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.