Tag Archives: language

12 Things in 2012.

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YOU GUYS. It’s May 2nd, which means that 1/3 of 2012 is already gone. What the what?! Crazy. 2012 thus far has been a year unlike any other for me, so when I saw Liz‘s list of twelve things she’s learned in 2012 so far, I thought hey! that might be a good way to preserve some of the magic that this year has shown me and to share some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from January to present. Some of these things were hard-learned, some of them I learned by accident, and some I’ve always known but haven’t been able to accept their truth until now. But I’m still learning all the time, and that’s not nothing.


01 /// That most of the American stereotypes held by Europeans are not entirely untrue.

02 /// That curiosity is one of the best qualities to have, and that there are generally great rewards when you exercise it.

03 /// That I can get by on a lot less than I thought I could.

04 /// That I will probably always be having an internal dialogue with myself about whether to cut or grow out my bangs, and that I will probably always be unhappy with whichever I choose.

05 /// That when it comes to searching for employment, it’s not what you know but who you know.

06 /// That Seattle springtime is a beautiful thing, and reminds me why I choose to call this city home.

07 /// That South Park is one of the funniest shows ever.

08 /// That sometimes it’s more important to honor your own happiness above the commitments you make.

09 /// That people and their stories are my truest passion.

10 /// That trying to overcome old habits without making a clean break from the environments that fostered them means setting yourself up for failure.

11 /// That language is a miracle, and “YES” is a way more fun word than “NO.”

12 /// That I want to be Malcolm Gladwell when I grow up.

Youth Lagoon.

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On Thursday night, I went and saw Youth Lagoon play at Paradiso, one of Amsterdam’s indie music venues. There’s only so much you can say about a fantastic live music experience before you start to sound like a gushy fangirl, so I’ll just say that it was utterly magical and leave it at that. A few observations: 1. You know how there’s always that one freakishly tall guy that inevitably ends up standing right in front of you when you go to a concert? As Dutch men are enormous I probably should have anticipated this, but it was like every guy in the audience was that guy. I was craning my neck for most of the performance trying to see around my giant fellow concertgoers’ heads. 2. The performance itself was really short. What’s interesting about musical bookings in Holland is that they don’t do opening acts; they only have the “main event,” and venues will book three or four different main events in a single evening to maximize profits. So Youth Lagoon only ended up playing for forty minutes, which is about the same length of time an opening act would play in the U.S., and then everyone in the crowd left immediately when it was done. Kind of weird, but also kind of nice to be able to just go and see the band you wanted to see, nothing more and nothing less. 3. It was strange listening to English lyrics while people chattered in Dutch around me, but the best non-musical thing I heard that evening ended up being Dutch. There was a particularly flamboyant group of gentlemen standing near me, and during a part in a song where the music was slowly building up, I heard one of the gentlemen count down “Drie! Twee! Een! Go!” and start vogue-ing Madonna-style. It was hilarious.

All in all, ’twas a delightful and fascinating European concert-going experience that I will always remember. Cross it off the list!



In my day-to-day life, I don’t hear a great deal of English spoken. Yes, people will speak to me in English when they realize that I don’t speak Dutch, but they are not native speakers, and honestly, that makes a bigger difference than you’d think. If I’m not speaking directly to someone, if I’m just walking down the street or standing in line at the supermarket, I hear a language that I don’t understand. I’m able to pick up a few words here and there, but it’s largely unintelligible to me. As a result, it’s become white noise, like one of those bedside machines that make waterfall noises to help ease you into sleep. It’s just a gentle whirring that doesn’t register on conscious level for me anymore. It’s strange not to be able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations, but it’s also kind of nice to not have to contend with that particular class of verbal distraction.

Because I’m able to block out most of the Dutch I hear as white noise, I’m able to do it in other countries I visit too. There have been a couple different occasions where I’ve looked around me, completely blocking out all sound in my mind, and have seen familiarity in people and things that aren’t familiar, and I’ve thought to myself “I could be anywhere in the United States right now if I didn’t know any better,” and then sometimes I pretend like I don’t know any better.

The only thing that really jolts me back to the reality of the foreignness of the place I’m in is hearing children speak. I walked behind a group of kindergarten-age children going on a field trip in Barcelona, and I sat next to a a few German pre-tweens on the U-Bahn in Berlin, and on both occasions I found myself staring at them, listening to the enthusiasm in their little voices and trying to wrap my head around the fact that they were communicating something to each other that has a comparable meaning in English, but that they probably couldn’t communicate that same thing to me, nor I to them. It has no reason to surprise me, but I often find that a child’s (whose understanding of their own language is still situated on a pretty simplistic level) mastery of a language that is completely strange and unknown to me is something that sort of surprises me, with regularity.

It feels like a horribly ethnocentric feeling on one hand, but on the other hand, I like that it surprises me. It makes me feel like I’m seeing things as a child would, with a sense of wonder and delight at commonplace and explainable occurrences that so often gets stamped out by adulthood. Isn’t something spectacular that the same sentiment can be expressed in so many different ways? Isn’t it something spectacular that, even being aware of that fact, the variations can still be a mystery to you? Language is something truly magical, and I’m grateful to be learning that in an uncommon way.



So Nate and I were able to visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre while we were in London, and it was a total English major nerd fantasy for me. It was so amazing to see the re-creation of the theater where the majority of Shakespeare’s plays were performed, to see where word was brought to life in a way that has shaped the English language immeasurably and continues to pervade modern culture… but don’t even get me started on that, because I could pontificate on that particular topic for days. While we were at the Globe, I found the most amazing illustrated edition of Hamlet ever and couldn’t resist buying it.

I first read Hamlet in AP English my senior year of high school, and thus began my love affair with Shakespeare; I read it again in a Shakespeare class my senior year of college, and even though we read nine other Shakespeare plays that quarter that I also fell in love with, Hamlet remained, and still remains, my favorite. I always think of Seth Cohen on The O.C. asserting that Kierkegaard invented teen angst, but I would posit that Hamlet is the forefather by a mile. There’s incredible commentary in the text on responsibility, identity and the internal struggle over action or passivity… you know, all the things that plague those fragile souls we call adolescents. It’s brilliant.

When I saw this edition, the illustrations were what stood out to me most: they were first done by John Austen in 1922, and they’re rendered in such fine detail and perfectly evoke the moody darkness of the text.














Maybe that was visual overload, but I think these illustrations are absolutely stunning. This is the stuff I live for, dorky as it may be. Whatev, haters gon hate. I’m so so happy with this purchase, and so looking forward to re-reading Hamlet with lovely visual accompaniment.

We Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.


When Nate and I decided to take this trip to Rome, we didn’t have any idea of what our Christmas day plans would be… at that point, I think it was enough for us to just imagine ourselves in Rome on Christmas. About a month ago, Nate’s father suggested to him that, since we were going to be in the motherland of Catholicism, it may be interesting to try to attend the midnight mass in Vatican City on Christmas Eve. I started looking into it, and not only were we arriving in Rome too late on the 24th to attend the service, but tickets to the service were sold out. As I was researching, however, I discovered that there was also a papal blessing at noon on Christmas day that was outdoors in St. Peter’s Square and didn’t require tickets, and it was at this point that I said “Eureka!” with my index finger pointed enthusiastically in the air.


On Christmas day, we ambled around at the Colosseum for a couple hours (for free, too! Merry Christmas to us) before heading to the square. We arrived more than an hour before the blessing was scheduled to begin, and there were already thousands of people there. As the 12:00 hour drew closer, even more people started flowing into the square, and a great parade (although ‘parade’ probably isn’t the right word, as it was very serious) of what I presume were Roman military men, dressed in what I presume was traditional Roman military garb, began marching toward the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. There was a great deal of pomp and circumstance.

When the Holy Father arrived on the scene, everyone was ecstatic, to say the least. He appeared in a window in the center of the basilica and sat down in a very ornate chair before he began reciting his Christmas address from a massive book whose pages were diligently turned for him by an underling. It was all in Italian (or maybe it was Latin? It’s all Greek to me, har har), but it sounded really lovely.

Once he had finished his address, he proceeded to say Merry Christmas and God Bless You in nearly every language imaginable: Portuguese, Romanian, French, Vietnamese, Icelandic, Spanish, Japanese, Afrikaans, and that’s just to name a few. It was incredible. And every time he spoke in the language of someone present in the crowd, they would cheer loudly, and the Pope would pause and smile and lift his hand to acknowledge them in a wave. He seemed like such a sweet, good-natured old guy. Once he was done, he stood and waved to the crowds and slowly receded back into the basilica, and the bells rang and rang and rang.


I’m not Catholic, but being blessed by the Pope was a really magical experience that I won’t soon forget. Since I’ve been in Europe, there have been several instances where I’ve been absolutely dumbfounded at the incredible things I’m able to experience, and this was definitely one of those times. All of which is to say: it was amazing, and five million points to Nate’s father for planting the seed in our heads to make this experience happen.

What’s In A Name.

