The First Blush

“We’re so distracted by how things end, we usually forget how beautiful the beginning was.”

— Ryan Vandeput

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Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches”
— Margaret Atwood; The Haidmaid’s Tale.

(broken Latin, meaning ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’)

Many will recognise this quote from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (and the subsequent – and epic – Hulu adaptation for the small screen). But where does this ‘fake’ Latin phrase originate? Michael Fontaine, a classics professor from Cornell University; and this blog’s author, Ryan Vandeput, an English Literature Masters Graduate from the University of Leicester, took their best guesses.

“It was likely an old school joke, for those who took Latin class. It’s not really ‘true’ Latin; rather, it sounds like something a school pupil made up for fun. It might even be something Margaret Atwood remembers from her schooling & childhood” surmised Vandeput. Another similar Latin joke phrase with the same supposed translation is “illegitimi non carborundorum,” which Fontaine noted was equally fake—though it’s perhaps a little more legit as Latin, since it at least doesn’t use the made-up “bastardes.”

“Illegitimi is a real Latin word,” Fontaine continues. “It could indeed mean ‘bastards’ (though it’s not the usual word, which is spurius or nothos).”

“My guess is that c. 1890-1900, some American people thought it would be funny to pretend like ‘carborundum’ was actually a Latin word meaning ‘needing to be worn down’ or (making allowances for ignorance, which is surely part of it) ‘to wear down.’ If the phrase was originally illegitimis non carborundum, then the original idea was that ‘there must not be a wearing down (of you) by the bastards,’ or in plain English, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down.’ Either then or soon after, illegitimis would have become illegitimi, which changes the grammar, but most English speakers can’t tell because our grammar doesn’t work that way. That would pretty quickly give you illegitimi non carborundum”

“The key to the mystery is knowing that carborundum was a trade name (for an abrasive scrubbing powder used for cleaning),” he continued. “Whatever it was, it’s not in use any more, so we’ve lost all memory of it. Nowadays it just looks like a strange, broken Latin word to us,” Fontaine concluded.

— Ryan Vandeput, 2018

Pride Season: The Unsent Letter – Man In An Orange Shirt

A most heartfelt letter written, but never sent. The tender letter from Thomas to his lover Michael, written in around 1957. Taken from the brilliant ‘Man In An Orange Shirt’, this is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful yet tragic love stories I’ve ever seen on TV and encapsulates an era of forbidden love. A love that dare not speak (or write) it’s name for fear of imprisonment. It would be another decade before the law on prohibiting homosexual relationships would be repealed, at least in the United Kingdom.

“The love I feel for you runs through me like grain through wood.”

Think about that for a minute.

If you haven’t seen the BBC adaptation of Man In An Orange Shirt, it’s available on BBC iPlayer for the next couple of weeks.

The Unsent Letter:

My Darling Thomas,

I'm at work. Nobody knows I'm writing to you here. They think I’m drafting a long and stupefying memorandum about incremental shifts in the price of Welsh coal since the end of the war for the ladies in the typing pool to type up later.

You refuse my visits so you're probably tearing up my letters too but there's nothing else I can do but keep trying. It's beyond my control, do you see?

All those months ago, when I had nothing to lose really, I wrote to you in my head but was too cowardly to set more than lies upon paper. And now I find I no longer care. The love I feel for you runs through me like grain through wood. I love you, Thomas. Your face, your voice, your touch, enter my mind at the least opportune moments and I find I have no power to withstand them. No desire to.

I want us to be together as we were in the cottage. Only for ever, not just a weekend. I want it to go on so long that it feels normal. I think of you constantly. Your face, your breath on my neck at night. I want to do all the ordinary, un-bedroomy things we never got around to doing. Making toast. Raking leaves. Sitting in silence.

I love you, Thomas.
I’ve always loved you.
I see that now.
Tell me I'm not too late.

Michael

***

Everything in this image has been created from scratch by The Vandeput Design Co. and is copyright…

© 2017, Ryan Vandeput. Without exception, you may not use this image for any purpose in whole or part without licence from The Vandeput Design Co. Email ryan@ryanvandeput.com to request permissions.

It’s not about living anymore, it’s about surviving. I’m dying on the inside, and it has to stop. My grandmother always used to say “tell the truth and shame the devil.” So I guess it’s time to shame that arcane, evil bastard.

