Beautility

“From a pragmatic point of view, for something to be beautiful, it has to work. In order to make this idea clearer I have combined the ideas of beauty and function into one word: Beautility.” — Tucker Viemeister

The Internet is rife with articles that discuss untranslatable words from foreign languages and new words that we are creating and entering into English vocabulary (my personal favorite from this particular list is procaffinating. I do it daily). The English language is pretty much a Pokémon — it’s constantly changing and evolving in order to suit our needs. While this somewhat makes English hard to learn with the constant influx of new vocabulary and occasional modifications in grammatical structure, I think overall it is wonderful that there is a globally-employed language that can be modified in order that we may better communicate our ideas. Current English is such a mélange of different words and vocabulary coming from French, German, Dutch (which I’ve found is surprisingly easy to understand when one knows English), Spanish, Greek… It is the conglomeration of so many influences from different languages around the world and it is right to consider it an international language.

So with my little discourse on language, it is no surprise that I wholeheartedly support Tucker Viemeister’s creation of a new word to fit his needs, even if those needs are to save him about 0.62 seconds of breath and effort in completing the phrase, “beautiful and functional.” He ought to go further in creating a whole dictionary entry based on this word.

beautility (adj.) — the state or quality of being both beautiful and functional.

The Impressionist-style office was designed with beautility in mind. 

beautile (adj). — being both beautiful and useful.

Her handbag was really beautile. It completed nearly everything she wore and carried everything she could ever need. 

He can continue it on his own. I am neither Merriam nor Webster.

But Viemeister’s idea of beautility is one that speaks to me on so many levels. I love finding beauty around me, in nature especially. I like to be surrounded by objects and colors that are aesthetically pleasing. However, I must also say that I absolutely hate dusting and cleaning, and will avoid these undesirable tasks as long as I can, so having a lot of stuff in the house is not ideal. Still, like the parakeet that I am, I’m attracted to pretty, shiny things. My husband just wants anything that’s functional, while beauty can just go right out the window. Thank God he loves the Louis XIII-style furniture is parents are letting us use, which fits in wonderfully with my love of Elizabethan, Georgian, and Victorian stuff. Really, anything between 1700 and 1900 captures my eye.

Returning to beautility, our house is entirely made up of things that are both beautiful and functional. I don’t think I yet have anything that is simply there because it’s pretty. Our garden, which is still in the process of being overhauled and replanted, will be made up of functional plants; that is, plants that give food. We have no use for flowers on their own when my rosemary plant provides pretty little purple blossoms for me to look at. Our vegetable garden has everything we could ever want — bell peppers (capsicum), eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgettes), pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, green beans, and many other items that we love. Our property is dotted with various fruit trees: apples, pears, plums, quetches, cherries, and a new apricot tree to top it off. Each of them flowers in the spring, filling our yard with an irresistable aroma and beautifying the entire property. I delighted in walking around our weed-filled, chaotic yard in order to smell the different flowers this spring. We even have a raspberry bush and plan on planting blueberries, blackberries, and more raspberry bushes later. While I enjoy the flowering season for its aesthetics, I am constantly reminded that each of these plants serves a purpose; that is, to provide food to my husband and myself. They are primarily functional; the beauty is just a bonus.

Our philosophy is born out of an appreciation for simple living, a real need to be frugal. Everything we have serves a purpose. It is not just a collection of junk. We don’t have any days where we feel so bogged down by our stuff that we can’t function. We have no days where we do a full overhaul of the house and begift our cast-offs to Goodwill. We have what we need and we need what we have. Stuff is stressful. Stuff with a purpose is useful. If it can be pretty, too, then I’m all for it.

So, I appreciate that Viemeister has created this word that sort of embodies my husband’s and my approach to life. He’s working toward designing things that are both beautiful and functional and, in the process, he has enriched our language with a new word that has a good reason for being there.

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Weeds

We bought our house just over a year ago. The grass had been regularly cut and some intentionally planted verdure could be spotted dotting the yard. We even spied a rhubarb plant that now seems to be flourishing. Too bad we don’t like rhubarb!

Our garden, however, remains at the very end of our list. Exterior beauty and property value is just not as important as making the interior a liveable space. There are radiator pipes to install, water pipes to connect, electrical wires to run through the walls, and walls to be sanded. The furniture is perpetually coated in a thin layer of  dust, despite my best attempts to clean on a regular basis. Our living room is unpenetrable and the armchairs are stacked up one on top of the other; the living room is a glorified storage locker.

