Did You Get My Message?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

You send a message to a friend, eagerly awaiting a reply. Hours go by and you don’t hear any word from him, until later in the day when you see him in person. He doesn’t bring it up, and this forces you to ask, “Did you get my message?” to which he responds, “What message?”

With instant messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, a message typically goes through three stages while traveling from sender to recipient: sent, delivered, and read. In this scenario, the problem could have occurred at any of these stages. Maybe you were in a tunnel on the train and the message never sent because you lost signal. Maybe it was never delivered because your friend’s phone was on airplane mode. Or maybe it was never read because he overlooked a notification, or did not have his phone close by.

Communication, whether inside or outside the digital world, is complicated. The more steps there are between you and your recipient, the more garbled your message can become—just like a classic game of “Telephone.” It starts with a thought, and depending on your articulation skills (or the lack thereof, as many of us would readily admit), your own mouth might betray you. How many times have you said, “In my head it sounded right, but it didn’t come out how I wanted it to”? Furthermore, the words you deliver have to go through the eyes or ears of your recipient, and they will often be interpreted according to that person’s bias, preconceived notions, hearing, mood, etc.  

I have learned the hard way that intention is not enough when it comes to effective communication. “Meaning well” does not always guarantee that the person you are talking to will understand you. I doubt technology will ever equip us with the means to read each other’s minds, but we can take measures to prevent painful or awkward errors in communication. What are some things you can do before expressing a thought, or responding to someone else’s?

One step that works 99% of the time is to pause. (It’s interesting how people tend to use the word “pause” only in the humorous way, to bring attention to provocative innuendo or double entendre.) Pausing is an important part of any conversation, not just for dramatic or comedic effect. Pause before you say something (so you can think it through first), after you say something (so you can consider the gravity or validity of what you just said), and definitely before responding to someone else. If it’s a text message, proofread before you send your own, and reread the other person’s message a few times.

Pausing before responding to someone else is one way you can ensure you are using logic, rather than emotion or whim, to formulate an answer. My fiancé Angel’s brother, Andre, said something once that stuck with me. To paraphrase: “When someone says something to you that triggers your emotions, the closer to home it hits, the longer you should wait before responding.” In the same vein, Angel likes to remind me that “emotions are indicators, not dictators.” They can make you aware of how something has affected you, but they do not have to influence or determine your decisions. Letting them air out for even a few seconds can keep you from lashing out or saying things you don’t really mean. In this way you can “respond” rather than “react” (another point Angel likes to make).

Another important thing to go along with pausing is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you know someone well enough, you can read a text message in his/her tone of voice, and this might help you contextualize whatever he/she said. The words “I can’t stand you” in a text message might initially be a slap in the face, unless you recall that your friend tends to say this all the time in a joking manner towards the people he/she loves. On the other hand, your friend might have genuinely meant it in a serious, irritated tone; if so, instead of flaring up and getting offended, ask yourself, “What might he be going through right now?” or “What did I do to make her upset?” If the answer is “nothing,” then “don’t take it personally” is valid advice because, nine times out of ten, you are not the problem; the person has acted out for reasons that have very little to do with you. You do not have to excuse or justify the person’s behavior, but you can choose not to make it about you; be gentle, understanding, and proceed with caution.

Here are some other tips which I hope you find helpful, especially when it comes to texting:

  • Study how someone uses or reacts to certain words; one word can have a totally different meaning to you than it does to someone else
  • Take advantage of punctuation, abbreviations, emojis, GIFs, or stickers to add a tone to otherwise bland, vague or harsh sentences (“We can talk about this later” vs. “LOL, we can talk about this later :P”)
  • If you cannot meet in person, send video clips, voice notes, or make a phone/video call if this will get your tone across better than just text
  • Be very unassuming, even if it means being redundant; ask questions like “What did you mean by that?” “Can you elaborate?” or “Do you understand what I mean?”

Overall, weigh your words because they hold a lot of power, whether they are spoken, written, or typed. If disposing of words as freely as the air you breathe has never gotten you into conflict, then by all means, do what works for you; but for those of us who have been on either end of a misunderstanding, being more careful about how we verbalize our views can save a lot of trouble.

A Passion for Poetry

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Throughout my years in school, I have come across students who have found poetry boring or difficult. They were not intrigued by Shakespeare’s sonnets as his contemporaries may have been, nor could they wrap their head around metaphors. It was a challenge for me at some point too, having to excavate the meaning of a piece by digging deep down between the lines. It was a skill that we had to be taught. However, I quickly realized that I enjoyed using words to paint pictures of my own; it was exciting to use devices like rhyme and alliteration, and to say more with less (in comparison to typical prose).  

Poetry has been a passion of mine since elementary school. One of the earliest poems I remember writing was for Poem In Your Pocket Day; it told a touching story about my pet guinea pig Jeannie. Jeannie was totally imaginary, and I created her on a whim through my poem, but it must have been convincing enough to get some sympathy and attention from classmates and teachers. Other memorable poems around this time included an ode to teachers, and a vivid description of a “storm” which was later revealed to be the clothes cycling in a washing machine.

When I got to middle school and the “love bug” bit me, my poetry became very romanticized and emotional. I obsessed over a crush and my poetry tracked everything from the initial infatuation to the devastating heartbreak of seeing him end up with a close friend of mine at the time.

