Saturday, March 15, 2014

4 Reasons Learning English is a Bitch and a Half (Non-published Cracked Article)

I wrote this for Cracked and they never did anything with it, so I'm posting it here because it's worth a giggle or two.

4 Reasons English Grammar Sucks

Quick, what’s the difference between “You’re a twat” and “your twat”? What about “There be mermaids,” “They’re being mermaids” and “their mermaids”? If you said “Shut up, you god damn grammar Nazi, no one cares,” get off the internet. I hate you so much. If you said something about the grammar rules that dictate when we use these identical sounding words, you can stay. But did you know that’s really only the tip of the grammar dildo non-native speakers are constantly getting fucked by? Because that’s nothing compared to...

Articles make no sense to half the world

What’s the difference between Queen, the Queen, and a queen? All three would probably be bitching company over tea, but the dress code would vary wildly. That’s because the only difference is the article each one takes. And if you speak a language that doesn’t use articles, like every single language of Slavic origin (Russian, Slovak, Czech, Polish, shall I continue?), these are a fucking nightmare.

Here’s another one – what’s the difference between shouting
A)   That’s shit!
B)   That the shit!
C)   That’s a shit!

The dumb ass rule

There’s three types of articles in English – the zero article, the definite article, and the indefinite article. And just like the panties you put on in the morning, they’re pretty crucial to identifying what exactly you’re getting into.

The indefinite article, a or an, is like the everyday, Hanes six pack granny panties you put on when it doesn’t really matter. “I had tea with a queen” means I sipped hot leaf juice with either any fabulous elderly gentleman, perhaps in a line up of your choosing, or a specific Chardonnay-loving, earring-sporting AARP member who has not yet been introduced to the listener or to the conversation. “That’s a shit,” means that the subject of the sentence is literally a piece o’shit, just your run of the mill fecal matter.
The definite article, the, is the nice silk panties you slip on when you’re anticipating slipping them back off, you dirty, dirty noun. “I had tea with the queen,” means my lunch date was none other than Her Majesty, the Queen of England. It’s a specific person everyone involved in the conversation knows, or at least knows about. “That’s the shit” means that whatever I’m talking about is the specific shit, the shit to end all shit, the greatest of shits. It also means “Well, that’s cool.”
The zero article, not putting anything in front of your noun, is just going straight up commando – especially if you’re a non-native speaker, cause it probably means you’re going to get screwed. This we usually use for proper nouns, like “I had tea with Queen (and it was the shit).” We can also use it in front of certain abstract nouns, like “I had tea with Queen, and we had a rousing conversation about truth, justice, and rocking your balls off.” It’s also how we distinguish certain words that can be both nouns and adjectives – “That’s shit” could read “that’s awful” without changing either the meaning or the grammatical construction.

The fuck-you

Some proper nouns get the definite article – The United Kingdom, The Pacific Ocean - because (and I cannot stress this enough) screw you.

Our pronunciation hates you

Quick, read the following list out loud (bonus points if you’re at work and you just start spewing random nonsense out of your cubicle to the utter confusion of your coworkers):
Great Apes
Send the Maid
Gray Day
Ice Cream
I May
Plum Pie
Scar Face
An Ice Man
Fantastic, you schitzo. If you’re a native speaker, and especially if you’re American (fuck yeah, America, being better at English than the actual English) that list should sound identical to this one:
Gray Tapes
Car Pit
Send them aid
Grade A
I Scream
I'm a
Plump Eye
Scarf Ace
A Nice Man
Still not hearing it? Here’s both lists side by side
Great Apes - Gray Tapes
Carpet - Car Pit
Send the Maid - Send them aid
Gray Day - Grade A
Ice Cream - I Scream
I May - I'm a
Plum Pie - Plump Eye
Scar Face - Scarf Ace
An Ice Man - A Nice Man

The dumb-ass rule

Cracked has already talked about all the stupid spelling rules English has. Spoiler alert – they’re stupid. But there’s another reason why, even independent of spelling, English is so easy to misunderstand when you’re listening to it.
English is a stressed language, in that pronunciation is dependent on the stress of a syllable. It’s the difference between pronouncing “epitome” as “eh-pit-OH-me” (which is correct) and “eh-pah-TOME” (which is idiotic). This isn’t so bad if your native language is from the same linguistic families as English – as much as we mock their accents, German and French speakers have an easier time figuring out where to put the stress on a word the first time than, say, someone who grew up in Turkey. But if you grew up speaking a language where the first syllable of the word is stressed no matter what, then you are going to have a very bad time pronouncing English words. Don’t believe me? Try learning Czech.

The fuck-you

The rules about where stress goes in a word are the inbred bastard children of ancient German, French, Latin, and some Greek. So rather than acknowledge them, we basically say they don’t exist because that’s easier for everyone.

