May 31, 2011

Baseball's language of disdain and admiration

Baseball announcers have catchphrases to express their opinion of players. Here are a few of the things they say:

"He's a free swinger." This is a nice way to say the batter is a fool who will swing at anything.

"He got a couple of soft hits."  Refers to a particular kind of lazy, up-in-the-air, shouldn't-have-been-a-hit hit. No one is impressed, though it did the job.

"And Cano waves at the ball." Delivered in a tone worthy of Bea Arthur, this denotes a complete lack of effort on the batter's part. I love this one. He's saying the guy swung the bat like a five-year-old.

And let's not forget the deadly but silent backwards k, the symbol for "struck out looking." They might as well use a dunce cap for the icon. There is great derision in that backwards k. It's one of several silent "words" that appear in the language of baseball. More on this another day.

On the other hand, sometimes the sportscasters love the players:

"He got all of that ball!" = Wow, did he hit that ball! Wattaguy!

"I'm impressed at the way the 2nd baseman is flashing the leather!" = the guy's making incredible catches.

The other night, after a guy ran full-force into a barrier, the sportscaster said "Great play by Roberts, giving up his body to help his pitcher!"

That last one is part of the lingering mythos of baseball, which says harm to players is inconsequential -- mere collateral damage. Meanwhile, the guy has a concussion for at least six months and is half the man he used to be.

And now I have three questions for readers. I can't ferret out the meaning of the following baseball terms on my own. I could consult the google god, of course, but I'd rather depend on friends and hearsay. So here are my questions:

"That's a bang woof 'em". What the hell is that?

"And he makes a shoe-string catch!" I have no clue about this one.

And finally, why is the middle of the 7th called "stretch time"?

That's it for today but don't worry. I still have tons of notes to write up for baseball talk. These posts won't stop until the season does. (OMG! I didn't want to think that last thought. Purge, purge!)

Freedom Riders redux

Bus burning in Anniston, AL.
There was a great story on NY1 over the weekend. Here's an excerpt:
Tuesday was a spirited day in Jackson, Mississippi, as Freedom Riders who battled segregation in 1961 and current city high school students joined in song while marching to an event at the historic Greyhound bus station.

One of the interesting developments this week is that the Freedom Riders, many of whom have lived and worked out of the public eye, have, in the eyes of the students, become rock stars.
Check the full story out. I found it uplifting to read about these young people who are so fired up about the history of civil rights. Maybe there's hope after all.

To learn more about the Freedom Rides visit this page on the Clermont College site.

May 30, 2011

Admit it: they're gorgeous

Click to embiggen.
These are my babies. Well, I guess they're the geese's babies too, sorta. They are just the sweetest things and they make this little chirpy noise. It's an endearing package. If your bandwidth can stand it, click on the photo for the larger version. They're absurdly cute.

Anyway, they're growing up fast so I thought I'd post this image to show their progress. This is Milo's brood. They're the oldest and consequently the darkest of the chicks in the yard. The stray little guy is hanging on, I'm happy to report. But the poor thing has nobody to play with! He's going to be socially hobbled. Awwww.

They eat facts for breakfast

Isn't it amazing how right-wingers fear facts? There's a NYT story today about Florida governor Rick Scott vetoing the state appropriation for public broadcasting. PBS really irks the radical right. They know it means allowing pesky facts and science and uncontrolled whatnot on TV -- and they won't stand for that. No, sir. Gotta muzzle it.

Welcome to the United States of the 21st century. If these guys get their way, a new and horrifying edition of the Dark Ages will soon be upon us -- and this is not an exaggeration. The rightwing lunatic fringe would be thrilled to see this happen. Maybe they could even have slaves again!

May 29, 2011

Wikileaks speaks

The precious Doctor Vito.
This morning I had an hourlong video-chat with Julian Assange. The news is grim. Doctor Vito is indeed imprisoned -- and you won't believe the route his imprisonment has taken. Read on if you think you can stomach the news.

Popey guy's not even hiding it anymore.

Terrible news from Wikileaks founder

A man almost as great as Dr. Vito.
I have been in contact with Julian Assange. The news is so sickening that it will take me the whole day to coax my shocked body into writing a post about it. Perhaps Nils will help me. But don't worry -- I'll push myself and I promise that this very night, at 10 PM, I will post the next installment of what is becoming a hellacious saga.

