What One Town Did With This Abandoned Walmart Building Will Leave You Impressed

You can now find a Walmart in most towns and cities. Usually taking up an average 2.5 football fields of space, they are almost always massive, preying on our programmed materialism with cheap goods usually made in third world countries. So what happens when one of them closes? Usually not much, but one town in Texas had another idea.

Instead of letting this massive building sit vacant, officials in McAllen, Texas did something pretty amazing. They transformed the vacant property into the largest single floor public library in America.

Books and knowledge over goods? I like this idea. Check out some of the images below:

The developers stripped the old walls and ceiling, Opting for a modern type feel for the space.

This library now boasts 16 public meeting spaces, 14 public study rooms, 64 computer labs, 10 children’s computer labs, and 2 genealogy computer labs.

There’s also a cafe, a used book store, and an auditorium.

The grounds have a very beautiful/artsy feel to it. Definitely an awesome public library, and a great way to use the space that would likely have otherwise been wasted.

H/T: WeburbanistViral Nova

Young Delacroix on the Importance of Solitude in Creative Work and How to Resist Social Distractions

by

“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude.”

“One can never be alone enough to write,” Susan Sontag lamented in her journal. “People who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger,” the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky admonished the young. And yet despite the vast creative and psychological benefits of boredom, we have grown so afraid of it that we have unlearned — or refused to learn altogether — the essential art of being alone, so very necessary for contemplation and creative work.

The great French artist and dedicated diaristEugène Delacroix (April 26, 1798–August 13, 1863) examined this paradox with enormous elegance and prescience two centuries before our present epidemic of compulsive sociality and allergy to solitude.

As he approached his twenty-sixth birthday, Delacroix began to formulate what would become a defining concern of his youth and one of increasing urgency for us today, amid our age of exponentially swelling social demands and distractions — the challenge of mediating between the allure of social life and the “fertile solitude” necessary for creative work, which Hemingway grimly extolled in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Eugène Delacroix, self-portrait, 1837

Writing in The Journal of Eugène Delacroix (public library) in early January of 1824, the young artist addresses himself directly, as he often does in the diary:

Poor fellow! How can you do great work when you’re always having to rub shoulders with everything that is vulgar. Think of the great Michelangelo. Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul. You are always being lured away by foolish distractions. Seek solitude. If your life is well ordered your health will not suffer.

By the end of March, he is fully consumed by the polarizing pull of these conflicting needs for sociality and solitude. (A century and a half later, the great Wendell Berry captured their yin-yang beautifully when he wrote that in solitude “one’s inner voices become audible [and] one responds more clearly to other lives.”) In his growing contempt for the vulgarity of the art world’s posturing and the charade of networking, Delacroix finds himself doubly tormented by this polarity:

I must work alone. I think that going into society from time to time, or just going out and seeing people, does not do much harm to one’s work and spiritual progress, in spite of what many so-called artists say to the contrary. Associating with people of that kind is far more dangerous; their conversation is always commonplace. I must go back to being alone. Moreover, I must try to live austerely, as Plato did. How can one keep one’s enthusiasm concentrated on a subject when one is always at the mercy of other people and in constant need of their society? … The things we experience for ourselves when we are alone are much stronger and much fresher. However pleasant it may be to communicate one’s emotions to a friend there are too many fine shades of feeling to be explained, and although each probably perceives them, he does so in his own way an d thus the impression is weakened for both.

The first Sunday of April, shortly before his twenty-sixth birthday, he revisits the subject with greater resolve:

Everything tells me that I need to live a more solitary life. The loveliest and most precious moments of my life are slipping away in amusements which, in truth, bring me nothing but boredom. The possibility, or the constant expectation, of being interrupted is already beginning to weaken what little strength I have left after wasting my time for hours the night before. When my memory has nothing important to feed on, it pines and dies. My mind is continually occupied in useless scheming. Countless valuable ideas miscarry because there is no continuity in my thoughts. They burn me up and lay my mind to waste. The enemy is within my gates, in my very heart; I feel his hand everywhere.

Two decades before Kierkegaard’s memorable case for the value of being “idle” in one’s own company and a century before Bertrand Russell’s incisive insistence on the rewards of “fruitful monotony,” young Delacroix exhorts himself:

Think of the blessings that await you, not of the emptiness that drives you to seek constant distraction. Think of having peace of mind and a reliable memory, of the self-control that a well-ordained life will bring, of health not undermined by endless concessions to the passing excesses which other people’s society entails, of uninterrupted work, and plenty of it.

Illustration by Carson Ellis from her book ‘Home.’ Click image for more.

The Journal of Eugène Delacroix is a magnificent read in its entirety — a treasure trove of insight on art and life from one of the most luminous and creatively restless minds in history. (A word of caution here: The 1995 Phaidon edition by Hubert Wellington, while affordable and more readily available, is printed on paper so woefully thin it is nearly translucent, making reading difficult and unpleasant — to say nothing of underlining, even the gentlest form of which practically tears the page. The 1995 Princeton University Press edition by Michele Hannosh, while out of print and prohibitively expensive, is far superior — pleasurably printed, intelligently edited, and a true masterwork of scholarship reconstructing missing documents. Perhaps a smart publisher invested in cultural preservation will consider bringing it back into print.)

For a complementary perspective, see Wendell Berry on despair and solitude, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on why “productive solitude” is essential for the healthy psyche, and Sara Maitland on how to be alone in our age of inescapable togetherness, then revisit famous writers and artists — including Delacroix himself — on the creative benefits of keeping a diary.