Modal verbs

Three sentences, pick the most fun one:
        I would do coke with Charlie Sheen.
        I could do coke with Charlie Sheen.
        I should do coke with Charlie Sheen.
If you picked the third one, maybe seek help. Anyway, what’s the difference? The first, would do coke, is the typical start of a conditional statement – I would do coke with Charlie Sheen if he were here right now. The second, could do coke, talks about my ability to do a rail off a hooker’s ass. The third, should do coke, is an obligation – I should stop writing grammar articles and go find my soul mate so we can ride off into a coke-fuel sunset and/or bonfire. I can’t tell which it is because of all the drugs I do.

The dumb-ass rule

Modal verbs are funky, cause they don’t behave like regular verbs. Instead of conjugating (I masturbate, he masturbates, they are masturbating, she masturbated, we have masturbated), they’re paired up – can/could, may/might, will/would, shall/should, have to/must, and so on. They (generally, because fuck solid rules) function as helper verbs in a sentence to “change the mood.” Not like light a scented candle and turn on some Celine Dion, but change the grammatical mood.
Depending on which modal we use, we can talk about the probability of something (He might go kick children in the park today, or he may go fishing instead), our ability to do something (He could go kid-kicking, just like I can go fishing for hobos), talk about obligation (You really must stop hobo-fishing) or advice (You should stop kicking kids – it’s bad for your feet), ask for or give permission (May I go hobo-fishing? No, but you may go kick Timmy in the park), and even talk about habits (Grandpa would hobo-fish every Tuesday before he was killed by a mob of children in the park).

The fuck-you

Each modal can have several different uses, because seriously, fuck you.

We’ve got a minimum of 12 god-damn tenses

What? No, that doesn’t sound right. Everyone knows there’s only three – past, present, and future. You’re out of your mind, there’s no way there’s twelve.
You sure? A tense is just when the verb changes, the difference between I did your mom last night, I do your mom every Tuesday, and I will do your mom tonight. There, past, present, and future - simple. But wait! What about these? I was doing your mom last night when you called, I’m doing your mom right now, and I will be doing you mom all night long. Past, present, and future continuous. So that’s six, where are the other six?

The dumb-ass rule

We have three time periods, sure. But in each of those time periods there are four tenses. The simple (do/did) and the continuous (doing) are pretty easy to nail down. Past simple is a completed action, present simple is a permanent state of being, and future simple is an action likely to happen in the future. The continuous forms just mean that instead of the action being a one time thing, they were, they are, or they will be happening at the time we’re describing.
In English, we also have these nasty fuckers called perfect tenses, and they’re unpleasant. “I had done your mom already by the time you showed up” (past perfect) and “I had been doing your mom before your piano recital” (past perfect continuous) describe the past before the past, or past events further back on the timeline than whatever we’re talking about. “I have done your mom” (present perfect) is basically a past event with no specific time connected, either because it’s recent or because it was a big deal. “I have been doing your mom” (present perfect continuous) is an action started in the past and that hasn’t concluded yet.
And oh Jesus, the future perfect makes non-native speakers want to cry. “I will have done your mom twice for every member of the London Philharmonic by tonight” (future perfect) talks about an action that will be finished by a deadline. “I will have been doing your mom for six straight hours by the time you read this” (future perfect continuous) describes an action that will have started before a point in the future and will likely continue past that same point.
So, four types of tenses: simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous. Multiplied by three because seriously…

The fuck-you

These are the easy rules. Each tense has at least two specific uses – some have six or seven. Also, see how this section is labeled “minimum”? Yeah, some people think that’s not enough and teach more than that. Gendered nouns don’t seem so scary now, do they high school Spanish?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lessons from the Novice 6 month Nomad

I have, despite my best intentions, become a 6 month nomad. It's not a bad thing, certainly, but for the last, oh, two, years of my life I have been living my life in anticipation of the next move. I don't know if that'll change, now or later, but I realized when I was walking up Vaclavak and trying to inhale as much of my smažený sýr sandwich (which I still smell like) that I have accidentally learned some crap that may be worth while passing along. I should mention that this walk was on my way home from working on the bar crawl, so bear in mind it might disappear the next morning when I think "oh jesus, this is embarrassing." Anyway, what I done learned:

Ignore the "I'll do it later."

Life, and especially my life, is a long sequence of "I'll do it later"s. Little things like the dishes, paying rent before midnight, homework, grading, brushing my teeth. But also big things, like seeing that art exhibit and going skiing with my dad and traveling to this or that country and spending time with a friend. "I'll do it later" is the chief culprit of any regrets I have when I move. Because "I'll do it later" turns into "I wish I'd done it." I wish I'd seen Alfons Mucha's Slav Epic. I wish I'd gone to Paris to get a tattoo from Xoil, I wish I'd used my entire ski pass, I wish I'd put the effort into seeing that friend. Oh and my favorite - I wish the timing had been different. The "I'll do it later" is the boogie man of my life, and I am constantly fighting him, and constantly losing. But putting a deadline on things, knowing that there might not be a later to do it, has proven helpful. I'll travel to Cesky Krumlov later turns into I'll go tomorrow. I'll see that friend turns into let's hang out. It's a constant battle, reminding myself that I'll do it later isn't a good time to do it at all. Because in the last two weeks or two days or two hours before you go, suddenly there's no time for later, and you have to choose your priorities. Which leads me to...