So with trying to make the interior a space in which I can receive guests and pass around hors d’œuvres, like the ’50s housewife that lives within me wants to do, we neglect the exterior to the point that it has become rather wild. Stinging nettles grow knee high and leave me longing for the soft, clean Saint Augustine grass my bare feet delighted in when I was in Florida. Weeds are rampant. I can’t even mow the grass because it’s so full of other stuff.

But nestled in this chaos of mauvaises herbes is a little vegetable garden, desperately trying to grow amidst the invasion. I do not give it the care it deserves, but if last year’s zucchini is any indication, nature will take care of everything with very little need for my intervention.

On the other side of our rickety workshop is what I like to call the orchard. The towering, weather-beaten, wooden garage and an unruly hedge had conspired together to prevent the orchard from getting any sunlight. The fruit trees grew high over the years in a struggle to obtain what little sunlight they could. Since acquiring the house, we have removed the hedge completely, allowing the trees more light and more air. We have also trimmed the trees, as fruit trees should not be as tall as these are. We have plums, quetches, cherries, apples, pears, and a brand-new apricot tree in front of the house with five little fuzzy apricots pushing out from its branches.

In the many years since this house had last been inhabited, the trees grew their own fruit, dropped it, and grew it again next year. Since we haven’t been meticulously caring for the yard, the bulb-based flowers that had been unceremoniously mowed with the rest of the grass and weeds by the previous owners have since grown and flowered.

Amid the weeds and general unruliness of my garden lies true beauty and order, my own secret garden. Sometimes, doing just a little bit of cleaning can bring the best results — the fruits of my minimal labor now thrive.

God knows…God knows I’ve got to break free

Last year, I chaperoned a trip to London with my students. One of the teachers suggested we wile away the time (and drown out the awful French rap the kids were listening to) by singing songs over the speaker system in the bus. I was ALL for it, because I love being on stage and in the spotlight. The only problem is that I’m half as old as all of the other teachers, so finding some musical tastes in common would be quite a feat.

Everyone likes Queen, though, right?

The physical education teacher wanted to sing “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, but, at the time, I only vaguely knew how the song went. I’m a “Somebody to Love” kind of girl, liking to hit the high notes whether I can do it well or not.

Referencing my last post on being a curious person, I read up on Queen and Mercury in particular. It is undeniable that Mercury was a spectacular performer and vocalist. Despite the tragically short life and terrible demise, it seemed that his was a beautiful soul. I often wonder what he would have been able to do had he lived. Don’t we all?

In researching Queen and trying to learn that damn song before the next trip to London (in case the PE teacher wants to do karaoke on the bus), I have played it repeatedly on Youtube, to the point that I even dream about this song. It’s a little pathetic, but I’ve grown to love it immensely.

It’s a song that speaks.

I know it has something to do with needing to leave a romantic partner, but it always spoke to me in a different way.

We get into a kind of rut in life, don’t we? So many people are unsatisfied with their job, particularly, but also with themselves, either externally or internally.

For me, my rut is all three.

Since coming to France, I gained six kilograms (13 lbs) and have successfully lost two and a half (5.5 lbs) but still have a way to go before I feel comfortable in my skin.

I am not entirely satisfied with my job, a sentiment that I share with much of the world, I think. I don’t enjoy it. It just pays the bills. I love most of my students, but administrative stuff gets on my nerves. I want to have a job wherein I punch the clock and it’s over — I can go home, relax, drink all the beers and just rest.

Mentally, I’m not in the best place, but I suppose it’s getting better. That’s a trend I’ve seen very frequently online: so many people are unhappy. Depression is absolutely rampant. When you think about it, isn’t that terrifying? Everyone is sad, and worse, they are absolutely incapacitated. A quick scan of Reddit comments shows that a large group of users have depression, anxiety, and are at a complete standstill.

But it isn’t just them…it’s me, too.

It’s an odd feeling — you want to get up, you want to do great things, you want to complete your daily tasks and succeed at life, but you absolutely cannot bring yourself to do it. There is an invisible, palpable barrier preventing you from rising from your chair. It’s of course all mental, but thus spoke Dumbledore,

Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

That’s the thing — I have vivid dreams of running through the yellow canola fields outside my town. I have dreams of paddling a boat down the little creek in the woods (though even someone as woefully ignorant in physics as I am can see that a boat wouldn’t float in that shallow water). I have dreams of showing up at my parents’ (now mothers’) doorstep with a book in hand, with my face on the author’s page. But there is this barrier…these chains…that I know are mental but are holding me back nonetheless.

I so desperately want to break free. I, like so many others, want to feel content. I know my life is amazing compared to those in developing countries, to those who have handicaps or handicapped children, or to those who are living with insufferable and incurable diseases. Mine — ours — is a disease of the mind, though. I want to believe and trust that I can succeed. My body is ready, but my mind is holding me back.