In high school, my work broadened and deepened to reflect my growing self-discovery, romantic desire, and belief in God. My creative expression was at its peak, and I went to open mics, attended Poetry Club occasionally, and stayed after school to review submissions to The Magnet, our school’s literary magazine (to which I also submitted my own work). During this time, poetry was my primary outlet, and I am happy that most of my work are still intact; I compiled scraps of paper and pages from other notebooks, and consolidated the poems I found into one composition notebook.

I find it understandable, yet surprising, when people say they do not like poetry; it’s similar to when someone tells me they don’t really like music. To me, poetry and music are simply media of expression; no one ever really dislikes the medium itself, but they may have certain preferences within it. The great thing is that poetry has so many different formats and styles that there is probably something for everyone. You have extravagant Shakespearian sonnets written in a style of English that we no longer speak, but then you have rap which is basically poetry fixed to an audible beat; you also have the smooth, sophisticated spoken word with an irregular rhythm and possibly no rhyme scheme, often depicted on TV being performed in dimly lit cafés and bars, punctuated by snapping and bongo drums. But then there are also lovable, laughable rhyming poems filled with whimsical stories, carefully crafted by writers like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. There are bite-sized haikus loaned from the Japanese, following a five-seven-five syllable rule and often depicting nature. The list goes on and on, and the subject matter is infinite.

I have experimented with all of the genres I listed above, and at its core, I see poetry as the art of arranging words, either according to their sound or meaning (but most of the time, both) in order to create an impression or share an idea. The reason we enjoy aphorisms and sayings like “black don’t crack” or “live, love, laugh” is because the words were intentionally grouped together, and their commonality makes them easier to remember.

I have not been writing as much as I did during high school, but I am grateful for the joy that comes to me from reading, listening to, or writing an impactful piece. I hope you enjoy the poem that I wrote below called “Photosynthesis.” It is about the power of persistence in spite of adverse circumstances. This can be considered an allegory because I used plants as symbols for human beings. Give it a try and see what you can gather from it. Read it a few times over if necessary, and please feel free to comment with any questions or remarks.

Photosynthesis
by Robine Jean-Pierre

You’re a product of your environment, some sage once presumed
Perhaps while gazing upon a garden freshly pruned.
Fertile soil, hydration, ample sunlight,
and any flower will flourish if the conditions are just right.
A simple equation, a quaint demonstration.
However,
What’s to say for the weeds that creep through concrete? How do they grow?
Does a seed trapped beneath the cinder block street somehow just know
that its temporary shelter in the ground below
is only a foundation, a platform for elevation?
Is photosynthesis some unstoppable force,
and can sunrays like X-rays penetrate the most dense materials to complete its course?
It’s clear then that traditional conditions are simply not enough
to determine the destiny of a seed, no matter how rough.
It’s something supernatural for a creature with no sense of sight
To press past hardness and darkness and burst forth into marvelous light.
We could take a page from one of these persistent plants–
Albeit rooted in the soil, it is not bound by circumstance.
Regardless of the climate of one’s environment,
Divine alignment ultimately triumphs over confinement.

Racism or Racism?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

The other night, during my week away for Thanksgiving, I sat down with my two sisters and cousin to watch a brief BBC documentary on Netflix called “KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy.” When my cousin first recommended it, I had felt a bit hesitant and reluctant, not wanting to go to bed with angry, uneasy thoughts swimming around in my head. Seeing as it was only fifty something minutes long, and the only complaint anyone else had was “it probably won’t teach us anything we don’t already know,” I gave it my mostly undivided attention.

The interviewer, Dan Murdoch, spoke to active members of the Ku Klux Klan, namely the Loyal White Knights chapter. (To be honest, every time I write “KKK” I feel like I’m writing a curse word or “666” or something. I almost expect the Internet to report me or highlight it.) There is a lot I could say about the interesting remarks they made. What stood out to me the most were the blatant contradictions the interviewees made. All of their comments revolved around a central theme of preserving their heritage and expressing pride in their white identity. This sounds so innocent, at first; after all, other races are allowed to do this without being questioned. No one has a problem with Latino Pride or Black Pride. However, this changes once you hear their outrageous claims about Black people being savage and uneducated, bringing drugs to the community and increasing the crime rate. The interviewer asked different members whether they considered themselves to be racist, and nearly everyone said no, even after making explicitly racist comments. It makes me wonder what they believe racism is.

The textbook definition for racism is:

“A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement,usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” (Dictionary.com)

With increased travel, globalization, and education, racism is something we are becoming more socially aware of, and it is becoming more publicly condemned. Most people, even those who are unwittingly racist, identify racism as something negative, something undesirable. “Racists are bad people, and I am not a bad person,” they think to themselves. Very rarely do people want to admit that they are racist, even when it is clear that they are. That is why you can have some members of the KKK say that they are not racist, when we know that the KKK is entirely race-fueled. Part of the problem is a heavy, surreal ignorance clouding many of the secluded towns where the KKK thrives. In these communities, White people could go most of their lives without ever seeing a Black person, let alone talk to one. It’s extremely easy to make an enemy of the unknown. 