Be selfish

Not always. In fact, not in most things. But you need to set your own priorities, and say fuck all to anyone trying to set them for you. I have found that my number one priority is friends and family, that people are more important that buildings, relationships more important than ticket stubs. I had to go to the other end of the world to find that out, though. And the whole time I was hearing "Stay!" from my mother and "Don't go!" from my roommate and "God, I am going to miss you" from my best friend. Not because they wanted to keep me from anything I wanted, but because they, too, were being selfish. Not meanly, not negatively, but they made me a priority, and then expressed that. A better heading for this would be "find what you want. Chase it. Or at the very least, annoy it until it comes to you." Not that you guys have been annoying me. And again, we segue into...

If they actually love you, they will continue to love you over Skype and Facebook

Don't read this the wrong way - long distance relationships are messy and unhappy with very few exceptions. They need a light at the end of the tunnel, because without that you're just running toward a train. I mean friendships and family and in some cases that one special person. Leaving really clarifies who matters, and coming back does the same thing. The people who make an effort to talk to you while you're gone are worth more than their weight in gold. Or Apple Stock, I don't know. The people who will always have time for you no matter the time difference, and the relationships that don't change no matter how long you've been gone, and the sensation of sitting at a bar a year later and still loving (platonically or otherwise) the person sitting next to you - those are what matter. But I'm being selfish, and these things are my priorities.

Try new shit

My funniest stories come from the time I tried new things - that one time I drank wine and ate blood sausage with a bunch of Austrians my parents' age, that one time my Czech boyfriend talked me into spending a day meditating, that one time I got handcuffed to a bar, that one time, that one time, that one time. Routines are comfortable. But nothing interesting happens in a routine.

Intention is nothing, interpretation is everything.

People are going to say things you don't want to hear. You'll say things they take the wrong way. Shit, in a word, fails. Things go wrong, and it is much easier to stop attributing that to malice and start attributing it to miscommunication. Beyond that, events out of our control can ruin almost anything. But how you look at it makes all the difference in how long you sulk and carry the hurt. There's a 50 pound luggage limit - bring as little resentment with you as possible.


Do it. Even if you come back, going is such a great foil for everything you're worrying about. No matter what you're running from or running to, the only thing you can never get rid of is yourself. You have to deal with you no matter where you go, and while it can be agonizing, the clarity you get a little closer to is wonderful. When you feign self-love, it comes off as arrogant. When you fucking earn that shit, it comes off as confidence. And no one - no one - is going to love you until you do.

Oh wow, this is sooooo getting deleted in the morning. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I hate adolescence - The Poll!

I don't know how long I'll leave this up, but I'm doing that thing I do again. Not walking around the flat in nothing but my boxers (I am actually doing that, it's just not what we're talking about) - that thing where I crowd source my decision making process to the people around me. Normally, I send out a mass text and watch TV as the responses pour in, but this time I'll just stick it here and refer everyone to   just read this post.

I'm starting to put some serious thought into moving back to the States for good.

Not, like, immediately, I'm not miserable and I don't need to come home. But I'm getting less and less enamored with this lifestyle. I've written and talked about it a lot - one of my greatest fears is of being transient. I just do not like the feeling of impermanence. Part of it is stuff - sitting in four or five boxes in my mom's basement, I have a really well stocked kitchen with bowls and plates and a pasta maker and all sorts of wonderful cake tins. There are sprinkles and baking cups and frosting tips and wine glasses, a bathroom set that matches, decorative wall mirrors, hand towels, bath towels, letters, my grandma's diamonds, photos, tokens and totems of a happy (if uneventful) life of comfort and stability. The other - and bigger - part is relationships. Not romantic, that's not really a part of my life that's taking priority right now because lets be honest, anything I started right now would end before my 25th birthday. But I have a close collection of friends to spend time with, and even more importantly I have my family there. I miss, more than anything else, the unadulterated glee I would get from a friend calling me up and inviting themself over for dinner that evening. I miss baking well crafted cakes for parties and the happy exhaustion I get to enjoy while everyone tries to talk around the baked deliciousness currently shutting down their synapses. I miss being surrounded by the people who know me well enough that they can just tell by the length of a text message if I'm having a bad day. I miss people who know that a tummy hug means I'm happy and "be safe" means I love you. I miss all these things so much that some days the lack of them keeps me in bed and the curtains drawn because if I can't have that, I don't want anything else.

