On Accents, Vernacular and Muscle Cramps

I woke up this morning with one of those cramps in my right calf. It was four-thirty in the morning. Like a stab from a long knife. I grabbed it and massaged it and finally the pain went away. I haven’t had one of those since I went backpacking through a snowy Rock Bound Pass back in 1997.

After I massaged the pain out and the knot that caused the cramp, I failed to go back to sleep. I lay there and thoughts shot through my mind, what I needed to do: pack, pick squash and broccoli, deal with movie-making decisions.

My thoughts kept returning to our just-completed trip to Minnesota. I could hear Minnesota voices in my ears. The way they speak back there, the accent I guess you could call it. The vowels stretched out like bolts of linen at the fabric shop.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the way people speak, the way they say words, the sounds. I guess that’s because I like to write poems. Poems are as much about sound as they are about the meaning of words and images.

When I say a word, for instance, “you,” I say it in the vernacular in which my ear was most recently trained, and I don’t imagine that my way of saying the word is “accented.” “Accents” are spoken by people from other places. In Rochester, Minnesota, the “oo” sound in “you” gets elongated into an “ooo” and farther north, around Hurley, Wisconsin, or Ontonagon, Michigan, that “oo” sound becomes more like “ooooo,” and in Texas you might hear the word “you” as “y’all.” Even though that intimates plurality it still gets used in the singular. In Pennsylvania the way they say “you” will be different than the way it is enunciated in Ohio or New York City or Boston or Farmington, Maine. People in Rochester, New York say words a little differently than they do in Newark, New Jersey and in the tidewater country of Virginia and the Carolinas, words sing a different song from what you will hear in the Appalachian terrain of northern Alabama. Then of course there is the Cajun patois of Louisiana and the Chicano banter of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. I grew up listening to that particular vernacular and to this day love the rapid-fire skate of the words as they come into my ear.

I suppose with movies and YouTube and television, the prospects for these regional lingos to keep their power is not favorable. I imagine the various regional accents that have been influenced by our German, French, Scandinavian, Italian, Polish, African, Spanish, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Native American forefathers (to name just a few) will slowly become a common vernacular. Along with our all-American malls that from coast to coast have an Applebees and McDonalds, a Burger King, a Starbucks, we will have a lingo that sounds the same coast to coast. American spoken in Virginia will have no sound difference than what gets spoken in Oregon, or Marquette, Michigan from Brownsville, Texas. We may well drown in the boredom and muck of our lingual sameness.

Not that Starbucks or McDonalds are bad. I eat and drink their fare when I want or when I need. And I have nothing against mass media that speaks to us all. But yes, I am concerned about the death of diversity. And not just in our accents.

After I got those kinks worked out of my calf, I thought about all this stuff and a lot more. Then finally, I drifted off, again, into slumber.

Social Networking…..OR…the Cyrillic Alphabet

 A couple of evenings ago, my cell phone jangled me out of my concentration. I don’t get a lot of calls—peopled generally text or e-mail me—so it jarred me away from reading a story someone asked me to critique. The call was from my daughter telling me a gentleman had left a message on her answering machine (in San Francisco) for me (who lives in Idaho) to call him. “Something about Marines and movies,” she said, “and I wonder how he got my phone number.”

I called him (he lives outside of Austin, Texas) and left a message and he soon called back and wanted to talk about a young Marine we both knew who was killed on March 28, 1968, during the siege of Khe Sanh. One of the most interesting aspects of this moment was that he was the second previously-unknown-to-me individual with whom I have talked about the death of Greg Kent. The first one occurred last August when Betty and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to take some pictures and videos. It was an early Sunday morning, before the late August heat and humidity stewed enough to sweat us dry-skinned Boise folk back into air conditioning, when we ran into a man looking for Greg Kent’s name on The Wall. Unlike the gentleman who called me, Greg and he had not been friends in the Marines, but had run high school track together in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Both men loved him much, but for different reasons, and that’s a subject for another blog. What interests me here is that this all came about because of social networking.

I must confess that unless I was in a bar, tuned up with Coors, Rumplemint and Johnny Walker, I was never much of a networker, choosing to spend my time in a corner not talking to people. So I have little experience as a networker and for most of my life have felt that the social networking realm was best left to bullshitters and sales folks.

Yet, my definition of social networking is getting wider by the moment and includes meeting people through centuries’ old methods such as being pleasant to someone you meet out in the world (which is how I generated the Greg Kent conversation at The Wall), to YouTube videos posted on the Internet.  The latter is where the other guy who called the other night got wind of me and what I am up to….or what Betty and I are up to. Making movies, writing blogs, making YouTube videos of poets, video book reviews.  I teach writing classes on-line, have a webpage (more than one if I think about it), and a Twitter account that I am still not sure how to best use. I use FaceBook and have found it a reliable way to generate interest in most things.

So, what’s my point?

I’m not sure and maybe I’ll figure it out on the way to sizing up the importance of blogs and Twitter at which I am toiling today. And in that vein, I also cleaned up my website spam accounts, one of the more bizarre head-busting aspects of the social networking world. Spam messages from people seeking to get me to link to their websites. How dumb am I? I guess pretty damned dumb considering the list of e-mail monikers and messages that showed up in the last few days in the comments section of my web pages. Some examples of this type of social networking follow:

Bolt Path


Porno Online

Smoking Side Effects

“As if!”


Something written in Cyrillic script (stuff that looks like….њЩЦѲд) and I have no clue what it means, or whether it is Serbian, Russian, ancient Bulgarian or something sent to me in Greek.

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“When I saw the title of this post, I found it silly.”


Chevy Camaro

Tattoos on Wrists


“I will re-use.”

and finally, Horny Bitches says, “I like this blog, is a master peace.”

Peace or piece? You’d think that someone intent on enticing me to allow them to link with my sites would have the good sense to make it look like they can spell better than I can.

Anyway, it’s social networking. I think it works. I know it works in some cases. For instance, the Internet is one of the great democratizers of the 21st Century. Witness Twitter, YouTube and FaceBook in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. People can communicate, show video horrors, mass demonstrations. And like all forms of the new mixed with the old, delivers a variety of results, truth and lies, good and bad.

I’m pretty satisfied with my dive into the social networking arena; it earned me conversations with men who knew Greg Kent in different contexts than I did. Twitter and YouTube seem to deliver results even though I get cryptic messages in some form of Cyrillic, or misspelled messages from Horny Bitches.

Now that one might get me out of the proverbial corner.