Retipuj, Sneerglaw (and Other Backwards Things)

Being from Jupiter was never easy on my social life. It’s kind of like how people grow up speaking a different language, then try to learn English. No matter how fluent they become, native-born Americans can always detect the accent. No matter how much I studied and tried to behave like the other humans my age, people just always seemed to sense that I was…different. As though everything I do has an accent.

Over time, after many peer rejections, I stopped trying so hard. I just gave into my weirdness and decided to like what I like and love myself, quirks and all. I spent much of my time absorbed in books, often re-reading my favorites. I watched movies and inserted the quotes into normal conversations whenever I could. I checked out music albums from the local library and built up an eclectic repertoire ranging from silly folk songs to classic rock. I amused myself with silly pastimes, like reading signs backwards.

“Look! Walgreens spelled backwards is sneerglaw!” I would say, cracking up laughing.

“God, you are so weird,” my siblings would tell me, rolling their eyes. I just shrugged and hunted for more signs to read backwards, which for me, came just as naturally as reading them forward. Tixe! TramK! Rouqil! Atoyot! It was my own private language; words that no one else could understand, which held magical meanings for me. It could be terribly lonely, though, to understand things on a level that wasn’t common to those around me. But that’s life when you’re from Jupiter.

Backwards words

Once in a great while, I would find someone else who kind of got it. At least, to some extent. Like Sabrina in middle school, who understood the deep pleasure of living through good books. And Jason, who acted normal in real life, but in private, sang along with me to every single Madonna song in existence, including the B-sides, in harmony. Then Chris Y., who always won when our history class played Jeopardy, and who just quietly seemed to “get it,” whenever we talked about any serious subject in depth. Maybe they were from Jupiter, too. Who knows? 

Jupiter

Then in college, I met Valarie. It took maybe seconds for us to realize that we were kindred spirits from some far away world. We were so much alike, although she had the smooth resilience of obsidian, and I was basalt, riddled with small holes that let everything in. We both read obsessively. Sang along to music that our families had never even heard of. Spoke with the same bubbly energy (although my accent was decidedly more California valley girl). It never took long in any conversation for one of us to spit out a quote from a movie or TV show, and the other would spit out the next line without missing a beat. 

“Want to go shopping at Tegrat?” I would ask her. 

“Sure,” she would answer, as though this were a perfectly ordinary request. “Then afterward, we can go grab some lunch at Synned.”

The connection between us was so rare and powerful, that we were inseparable friends. That is, until we decided to work at the same Girl Scout camp one summer. Valarie told a lie to the director that ended up putting me in a very uncomfortable situation. I was hurt, very hurt by her betrayal, yet still, I forgave her.

But she couldn’t forgive herself.

After that summer, she disappeared from my life. Stopped taking my phone calls. Wouldn’t respond to my letters. I moved to a new town and attended a different college, and didn’t hear from Valarie again until 2008, when we both began to use Facebook.

“So what do you think about Harry Potter?” she asked me when we reconnected. And it was like the last decade had never happened, and we were great friends all over again. We obsessed over the Yrrah Rettop series, and argued over whether Stephen Fry or Jim Dale was the better narrator (Jim Dale, hands down, though Stephen Fry got much better by Year 5). We swapped recipes, debated politics, and spoke in the language of literature and movie quotes. 

A year later, she disappeared again, with no warning, and for no reason. At the time, it was sad, but not the end of the world, since I had two other very close friends who also “got it,” even though they weren’t quite as into my backwards-speaking tendencies. When I lost them, too, thanks in part to my own poor choices, I was devastated.


It took 7 years before at last, I connected with another kindred spirit. “Z,” the man I dated for awhile in 2017, was a kind of miracle for me. No, we didn’t speak in movie quotes, and I never did get around to confessing that I read everything backwards and forward, literally. But we clicked in so many ways, on a deep level, as well as shallow. The core of me had been thirsting for a kindred spirit like him, and I drank him in like retaw. 

Then he left. (And ah, here come the saert, right on cue). He left, and one year, three months, and almost three weeks later, my heart still aches, and I would do anything if he would just reappear, and be my good friend. But maybe he, too, detected my alien accent, and didn’t understand.

The human world is so easy with relationships. They preach of how people come and go, and how one must let go, move on, make new friends. But their language is as foreign to me as backwards-speak must be to them. Maybe they are all obsidian, like Valarie, able to let it all roll over their surface. While for me, it’s different. True connection with people, and the love I feel for them, gets deep inside my pores, and can’t be extracted or forgotten. 

Or maybe, like my odd way with words, other humans have it all backwards. For so many centuries, people lived clustered together in small, tight-knit communities. They stayed together despite their differences, because that was how humans survived and thrived. People didn’t come and go from your life until someone died. Good and bad, perfect and imperfect, they remained together, and strengthened connections. No one mysteriously disappeared from your life, unless they got dragged off by a bear. 