People in general have this self-preservation instinct that is not just physical, but psychological as well. We will do just about anything to defend our opinion, behavior, emotions, etc. One defense mechanism we use all the time is wordplay. We begin to scrutinize words, change the definitions to suit our standing, create all these technicalities and nuances in order to weasel our way out of responsibility. Many of the members of the KKK justified themselves by doing just that. One person said of a ritual they practice, “We don’t burn crosses, we light them, to represent that Jesus is the light of the world.” (I could go on a whole sidebar as to why this statement is so problematic. To keep it simple, Jesus Christ is supposed to be a pure, righteous figure, so of course, putting his name into anything would supposedly validate their actions.) Making that distinction between “burning” and “lighting” is also a way of making what they do sound less threatening.

The climax of the documentary was a KKK parade, where a Black-power group was also determined to make their presence and cause known. The KKK members were alright with using racial slurs against Blacks since even before the parade, earlier in the interview. Their excuse was a common case of “fight fire with fire”: “If they can call us ‘cracker,’ then we can call them ‘n***er.’” One of the Loyal White Knight leaders explained how he had been called many harsh names in a mostly Black school growing up.

By no means do I have the cure for racism, but what I can say is that we need to take some responsibility on a local level. Stop blaming the other side, whoever that “other” may be; stop focusing on the past; stop playing word games and beating around the bush. To coin Shakespeare, racism by any other name would smell just as rotten. We need to be honest with each other, facing head-on those residual, stale beliefs passed down by experience and our ancestors, if we could ever even hope to change our world.

“Let them be just that, our ancestors beliefs, not ours. Let them be something we read about in textbooks and not what we see in the news.”
                                                                              –Samantha P., blogger for The Buzz

Reviving Grammar II: Distinguishing Real Words from Made-up Ones

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Last week, I wrote a blog post summarizing the eight parts of speech in an effort to revive knowledge of grammar. Grammar is something we tend to take for granted, especially in the texting, tweeting and “meming” cyber-world of today. So many posts go viral without having ever been proofread or spell-checked, and it makes me wonder how much thought people put into writing, especially before sharing something that the entire world will potentially see.

Given the limitations on time and space, there is no way I could make a comprehensive list of grammatical mistakes to avoid in a simple blog post. Also, I don’t claim to be a grammar expert by any means. There might be errors buried in this post that my eyes, Microsoft Word and Google Docs have not even picked up on, even after several revisions. My objective here is to point out those basic corrections that we could all benefit from making.

Made-Up Idea-Nouns

In my previous post, I explained how a noun can be a person, place, thing or idea. A lot of times, you can turn an adjective (a word that describes a noun) into an idea-noun by adding –ness­ to the end of it. For example, foolish becomes foolishness, happy becomes happiness. However, this is not always the rule. Sometimes the adjective takes on a different suffix, such as ­-ity or -tion, and other spelling and pronunciation changes must occur. A common mistake is to tack on –ness­ to the end of an adjective, making up a word instead of using the proper suffix. Some hypothetical made-up words, and their preferred forms, are listed below:

  • Stupid becomes stupidity, not stupidness
  • Wise becomes wisdom, not wiseness
  • Dedicated becomes dedication, not dedicatedness
  • Brief becomes brevity, not briefness

If I ever get stuck, I say the word out loud, trying on different suffixes until it sounds like the right one.

Made-Up Verbs

I have noticed that a similar error is often made when going from idea-noun to verb. This is especially true with nouns ending in -ation.

  • Conversation becomes converse, not conversate
  • Interpretation becomes interpret, not interpretate
  • Metamorphosis becomes metamorphose, not metamorphosize
  • Analyze becomes analysis, not analyzation

An Unnecessary Prefix

Another word I’ve heard people make up is in a category of its own: overexaggerate. This verb does not exactly make sense because of its redundancy. According to Dictionary.com, the word “exaggerate” already means “to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately.” Saying “overexaggerate” is like saying to “over-overdo” something. Maybe you could even say that the word “overexaggeration” is an exaggeration. (Clever, right?)

Don’t Be Shy–Verify

If you are ever in doubt, do not be afraid to look it up online. There are plenty of websites and resources that elaborate on these types of grammatical issues in depth. It is probably more trustworthy if the website is affiliated with a college or other professional organization. In particular, I’ve heard a lot of positive buzz surrounding Grammarly, which recommends corrections in real time. Apparently it’s free for Chrome browser. Aside from that, Microsoft Word has also gotten better about finding nitty-gritty errors of this sort. Dictionaries will often have various forms of a word for just this purpose.

Reading Is Fundamental

But best of all, nothing beats good old reading. Reading quality literature at the appropriate grade level will allow you to come across plenty of new words and contextualize older ones. My mental trick about trying on different suffixes only really works if you have read and heard certain words enough. Frequent exposure will allow certain words to lodge in your mind. Even if you do not know what they mean yet, you will know that you have heard or seen them.

So please, save yourself the embarrassment of putting up another misspelled status update. (Facebook gives you the option to edit, but only one time.) Take the time to proofread your work, and in general, READ.

Reviving Grammar: A Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Many of my peers would agree that we rarely studied grammar throughout most of our years of primary education. Grammar was a ghost that introduced itself somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, only to never be seen again–and yet our teachers would expect us to remember all that it entailed through high school, and maybe even into college.

