Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'tis the season...

Just a quick post to let my readers know I am still alive.  So is my blog, although it has been in hibernation the past few weeks. I've been smacked by a big helping of life and all it has to offer--both good and bad--but I am determined to resurrect this slumbering beast once the holidays have gone their merry way once again.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Margaritas, Slot Machines and Raisins, but no concert

Alas, another vast gap in the Annals1 of The Sesquipedalian.

I was sidetracked, once again, by the frenetic2 diversions of yet another vacation. This time I traveled to the very edge of the known world (or at least my known world) to a distant land known as New England, or, more specifically to Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

I traveled all the way across the width of the country for two reasons:

1) To visit an incredible friend who lives in Pennsylvania and who I see, tragically, only on rare occasions.
2) To go to a concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with the aforementioned3 friend.

As far as the first objective was concerned, the trip was an unequivocal4 success. I had a truly enjoyable visit with my friend and finally met her wonderful, wholly genial5 family. Too bad they live all the way on the other side of the country.

And as for the second motive for the trip? Well that, my dear readers, is a story fraught6 with deep sadness and profound disappointment, which was salvageable7 only by applying heavy doses of unrestrained laughter, several hours of meandering strolls along a sunlit boardwalk, a generous helping of animated conversation, a smattering8 of judicious9 gambling, and some rather liberal consumption of alcohol. For even as I was winging my way across the country my friend was receiving an email announcing that the concert in Atlantic City had been postponed until December.

The funny thing is, this same musician was in my area just weeks before and I would have gone to see him then, except at that point I was hundreds of miles away on vacation in Disneyland. Ironic10? Well, no, that probably doesn’t qualify as irony, but it could certainly be considered bad timing.

So, that’s my tale—the good and the bad. I was really looking forward to that concert, but I don’t think I can justify another trip across country next month. Although it would mean another visit with my friend…

Annals.1 “Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed…” Ah, those zany Clampetts. As a child I played witness to their mad escapades thanks to the magic of TV re-runs, watching as the chronicles (or annals, if you will) of this hillbilly family unfolded before my very eyes. Oh, and for my orthographically challenged readers, please, please remember that this word is spelled with TWO n’s.

Frenetic2. Picture yourself as a pinball. One moment you’re just sitting there, minding your own business, and then, “Wham!” without so much as a “Watch out, here it comes!” something hits you from behind and you’re thrust out into a whirlwind of lights, sounds, and dizzying motion. And you’re off! Ding!—you hit that flashing 100 point bumper and then go glancing off in another direction. Pow!—you slam against an obstacle in the middle of the machine—200 points, well done there—but now you’re sent blasting off on an entirely new bearing. You somehow manage to squeeze through a tiny opening, race along a chute so tight you’re afraid you might just end up wedged there forever, and then Ka-ching!—a spinning door and a hefty 500 points—and next thing you know you’re ricocheting back and forth from one goal on to the next—Ding! Ding! Ding! There’s no pausing, no stopping, and most of the time there’s no controlling where you’re going as you pelt along, although you might get an occasional shove from time to time if you start to fall. Whew, I’m exhausted just writing about it. And believe me, some days My Life=The Pinball Machine.

Aforementioned.3 I’m quite sure I already told you about that.

Unequivocal.4 This is like Johnny Cash. No matter how you feel about country music (and I definitely have mixed feelings about it), I don’t think you can question the power of Johnny’s music. Nothing else quite compares to it and nothing you say will lessen its appeal, at not least for me. Oh, and while I may have missed the concert in Atlantic City, I did get to see Johnny in concert—twice.

Genial.5 I might be tempted to say that Ronald McDonald is a great example of genial—always grinning widely and eager to strike up a friendship with anyone, especially the innocent child—but, on second thought, I think it would be more appropriate to use him as an example of creepy.

Fraught.6 So I ate breakfast this morning (a habit I highly recommend). Dispensing a serving of cereal, I shook the brown, fiber-packed flakes into the expectant void of a bone-white bowl and sent a wholesome stream of ice cold milk cascading down into its midst. Hoisting a spoonful of the crunchy, soon-to-be-soggy, mixture to my lips, I eagerly took my first bite. But wait! What’s this chewy, sweet, dark nugget nestled in the middle of my milk-moistened flakes? Another bite—this time there are two little nuggets—a third bite—two more nuggets! Bite after bite yields nugget after nugget. There’s seemingly no end to them. But then, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find that my Raisin Bran is fraught with raisins.

