Tag Archives: secret codes

“There’s a piece of Maria in every song that I sing.”

28 Feb

“Never ask an artist about their art.” Mostly because they’ll give you a long rambling answer that doesn’t tell you anything or the answer is disappointing. So when I woke up with a Counting Crows song in my head, I had to find out who Maria is.

Unless you grew up around the same time I did, you’re probably not a fan of Counting Crows. I find that I tend to gravitate towards lead singers whose vocal range is similar to mine and Adam Duritz fits that bill. He’s the white guy who wore dreds for twenty years and was labeled by MST3K as the most repulsive thing in the universe. Anyway, in at least four songs I can name, Adam sings about a girl named Maria, including their most popular, Mr. Jones.

The great thing about the internet is that you can find answers to just about anything really fast. Whether they’re the correct answers is up to you. When Counting Crows hit the scene in 1992, the Internet wasn’t that robust, so you were left with wondering on your own? Who was Maria? From the lyrics, I guessed that she was an old girlfriend that he treated rather bad, felt bad about doing it, and then never quite got over that fact. That was my guess because… well, that was my experience, right?

Well, someone interviewed Adam and asked that very question. Turns out the answer was disappointing. Maria is… Adam. It’s just the feminine form of himself that gives personality to his experiences. Well, that’s either a) deep or b) too up his own butt. But hey, it’s his songs–let him write about whatever he wants!

This is probably why Pearl Jam never explained the story behind their hit song, “Jeremy,” because as cool as the song and the video is, the real answer would be disappointing. Certainly I can remember looking up Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Hold Him Down,” which has a lot of violent imagery, and learning that it was really about beating up his brother as a kid. Gee. That’s exciting. (blink) Okay, what’s next?

So when I write about the Terran Associated States, and you think to yourself, “Wow, that’s a cool term–where’d you come up with that?” I should probably keep my mouth shut. But because I’m a fawning attention whore, I’ll more likely blurt out, “It came out of a game I played at a church picnic.” Plus, all the normal names for governments have been taken in other sci-fi universes: Federation, Confederation, Republic, League, Union, Alliance. You have to find more obscure references in history: Madras Presidency, Anglo-Irish Ascendency, Brotherhood, et al.

Have you run into this trouble before? Or does finding out the truth behind the art make it more significant to you? Let me know in the comments below!

Why You Should Write In Code

30 Jun

Lie to me and tell me you never wanted to be a secret agent. If nothing else, you wanted to be able to keep your secrets… Well, secret! One of the reasons I had trouble keeping a diary was that I was afraid someone would read it! (There’s some embarrassing things I’d like to keep private.)

Now I tried different secret code systems over the years, but none stuck. At 10 years old, I wrote one letter ahead (A became Z, B became A, and so on). Then as a teen, I kept the same system but added vowels in-between. At 24, I learned the Korean alphabet and could write English in it. At 29, I learned Hebrew letters and tried the same thing.

The reason none of them ever stuck was because I had to do too much “code switching.” This is the problem of going from one language to another. I remember working with a lot of people from Mumbai and they jumped between Hindi and English easily… Because they had to in daily life. Most Indians are tri-lingual (add native language) because they use all those languages daily. I tried telling my Korean students something in Korean and I had to repeat it twice… Because they were used to me speaking English – they didn’t expect me to speak Korean.

So at age 38, I discovered Quikscript, and I absolutely love it. It was developed by a man named Kingston Reed to compete in a contest that the playwright George Bernard Shaw held after his death. You see, Shaw wrote longhand, and kept cursing how much English doesn’t write like English sounds. Because it doesn’t – it’s a Latin alphabet. Shaw learned shorthand, but he still didn’t like it. So in his will, he asked for somewhat to come up with a better alphabet for English. Reed won and it was called Shavian.

Ten years later, Reed saw some serious problems with his alphabet and wanted to correct them. So he created Quikscript. Now this alphabet flows better – you don’t have to lift up the pen to cross i’s and dot t’s. You write your words like they sound… Not as they are spelled. So once I learned the characters, it was very easy to write!

Now, it does have its flaws. For example, code switching still is a problem, but only when you want to read what you wrote. (It gets easier the longer you use it.) So if you use it to take notes in a class or meeting, it’s a little difficult to be useful. I tried writing stories in it… I gave up, because it took so long to decode what I wrote!

Then I learned the true joy of Quikscript. You don’t use it for notes you need, just the notes you DON’T need. I’ve been in so many meetings that I couldn’t care less about, but I need to look like I’m paying attention. Here’s where writing coded notes comes in handy. I can write about how my co-workers look, or song lyrics, or story ideas and never have to worry that someone needs those notes… I look diligent and good off at the same time!

I also use it for my diary, full of my dark, secret thoughts, and I occasionally look back and read them. I’ve been able to keep that journal for seven years… The secret code works!

So I thoroughly recommend it, even for your fewer handwriting needs in the modern era. But what codes did you use as a kid? Share them in the comments section below. Don’t worry – I won’t give away your secret decoder ring.

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