If prayer was worth spit, I'd say it was time to pray for Doctor Vito. But it isn't, so don't bother. I'll see you back here late tonight.

Oh, the humanity!

May 28, 2011

Santorum for bathroom

He has to go.
In the brave spirit of Gore Vidal and Miss Myra Breckenridge, I suggest we start using the word "Santorum" for "bathroom". It sounds right, doesn't it? It's sort of sanitary-sounding and the Latin "orum" ending gives it the gravitas that a bathroom word needs. Admit it -- if you didn't know better, you might think lavatory and santorum were in the same class of words. I say we go for it.

As for the capitalization issue, I go both ways on this. I lean toward "santorum" because we don't capitalize bathroom or lavatory, but it might lose its connection to the fool from which it comes. What do you think? Will you switch to using this word in your own life? And chime in: lower case, right?

PS: For those who didn't read Vidal's book, he took the names of the Supreme Court justices who refused to protect the right to publish 'obscene' material, ruling that "community standards" should decide what was obscene -- and used those names for human body parts. Thus in "Myra Breckenridge" all men had a rhenquist between their legs and most hoped to pop it into an attractive woman's blackmun. It may sound silly but it worked -- it really, really worked. Gore won this battle big-time. Now, let's do it to Santorum!

Hippie music for a Sunday morning

I ran into this odd black and white video of Donovan playing "Sunny Goodge Street" on his guitar. It's simpler and more charming than the tricked-out studio version of the song on his magical album, Fairytale.

The video quality is pitiful but the sound isn't that bad. Of course, the funny thing about the video (other than the fact that his back is facing you for most of the song) is his outfit. It's beyond ridiculous. Donovan really went off the deep end with his royal court, prince-and-princess-of-acid routine. But he was writing stunning lyrics and music at this point in his life. I've posted the lyrics below the video.

On the firefly platform on sunny Goodge Street
A violent hash-smoker shook a chocolate machine
Involved in an eating scene
Smashing into neon streets in their stonedness
Smearing their eyes on the crazy colors goddess
Listenin' to sounds of Mingus mellow fantastic
"My, my", they sigh
"My, my", they sigh
In dollhouse rooms with coloured lights swingin'
Strange music boxes sadly tinkling
You drink in the sun shining all around you
"My, my", they sigh
"My, my", they sigh
The magician, he sparkles in satin and velvet
You gaze at his splendour with eyes you've not used yet
I tell you his name is love, love, love
"My, my", they sigh
"My, my", they sigh
"My, my", they sigh

My only quibble is with the very notion of a "violent hash-smoker". Has anyone ever seen one of those? You smoke hash and pretty much fall into a coma. Anyway, this slice of life from way-back-when was found on a Russian web site by a guy who then posted it to YouTube. I think that's cool -- it's like a cultural artifact, unearthed. You never know what you'll find out there on that wild and wooly internet.

May 27, 2011

The genderless baby debate

I sort of enjoyed reading the story at the NYT about the Canadian mother who refuses to reveal her child's gender. Here's an excerpt:
Witterick [the mother] said in an email Friday that the idea that "the whole world must know what is between the baby's legs is unhealthy, unsafe and voyeuristic. We know — and we're keeping it clean, safe, healthy and private (not secret!)."
You go, girl. Though the idea that you named the kid Storm is a bit unsettling, if I may say so. It's as if you planned a firestorm in the wake of your decision. (And you did contact the press, I assume.) But I like the idea and it's made me think.

Perhaps I should stop revealing my gender. And maybe I'll adopt one of those simple one-name names, too. I could become . . . Swazoo. What do you think? Maybe it would simplify things around here, without me having to have a gender, and all. Hmmmm. But if I did this, you'd all have to keep quiet about the gender I used to be, okay? I know I can count on you guys. Hugs. Hmmm again. Xmas Carol by Swazoo. It has a ring to it.

Words, words, words -- and baseball!

Life intruded this week and prevented me from doing a word post. So I thought I'd mix it up today and talk about phrase origins and toss in a little baseball talk. (And I will get back to last week's off the cuff discussion of words at some point. I promise.) For now, let's jump in.