Reclaiming the Age-Old Art of Getting Lost

CreditJessica Fortner

Lost in the Latin Quarter, I ended up, literally, at the foot of Michel de Montaigne.

A bronze statue of this French Renaissance philosopher — balding, with a beatific smile, cape draped over his shoulders, slender legs crossed — sits on the Rue des Ecoles in Paris, opposite the Sorbonne.

He was blackish green with the exception of the tip of his right shoe, which gleamed from having been inadvertently polished by the touch of countless hands. Why? I didn’t know. But assuming his foot was a kind of community talisman, I gave it a rub before continuing on my way.

It is a tradition among students, I would later learn, to touch the shoe of Montaigne with the hope that doing so brings them luck on their exams.

I was already lucky: I didn’t have a map. If I did I wouldn’t have seen the philosopher (by the sculptor Paul Landowski) or benefited from any additional good fortune that may have been transmitted through his foot. I wouldn’t have lingered before bookstore windows or passed Square Paul Langevin, where the blossoming branches of cherry trees reached over the fence, spilling petals like pink confetti.

The ubiquity of map and navigation apps these days can be a boon, but it also means that pedestrians can easily choose efficiency at the expense of discovery.

“We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost,” the writer Ray Bradbury said in a 1990 interview with Rob Couteau. “There’s nothing better than to walk around Paris and not know where in hell you are.”

This is true of not only Paris, but also most any city in Europe if one hopes to have the kind of chance encounters that make a vacation more than a game of hopscotch among landmarks.

My iPhone finds the most direct route to anything I wish to see, which is why I turn it off. Keeping it on would mean missing out on countless small streets and dead-ends, all those quiet, beautiful lanes and impasses with names I don’t remember.

Paper maps, which are rarer these days, can also get in the way.

“There are map people whose joy is to lavish more attention on the sheets of colored paper than on the colored land rolling by,” Steinbeck wrote in “Travels With Charley: In Search of America.”

“Another kind of traveler requires to know in terms of maps exactly where he is pinpointed every moment, as though there were some kind of safety in black and red lines, in dotted indications and squirming blue of lakes and the shadings that indicate mountains. It is not so with me. I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”

It is by being a wanderer, and not, to borrow a term from Steinbeck, a “mapifier,” that one is most likely to stumble upon less-frequented haunts.

Off Dublin’s Dame Street, through a stone arch near City Hall, past the Treasury Block building and a parking lot, around a corner and onto what looks like a service road, there is a wall of stones. On and on this gray wall goes with stones that are fat, wide, narrow and tall, and then — a gate.

There, through decorative whorls of black iron, one sees a vast, green oblong field ringed with benches and crisscrossed with paving stones in a ribbony Celtic-inspired design. On the wall that leads to the field, which dates to 1680, are the words: “Dubh Linn Garden.” Step inside, as I did one June afternoon, and you’ll be on the site of the former black pool, or “dubhlinn,” from which Dublin gets its name.

On that same trip, again mapless, I wandered by centuries-old Georgian houses with Crayola-color doors and, by chance, wound up at No. 1 Merrion Square, where Oscar Wilde lived as a child, from 1855 to 1878, and where his mother held salons attended by the likes of Bram Stoker. Yeats lived nearby, at No. 82.

Other aimless walks through Dublin were less historical but no less enjoyable: With little regard for time or where I would go next, I strolled through the Victorian park St. Stephen’s Green one morning, stopping to watch a man at the lip of a lake feed two white swans and a flock of fuzzy cygnets.

Freedom is being guided by a mood, not a map. One winter, in Italy, I arrived in Bologna for the day without a plan, having driven from Florence with a friend.

Overhead, garland arches were wrapped with gold ribbons in anticipation of Christmas and, on the streets below, a chocolate festival with edible wrenches, bolts and other tools jumbled amid stalls of marshmallow rabbits and owls.

In the spring, in the Netherlands, a bus ride to Keukenhof from Amsterdam allowed me to spend an afternoon lost beside snaky rivers of grape hyacinth and tulip fields that blanketed the land like red and yellow quilts.

In the summer, in Spain, I got disoriented in Barcelona trying to find my way back to my hotel from Barceloneta Beach and was instead swept up into some sort of flag-waving celebration.

Even a trip to the most touristy spot can feel personal and spontaneous if you forgo turn-by-turn navigation. I advise glancing at a map to determine the general direction you wish to walk, then winging it.

By doing just that in Paris, I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower grow closer from a cool distance. Rather, I was instantly dwarfed by it when I happened to glance skyward from a street in the shadow of the tower’s lattice belly.

Similarly, my inability to figure out how to get beyond the roundabout to the Arc de Triomphe made my (eventual) arrival there that much sweeter. I walked the last of more than 250 steps to the terrace and sat on the cool limestone to watch the sun disappear, with the avenues of Paris fanned out around me like pleats of a skirt frozen in mid-twirl: east toward Sacré-Coeur, west toward the woods of Bois de Boulogne, north to the Levallois-Perret cemetery, south to the Sorbonne and the lucky foot of Montaigne.

Encouraging Teenagers to Read, by Choosing Books From the Non-Y.A. Shelves

CreditJessica Lahey

My sons have always been voracious readers. One started early, the other started late, but once they got going, both were hooked. Then, one day this winter, I looked around my teenager’s room and noticed something was missing. Where books once littered his room, I now find guitar picks, running spikes and dirty socks.

I’ve learned from experience that encouraging my children to engage in anything I want them to do requires a lot of finesse. When I’ve come right out and recommended books I think they will like, those titles are immediately blacklisted from their mental card catalog, because my very endorsement taints them with a mom-approved stink.

