When I lived in Switzerland for graduate school in 1978, I took a Christmas trip to Italy with a friend. I was worried about not speaking the language but my friend’s roommate, who was studying linguistics, said to just learn 100 basic words and use them freely without regard to grammar. A word for me, you, them, goes with a verb without conjugation. A word for later and earlier substitutes for tenses. I tried it and he was right that people really appreciated the effort and made sense out of very few words. I have followed this technique repeatedly and regretted it when I didn’t.
When my family spent the summer of 2006 in Europe so I could write my first book, Driving Innovation, I made a list of what I thought the 100 words should be and I had the children write the translations in tabular form for Spanish and French. We used it in our travels to good effect.
We recently found the yellow sheet with the list of 100 words. (Well, it was actually 75 words.) It was in a phrase book for most European languages that was my traveling companion for many years.
Now that I can’t talk and spelling is slow with the Tobii eye gaze system and slower with a glance chart, I make do communicating with nods and shakes of my head or directing my stare at the thing I am concerned with. If people are patient and ask me lots of yes/no questions, we can communicate successfully.
If you are reading this, you are capable of memorizing 100 words. In writing this post, my two college graduate children and I have added 25 words to the original 75 from the yellow sheet to make it an even 100. Feel free to customize the list as you desire. Here they are:
- Thank you
- I’m sorry
- Excuse me
- Where is…?
- How much (cost)?
- Do you speak English?
- I don’t understand
- What does ___ mean?
- I want…
- To eat
- To drink
- To find
- To sleep
- To read
- To have
- To be
- To do
- To make
- To need
- A lot/lots
- A little
- The check
I am lost in a strange land between life and death.
My body rebels.
My mind resists.
I know the destination.
It is unavoidable.
The question I confront is how will I get there and when.
Most people don’t even recognize that this land exists.
But some admire me just for being here.
I am a pioneer.
I can’t use my hands or legs and I can’t talk or eat or breathe without a ventilator.
But I will find my way in the end.
The first frost sunset with fingernail new moon did not catch us unprepared. We had time to bring in the house plants before it got too cold. My favorite is a citrus tree I bought in Chinatown when I lived there in the 1980s. I used to stop by the florist sometimes on my way home from work, and one day I saw a cheerful plant with scented flowers and small green citrus fruits. I bought it for my loft apartment and each winter it blooms and fruits. It has been with us in Bowie the whole time. You can see where I pruned it decades ago.
My house plants are survivors.
In my office, colleagues praise my plants and tell me I have a green thumb. My response is that Darwin is my gardener. You don’t see my failures because they died and were removed. Dead twigs and leaves are pruned away. What’s left is green and healthy. Some were gifts. Some were cuttings. Some were rescued from trash. A few I bought. There’s a jade plant so big it is a shrub and a bushel-sized aloe vera, both of which have progeny around the office from cuttings. Everyone has a green thumb if you keep trying and occasionally learn from your mistakes.
(Are house plants at the office “office plants”?)
Back at home, African violets are supposed to be temperamental. Not mine. It’s ten years old and gets no special treatment, but it still flowers throughout the year.
Snake plants can live a year behind the refrigerator according to a tale a friend told me. I haven’t tried that but I’ve never killed one.
I had a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) that grew from three feet until it hit the ceiling. I tried a fancy technique of rooting the top but it failed and the tree stayed outside that winter and froze. I should get a new one.
For me, house plants are like slow-moving pets.
When the Trans-Siberian Railway stopped in Irkutsk in Central Siberia in 1981 and my Swiss student tour group got off for a couple of days so we could visit Lake Baikal, a group of local Soviet students met us and showed us around, including the obligatory Great War (WWII) monument. They were smart but spoke glowingly about the future of communism.
I had a rare epiphany and said cogently that Marx and Lenin failed to predict Roosevelt and the New Deal and American socialism which stops the “inevitable” worker revolution of communism in its tracks. Socialism humanized a corrupt capitalism with robber barons and great recessions. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps are all examples of the ways in which America is socialist.
It always amuses me when people do not see we are already socialist. That is why our system is so much better than communism. We are able to benefit from free markets while avoiding the many pitfalls of unrestrained capitalism. The debate then is just how socialist we will be.