Salvageable.7 What a mess! It’s broken and mangled and probably unusable—but wait! This part looks pretty good. And this piece—see, right here—is actually in perfect condition. Actually that section doesn’t look too bad. Maybe with a little tape and glue, and perhaps a little paint, my mom won’t even notice…

Smattering.8 This sounds an awful lot like spattering and maybe that’s not a bad way to look at it. If you think of spattering paint on a wall—that’s it, just a little bit on the brush and let it fly—you can sort of get a visual picture. Because with spattering, you just get a few flecks of paint, but the wall is still mostly blank, and with smattering you just get a little bit of this or that, yet you haven’t even begun to explore the possibilities (or cover the wall).

Judicious.9 You might be more familiar with this fellow’s older brother, Judge. Born of the same mother, a Latin beauty by the name of Iūdicem, they share many of the same characteristics, including a shrewd eye for details and a rather sober personality. They’re fairly easy to tell apart, however. While Judge can be seen observing and evaluating others with a cool, calculating glint in his eye, Judicious turns this appraisal inward and examines his own actions with a keen gaze. He is always asking himself such piercing questions as: “Am I doing the right thing?” or “How much is too much, or too little?” All in all, probably not a pair likely to liven up your New Year’s Eve party, but they carry a certain influence in more solemn climates.

Ironic.10 Now this is a hard one to get a hold of—kind of slippery and a bit larger and more robust than you expected—rather like a Moray Eel (not that I’d recommend trying to grab hold of one of those bad boys). So often I hear people say something like, “Wow, we both like the same kind of cookies. Isn’t that ironic?”—okay, maybe that’s a silly example, but I’ve heard some pretty silly ones, believe me—and I think, “Well, no, actually that’s merely coincidental.” And in truth it’s often easier to think of what is not ironic, rather than what is. But I’m going to try to give some examples from my favorite space opera (ignoring the three most recent installments, because they do not warrant consideration in my world). So, here goes. 1) After a series of mishaps, in which they part company and then are miraculously reunited, C3PO and R2D2 both happen to end up in Luke Skywalker’s possession. Irony? No, but I believe you could call that Destiny. 2) Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi are introduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca—two individuals who become pivotal players in their rescue and who are eventually instrumental in bringing victory to the Rebel Alliance—in a sleazy cantina. Irony? Nope, but it was really, really fortuitous. 3) Han Solo parks the Millennium Falcon on perhaps the only asteroid in the universe inhabited by a giant space worm? Irony? Actually, I’d chalk that one up as a freakishly improbable coincidence. 4) Luke Skywalker finds out that Darth Vader, his worst nightmare of an enemy (at least until he meets Emperor Palpatine), is really his father. Irony? Yes, I think that could qualify as irony—in fact such an epic, mind freaking irony that it might make one want to howl, “That’s Impossible!” Well, I’m sure that’s as clear as the carbonite in which Han Solo was encased. Thank you for visiting my geekdom. Please come again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curses! Also, a little something on Mozart and pungent cheese.

They say there is a time and a place for everything. For the most part, I’ve found this to be true, and I firmly believe that a fair portion of the wisdom you acquire as you meander through life involves learning the whys and whens and wheres of what is considered suitable within a given situation.

Take swearing, for example.

No, seriously, just think about it.

Although it might not seem obvious at first, proper swearing requires a modicum1 of dexterity2 and finesse3. Well, unless you don’t mind coming off as an ass in front of family, friends, or complete strangers.

Over the years I’ve found that successful swearing can be measured in degrees, depending upon the current audience and the specific situation.

For starters, I never swear in front of my children.

Okay, okay. There are a few caveats4 with regards to the above statement. They are as follows:
1) When reading books aloud with my children I generally read the actual swear word if it is in the book (except to my youngest, who will chastise me soundly if I forget to substitute the “Bloody Hell” remarks in Harry Potter with the more acceptable “Bloody Heck”). Sorry, W, sometimes I forget.
2) If they overhear me in a phone conversation they may catch the occasional lapse in verbal purity. Sometimes I forget that little people have big ears. Bad mom.
3) Since my two older children have passed the tender age of 18, I have relaxed my guard and allowed a few mild expletives5 to slip out. After all, they are pseudo adults now, right?