My solution is to “seed” my older son’s room with a wide range of books for him to find on his own time and on his own terms. I consulted with my local bookseller, Brenda Leahy, who curates a list of teenage recommendations selected from outside the Young Adult section of the bookstore. Once armed, I scattered the literary bait all over my son’s room.

Once I’d set the trap for my own son, I asked Daniel T. Willingham, author of “Raising Kids Who Read,” for more advice about how to help keep children reading as they get older, and how to entice those who have strayed from books back into the reading life.

Make reading for pleasure a priority at home. Early in elementary school, teachers tend to give children a choice about what they read, but once they hit third grade, students are asked not just to read for pleasure, but to learn. Consequently, teachers begin to dictate what — and when — children read. This shift in purpose and focus can color the entire reading experience until it reaches its lowest point around Grade 10. There will be plenty of required reading assignments at school, so model reading for pleasure at home, particularly as children get older.

Don’t offer rewards for reading. Research shows that while rewards can jump start reading, they ultimately have a detrimental effect on both motivation and attitudes toward reading for pleasure. Schools commonly offer pizza, stickers and ice cream parties in exchange for pages read, but these rewards don’t encourage students to read over the long term. Worse, they teach them to prize rewards over reading and value what has been read over what is being read. Treat reading not as the path to a golden ticket; but as the golden ticket itself.

Photo

CreditJessica Lahey

Give children the power of choice over the books they read for pleasure. Have a wide variety of books available and accessible at home and in school, but don’t push your preferences or judge what a child chooses to read. For those who are truly resistant, Dr. Willingham wrote in an email, “Our first job is to get them open to the idea that print is worth their time.”

Ditch the rules! Children need to be able to abandon books they don’t like, peek at the endings, and read books they love over and over again. “Don’t nag, praise, criticize content or otherwise control your child’s reading,” Dr. Willingham writes in his book. Rules are control, and control is the death of intrinsic motivation.

Think outside the Y.A. section of the bookstore. After a year of unsuccessful attempts to entice one eighth-grade boy with the offerings on my independent bookshelf, I finally succeeded with a nonfiction book about baseball, his favorite sport (“The Last Best League” by Jim Collins). If sports are not your kid’s thing, how about science? Try, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson or “What If?” by Randall Munroe. If a child loves animals, try “Following Atticus” by Tom Ryan or “Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived” by Ralph Helfer. You get the idea. Follow the enthusiasm in order to discover the book, rather than the other way around.

It’s been two weeks since I seeded my son’s room, and I am happy to report that the experiment has been a success at home. He has devoured two books so far this week (both on running: “The Sports Gene” by David Epstein and “14 Minutes” by Alberto Salazar) and when I took the two he rejected (“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew B. Crawford) to school, they were were snapped up by students as soon as I put them on the shelf. My victory was short-lived, however, as later that day, my students deemed the day’s assigned reading “boring” and “stupid,” thus proving the point about the power of choice, and reminding me that when it comes to teaching and parenting, progress is always two steps forward, one step back.

A full listing of the Dartmouth Bookstore’s “Adult Picks for Teens” is available here.

Before You Respond to that Email, Pause

Someone sends you an email message or a text, and you’re unsure how to respond.  It’s about a complex negotiation, or a politically sensitive situation. Or maybe it’s just from a person who unnerves you.

For a moment, you pause. But for most of us, most of the time, that pause doesn’t last long. Instead we react, feeling the need to immediately craft a response. And often we then hit “send” without fully thinking. The result: an awkward or incomplete message that causes the recipient to pause, then react, often starting or continuing a cycle of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Yes, people today expect and want an instantaneous reply to any message. We often accommodate them because delay feels like a violation of modern-day social norms.

But there are many times when we should not immediately reply.  And the truth is, we usually know them when they come. That’s what that initial pause is about. The key is to heed it.

There is a simple two-step method to making the pause work for you. First, buy yourself some time to think. Second, follow the four simple C’s of effective communication that help determine how best to respond in terms of the context, content, channel, and contact.

Buying Time

There are a few practical ways to buy some time when you get a message where your gut tells you not to respond or where you are not sure how to respond.

  • The non-response response – “Got your message.”  This is meant to serve as an acknowledgement but really is only filler. It may aggravate someone in the midst of a negotiation or other serious exchange.
  • The expectation-setter – “Got it.  Lot on the plate today, I’ll get back to you tomorrow afternoon.”  This is often a good middle ground.  It provides an immediate response of acknowledgment and resets the timetable.
  • The confident pause – Don’t respond. Really. Just don’t. Pausing for at least 24 hours is a pretty good rule of thumb. Not responding is its own kind of response, which can often work to your advantage.

Once you’ve bought yourself some time, you soak in the information from the message and think of what the best response might be. There are four C’s that have served as a useful checklist for me to use during that pause time before I respond to a difficult message: context, content, contact, and channel.