My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Snyder, took it upon himself to teach us all that we had missed out on, knowing that our previous teachers had done us a disservice. Before we got into building our vocabulary and writing analytical essays, we started with the basic building blocks: parts of speech. To help visual, synesthetic learners like me, he associated colors and shapes with each one. I will walk you through what I remember from his class.

Nouns

I always knew a noun to be a person, place or thing, but it wasn’t until this class that a fourth option was added to this iconic phrase: a person, place, thing or idea (also known as an abstract thought). Our teacher circled nouns in red marker. In a sentence like “Joe tried to hide his disappointment as he waited on a bench in the park,” Joe is a person, the park is a place, the bench is a thing and disappointment is an idea; these are all examples of nouns. When it’s not so obvious, you can generally identify something as a noun if you can count it, if you can put “a/an” or “the” in front of it (these are called articles), or if it ends in something like -tion, -ness, or -ity, for example, action, sadness, and unity.

Pronouns

These take the place of nouns. Imagine how clunky and awkward it would be if every time you talked about someone, you had to use that person’s name: “Angel said Angel is on Angel’s way, so wait up for Angel.” This next sentence is a lot more concise: “Angel said he is on his way, so wait up for him.” He, his, and him are all pronouns which are replacing, and referring to, Angel. We have a good number of pronouns in English: I, me, my, mine, myself; you, your, yours, yourself; he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, itself; one, oneself; we, us, our, ourselves; they, them, their, theirs, themselves; this, that, these, those. This may sound like a lot to remember, but we use them all the time without even realizing it.

Verbs

Next are verbs, which Mr. Snyder underlined in green. Verbs are usually referred to as action words, such as “eat,” “sleep,” and “breathe.” Since something or someone (the subject) has to perform the action, verbs tend to follow right after nouns. If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you have had to learn all about verb conjugations; depending on the subject, some changes would be made to the verb. In English, the change is simple for regular verbs: just add -s at the end if the subject uses the pronoun he, she, it or one (i.e. second person singular). For example: I jump, you jump, he jumps, etc. Our most irregular but most common verb, “to be,” does not follow this pattern at all: I am, you are, he/she/it/one is, we are, they are. (This holds true in many Latin-based languages like French and Spanish.)

Adjectives

These words, which he boxed in purple, describe nouns, giving you more information about them. If your friend is telling you about a new crush, the conversation will be oozing with adjectives: she’s so smart, funny, talented; he’s handsome, dreamy, confident. Adjectives include colors, numbers, size, quality, and other attributes. You might find these anywhere in a sentence but they can also come directly before the noun they belong to: the cool breeze or the delicious pizza.  

Adverbs

Our teacher made an orange triangle around these. Whereas adjectives describe or modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. They tend to answer the question  “how?” and they often end in -ly. In the sentence “She entered timidly, quickly taking a seat by the door,” timidly and quickly are the adverbs, and they are describing the way she entered and the way she took a seat. Other adverbs not ending in -ly include often, just, much, and so. We use these all the time, if you haven’t noticed.

I don’t remember the color coding for the next three, and they are also not as frequently talked about, but they are good to know:

Prepositions

These include some of the smallest, most frequently used words in our language: to, at, in, on, by, for, out, from, etc. Longer ones include under, between, through, and alongside. Their name, made up of “pre-” and “position,” give a hint as to how they are used: they tend to indicate direction or placement, and can easily answer the question “where?” when grouped with a noun: “I’m at the park on West 4th street by the pizzeria.” 

Conjunctions

These connect words or parts of sentences to each other. They include and, or, but, because, whereas. Conjunctions establish a relationship between two or more elements. Or tells you that one out of several options is to be selected, not all of them: “Either I will be babysitting that night or doing my homework.”Another example: “You can only choose one color: red, green, or blue.” And may indicate that several things have something in common: “Nick, Joe and Kevin have black hair.” But tends to highlight a contrast: “It’s raining outside but I don’t have my umbrella.” Because has the word cause in it, and indeed links two clauses to create a cause-and-effect relationship. “I didn’t knock because I thought you were sleeping.”

Interjections

These words express emotion and for this reason tend to be exclaimed, for example: “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Gee whiz!” “Ouch!” It is interesting to note how these change from generation to generation within the same language (no one really says “gee whiz” anymore, unless it’s with a touch of sarcasm), and also vary from culture to culture.

I hope you found this helpful in learning (or relearning) the eight parts of speech, and that it wasn’t too difficult to follow. We shouldn’t take English for granted just because it’s our native language. The better we understand it, the better we can communicate.

Speak Life: An Introduction to Self Talk

By Robine Jean-Pierre

My fiancé Angel is an avid reader. He carries around books the way a child would a blanket or a stuffed animal. Reading is his prescription for any affliction. He doesn’t read just any book though–no graphic novels or sci-fi or mysteries. He reads the kind of books which, at their core, teach you how to be a better person and live a better life. They are often referred to as positive mental attitude (PMA) books, or even self-help books. One of the most recent books he’s read is What to Say When You Talk to Yourself  by Dr. Shad Helmstetter. Now I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t give much of a summary. I can only share what I have gathered from conversations with Angel: self-talk is one of the most powerful forces in your life. It will be a determining force in everything you do.

