Homograph of the year

Let’s start with the obvious: a homograph is not a bell curve having to do with sexual orientation. Which makes it a fun word right off the bat. A homograph is a word that is spelled the same as another but does not necessarily sound the same and means something completely different. Words like affect, commune and entrances.

Turns out 2016 is the Year of the Homograph for me. In fact, I am the unwilling and seriously annoyed poster child of homography for this sixteenth year of the 21st century. I have been converted, but am not a convert, to a verb. Recover, and I’m not talking about reupholstering the furniture, is my middle name. Actually, it’s Cope and I’m doing a lot of that this year too. As in, Cope is my middle name. But ‘recover’ is my activity of record (not to be confused with an LP).

How is it that this homograph came to own me in this, the Year of the Monkey? Indeed animals do play into it. Last April a 100lb vizsla (a hunting dog) plowed into my knee. He was running full bore toward the puppy playmate right behind me. I was in the way. Best way around that unseemly obstacle? Bowl it over. Flattened me, tore my MCL and bruised both the femur and the fibula. That put me into a big honking hinged knee brace for 10 weeks (good-bye spring), then a soft brace and PT (good-bye summer) for weeks thereafter. [In the end, I won a golf tournament which is proof that nothing in this world, including my year as a whole, is too crazy to believe. Witness this presidential election, if you need more evidence.]

I have a doctor’s appointment in couple of weeks with my orthopedist to discuss why my knee still hurts. That malady, however, is suddenly moot in the light of what happened last week: I broke my ankle. And my driving ankle at that. I will, of course, keep that appointment, and won’t he be surprised when I present a whole new injury for him to fix? In the curious way of compound injuries, I don’t notice the knee pain at all anymore. So, in a seriously ironic turn of events, a broken ankle has told my sore knee to shut the @#$%*^! up.

For the record, I had absolutely no fun, as I had no fun in April, acquiring this new notch in my injury gunstock. I merely stepped out the side door. And SNAP! Yes, I heard my twig of a fibula break in two.

So, now I am in a big honking boot for 6-8 fun-filled, absolutely inert — not allowed to weight-bear (bear as in ‘to carry’ not as in grizzly), doncha know — weeks. I am indebted to Netflix and On Demand. I am indebted to cheesy books I’d never read otherwise. I am indebted to a husband who is working on his Boy Scout saint badge. But I am not indebted to the crutches that are tearing up my shoulders. Nor am I indebted to the timing: on Saturday we’re throwing a dinner dance for 100 friends and family.

Cancel! you say. Boogie on! I say. I will dance at this party, come hell or high water or even only one good leg. To whit: I have purchased a kneeling scooter. By Saturday, I will be more than mobile; I will be doing wheelies on the dance floor.

This is my way to recover this year. I will whip the shroud of doom, gloom and self-pity off my wounded self and don an action hero cloak. Wasn’t Clark Kent a nebbish who transformed himself into a spring-loaded, aerodynamic doer of good? I can do this. I really can. With my reality-busting Flashdance cape of good hope.

—Belle Songer


My words are mine

I guess you can’t blame Melania for quoting Michele Obama verbatim and thinking it was her own fine sentiments. Never mind that there are free ‘plagiarism checkers’ available on the internet. She could have plugged ‘her’ speech into one of these services and found out instantly that even if it were “93%” different, that other 7% matters. But then, she probably never heard the 2008 speech from which her own was pilfered. And she certainly didn’t write her own speech. So, don’t shoot the messenger, right? Poor, innocent Melania! Surely, she should not be held accountable for the things she says when baring her soul to the nation in an effort to get her husband, that bastion of honesty, Donald Trump, elected. Surely not!

But what about the moron speechwriter? If he were going to harvest his words from the brilliance of a first lady, why not choose one from his own party? Laura Bush, say. Or Nancy Reagan. It is as incredulous as any argument made or not that he was unaware of his infringement as it is that he should duplicate the words of a Democratic first-lady-in-waiting. And a speech only two conventions ago, at that. Why not steal the words of Mamie Eisenhower? No one would have picked that up.  Perhaps because these women did not say anything affecting; perhaps because said speechwriter was too lazy and too careless and has a boss who wouldn’t have recognized the infraction any more readily than his wife did. But to copy and paste Michele Obama’s words into Melania Trump’s address? Please.

