for each age is a dream that is dying,

or one that is coming to birth

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Toad Words


            Frogs fall out of my mouth when I talk. Toads, too.

            It used to be a problem.

            There was an incident when I was young and cross and fed up with parental expectations. My sister, who is the Good One, has gold fall from her lips, and since I could not be her, I had to go a different way.

            So I got frogs. It happens.

            “You’ll grow into it,” the fairy godmother said. “Some curses have cloth-of-gold linings.” She considered this, and her finger drifted to her lower lip, the way it did when she was forgetting things. “Mind you, some curses just grind you down and leave you broken. Some blessings do that too, though. Hmm. What was I saying?”

            I spent a lot of time not talking. I got a slate and wrote things down. It was hard at first, but I hated to drop the frogs in the middle of the road. They got hit by cars, or dried out, miles away from their damp little homes.

            Toads were easier. Toads are tough. After awhile, I learned to feel when a word was a toad and not a frog. I could roll the word around on my tongue and get the flavor before I spoke it. Toad words were drier. Desiccated is a toad word. So is crisp and crisis and obligation. So are elegant and matchstick.

            Frog words were a bit more varied. Murky. Purple. Swinging. Jazz.

I practiced in the field behind the house, speaking words over and over, sending small creatures hopping into the evening.  I learned to speak some words as either toads or frogs. It’s all in the delivery.

            Love is a frog word, if spoken earnestly, and a toad word if spoken sarcastically. Frogs are not good at sarcasm.

            Toads are masters of it.

            I learned one day that the amphibians are going extinct all over the world, that some of them are vanishing. You go to ponds that should be full of frogs and find them silent. There are a hundred things responsible—fungus and pesticides and acid rain.

            When I heard this, I cried “What!?” so loudly that an adult African bullfrog fell from my lips and I had to catch it. It weighed as much as a small cat. I took it to the pet store and spun them a lie in writing about my cousin going off to college and leaving the frog behind.

            I brooded about frogs for weeks after that, and then eventually, I decided to do something about it.

            I cannot fix the things that kill them. It would take an army of fairy godmothers, and mine retired long ago. Now she goes on long cruises and spreads her wings out across the deck chairs.

            But I can make more.

            I had to get a field guide at first. It was a long process. Say a word and catch it, check the field marks. Most words turn to bronze frogs if I am not paying attention.

            Poison arrow frogs make my lips go numb. I can only do a few of those a day. I go through a lot of chapstick.  

            It is a holding action I am fighting, nothing more. I go to vernal pools and whisper sonnets that turn into wood frogs. I say the words squeak and squill and spring peepers skitter away into the trees. They begin singing almost the moment they emerge.

            I read long legal documents to a growing audience of Fowler’s toads, who blink their goggling eyes up at me. (I wish I could do salamanders. I would read Clive Barker novels aloud and seed the streams with efts and hellbenders. I would fly to Mexico and read love poems in another language to restore the axolotl. Alas, it’s frogs and toads and nothing more. We make do.)

            The woods behind my house are full of singing. The neighbors either learn to love it or move away.

            My sister—the one who speaks gold and diamonds—funds my travels. She speaks less than I do, but for me and my amphibian friends, she will vomit rubies and sapphires. I am grateful.

            I am practicing reading modernist revolutionary poetry aloud. My accent is atrocious. Still, a day will come when the Panamanian golden frog will tumble from my lips, and I will catch it and hold it, and whatever word I spoke, I’ll say again and again, until I stand at the center of a sea of yellow skins, and make from my curse at last a cloth of gold.

Terri Windling posted recently about the old fairy tale of frogs falling from a girl’s lips, and I started thinking about what I’d do if that happened to me, and…well…

(via into-the-weeds)

324 notes



People really, really hate when people talk a certain way here on tumblr.

By “a certain way” I mean all the ways that do not fit under a kind of talking steeped in a particular cliquey social context.

A lot of talk about language accessibility focuses on plain language, and not using so much jargon, which is important. But there’s also this use of — social jargon? Of prescriptive and exclusive tones, certain tones are acceptable and others are not.

Things that make SJ discussions inaccessible, that don’t have to do with the hardness or exclusivity of words:

  • valuing sarcasm, snark, and a kind of condescending in-the-know tone over a matter-of-fact one
  • assuming things about people’s lived experiences from the way they talk, and ignoring the content of what they’re saying
  • a culture of ridicule for minor transgressions
  • making fun of people for asking questions
  • not taking a person’s statement seriously because that statement is phrased using different words or logic than the kind you espouse
  • not accepting words like “nice” and “mean”, “good” and “bad” as appropriate moral judgments — something being “mean” is not enough to make it bad, and it’s assumed that a person using the word “mean” should either use the word “oppressive,” or doesn’t think oppression is bad.
  • disbelief when people express opinions that aren’t the opinions you expect them to have
  • laughing at people who don’t understand sarcasm or snark, and refusing to explain it to them
  • assuming there is no dissent about a particular topic among the people in a given community, or if there is dissent, those who dissent “don’t count” or are not worth listening to, or have drunk some kind of societal kool-aid.

