Renegade Reflections

Martin Luther King Day 2018

A new world has been born, a world in which we have to learn to live in friendship with our neighbors of every race, creed, or color,  or do away with civilization.  

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was unanimously elected chair of a committee to draw up a universal declaration of human rights.




Renegade Reflections

Musings on Profanity

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few years now. At first, it hit me that all the terms: cursing, swearing, profanity, are somehow deficient. Cursing, in the sense of wishing someone harm, or damning them to hell, and the like, has become pretty mainstream in the 21st century.  There are still people who do not like it, but most people are more comfortable saying “damn” than the notorious f-word.  My husband has an Irish friend who would easily say that it was “pissing down rain,” but would never in his life say “goddamn.” My Irish-American father would never say either, at least in my hearing. In stark contrast, during the Hundred Years War, the French called the English soldiers “goddams,” because they heard it so often from them.

Swearing also does not mean “bad” words, but swearing oaths as we do when we testify at a trial or join the army or get married. Swearing is in the background of expressions like the British “bloody,” which began as “sblood,” from swearing oaths on “God’s blood,” or “swounds,” on “God’s wounds.” “Swounds“ is now only seen now in centuries-old novels set in earlier centuries yet. To my knowledge, only a small number of religious sects, like the Amish, refuse to swear any oaths, no matter what the circumstances. It seems that swearing is pretty normal for most 21st century people as well.

Profanity is an interesting term.  It comes from the philosophical split of the sacred and the profane, the holy and the human. To profane something is to make something which is holy into something human, to bring sacred things to the level of human existence, the normal, the everyday. In the twentieth century, Canadian French had the only “bad” words that were truly profanity, in that they were religious terms used in instances of anger or frustration. “Hostie” and “tabernacle” are the words for the Roman Catholic Eucharist wafer and the large receptacle where consecrated wafers were stored on the altar, respectively. However, what most of us consider profanity has nothing to do with the holy and much more to do with human sexual and other biological functions.

Also, many of our “bad” words in 21st century English are Anglo-Saxon. All right, I’m a nerd and have studied far too many medieval languages. However, I have to stifle a laugh whenever anyone says, “Pardon my French.” Why would I pardon your French, when the word you belted out is Anglo-Saxon, and ironically, was made into a “bad” word by the very French you are blaming? In 1066, the Norman French who conquered England decided to marginalize the prior occupants of the island by recasting them as barbarians who could not even speak correctly. A former colleague, with whom I taught medieval legal history, used to say that the words used by the people who tended the animals were different from those used by the people who ate the animals. Look at “sheep” versus “mutton,” which comes from the Middle French mouton. The French terms became a sign of more polish, more culture, than the Anglo-Saxon terms.

This juxtaposition runs through all of our language, not just the “bad” words. Consider: “keep” versus “maintain,” “get” versus “obtain.” The feel of the words is so different, or at least the Norman French campaign to make us see the French as more refined succeeded, didn’t it? Is it any wonder that all of the “bad” words that cause a sophomoric giggle amongst 12-year-olds are Anglo-Saxon: “fart”, “ass,” “tits,” and the rest (which I leave to your imagination as this is not an 18-and-older blog)? I draw odd looks when I apologize for my Anglo-Saxon, but most of my friends know I am just being a pedant.

I love the history of language, and the history of rude words is even more fascinating. If you are interested, I have another post on the history of profanity here. I’d love your thoughts and comments, on either post.


Musings, Renegade Reflections

Adirondack Yearnings

Lake Placid Village and Mirror Lake from Crowne Plaza Wednesday

As my father grew more frail in his last few years, I found myself taking on some of his bucket list so that I could at least share my experiences with him, telling him in person with pictures in hand, if I could, or by writing him.  The latter involved pen and paper, as he steadfastly refused to have anything to do with computers.

My father grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and his childhood memories of the area gave rise to several of his bucket list items.  Since I now live only an hour and a half away from his childhood home, his bucket list items tied to this area have become mine.