But we’re just getting started. I could list all of the rules, or maybe I should say guidelines, I’ve refined over the years, but perhaps it would be easier and more succinct to express it in a table, like so:

To get a better idea of the degrees involved here, think of “0” as language that would make your Sunday School Teacher proud, while “11” approaches levels of verbal depravity6 that would make a pirate blush. And none of this has anything to do with trying to act cool or worldly, it’s simply a matter of letting your inner chameleon match its colors to your surroundings.

Well, you say, that’s all very interesting but do you have a point here?

Yes, as a matter of fact I do.

You see, I’ve noticed that a similar set of guidelines should be applied when employing the unique and/or grandiose7 words that I love so much. That’s right. Remember those swear words that should only be pulled out for special occasions with those who can really appreciate them? Sadly, the same is true for the lavish, weighty gems of our lexicon8 that make my heart go all aflutter. Because the simple truth is that some people fear, or even resent, the use of “high fallutin’ words.”

Trust me, I’ve seen the looks. Unintentionally savor an intensely scrumptious9 adjective or inadvertently liberate10 an overly energetic verb and you might find yourself facing a listener whose eyes have suddenly glazed over with that “I have no idea what she’s talking about but I’m going to pretend that I do” look. Or, worse still, your listener’s eyebrows furrow until they almost meet in the middle and the corners of his mouth twist down towards his shoes, and you know he’s thinking, “Who does she think she’s trying to impress with all that fancy, schmancy talk.”

And the answer is, no one. I do not use “fancy” words to obfuscate11 the unwary; nor do I use them because I want to come across as an erudite12 snob. I use them because I love them. I cherish them. I would caress them if they had corporeal13 forms.

I eventually learned to be more discrete with my passion. I keep my pretties in a drawer and only bring them out on display in those special moments when their magnificence can be fully appreciated. Kind of like the ring my mother-in-law gave me, which is beautiful, but too fancy and too expensive for everyday wear, or like Gorgonzola14 cheese.

1Modicum. Ooh, I’d like just a bit of that. Oh, not that much, really. Just a smidge. Ah, just right.

2Dexterity. Think of a tennis player as he deftly returns each of his opponent’s volleys. Now try applying that sort of agility in a conversation or a battle of wits.

3Finesse. Think of ballet dancers pirouetting across the stage. Now imagine such a demonstration of grace executed in a verbal or mental fashion.

4Caveat. This is always true. Always. Except for this time, or under these circumstances, or when the moon is full and in a month starting with the letter J.

5Expletive. The punctuation marks favored by many a teenager. When I was young I had a friend who kept a particularly expansive string of profanity reserved for special occasions. It went something like this:%^##@&!+  }!$$  =@>+ =*(\ My mouth used to drop, slack with awe, when she pulled out that little jewel.

6Depravity. Oh, the horrors. Have you no shame? How can you show your face in public when you’ve allowed yourself to wallow in the grimy depths of the darkest basement of morality?

7Grandiose. This is one of those words that you’d like to visit some day and then photograph and, of course, utter the appropriate number of oohs and aahs as you gaze upon its vast splendor, but it’s not really one to call home. Rather like the Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace.

8Lexicon. Imagine a cupboard, nay an entire warehouse, full of words. Big words, little words, fancy words, simple words, words that inspire hope, words that inflict pain, words that make love blossom. All the words you can imagine, each ripe for the picking, there to add to your verbal arsenal or to a spoken bouquet.

9Scrumptious. Cheesecake. Need I say more?

10Liberate. I found a little box filled with hoards of tiny whatsits. They were jammed so tightly within the walls of their miniature cell that they could hardly move. Moved by their plight, I opened the lid of their prison and released them into the world. “Fly, be free,” I chanted as I sent them on their way. Little buggers scurried into every crack or cranny they could find, including the little air vent on my laptop, and then they gnawed holes in my hard drive and left tiny droppings all over my keyboard. Lesson of the day: Some things are locked up for a reason.

11Obfuscate. Oh look, someone left behind a nice, pristine trail of truth. Hmmm… I’m not really thrilled with where this track leads; it’s ends uncomfortably near my front door. Perhaps I’ll sprinkle a few contradictory details along the edges and scatter some misleading statistics down the middle in order to hide the path’s actual destination.

12Erudite. Well now, according to Bromage, et al, the cranial capacity of Australopithecus afarensis is 438 cc… Ah yes, well if you’ll remember Fibonacci himself, in his book Liber Abaci, introduced Arabic numerals to Europe… Of course, Mozart composed all five of his violin concertos while employed as a court musician in Salzburg…   Please keep in mind that Erudite and Pompous are not in fact married, although the two may sometimes be seen, arm in arm, enjoying an extravagant night on the town. For a perfect glimpse of what their love child might resemble, look here or here.

