THE OTHER SIDE OF IMMIGRATION – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.
Immigration isn’t easy, isn’t fun.
These days, it can also be life-threatening. 


In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was really an epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t.

My feeble attempts to properly learn Hebrew was even more entertaining. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery which occurred during my second day in the country was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, the pronunciation is actually tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the “Land of Zion” using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty of just getting the words out through my teeth (which were not designed for all those gutturals), many words in Hebrew are very similar to each other but have different meanings. For example, sha-ah is an hour. Shannah is a year. And there you stand saying, “My Hebrew isn’t good. I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed. Eventually, more Hebrew found its way into my sentences, though complex ideas never made the cut. I could say simple stuff. I could buy groceries. Chat about the weather, as in, “It’s really hot.”

The alternative was “It’s raining hard,” because you only had two seasons: hot and wet.

Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could understand most of what I said, sometimes without laughing, but not with joy. My accent made their ears hurt and they preferred English. It was less painful.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this because having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Just a thought.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

WHAT DO YOU READ? – Marilyn Armstrong

So let’s say you’re at the airport. Your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices are working. Out of juice and all the plugs are taken … and there’s no free wi-fi. Oh no!

How can you pass the time? Those chairs are too uncomfortable for sleep and you’re too old to use the floor.

I don’t believe it. You really don’t know what to do without electronic devices? You are lost without your cell phone? Really?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. I would reach into my carry-on and pick out a copy of The New Yorker or National Geographics. I could take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them) and buy something to read. A newspaper maybe?

Yes, they still print them.

And the Kindle, with books already downloaded, is like carrying a whole library with you wherever you go.

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone).

I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says.

My camera WILL work, no matter where I am.

SHARING THE WORLD: A BIRTHDAY AND COLLEGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 5-20-19

Is it better to suspect something (bad or hurtful) and not know or to have your worst fears confirmed by sure knowledge? 

I’m happy in my ignorance on a personal level. I don’t want to know who is gossiping or talking behind my back. If I know more, I might have to do something about it and I prefer not to do anything about it. Gossips and backbiters always get taken down eventually. It always catches up with them.

I also think that people who confess their sins and destroy a relationship are selfish. Whose ends are they serving? Sometimes, please — shut up.

My son turned 50!

Politically and for most other things, I want accurate information.

What makes you laugh aloud? Crack up? Laugh until your sides split? When was the last time you had a great big belly laugh?

Things that are funny. “A Mighty Wind,” anything made by the Monty Python group. Marx brothers. And my friends.

Do you suppose Noah had woodpeckers in the ark? If he did, where did he keep them? Apologies to the Darwinians in the crowd…this is merely for fun, okay? 

Presumably, there were two of everything and woodpeckers are part of everything.

Here’s the cake to prove it! What a great cake!

Why is “Charlie” short for “Charles when they are the same number of letters?

It’s a nickname. Now short would be calling Garry “Gar” or me “Mar.” Or Jeff for Jeffrey, Gene for Eugene. I like nicknames better.

What happened in your world this past week that made you feel thankful, joyful or grateful? 

Congratulations Kaitlin.

My granddaughter is finally starting college. Joy to the world!

Congratulations Owen!

And my son turned 50 (ouch on MY side … it’s hard to pretend to be young when your kid turns 50!).

INSTINCT OR THE GIBB’S THEORY OF “GOING WITH THE GUT” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instinct


Without getting all Leroy Jethro Gibbs here … is there any other way to make a decision when you have no hard facts with which to work? It sounds right, doesn’t it?

Except when Gibbs does it, the entire agency agrees. When I do it, no one ever agrees.

If you’re a mother and you know your kid is “off,” you take him or her to the doctor. You don’t wait until the strep throat or whatever it shows up with full symptoms. The doctor promptly tells you he can’t see any problem. You go home. The kid is a mess the next day.

Let’s hear it for instinct!

pinterest.com

You hear a noise in your car’s engine. A funny little squeaky noise which comes and goes. Do you wait for the serpentine belt to snap or take it to a mechanic? You take it in. They look. They shrug.A few days later, the transmission falls out. Instinct! Gotta love it.The meteorologists on the television are predicting a few inches of snow, but your bones are screaming “it’s a big one on the way.”