The Berkshires were a favorite topic of my father’s, and familiar to me from story and personal experience. However much my father cherished memories of the Berkshires, revisiting them was not part of his bucket list.  The Adirondacks were. I never learned how my father came to yearn for a chance to spend time in the Adirondacks, but he did visit his brother at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute when he was about ten years old, and may have seen them off in the distance, or traveled through them when he took the train from New Haven to Seattle in 1942 after officer training school. Whatever the genesis, my father always loved mountains. When I was growing up in Atlanta, my family ended up vacationing in Florida, but once we children were older, my father’s preferences were clear. He always drove north when he had time off, to northern Georgia or western North Carolina, drawn to lakes and brooks cradled by mountains.  I share that attraction, fostered by trips to state parks when I was the last child at home, staying in lakeside cabins in the crook of a line of ridges.   

In the summer of 2014, my husband and I planned a small family reunion in the Adirondacks, near Lake George.  We had all four kids, two sons-in-law, and most of the seven grandkids all together for the best part of a week.  My father was delighted that we had revived his practice of small family get-togethers, and listened attentively to my descriptions of the cabin, the beauty of the wilderness in the mountains, and the trip to the “civilization” of Lake George Village, with its visit to Fort William Henry.  

Last October, I attended a conference in Lake Placid, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Driving into Lake Placid, I realized how much my father would have loved the surrounding mountains, the calm lake. Well, he would have loved it in the summertime or in the spectacle of its autumn colors.  My father was no friend to snow, so the snow veiling the high peaks would have detracted from his enjoyment of the view, but I know he would have felt he could relax, breathe deeply, and take in the view stretching miles to the distant mountains.

Although I was four months too late to tell my dad about this part of the Adirondacks, or to show him any of the pictures, I knew why he had always wanted to see the Adirondacks, as clearly as if we had spoken about it. Although more worn than the Rockies, the mountains shake free of the deciduous trees first, then shake the evergreens off their granite shoulders, reaching respectable heights of three thousand to over five thousand feet. Lakes melted from glacial ice reflect the sky, mountains and trees, witnessing the truth of names like Mirror and Placid, while rivers pound through granite gauntlets, frothing white, throwing mist into rainbows above the water.  

At night, the stars spread across the sky, glistening in the clear, crisp, air.  Villages dot the scenery, small lines of lights delineating the streets, but disappearing quickly in the stony, wooded wilderness that marches to the edges of lakes and roads. It seems impossible that one is in the 21st century, especially when night hides the accoutrements of recent civilization.




Renegade Reflections

2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day

The  2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day is happening tomorrow evening (yes, September 4, 2014) in New York City. Not anywhere near New York City?  No worries!  You can follow the streaming video at the link above.

Shan Jeniah and I are going to the city to meet August McLaughlin, whom we met through WANA (the brainchild of Kristen Lamb) in a recreation of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse that should prove a growth experience for each of us. Why in heaven’s name, you ask, would I take a day of precious annual leave to go to New York for World Sexual Health Day? Well, I’ve already named two reasons in Shan and August.

I met Shan in person soon after I moved to upstate New York a little over two years ago,  We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to meet up, but I enjoy each time we manage to do so. August is someone I got to know online, to the point that I find it hard to imagine I’ve never met her in the flesh.  When my brother passed away last December, August was one of the first of my “online” friends to offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I was honored to participate in her Beauty of a Woman Blogfest last spring.

That is the friendship/personal side of things.  I have other personal reasons to be interested in this event.  Many of them echo Shan’s in her post about this event.  I was raised Irish Catholic in a time when the schools felt besieged by the changes in the world around them.  Skirts were shorter, so we had to kneel on the floor to show the modesty of our uniforms before we could enter the school.  The Pill had arrived, heralding sexual freedom, so we were terrorized with the fickle nature of men, who “wouldn’t buy the cow when they got the milk for free.”