The Four C’s of Effective Communication

  1. Context – Having the right situational context is key. Who are the relevant parties to the conversation or discussion thread? Are there relationships and inter-dependencies and previous conversations that I’m not aware of?  Do I fully understand what is at stake?  In the multi-party transactions in which we often get involved in venture capital, sending out a quick response to even a simple query can backfire if the timing is wrong or the information out of date. Sometimes you can even answer a specific question in a technically correct manner, but be practically incorrect because you’ve failed to appreciate the bigger picture.
  2. Content – The message needs to be delivered in clear manner with the right tone and style for the occasion. Having the right content means checking facts and being consistent with past discussion threads. If there is one thing that I have seen kill a negotiation or productive progress in a discussion, it is inconsistency of message, which both confuses others and diminishes your credibility. Get the facts and your message points straight in your head, then focus on delivering them in the clearest, most understandable, most consistent manner possible.
  3. Contact – Are you even the right person to respond? It happens often: we are asked something and fail to realize that we might not be the best person to respond. Consider if someone else might be more knowledgeable or better suited in style to respond, especially in a crisis (where it is usually best to have only a single point of contact). There is a reason why terrorist and hostage negotiations are not conducted over Google Docs. And even in an open and collaborative everyday work culture, there are many times when deferring to someone else is the right answer.  Also, consider if the person on the other side who is asking a question or provoking a discussion is the right contact person as well. And always — always! — be wary of “reply all” and judicious with the cc function.
  4. Channel – Just because someone contacts you by email or text does not mean you have to respond by that channel. Email and text lend themselves to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. They are often likelier to prolong or inflame a debate than to resolve it. As I’ve written before, sometimes it’s much more effective and efficient just to pick up the phone or meet up in person. Email is great for transmitting factual information — a spreadsheet of a business model, for example, or a summary of a prior discussion. But when there are issues to resolve, talking usually works better.

As the pressure grows to respond quickly, the value of pausing and thinking is growing too. We all should work toward developing better, saner norms of communication amid the explosion of channels available to us. But that will take time and thought to get right.  In the interim, we just need to stop being so damned trigger-happy with that send button.

Mind Your Email Manners: In business communication, it is important to observe some etiquette rules

Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, at her Lake Worth, Fla., home, says that drafting business emails is a craft that should prioritize a professional tone.
Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, at her Lake Worth, Fla., home, says that drafting business emails is a craft that should prioritize a professional tone.
PHOTO: JOSH RITCHIE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

So much business communication takes place electronically that people tend to dash off emails without thinking about them. But even with quick messages, it is important to observe some etiquette rules.

“Email is often the first impression that others get of you,” says etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, who has done executive coaching and leadership training programs for various Fortune 500 companies.

Ms. Whitmore believes one thing above all: “Err on the side of being more formal.” When composing an email, she never starts without a salutation. “An email deserves a greeting,” says Ms. Whitmore. “We’ve gotten so lax in the way that we communicate that we’re apt to forget good habits.”

If the recipient is someone Ms. Whitmore has never met before, she’ll likely begin with “Dear.” Generally, though, she will use “Hello.” After that first email exchange, though, Ms. Whitmore takes her cues from the person she is emailing. “If the person says ‘Hi’ to me, I will say ‘Hi’ back,” she says. “I will mirror the person I am emailing.”

Timing is important. “The rule is you should reply to an email within 24 hours,” Ms. Whitmore says. “Even if you don’t have an answer for someone, reply anyway and say ‘Thank you for your email—I’ll get back to you by such and such a date.’ ”

Ms. Whitmore, who has written two books, “Poised for Success” and “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work,” likes to start the body of her email with a short, thoughtful sentence. “If you haven’t spoken to the person in a while, it’s best to put some little nicety in the front, like ‘Happy New Year’ or ‘I hope you had a great holiday,’” she says.

After that, Ms. Whitmore tries to be as direct and succinct as possible. “I always keep my sentences very short,” says Ms. Whitmore, who is also the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida. “People have hundreds of email to answer in a day. The chances that somebody will respond increase when the email is shorter.”

Ms. Whitmore likes to keep her paragraphs short as well. With especially busy people, bullet points are a good idea. “I work with a lot of executives who are very busy, and they just want the facts,” she says. “I almost set it up like a memo so it’s easier to read.”

While it can be easy to fall into a casual tone, especially if you’re tapping out your email on a portable device, Ms. Whitmore cautions against it. “Remember that emails can be forwarded, they can be duplicated,” she says. “Keep emotions out of it, and keep it simple.”

At the same time, Ms. Whitmore is careful not to be come across as curt. “No one can see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice, so the only way they’re gauging your emotions is the tone that you use in that email,” she says. So, while she tries to keep things short, she also will add words such as “I’m happy to do it” to convey a little warmth.

Some people try to convey emotions in emails with happy or sad faces such as 🙂 or with extra exclamation points. Ms. Whitmore says she does use such measures when she thinks it is appropriate—“but never when I’m trying to make a good first impression,” she says. “If I’ve known the person a long time and we’ve developed a friendship, I find it more appropriate to be less formal. But when in doubt, leave it out.”

A model business email, annotated with tips for crafting emails that hit the right business etiquette notes and maintain a professional tone.ENLARGE
A model business email, annotated with tips for crafting emails that hit the right business etiquette notes and maintain a professional tone.

A model business emailENLARGE
A model business email PHOTO: JOSH RITCHIE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

“Text speak” is a strict don’t, Ms. Whitmore says. Acronyms such as “lol” “don’t have a place in a business email,” she says. “Even if you’ve just graduated from college and you’re now out in the workforce, remember that a lot of your clients may be baby boomers. It’s important for you to stay professional.”

More people are writing messages in all lowercase letters. Ms. Whitmore likes to reserve that for personal emails.

Make sure nothing is misspelled. “It can reflect poorly on your company if you send a poorly composed email,” Ms. Whitmore says. “People may think, ‘This person handles the balance sheets for my company and he can’t even spell there?’ So read and reread it before sending it.”

Also, be sure to put in a clear subject line at the top—something busy professionals prize. “If you don’t have anything in the subject line at all, you can’t figure out if it’s something you want to open right away,” Ms. Whitmore says.

Signing off carries potential pitfalls as well. “If I don’t know the person well, the safest way to sign off is ‘Best regards,’” Ms. Whitmore says. “Kind regards” and “Warmest regards” convey formality with just a little more affection, she adds. “Best” is commonly used and works for most situations, but if Ms. Whitmore feels a more formal tone is called for, she’ll use “Sincerely,” which she notes is “a little more distant.”

A definite no: “xoxo,” which should only be reserved for best friends or “if I really, really love somebody,” Ms. Whitmore says.

A signature tag line beneath your signoff is a must, says Ms. Whitmore. This could list your name, your company’s name, your phone number and perhaps your website and one social-media handle.

“Don’t put unnecessary things in your signature like quotes or religious sayings,” Ms. Whitmore says. Similarly, photos in signature lines may not come off well. “Not everybody needs to see your picture,” she says.

Why Did People Stop Saying “Thou”?

We know language changes—we don’t say thee and thou anymore—but have you ever wondered why? Often, it’s not clear, but there’s a particularly satisfying answer when it comes to these two pronouns.

By

Mignon Fogarty,

When did people stop using thou?

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by lynda.com, an easy and affordable way to help individuals learn. Instantly stream thousands of courses created by experts on business, software, web development, graphic design and more. For a free trial visit lynda.com/grammar.

 

A couple of weeks ago, after I talked about how the pronoun you fills so many roles, I started wondering why we stopped using thee and thou.

It turns out that English used to have formal and informal pronouns like many other languages. German has Sie and du, French has vous and tu, Spanish has usted and tú, and during Shakespeare’s time, English had thou and you and thee and you.

Thee and Thou Were English’s Informal Pronouns

Since thee and thou have survived mainly in religious and poetic writing, you may be surprised to learn that thee and thou were the informal pronouns. Yup. You was formal, and thou was informal.

In a book called The Personal Pronouns in the Germanic Languages, Stephen Howe says that in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, thou was generally used to address someone who was socially inferior or an intimate. For example, parents called their children thou, and children called their parents you, but then the use of thou sharply decreased in the seventeenth century, starting in London. Thou was used the longest in areas that were farthest from London, and in fact, it’s still used in a few regional dialects including those in Yorkshire and Cumbria, which are both quite a bit north of London.

When Social Status Became Unclear, People Started Using You More

The reason people stopped using thou (and thee) was that social status—whether you were considered upper class or lower class—became more fluid during this time. You had social climbers striving to talk like the upper class, so they used you all the time instead of thou, and since you couldn’t be as sure as you used to be about who was in what class, it was safer to use you instead of thou because you didn’t want to risk accidentally offending someone in the upper class by using the wrong pronoun. You didn’t want to call someone thou when you should have used you!

What Do the Quakers Have to do With Thee and Thou?

Sometimes questions come up about whether the Quakers were involved in the loss of thee and thou. The Quakers actually used those pronouns longer than almost everyone else. They favored what they called “plain language,” and they aimed to be egalitarian, embrace humility, and avoid markers of class and status. They believed that addressing a social superior as you fanned the flames of vanity. As an aside, they also refused to use titles such as mister or your ladyship, and this could get them in trouble if they ended up in court because they also refused to address a judge as your honor. 

Although I didn’t find anything definitively convincing, a couple of sources speculate that anti-Quaker sentiment could have hastened the demise of thee and thou. Since fewer and fewer people were using the pronouns, they became associated with Quaker-speak, so if you didn’t like the Quakers, you were probably even less likely to use thee and thou.

Thee and Thou Became Insults

Plays and legal documents from the time do show that people were using thee and thou as insults too. The attorney-general at Sir Walter Raleigh’s trial taunted Raleigh by saying “All that he did was at thy instigation, thou viper; for I thou thee, thou traitor.” And a 1913 article in Harper’s Magazine recounts a story from George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, on the trouble he encountered when using thou. “We were often beset and abused, and sometimes in danger of our lives for using these words to some proud men, who would say, ‘What! You ill-bred clown, do you thou me?’” It’s hard to understand now, but at the time, it was almost unthinkable to call a superior thou.

So it seems that English lost its informal pronouns because people were afraid of offending those who thought of themselves as upper class and because some people were actively using the pronouns thou and thee as insults.

It’s interesting that more recently it’s the formal pronouns that are being used less often in languages such as Spanish and German. It seems that our values are different now—today, we value informality more than formality.

The sources I found include much more detail and nuance about how thee and thou used to be used, more about where they remain, more examples of how they were used as insults in plays and legal proceedings, and more about the Quakers’ attitudes on language. It’s great reading if you’re interested, so don’t skip the sources below.

See also Why Does I Take Plural Verbs.

Sources

Firth, A. “Summary: Thou and You.” Post to Linguist List 7.599, Tuesday, April 23, 1996. http://www.quaker.org/thee-thou.html (accessed November 29, 2014).

Hamm, T. “This History of Quaker Plain Speech.” YouTube, QuakerSpeak channel. June 19, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBIVNK5Lq58 (accessed December 11, 2014).

Higg, R.M, Blake, N.F., Romaine, S. and Burchfield, R.W. (eds.) The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume 4. Cambridge University Press. 1992. http://j.mp/1vwK20Q (accessed November 29, 2014).

Howe, S. “The Personal Pronouns in the Germanic Languages: A Study of Personal Pronoun Morphology and  Change in the Germanic Languages from the First Records to the Present Day.” Walter de Gruyter & Co.: Berlin. 1996. http://j.mp/11EE4iR (accessed November 29, 2014).

Lawn, R. “Tu and Twitter: Is it the end for ‘vous’ in French?” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19499771 BBC News Magazine. September 6, 2012.  (accessed December 3, 2014).