Tenderloin/the Tenderloin. In post-Civil War NYC, the police precinct west of Broadway between 23rd and 42nd streets, a then heavily Irish vice district. Whimsically so called because police assigned to the district found such lavish opportuniites for graft from gramblers, shady saloon keepers, vice hustlers, and organized criminal gangs that they would forget stew and live on tenderloin. (Some connection also to "high on the hog.") -- John Ciardi, The Browser's Dictionary. [PS from Keith: I can find no mention of "gramblers" on the net. It couldn't be a typo in a Ciardi book, could it?! They couldn't mean "gambler"; I won't accept this. Anyone ever heard of gramblers? Let me know in the comments.]

Tawdry. adj. Flashily worthless. Cheap and tasteless. (In British English only: as a noun: flashy, cheap stuff.) Origin: Sain(t Audry) via Brit-slurred Sin Taudry, which evolved into tawdry. Because on her feast day (June 23) a fair was traditionally held at which the most characteristic articles offered for sale were flashily colored and decorated neck scarves of the cheapest material ("tawdry stuff"). -- Ciardi.

Jack and Jill. The boy and the girl of the nursery rhyme. But what were they before they evolved into a boy and a girl? Note that they went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, a hilltop being the least likely place for finding a spring, pond or brook. As with much else in Mother Goose, the rhyme is probably based on some now lost reference. In early English and still in dialect, there is jack, a waxed leather pitcher with a spout, and gill, a liquid measure (now 1/4 pint, earlier ?). There is small point in speculating on the possible allegorical, political, or historical significance of the tumbling  jack and the following gill, but the boy and girl may (??) have evolved from them. -- Ciardi, once again.

And now on to a couple of baseball quotes from sports announcers:

"And now the 3rd baseman comes in, in case Ellsbury decides to lay one down." This phrase is used in baseball only for bunts, and I like it. You do indeed lay a bunt down. However, I can't help but notice that the phrase is used in English only for three things: one lays an egg, a bunt or a fart -- and only the middle one requires that you lay it down.

"And gettin' the wave is Mike Wilson!" This phrase means he's being waved home, i.e., the third base coach is literally whirling his hands in a circle to tell the runner to run from 3rd to home. I like it. Gettin' the wave. I also love 3rd base coaches. I just do. (Side note: the announcer's sentence is also a fine example of backwards talk.)

"The long ball really hurt him." In other words, too many of the pitcher's throws are hit for home runs. This is another instance of "the" being used to elevate a thing to superpower status. It's not merely that "too many guys hit home runs off him, " which would be a fairly normal way to say this. But no, instead we get "the long ball really hurt him." By using "the" before "long ball" it becomes a being, a sort of living creature -- and one that can hurt you, as it hurt this pitcher. "Look! The Long Ball! You expect it to have its own theme music and perhaps an action figure. The Long Ball is a character in the legend of baseball.

"And for the 300th time, Ortiz goes deep!".  I love this phrase. It has a sense of mystery to it. It sounds like something truly cosmic happened, like maybe the batter hit a ball so hard that he whacked it into another dimension! He went deep. I love it.

I hope this fills readers' word hunger for the time being. By the way, happy holiday weekend! Hit those beaches -- but drench yourself in sunscreen, you hear me?

Step into a Jacuzzi? I think not.

For the past 15 years I've lived in a house with a nice, big Jacuzzi. I've never used it.

I tried to once. But it made me feel like I had just put a quarter into the machine that makes the motel bed vibrate.

I never tried it again -- though I do dust it regularly.

May 26, 2011

Editing a novel

The (almost) endless task.
There was a bit of magical thinking in my approach to writing a novel. For whatever reason, I never considered how difficult it would be to get the book into final form. The novel I've been working on is fairly large. Xmas Carol is over 400 pages printed as a Word doc (and 210,000 words, if that means anything to you). In other words it's not War and Peace but it's not short, either.

The amount of effort I eventually put into Xmas Carol is (not was, is) a shock to me. Writing the book was easy, a walk in the park. Afterward, I had this notion that somehow the book would shape up. I didn't know how; it just would -- as if this would simply happen on its own.

Short version: nothing magical ever happens in life (and there's a lesson in this!). I had make it happen myself. I must have edited the book 13 or more times, and now as I reach the end of the road with Xmas Carol, I'm amazed at the effort it took to produce it. I guess I shouldn't be, but I am.

That's all I want to say, just phew. This the first time I've done this -- really completed a book, I mean -- so this is still a learning process for me. The lesson seems to be this: writing a book means rewriting it for a long time after you "finish" it. Note to self: expect this going forward.

Any writers out there editing their own fiction? I feel like I'm in a club where I haven't met the other members. Working writers, wouldn't it be nice to visit a blog each day and sound off about your work? Why not do that here? Tell me how your writing day is going. Are you in the process of writing a book? Editing one? Feel free to cheer or complain about being a writer. All comments are welcome.

PZ takes on the popey guy

You remember how the popey guy commissioned a report that was guaranteed to say that pedophilia among priests came about because there were dirty hippies in the world?

Well, today PZ takes on the evil empire in this post about the awfulness of the report produced by John Jay College. Everything the popey guy touches is slimed. I doubt there will be a church left to pass on after the popey guy's finished with it. It's a fun read. G'wan, follow the link. You'll be glad you did.

May 25, 2011

Reading Xmas Carol (yes, again)

Since I changed two aspects of the plot in Xmas Carol during my last reading/editing adventure, I'm rereading the book. It's been a pleasant experience so far. I do believe Xmas Carol is just about ready to meet the world. Gotta finish the read first. Stay tuned.

The office = democracy

If you've never worked in an office, a largish one (i.e., not just a couple of people), you missed out on something. I've always thought "the office" is democracy in action.

Everyone is considered equal at work. Sure there are job rankings, higher titles, chains of command. But there is a notion in offices that everyone is to be treated the same way: respectfully. (I'm talking about decent offices in this post.) This makes for strange bedfellows because you end up with people from all walks of life, with varying levels of intelligence, knowledge and good/evilness, all interacting on a level playing field.

In the office, workers are equal and there is only one rule: you have to do your work. That's it. Do this and you're in -- possibly for life. As a result, people who would never ever speak to each other in the real world, interact on a daily basis and get to know each other. That's magical and so American.

I wonder, does this democracy of the office still exist? Or are people so divided these days that it's war at work too? So much has changed in America. And so I ask you, is civility still the norm at offices? I hope so. I learned a lot as one of 350 people working in an office. I met some wonderful, intelligent, creative people and some really dreadful ones. It was a trip and I liked it.

So tell me: is office life still democratic?

May 24, 2011

Will someone please invent wrist keyboards?

The old-fashioned keyboard that I use.
Joined at the wrist. That phrase has special meaning for me because it brings to mind something I long for. In fact, I've longed for this for decades: wrist keyboards.

I use a split keyboard (and can't imagine why anyone would use another kind). So I'm used to having a half-keyboard at each hand. What I want is something that attaches to my hands -- two half-keyboards -- that I can wear when I'm out in the world. I want to be able to write as I walk around, simply by pressing the keys on my handy wrist keyboards.

This may sound strange but think what you, as a writer, could do with this. You could walk through a crowd and write about what it feels like, what you're seeing, smelling, thinking. You could walk through a park and describe what you see, or sit in a restaurant and write about the sounds and sights and scents. It would be such a great way to capture scenes from real life. And yes, of course you could use a recorder -- but that's another medium. It's not writing; I can't relate.

Afterward, if I wanted to write a scene that takes place in a diner I could haul out the file I wrote while I was actually in one. It would describe the scene in fresh, present ways. I think that's different than making stuff up. I'd at least like to try this system and see if it gives me something more than I can dream up on my own.

This would be useful in so many ways. Hear a curious turn of phrase? Type it into memory. Even during conversations it might be handy because I could record a particular way something was said. I love the different ways people speak, and so much of it goes by the wayside. I'd rather collect it. Gimme wrist keyboards. Heck, I'd wear them to bed to catch the thoughts that shoot by as sleep tries to snatch me away. I'd never lose anything!

Lastly, give me a display in the form of a pair of sunglasses. That's it. With these tools I could conquer the world. So would someone please invent these items? Pretty please? Now?