To say that a little plagiarism is okay is like saying 7% of a song is okay to replicate without paying royalties or a little copyright infringement is nothing to either be worried about or ashamed of. When, indeed, it is both. Otherwise, all those students expelled from schools and universities for copying their friends papers or from scholarship available on the web should be re-instated. Otherwise, the music and movie industries shouldn’t be so fired up to fight piracy. Otherwise, writers and poet might as well kiss goodbye their pride in authorship, to say nothing of their livelihoods. Otherwise, the moral imperative of taking ownership of and responsibility for one’s own words would be toothless. To defang that imperative is a dangerous business, indeed. It’s the stuff of libel and slander.It’s the stuff of anonymous threats and ‘blocked callers’ who leave obscene messages. Of ransom notes and poison pen letters.

A few years back when I was teaching online English lit courses at Southern New Hampshire University, I was dumbfounded to discover just how stupid students could be when it came to baldly ripping off other people’s scholarship. Papers would be turned into me with sections of argument recognizably lifted from sources. How did I know? Not only was the tone and intellectual content different from the students’ but so was the font and the point size of the text. What? Did they think I didn’t have eyes to see? I flunked them. And when they came back to me with sob stories, I said simply: Plagiarism is stealing and stealing is not condoned by this university or by society.

Which brings me back to that standard-bearer of fair play, upright thinking and enviable integrity, namely Donald Trump. He defended his wife and did not fire the speechwriter by arguing that “93%” of her speech was hers. Well, his. Or somebody’s. But not Michele’s.

That “93%” argument is nothing but a 100% sham, because plagiarism is not just the theft of another’s words; it is also a theft of another person’s ideas. Melania’s borrowed rhetoric stole Michele Obama’s context as well as her phraseology.

Melania or her speechwriter could have attributed those sentences and sentiments to Michele Obama as words so wise as to be worth both repeating and attempting to live by. Even after the fact. What an act of grace that would have been! Or, this morning Donald Trump, a candidate for President of the United States and as such defender of the principles this country is predicated on, could have defused the fuss with an apology and an acknowledgement. It is the mark of a winner to know when to eat a little crow. It’s the mark of a loser to deflect ownership of one’s errors by taking aim with blame.

And yet 41% of Americans want to make this man the leader of the free world. But Trump’s definition of free may be closer to ‘free to do whatever I want; free to break the rules; free to lie, cheat and steal.’ Including the words of others.

— Belle Songer




Half mast

Our flags are at half mast. Again. This time for the slaughter in Orlando. Fifteen times since he’s been in office President Obama has had to express the nation’s grief for a mass killing. Fifteen times in eight years.

I shy away from writing about politics because I don’t think I have much new to offer to the discussion. But here I make a rare exception. When the news broke about the shooting in Florida, I turned away from the television thinking to myself, “Oh, not another one.” That, I realized, was the first step in becoming inured. I can’t have that happen. Not to me, not to my country. Repetition is the thief of insult. Experience something often enough and it loses its vigor.

These massacres are so frequent, the very terminology surrounding them is losing its punch. Massacre. Slaughter. Assault weapons. Terrorism. They are on everyone’s tongues, so often they approach cliche. In today’s world, what American schoolchild can’t spell those words?

I can echo the thoughts of countless, powerless millions in this country and around the world — why are assault rifles and semi-automatic guns sold for sport?  When the ‘sport’ they were designed for is assassination. Why do we let the NRA bully us with the Second Amendment? The right to bear arms when conceived by our founding fathers was meant, not for the execution of our neighbors, but to be armed when a militia was needed for the defense of home and country. And to protect property — the odd marauding bear or rabid dog. But I am no more effectual than anyone else, however outraged or grief-stricken or terrified. I am rendered silent, no matter how loud we scream.

Once before in this country, the Silent Majority got its point across. But now why are each and every one of us held at metaphorical gunpoint by spineless politicians who have traded whatever integrity and love of country was behind their initial run for office for whatever it takes to get the votes to stay there? How is it the voices of so many ‘concerned,’ ‘educated,’ and ‘politically active’ Americans demanding gun control are not heard? This new, toothless version of the Silent Majority is profoundly worrying.

So much of what I see in this country today terrifies me:

• The NRA’s ridiculous political clout; its mastery of intimidation.

• The polarized climate in Congress; the human values gone missing in those esteemed halls, of integrity, of honor and of a universal embrace of justice for all people — exactly what the Declaration of Independence dictated; to say nothing of the racism there that has stonewalled a president for two terms.

•The proliferation of hate, as if the work for inclusion has backfired but good. Whatever happened to liberty and justice for all?

•Add to that the success to date of the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States — the candidate of hate and of intimidation, of grudges and walls. It’s impossible not to ask: what is our country coming to if half our citizenry supports a fascist for president?

Yes, those flags are at half mast for Orlando and the half hundred murdered there. But, to my mind, they also are at half mast for America itself. My heart is breaking for our broken country.

— Belle Songer, Flag Day, 2016