I’ve had very low moments in my life when even the smallest sources of stress sent me on a downward spiral because I magnified the issue in my mind. I have rarely ever been driven to physically harm myself, but I have engaged in very harmful self-talk, which is just as bad, if not worse. To bring up an example I used in a previous post (The Right to Speak Up), trouble would start with me running late to school; this anxiety would become embarrassment from knowing I would disrupt the class and disappoint the teacher; then, frustration at myself for not having woken up earlier; then, anger for letting this happen too often and not learning my lesson, and finally, bitter self-loathing for being such a constant “failure.” I put this word in quotes because my friends and family would consider me the farthest thing from a failure. Even if it takes a few tries, most of my academic and personal endeavors end in great success and I’m not the quitting type. Yet when I’m in those really deep, dark moments in my mind, somehow I automatically end up saying these absurd statements: “I’m such an idiot. I’m so stupid. I feel like a failure. There’s something wrong with me.”

Angel would probably cringe if he read those words right now. He’s the biggest proponent for positive self-talk in my life, and without him, I might not have discovered soon enough that there is an alternative to these disastrous self-loathing cycles. Angel’s natural inclination is to compliment. He raves about food, movies and people, always finding something positive to promote. Since we are engaged, I have a front row seat of this spectacle; he tells me a variety of affirming statements like “I love you,” “you’re so beautiful,” “you’re a genius” and “I like your face” every single day, a dozen times a day each, and I’ll admit that even I get annoyed by the repetition sometimes, ironically. But then those priceless moments come when he reminds me, “Your subconscious mind can’t decipher between right and wrong. It just takes anything you give it and creates a new mental pathway for it. If I tell you something long enough, you’re going to start to believe it for yourself. Why do you think I call you beautiful all the time?” This is very true; sometimes I look in the mirror and I can hear Angel’s voice in my memory saying something sweet about every feature.

That might seem like a glib, redundant example, but honestly, people’s abilities and characteristics do not always line up with their perceptions. (This is why it’s still possible for me to call myself a failure–somewhere deep down I believe this is true and I need to change that.) I remember watching an episode of Say Yes to the Dress in which a woman who was, for all intents and purposes, gorgeous, struggled to feel beautiful in any of the dresses she tried on (and she had tried on some number in the higher double digits). She would put on a dress and look at herself in the mirror–tall, slender, and blonde with delicate features–and start to tear up; somewhere in her head a voice that sounded like her own had to be saying, “You look terrible. Just face it–you’re ugly. You should really just stop trying since none of these dresses can make you look how you want to look.” I am not one hundred percent sure, but it may have been revealed that she had struggled with some form of body dysmorphic disorder before. This is the power that the mind has over us, and the damage that can be done if we do not harness that power.

a girl in underclothes looking at her distorted reflection in the mirror

A perfect illustration of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, by Travis Millard (Pinterest)

I am not yet at the point of fluently and actively using positive self-talk (which is changing very soon), but I have increasing awareness of my negative use of it and I plan to stop entirely. I am grateful that, until I reach the point where I can do it myself, I have Angel constantly speaking life into me whether I want to hear it or not. If I text him, “I’m struggling to get all my assignments done on time,” he replies, “Don’t worry, you got this. You always get your work done on time.” Sometimes I ask myself, “Wait, do I?” but then I realize that he is speaking in advance the reality that I am striving to attain.

The beautiful thing is that positive self-talk is not lying or simply wishful thinking. It actually works. If you think of your mind as a computer, then saying these statements is just like writing out a program or a command. Last year, when I took CST 1101 (problem solving with computer programming) Professor Siegel liked to use the saying, “Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.” (He stressed this whenever he made a mistake in a program and an error occurred.) It is the same way with our minds. We need to tell them what to do, and in turn, they dictate what we think and how we perform, as weird and circular as that might seem.

I encourage you to give it a try. Speak positive things to yourself in the mirror. Write an affirming speech to recite to yourself daily. There is nothing cowardly about standing up to those negative thoughts in your head. You have the power to change your thoughts, which means that you also have power over your words, actions, habits, and overall self-view.

As a follow up, please check out my fellow blogger Neffi’s post, “ ‘You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important.’ Affirmations 101.”

Their Words Still Speak to Me: Revisiting Teen Pop from My Childhood

by Robine Jean-Pierre

Last night after a long day at school, as I slipped under the covers and into bed, I did something that was long overdue: I looked up a Hannah Montana song on YouTube. I started with “This Is the Life” and next thing you know, I was a dozen songs deep and brimming with romance, joy, teen spirit, excitement, and needless to say, overwhelming nostalgia. I knew that once I had started it would be hard to stop; even though it was approaching 2 a.m. I just kept checking what was in the “Up Next” list under each video and picking the one I wanted to hear most, jumping from stone to stone like a child in a stream.

I love the musical composition of lots of Disney teen artists’ songs, like those of Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez. Sure, teen pop is not the most diverse genre out there; the songs do tend to fall into a predictable pattern. But something about these songs was so familiar, so cozy; the lyrics spoke to my heart and even the instrumentation seemed so rich that I couldn’t resist soaking in it all.