13Corporeal. Here’s a simple test to determine whether something is corporeal or not. Take two separate somethings, say Thing 1 and Thing 2. Now, try shoving your fist as hard as you can at each of these somethings. Say it goes through Thing 1 without encountering any resistance whatsoever; there is a distinct possibility that Thing 1 is not in a corporeal state. Or perhaps it is jello. If, however, it meets Thing 2 and stops abruptly with a jarring or excruciating sensation, then you can be assured that Thing 1 is corporeal. Now go bandage your knuckles before you bleed all over my blog.

14Gorgonzola. Rapture delivered in the form of creamy, blue-veined morsels. But be forewarned, a little goes a long ways.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mouse Ears and Tired Feet

Obviously I’ve been rather remiss1 in posting lately.  I do have an excuse, however.  Honestly I do.

Last week I took my youngest son to Disneyland.  We had a blast, and I’d go back next week if I could swing it. But after a day of traveling there, 3 long days of walking around and standing in line (not friendly to the feet, I assure you), followed by another day of travel, followed by a few piles of catch-up-right-now items at work, I’m afraid my brain is a bit overtaxed2.  So, my blog goes hungry and my poor novel gathers dust (sorry Eòin, I really do miss you).  Alas. 

1Remiss.  I should have done that, but I forgot.  I meant to do that other thing, but I didn’t.  And I really have to do something else, but I probably won’t.

2Overtax.  For those of you who have children, remember those first few weeks after bringing that new baby home.  Well that period in your life, although certainly a wonderful experience, epitomizes what it means to be overtaxed.  Another way of expressing this:   
New Baby = Overtaxed (Body + Mind) + Happiness.

See, even my footnotes are tired and flaccid3 this time.  Next time will be better.  Really.

3Flaccid.  I'm  not going to touch this one with a 10-foot pole. Nope. Not even a limp, droopy 10-foot pole.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A celebrity stops by. Plus, a little something on Champagne and Darth Vader.

My town played host to a rather famous—some might say infamous1—visitor last night.
Now, he’s a capricious2 sort—seems he rather enjoys keeping people guessing and has a tendency to disappear for months at a time and then suddenly reappear at some of the most inopportune3 moments—but this time his arrival caught very few townspeople by surprise. After all he’d already paid us a brief visit a couple of nights ago on what I suppose you might consider a publicity stop. Truth be told, I didn’t actually see him during this earlier visit, but I knew he’d passed through because he left his calling card on the windshields of cars all over town.

Last night, however, was no publicity stop. This time he pulled out all the stops and gave the entire town a taste of his unique skills. And it was quite the show.

Granted, not everyone appreciates his artistry. His detractors4—who might very well outnumber his admirers—consider him a nuisance at his best, and downright destructive at his worst. There’s no denying they present a good case—after all he has been known to wreak a little havoc from time to time—but I can’t help but admire his artistry. I mean, this fellow has talent on a grand scale.

I’m sure you’ve heard of him and, unless you live in the far-flung reaches of the world that seldom or never serve as stopping points on his widespread peregrinations5, you’ve seen his work. His monochromatic6 paintings—executed in broad, bold strokes embellished by delicate whorls and filigrees—are impossible to mistake for the work of another. And, lest there be any doubt as to their origin, he signs each piece with a flourish, Jack Frost.

1Infamous. Probably not the kind of fame you were hoping to attain. Unless you want to join the ranks of such individuals as Jack the Ripper, Benedict Arnold, or Darth Vader.

2Capricious. One of my children’s favorite books when they were young was a collection of Native American tales featuring Coyote, The Trickster. Ah, Coyote. Inevitably motivated by unpredictable, ever-changing whims. Not the sort to rely upon, although you might say you can rely on him to be unreliable. But even that’s no guarantee because every once in a while he catches you off guard by committing an act of surprising heroism. If ever there was a character that embodies the meaning of capricious, Old Man Coyote would be the one.

3Inopportune. Kids are gone for the evening. Hooray! Candles are flickering. Ooh la la, romance is in the air. Champagne is chilled and ready to pour. Two bottles, mind you. The doorbell rings. What the…? Now, if ever there was an inopportune time for a surprise visit from your mother-in-law, this would be it.

4Detractor. Remember that snotty girl on the bus who called you names and made fun of your clothes? Well, she just might have claimed the dubious honor of being your very first detractor.

5Peregrination. This word measures a perfect 10 on my spiff-o-meter. Yes, it’s that magnificent. Weighing in at a hefty 13 characters, it’s hard to ignore it when it muscles its way into a sentence. Yet this seemingly ponderous word has a lighter side. It loves long, meandering walks on the beach at sunset or ambling strolls amongst the bright wildflowers in a sun-washed meadow. You see, for peregrination it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

6Monochromatic. And today’s color is: red. Yes, red. Such a versatile color, too, it’s as comfortable making an appearance in blushing rose as it is hitting the runways in shocking crimson. What, you want to talk about blue? Absolutely not. Everyone knows red is all the rage and blue is just so yesterday's rags. Remember, there’s more to monochromatic than just shades of grey.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Snails, Wood Pulp and Bacon

Newsflash: I actually used the word Sesquipedalian1 in a real-world, non-internet-y, setting.

How cool is that?

Okay, I have to admit it was my husband’s idea. We were filling out the latest in a steady stream of forms/checklists that seem to spring from the very air when you have a child with special needs. Seriously, every specialist has a new pile of paperwork that looks remarkably like the last pile, with some subtle changes in format or wording to make you think you’re filling out something new and amazingly insightful. I’m quite certain that these stacks of cellulose2 somehow breed and reproduce pale, fibrous offspring in the shadowy depths of their progenitors’3 filing cabinets.

Wait, I’ve momentarily lost my train of thought here. Where was this heading? Oh, now I remember.

So we were scribbling answers on yet another stack of pressed wood pulp when we ran across the inevitable question: Does your child have any unique interests? I’ve seen this question, or variations thereof, a hundred times. At least a hundred. Because when you’re talking about an individual with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers, you can bet your sweet bippy (don’t ask me what that means; I just know my grandpa loved to say it) that they’re going to perseverate4 on something.

So I jotted down the by-now-standard response, “He has a fascination with snails.” Yes, snails. Want to know about snails? Just ask me; I live with a 10-year old malacologist5.

I know, I still haven’t completely explained the fortuitous6 event that allowed me to suitably (that’s the tricky part, after all) employ7 my favorite word, but trust me, I’ll get there. Really.

Once I finished writing the typical snail comment I stared down at the big white space stretched out beneath my chicken scratches. Hmm…that’s a lot of white space. Seems like we should be able to fill at least a little more of it. But with what? So I posed8 that very question to my husband. The rest of our conversation went something like this:

“Write down that he’s a Sesquipedalian.”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” Indeed it is. Our son collects words like some boys his age might collect Pokemon Cards or Matchbox cars. I wonder where he got that particular interest…
“Do you think she’ll know what it means?”
“She can look it up.” I should have guessed he would say that.

So I wrote it down, taking care to do it neatly because it’s far too special a word to inscribe with my customarily chaotic scrawl. It was such an exciting moment. I leaned back and surveyed my work, admiring the beauty of it, feeling as giddy as the proverbial schoolgirl.

1Sesquipedalian. If this word were liquid I would bathe in it. That’s right. I would fill a huge tub with warm, silken Sesquipedalian and completely immerse myself in it. Whew, is it getting warm in here? What, you want to know what it means! You can look it up; I’m a little busy right now.

2Cellulose. No, I’m not talking about the stuff that gives your legs that lovely textured look--that’s cellulite. This stuff makes up the better part of most plants. Our libraries are filled with stacks and stacks of tree cellulose, all mashed, pressed into tidy rectangles, and neatly bound. Good stuff!

3Progenitor. Sounds like an awesome name for a super hero, doesn’t it? The Progenitor. I can picture him now, in a dark green, form-fitting outfit emblazoned with a large, glossy black P. His black cape billows out behind him and he stands poised on the edge of the tallest building, surveying the city he champions. In a voice that rings like the bell of justice, he declares, “It is I, The Progenitor, he who came before and from whose mighty loins did spring all things both good and pure. Look upon me and witness your beginnings!”

4Perseverate. If I were to perseverate on something, say bacon, a typical day might go something like this: Upon waking in the morning, I slip out from under the bacon-patterned sheets on my bed, throw on a lovely robe with bacon embroidered along the collar, and shuffle into my kitchen, throwing open the bacon-print curtains to let in some sunlight. After a magnificent breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs with bits of bacon, I head off to work where I proceed to enlighten all those around me about bacon and its many unique and amazing attributes (because I’ve learned new facts since yesterday or perhaps they’ve forgotten some of the many fascinating details I related on earlier occasions). Then I have a lovely BLT sandwich for lunch and get back to work, scribbling little pictures of bacon on the scratchpad on my desk while I try to think through a solution for a current project. At the end of the day I head back home in the only car in the courthouse parking lot that sports a “Honk if you love bacon” bumper sticker. After a nice dinner of potato bacon casserole, I curl up in front of the TV and watch a riveting documentary on the history of bacon and then, just before nodding off to sleep, I flip through the worn pages of a much-loved copy of “The Joy of Bacon.” And, if that’s not enough of a taste of both bacon and perseverate, check this out.

5Malacologist. These are the guys or gals who know what that funny little door on a water snail’s shell is called (according to my son, it’s called an operculum), how an octopus changes color, and the average number of tentacles on a nautilus. Want to know more about mollusks? Ask a malacologist.

6Fortuitous. Ooh, how did that happen? I didn’t mean for it to happen--in fact I hadn’t even considered that it might happen--but now that it’s happened, I’d have to say that it worked out rather well. In fact, I’m not sure it would have worked out better if I’d planned it.

7Employ. Yep, you can put a word to work just as you might a person.

8Posed. Picture a mannequin in a department store window. It’s all dressed in the latest finery, neatly coifed and positioned just so. Perfectly posed, right? Now try that with a question--except you might have to skip the coif since questions typically don’t have hair.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Crush, and a few balloons

There was a hint of something special in the air this weekend. It was the smell of The Crush, a fragrance that somehow manages to simultaneously encapsulate1 the innocence of youth and the hedonistic2 excesses of adulthood.

Ah, The Crush. It happens every year as the warm days of summer wane and the nights begin to nibble at your fingers and the tips of your ears with frosty little teeth. Well, at least it happens here in Wine Country. During this narrow window of time, vineyards throughout our valley become the foci3 of much frenzied activity as workers rush to harvest the year’s bounty of wine grapes. And for a few days the entire valley is permeated with the heady aroma of freshly-crushed grapes.

While I realize that the vast majority of these juicy little globes are destined to end up gracing the wine glass of someone over the tender age of twenty-one (I’m making assumptions here, I know), that smell nonetheless transports me back to my childhood. You see, crushed grapes don’t smell like wine (I know this may come as a surprise to some of you here). No, they smell like grape juice and purple mustaches and that stain on your best Sunday dress when you tipped your glass just a little too far and let the sweet, dark liquid dribble down your front.

There’s just something magical about The Crush. And balloons.

That’s right, if you’ll remember I promised you a few balloons. And this weekend offered a veritable plethora 4 of those as well, for my little town played host to dozens of vibrant hot air balloons and their crews for the annual Balloon Rally.

In the early hours of dawn on Saturday morning (the rally also takes place on Sunday, but it’s asking a bit much to expect me to drag myself out of bed that early on both days of the weekend), I pedaled my pretty green bicycle down to the bridge spanning the river that wends its way through our sleepy (especially at that hour) town. I was rewarded for my efforts by a dazzling show as, one after one, each brilliant, graceful giant rose aloft from behind the trees bordering the river. And, joy upon joy, the weather was absolutely ideal--blue sky with barely the hint of a breeze--which meant several of the balloons were able to position themselves just so over the glassy surface of the river and gently touch down on the water. They call it “kissing the river” and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Well worth a bike ride on a chilly September morning.

1Encapsulate. Think of those clear, cylindrical capsules full of mysterious powder, which your doctor and the pharmaceutical companies insist will make you feel so much better. Then expand this to include capsules filled with all manner of stuff. For instance, stir together a moonlit vista, a few lilting snippets of song, some tantalizing aromas, a mouth-watering array of delectable morsels, and some tender caresses. Pour it all into a minute cylinder and, Voila!, you’ve encapsulated the memory of a romantic dinner date.

2 Hedonistic. Oh yeah, that’s good. I’ll have some of that. Ooh, and a little more while I’m at it. And some of that, too. After all, if it feels good or tastes good, why say no?

3 Foci. Come on people, I’ve seen far too many references to indexes, octopuses, and vertexes these days. I know, I know, some would say it’s part of an effort to modernize the English language, but I’m not buying into that. I’m sticking to my guns on this one. So, as I see it, the plural of index is indices; the plural of octopus is octopi; the plural of vertex is vertices; and (here’s where we come full circle to where this footnote started) the plural of focus is foci.

4 Plethora. Picture stacks and stacks of something, Piñatas for example. Piñatas of every color, shape, and size. You’ve got an entire storeroom filled with Piñatas, each one stuffed with shiny little trinkets. Then, my friend, you can safely say you have a Plethora of Piñatas. Now I must hang my head in shame. I swore I would refrain from making obscure movie references, but I couldn’t stop myself. If you’ve seen The Three Amigos you know why I had to do it. And look, there’s a t-shirt!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Distractions, Or Where not to spend your Summer Vacation

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been slipping into what can best be described as a general state of malaise1. It crept up upon me gradually; in fact I didn’t even notice it was drawing near until I found myself firmly entrenched within its walls.

So what brought that on? It wasn’t any particular stress over job, family, health, or finances; it’s all good there. Nope, I know what was, pure and simple; I miss Eòin.

For the past few months, Eòin has been my steadfast companion. He’s tagged along with me and my little dog on our morning walks. We’ve spent countless hours together during evenings and weekends. I’ve even spent a couple of weekends with him in a hotel room, just he and I.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, I’m going to tell you it’s not what you think. I just crave his company. We spend hours talking--well, to be precise Eòin talks and I listen. He tells me about his life, his hopes, and his fears. I just can’t get enough of hearing all about him.

My family, especially my husband, have been amazingly understanding about the unique relationship that Eòin and I share, though it has certainly occupied a great deal of my time over the past year. In fact, the first weekend that I went away with Eòin it was my husband’s idea. Actually it was an anniversary present. A little weird, I admit, sending your wife away for your anniversary, but it really was amazing gift. It was there that I first began to understand what makes Eòin tick, though he continues to surprise me.

Lately, though, my time with Eòin has been distressingly sparse. Life and its multifarious2 distractions have conspired to keep us apart far too much over the past few weeks. As our lamentable separation stretches on, I’m finding myself increasingly immersed in ennui3. And Eòin, no doubt resentful over my lack of attention, is growing rather distant and downright reticent4.

I can’t bear his silence. So, to make it up to him, I’ve made a promise to spend most of Saturday and at least two evenings with Eòin this week. I owe him that. After all, my novel would be nothing without him.

Oh, I neglected to mention one little detail. Eòin is the main character in the novel I’m currently writing. I first met him in a dream when I was 19 years old and, though I caught only glimpses of him over subsequent (no, I'll not say how many) years, I never forgot that first meeting. About a year and a half ago I began to make a concerted effort to get to know him better, but it wasn’t until my husband sent me away for our 11th wedding anniversary that I finally began to hear Eòin’s voice.  I wrote only 7 pages about Eòin over that entire weekend, but it was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. I’m learning that Eòin is a pretty amazing individual, though not quite as amazing as my husband.

1Malaise. Such a charming word. Sounds like a lovely village on the coast of France; somewhere you’d like to spend your summer vacation. But let me tell you, “YOU DON’T WANT TO GO THERE. EVER.” It’s not nearly as idyllic as it sounds. It’s dreary and grey and smells like hope gone sour. And once you’re there it’s sometimes hard to find your way back out. Trust me; I once found myself trapped there for a couple of dismal years, during an unfortunate period I refer to as “My First Marriage.” No, this is the place where the doldrums and melancholy were born. So, if you’re looking for a place to spend your holidays, I’d recommend Euphoria or Felicity.

2Multifarious. This may mean simply a bunch of various things, but it sounds like so much more. There’s a hint of something sinister about it, like it’s the spawn of an unholy union between Multitude and Nefarious. Ooh, Nefarious is a wickedly wonderful word (nice alliteration, there). Must. Not. Footnote. A. Footnote. And since we’re talking about distractions here, I’d say that perhaps this isn’t too far off. After all, a good share of distractions in life are at best bothersome, and at their worst downright malevolent.

3Ennui. Malaise’s sister city; also not a vacation destination.

4Reticent. It’s funny how a single word can say everything and nothing about someone, depending on the situation. If you were to meet me in a large group of unfamiliar people, you could certainly call me reticent. Too many strangers and the words have to be pried from my lips with a crowbar. But stick me in the middle of a small group of friends and perhaps you’d be better find a different descriptor; loquacious (drat, see above note about not footnoting a footnote) comes to mind. Yeah, good luck getting in a word edgewise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How can you fight it if it's in your blood?

Honestly, I don’t think I even stood a chance.

After all, virtually everyone in my family succumbs to logophilia1, many before they even reach puberty2. And when a condition like this spreads across your family tree like moss in Seattle, you might as well face the inevitable, learn to accept it, and get on with your life.

But how much of it can be blamed on heredity? There’s the question of nature versus nurture to consider, after all. And I can think of one person in particular who nurtured this irrepressible penchant3: dear old mom.

She must have realized how it would affect me, all those hours with Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry, not to mention the weekly treks to the library. With a childhood like that, it should have come as no surprise when the terrible teen reared its ugly head and she would find me hiding in my closet, reading yet another book rather than doing as I was told and cleaning the ghastly hellhole that I inhabited.

Seriously, how was that my fault? After all, I learned it by watching her.

1Logophilia. This word fills me with rapture. It really does. I know, I know, earlier I made it out to be some kind of affliction, but once you accept it as a part of yourself and learn to embrace it, you can begin to recognize its magnificence. And magnificent it is. I mean, what isn’t beautiful about a word that means, literally, an appetite for words? What better way to describe this irresistible craving for the finer elements of expression, this urge to savor the most delectable morsels offered up by the English language?

2Puberty. No, not an exciting or particularly interesting word other than the fact that the mere mention of it tends to inspire feelings of embarrassment or at least vague discomfort. My mother, whenever she felt compelled to refer to this unfortunate period in her children’s lives, would always drop her voice into a half-whisper when she said it, as if that term stepped dangerously close to the line between decent conversation and all things unmentionable. And heaven knows, with 5 children spanning 11 years she witnessed more than her share of the train-wreck that is puberty.

3Penchant. Ooh, now that’s a rather nice word. It starts off with a P, which of course puts it high on my spiff-o-meter; it can be pronounced with a light accent (päⁿ-shäⁿ) if you want to sound cosmopolitan (or maybe just a tad snooty); and it adds a little spice with its slightly naughty connotations--that “Ooh, I want it so much, but maybe it’s a sin for me to want it at all” sort of thing. Other rather nice words that could be dressed up penchant’s clothes to stand in its place are proclivity and predilection; both are pleasantly ample, roll off the tongue with a lovely rhythm and, as a bonus, also start with a P. I suppose fondness or obsession would have sufficed in a pinch, but they’re not nearly as sexy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem

Did I mention that I have a certain...well, um...addiction?

No, I suppose not.

For starters, it’s not exactly something that comes up in polite conversation. “So, Sally, let’s talk about my fetish1...”

Secondly--and probably more germane since I haven’t had the pleasure of actually conversing with most of you--this is my first blog post, so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to tell you all of my dirty little secrets.

I would guess that the title of my blog might have given you a glimpse of the little skeleton lurking in my cupboard, but here it is, in black and white: I, M M Phillips, profess an unnatural love affair with words.
Well, it’s actually dark green on green. I’m also exceedingly fond of (read fixated on) the color green, so of course I had to choose a green background. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there. 

But how does one become a Sesquipedalian, you ask?  Now that’s a very good question.

I don’t know how it works for everyone (maybe I should conduct a scientific study or poll a random sample of people on the street someday), but in my case this condition goes all the way back to my childhood--no I won’t say how many years ago that was. In fact, some of my earliest, and fondest, memories involve words.

Sure, it started off innocently enough with the occasional “mama” and “blankie,” but I quickly learned that these simple sounds garnered a great deal of positive feedback.  Instant gratification2; I was hooked.

But all too soon I found that the easy fix was no longer enough.  I needed more words, bigger words, increasingly potent words, to make me feel good. No longer content to wait for the words to come to me, I began to seek them out, wandering through the tattered pages of sundry paperbacks and even venturing into the depths of such dusty tomes as dictionaries and thesauri.

And thus an obsession was born.

1Fetish. No, it’s not that sort of thing--get your mind out of the gutter.  It can mean a fixation of any sort, you know.

2Gratification. I like this word; it’s all about those wonderful feelings that come from getting what you want. It conjures up images of creamy slices of cheesecake dripping with mango sauce, romantic moonlit trysts, or shopping bags overflowing with the latest trendy fashions. For me it’s a toss up at any given moment which of these luxuries offers the most gratification: the first or the second. And the third? Eh. I’m not much of a trendsetter.