But I still don't know what I'd do in the States. I guess I can keep an eye out for big kid jobs that are appealing, I'm not in such a rush to go back that I HAVE TO find something. Just a couple days ago, someone was advertising for a copy writer on their facebook. It'd also be nice to have enough surplus cash that I'm not panicking about making rent at the end of every month and can eat something other than chicken breasts and massive batches of tabbouleh. But going home means a couple lifestyle changes I don't think would make me happy. My personal appearance would have to be cleaned up - 8 facial piercings and a mohawk aren't exactly business casual in the states - not to mention the giant YOLO SWAG neck tattoo I'm getting on Tuesday (kidding, Mom). I also really dig being able to get everywhere in 30 minutes by public transport. It makes my morning commute much more therapeutic, plus I never have to worry about who's driving or will we need to call a cab? The night scene here is a shit ton of fun, and a great place to be young. There's about a thousand beautifully distinct bars for any type of evening you want to have, and it's cheap as dirt to spend a night quaffing beer in a bar decorated almost exclusively with stolen ladders and doors or sipping wine in a murder-mystery themed  cafe. The whole mood of this city, too, suits me better than Denver ever did. There's a certain unspoken camaraderie of a million people all stacked together in a cold and dirty central european city. I feel like this place empathizes with loneliness.

But for all the pros and cons I can come up with, I guess the question I'm really asking is... Am I ready to grow up yet? If I came home, it would be the end of the adventure and the start of putting down roots. I'd get a big kid job, move into a big kid apartment, have a big kid social life that didn't exist in an inebriated stupor of bummed cigarettes and broken cobblestones, and then... what?

I've already lived in this city a cumulative year, which was the goal I set for myself, so I can come home at any time without feeling beaten. Right now I'm planning on staying another 11 months and coming home at Christmas, but no sooner did I make that decision than I had a really bad week of a thousand tiny annoyances cumulating into "I do not want to be here right now." So now, I have to ask myself, seriously, if I actually want to finish 2014 here. I can come home now, I can come home at the end of the year, I can go somewhere new now, or I can go somewhere new later. I don't know. Please message me what you think, though. I find I can clarify my thoughts in dialogue better than just mulling on this crap by myself.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013 - The Year of the Pants

So (you notice almost all of my posts start with that word?) I meant to do a "year in summary" post before 2013 was actually over. I did not. I was busy, and by busy I mean distracted, and by distracted, I mean I was playing video games in footie pajamas and baking a cheesecake. So, 11 days into 2014, I present to you my 2013 sum up post that I am going to put little to no effort into. Enjoy.

I went looking for a laziness .gif and spent 30 minutes on tumblr instead. So you get this.

Why was 2013 the Year of the Pants, you ask? Well, New Years Eve 2012, I posted a facebook status about how 2012 was the year I woke up and I'm so excited to see what I do in 2013 and blah blah blah. So 2013 was the year I put on pants. No word on which year I'll actually get my ass out the door, but HEY! Pants are good, right? Also, 2013 has been largely characterized by me putting on my big-kid pants over a lot of things. And wordiness and crap and screw it, you all just want a list anyway.

In 2013, I ... the hell over it. Got the hell over a lot of things - two break ups, both of which were held on to for far, far too long; paralyzing fear of change; attachment to a lot of my personal possessions; and finally, any silly notion that I'm an adult. three more piercings, a tattoo, and a mohawk. Just in case there was any doubt that I am, in fact, a badass.

...finished college with a 3.98 and a sweet ass thesis, meaning my over-priced piece of paper reads "summa cum laude" on it. When I get my own place, that sucker is going on the fridge for sure.

...moved to Prague, where I am really quite happy, despite the occasional bout of soul-crushing homesickness.

...started a new job (career? Do I have a career now?) as a teacher, and I love it. LOVE IT.

...started dating casually. Decided I hate dating casually, which has doubled my TV consumption.

...made a whole slew of new friends, which tickles me pink.

...came out as pansexual to my mom and just kinda started working it into conversations with other people. If this has caught you off guard, more can be read about that here.

...started to get a real sense of what it is I want out of life. So far the list I've come up with is: to teach, to not be lonely even though I'm okay with being alone which is not the same as lonely anyway, to be a caregiver, and to bake more cakes.

...gained back the 21 pounds I'd lost over the course of the flu and a break-up with the combination of eating and excercise. Not eating right, but there has been a lot of eating this year.

...learned how to throw a punch, and put it to good use defending a plate of Mexican food when I came home.

...wore actual, physical pants as little as possible.

2012 was waking up, 2013 was putting on pants, so I guess 2014 will be... brushing my teeth? I dunno, I'm getting back on tumblr.

I was done with the post, and I took another 30 minutes to find this .gif for you, which means I've been writing this post for over an hour.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Being Home

I don't know who said it, but shortly after I made the decision to expat, I read an article by someone talking about the strangeness of being an expat. Admittedly, I've only been away for 6 months if you don't count study abroad (and really, you shouldn't), but I'm already starting to feel the effects. Specifically, this guy said that when you expat, you split yourself - you'll never really fit all the way into the place you move, you'll always be foreign and carry with you the experience of having been raised in a different country; and you'll never really fit in all the way in America anymore because you've been changed by living abroad.

