Monday, January 30, 2012


When I first moved to Germany I was surprised when people told me they had visited or planned to go to New England for Indian Summer, as if it were a sure thing. How did they calculate, I wondered. I wondered aloud, and found out what they meant was 'foliage season,' when trees turned colorful as a headress full of feathers. It was easy to understand where the mistake was made.

Still, I tried to explain what Indian Summer really was - that time of year when the heat creeps back, although you thought autumn had started, a bout of hot weather usurping the season, unexpected and unwelcome. It was than that I first made the connection between Indian Summer and 'Indian giver.'

This backstory was more difficult to explain, and eventually I gave up. I know where the expression comes from, but I let the Germans keep their own, though the imprecision irks. Am I lazy, or just dismayed by the effort of explaining, or is it worse than that? Is Indian Summer = foliage season a semantic whitewash?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Safe Landings

Mark Wahlberg caused a ruckus recently when he claimed history would have been different had he been on the plane from Boston that crashed into the WTC on 9/11. He was supposed to be on one of the two, but rescheduled shortly before. He dreams frequently of his would-be heroism: If he’d been on board, he says, he’d have stormed the cockpit and kicked some terrorist ass.

While I appreciate the sentiment, how can anyone know the circumstances, assess the danger and opportunities, and above all know oneself –one's reactions, the thoughts that would go through your head, the power of fear– enough to judge what he’d do? In these days of easy heroism (local girl picks up baby sister at school!), I wouldn’t discourage the real thing, but how to make such claims hypothetically? Maybe because of your kids’ being on board, or the deal you’re about to close, or your crush on Tanya at your office, you wouldn’t dare anything at all? Most people hope for a best-case outcome. No one on the plane from Boston knew his fate.

(It’s interesting that Wahlberg has that German last name because if he’d been born, say, 90 years ago, we could have counted on him to take Hitler out. Too bad! ... but I’m having fun at his expense.) In his favor, he has since apologized. We all appreciate the sentiment, but we also benefit from hindsight. And the adrenaline of imagination. Still, there’s a lot of injustice out there, so he needn’t be disappointed he missed his chance to right wrongs. Opportunities abound.

Anyway, I heard all this and I'd have put it away in my mental clutter cabinet, except Wahlberg’s outburst coincided with the wreck of the Costa Concorida and its weasely captain. The wreck also brought up comparisons to the Titanic, and my colleague who covers the insurance industry and has a pet interest in cruises, sent me a link about second mate Lightoller, whom I’d never heard of and now ask myself why (boy walks dog for sick mom!). When the Titanic captain told him to get into one of the lifeboats, he refused. Instead when there was nothing left to stand on he dove into the ocean, after having packed as many women and children into the lifeboats as he could. Some think he misunderstood "women & children first" as "women & children only." Still, a hero in my book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

reading notes

Not long ago I finally finished Moby Dick. I admit there would have been an acute danger of failing to finish it if I hadn't been in an internet group dedicated to it, if I hadn't been one of the leaders of aforesaid group. Yup, "reading in public!" The pressure. I am very glad to have read it now; it was worth the while. When you're somehow involved with Melville, he seems to turn up everywhere - this, today, for example.

Afterwards, quite exhausted, I had a quick romp with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which had a good plot but which I found so-so. It was a fast read, though, which is often a plus point. To me it seemed like YA literature, though I understand that wasn't its original category. My take: skippable, unless you have an interest in Asperger's Syndrome.

Now I'm reading The Tin Drum and feeling underwhelmed after my high expectations. What I think of wistfully nearly every day is re-reading The French Lieutenant's Woman, which I loved last year. I even pulled it out this morning and re-read the first couple pages. Later in the day I talked to my mom who spent four hours in a doctor's waiting room today reading something I'd recommended, which turned out to be this! I could have cried. My only problem with my copy, I remembered this morning when I pulled it out, is the goofy cover with cutesy girlwoman playing peekaboo.

Friday, January 20, 2012

the what

“Thank you for sending us your poems; we are sorry to say they are not what we are looking for.”

What: substansive
What: a question word demanding definition
What: “that which”
What: (adv.) in a great or surprising manner, e.g. what a poem!
What: a thing inherently unspecified

(for further reference: whatever, whatsoever, whosiewhat, whatchamacallit)

Do you remember the riddle about the fisherman’s daughter, who was to come both dressed and undressed? In what was she un/dressed?

“When you have what we are looking for, please let us know.“

(it has yet to be fingerprinted)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why you cannot sing 'Dem Bones' in German

The Scheitelbein's connected to the Hinterhauptbein
The Hinterhaupbein's connected to the Schläfenbein
The Schläfenbein's connected to the Unterkiefer
The Unterkiefer's connected to the Zwischenkieferbein
The Zwischekieferbein's connected to the Gesichtsschädel

ach nein, it just don't flow...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Word Thursday

The little figure of the die is one of my favorites.
It is so neat and dotted, intact and self-contained, and yet with so many tentacled implications.

It's a loaded word, too, as dice can be loaded, hiding the fatal verb in it. I also like that die’s plural is dice. There’s nothing like the die-dice pair.

The mice don’t have their mie.

Advice has no advie, and rice must walk this world alone, or at least as a collective singular.

Another word I like is stacks, as in library stacks, which has no singular. Such stacks in fact are not stacked at all, ideally, but lined up in rows. For stacking stacks you need a used book shop or a plate of pancakes.

But what brought all this up was another word that I read today and meant to take note of, but now slips my mind. It’s like this morning, I put a pan of milk on the stove to warm and when I came back to get it the pan was nice and warm but there was no milk in it.

And now I remember the word: absentminded. It struck me funny. I wanted to give it a hyphen, but the dictionary says no. Perhaps I knew that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One of the Tea Leaf fragments

Prince Igor

Let’s lay a cloth under our clutter,
acclaim the sanity of teapots
and backs of chairs, swans
curving into morning.

And though we’ve run out of sugar
and though time, too, runs out
to its grey and empty chamber

you fill a vase with grass
saying, “if there are no roses”

Thursday, January 05, 2012

less usual delusions

A variation of delusions of grandeur are delusions of grammar, that is, the fixed belief that one’s language abilities are far superior than other people's, even infallible. In addition to grammar, the deluded person believes his spelling and punctuation are irreproachable. Dressing in robes or crowns is a symptom, as the patient may consider himself “the king” or “Jesus” of grammar, or chief of the grammar police. Patients obsess about perceived offenses in books, correspondence and newspapers, as well as in verbal interaction with others. This malady often leads to a complete loss of manners, as well as an obscure illness known as ‘denial of the dictionary.’

Elsewhere, closely related to delusions of persecution/paranoia are delusions of parsecution – the belief that other people – vaguely identified as "they" - are paying overly close attention to every word you say, that is, they are parsing your sentences. These parsecutory delusions often lead the sufferer to swear silence, or alternately, to use made-up words and bizarre syntactical twists to obscure the true meaning of their statements (e.g. "Withholding it stampedes, therewith spears taking tapwatery wonder," which means “Spanish agents are aggressively poisoning my tap water.”).

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy even-numbered year

This music makes me glad to be alive.
I wish you a brilliant, beautiful new year.
The dragon is right behind.
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