Liberman, M. “George Fox, Prescriptivist.” Language Log website. October 24, 2010. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2732 (accessed December 11, 2014).

Lounsbury, T. R., “Pronouns of Address.” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 126. 1913. p.202. http://j.mp/1yhnLXq (accessed December 3, 2014).

Walker, T. Thou and You in Early Modern English Dialogues: Trial, Depositions, and  Drama Comedy. John Benjamins Publishing. 2007. http://j.mp/1rIj6X6 (accessed November 29, 2014).

“Politeness in Early Modern English: The Second Person Pronouns.” http://www2.nau.edu/~eng121-c/politenessin%20AME.htm (accessed November 29, 2014).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

 

The Utensil Etiquette Your Parents Never Taught You

Dining utensils seem like they should be pretty straightforward. What’s more simple than a knife and fork? Okay, maybe a spoon. But like many things in life, there’s more to utensils than meets the eye. In fact, these daily instruments carry a lot more weight than just the food you’re shoveling. They’re symbolic tools that can signal when you’re finished with a meal or if you’re still working; they can disclose where you’re from, depending on how you hold them; and they can even cause hashtag-inducing media meltdowns (read: Forkgate, when Mayor of New York Bill DeBlasio ate pizza with a fork and knife.)

If you’re not privy to proper utensil etiquette, it’s time to study up, lest you accidentally initiate a spoon-apocolypse of your own. Customs vary across the globe. For example, in Thailand and Laos, it’s impolite to put your fork in your mouth. You should use your fork to shovel food into your spoon, and then put the spoon in your mouth. In Chile, you should always, in all instances, eat with a utensil and never eat with your hands.

Here in the U.S., not much is taboo — we can put all of our utensils in our mouths, and yes, we can eat with our hands. (How else would we get down with chicken wings?) The way we rest our fork and knife on our plates, however, is of utmost importance. If you’re not up to speed already, here’s what you need to know:

According to etiquette and personal branding expert Mindy Lockard, the way to signal that you’re resting, — meaning you haven’t finished eating — is to lay your fork and knife separate but parallel on your plate. Your knife should be on the right side of your plate, and your fork tines should be facing up. An alternative signal for “resting” is placing the knife and fork in an X on your plate.

To signal that you’re finished eating, your fork and knife should be left together and parallel, at the 11 o’clock position, fork tines still up.

Continental or European style for leaving your fork and knife is similar, but your fork tines should be facing down, not up. The only difference between the two is the resting position. According to continental convention, your fork and knife should be crossed like an X, not parallel.

For a visual guide and for more dining etiquette beyond the knife and fork, check out the infographic below. Click on the image for a closer look.

dining etiquette infographic
visual.ly

A 101-year-old shares her best advice for young women

“Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what,” says Marian Cannon Schlesinger to today’s young women.

At 101 years of age, she is still painting, writing, watching Rachel Maddow, and reading two newspapers a day.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination, many of the people who can recall the era in detail have passed on.

Marian Cannon Schlesinger was married to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., historian, speechwriter and special advisor to President John F. Kennedy, living in D.C. and raising four children during his Washington years.

Well-traveled, having studied in China prior to their marriage, she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their divorce. She has written and illustrated five children’s books and, in 2012, published the second volume of her memoirs: “I Remember: A Life of Politics, Painting and People.”

I sat down with her recently to hear about her time in Washington, memories of being raised an “academic child” at Harvard, advice for independent women, and recipes for leading a “full life.”

Amidst all the cheering from individuals such as “Lean In’s” Sheryl Sandberg, many educated women of privilege in America have opted out of careers and public engagement to raise families, touting domesticity as a singular focus, in part because the alternative juggling act is so difficult and the infrastructure in the U.S. to support working parents is so paltry.

A centenarian who participated in a relatively traditional marriage might be the last person one would expect to call these women out.

But when I talked to her, Ms. Schlesinger refocused the conversation on responsibility as much as personal happiness: “Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read — a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it — I don’t know,” she said. “I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.”

What are you working on and doing with your days at this point?

Reading the newspaper, watching television and working on another book.

You spent your entire childhood among luminaries. Your father was the Francis Lee Higgins Professor of Physiology at Harvard for forty years. Your mother was a celebrated novelist and helped found Planned Parenthood. Were you impressed by all of this?

I think that’s why June Bingham and I used to have such fun over the whole thing in Washington. We didn’t take it very seriously because we had seen something of the world before we arrived.

We had a lot of fun as a family and we always had lots of people coming in and out of the house. My mother ran an “open” house really and she’d take care of all these sort of crazy relatives who had nervous breakdowns and things like that. These two wonderful aunts lived with us. So, I had three mothers, in a way.

My mother was very active in politics. She was out in the world and my two aunts were professional women and, for that period, it was rare. One of them was a founder of medical social services at Massachusetts General Hospital and the other, who had beautiful taste, owned a children’s store in Harvard Square from which generations of children were clothed.

How did you end up in China to study art after college?

“My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim.”

My sister was married to John Fairbank and they were living in China at the time. My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim. After Radcliffe, I took the trip by myself across the United States, got a boat in San Francisco headed for China.

How did that influence you?

A gentleman came every day and taught me how to use a Chinese brush and the whole technique of the way Chinese painting is done. There is something about the use of a Chinese brush, which is just an exquisite instrument, and it taught me so much about how to draw. A lot of people don’t draw. They just paint. I draw and paint but I feel that drawing is basic to my kind of art and I feel as though my time in China refined my work.

john f kennedeyUniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

What was the Kennedy presidency like for you?

Very go-go, if you know what I mean. And of course, it was very exciting too. There was the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis in Cuba, those were real crisis, and then there was an awful lot of bogus stuff too.

