckily my wife would be coming to visit soon. She’d bring fresh clothes and a couple of books to alleviate what had become some rather intense boredom. I then noticed there was no phone in my room. I asked about that at the desk and was pointed to the phones. There were two phones in the common area, both intentionally within earshot of the staff manning the desk and anyone else who happened to walk by. These people really were continually finding new and inventive ways to remove my privacy. Even if I’d been in an emotional place to accept the calls I’d received from family and friends, I felt less than comfortable talking to people close to me in that circumstance. I also learned that my wife could only visit at a specific time of day (around noon, I think) and only for a very limited time (20 or 30 minutes, I forget exactly). Again, this was ostensibly so patients could focus on getting well rather than any family-derived problems. It only made me feel like more of an inmate cut off from the outside world.

My first visit with the chief psychiatrist was around the time of my wife’s visit. I was looking forward to this, as the staff talked about this guy like he walked on water. Plus I hoped I could voice some of my concerns to an involved party, as no one else had engaged me at all one on one. The guy seemed smart, but very clinical. No warmth at all. When I talked about my discomfort and how the experience was very different from what I’d envisioned, I was told, “You mean you’d rather just lie around in bed all day?” Great. I felt so much better then. I should mention the one major positive of the whole experience occurred then — he pulled back the Wellbutrin dosage and instead put me on Abilify, a Wellbutrin augmenter. That, along with the Cymbalta I’d been on, proved to be the silver antidepressant bullet I’d been searching for for years. After meeting with me, he met separately with my wife. He mentioned that my blood pressure was extremely high (170/100 or thereabouts). Shocking, isn’t it, given the warm, nurturing atmosphere of the place?

At least my wife brought me a backpack with clothes and books. Of course it was confiscated from her upon entry.  The guy at the desk told me I could have it as soon as they went through it (naturally). At this point it was around 1 in the afternoon or so, and remember I was still in the clothes I’d put on the previous morning. And I still had no books or any other way to occupy myself. I expressed that to Desk Guy and was told gruffly that he’d get to it when he got to it. I think I finally got it around 5 or 6 that evening.

I spent the next day telling everyone within earshot how much I wanted to go home and becoming increasingly annoyed and frustrated with the moronic, useless presentations and lack of freedom. My blood pressure remained sky-high. Finally the shrink caved. He acknowledged his ingenious prison of a hospital wasn’t conducive to me getting well. He sent me home with instructions to monitor the new medications’ effects. I can’t tell you how beautiful it was to walk out of that hell-hole.

You already know the epilogue. The new med cocktail worked like a charm, I found a new psychiatrist to manage my meds, and since then has been the most episode-free period in my life (with a few blips here and there, of course — that bastard depression never really leaves). But I still wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. I’ve been told my current psychiatrist and the therapist I subsequently saw that my experience wasn’t the norm, but barring something very extreme you know I’ll be answering those diagnostic questions a lot more carefully in the future.


Idle musings on tattoos

•June 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about getting more tattoos. None of this will happen any time soon, since all of my personal money is still being used to replace books lost in the flood (and that will be the case for the foreseeable future). But a gentleman (or me) can still ponder. Here are my ponderings.

My sole current tattoo takes up most of my upper back. I think the most likely future real estate is upper arms. Whenever I’m representing my company to the general public I’m typically wearing long pants and a long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up on my forearms. I think if a little ink shows when I’m wearing a shorter-sleeved t-shirt I should be OK.

The first idea is one I’ve bounced around for a while: a design based around a Yupik walrus mask. The languages I studied most in grad school were Yup’ik, Chukchi, and Aleut. None of those peoples have strong two-dimensional artistic traditions, but carving has a rich history, especially among the Yupik. I love walruses, so it brings two aspects of me together nicely. The only issue is how much detail would need to be sacrificed to shrink something like this down to fit on my upper arm and whether such a simplified design would be worth it.

Image Image


Another upper-arm possibility that I’ve been leaning more heavily toward lately is a full bookshelf. That one should be pretty obvious if you’ve interacted with me for more than 15 seconds. I’ve seen designs in that vein, but they’re usually too archaic-looking. Fancy carved (and only half-full) bookcases, big old-looking hardcover books, that sort of thing. That’s not my style. But I’d think that a full, contemporary bookshelf is an idea that an artist could run with pretty easily to create something I’d like.

The other thing I think could make a cool tattoo doesn’t actually exist. I wish there were an iconic Wookiee design, akin to the Rebel and Imperial insignia. That would be a no-brainer. It’s possible such a design will eventually exist, but I won’t save real estate for it. Maybe lower leg if that day comes. (Save the jokes about getting Chewbacca’s bandolier tattooed across my chest.)

Another obvious choice is a bass clef. A touch trite perhaps, but iconic. That would clearly be smaller and as such could go pretty much anywhere. Middle part of my back (right under my current tattoo), left side seems the best choice for that.