Also reading things into everything a person says.  

Yesterday I got into a very frustrating conversation in which I tried to point out, in a matter-of-fact fashion, something that I thought was a self-evident fact about the world.

For pointing it out, I got ridiculed.  People assumed I’d been called out and was just pissy about that, and laughed at me for this imaginary call-out.  Several people immediately assumed that I was writing about a topic that I hadn’t said a single damn word about, and that I had specific beliefs about that topic that I would never in a million years hold.  Even one person who actually was communicating in good faith got wrapped up in that until they saw what my actual opinion was.

And then after all that, there was a post that I literally can’t make myself read again because it makes my head spin how many weird little silencing tactics were embedded in it.

One of those tactics though that really concerns me, was basically, “You shouldn’t write about a topic unless you cover every possible facet of that topic and every possible group of people affected by that topic.  If you don’t do this, then your writing is worthless and can be ignored.”

Another one basically was, “Some people have it worse than you, so you shouldn’t even talk about your problems.”  [There were a lot of assumptions embedded in who had it worse than who. They basically assumed a lot based on group membership rather than on individual experience.]

Another one was to minimize the problems I described as much as possible.  Because I had said it was “annoying” to be assumed to have male privilege on the basis of DFAB status, there was this snarky commentary about how much worse DMAB trans people have it, so much worse than just being annoyed, you know.  And this felt deliberate.  It felt like they were deliberately pretending that the only consequence of the problems I was talking about was ‘annoyance’, so that they could then dismiss the seriousness of the problem.

And then they did this really weird thing that I don’t even have a name for, where they spun around all these words and ideas and stuff to make it sound like I was completely wrong in the first place.  Like as a DFAB genderless person that I do somehow have male privilege (I can’t replicate their argument because it wasn’t about things that made sense, it was about the skillful juggling of ideas and words in a particular way that I’m unable to do myself).  And therefore that any complaint I have about being confused with a trans man is not valid in the first place.

And they did all of these things, at once, intertwined with each other.  It made conversation impossible.  It was as if, once they realized they could no longer rip me to shreds for an idea that I clearly didn’t have, they just neatly ripped to shreds all the rest of my ideas and left the mess on the floor for me to clean up.

The very last tactic deeply bothered me, too.  Because it wasn’t like they were actually looking at the situation and trying to understand it.  It was as if they were trying to find a way to win at all costs.  And the way to win at all costs was to juggle a bunch of words and jargon and ideas, like doing a complicated math problem.

And I see this being done all the time — people in some parts of the SJ community are extremely skilled at a certain kind of idea-juggling.  Sometimes the idea-juggling is used to rip an opponent’s ideas to shreds.  But sometimes it’s used to either make the opponent seem more privileged, or make themselves seem more oppressed, or both.  

But it’s dishonest.  It’s not about communicating.  It’s about winning.

I have no possible use for a conversation with someone who is merely trying to win.  I have no possible use for a conversation where someone is deliberately mocking me, or deliberately planting in other people’s minds the idea that I’ve said something I haven’t said.

It wasn’t just this conversation — I’ve had several conversations recently where someone has said something along the lines of “I get this feel from the OP that…” and then they go on to describe something that was never actually said in the original post, nor that I would ever even mean, nor… anything.  And then after they say that, everyone else suddenly treats it as if the original poster actually did say, or mean, whatever that person is thinking we meant.  It’s a very weird social phenomenon and very frustrating when you happen to be that original poster, and know that if you had meant what they say, you’d have said it.

Anyway, all of these things make it very hard for me to have conversations in certain parts of the SJ community, even when I want to.  All of my conversations are about exchanging information and communicating with people.  I can’t handle conversations that are about winning and one-upmanship and status.

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Go, go, go, said the bird: human kindCannot bear very much reality.Time past and time futureWhat might have been and what has beenPoint to one end, which is always present.
from BURNT NORTON(No. 1 of “Four Quartets”)T.S. Eliot


Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(No. 1 of “Four Quartets”)
T.S. Eliot

(Source: gnossienne, via maedhrys)

Filed under poetry ts eliot

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Listening to “Safe Upon the Shore” and thinking about the ocean as a destructive but occasionally well-meaning creature that hears someone asking for her true love back and so fetches his ship and pushes him up on land and doesn’t understand why she’s weeping over his corpse

it gave him back, didn’t it? 

The ocean does not understand.  Did it bring back the wrong one? These sailors all look so similar.  It pushes a big wad of seaweed up next to her, in case she will like that better as a present.

(via lesbianpirates)