Monday, March 26, 2012

Video poetry

I like Billy Collins. He’s certainly not one of our most profound poets. There’s something about his work that often reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon. But he’s wonderfully accessible, and he’s no mere Ogden Nash. This is an interesting project.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The right word to write

I read a mostly anti-thesaurus blog post this morning that included this little 1986 screed from Stephen King:
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.
 I understand what King meant. Something along the lines of, “write out of your own experience and use your own voice.” Standard advice provocatively stated. But he was young in 1986. I wonder if he still feels there is “no exception” to this rule. There is at my desk. I use the thesaurus (online, of course) often these days, not because I’m looking for an impressive fancy word to replace a common everyday one, but because I can’t remember the word I know I need to use. In other words, I know I know the word. But my old brain can’t trigger the synapse to find the right drawer and pull it out. If it weren’t for a quick way to refresh my memory, I would have stopped trying to write years ago, because the right word—exactly the right word—is a great joy of writing and a key to the whole deal for me.

The trick with the thesaurus is to find a word to search on that’s close enough to the one you know you want ... not always as easy as it sounds, since you may be working off a vague definition rather than a synonym. Unfortunately, these days, the big Yes! of turning up exactly the word I’ve been blindly reaching for is too often a highlight of the working day.


I also admit I used a dictionary yesterday—to make sure I understood the difference between “bagatelle” and “lagniappe.” (In half a nutshell, a lagniappe can be—usually is—a bagatelle, but the reverse is not true. For the other half, look ’em up yourself.) This had nothing to do with any writing, though. Pure euphonious fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


A birthday and an anniversary yesterday. We’re promiscuous bubble-quaffers, and any vaguely celebration-worthy event soon finds us tickling our noses. So there’s almost always an inexpensive bottle in the fridge waiting for an excuse to have its cork popped. Usually, this it’s one of the ubiquitous Spanish cavas. Occasionally, it’s a Washington State Domaine Ste. Michelle, where we once spent a wonderful evening. Whatever it is, it’s usually a perfectly decent $10-12 bottle.

For yesterday’s double celebration, I went for double the price, a Roederer Estate Brut from California’s Anderson Valley. We’d tasted this before, when we visited the winery a few years ago, and we really liked what we’d sipped. To me, it’s indistinguishable from a good French bottle. Mighty fine.

I’ve had quite expensive Champagne. (I’ve even bought quite expensive Champagne. Every single year the Red Sox have won the World Series.) But, frankly, although I can tell the difference between a $10 Freixenet and the $20 Roederer California, I honestly can’t tell the difference between the Roederer and the next step up. So that’s my limit: $20 bubbly. Until the Sox win again.


One summer’s Saturday way, way, way back, we were participants in a mass cork-popping-for-distance competition in the little field behind my parents’ house.  Many, many bottles, many, many corks, many loud jests and bouts of raucous laughter. One of us actually won. It wasn’t me. A tremendous achievement, remembered and remarked upon to this day.

Distance events aside, I was taught long ago not to really pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne for fear of prematurely releasing all the bubbles. Someone somewhere suggested to me that the sound of a properly opened bottle was identical to “the sigh of a satisfied woman.” I’m clearly no good at one thing or the other. Maybe you’ve got to be French.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sweatiness report

An unusual run this morning, back from dropping my car off for service. This was on roads that used to be part of a long standard loop I ran, and it reminded me of three things. First, that I’ve strained one achilles or the other so many times on long, flat, quick, and also !@#$%, Bacon Pond Road that I think of it as trauma central. Second, that there’s an almost exact downhill mile from the top of the rise near the pond on Cat Swamp Road, down White Deer Rocks Road,  across Sanford, onto Bacon Pond, and back to White Deer Rocks over which you can fly. If your achilles doesn’t decide it’s had enough, thank you very much. And finally, that the not especially steep uphill back toward Main Street on on White Deer Rocks is the most annoying and least enjoyable quarter mile in town.

My first adult-lesson swimming session ended a few weeks ago, and I’ve been expecting a call giving me days and times for the next. I even called the Y a few days ago, but nothing. Perhaps they’re sending me a signal. “Come back when you can breathe properly, pal!” Maybe I should be practicing in the bath.

The machine stuff carries on. More clank, clank, grunt, grunt. I hate it. But, boy, do I need it. When I restarted, every muscle in my body ached, an admonishment for sure. Much better now, stepping up weights and reps gradually (very gradually!), and no more pain. Just that maxed-out, wobbly muscle feeling. And jaw-clenching boredom.

It’s a long way back. And “back” is relative.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ancient on holiday

Sweet B, leaning on my knee between bunks in our little tent/cabin on St.John: “M?”

Me: “Yes, B?”

B: “M, are you really, really old?”

Me, taken aback—my father’s still alive and kicking at 88, after all, so the double really may be overstating the case slightly: “Well, uh, hmm.” Surrender to convenience, reality, or both.“Yes, B. I guess I am.”

B: Quick nod of affirmation and back to play.

She later asked her grandmother the same question, got essentially the same answer, then followed up: “Are you 100?” I believe laughter and snuggles followed.

A few days later, she asked me why she cried when she popped out of her mommy’s tummy. (I wasn’t present at that exact moment, but I’m famed on multiple continents for a much-praised imitation of her screaming 12-hour-old self.) This eventually led to a reenactment of her birth, using a sheet as the womb. Demonstration of warmth and comfort therein, shock of bright light upon emergence, mock, tickling demonstration of busy pulling and poking by doctor and nurses, eventual discussion of umbilical cord and placenta (she’s a doctor’s child, after all, and has heard, if not registered, all of this before). We wound it up with expressions of amazement and joy at her current happy perfection, and kisses and a raspberry on her belly button.

I must say, she’s a lot more fun for really, really old people to play with now than then.

So that’s what I did on my vacation. (Pix eventually...they’re in New Hampshire.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Urgent listening

Pix and some words soon about white sand and blue water, but I’ve been on a Leonard Cohen kick lately. (See? I’m not just all Billie Holiday and Count Basie.) It’s not his swingin’ rhythms, obviously. Its his words and the shape and depth and humanity of his poetry. I love “I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch” from the omnipresent “Hallelujah”. And I’m knocked out by this: