A well spoken wisdom from one of my favorite teachers.
…there is no logic to San Francisco generally, a city built with putty and pipe cleaners, rubber cement and colored construction paper. It’s the work of fairies, elves, happy children with new crayons. Why not pink, purple, rainbow, gold? What color for a biker bar on 16th, near the highway? Plum. Plum. The light that is so strong and light that corners are clear, crisp, all glass is blinding—stilts and buttresses and turrets—the remains of various highways—rainbow windsocks—a sexual sort of lushness to the foliage. Only intermittently does it seem like an actual place of residence and commerce, with functional roads and sensible buildings.
—Dave Eggers, a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
I have to say that a good portion of this description within Egger’s sometimes interesting, egocentric first book feels correct to me. Especially the bit about the light in San Francisco. This is how San Francisco seems to a person who is from harder, uglier cities.
A woman standing in line next to me for casual carpool to San Francisco said to me, “I read that book when I was 26 and loved it. I tried reading it recently and it just wasn’t the same.” I suddenly felt young but wondered if I had read it when I was 26, if I would have liked it just a smidgen better. 26 was a smidgen of time ago.
What accent do I love? There are few, if any, I don’t.
I’ve always been attracted to accents and when I hear a new one, my ears perk up and all kinds of questions about the place where the person came from arise in my mind.
Accents are evidence of places in speech. Every place has terms that, when uttered elsewhere, mark where that person is from, or at least time spent where he or she picked it up from. Accents are traces of the fabric of the communities from which we were born, and change with us as we move or learn new environments. A wildly different accent than my Northeast American one is attractive to me because not only does it immediately sound different than me, but it implies that I can learn about a new place from the person speaking. Like two continental plates that are rubbing against one another but fitting at the same time, always creating a new shape.
I could say that my “accent” has changed since I moved to California, and even before that when I moved to New York from Vermont. I catch myself saying “basement” instead of “cellar” and for a moment feel sad that my Vermont term “cellar” was at least momentarily retired. Then I feel happy that in speech, this could be psychological evidence I’ve accepted my new home in California. It could mean that I’m really in this place and not always remembering another, living in a past.
But I’ve never heard my accent louder than when I was abroad in England and Korea. A man in an English pub once asked me to pronounce a word in my accent for his entertainment. He repeated it the way I said it and then laughed hysterically. (I wish I could remember what the word was right now.) In Korea I’d meet English speakers from all over the world and language was a topic that often came up, as we all shared our variations of homesickness together over some greasy pig belly and kimchi.
My Southern boyfriend who recently traveled with me to Vermont for my brother’s wedding commented that my accent was becoming thicker as I hung out with a lot of my (male) relatives in the cellar, playing pool. I think my VT-ness often comes out around the men, who tend to have the thickest accents in my family. It was a comfort to hear him say that, to know that the place where I came from wasn’t estranged to me, and still alive somewhere in my oral muscles. It lives there, and I carry where I am from with me everywhere I go. I can never really say that I am from California or New York even, though I spent my formative adult years becoming who I am in Brooklyn.
I love accents because they are immediately recognizable and are so much about who we are. Like language itself, they erode, mix, and shift as we move over new landscapes. An accent is evidence of the walls of our upbringing—a piece of our childhood that we unknowingly hang on to dearly.