Recording one of my own songs (Perfect Love) in a friend’s home-based studio last week made me realize just how much goes into even the simplest modern song. We had started with a preliminary acoustic version–just one layer of guitar, my lead vocals and my own backup vocals harmonizing–but I realized that if I wanted to take it to the next step in a future recording session, I would have to be thorough and specific about what I wanted. When you really listen to a typical song today there is so much going on, so many layers and nuances and effects.

Getting back to my Disney favorites, the beautiful thing about these songs was not just the instrumentation and composition, but of course, the lyrics. So many of today’s songs are too simplified–not that many words, or not much meaning or neither, just vain repetition. That’s why I hold dear to my heart the songs that have a pure, positive, universal message and are not just about sex, drugs and money. Many of these Disney songs talked about innocent romance punctuated by either fear, excitement or both (see Hannah Montana’s “He Could Be the One,” and Demi Lovato’s “Catch Me”); about having standards upon entering a relationship (see Vanessa Hudgens’ “Say OK”); about the love of a father and daughter through the years (Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus had a few, such as “I Learned from You”); about friendship and love as a whole, not just romantic love (Hannah Montana’s “You and Me Together” and “Bigger Than Us”). These topics are not necessarily simple, but nearly anyone could relate and benefit from listening.

Some songs that really spoke to me that night were Hannah Montana’s “Make Some Noise” and Demi Lovato’s “La La Land.” “Make Some Noise” has the kind of message you don’t hear enough in mainstream music:

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not strong enough
Don’t give up, there’s nothing wrong with just being yourself,
that’s more than enough
So come on and raise your voice
Speak your mind and make some noise…”  

Sometimes we need this reminder, teenagers and grownups alike. Hannah Montana’s music was geared toward predominantly young preteen and teenage girls, I presume, and they are often in need of all the support they can get; they receive a lot of pressure from mainstream media to be something they’re not, and to keep quiet if their opinion is not popular. “La La Land” is a very feisty, edgy, playful song about someone who’s famous but not afraid to be herself, someone who doesn’t let celebrity go to her head. One verse says “who says I can’t wear my Converse with my dress? Oh baby, that’s just me.” The chorus says,

“Some people say I need to be afraid
of losing everything
because of where I
had my start and where I made my name
but everything’s the same
in the la la land machine.”

Demi Lovato had my heart from very early in her career and her voice is as amazing as her songwriting skill (which is an understatement). To see that she started strong, went on a decline, battled her demons and overcame to continue making powerful music is a tremendous feat. Maybe these very words played a part in bringing her back to full recovery, as she realized that she couldn’t let anything change her for the worse. (It would be unjust to not recommend her comeback song, “Skyscraper.”)

I can unashamedly say that many of those songs don’t need to stay in my childhood– they are just as relevant, some even more relevant than before (particularly for the love songs now that I’m of age and engaged). Seeing that some artists like Miley are grown now, and have made drastic changes in their career in terms of target audience, message and style, I could only hope that they are not ashamed of their past, and that they don’t dismiss the beautiful songs they made popular as childish, boring, or cliché. Their words still speak to me.

Do the Write Thing (#WhyIWrite)

By Robine Jean-Pierre

It is 11:40 pm on a Saturday evening. I worked from 5:00 to 9:20 pm on the audio/video crew for the Haunted Hotel, City Tech’s annual Halloween-themed attraction. I worked the same shift yesterday. Working on in-house shows and events is required for my technical production class, and inevitably takes away more time from an already jam-packed schedule.

It has been yet another long week of juggling six classes (17 credits) and two part-time jobs. We are about halfway through the semester and I have had a handful of anxiety attacks and emotional breakdowns. I have missed assignments and (very few) classes. I have wanted to cut my hair, or even tear it out; break computers; fling chairs; scream, kick, stomp, and curse out everyone within close range. I have wanted to drop at least one class even though the deadlines are long past. I have been playing a never-ending game of catch-up, handing in the lab report that was due last week this week, pushing off what’s due tomorrow because of what’s due in two hours, only to find that when tomorrow comes there is no time left. I have sat at a desk in front of a computer for hours, with the earnest hope of getting it all done in one shot, and next thing you know, my time is up and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. NOTHING.

I have an overdue lab report and the current one to complete by Monday morning, not to mention an elaborate assignment for my theatrical drafting class that involves a software called AutoCAD, which I do not own at home because none of the laptops would be able to handle it. I don’t think the computer labs are even open on Sundays. Then there’s this very blog post that I am writing, also due Monday. My draft was supposed to be in since Tuesday, going by the guidelines, although Thursday has been a reasonable compromise for me and my fellow peer-reviewing blogger. I’m sure she’s tired of me failing to reach even that agreement.

I am not trying to brag about my struggles as we often do, hoping for a pat on the back for our valiant efforts or some sympathy to liven up the pity-party. It’s just that everything I have written so far is all I have been able to think about for a long time. I am hardly able to think straight and I felt like I would have gotten nowhere if I had tried to write about some topic that, let’s face it, I don’t even care about right now. (Believe me, I tried. It didn’t work.)

Even as I write this out of obligation (blogging is my job and as I said, my posts go up on Monday), I feel guilty being up this late, 12:07 a.m., writing this sob-story instead of completing my lab reports, at least. But honestly, it doesn’t matter how I arrange all my responsibilities on my priority list–it all has to get done, whether I work on something first or second or last.

