how not to start an lj flame-war (about orphans)

23 12 2008

the road trip ended up being smooth sailing, once i got past the choppy water of the inner harbor, which is only just barely a metaphor–trying to leave in the late-morning saturday (i waited and waited and waited for the plow and finally had to head out without having seen any sign of it, because i didn’t know if the roads would also be awful elsewhere, and the drive can be anywhere from 6 to 10 hours long depending, but we had morning sun and then the clouds were coming back and then it was supposed to snow more, so escaping while the sun was out seemed necessary) meant i was faced with over a foot of a deeply rutted, churned up, slippy mess to get through, and my little nissan is about as equipped for that as it is for doubling as a self-propelling moon rover on its off-days. i literally sat in it like it was a boat, holding the steering wheel mostly just to hold it still, while shawn pushed and steered the car down the block to a cross-street that had been plowed where traction was even possible. a few bigger streets later and i saw asphalt, and from there it was easy; the cat quit crying and settled down to sleep before we even got on 81, most of the construction southbound has been finished, and we were safe and warm at mom’s before 6 (which, sadly, bears no resemblance at all to the so-far-unsuccessful attempt robotapocalypse made at getting home to the midwest, even leaving the day before my blizzard…)

so i’ve spent the past 2 days hanging out with mommy, working on some christmas projects i can’t tell about yet, tech-geeking with my brother on the internets, hanging even more icicles on this towering tree, meeting aaric downtown & zinging around on the metro, going out to dinner with him to talk smack and therapy about everyone we’ve ever loved, & catching up with my crowd from… i usually play averages and say “junior high,” since some of them i’ve known since then, although some i didn’t meet ’til high school, and some arrived after that, and i knew brian and chris in elementary school. our yearly dinner party is at 21 years running–would be 22 but we missed one due to scheduling clashes probably mixed liberally with uncooperative weather, and no matter how the roster changes, it’s always a wonderful crowd and a truly warm and loving evening. i’ll come back to that. i have much to do today, though, and i logged on with a coffee cup and an agenda, so:

there’s a little thread started in somebody else’s lj about naming the holiday gatherings put together by adults who have families but have opted to live far away from them and choose (or have the choice made for them as a result of other choices about jobs, relationships, geography, etc.) not to spend the holidays with said families but instead to spend them with one another “orphan” holidays, and that term bothers me. i said as much, in the thread, and i think pissed l_stboy off by doing so, so i’m still thinking about it, but i’m thinking about it over here now, as i have no desire to start an lj-fight about vocabulary at all, and if i do start one, it’s my own mess and i should be polite enough to keep my messes in my own journal. it bothers me because “orphan” does not mean “people who live too far away from their folks’ house for it to be economical to go home for the holidays, and/or they just don’t want to,” orphans are people whose parents have either died or completely abandoned them and disappeared; orphans don’t have a home to go home to. it’s not a choice. and part of the definition (i’ve looked this up) is that they’re abandoned and not yet adopted–once you’ve been adopted, you’re not an orphan anymore. and our friends-circles have a longstanding habit of using adoption terms with one another, and talking about making new families, so even if our parents had left us–and even if we are already among or as we join the growing number in our cohort whose parents have died–we still wouldn’t be/aren’t orphans, because we’ve taken each other in.

i’m sure that my circumstances the past year or two have changed my perceptions of a lot of things, and i don’t always know which things until i run head-first into them by accident; here, i seem to have found one. i’ve become a lot more sensitive about terms of imagined hardship being used playfully by people who are doing just fine, about terms of loss and sorrow being used by people who have not lost anything, they’re just making choices, and choosing not to go home doesn’t make anybody any more of an orphan than being a willing participant in a divorce makes me a widow: it doesn’t. (plus, i know your mamas read your lj’s, and if i were your mamas, seeing my child call him/herself an orphan–as if i’d been the one to do the abandoning–would make me cry) and yes, i know the term gets used metaphorically, but it still carries the same connotations even then–the orphan socks in my drawer are not the ones whose matches is in the laundry basket, i just haven’t gotten around to washing them, they’re the ones whose matches are gone and won’t come home again. (for the most part, though, my mismatched socks acquire habitual new pairings, & thus being adopted lose their orphan status anyway.) i do know some folks who, for various reasons aren’t welcome at “home” anymore, and when they call themselves orphans & equate “dead to me” with a less metaphorical death, i can’t argue with that (and wouldn’t want to–there are ways of losing people that are just as final as the sort you’d have a wake for). but for the folks to whom none of those sad tales actually apply…

