Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A bit of Scottish History, Duct tape, and Velvet Gowns

It's alive!!

After a hiatus of nearly a year, this blog is being re-born. Life got a little crazy for a bit, but I have vowed to breathe new life into this, my long neglected cyber-offspring. For future posts, I've decided to make an effort to post shorter, more frequent offerings, in order to make things less intimidating, both for the writer (me) and the reader (you). But to make up for the long spell of silence, I offer you the following ramble:

Have I mentioned that my current WIP (that's work-in-progress in writer-speak) takes place in 10th century Scotland?

So tell me, what was I thinking? Really?

Before I started this endeavor I knew nothing about medieval Scotland (or Alba in the Scottish Gàidhlig). Nothing. I may have thought I knew something but I was wrong, tremendously wrong. So, to rectify1 the colossal2 holes in my grasp of Scottish history, I’ve been doing research on Medieval Scotland. I’ve checked out various books from our local library system’s limited resources and I’ve delved3 into the contents of countless websites, printing and sorting and filing reams of documents describing everything from the typical diet, to local flora and fauna, to the most popular medieval Gàidhlig names.

In support of my hobby (okay, obsession) my husband recently gifted me with the digital copy of a 1909 publication entitled The History of Scotland: Its Highlands, Regiments and Clans by one James Browne, LL.D (which signifies4 a Doctor of Law - I Googled it). It looks like it’s going to be a fantastic resource, although I confess that I haven’t gotten very far into it. In fact, I’m still working my way through the foreword. And speaking of the foreword, if you’ll bear with me I’d like to give you a little taste of it. Here are the first three sentences of said foreword:

Notwithstanding5 the researches of the learned to trace the origin of nations and the descent and progress of the different branches of the great human family, as found at the dawn of history, it must be confessed that the result has been far from satisfactory, and that many of the systems which have been proposed are built upon the most gratuitous6 and chimerical7 hypotheses. By a comparison of languages, however, considerable light has been thrown upon the affinities8 of nations; but beyond these philological9 investigations, everything becomes vague and uncertain. Some modern writers, particularly amongst the Germans, with that unfortunate latitudinarianisms10 of interpretation which distinguishes...

What? Oh, sorry, I dozed off there.

What’s wrong with me? I mean, look at all the big, beautiful words in there! You would think that reading this would be the highlight of my week, or at least my day. In fact, as much as I adore such sumptuous11 vocabulary, you’d think I’d be ready to get down on one knee and propose marriage to Mr. James Browne, LL.D. (Let’s ignore, for the moment, the certain likelihood that Mr. Browne is moldering in a grave somewhere, not to mention the fact that I’m already happily married and I’m not sure where on earth polyandry12 might actually be legal.) I mean really, a word like latitudinarianism alone is enough to send shivers of pleasure down my spine.

So what’s the problem? Well, I hate to give him too much credit, but I think my younger brother put it rather succinctly13 in a bit of email correspondence: “Personally, I think offering a reader a rich vocabulary is rather like serving-up tofu for dinner. It's good for them - definitely. They really will find it tasty, too, if properly prepared. The trick is avoiding those big, obvious bites: often a bit awkward going down.”

Simply put, the passage above (and the rest of the foreword I’ve waded through thus far - there are 90 pages of foreword, for heavens sake) doesn’t just offer you the tofu (or choice vocabulary) in little, savory14 bites. No, it shoves big chunks down your throat until you feel as if you might choke on it.

Granted, the work in question is non-fiction, which often invites a certain degree of highfalutin language. Fair enough. But I’d argue that even for non-fiction this tome15 is going to take a bit of chewing to get it down.

Lesson of the day: Go ahead and spice up your writing with some robust, succulent16 words, but for heaven’s sake, don’t force your poor readers to choke down an entire meal’s worth with every bite.

1Rectify.  Problem? Never fear, there’s nothing that a good word, a little hard work, a bandaid, or some duct tape can’t fix. I am not going to mention that this word sounds vaguely naughty, like something that would make a middle-schooler giggle. I will take the high road here.

2Colossal.  Are any of you comic book fans? Well, I confess only a mild interest in the Marvel universe or the worlds described in DC Comics, but both my husband and youngest son are comic book geeks. As a result, I’ve watched a number of the recent films based on the exploits of various comic book heroes, including both Fantastic Four movies. Before the second Fantastic Four movie came out, my husband took it upon himself to provide me a detailed account of the Silver Surfer’s arrival on earth, which heralded the impending arrival of Galactus. For those of you who didn’t see the movie, or read the comics, let me tell you that you do not want Galactus to stop in for a visit. This guy is huge; so huge, in fact, that it challenges the mind’s ability to grasp the pure immensity of him. And what do you feed a fellow like Galactus? Steak and Potatoes? Nope. Planets. Yep, he’s that big.