On a more individual note, I had found my freedom and my passion in the life of the mind.  The body was secondary, whimsical and illogical, prone to flash judgements that promised only decades of regret. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” might have been emblazoned on the family crest, had poor shanty Irish had one.  I was at war with my body, confused and betrayed by physical desires I little understood and tried to put in their subterranean place.  As luck would have it, most of the young men at my high school saw me as the brain with whom they did homework and confessed their secret desires for the cheerleaders, popular girls, and the beauties.  Thus, without an outlet, the desires dimmed and guttered out.

In my mid-twenties, a divorcée, I reluctantly put myself back in the dating pool. On one of my first dates, a man asked to come into my apartment for a glass of water. He drank the water, shattered the glass, and threatened me with the shards while he raped me. At the time, AIDS was in the headlines, with people dying by the day, yet it was too early for date rape to be a concept.  The police sympathized with my cuts and bruises, but could not prosecute given that I had gone out with the man and let him into my apartment.

Long story short, I have a deeply personal connection with sexual health, both physical and mental.  I sweated through the weeks of waiting for my test results; I worked through months of therapy. I am not the common story, but I am more common than one might think. Because of my scars, I rejoice in the physical, the sexual, the freedom, because I have fought harder for that freedom than most people (until now, I suppose) know.

So, join us.  If not in the flesh, in the spirit; if not through the streaming, give a thought, a wish, a dream, to a freedom that should come naturally but often does not.


Renegade Reflections

Pride, Perfectionism and Anger—Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Since there doesn’t seem to be a twelve-step program yet, I will step forward to admit that much of Kristen’s post hit very close to home for me. Good afternoon. My name is Elizabeth, and I am a perfectionist jerk.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image via QuickMeme Image via QuickMeme

I am one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable. But I know that all of us struggle and fail and fall and often what keeps us pressing is to know others have been a mess (or still are one). It’s why I’ve branded everything I do under We Are Not Alone.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are much rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of…

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Renegade Reflections

WANACon, WANA International and Other Cool Things

I went to an astounding writers’ conference this past weekend. I want to share it with you.  I know, you may be asking, why would I tell you about a conference that was last week? I want to share for several reasons.  The conference was put together by the folks at WANA International, which is a community of artists that I highly recommend for throwing a lifeline of support and community to independent artists. Kristen Lamb, writer of the social media guide, We are Not Alone (familiarly, WANA), with a few instructors and other minions, has created the WANA International community. If you are an artist, check them out.

I am also telling you about the conference because it was virtual.  Yes, I sat in my little garret in upstate New York with my fuzzy slippers on, and attended a conference that went past my bedtime.

Finally, I am telling you about the conference not out of some “look what I did last weekend, and you didn’t,” but because last weekend was not the only WANA conference, nor is it going to be the only one this year.  Kristen puts it well in her announcement: “The Digital Age has completely altered the publishing world, and writers need to be equipped. Changes are coming faster than anyone can keep up, so we no longer have the luxury of waiting a few months or a year for a standard writing conference. With new opportunities come new challenges, and new predators.”

Interested? Check out the particulars: the speakers, the keynotes, and the parties, detailed in the rest of Kristen’s post.

I plan to talk about my experiences, once my brain has plotted paths to all the new information, which should take a few more days.

My brief ROW80 check-in is here.

Renegade Reflections, ROW80

ROW80 Check-in Chops or Not

As often is the case, I found many interesting posts this past week. Cate Russell-Cole pointed me to More Love Letters, which appeals to my love of writing on paper, as well as paying it forward by sending words of encouragement to those who need them.

Lena Corazon pointed me to Chad Carver’s post on imperfection.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism all my conscious life, so I found Chad’s take on imperfection a interesting and fruitful one.