It's a weird thing to experience.

Coming back after the last 6 months - and they have been a formative 6 months - I'm not the same as I once was. Somethings, for certain, are more comfortable here in Colorado. My friends and family are here, and there's never the panic of what I'll do with my free time (hang out with Mom, bake all the sweets) or do with my nights (dates might abound in Prague, but the best companions are here). Interactions with strangers are easier, and I've yet to have difficulty communicating anything to anyone yet. Even coming out of the bathroom and almost hitting someone with the door in the bar is less stressful here than it would be in Prague, because I can smile and say sorry without rifling through which languages the person may or may not understand. There's an abundance of food I've been missing (I had cold Chinese food from Coal Mine Dragon for breakfast today. Mmmmmm), and ingredients for cooking I've missed (I'm making gluten-free mushroom mac and cheese tomorrow for dinner!). The beer is sooooooooooooo much better here, and yes, my Czech friends, I will fight you on this. Right now I'm drinking New Belgium's Trippel, which is an amber ale brewed with water from the Rockies and fresh coriander right up the road in Fort Collins, and good luck finding something like that in Prague. Sure, U Fleku is three times as old as this country, but god damn do they need a new recipe. I can drive my car and blast the radio, I can strap on a pair of skis and flounce around in the snow, and I can wear shorts and a parka inside 24 hours of one another. I never termed myself a Colorado girl, but there's a special type of attitude in this place that I identify with, and it's hard to express to someone who didn't grow up here. I guess it's a sneakers-over-heels thing, a jeans and t-shirt at the club thing, a love of ingenuity, fresh air, good beer, sunrises, and good-natured sarcasm. It's more than just that, but Colorado, and especially Denver, will always be home, where I feel safest.

But... I don't belong here. Not right now, at least. And I think, right now, it's because I don't want to feel safe. God, my mother is going to love reading that. But at home, there's an expectation of who I am, and I don't ever have to push outside that. In Prague, no one knows me so well that I can hide inside their predictions for me. Here's an example - if I were to get bad news here, surrounded by the people I love, they'd swoop in and solve the problem for me. And, barring that, there would be an abundance of shoulders to cry on, couches to sleep on, and ways to wallow in my misery. In Prague, I can spend an hour or so on Skype with those people, but the next day, no one is making me coffee, no one is buying me a drink, no one is surprising me with flowers. I really am learning to stand on my own two feet. And also, the people around me know me well enough that they'd expect me to react badly before I even did so. In Prague, no one is paying enough attention, and I get to choose my own reaction. I have, so far, been choosing to sulk for a day or two instead of a week or two, and then move on. I'm much happier in my own skin in Prague. A couple more examples, if you're curious - in high school, one of my best friends told me I'd look like a dyke if I got an eyebrow piercing - I've had two. In college I was told not to try boxing because I couldn't handle getting punched - I got kicked in the head a week ago at MMA, my immediate reaction was to tell her to kick harder. Also in college, my mom and my boyfriend at the time both told me I'd be a terrible teacher and I'd hate it because I lack patience - on Friday, my most difficult student told me I'm the most effective teacher he's had in years. I love my friends and my family, I really do. But they box me in sometimes, and in Prague I don't have to deal with that.

So being Prague Cydney in the space where they expect Denver Cydney is weird. It's kinda like wearing a pair of pants that don't fit anymore because you lost weight. Not bad, because you're proud of the changes you've made, but kinda awkward.

Hero fantasy

I dated a guy who was big into fantasies - calm down, it's not that kind of post - and I mean all types. Sexual fantasies, sure, but that (as stated above) is not the topic of this post. And also fantasy the genre, but given that I have a Jedi costume and The Lord of the Rings was a major part of my adolescence (I cried during the opening of The Hobbit), I tend to attract those kind of people. No, I specifically mean fantasies like "Caregiver fantasy" (which can easily segue into Wounded Soldier Fantasy, and then we're back into "not talking about this" territory) or "Badass with a heart of gold fantasy." Phrased better, because the way he put it was stupid, he meant tropes we see in movies played out in our own realities. It's part of the hegemonic process that we emulate what we see on the television, then that in turn gets fed back into the media machine in an endless feedback loop of stupid, simplified social performances.

And that right there just REEKS of Liberal Arts degree, so lemme give it to you plain - we see characterizations on TV or in the movies or in books, and those tell us how we ought to behave. The nebulous forces creating the TV, the movies, the books see us behaving a certain way, and recreate those (often exaggerated) on the screen or the page. Then we see those ways we ought to behave and so on and so forth. It's how we get standardized ideas of how men and women behave, how kids behave, how adults behave, etc. So when this guy pointed out people in "fantasies" and thought he was being so very clever, he was mostly just pointing out the effects of hegemony with some made-up terminology of his own.