May 23, 2011

The dawn of the altruistic robot

There's a story today on physorg about robots that act in an altruistic manner. Truly. You can read it here. The following is an excerpt:
The team says the results are already proving useful in swarm robotics. 'We have been able to take this experiment and extract an algorithm that we can use to evolve cooperation in any type of robot,' Professor Floreano says. 'We are using this altruism algorithm to improve the control system of our flying robots and we see that it allows them to effectively collaborate and fly in swarm formation more successfully.'
Are you thinking Terminator yet? The world spins along while Americans focus their attention and energy on complete nonsense. Science is getting very interesting. Alas, there's no one left to notice.

I may have to start smoking again

Wickedly evil cigarettes. Ft, ft, ft...
"Smoking in New York City's 1700 parks, 14 miles of beaches, boardwalks, pools, public golf courses and pedestrian plazas became illegal on Monday under a new law."

You've got to be kidding. Let's see now . . . folks can be ignorant, stupid, argumentative and drenched in perfume -- and that's okay -- but dog forbid someone lights up a cigarette. Have I got it right?

This is a law passed by stupid twits. There is a miles-high dome of air over our planet. Puffing on a cigarette does not affect the boundless availability of air for everyone else. It has no effect at all. 

This is about taking action against a habit some people don't like. Sorry, but you don't get to do that because we all live in this country, not just you. Just because you'd rather stick pizza and cake into your pie-hole instead of a cigarette, has no bearing on what I can stick in my mouth. Got that?

And don't tell me this is about your health. If you think a person smoking a cigarette in the same park as you, or in the same plaza as you, or on the same beach as you, is a threat to your health then you should seek immediate psychiatric help. I would suspect you suffer from Narcissistic personality disorder, with a side-helping of paranoia. There is a planetful of air out there.

The second they make smoking illegal, I'm taking up the habit again. What a bunch of dolts. I'll bet these are the same idiots who want to teach creationism in the schools, want to confine marriage to hets, and have never had an original thought in their lives.

I hate perfume but I've never suggested they have a Perfume Car on trains and force the people who stink to sit in there. Nor have I tried to have them banned from public sidewalks and parks.

See how that works? Good.

May 22, 2011

You know who I miss?

Paul Winfield, "the voice".
I miss Paul Winfield, the voice of City Confidential. In case you've never seen the show, it was on A&E from 1999 to 2006 and was ostensibly a true crime show. But when they hired Paul Winfield as the show's narrator, they inadvertently created a new art form.

There has never been a voice that dripped innuendo more expertly than Paul Winfield's. He created magic simply by saying his lines. There aren't many you can say this about. And it's not like the lines themselves were so devastating or so wry but through Winfield's urbane and sophisticated delivery, they gained power.

He could cut like a scalpel with that voice and turn even the most innocent line into its polar opposite. "She was such a sweet girl," didn't mean quite the same thing after Winfield had his way with it. Verbal disdain was one of his easy talents. It all seemed easy and smooth with Winfield and of course, you can't minimize the beauty of his voice. Velvet indeed.

As for the show, yes, it was sort of fun to hear the details of one lurid murder or another -- usually involving rich people -- but we wouldn't have watched if it wasn't for that voice. We hung on every word, a smile sitting on our faces as we waited for Winfield's lines. You knew what was coming. It was all about Paul Winfield. Though images cluttered the screen and there was ostensibly a story milling about, we were riveted by what he said and how he said it. His voice was the show.

I don't know how it went down at your house but in the days when City Confidential was in vogue, I'd have friends over to watch it. Every new show was an event and we would howl with laughter at the things Winfield said and the way he said them. It was a voice that was uniquely jaded, urbane, knowing and humorous.

The show was riding high and growing in popularity as more and more people recognized this new art form -- when Paul Winfield died. As Robyn Hitchcock so aptly put it in I saw Nick Drake -- "And when you're gone, you take the whole world with you." He did indeed. There was no possibility of replacing Winfield on City Confidential. Oh, they tried. They even hired a pale pretender as an announcer for a short time. The poor soul tried his best to imitate Paul, to be Paul but no one was buying it. The audience would not put up with this particular change in the cast. Without Paul, the show was over. The artistry, the magic, the time and the moment and the voice, were all gone.

There has never been anyone like him. I miss Paul Winfield. Some people are indeed irreplaceable.

May 21, 2011

I saw Nick Drake

Do you know this song? It's by Robyn Hitchcock, whom I find occasionally brilliant. I like his minimalist approach to music. The song is about another British performer/songwriter -- the "enigmatic" Nick Drake. It's some kind of wonderful. Below Robyn's video you'll find one by the man himself, Nick Drake. Consider this a parable for your Sunday morning.