i want you to have very happy holidays, this year and every year, and i think it’s great that you have people where you are to share them with, that you’ve created your friend-families warmly and wisely so that the choices that leave you far away don’t ever leave you lonely. but there are lots of words out there about traveling and roaming the world, and you guys have excellent vocabularies. i wish you’d pick a different one.

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24 responses

23 12 2008
reedrover

You bring up a couple of really good points that are even more important in today’s world: implications of vocabulary, and pretended hardship.
In my family, the random non-family who come to our Thanksgiving or [much more rarely] Christmas are called “strays” rather than “orphans.” They have strayed from wherever they might be expected, and are here for a meal and some good company, and will then go back into the night. There is an underlying expectation/implication that they will eventually end up back wherever they are supposed to be. Orphans need families. Strays need a night of peace and contemplation and maybe a little help to figure out how to go home, metaphorically speaking.
As more and more people come up against real hardships, people wearing pretended hardship are starting to get on my nerves. That, and the people who are causing their own grief are wearing on my patience. There are plenty of people out there who need a helping hand, a loving smile, and some emotional and physical shelter. Those people with the necessities in life – family, home, job – really should stop whining about how hard their lives are. Similarly, those people who should know how to solve their own problems and don’t are also losing charity with me. This does not mean that I expect everyone to give up all complaining. That would be against human nature. Heck, it’s cold, I have a headache, etc., and I plan to continue my regular life including my opinions of those things. But! – I’m not claiming hardship about any of them. And I’m trying to keep them in perspective as well.

23 12 2008
ovrclokd

strays… i like that. 🙂

23 12 2008
ovrclokd

strays… i like that. 🙂

23 12 2008
reedrover

You bring up a couple of really good points that are even more important in today’s world: implications of vocabulary, and pretended hardship.
In my family, the random non-family who come to our Thanksgiving or [much more rarely] Christmas are called “strays” rather than “orphans.” They have strayed from wherever they might be expected, and are here for a meal and some good company, and will then go back into the night. There is an underlying expectation/implication that they will eventually end up back wherever they are supposed to be. Orphans need families. Strays need a night of peace and contemplation and maybe a little help to figure out how to go home, metaphorically speaking.
As more and more people come up against real hardships, people wearing pretended hardship are starting to get on my nerves. That, and the people who are causing their own grief are wearing on my patience. There are plenty of people out there who need a helping hand, a loving smile, and some emotional and physical shelter. Those people with the necessities in life – family, home, job – really should stop whining about how hard their lives are. Similarly, those people who should know how to solve their own problems and don’t are also losing charity with me. This does not mean that I expect everyone to give up all complaining. That would be against human nature. Heck, it’s cold, I have a headache, etc., and I plan to continue my regular life including my opinions of those things. But! – I’m not claiming hardship about any of them. And I’m trying to keep them in perspective as well.

23 12 2008
ovrclokd

*hug* so you’re totally overthinking this, but hey – that’s your prerogative (and, coincidentally, one of the things i love about reading your journal). my guess is that the term “orphan” gets used because it’s succinct and evocative – of not exactly what you hear in it, not its original meaning, but language shifts and changes (and i do know how slippery that slope is; every time i make that statement, says “nucular” under his breath and i take a deep breath and try to remember how much i – usually – love him) and stretches for everyone from will shakespeare down to our holiday-celebrating friends.
if you really feel strongly about picking a different word, it would probably help to suggest one! preferably something with similar connotations of separation and missing-them and huddling-together-for-warmth…

23 12 2008
tyra

ME? overthink something? SURELY you jest! 😉
re other terms, i thought about doing that, but then i decided telling ppl what they should call parties that don’t even involve me might come across as a little bossy.
and now i’m glad i didn’t, because it might have limited ‘s creativity such that we missed out on his great idea!