The reason I bring this up is because he found it extremely strange I "don't have the Hero fantasy? Like, never?" Nope, never. "I don't believe you."

Well, that's his (and your) prerogative, and in the interest of being totally straight with you, "never" isn't totally accurate. When I started dating boys, I had somehow (read: from the TV, books, and movies I consumed) gotten into my daft, hormone riddled brain that the solution to every problem I had was with a man. There were, of course, a couple problems with that. First, I was 15 and anyone I dated was going to fall into that same demographic, which meant MAN was not on the menu, only BOY, and not even the prime cut. Second, the only problem I had was being 15, and ain't no solution to that but time. Of course, no 15 year old is aware that really her only problem is being 15, so I invented problems that all boiled down to "I'm emotionally fragile and cannot possibly make myself happy because I'm tragic. LOVE ME, DAMN IT." This is dumb, by the way. And (shockingly) did not solve my problems, real or perceived, and I was miserable.

So I wanted an emotional hero, went looking, and kept coming back with "404 hero could not be found. Please try another address." I think I've gotten much better at not making my happiness dependent on another human being, but I can't judge really well. I've also become a caregiver, which makes me much, much happier. To paraphrase Tim Minchin, happiness is like an orgasm, concentrating on your own makes it go away, but concentrating on someone else's can be incredibly pleasant.

My mom is a huge caregiver - she's been the acting matriarch of both sides of my family for a very long time, she's be hugely supportive of me my whole life, and even my friends go to her before they go to their own parents. She is, in a word, a saint. And when I was 15, I was an idiot (as established) and did not want to be my mother. Apparently, this meant I did not want to be nice. I also have a cousin who bends herself into pretzels to please everyone, which inevitably pleases no one, least of all herself. But as I've gotten older, and needed quite a bit of help being happy, I learned to appreciate, and then admire the caregivers in my life, the people willing to prop me up when I needed it. And often when I needed it and didn't ask for it. Then, because we emulate what we admire, I tried being there for the people around me, too. It started small - buying drinks for broke friends, then got a little bigger to taking friends out when they got dumped because I didn't know what to say, then the realization I didn't need to say anything and should just listen, to now. I won't go into details... but I've become a caregiver, I think, and it also makes me infinitely happier than concentrating on my own misery.

So, exboyfriend, I do have the Hero Fantasy, just not the way you wanted. I get to be my own hero.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Prague Golem

My retelling of the Legend of the Prague Golem from something I'm working on right now.

The universal consensus on the matter of golems is that Prague had one. The matter of why depends on who you ask, and the issue of whether said golem still exists is entirely undecided. The important part, though, is that Prague had a golem.
There are, essentially, two versions of the story, and which you tell is entirely dependant on how fond of late 16th century Jews you are. And while the why of the golem is the source of deviation in each of these narratives, the basic facts (and they are facts) are the same.
First, a golem is a creature in Jewish lore made of earth (whether this means stone or clay depends on the scholar) animated by the power of God. However, since God has become very hands off since making his own golems in the garden of Eden, “the power of God” is directed through a very well read rabbi. Golems are massive, dumb brutes who serve only their creator, and because no one ever needed an animated hat rack (except Alan Rydnik of New Jersey in 1976. No word on whether he ever got it), golems are predominately used as mobile battering rams. Their purpose being almost exclusively destruction – whether the enemies of God’s Children, debtors, or yowling cats – their narratives inevitably end with someone or something that wasn’t supposed to be smashed to bits getting smashed to bits. Nuanced, they are not.
The other major detail, besides the Golem of Prague being a golem, is the creator. Rabbi Loew (or Lowe, or Loeb, or Löw, or Judah Loew ben Bezalel, or the Maharal, or as his wife called him when no one was listening, Shnuckums) crafted the golem out of mud from the banks of the Vltava during the reign of Rudolf II with his Cabalistic arts. Not much is known about Rabbi Loew, except that he was well respected inside and outside the Jewish community, he was incredibly long lived for the time, he had a magnificent beard, and besides golem crafting, he was extremely good at pickling various foods, not the least of which being courgettes and hermelin cheese. Loew was an extremely talented mystic, but even for mystics, creating life is forbidden as it requires the Shem Hameforash – the true name of God, which is known only to a few holy men in each generation, and is very dangerous to pronounce. The power it unleashed could turn against the man who uttered it, so for the most part it was left alone.