Nick Drake died in 1974 at 26 years old. It was an overdose of amytriptylene, of all things -- an anti-depressant. Here are the lyrics to the Drake song:

Place to be

When I was young, younger than before
I never saw the truth hanging from the door
And now I’m older see it face to face
And now I’m older gotta get up, clean the place
And I was green, greener than the hill
Where flowers grew and sun shone still
Now I’m darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be
And I was strong, strong in the sun
I thought I’d see when day was done
Now I’m weaker than the palest blue
Oh, so weak in this need for you

For more Nick Drake, try this link to Pink Moon. I had never heard his music before encountering Hitchcock's song but I've since bought an album (Pink Moon remastered) and am now an official fan. Magical guy -- a minimalist like Hitchcock but as I say, I like that. Their lyrics suggest rather than state. Suggestion is so large, I always think.

This has been your sparsely-told Sunday music story. And though it seems like a parable I'm not sure what the message is. If he'd OD'd on heroin it would be a different story. But an anti-depressant?

By the way, there's an incorrect word in one of the lines in the video of the Hitchcock song. It's not "We'll lay you low" it's "will lay you low". Connected to the previous line, it's "The habits of a lifetime will lay you low." (Again: anti-depressants?)

In case you want to see the lyrics to "I Saw Nick Drake" in a readable format, here they are:

I saw Nick Drake
At the corner of time and motion
I caught his eye
And he caught mine
I said "You're tall."
He said "No taller than tomorrow's ocean."
I saw Nick Drake
And he was fine

I saw Nick Drake
As we were carrying the ice together
I saw his face
Beneath the glass
The net was gone
And all the strawberries of English weather
I saw him pass
Right through this place

I saw Nick Drake
The habits of a lifetime
Will lay you low
Into your grave
And when you're gone
You take the whole world with you
I saw Nick Drake
I saw him wave

And we're in bloom.

And now -- in fact, as you read this very sentence -- control of your computer is being returned to you. Carry on as before.

New approach to E.T.

Okay, so we sent a golden record into space aboard Voyager -- a message for sundry aliens out there. It has sounds and photos and music and other information and it'll probably be fun for aliens to analyze if they can figure out how to play it on their alien machines.

But you know, I can't help but notice that when we make friends with another species on Earth we always do it the same way: with food. How much would our dogs love us if we didn't feed them?

So what I'm thinking is this: next time we send lasagna. Oh no, wait. Maybe they don't eat meat. Okay, so we send a spinach quiche. Doh! They might be vegan. Wait, let me think. I know, I know! We'll send a vegan pizza with nice veggies on top. And we'll package it freeze-dried inside a microwave that heats it up when the outer seal is broken: instant pizza, instant galactic friends! Oh no, wait! Vegan pizza? What could I have been thinking? Jeez, I don't know what-all to send them. Any suggestions?

And then we'll just have to hope that NASA reads this post and follows the comment thread closely. For all our sakes.

In the news today

Intro lines from real AP stories today:
Pope Benedict XVI had a direct line to the heavens Saturday, with NASA's help. Speaking from the Vatican, the pontiff bestowed a historic blessing upon the 12 astronauts circling Earth during the first-ever papal call to space.
People who were sexually abused by priests have gathered in Rome to denounce the Vatican's latest effort to show it is cracking down on clerical abuse.

Some shut themselves inside to pray for mercy as they waited for the world's end. Others met for tearful last lunches with their children, and prepared to leave behind homes and pets as they were swept up to heaven.

Don't forget: the world ends today, 6 PM sharp.

A good day for blasphemy!
From one of the dolts who believes he will be raptured today:
"We know the end will begin in New Zealand and will follow the sun and roll on from there," said Garcia, a 39-year-old father of six. "That's why God raised up all the technology and the satellites so everyone can see it happen at the same time."
I cannot imagine what it will be like for these gullible fools when the world doesn't end at 6 PM today. And to think they're following the predictions of a guy who's already been colossally wrong about this sort of thing once before! He ruined countless lives back then and is repeating his act today. Talk about an evil man.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:
A landslide buried 20 children and four adults at a Malaysian orphanage Saturday where scores of rescuers were digging by their hands in soil softened by the rains to find the missing, police said.
If today really was the rapture, I wouldn't mind if it meant I could stand before god and slap him across his face as hard as I could and claw his eyes out for creating a world with so much pain for so many innocent creatures. It might be worth the end of the world if I could do that.

