No, I’m not announcing the end of As a Linguist. I may not have posted in over a month, but I’m not ready to pull the plug. There’s still plenty of brain activity left; I just needed a little bit more coma time.
What I am referring to in my title is the latest prediction of the end of the world: the Mayan apocalypse scheduled for today.
There are some who truly believe that something catastrophic really will happen today. They’ve been stocking up on food, learning how to defend their homesteads, practicing survivalist techniques.
The rest of us are just sort of making fun of it.
I mean, how many times has the end of the world been predicted? In my lifetime alone, the world should have ended 54 times. I still distinctly remember the prediction about 10 March 1982. I was particularly hopeful that the world would not end because it was only one day before my 11th birthday. I so wanted to be alive so I could turn 11 on the 11th. I think you can figure out that I did, in fact, manage that feat.
When I lived in Pittsburgh, I remember hearing of the story of the Russellites (the original Jehovah’s Witnesses) who, in 1878, dressed in white robes and stood on the Sixth Street Bridge all night long on Passover, waiting for Jesus to take them into the sky. Morning came, however, and Jesus had stood them up. Personally, I’m surprised none of them jumped off.
Even a linguist got in on the action. Charles Berlitz (of the Berlitz Language School Berlitz’s, and whose grandfather started the schools) predicted that the world would end in 1999. He didn’t know how, but apparently felt confident enough to predict when. You’d think he’d be able to come up with something. What would constitute catastrophe for a linguist? Perhaps the Tower of Babel spell is reversed and suddenly no one can hide behind sanitized translations, so World War 3 breaks out. Or maybe cats really can say hello (a nod to the post that put me on the blog map) and they’ve in fact been plotting to take over the world (a second nod to a Futurama episode.)
But my thoughts now are not so much about the end of the world, but the actual interpretation of the Mayan’s expiring calendar. People who actually know about these things explain that the 21st isn’t the last day of earth’s existence, but simply the end of one cycle of years and the start of another. It’s sort of like transitioning to the new millennium based on the Gregorian calendar commonly used around the world. But Mayan “Grand Cycles” last 5,139 of our years, while Gregorian millennia last only 1,000 years.
In other words, we’re going to party like it’s 188.8.131.52.9.
And then we’re going to wake up in 184.108.40.206. and have really bad hangovers.
Or something like that.
I’ve been sort of treating the 21st of December as an ersatz New Year’s Eve. It’s fitting, really, because my semester ended last night. I graded my final exams and a few essay stragglers. I took my Litigation final and finished at about 8pm. I drove home, emailed my students, and entered final grades into the college website. It’s the fastest I’ve ever been completely finished with my teaching duties. Normally, final grades take me a few more days, but this semester, I finally figured out a good spreadsheet, so grades were calculated in a very short time.
It’s just in time for the new Grand Cycle. Time to be renewed!
And I truly do need renewal and invigoration. Sure, every semester feels long by the time we reach the end of it. People who don’t teach find it difficult to understand how we get so tired when we seemingly don’t even work as many hours as they do. But teaching work, of course, lasts long after the classroom time is over, and not just on a daily basis. Semesters are bursts of very intense work and it simply can’t be sustained effectively without taking time to rest and recover. It would be like running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. So yes, I tend to be quite spent by the time finals week rolls around.
This semester, however, had additional challenges. The school’s bureaucracy is spinning me in circles. I’ve somehow developed allergies. A colleague at work died of cancer. My car has needed expensive repairs and there are more to come. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I won’t go into boring detail, though two highlights deserve mention.
A few weeks ago, a deer with anger issues head-butted my car, Lucille, right behind the driver’s side door. This happened in my own driveway. There are a lot of deer in this area and it’s not unusual to have at least 3 or 4 deer sightings in the course of a 3-mile drive. When a car comes, they mostly just look up from their spot on the side of the road, watch your car pass as they chew, and then bend their heads down for another bite of grass. Then, once very few weeks or so, one will come out of nowhere and bound across the road, inches from your front grill.
But they almost never wait until you’ve reached the safety of your own driveway to suddenly get pissed off and attack. It does happen though. To me. In my driveway. Just head-butts my car and then walks away. Quite smugly.
I swear, if that deer had fingers, it would be flipping me its middle one as it walked off.
So much for saving money for my wisdom teeth surgery.
Positive events can also be stressful, the difference being that the stress is tempered by the pleasant memories. Earlier this month, I had an exciting opportunity that I could not pass up, even though it did contribute to my feeling somewhat overwhelmed this semester.
As part of the student group for paralegal students at my school, I was able to partake in a (heavily-subsidized and therefore affordable) trip to watch oral arguments at the Supreme Court at the beginning of December. It was incredible. I was thrilled at the chance to watch ‘law in action,’ if you will, and even more thrilled that I could follow as much of it as I did.
Though I will admit to one distraction. One of the lawyers arguing his case before the Supreme Court was a native but non-American English speaker, and I was determined to place his accent (My guess was on South African. His internet bio, however, said he was born in England. I’m not usually that far off. Maybe he was raised in South Africa? Fyi, I pout when I’m wrong.) I missed nearly 10 minutes of oral arguments because my linguist brain wouldn’t keep quiet and let my legal brain continue its studies.
There’s more to the story. Not only did we see the morning’s court session, but certain personal connections of the student group’s president got us good reserved seats and a meeting with Samuel Alito shortly after oral arguments.
I’ll admit that politically, Justice Alito would not have been my first choice. I would have adored meeting Sonia Sotomayor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even so, I get chills thinking about having met a sitting Supreme Court justice. I mean, how often does one get the chance to meet one of the nine people who have such power over 312 million Americans?
It was the first time in about 5 years that I’ve requested a substitute for a class, and it was more than worth it.
Alas, it was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise difficult time. Nothing horrible or tragic happened to me, but I’m still more than ready to put this past year to bed. This is why I decided to get the jump on the 31st of December and to treat the upcoming Mayan deadline not as the end of all things, but as the dawning of an Age of Aquarius. Aquaaaaaaaaariuuuuuuuuus!
I know that this post isn’t even remotely related to linguistics, apart from my adventure in accent identification, but whenever I finally have a chance to process a period of chaos in my life, I turn invariably to writing since it is one of the precious few things that allows my mind to find its peace and move on. And here is where my writing – on language or otherwise – has found a home.
So is it going to be the end of the world as we know it? And if it is, does it have to be a bad thing? I don’t know about you, but I think I feel fine.