I’m beginning to think I should have a post of links every so often, since I follow so many wonderful bloggers.  That may well become one of my blogging goals. I’m still struggling through Kristen Lamb’s blogging course.  I tend to feel inadequate (what else is new?) and my previously supportive family has suggested an evaluation of my life goals.  My main problem is that I can see their point, much as I wish I didn’t.  But for now, excelsior remains my mantra, along with “strength, courage, and wisdom,” which I completely stole from Lena Corazon (with her blessing, mind you).


  • Spend at least four hours a week on an article, in whatever configuration works for me.  Although I  usually write before work, I find that frustrating when I want to spend more time than I have between my comatose and rush-out-the-door states. Yes.  I spent a lot of time getting back into the research, but it was necessary.  Then the effort was in reading through the text, cleaning up the structure and diminishing the holes in the argument.


  • As a sponsor, I will visit blogs twice a week. Yes, and here’s a list:

For the first check-in and for the mid-week:

  • I will reply to all comments on my blogs.  Not yet, but I hope to do that today or tomorrow.
  • I will spend no more than 5 hours a week on social media.  Done.


  • I will walk for twenty minutes an evening. Only a couple of evenings.
  • I will continue to use the stairs. Done.
  • I will look into the gym at work.  The thought doesn’t appeal, but it is handy and cheap. Um, not yet *blush*


  • I will set aside a half-hour every evening to read. This is an easy one. I’m on a Tamora Pierce kick right now.  This past week I finished Bloodhound, the second in the Beka Cooper series, and started Mastiff, the third in the series. I read Tamora Pierce with my sons when they were about 9 and 10, and I still love to sink back into her world.
  • I will spend at least one hour a week contacting a friend by whatever means work best. I spent some  time chatting with some online friends a bit over a week ago–this week sped by, so I need to work more on this goal.
  • I will have a “date night” with my husband at least twice a month. Not yet.
  • I will spend at least one hour a week with at least one of my kids. Done.

Please go encourage someone on the list of participants.  A friendly word, especially at this early stage, may help someone continue to work at their goals this Round.  You’ll find them all here.

Renegade Reflections, ROW80

Dona eis requiem

My ROW80 check-in is at the  bottom of this post.

I tried to post Friday evening, when I first heard about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I just wanted to express my sorrow for all who lost loved ones, and my admiration for the teachers who protected the children to the best of their ability.  I found I couldn’t write anything, drowned by anger, despair and fear.  

In the interim, others have expressed themselves well about teachers here and here.  

My sons, not surprisingly, had very different reactions to the news.  My oldest refused to watch the news coverage, and has buried himself in studying for finals, music, and video games.  My youngest wanted to talk, although at some point he also made me turn off the news, saying I had cried enough for one day.  He pointed out that the media was feeding into the attention seeking that often motivates these killers, by talking about the numbers of the victims, later giving their names, mentioning the killer’s name and background.  

More unsettling to me, though, was the post that Myndi Shafer  pointed to, in which a mother talks about her struggles with a son with violent tendencies.  The pendulum has swung too far.  From the fear of institutionalizing  people who do not fit into someone’s idea of normal, our society robs parents and loved ones of any recourse until after these people have done something criminal. I have no answers, but I hope the inevitable rhetoric will look at these issues as well.


I don’t have much to report.  I have finished rough drafts of two articles for the day job.  I don’t have much of a break for the holidays, so my holiday spirit has taken off for the hills lately. I’m trying to make up for it by working more so that my colleagues can take some time off.  I’m throwing ideas into files, but not feeling the muse’s vibe much these days.

I hope that everyone is still going strong into the final days of this Round, and look forward to seeing all of you in the next Round.  If you have a chance, please visit someone, or two, in the group here.




Renegade Reflections, ROW80

Midlife Woes

Last Sunday, I wrote in the check-in the modified goals:

  • I commit myself to being a better sponsor for the rest of the Round;
  • I commit to spending half an hour a day writing something;
  • I commit to re-acquainting myself with Cinderella, (which for the moment, is what I am calling my writing)

So, how am I doing?

  • I have gone back to comment on the folks whose blogs I missed earlier. Check!
  • I have spent half an hour a day on writing.  True, for several days, it was the research article, but I write non-fiction as well as fiction. Check!
  • Cinderella and I have chatted; I’ve persuaded her to put down the poker.  I’ve explained why I have neglected her lately, as she seems to understand.  My muse is going nuts, throwing all sorts of ideas at me, some in dreams, some out of the blue, and some hard-won, but I’m glad to take them all, write them all down, and let them simmer. Check!


I will not claim that I am back on the wagon for good.  I’m still in the throes of mid-life crisis, with the ship yawing wildly in the oncoming waves.  It’s hard to see progress when the deck is rising and dropping in an uneven rhythm, knocking you on your butt every other minute.

I will say that mid-life crisis does tend to offer myriad opportunities for blog posts and savage short stories, as long as I can laugh at myself, so all those opportunities are going into the stockpile as well.  Dante wrote his Commedia at the midpoint of his life; what better precedent could I follow?

Please go encourage someone here.

Renegade Reflections, ROW80

Writing as Cinderella

Have you ever had to follow your own advice, when you don’t want to, because you will look hypocritical otherwise?  In the last Round, I wrote my inspirational post about not disappearing, even when you have fallen off the wagon, which is an apt description, since I should stand up  to proclaim, “My name is Elizabeth, and I am unable to stick to goals and timetables,” much like in an AA meeting.

Yes, I have had reasons to disappear. My brother ended up in the emergency room last Monday with pneumonia. His oncologist thought he’d have to operate last week to ease his breathing, but by the end of the week, my brother was breathing better, pulled off the “nuclear war” antibiotics, as he put it, and the surgery has been slightly postponed.

Also, I’m up to my nostrils in the blogging course, and have some draft posts in the hopper. I’ve been doing a lot of housekeeping of electronic files, paring back an overgrown inbox, planning for the arrival of my new boss in January, who will want to know what I’ve been doing with myself these last eight months.  I have entered the full marathon of new committees and supervisory assignments as well. One task force meeting was two hours away, and lasted from 10:00 to 3:00, effectively torpedoing one work day. I’ve been working assiduously on the article based on my Pierpont Morgan research trip.

However, I’m just not feeling much of anything this week. Flat, hollow, meh.  The topic of the week for the academic writing group was whether our writing is an ally or a foe.  One of the participants, Z, gave a compelling description of writing as “a prisoner of war.”

This image struck me, because writing has always been my ally, my confidante, my friend, something that understood me when my colleagues did not. Perhaps because I have worked in many non-tenure-accruing environments, I have always been a bit odd in enjoying writing, since many of my colleagues chose such positions in order to avoid writing.  In my current day job, I have quickly become known as a “great editor,” when I am really just a bit more practiced and efficient in my writing, and abhor institutional doublespeak.

Even among graduate students, a group that one would think would embrace writing, I’ve known many bright, engaged, thinkers who lost themselves when handed a compass and a canteen and told to journey forth into the great Dissertation desert.  Some, if not most, of their failure is due to mentoring or lack thereof, but there are many who just discovered they didn’t enjoy writing.

If I am honest, I have often thought of my writing as Cinderella, something that is largely ignored, forgotten, sitting in the ashes of the fireplace, but hard-working and able to shine if given a bath and some attention. However, I am guilty of pushing my writing back into the fireplace as often as not, complicit in keeping it ignored and dull.  I fall far too easily into the “It’s urgent, it must be important,” trap, as well as cancelling appointments with myself, or shorting goals because others are always more important than I am.  I should not be surprised that Cinderella sometimes refuses to work with me, sulking in the corner, or worse, picks up the poker and cuffs me upside the head with it.

I commit myself to being a better sponsor for the rest of the Round; I commit to spending half an hour a day writing something; I commit to re-acquainting myself with Cinderella.

The end of the Round is nigh; please go encourage someone in the group.  The blog hop link is here.