But the world won't end today so I guess I'll just watch baseball tonight (you know, when the earthquakes are supposed to start rolling in). Go Mets!

May 20, 2011

The great "as" and "the" in baseball talk

"As this ball rifled by Carrasco!"

Baseball announcers pull these "As" sentences out of the air. In this instance, nothing in particular was going on, no one was talking, yet out of the blue one of the announcers began that sentence with "As". I don't get it but the announcers apparently do. They know that "As" is always an appropriate word with which to begin any baseball sentence.

"As Thole slides into first!"
"As the ball outside -- 1 and 2."

They do this umpteen times in every game. Sometimes you can even catch them combining baseball-language tools, using both the "As" move and the famous "backwards talk" move:

"As, coming down heavily, the rain may halt the game."

But "As" is not alone in this exalted position. "The" has a kingly power on the field. What do I mean by this? Read on.

"Jacoby Elsbury: the base hit!" 

Sure, you could just say "a" base hit but it's not quite up to snuff. No, "the" is the word you're looking for. Actually, it should be capitalized like this: "The Base Hit!". "The" indicates something grand has just walked onto the field. It's as if Greatness, usually On-High, miraculously descended to appear at the ballpark: The Base Hit!!! Here are a few more examples:

"What this guy needs is The Home Run!" It's as if he's calling the spirit of "The Home Run", an entity in itself, and asking it to grace the field. "A" home run wouldn't do in this instance. Oh, no, no, no. "The" is clearly called for here.

"He gets him at second; he gets him at first -- The Double Play!!" It's like a sighting of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Queen herself: "Gasp! Look, mum! The Queen!"

Okay, one more thing from the happy land of baseball. I was watching Hawk Harrelson the other night. He announces the White Sox games and is my favorite sportscaster, hands down (strapped down, in fact). His usual on-air partner, Steve Stone, was absent for a few days and so his old co-announcer (whose name I forget; sorry) filled in for Stone.

These two guys were so giddy together, it was insane. They were like two little boys trying not to giggle as they served mass: totally out of control. At one point they tried to tell a story about Art Kushner, a baseball guy who now works at a fantasy baseball camp. They swore Art was the funniest guy in baseball.

So they trotted out this story that, as I say, they tried to tell -- but they couldn't because they were laughing too hard. You couldn't even tell who was speaking because their voices both ascended into an upper-upper register and remained there. They could hardly get a squeak out.

Finally, they managed to say that Art would tell stories about taking his dog Lucky out "for his morning drag." At the very mention of the dog's name -- Lucky -- they fell to the floor with laughter. And then, as they tried to get the punchline out, it seemed neither could do it. By this point, of course, I was laughing along with them. You do, when people get giddy. Finally they squeaked out: "He had only one leg!" After which they tumbled into an endless fit of giggles. I got a big kick out of it.

Okay, that's it for baseball talk today. Enjoy the games! Subway series in NYC this weekend. And my Red Sox are playing Annie's Cubbies! It's incestuous and fabulous.

Erasing gay people from reality

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill passed Friday by the Tennessee Senate would forbid public school teachers and students in grades kindergarten through eight from discussing the fact that some people are gay. (Times link to story.)

Poof(ter)! We're gone. Well, that certainly takes care of the issue. Oh, excuse me; I wasn't supposed to mention (the issue).

Portrait of fools

It's hard to believe that some folks think the world will end this Saturday. Imagine being the normal kids of weird parents who have fallen for this inane proposition.

Read this story at the Times. You'll shake your head. What will this family's life be like after the "rapture"? I shudder to think.

May 19, 2011

Drama in the flock

Yesterday in the late afternoon I heard odd cries from the geese so I went to the back window to see what was going on. There was a baby goose lying on the ground, tummy up. It moved for a bit and then it died. I didn't see wounds; it was just dead.

The parents of the baby stood not far from it, calling out in shocked exclamation. Down by the pond I could see a ruckus working its way through the rest of the flock. They were all calling out in anger, surprise and grief. They cared about this baby. It was obvious.