As mentioned, there are two ways to tell this story. Well, actually three, but the third isn’t very exciting.
In the first version, the Rabbi’s creation of life and use of the true name of God was justified by Rudolf II’s planned pogroms against the Jews in Prague. See, Christians at the time were forbidden from charging interest on loans, which made money lending so unprofitable as to be on par with opening a snow cone stand in Moscow in the dead of winter. Judaism had no such prohibition, and Prague’s Jewish quarter eventually became a rather wealthy neighborhood despite heavy anti-Semitic economic policies such as the common practice of “You’re Jewish and I’m not, therefore I’m taxing the hell out of you.” The fact that despite all their best efforts, the Jews were living comfortably irritated the Christians, and Rudolf decided to just throw tact out the window because he was the Holy Roman Emperor, god damn it. According to some, there was also a priest named Taddeush who planned to accuse the Jews of ritual murder to justify the pogrom, but in 1580 a blatant lie to vilify a minority was more formality than anything.
Word got back to Loew, and he prayed his ass off looking for a solution. After finally passing out from the effort, the Rabbi had a dream in which he received his answer in an order that is alphabetical in Hebrew: Ata Bra Golem Devuk Hakhomer VeTigzar Zedim Chevel Torfe Yisroel. Basically, “Make a Golem of clay and you will destroy the entire Jew-baiting company.” In the message also existed the Cabalistic formulas to even do such a thing, giving him the ultimate way to protect his flock.
So late one night, the Rabbi, his son-in-law, a Kohen (a Jew descended from the ancient order of priests) and his pupil, a Levite (a Jew descended from the servants of the Temple) stole away to the banks of the river after purifying themselves to avoid being destroyed by the Shem Hameforash. By the light of the moon and the stars, the three men sculpted a giant man of clay and performed the ritual, which involved a lot of walking in certain directions, speaking certain prayers, and hoping desperately no one saw three grown Jewish men playing in the mud in the wee hours of the morning.
They named him Joseph.
Joseph excelled at his job, which was to scare the living daylights out of anyone who even looked sideways at any of the Rabbi’s community. He did his job so well that eventually Rudolf II sent a message to Loew. Now, when the king calls, you answer, no matter who you are or which God you worship, so Loew went off without even grabbing his hat. This was the first time that the golem had been left unsupervised, though on his way out, Loew had shouted over his shoulder at the golem to protect the quarter while he was gone.
Up at the castle, which in the 16th century was no small trip from the Jewish quarter, Rudolf and Loew got to talking. In addition to being a magnificent pickler and a mystic, Loew was a pretty talented diplomat. Rudolf… well, he was king, and that was mostly all he needed. But they struck a bargain. That golem, every time someone came to round up the Jews, did very serious damage, and not all of it impermanent. With a pile of scared and maimed Christians stacking up, Loew’s golem was about to stop being a deterrent and start being a more real reason to round up Jews than Taddeush’s ritualistic killing fiction. Loew knew this, and Rudolf knew this, but they both also knew that not only could Loew make more destructive clay men, even if the Christians stormed the quarter this instant, that golem could flatten the city before they destroyed it. They agreed to a truce. The Jews would be left alone, and Loew would deactivate the golem.
After a long day of negotiations, Loew headed home, happy that his people were safe. But as he got closer to the quarter he got, he realized something wasn’t right. He kept hearing a gravely ripping sound, bouncing cobbles, and a chorus of protests in Hebrew. Running the last bit home, he turned the corner to find the Golem ripping a tree from the courtyard of his neighbor’s home and tossing it into the middle of the street, where apparently every tree in the quarter was piled in a haphazard barricade.
Loew ran forward, awkwardly scaling the barricade, turning his ankle in the process. “Joseph!” he yelled, unheard over the sound of a lamppost being dislodge from a street corner. “Joseph!”
The crowd of frightened and irritated Jews saw their Rabbi straddling the barricade, his robes bunching awkwardly around the knees, and began shouting the golem’s name, too. “Joseph! Joseph, the Rabbi is here! Joseph!”
The golem turned, dull brown eyes registering his master. He stopped pulling at the lamppost and moved to the barricade, waiting patiently at its base.
“Oh Joseph,” moaned the Rabbi. “My child, what have you done?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, the golem couldn’t speak.
After instructing the golem to open the lane to traffic again, golem and rabbi went back to the Rabbi’s home and climbed the stairs to the attic. Destroying a golem is a difficult thing to do. But the word that breathes life is only one letter away from the word that takes it, and so the rabbi spoke the word, sadness in his voice as the dull brown eyes became mud, once more, in the dark cellar.
According to most, the golem was kept in the attic as a sort of martial deterrent until the 19th century when someone finally rebuilt the stairs to the attic (they’d been taken down to prevent grandchildren from climbing on the inanimate clay man) and pried open the bricked-over door. Whether they found the golem and moved it, or if he just wasn’t there is again a matter of debate. But the golem was there, and now he’s not.