God knows I’ve got to break free, if only to keep on going.


Depression is so rampant today. What in the world can we do about it?

Learning

Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.

–Isaac Asimov

I am, I suppose, what one would call an autodidact. Consulting the Dictionary.com page, one sees this roughly means that I learn by myself. I tell everyone I meet that this is how I learned French. Humble brag? You bet. But I will continue to share it with everyone anyway, becauseupon reflection, it’s a pretty cool feat to be able to learn a language to the point of independence without the aid of a teacher to correct one’s mistakes. It requires an awful lot of self-reflection, constructive criticism, and motivation to be able to identify one’s errors and to find a means of correcting them. Judging by some of the students that I have — who are simply physically present in class because they must but couldn’t care less whether they learn anything or not — it’s pretty impressive to hear stories about those who have taken the reins of their own education and have driven the coach to success.

I’m sure some would say that pushing for self-education is a means of pushing myself out of a job, seeing as I’m a teacher. I think the opposite is true, though, and I will make my case to the best of my ability.

I just watched a lovely video (below) featering Isaac Asimov and his thoughts on self-learning in the computer age.

One thing Asimov said is that computers can help a child* find information and learn based on the child’s own motivations. I wholeheartedly agree. There is an immense wealth of information online for students to consult and, with a bit of coaching, children can learn to weed out biased information in favor of more objective sources (which is a skill that transfers into daily life hors Internet).

From my love of Spanish came my desire to learn French. My family has some French ancestry and I was frustrated at not being able to see the English subtitles when watching La Vie en Rose in the theater, so I decided to learn French alone. Textbooks can be woefully out of date; though I purchased one for basic help, it has only served to collect dust in my closet. I knew, however, that the internet, with its frequent updates, would serve me better as a tool for learning.

In learning languages, it has been particularly helpful, as it helped me to find penpals with whom I could communicate in order to practice the language more frequently. Without the Internet, I never could have gotten by alone, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay money I didn’t have for a private tutor with whom I could only speak once or twice per week.

Critics of self-guided learning may identify the child’s tastes as a barrier to effective and comprehensive learning, the argument being that if Billy likes soccer but hates English, he won’t want to study English on his own and will never learn it. Judging by the way children (and adults, for shame) speak currently, I don’t think much has been learned in the classroom anyway. However, putting little Billy at a computer means that he will likely first consult his favorite player’s Wikipedia page. He will then remember that his favorite player used to play for another team, whose roster includes another of his favorite players. From there, he will either click on a link about a town in England or he will think of something original to search. In any case, each page is pretty well monitored for grammar and little Billy is positively swimming in the language. He is learning to use it by seeing how it is used. In the event that he eventually makes a contribution to the WWW, he will quickly be reminded of grammar rules by everyone else. It’s pretty much what the Internet is known for.

But little Billy still hasn’t gone out of the sphere of sports. Teachers still need to be present to introduce basic concepts, because simple browsing won’t present everything. From there, however, what harm is there in letting Billy see where that little spark of information takes him?

Furthermore, what harm is there in using this tool to find a better teacher for Billy? I have known many teachers who taught well in general, but did not teach in the way that little Susie or Kevin could understand. There is a vast amount of information on the internet and thousands of ways of explaining different concepts; little Susie even has a pretty good chance of finding someone who can explain complex physics in a way she can understand.

This is precisely how I learned French. I studied what I could understand on my own, then asked for an explanation of something I didn’t from someone who did understand it. If I couldn’t make sense of the answer given, I kept searching until someone could explain it in a way that made sense.

The internet has made things like math — at which I am shamefully unskilled — comprehensible. It has opened doors to other cultures; this week I learned about Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Zoroastrianism (which I found through looking up Freddie Mercury). I learned geography in reading about Zoroastrianism, too, with its roots in Iran and Mercury’s birthplace of Zanzibar and subsequent rearing in India.

The one thing I hated most in school was having learning forced on me. I love books, but I hate required reading. Guiding my own learning via computers has made me more of a scholar than my schooling years ever did. I’m now learning German, Dutch, and Irish thanks to Duolingo and am understanding pesky math problems with Wolfram Alpha.

Yes, we still need teachers to help guide students and to present information in a clear, concise, unbiased manner, as well as to provide help when needed. But children — and adults — are more than capable of guiding their own learning.

A fellow teacher saw me learning another language on my cell phone at lunch. She said it was cool that I am always learning new things. I thought, it’s sad that she isn’t.

My learning did not end when I left school. On the contrary, I think that’s when it truly began.


*Asimov specifically references children, but anyone is capable of using computers to guide their own learning, the process of which may guide a learner to other media, such as books and magazines.