I wish, just for once, I would allow this inferno of a pressure cooker inside me to just explode, gushing out a scalding geyser of everything that’s making life pretty helpless, painful and empty, in a glorious maniacal onslaught. I wish I could tell you what a shitty existence I feel I’ve fallen into, through no fault of my own, and how deeply and unavoidably unhappy I currently am. I wish I didn’t have to hide this disease, often for the preservation of others, often to appear normal and healthy on the outside. I wish I wasn’t so good at applying and wearing undetectable makeup with the only purpose of giving me the appearance of health and glowing vitality. I wish I saw a bright future ahead of me, with exciting adventures to seize with unquestioning, open arms. I wish I didn’t often see potential love – and even the world – casually pass me by. I wish I didn’t crave the love of ‘one’ so intensely. I wish I wasn’t alone. I wish I didn’t daydream about a life with my very own beautiful children, only to shed many a tear over the children I will never have; that’s one of the things that hurts me the most deeply of all.

I wish I could grab a bag and run out of the house at five minutes notice because a friend surprised me with a weekend away or just for a perfectly spontaneous dinner date. I wish I didn’t promise to join friends when I’m invited to do something incredible & life-changing, or just invited do something wonderfully everyday, like going to the shops and laughing at silly things. Or being asked to travel the globe and feel the sand between my toes… because at that very point they asked me to join them, I knew I had already broken my promise before I even said yes; because as naïve as I am, I always believed there was hope, and I might be strong enough/well enough to make it, maybe next week or in a month or two. In reality, that’s rarely the case. Hope now seems more akin to a malevolent entity, or a cruel mistress. Now, joyful excitement feels too much like fear.

There’s more, so much more I could say. However, I can’t; doing so, in my naked and raw truth, and to completely lay oneself bare, is an impossibly. In doing so, I would alienate the few friends I have left, because nobody wants to hear that, and really, no one should. So I censor my self-pitying self and psyche, so not to rock the boat, to keep things nice and neat and sterile and reliable, as its always been. Heaven forbid I might appear a weirdo, a freak, a depressing force that will only drag you down. I can’t post certain ‘arty’ photos I take, because some find them uncomfortable and read too much into them… and then ask me if I feel suicidal, which I do not. If art provokes an emotional response, even if that response makes one uncomfortable, doesn’t that mean the art is doing its job? Anyway, isn’t that a little irrelevant? Think about it.

There’s very little left of me these days – even I miss the old me. I’m dying on the inside, and I’m so desperate to live again. Despite my all the shattered pieces and shards of razor sharp glass strewn at my feet, I still have so much love to give, and to give freely, unconditionally. This existence has to stop. My worry is that there might only be a handful of straws left, and my back might already be too weak…

BACK HOME

Since I originally published this poem 8 months ago, I tried many times to find the original author, but without any luck, and eventually the trail got cold and lines of enquiry dried up. Luckily however, a lovely lady named Margaret W. McCarty reached out to me this week, and through a series of emails, we determined that she was in fact the original writer of this special piece. I’m delighted to publish it here, in its original written form, as Margaret wrote it, remembering her fond memories of growing up and the experiences she enjoyed with her parents. She said:

“at my age, I really needed to know my name stands behind my deep-rooted feelings for my Mom and Dad. I had wonderful, loving parents, and I was never a bad kid. I just wish I could have appreciated everything more back then. I can’t thank you enough.”

Thank you Margaret, and I’m sure many will draw comfort and familiarity from your reflective words.

BACK HOME

If I had the power to turn back the clock,
to go to the house at the end of the block,
The house that was home when I was a kid,
I know I would love it more than I did.

If I could be back there at my fathers knee,
and hear once again all the things he told me, 
I’d listen as I never listened before,
for he knew all too well just what life had in store.

And all the advice that dad used to give,
His voice I’ll remember as long as I live,
It didn’t seem very important then,
What I would give to live it all over again.

But what I would give for the chance I once had,
to do something more for my mother and dad,
I’d give them a little more joy and a little less pain,
a little more sunshine and a little less rain. 

The years roll by and we cannot go back,
Whether we were born in a mansion or in a shack, 
But we can start right now in the hour that’s here,
and do something more, for the ones we hold dear. 

Since time in it’s flight is speeding so fast,
there’ll be no time spent regretting what’s past.
Let’s make tomorrow a happier day,
by doing our good unto others today.

~ Margaret W. McCarty © 2016. All rights reserved.