23 12 2008
tyra

ME? overthink something? SURELY you jest! 😉
re other terms, i thought about doing that, but then i decided telling ppl what they should call parties that don’t even involve me might come across as a little bossy.
and now i’m glad i didn’t, because it might have limited ‘s creativity such that we missed out on his great idea!

23 12 2008
ovrclokd

*hug* so you’re totally overthinking this, but hey – that’s your prerogative (and, coincidentally, one of the things i love about reading your journal). my guess is that the term “orphan” gets used because it’s succinct and evocative – of not exactly what you hear in it, not its original meaning, but language shifts and changes (and i do know how slippery that slope is; every time i make that statement, says “nucular” under his breath and i take a deep breath and try to remember how much i – usually – love him) and stretches for everyone from will shakespeare down to our holiday-celebrating friends.
if you really feel strongly about picking a different word, it would probably help to suggest one! preferably something with similar connotations of separation and missing-them and huddling-together-for-warmth…

23 12 2008
metalmonkey

Ionic Bonding
Where atoms have electrons that come and go, forming new compounds as they jump from one to another. The opposite charges attract and the new molecules are formed. Not a terribly strong bond, as they’re subject to being pulled apart and changing easily, but still strong enough that for a while you’ve got a useful, happy new compound. Maybe you need Ionic holidays?
Using “orphan” with all the negative connotations seems to just be on par with the semi-rebelliousness of ‘negative is cool’. As seen at the art show, the aesthetic of “industrial macabre” where everything was all skulls, gas masks, rotten stringy flesh, etc, was all nice and well executed but not terribly exciting because it’s so easy to do. Everyone sees the negative, knows about it and points it out through their visual vocabulary. What made some of the simpler, but more beautiful pieces stand out was that they focused on creating beauty, or discussing a concept constructively. It’s always, always harder to make positives in negative space than point out negatives between positive space.
Maybe a new constructive word, like Forum or Senate would work? The Munkys have sort of always used the governmental model when we get together. Governors, Dukes, Senators, Generals. It asserts our own positive values and places of authority in our lives without needing to focus on where we’re not.
Your Shakira song makes me think of this:

“You make DANZIG wanna speak Spanish! Burrito! Doritos! Fiesta! Antipasto!”

23 12 2008
tyra

Re: Ionic Bonding
i love it.
ionic bond christmas. it’s so… nerdy and fabulous. and you don’t have to know anything about the ions or where they come from–it doesn’t matter why they chose this bond, it only matters that they’re bonding! 😀

23 12 2008
tyra

Re: Ionic Bonding
i love it.
ionic bond christmas. it’s so… nerdy and fabulous. and you don’t have to know anything about the ions or where they come from–it doesn’t matter why they chose this bond, it only matters that they’re bonding! 😀

23 12 2008
metalmonkey

Ionic Bonding
Where atoms have electrons that come and go, forming new compounds as they jump from one to another. The opposite charges attract and the new molecules are formed. Not a terribly strong bond, as they’re subject to being pulled apart and changing easily, but still strong enough that for a while you’ve got a useful, happy new compound. Maybe you need Ionic holidays?
Using “orphan” with all the negative connotations seems to just be on par with the semi-rebelliousness of ‘negative is cool’. As seen at the art show, the aesthetic of “industrial macabre” where everything was all skulls, gas masks, rotten stringy flesh, etc, was all nice and well executed but not terribly exciting because it’s so easy to do. Everyone sees the negative, knows about it and points it out through their visual vocabulary. What made some of the simpler, but more beautiful pieces stand out was that they focused on creating beauty, or discussing a concept constructively. It’s always, always harder to make positives in negative space than point out negatives between positive space.
Maybe a new constructive word, like Forum or Senate would work? The Munkys have sort of always used the governmental model when we get together. Governors, Dukes, Senators, Generals. It asserts our own positive values and places of authority in our lives without needing to focus on where we’re not.
Your Shakira song makes me think of this:

“You make DANZIG wanna speak Spanish! Burrito! Doritos! Fiesta! Antipasto!”

23 12 2008
teky4lf

I totally understand the frustration and hurt that referring to a holiday as an “orphan” holiday can cause. You got me thinking…
I’m wondering what should we call it when an adult who has lost their family spends the holiday with other adults who cannot/choose not to spend the holiday with their living family. For one attendee it really would qualify as an orphan holiday, just not all attendees… Should we really point out the difference to them?

23 12 2008
tyra

hmm, no, of course not. i think i’d feel more singled out by everybody using the term if i was the actual orphan, though, than by everybody using a less specific term. but that’s the danger of using words that could be situationally true–if it’s a playful term for some people & serious for other ppl there, i’d think feelings could get hurt easily.
i’m keen on ‘s idea myself. science metaphors are great for reinforcing our collective dorkitude while not setting us up to imply things we don’t mean by borrowing touchier language.
ponder, ponder.

23 12 2008
tyra

hmm, no, of course not. i think i’d feel more singled out by everybody using the term if i was the actual orphan, though, than by everybody using a less specific term. but that’s the danger of using words that could be situationally true–if it’s a playful term for some people & serious for other ppl there, i’d think feelings could get hurt easily.
i’m keen on ‘s idea myself. science metaphors are great for reinforcing our collective dorkitude while not setting us up to imply things we don’t mean by borrowing touchier language.
ponder, ponder.

23 12 2008
teky4lf

I totally understand the frustration and hurt that referring to a holiday as an “orphan” holiday can cause. You got me thinking…
I’m wondering what should we call it when an adult who has lost their family spends the holiday with other adults who cannot/choose not to spend the holiday with their living family. For one attendee it really would qualify as an orphan holiday, just not all attendees… Should we really point out the difference to them?

23 12 2008
faerieariel

I agree, orphan is a terrible word for those gatherings, stray is better, and ionic is very cool, if you’re a smart person. In any case, I think it’s important to have two families at all times: assigned and selected, I guess somewhere along the way I realized that my own family could never possibly fulfill all of my ‘belonging’ needs, and that’s how it went.
Meanwhile, thanks for the holiday wishes, I sent your holiday card to a 235 address – hope that’s a current addy for ya, and have a lovely time with your mama.

23 12 2008
faerieariel

I agree, orphan is a terrible word for those gatherings, stray is better, and ionic is very cool, if you’re a smart person. In any case, I think it’s important to have two families at all times: assigned and selected, I guess somewhere along the way I realized that my own family could never possibly fulfill all of my ‘belonging’ needs, and that’s how it went.
Meanwhile, thanks for the holiday wishes, I sent your holiday card to a 235 address – hope that’s a current addy for ya, and have a lovely time with your mama.

23 12 2008
l_stboy

For what it’s worth, it’s not my term; it’s a pretty common usage that I grew up with. Google “Orphan’s holiday” and you’ll get lots of stories about military folk who can’t get home for thanksgiving or christmas being taken in by families around them.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20061121/ai_n16856031

24 12 2008
tyra

oh! well, that makes it totally all better then. i’ll take it off the “things to blame terry for” list and put it on the “things to blame on the military” list!
::ducks, hanging on to halo::

24 12 2008
burny_md

watch it, last time I saw him with a shotgun, he was aiming low! 😉

24 12 2008
burny_md

watch it, last time I saw him with a shotgun, he was aiming low! 😉

24 12 2008
tyra

oh! well, that makes it totally all better then. i’ll take it off the “things to blame terry for” list and put it on the “things to blame on the military” list!
::ducks, hanging on to halo::

23 12 2008
l_stboy

For what it’s worth, it’s not my term; it’s a pretty common usage that I grew up with. Google “Orphan’s holiday” and you’ll get lots of stories about military folk who can’t get home for thanksgiving or christmas being taken in by families around them.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20061121/ai_n16856031

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