On a deeper level, I have to do this. Not just because I signed up to be a blogger, not because of the paycheck. I need to write. Writing helps me to take the emotions and thoughts running around like chickens with their heads cut off, as they say, and line them up for inspection. Writing allows me to drain my mind of all the excess content, whether benevolent or noxious, although I have found that I will more readily write about a negative experience than a positive one. I know how to deal with happiness pretty well; I feel no need to transcribe it, no need to analyze it–it’s self-explanatory, and simple, and beautiful. But when turbulence comes and I’m overwhelmed with sadness or anger or guilt, writing is like the chisel that allows me to carve the masterpiece out of a hulking, rough, ugly chunk of faceless stone.

I write because it gives me healing, relief, satisfaction, and a deeper understanding of myself and my circumstances. It gives me a space to express myself without alarming anyone. I am writing this for an online audience, sure (and chances are that few people will read it, like my last eight posts) but I am writing this primarily for myself. I am the author, and that makes gives me the authority to say whatever I want to say, whatever I need to say, without feeling embarrassed or intimidated or worried about what other people might think. If I were to scream in the middle of a classroom and start pulling my hair out, that would worry people, for sure–but I could choose a better option and let these letters be my voice, and this post a scream, and at the same time, a sigh of relief. Writing keeps me sane.

 

Five Expressions in Haitian Creole That You Could Pull Off in English

by Robine Jean-Pierre

A linguist at heart, I cringe whenever I come across poorly translated phrases. While I am not fully fluent in all of them, I am familiar with Haitian Creole, French and Spanish, so I often find instances in which the fluidity, wit or meaning of a phrase gets lost when going from one language to another. It is also disappointing to hear a bi- or polylingual person trying to grasp for a term in their native tongue, saying, “It’s like… you know… well, I don’t know how you’d say it in English.” The feeling of exclusion that this provokes leaves me unsatisfied, and I believe that the language barrier can always be crossed, even when it comes to complex things like metaphors and idioms. The key is to translate for the meaning or essence of a word or phrase, even if at the expense of the actual words being used.

Haitian Creole is full of colorful, comical idioms, and I have often entertained myself by undertaking the task of finding their English equivalents. As I said, this is only effective if you go by meaning and not translation verbatim. I will give five examples (though I cannot guarantee I’ve spelled them all correctly).

1. Lè Ti Poul Fè Dan

The expression, “lè ti poul fè dan” in Creole literally means “when chicks teethe.” It is an informal way of responding “Never” to a question, since we know that chicks have beaks and will never grow teeth. If you said this in English, word for word, you would probably get a strange look from the person who asked the question, but never fear, we have the similar English expression, “When pigs fly.”

2. Mete Dlo Nan Diven Ou

“Mete dlo nan diven ou” is an expression that literally means “put [some] water in your wine.” This is a figurative way of telling someone to calm down; parents would say this to children that are acting up. It makes sense when you think of wine as something fiery and provocative, and that watering it down will diminish its strength. This is reminiscent of Bart Simpson’s “Cool your jets, man” (The Simpsons) or the simpler “Take it easy.”

3. Achte Figi Moun

“Achte figi moun” literally means “to buy someone’s face.” Think you can figure it out? You would have slim chances of hearing this in English word for word. This expression touches on the ideas of bribery and flattery, and would most closely link up with “kiss up to someone,” “suck up to” or “brown-nose.” I have mostly heard it used with a touch of infamous Haitian pride: “M’pa achte figi moun” (“I don’t kiss up to people”).

4. Ret Na Wòl Ou

“Ret na wòl ou” is actually not too far from English. It literally means “stay in your role” but links up with our “stay in your lane.” In other words, respect yourself and don’t overstep your boundaries.

5. Li Pa Gen Nen Nan Figi Li

“Li pa gen nen nan figi li” is not something you would want to hear someone say about you behind your back. The literal translation is “He/she doesn’t have a nose on his/her face.” It means that someone has no sense of dignity, pride or shame, like the archetypal nerd who keeps trying to join the cool kids’ clique even after numerous bold-faced rejections. (Maybe it comes from the idea that if this person did have a nose, he would immediately sense the obvious, kind of like when we say “You wouldn’t know __ if it hit you right between the eyes!”) After giving it a lot of thought, the only similar expressions that come to mind are “he’s a sucker” and “he hasn’t got a clue.”

The cleverness or “punch” of a phrase does not have to be sacrificed when you translate it from one language to another. Neither does the beauty of song lyrics or poetry. We may all speak different languages and belong to various cultures, but emotions and ideas are not limited to specific people groups. They are the universal building blocks of the human experience, and a bridge can always be made where there is understanding and effort.

Any funny expressions come to mind, either in English or another language? Please feel free to share in a comment below.