3Delve.  Moles are really good at this. And gravediggers. And detectives. It helps to have a shovel, or a talent for unearthing secrets.

4Signify.  Just stick a hyphen in the middle of this one, like so: Sign-ify. Tells you all you need to know. Want to explain what something means or why it’s important? Just stick a sign on it. Okay, so these signs aren’t usually the sort you can actually touch, they’re more like the idea of a sign, but they still do the job.

5Notwithstanding.  Well, that might be true, but still...

6Gratuitous.  What’s that? It’s free? I don’t have to work for it, or even deserve it? It’s just mine for the taking? Sounds good to me.

7Chimerical.  I saw a goat with a lion’s head the other day. Really. Okay, I only caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, but I know I saw it.

8Affinity.  There are different ways of looking at this one. On the one hand, it could express the passion I feel for my husband. Or it could describe my fondness for the color green and the music of Matchbox 20. Or, alternatively, it could be summed up by a conversation: “So, your mother is my husband’s second cousin? Does that mean we’re related?” Suffice it to say that this word really gets around; it even makes appearances in the field of chemistry, describing an attractive force between atoms. I guess you could sum it up by saying it portrays an attraction, or bond, of some sort.

9Philological.  Once upon a time there was a certain word, and it spent its youth in the bounteous land of Latin before wandering through the Indo-European realms and then dwelling for a time in French, before finally settling down in a cozy little English verb. And there are so many other words, big and little, whose beginnings, both humble and grand, can be traced back through a string of languages and dialects to the misty beginnings of human speech. This word makes it its business to know all about the history of those other words.

10Latitudinarianism.  Don’t let this word’s imposing presence fool you; this big fellow is everyone’s buddy. Regardless of your religious beliefs, sexual orientation, hair color, skin color, shoe size, or political view, he’s going to pull up another stool at the bar and buy you a drink. Yeah, he’s just that kind of guy.

11Sumptuous.  This word is like a velvet gown, hand-embroidered with silk flowers and beaded with fresh water pearls. It hangs in supple, shimmering waves to the floor and flows out behind the wearer in an opulent tide. This is the kind of gown a queen would wear, or a Hollywood starlet at the Academy Awards.

12Polyandry.  Meet the Polygamy twins: Polyandry and Polygyny. They might share many common traits, but these two are by no means identical. Although both encourage large households with more than the traditional parenting duo, Polyandry’s habit of collecting multiple husbands tends to earn her more disapproving looks than Polygyny’s penchant for marrying more than one woman. And while Polygyny has been widely popular through the ages, poor Polyandry has been largely ignored by all save a few, mostly fringe groups. I could make some sort of comment about this disparity probably having something to do with the fact that no woman should ever have to clean up after more than one man, but that would be bad, and probably sexist, and...bad. So, I won’t say anything of the sort, especially since I am married to a man (yes, just one) who is quite good at cleaning up after himself.

13Succinctly.  What, you want me to get to the point? No circuitous verbal ramblings? No tangential asides? Um...I don’t think I can do that.

14Savory.  Imagine a serving of salmon, seasoned with a little lemon, along with some garlic, pepper and rosemary. Throw in a side of roasted baby red potatoes, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with garlic and rosemary. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. And while it may not be sweet, it sure is tasty.

15Tome.  I have many, many of these. They perch on shelves, sometimes two or three deep, in my living room, family room, even dining room. They’re heavy, they take up a lot of space and they collect an inordinate amount of dust, but when you crack them open the whole universe comes spilling out.

16Succulent.  See that wedge of fresh pineapple there? Yeah, that’s right, take a bite, you know you want one. Oh, you might want to have a napkin handy, unless you like the feeling of pineapple juice in your navel.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Award, Lime Green Shoes, Young Frankenstein and some maps.

Well, I’m back from my overly long Blog holiday.  Let’s see if I can post a little more regularly now.  That would be spiffy, wouldn’t it?

First off I’m going to say thanks for the awards I’ve received from some fantastic fellow bloggers.  Awards make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However, I’m not always on the ball as far as passing along these awards to other bloggers (as per the terms of the award) as I should be.  I will endeavor to do better in the future, starting with the following:

Ailsa (gapyeargirl123) at The Book Bundle nominated me for the 'Honest Scrap' Award, which is for bloggers who write from the heart. Thanks Ailsa!