Maybe the modern concept of relationships coming and going like freeway traffic is the real alien here. A sort of human devolution. We were never meant to break connections the way we do.

I would love to have a chance to discuss this with the people who still live deep inside of me. With my former best friends. With Z. And with Valarie, wherever she may be now. I don’t know if they would agree with me, but I think they would really get it.

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Extraordinary (aka: No Ordinary Woman)

male female sexism A coworker and I were having a discussion about childhood antics, during which I jokingly remarked, “I’m a girl. When I was growing up, girls didn’t do things like that.”

My acquaintance responded, “Yes, well you’re no ordinary girl.”

I blinked. “Um, yeah, actually, I am an ordinary girl.”

“You know what I mean,” he said, laughing. “Because you’re into computers and stuff.”

I brushed it off at the time, which is my typical reaction to remarks which are, either intentionally or unintentionally, offensive. But later, I recalled his words, mulling them over to consider them from his perspective.

You’re no ordinary girl.

What does it mean for a man to say that to a woman? Am I to pull on my feminist hat and decide that the words carried some sexist or misogynist meaning, which must be challenged? Is it an implication that a female who is interested in, say, computers and technology, or mathematics, or sports, is somehow less of a girl, or less of a woman? In which case, one must wonder, what makes a woman an ordinary woman?

Traditional Gender Stereotypes are Ignorant

I considered my own journey over the years from girlhood to womanhood. Childhood days of playing with Barbie dolls, and climbing trees in dirty sneakers and bandaged knees. The awkward years of learning to manage trendy outfits and hairstyles, the painful sting and awe of crushes on high school boys, the thrill of cheering with friends during football games. Being a fairy-tale bride in a gorgeous princess bride gown. Sewing curtains to hang in the windows of our home, cooking homemade meals for my husband as he came home from work. The pain and wonder of giving birth to three children, then nursing them at my breast. Years of life filled with planning family outings, leading scouts, baking cookies. Playing soccer, hiking, making photo scrapbooks of my family. Teaching young children during my first career outside the home. Computer games, good books, struggling to keep house as the children grew and grew.Ordinary Woman 1960

But no…I suppose there is nothing typical about any of that.

In the end, I gained understanding. My acquaintance had developed a narrow opinion of me based on the tiny speck which is his knowledge about my life. He saw that I enjoyed computers and sports, and decided that such things excluded me from the world of so-called ordinary women. No matter. I have no need to prove my ordinariness to anyone, for I am well-rooted in one wonderful truth about who I am: I am extraordinary.

I am good, and kind, and honest and talented. I am a creative person with a zest for life and a positive outlook. I am great at a few things, and terrible at a few things (like housekeeping). I can admit and laugh at my mistakes and weaknesses, and I work hard to be excellent in all that I do. When I look in the mirror, I like what I see looking back at me. If an ordinary woman is one who must doubt herself, or live within the limits of a labeled box, chaining her self-worth to the man at her side, then no, I refuse to be ordinary. Instead, I will continue to live, and find happiness, and learn, and grow into the most extraordinary woman I can possibly be.

make the decision to be extraordinary

You Are NOT a Mutt! (Teaching My Kids About Race)

The faces of the new generation of Americans

“Mom, what’s a Latina?” my ten-year old daughter asked me yesterday afternoon. “Some kids said that I look like a Latina. Is that bad?”

For a moment, I was stunned. Not because other kids said that my daughter looks like a Latina. But I was stunned that I had not yet prepared my children to handle questions about their ethnic heritage. “Sweetie, you are a Latina,” I told her. “And you are black and white. You are all of these wonderful things.”

Of course, it isn’t really quite that simple. My children are part of a new generation of Americans, with a complex ethnic heritage. According to our family tree, my kids have ancestors from Mexico, Ireland, England, Germany, and who-knows-which-countries somewhere in Africa. Is it any wonder that I have largely avoided the topic? To me, it feels somewhat lacking to simplify their ancestry down to three terms to check off on a census box: black, white, and Latino. On the other hand, it would sound ridiculous if my kids had to explain, “I am a Mexican-Irish-English-German-Unknown-Place-in-African-American.”

Have I mentioned yet my distaste for hyphenated racial tags? I don’t feel that they are much of an improvement over the ambiguous (and somewhat derogatory) terms which multiracial people have used to identify themselves over the years. Mulatto. An Oreo cookie. Heinz 57 Sauce. Mixed.

“To tell you the truth,” I explained to my kids, “Most people are misguided about the concept of race. Science indicates that the world cannot be divided into three main racial groups. There is a spectrum of human variation, and simplifying it all into a few boxes may make other people feel more comfortable, but it does not really determine your individual or collective identity.”

My kids looked at me blankly. Then my 12 year-old son said, “Um, maybe I’ll just tell people that I’m a mutt.”

I sighed. “Just tell them you’re mixed.”

Favorite Websites for Understanding Race:

Understanding Race (A Project of the American Anthropological Association)

Matters of Race (PBS)