The Language of Love

By Robine Jean-Pierre

There are hundreds, if not thousands of languages spoken, written and articulated in the world today. Not all of us will be able to say we learned Swahili, Chinese or Urdu in our lifetime, but there is one language that we can all speak, one language alone that can unite us: the language of love. And no, I don’t mean French or Spanish.

a man in suit and bow-tie holding a martini glass and winking

© David Niven 2017

“No man is an island” (the title of a poem by John Donne). Unless you have spent all of your life in solitary confinement, you have connections with people around you. What we often overlook, even though it may seem obvious, is that these deep rooted relationships require maintenance. Your loved ones have standards that you need to meet, and vice versa, in order to keep the relationship afloat. That might mean phone calls, keeping the house clean, gifts, visits, etc. The thing is that we all set those standards in different ways, and that’s where the specific love languages come in.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that there are five main ways we express and receive love. They are: acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and quality time. He goes on to point out that each of us has a primary love language; we feel the most loved through it and express it toward others the most. I will explain in my own words and give some examples below.

one man holding a door open for another man

MCT via Getty Images

Acts of Service

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when someone helps you. You are always willing to lend a helping hand to others as well. It warms your heart when someone holds a door open for you or offers to do the dishes when it was your turn. Conversely, it really “grinds your gears” when someone does not offer you a hand, whether by outright refusing, or by failing to acknowledge your need. 

For these people, actions speak way louder than words. If you love them, you will be willing to show it, and to do whatever they are asking of you with a sincere heart. This might be doing the dirty work, like taking out the trash without being asked. This is definitely my mom’s love language, and not just because she is a mom. I have seen her offer herself wholeheartedly, not just for her children, but for people who, frankly, do not even deserve it.

two young male friends, one with his arm around the other's shoulder

photo by Vishvanavanjana

Physical Touch

You love to give and receive hugs, pats on the back, an arm around the shoulder and firm handshakes. You find massages incredibly enjoyable, and holding you while you cry is the most compassionate way someone can console you.

People might be suspicious of you because they are not as comfortable with touching, or they suspect that you are just trying to “make a move” on them–but that’s not true. Physical touch is not limited to affection exchanged between lovers. This is my fiancé Angel’s primary love language, and I realized early on that his touchiness was not simply flirtiness when I observed his interactions with family and friends. He was all hugs, all the time, and still is that way.

Words of Affirmation

a text message conversation in which one person expresses his/her feelings for the other

from Pinterest

You value words of praise and encouragement. One compliment has your mood lifted for the entire day. Love letters are the quickest way to your heart. On the other end, hurtful words inflict a wound like nothing else can.

If you know individuals like this, it is crucial that you constantly boost them up with the power of your words. Don’t dismiss them as being vain or conceited when they fish for compliments. Tell them “I love you” often, because even if you hit all of the other four love languages, they might not feel certain until you say it. Don’t just think good toward them–be very vocal about your appreciation and generous with compliments. Be careful, even when joking, about what you say to them.

 

Receiving Gifts

You feel most loved when someone gives you a gift. Whether something small like a flower or expensive like new sneakers, just the fact that someone thought of you means the world to you. Someone’s presence is also a present to you; you would be greatly offended if your significant other got you nothing on Valentine’s Day, but also if your best friend did not make it to your birthday party. 

a man embracing a woman to whom he has given a gift

Vogue (http://www.pulse.ng)

I feel as if this can be mistaken for being materialistic, but there is a difference. From what I have observed, this is my younger sister’s primary love language, and it took a while for me to realize that she wasn’t just being greedy whenever she asked me to bring her something on my way back home. Her attention to detail when choosing and packaging gifts for others also says it all. Because of this, when I have the money and time, I am less reluctant to pick up a Snickers bar or buy her something she’s been raving about every now and then.

Quality Time

You are an unofficial event planner, always coming up with a new idea for a date with your friends, family or significant other. You value long conversations, especially with an engaged listener. If you had one complaint in a relationship, it would be, “We never spend enough time together!” You give your phone a side-eye when someone does not reply back to your messages quickly enough or answer your calls.

a father reading a picture book on the couch with his daughter

Photo courtesy of United Way of West Alabama

This is definitely my primary love language. Nothing hurts me more than a missed opportunity to see someone I love, especially Angel. It drives me crazy when he’s not texting me, even if he has a very legitimate excuse, like work. I can spend a whole day with him and still feel disappointed when we have to part ways. This was true even with my best friend Marsha when we were younger; I often cried whenever I had to leave her apartment, and we lived in the same building.

People like me need as much time as you can afford to give. Make sure that in the midst of all your responsibilities, you don’t make a “quality-timer” feel as if he/she is at the bottom of your list; we are more likely to get jealous of things (e.g. work, sports, video games) than people. Set aside time for dates, phone calls, etc., and as a tip, it’s not enough to just be in the same room together–make sure that the activity requires you to give each other undivided attention.

Get Out There and Love Someone

Chapman explains that each of us has a love tank that needs to be filled. Often times, people act out, complain, or are unhappy because their tank is not filled. Marriages often crumble because two people are working hard to please each other in the way they know how, not in the way their spouse wants. The main way to fill the tank is to show love in that person’s primary love language.

If you are wondering what your primary love language is, think about which one you show others the most, and what bothers you the most (and see the quiz online). I highly recommend you get a copy of the book for yourself and take the quiz. Just as a final word of advice, the goal here is not to win people over, but to love them for the sake of love. If something is to be done, it might as well be done right. Do you want a boring relationship or an exciting one? Do you want nagging parents or happy parents? Love people wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return, and this world would be radically redefined.the cover of "The 5 Love Languages" book by Gary Chapman