The rules are to list 10 honest things about yourself, and pass it on to other bloggers (okay, the rules say 10 other bloggers, but I don’t read that many blogs, other than the big hitters like Nathan Bransford who certainly don’t need an award from me).

Well, this is a bit of a departure from my usual posts (which have been shockingly scarce of late), but here are my 10 things--both trivial and significant. And maybe I’ll manage to squeeze in a few choice lexical1 morsels so I can include some footnotes.

1) I like big words - a lot.  Well, nowhere does it does it say I can only list new things about myself - it just says honest things.

2) I have many, many hobbies (read obsessions), including writing (this one is currently number one on my list of obsessions), reading, gardening, quilting and scrapbooking. If I had more time, I’d have more hobbies.

3) My favorite color is green, pretty much any shade of green--sage, forest, emerald, celery, avocado, lime…

4) I can say without reservation that my husband really is my best friend. I never tire of his company, even after all the years we’ve spent together. He treats me like a goddess and he is the most honorable man I’ve ever known. That may sound sappy, but this is my blog and I’ll get as much sap on it as I want.

5) And while I’m laying down the sap, I’m going to add that my three children, Z, R, and W, and my little grandson, Z2, are at the top of my list of Amazing People I’m Thrilled to Know. They really keep life interesting, and if sometimes that means weeks pass between blog posts and my poor novel languishes2 on my laptop for days, then so be it. Sometimes reading Harry Potter with your 10-year old, or going to lunch with your 18-year old, or talking about paintball tournaments with your 20-year old, or playing with the stacking buckets on the floor with your 9-month old grandson is all that really matters.

6) I love traveling. Love it! Last year was an exceptionally good year for traveling, too.  Over the course of the year I took the following trips: a cruise with my sister, from LA down to Catalina Island and parts of Mexico; an almost two-week trip to Washington, D.C., part of which I spent at a conference for work and part of which I spent touring the sites of the city with a group of friends (before the conference) and my husband (during and after the conference); a trip to Chicago to visit a friend and go to a concert; a trip to Seaside, Oregon, for a family vacation at a friend’s beach house; a trip to Disneyland with my youngest son, one of my sisters, and my sister’s oldest granddaughter; and a trip to Atlantic City and Pennsylvania to visit a friend and go to a concert (which was sadly rescheduled - see my last post). I’d like to say every year was as filled with adventure as this year has been, but the truth is I typically don’t put quite as many miles on my suitcase, though I certainly would if I had the means or, most importantly, an inexhaustible bank of vacation hours from my day job.

7) Speaking of my day job, I guess I’ll mention that I spend most weekdays in front of a computer from 8 to 5 (minus an hour at lunchtime spent at the gym--if I’m being diligent3) performing astounding feats of cartography4 and spatial5 legerdemain6. In other words, I work in GIS7. More precisely, I manage a GIS office, which means I actually have a staff, so at times I can put on my imperious8 dictator hat and direct my minions 9(all two of them) to do my bidding--or to make a map, as the case may be.

8) I live in a small town in Eastern Washington, which is the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of the Washington Wine Industry.” Since I really appreciate a good bottle of wine, I’d consider that serendipitous10. And no, it doesn’t rain all of the time here. That’s Western Washington - think Seattle. I live in a desert. It’s quite arid11, and as our little town’s website proclaims, this area “boasts 300 sunny days annually.” That’s a lot of sunshine, which is fine by me.

9) I grew up in a small (at least it was when I was young), unassuming12 town in Western Washington, about a half hour northeast of Seattle.  It rains a lot there (see #8) and there are vast numbers of people and cars and confusing highways, and… Let’s just say it’s a nice place to visit.

10) I am a very slow writer, largely due to the fact that I am overly critical of my own writing. I try to tell myself that I’ll just write a rough draft and smooth it out later, but I agonize over each and every word. And I can’t seem to do short answers, which is why my blog posts end up being ridiculously long and far too infrequent. And which is why this simple list of 10 things has burgeoned13 into a mini autobiography. Brevity14, what’s that?

Bloggers I nominate:
Alisha at *MoVing HoMe*
Aubrey at We’re Going to a Party
Carrie at Heim Binas Fiction
Diana at Writing Roller Coasters
Emily at The Chronicles of Emily Cross
Jenna at As the Plot Thickens
Wendy at Where Ladybugs Roar

I know some of these fine bloggers have already received this award, but them’s the breaks.  I only have time to read so many blogs.