Like what?

Oh I don’t know … I had an awfully good time.

Have politics changed today?

It was kind of like a small town in the Kennedy days. There were parties every night. We often dined at the White House. It was really mad.

There was a real family feeling—I think that was somewhat fostered by Bobby Kennedy and Ethel because they had a great sense of family. You’d go out to their house in Hickory Hill and there’d be all sorts of people gathered at their place. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was there, young law clerks and, oh, all sorts of other people. I can’t remember. I’m only 101 years old!

I think I was perhaps not as aware of political violence or what was involved. I was aware of the civil rights work but I wasn’t as sensitive to it as I became later on. A lot of this good work was going on at the time but I suppose I was preoccupied by the momentum of it all including raising my four teenagers.

There were so many things played upon me at the time. I wasn’t involved with the mechanics of getting elected at that point. I wasn’t active in politics until afterwards when I went on a trip with Scotty Lanahan, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter, who was a great friend of mine, and two other women. We went out and campaigned for Johnson in 1964. That was terrific fun. I never had such a good time as that.

What advice do you have on how to be a free-spirited woman?

Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.

Also, my mother had said, ‘It doesn’t really matter if your house is that dirty. Go ahead and do your thing. Don’t pay too much attention to housekeeping.’ Of course, she did have a nice maid who came in every day but we didn’t have any live-in servants. My mother did most of the cooking. Sometimes it was not so good, but it was adequate.

In those days, women who had higher education, especially back in my childhood, were rather rare. The fact that they’ve gone out and gotten this education has differentiated them from other people in a way.

But there are strong women everywhere whether they have higher education or not! There have always been strong women.

This idea that feminism was created in the last twenty years is ridiculous. When you think of all the women that went across the continent in covered wagons. Really. It’s ridiculous. It’s a lot of baloney. If they’d read a little history, they’d find out that women have been powerful characters all through the history of the United States.

Young Woman with Hat and SunglassesFlickr / Chris JL

You must recognize, though, that some women still can’t find their voice?

I think there are a lot of privileged women who are frustrated. They just don’t know what they want to do and they need to go out and use their education and talent. I’m very fortunate because not only do I paint but I also write. I had plenty to do.

“I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.”

I was thinking about a friend of mine who, before she married, was quite active in Massachusetts politics. And then she married a man who was very well off and she was well-supported and had two children and then, once the children were all grown up, here she was well-supported and not even doing anything with it.

Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read – a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it—I don’t know. I really feel very sorry for them.

What would you say to these women?

I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.

Early on I decided being a painter was what I wanted to be but I wanted to be a lot of other things too. I wanted to write. I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to have a lot of friends. I wanted to have a lot of beaus. I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.

I was thinking the other day about never giving up. I remember when my husband and I separated and I stayed on in Washington for about a year before I moved back to Cambridge on my own. […] But then I sort of gathered myself together, moved back to Cambridge and got organized.

How did you get organized?

I renewed a lot of friendships.

What was it like to be neighbors with Julia Child?

She was terribly busy. I’d have people over for the afternoons and she’d come but I’ll never forget the time I had to her to lunch before she went back to California. I must say I made a very good meal and she said, ‘oh, Marian, this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.’

What did you make?

Gnocchi. We made gnocchi, green salad and fruit for desert. Pretty good and the gnocchi, it was delicious too.

Where do you get your news?

I read two newspapers a day. I also read The Nation and The New Yorker, which has become such a bore. Every once in a while there’s a wonderful murder in Vanity Fair which I love, especially a society murder, if you know what I mean?

I like to watch Rachel Maddow, if I can stay awake that late, I like her so much and Chris Matthews and Mister Ed who I love on MSNBC.

Favorite places to dine out in Cambridge?

God, I can’t remember. No one went out to dinner in the ’50s.

But I will tell you what I used to do with this great friend of mine, Sheila Gilmore, who was an original. She was the stepdaughter of the Harvard philosopher Alfred Whitehead and her husband was a professor of history at Harvard. She and I used to go to the original Legal Seafood down in Inman Square. We used to set up at the counter and I’d have a dozen oysters and a martini. I’ve forgotten what she had but I always remember this. It was my idea of the perfect meal.

Any thoughts on the Red Sox?

I think they’re terrific but I can’t stay awake and watch them. I find the Patriots are rather an irritating group – so full of themselves. I prefer the Red Sox to the Patriots.

Craft CoffeeFacebook/Craft Coffee

Do you have any habits or secrets to living to be 101?

I drink a cup of coffee every morning. My nice son brings me a cup of coffee and he’s done that now for some years, which I think is terribly nice of him.

Her son Andrew chimes in: “You have a drink every night.”

A pretty watered down drink! It’s symbolic more than anything

What advice do you have on how to live a full life?

Just keep going.

Have lots of people in the house and lots of different kinds of people – young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.

Your hope for the next president?

Good old Hillary would be okay.

 

In Miss Eudora’s Garden

 by

There are certain towns that are forever linked with the authors who lived there. Oxford, Mississippi, is Faulkner land, parts of New Orleans’s Toulouse Street belong irrevocably to Tennessee Williams, and Monroeville, Alabama, is Harper Lee’s territory as surely as if it had been marked on the state map. If Jackson, Mississippi, had a patron saint, it would be Eudora Welty.

