Ethnographic & User Data

Forty Years of Cultural Dissonance

Pastrami Sandwich

This May was the fortieth anniversary of my family’s arrival in America. We came as refugees. My husband and I celebrated this momentous event (this marks over two-thirds of my life here) by visiting the Tenement Museum in downtown New York City. The biggest takeaway was the strong sense of “strangers in a strange land” mentality. People arrived not knowing the language or customs, not having a place to sleep or an ability to source work. It was scary. It took a very strong impetus to leave all that one knew and understood behind, to leave family and friends, to leave familiar food and places…to leave behind the mother tongue. (Did you know that the word “cow” is not under K in a dictionary? How are people supposed to find words when they don’t even start with the letter that they sound? Back then, I ended up drawing a cow in the middle of a sentence to finish my homework.) Without a language in common, it is very difficult to forge social ties. It is the main reason people “bunch up” by their cultural heritage into neighborhoods like “Little Italy,” “China Town,” “Little Russia,” “Jewishberg,” “Japantown,” “La Pequeña Habana,” “Little…

Not So Random Musings

Paper Birds

I’m overdue for an update. Usually, I have ideas and themes all worked out (and ebook giveaways all set), but this time it’s different. I still have books to give out, but the main theme of this “sharing” eludes me. So I’m going to write about a few issues that I found interesting in my last month of reading, editing, and watching the news. Reading Last year, I finally bit the bullet and started reading Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series. I’m on book 11 now… Robert Jordan (this is a pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr.) began writing the first book in these series, “The Eye of The World” in 1984 and only published it 1990. Considering just how popular and influential these series were/are, it gives hope for writers like me… I love the world created in these books. It’s very complex and deep (and wide). But I kept finding similarities to other fantasy series I’ve read. Of course, there’s the homage to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. But I expected that — those were really the founding high fantasy series that gave birth to all the rest. But there was also more than a…

There’s a word for that?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel

A Dictionary of Cool Words That Hide True Feelings & Meanings from Parents Many of the strange vocabulary words, that Jude and her friends, from my new novel The Far Side, use, arise from their need to create a sense of linguistic privacy from the grownups. These are real and come from hard-to-translate words from other languages, professions, or sub-cultures. Age-otori — a feeling that you look worse after the haircut. (Based on a Japanese word.) Ataraxia — a sense of stoic calm. (Based on an ancient Greek word.) Backpfeifengesicht — a face in need of a fist. (Based on a German word.) Chingada — a hellish place where all that annoy you go. (Based on a Spanish word.) Desenrascanço — to find a creative way out of a bad situation. (Based on a Portuguese word.) Dépaysement — the sense of displacement one feels when visiting a foreign country and being far from home. (Based on a French word.) Doppelgänger — a duplicate of a person. (Based on a German word.) Dustsceawung — the contemplation of the idea that everything turns to dust eventually. (Based on an Old English word.) Eudaimonia — deep fulfillment and the resulting happiness, even as…

1908 Russia — One of the Settings for My Novel: Twin Time

Sasha and Alex

“Twin Time” is a science fiction time twist story of two sisters: one autistic and one not. It plays out in two time periods: modern and just before and after the Russian Revolution of 1917. My grandmother was born off this time period, and it is partly based on her stories that that part of the book is created. Born into privilege, she lost everything after the Revolution. She married a Russian officer to secure her own Russian citizenship — my grandmother’s father was an English citizen, and her last name was very English and so was her passport. The new name and citizen papers saved her life. “Twin Time” is fully illustrated. But this movie of Russian life in 1908 gives another glimpse into the life of my characters. For those interested in reading the first few chapters, here’s the link: “Twin Time”.

Cultural Differences in Child-rearing or Abuse?

baby and cobra

I’ve written about cultural differences in child-rearing that from our, Western, point of view seem like child abuse. There’s the dunking of babies into freezing ice waters in Russia; and spinning children to improve something; and now I just saw these videos from India. and There is no question that if these were video-documented instances of child abuse in New York or Los Angeles, authorities would be knocking down doors to rescue these children. But in other cultures, is it different? Do we bear responsibility there?

Cultural, Psychological, and Evolutionary Basis for Your Political Choice in 2016 Presidential Election

2016 Election

Who’s your choice for president this election? How did you make your decision? Given where you live and who you are, you might never really had a choice! Your vote might have been decided for you even before you were born… Might. Cultural Argument: Empathy versus Sympathy There is a lot of talk about the presidential candidates that start with: Who would you rather have beer with? Why does such a question have resonance? Why do we put so much importance on our ability to relate to the candidate? Why do we feel that our ability to visualize ourselves hanging out with a potential president somehow qualifies them for office? Many pundits and TV personalities try to convince us that it matters one way or another. But why does it work? Why do people believe them? Well, there is actual is a reason, and it just happens to be culturally-based. It is worth looking at another example that has nothing to do with people running for the Office of the President of the United States of America. Consider mental illness. How do you feel about a person with schizophrenia? How do you feel about a person with Post Traumatic Stress…

Changing Profiles: The Missing Edit Button

  Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have changed the nature of digital identities. The anonymous or pseudonymous online profiles of the 90s have been eschewed for real and “verified” identities. However, why do websites force us to conform to variables that describe our identities according to inflexible database fields? Identities are fluid by nature and change over time. We adopt nicknames and change them. We marry and change our surnames. We remarry and change them again. We endure ordeals in life and change our names to distance ourselves from threatening people or violent events. We change our names to avoid responsibilities. We even play with identity and names as an expressive art form. Though government agencies are adept at tracking the various forms of our identities, the common social media and web services that we use daily are not so willing. For example, Facebook has name standards. Their standards limit personal expression. They encourage people to use “real names” but names are subjective and contextual. In fact, the California law that governs identity recognizes that a name others use for you, even if not your “real name” can be legally valid. Furthermore, the “usage method” of the…