The notion of naming is very interesting, is it not? Think about it: where would human interaction stand if there was no such thing as linguistics, if we didn’t give names to the things that constitute our reality? We give these names to things and in so doing are conditioned to think that the name is inextricably linked to the thing, when in actuality, it’s very arbitrary. For example, we Americans have a name for those things that grow outside and have branches made of wood and that in certain months have some leaves on them: a tree. But in France, a tree is called an arb. Though arb translates as tree, who is to say that the essence of what we identify as a tree is more wholly characterized by the word “tree” rather than “arb“? It’s all situational. And if I remember anything from my post-colonial literature class in college (I actually remember a lot of things… it was a great class), it’s that naming is always done by the person or group in power. When the French colonized the Caribbean, they came in and renamed areas of land and physical landmarks in their own mother tongue because they had the elevated position, the power, that would allow them to do so. And as a result, the names that the native inhabitants gave to the land were all but lost.

Keeping all of this in mind, now put it in the context of naming children. Parents giving a name to their newborn child is a cultural tradition that is considered pretty normal, but when you actually think about it, it’s kind of weird. It’s strange that a person can give a name to a nascent being, without really knowing anything about them or the kind of person they’ll become, just because they like it. Parents name their children because infants can’t name themselves, but I think that giving a name to a child ends up shaping them in profound ways that most people don’t take into consideration.

Yes, naming is arbitrary, but like naming objects, naming a person can fuse the name with the thing (or person, rather) to the point that they can’t be separated from each other. I have kind of an unusual name, and sometimes I try to imagine myself as a Tiffany or a Megan or a Jessica or some comparable name that’s common for a girl my age, and it’s near impossible. Just like I can’t subscribe to a linguistic designation for a tree that isn’t the word “tree,” I can’t think of myself as being called anything other than Kendall. Even though I know that the name “Kendall” is arbitrary and not an inherent quality of my essence as a person, it feels like it is most of the time.

Sometimes it seems like naming is a way for parents to make a bold statement. If you give your child a name like Jordan or Alexander or Jennifer, it says that you’re traditional; if you give them a name like Atticus or Harper, it says you’re literary; if you give them a name like Poesy or Sebastian or Tancey, it says that you’re creative and quirky. It says something about you, and is set out as a sort of template or mold for your child to grow into. Of course there are exceptions, where a child can rebel 100% against what their name would suggest, but it seems that names can be almost as formative as a kid’s surrounding environment can be. I sometimes think about what I would be like if I had been named something common like Sarah, or outlandish like Rainbow, or ethnic like Gerta, and how those versions of me would compare to who I am as Kendall. And I suspect I would be a very different person if I didn’t have the name I was given.

So I was given the name Kendall, and though it’s not the name I would have chosen for myself, I definitely think it has shaped me as a person. Kendall is a pretty androgynous name, and there have been many times in my life where someone heard my name before meeting me and assumed I was a boy; I think that has made me less of a girly-girl than I could have ended up being, more comfortable playing with boys and engaging traditionally masculine activities and qualities. Unusual, and sometimes downright weird, names are in vogue right now, but I grew up in a sea of Jennifers and Katies, so I was always the person with the name that stood out; but I kind of liked that, and realized that I’m most comfortable when I’m distinct. People have misspelled my name my entire life (Kendal, Kindle, Kandle, Kendyl, Kendell, Kendra, and my personal favorite: Kandl); it’s given me a good sense of humor and incentive to enunciate. But by the same token, there are shades of insecurity in all of these epiphanies that I’ve had to learn to work with.

When I was in first grade I was obsessed with Power Rangers, and I told my mom that I wanted to change my name to Kimberley, the name of the Pink Ranger. Can you imagine if I were a Kimberley?! I can’t. Sometimes I think it would be a really good idea to give an infant a filler-name until they were old enough to choose a name for themselves, like maybe nine or ten, but then I remember this Power Rangers anecdote and I think twice. But there has to be a better way to give your children names that will really suit them; maybe a name-exchange/loan program, so that kids can try out different names and see if they like them or not? Hmm…

how much is our world structured around language?

“try to think a thought without using language.”

emotion—> language—> thought.

i talk to myself a lot. most of the time it’s inside my own head, but sometimes i speak out loud to myself when no one else is around. ostensibly there’s no purpose for it, because i’m saying things that i already know and there’s no one around to absorb what i’m saying. even within my head, there is a constant monologue happening that i can’t turn off. i guess this is how humans process reality, and because thinking is so inextricably linked with language, there is no way to experience the reality of living without the words to name it.

and yet, there is so much that language can’t name. there have been so many times in my brief life that i’ve failed to accurately express my feelings because i simply didn’t have the words. the feeling is always there, so strongly, but sometimes the language just doesn’t follow. sometimes “angry” is the only word you can use to characterize the amalgamation of your irritation, melancholy, loneliness, disappointment and fear, even if “angry” doesn’t come close enough to describing it.

if only language was as boundless as emotion.