Miss Eudora, as native Jacksonites affectionately call her, was a fixture in the capital city of Mississippi from her childhood until her death in 2001. Her presence is still inescapable. Visit the Mayflower Café, off Capitol Street, and you’ll hear about Miss Eudora’s fondness for plate lunches of fried catfish and butter beans. Dig through the waist-high volumes at Choctaw Books and, with luck, you can come across a volume signed in Welty’s bunched and looping hand. Ask an alumnus of Belhaven University about Welty, and they’ll tell you how she used to keep the window of her bedroom open to listen to the music department practice, her head just visible in the top floor window as she sat at her typewriter

Author’s homes on public display tend to have a stuffy quality, all velvet ropes and militantly made beds. The assiduousness of the preservation drains the life from them, makes them seem impossibly antique. Welty’s house, a Tudor-style revival tucked into a thicket of pines, is almost unbearably welcoming. Visiting feels like an intrusion on her privacy. The rooms are littered with paintings and clever bric-a-brac—a gaudy bust of Shakespeare on the mantel, a gold heart-shaped box inscribed with “The Ponder Heart” on a living room table. Her many accolades are nowhere in sight, removed from the house and put in a small museum adjacent, since Welty had a habit of keeping them in a cardboard box tucked in the upstairs closet. Piles of books cram into shelves in almost every room and teeter in piles on most surfaces: dictionaries, collections of Greek myths, novels by Wodehouse, Thurber, O’Connor, and Pritchett. Her nieces used to complain that when they visited Eudora, they had to move a stack of books just to sit down.

Stepping into Welty’s house feels less like entering another person’s home than like dropping into one of her stories. Critics of Welty’s writing often quibble with her penchant toward the atmospheric and the regional, concentrating on the relatively narrow scope of social life in the Deep South. (In 1943, Diana Trilling gave Delta Wedding a withering review in The Nation, describing the novel as a book in which “nothing happens” written in language that stands “on tiptoe.”)

But Welty is not a regional writer—her purview is much smaller than that. Her writing is bound up in the romance of everyday objects, in the vagaries of memory and how they become tied to a place, a room, a piece of furniture, or a trinket. Proust had his madeleine, but Welty had pralines. In her house, certain objects give you literary déjà vu. There is the desk from The Optimist’s Daughter in her bedroom, every slot filled with letters. There are the volumes of Dickens from One Writer’s Beginnings, mud-spattered from when her mother threw them out of the window to save them from a fire. It is disorienting to see these objects outside of the page. Life intertwines with fiction for most writers, but it’s rare to be able to point to the exact intersection.

Nowhere is the overlap more obvious than in the sprawling back garden. Welty’s mother, Chestina, designed and planted the garden when the family moved into the house in the 1920s. After Eudora returned to Jackson from New York to care for her dying father, she spent most of her life weeding and watering with her mother, browsing through seed catalogues and bulb bulletins, trekking through the swamp with a bottle of snake-venom antidote at her hip to find specimens for archipelagos of flowerbeds and planters. When her night-blooming cereus plant (“a naked, luminous, complicated flower,” she wrote inThe Golden Apples) began hinting at exposing its fragile white buds each year, Welty would throw parties that would last from dusk until dawn in its honor. Her letters to friends tracked time by what was in bloom, what plants she could see from the window of the breakfast nook. “The sight of the garden and its scent!” Welty wrote in a section she edited from One Writer’s Beginning. “If work hasn’t proved it real, it would have been hallucination; in this sense gardening is akin to writing stories. No experience could have taught me more about grief or flowers, about achieving survival by going, young fingers in the ground, the limit of physical exhaustion.” For Welty, gardening was the process that helped distill the imaginative jumble in her head into stories. It was in the garden, Welty wrote in her papers, that she first “set myself at a storyteller’s remove.”

By the nineties, the magnificent garden had fallen into disrepair, Chestina long gone and Welty too consumed with other activities to preserve it. Before Welty died, she authorized the state of Mississippi, led by preservationist and gardener Susan Haltom, to restore the garden to its former glory. The work, which Haltom documented with writer Jane Roy Brown and photographer Langdon Clay in the book One Writer’s Garden, was painstaking.

The main guidelines for the restoration team were passages from Welty’s letters and fiction. The result is a multiroomed affair, a map of larkspurs, Johnny-jump-ups, roses, verbena, Russian sage, and daylilies corralled into islands and fjords. Walking through, Welty’s descriptions ring in your head. There is the althea bush like the one in Losing Battles, full of flowers “pink as children’s faces.” There is the Silver Moon plant the yard boy attends to in “A Curtain of Green.” The tiny agonies and triumphs that are the sustenance of Welty’s work are all entangled in nature.

The first time I visited Eudora Welty’s garden was shortly after my parents moved to Jackson, while I was in college. I had been abroad in India the whole summer as they had boxed up my childhood home in Birmingham, shipped the possessions four hours south and west into the sleepy expanse of Mississippi. When I arrived at their new house, I felt disoriented: Jackson was like Birmingham in many ways, but smudged somehow, the drawl a little deeper and the backyard clay tinged yellow instead of red. I concerned myself with rearranging familiar books on foreign shelves, taking short trips around the town to see the old capitol building, the fairgrounds, the local bookstore where a bust of Welty sits festooned with mardi gras beads.

When I got to the Welty house, one August twilight, the last tour had already gone through. I peered through the windows and looked at the brick porch, hesitating only slightly before slipping through the side trellis into the garden. The sweltering heat had died down, but the buzz of mosquitos hung heavily in the air. I sat on a stone bench and breathed the soupy air, the humid perfume from the clumps of purple, gold, and red flowers. Something about the garden was welcoming and quiet. It made the whole of the town make a little more sense and settle in my mind. It wasn’t until later, reading through Welty’s work, that I realized quite why. “One place understood,” Welty wrote, “helps us understand all places better.”

Margaret Eby is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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