A. Walker Scott

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My Early Fascination with Culture and Language

Posted on June 1, 2018 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (4)

Anyone who knows me learns pretty quickly that I am fascinated with cultures and languages. Often people ask me why or how I became so interested in these aspects of what it means to be human. I usually just say "This is the way God made me," and leave it at that. And on a very fundamental level, I believe that is probably the best answer. I'm wierd this way. But I got to thinking about my personal history the other day, and realized that I could see hints of the man I was to become way, way back.

When I was 4 years old, my family moved to the San Luis Valley in Colorado. My dad was having helath problems and we had moved there to be close to my mother's family. We were brok when we got there, and spent several weeks or so living in a hotel room. There was very little to do, and no TV. Mom read to us from some story books she had from when she had been a little girl. Two of my favorite stories from that book were "Posh and Tosh" by Matilda Schirmer, about a young family, perhaps Germans or Scandinavians and some silly domestic goings on. But the pictures, oh the pictures! The illustrations were so colorful, and the clothes the family wore were...different...exciting...other. The second story I remember was "Auntie Katushka and the Poppy Seed Cakes," by Margery Clark. That one had such strange names: Auntie Katushka, Andrewshek (the little boy). and there was an angry goose who came from "the old country" to reclaim his feathers from Andrewshek's feather bed. I had a feather pillow. I wanted a cool name, and those colorful clothes, and a fight with a goose for my bedding!

When we moved back to Dallas, shortly after my fifth birthday, I discovered Sesame Street. this was back in the day when Sesame Street often would run the same sketch more than once in a single episode, once in English and once in Spanish. I was fascinated. Adn there was a show called Villa Alegre, which was almost entirely in Spanish. I didn't speak the language, but I watched faithfully. And then Sesame Street added Linda to the cast. She was Deaf and used American Sign Language.

When I started kindergarten, I had a great teacher...for the first six weeks. Then the school moved her to the fourth grade, and gave my class a new teacher. The new teacher did not like me. And the feeling was very much mutual. My mother met with the principal a number of times. The only option they gave her was moving me to the bilingual kindergarten class. Mom talked to me about that, and I was cautiously excited. (I had already learned how miserable a bad teacher could make life.) But I got very sick, just befor Christmas, with pneumonia and never went back. I became a kindergarten drop out. For real.

There were other books, like Gypsy Girl's Best Shoes, and The Story of Ping. They intorduced me to even more cultures.

First through third grades, I only really remember two culture or language related experiences. My sister, who was two grades behind me made a friend in kidnergarten (so I would have been in second grade) whose grandmother was Deaf. I learned the manual alphabet and a tiny handful of signs, and remember spelling my name to that woman a few times. The other cultural event of this period was wehn my mom bought me a set of books that were a sort of...children's encyclopedia of sorts. There was a volume on science with illustrated articles on what was known about each of the planets, and the beginings of spaceflight and communications satellites, and such. There were articles on biology, and the discovery of germs, and such. One volume included an article witha chart of how to say "hello" in various languages, and how to count to ten and a few other things. I learned them all by heart.

We moved to one of the suburbs before fourth grade, and there was a Filipina girl between my sister and me in age, who lived in one of the downstairs apartments on the other side of the building. I remember trying to get her to teach me to speak her language. She never did. The most exciting thing that happened in school that year were writing my first story, "The Puffin Who Stole a Muffin" (which I sill have in a box somewhere), and the unit we did on the fifty states. That was fun all the way through, but really got good when we got to Hawaii and learned a song in Hawaiian, and a dance jumping in and out of bamboo poles before our feet got caught.

From very early, I was collecting and storing in memory, everything I could learn about other languages and cultures. I didn't have access to much, but it was important to me. And when I got to college and had the opportunity to meet people from dozens of countries. I did. I made friends with, and spent so much of my time with, sudents from other countries that many of my fellow Americans just assumed that I was a foreign student, too. I've continued to take every oportunity to learn and experience and enjoy. Who I am today started way back when.

Why aliens?

Posted on January 17, 2018 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (1)

Sci-fi is a big field, and there are so many sub-genre that you can get dizzy trying to keep track of them all. So what is it about aliens that attracts me more than ray guns and spaceships? It's the possibilities for exploring cultures and languages, and odd ways of looking at the universe. 

When I look at cultures here on Earth, the variety is amazing. There are so many different ways of doing the same essential tasks. In America, we eat with fork and knife and spoon. They do the same in England, but they hold their fork turned the other way. Some fork-knife-spoon cultures find it perfectly acceptable to stab bites with the knife and place them in the mouth; others don't. Then there are chopstick cultures, and again, good manners in their use varies from place to place. And then there are dipping cultures that use sops, and hand cultures that pick up food with their fingers and...the list goes on. And that's just the physical act of eating! We haven't started to talk about cooking methods, or walking styles, or the proper way to rear children. Or governance. Or beliefs about the spiritual world. Or...

You get the idea. But all this dizying variety is just within Human cultures. What about aliens? They should be at least as odd as we are. 

I like exploring cultures here on Earth. I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood, in a city where over a hundred languages are spoken at home. I attended a church that was about evenly split between Balck, White, and Hispanic. At college, I had so many friends from other countries, that American students often just assumed I was a foreign student, too. I've visited exotic places like Singapore, Budapest, Hong Kong, and Timișoara. I've lived in Taiwan, Solomon Islands, and North Dakota. Crossing cultures and learning how others do things, learning to appreciate different perspectives and ways of accomplishing things has been part of the way I've lived. So, when I start building an alien culture for one of my stories, and one of them needs to eat, I start thinking about all the ways that we do that here on Earth, and ask myself, "Is there a reason why this culture could do this the same way as one of our cultures here? If so which one? Perhaps a combination? Or is there some other way to do this, one that no Human culture (that I'm aware of) does it?"

If it isn't at least as odd as other Human cultures, how can I call them aliens?

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