In the next version of the story of the golem, the significantly less popular version these days, Rabbi Loew elected to use the Shem Hameforash for more nefarious purposes. Anti-Semitism having fallen out of fashion, the story of the golem is most often told with Rabbi Loew as the hero, when the reality is probably just that Loew, being a cunning diplomat, out maneuvered a dull king. It makes a good story as it is, there really was no need for the Jewish people to add a golem to their narrative – so the golem must have been someone else’s invention. This version, which is the older of the two and in all likelihood the first appearance of Prague’s golem, comes at the narrative from the angle of the thwarted Christians, who preferred to blame the egg on their faces on a giant clay monster rather than a very smart old man.
Here, Rabbi Loew and Father Taddeush reverse roles, our pickle-loving community leader becoming a conniving Jew mystic terrorizing God fearing innocents and our sinister and simple priest becomes a tragically unheeded hero. See, Christians at the time didn’t charge interest on loans since benefitting from another’s misfortune and need was as un-Christlike as bread without yeast. Jews, on the other hand, had no such scruples, and continually thwarted any attempt at imposing common decency on their Yarmulke-adorned heads. Exasperated by the situation and fearing that he was failing his divine kingly duty to protect his people from the forces of evil, Rudolf II asked Taddeush to look into a solution. Taddeush, a smart man with a cursory knowledge of the mystical nature of the Jews warned Rudolf II that overt measures against the Jews would only be met by dark arts, solutions too unholy for the good priest to counter. Rudolf, instead, levied another tax against the Jews, a tired and oft-tried measure that in the past had had only superficial effects.
Feeling their purses under attack, the Jews of Prague came to their Rabbi, a dark man whose interests in the unnatural was demonstrated by his love of pickling, and also supposedly by his wife’s pet name for him. Loew listened to his flock of thieves about how the good king’s new tax cut into their deep, deep pockets. He suggested they raise their rates. But Rabbi, came the collective response, the Christians will not pay that much, not of their own free will.
The Rabbi smiled darkly, told his pack of wolves to raise their rates, and leave the rest to him.
Taddeush, whose parish was adjacent to the Jewish quarter, heard murmurings that the Jews had raised the rates of their usury, and were robbing the good Christians of even the bread off their table. Worse yet, Taddeush’s flock said that when they refused, the Jews hinted of some sinister act their Rabbi was in the midst of, that it was in their best interest to pay now before he’d finished. Knowing a little about the dark Cabalistic arts, Taddeush assumed the worst, a new ritual of blood, darkness, and innocent lives lost. He ran to his friend, the king. Rudolf listened to the grim news, his subjects about to be slaughtered for the Jews dark love of money, and sprang to action. He announced he would remove the Jews from his city, and they could leave with or without his army’s help.
But Rudolf and Taddeush were too late. In the dark of that same night, Loew had crafted a monster of clay and darkness, a beast of earth shaped like a man. They called it Joseph, its name a mockery of God. Using the Shem Hameforash, Loew had defied the Holy Father himself and mimicked the great creation of life. But the abomination was obvious, the beast massive and barely human, incapable of thought and certainly incapable of speech. Where its master willed the golem go, it went, raining destruction on anyone who might try to persuade the Jews to leave, or could not pay the abhorrent rate on his loan. The Christians lived in fear of the golem, terrified of being ripped limb from limb for not lining the pockets of their Jewish tormentors. Taddeush  watched in horror, helpless to aid his congregation as the murders of the Son of God executed a reign of terror that could only end badly.
Tax failed, pogrom thrwarted, Rudolf was enraged. He began to amass an army, calling for aid from his fellow God-fearing Christian kings and princes to march on Prague’s Jewish quarter and eliminate the monster of clay and his dark master. As pledges to support Rudolf flooded in, Taddeush saw stretch before him a long and bloody war like a sea of evil about to swallow his beloved city whole. He begged the king to reason with the Jew, to emulate the Prince of Peace before plunging their word into chaos.
After much pleading on the priest’s part, Rudolf relented. They called Loew to the castle to negotiate, hoping they could persuade the Jew to deactivate the monster in exchange for leaving the Jews alone. In his arrogance, the rabbi came the third time they summoned, calmly, slowly, and wearing a very nice hat. But not before ordering the golem to rip every Christian tree from its roots in his absence.
The three men spoke all day, and long into the night, exchanging harsh words and almost coming to blows once or twice. It was only Taddeush’s reasoning with the king that kept Loew’s head on his shoulders and off a pike by the city gate. Finally, Loew agreed to deactivate the golem after Taddeush revealed the king had sent for support from neighboring principalities, and they too would send their armies to remove the Jewish threat, should negotiations fail. They were ready to march – could Loew raise his own army of clay monsters fast enough? He could not, and caught thus, an agreement was reached. Loew would destroy the golem, and Rudolf would leave the Jews to their usury.
The rabbi didn’t keep his word, though. Instead of destroying the golem, he allowed it to continue its tree-ripping rampage for a whole day before deactivating it in his attic where it stayed, a dark and constant threat against the Christians until it disappeared, presumably stolen by someone of ill intentions.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that there are many ways to tell the story of the Prague Golem – the Jewish way, the bigoted Christian way, and a third, unexciting one. The unexciting one is unexciting because it is closest to the truth, and the truth has always been demonstratively more boring that its fictionalized counterparts.
But we’ll get there.