Do you ignore your instinct and believe the guy on TV? Or lay in some supplies, fill the car with gasoline, and bring the candles out … just in case. I mean, what the hell. A few extra items in the house won’t hurt, right?If I have data to work with (better yet, if I had Data to work with), I’ll work with it or him. But through most of real life, we have no facts. We have instinct, experience, “gut feelings.” Plus, we have a sort of prescience that comes with years of making judgment calls, dealing with emergencies … a kind of “know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em” sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the doctors, mechanics, bosses, friends, colleagues et al? They don’t share that with uw. They merely think we are a bit strange. Remarkably, no matter how many times we are proved right? They still won’t believe us.

The next time you just know what’s going to happen? Everyone will completely ignore you. Totally.

So, when you get that deep, gut feeling, the one which tells you a catastrophe is on the way? Run around. Tell everyone. They will ignore you. BUT later — you can enjoy the rare opportunity to tell everyone: “SEE? I TOLD YOU SO!” and they will say, “Yeah, yeah. Right. Uh huh.”Most major decisions in my life have been gut decisions and they usually turned out better than the “rational” ones based on whatever evidence I had. Instinct on the hoof.

I think it’s how we contact the basic, hard-wired knowledge in our brains.

If only someone would occasionally agree with us.

BE HOME BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME ON – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.

We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long bast bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

The dock at River Bend

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”

Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.

In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

1953 -I’m in the middle

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.

We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.

Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.

“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

Streetlight is on. Time to go home!

You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.

THE CRASHING SQUIRREL – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve been going eyeball to eyeball with our local squirrels. First, I thought we had just a few squirrels, but lately, I realize we have all of them. The entire woods full of squirrels are part of our world.

Our fearless deck squirrel

They all come, hang around, decide they need to wrap themselves around the feeder and suck the seeds out of it. Garry fills the feeder in the evening and by the following morning, more than half of it — about 3 pounds of seeds — are gone.

Another snack

They used to get spooked when I tapped on the window. Then they only got twitchy if I opened a window and yelled at them. Eventually, that didn’t work either. Now, I have to actually go out on the deck and they sit there, on the rail, staring me in the eye. I’m pretty sure that eventually, I’m going to have to physically remove them. By hand. I’m not looking forward to that. I have a feeling these little guys bite.

It isn’t that I mind them having a meal. I mind them eating everything and never stopping. How can such small furry creatures eat so much and so often? It seems to me that their appetites are never satiated. There’s no such thing as enough … or if there is, there’s another one waiting on the rail to take over.

I have come to recognize some of them by their scars, by the colors of their tails, by their size.

This morning, our midday squirrel was back. I know they are supposed to be crepuscular — feeding early in the morning and just before the sun sets. But this one likes noon. Just about as I’m setting up the coffee, he’s hanging on the feeder.

Squirrel on the rail

So I opened the top of the Dutch door and said: “We’ve had this discussion before. It’s time for you to go home to your trees. Eat acorns. Find plants to chew.” He looked at me. I’m pretty sure he smirked at me, too.

I reminded him that I was getting weary of this conversation. I could see him thinking. “Shall I buzz off or shall I jump into that flat feeder? Hmm.”

Taking that fatal leap!

Finally, he decided I was NOT a force to be reckoned with and he launched himself into the flat feeder. But this once, the flat feeder fought back and tipped sideways.

Tail end of the crashing squirrel

All the seeds spilled down to the ground below along with the squirrel. I nearly caught the shot on his way down, but all I got was the fuzzy tip of his tail as he fell to the ground. Which wasn’t so bad because he landed in the forsythia bush, then on the ground where there were pounds of seeds he was now free to eat.

You’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you? Surely humiliation would stop him from further depredations.

You would be wrong. In fewer than five minutes, he was back on the rail.

I had to go out and forcefully explain that it was past feeding time and he was going to let the birds have a go at the feeder. They sit in the nearby tree limbs, waiting for the squirrels to move on and for some reason, they seem to know I’m yelling at the squirrel — not them. How they knew this, I have no idea.

The young Cardinal

I ultimately convinced him to go travel amongst the trees and give the birds time at the feeder. The first arrivals were a couple of Cowbirds, a few Goldfinches, and a big Red-Bellied Woodpecker plus a young Cardinal. I actually got some pictures.

Cowbirds

I’m sure he was back as soon as we left to go to my son’s birthday party because when we came home, the hanging feeder was nearly empty. We are running out of seeds and have run out of money, so everyone is just going to have to survive on their own for a while.