1Lexical. A word that’s all about words. Cool.

2Languish. I know some people (I’d hate to say women because that might be stereotyping) who love shoes. They collect shoes like some people collect stamps, or like I tend to collect big words. And really, how many times can you wear that pair of lime green stiletto heels? Really? If you ask me, most of those pretty, expensive shoes will spend the majority of their existence collecting dust on the closet floor, untouched and so very lonely.

3Diligent. I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery a few months ago. Wow. I must say I was wholly impressed by the men who guard this monument. Their intense focus and dedication to duty is truly awe inspiring. I can’t think of a better example of diligence.

4Cartography. Ooh, look I made a pretty picture of my town. It has some intersecting lines with names like Court St and 6th Ave printed along them. There are some big green shapes, which are supposed to be parks (at least according to a little box titled Legend), some blue squiggles and all kinds of little symbols scattered across the paper with names like City Hall and Library printed over them. It’s like my whole town laid flat on a piece of paper, although in reality the parks aren’t quite so green, the river not as blue, and the library isn’t actually shaped like a book.

5Spatial. Okay, let’s start with pronunciation, because I’ve heard far too many go astray on this one. Spatial does not begin with a ‘Spat’ as in a big loogey. If it makes it easier, just pretend that the ‘t’ in the middle is a ‘c’ as in Spacial, because it sounds just like ‘Special’ but with a long ‘a’ in place of the ‘e.’  Wow, that’s far more time spent on pronunciation than is warranted; can you tell this one is a pet peeve of mine? Oh, you want to know what it means? Well, fine. If you’re looking for a definition, it just means something to do with space. In other words, like Real Estate it’s all about Location, Location, Location. And Spatial’s job is to describe that location: Where is it? What is next to it? What lies underneath it? What’s on top of it?

6Legerdemain. This word is the domain of the magician whose hands can move with such speed and dexterity that they can fool the human eye. Now you see it, now you don’t. Now that’s a spiffy word.

7GIS. My first footnoted acronym, which stands for Geographic Information Systems. The definitions of GIS are many, but perhaps the simplest way to explain it is to break it down into its separate parts. So, you’ve got the Geographic part, which basically means anything that has a physical location; in other words, if you can stand on it or put your finger on it or fly a plane over it, it has geography. Then there’s the Information part, which is pretty straight forward; you take that something that you’ve stood upon or touched or flown over and you gather facts—ownership, color, size, age, height—about it. And when you have those facts and those physical locations, you need something with which to track, organize, analyze and display them. That’s where the System part comes in, which usually involves a lot of data, a computer, some rather expensive software and someone who knows how to make some sense of it all. Now, I’m sure this is all as clear as glass. Right. Maybe I should have my husband read this footnote; he still isn’t quite sure what I do, although he agrees that I sure know how to make a pretty map.

8Imperious. Everyone must do as I say! Any questions?

9Minion. Think of Marty Feldman’s Igor to Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein. Igor is the classic minion; he comes when he’s called and does what he’s told (even if it’s not always done well). You gotta love those minions. After all who else would collect those body parts and clean up after misunderstood monsters?

10Serendipitous. Sounds like the name of a dinosaur to me: Diplodocus; Carcharodontosaurus; Deinonychus; Serendipitous. Only this wouldn’t be some kind of sharp-toothed, flesh-eating beast. This would be the kind of dinosaur you’d want for a pet; the kind that brings you pleasant little treats or treasures that he drops at your feet when you least expect it (not to be confused with the gruesome little tidbits that cats present to their owners). Aw, isn’t he sweet. Look what he’s bringing this time. Here Serendiptious! Here boy!

11Arid. Picture those desert scenes in the Road Runner cartoons: vast expanses of rock and dirt; sparse vegetation, consisting primarily of scattered cacti; and a single, vacant riverbed that wends its way through the thirsty landscape. Dry, dry, dry. Makes me thirsty just thinking about it.

12Unassuming. This is a perfectly adequate word, although it doesn’t think too highly of itself. It’s not flashy, not an attention-seeker, and not one to toot its own horn; it just does its own thing, at its own pace, whether you notice it or not.

13Burgeon. This is what happens to my waistline when I get to attend those week-long conferences for work where every meal is a buffet offering far too many choices and each evening’s activities involves numerous excursions to the open bar.

14Brevity. The opposite of The Sesquipedalian’s ramblings. Yep, that pretty much says it all.

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.