The ruckus was focused on one bird. The flock was challenging their leader, Milo, my favorite bird. I think what happened is that he, as head of the flock, killed the baby. I saw him picking on the little guy in recent days, which makes me lean toward this theory. Well, that and the fact that the flock was going after him.

This baby was one of only two chicks that a couple produced this year, and this chick was the smallest of all the babies in any of the broods. I think that's the story right there. Milo, as leader of the flock, killed the baby because he thought it would be a detriment to the community. Maybe he believed it wouldn't survive the rigor of the annual migration -- I don't really know.

Milo and his wife Edna have seven babies. Theirs is the largest clutch (or is that word only for eggs?) and their babies hatched first, so they're larger than the other babies. The next couple have six. Who knows? Maybe they look down on small broods. Whatever it was, this poor little guy never had a chance. The loss was upsetting not only to the flock but to me. I liked him because he was small. Today, seeing the couple walk around with only their lone baby in tow is sad.

I hope Milo doesn't kill him too. 

Nature red in tooth and claw. The baby's body was completely eaten by crows within two hours of its death.

Almost home

The much maligned but nevertheless quite good Hootie and the Blowfish once covered a Weavers song called Almost Home. Unfortunately, there's no video for either version on YouTube. Damn!

It's a gorgeous song (Hootie's version, anyway) with a  short and strangely magical chorus. The lyrics in whole seem scattered but that chorus! I've highlighted it in bold and green below.

"Almost Home"

Walking on the water in a van
Trying to think of everything I can
But it's getting very late,
And these tapes don't sound too good
And my body just don't feel
The way I wish it would.

I was driving when I heard you call my name.
It was not like before not quite the same
It's too late to be much good and I might as well confess
That I have not got the nerve to borrow cigarettes.

When I'm almost with you, music tries to play,
When I'm almost home I almost hear you say,
"It would be all right if we could run away".

Deciding things for all my life
No one ever tells you when or why
But my heart can't seem to tell me
What would satisfy my mind
So I jump into the van one more time.

I've got to get one of those popey guy hats

Splendiferous, no?
I would only wear it for special occasions, of course -- like sitting in the yard, working out at the gym, going to mass, the supermarket, etc. I wonder if my local haberdasher has one for sale. He must, right?

I hardly have the energy to write about the inane report issued by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (gotta love that) yesterday -- the one that blamed priestly sexual abuse on the hippies. It basically said how could those nice, ethical priests be expected to maintain their moral standards when there were hippies in the world!? Impossible, they said. So the priests raped a lot of kids in direct response to the presence of hippies in the cultural zeitgeist. Makes tons of sense, huh? Those poor, sweet priests had no conscious knowledge of what their penises were up to. They knew nothing, do you hear me!?

Sorry, guys but that doesn't hold water for anyone other than the people who wrote the report and the Vatican that cheered it on. And let us note that this report is based on information supplied by the Vatican. As for the report's authors, I dare say some or all of them know exactly how bad the report is. They would have to be braindead to be unaware of this.

They didn't even look at the harboring of pedophiles by the church. That doesn't count, apparently. After all, why should the fact that the upper echelons of the clergy knew exactly what was happening and pushed a policy of hiding the offenses and transferring offending priests from parish to parish and country to country be taken into account? Doesn't matter at all, right? Therefore it's left out of the report -- never rears its head once, I'm told.

Nice work if you can get it, John Jay. You just caused your institution's reputation to sag horribly. I, for one, will never look at your college in the same way again. Say, did Bill Donohue of the Catholic League go to your school?

May 18, 2011

And then there were none

Xmas Carol is finished.

The End

Phrase origins: off the cuff

I hear the phrase "off the cuff" comes from olden days when debts were literally written on the cuff of the man who provided a service or goods. Kind of a credit system for the pre-credit card era. These days we just mean something was handled in a breezy manner, quickly and without formal preparation -- off the cuff.

What I'd like to do today is investigate a few phrases without benefit of looking anything up. You know, like we used to do it -- off the cuff. So let's begin. And remember: no peeking at the Intertubes. This is just about what you think the phrase indicates, what connections it has for you. I think we have rich repositories of word meanings in our minds and I want to tap only that today. Perhaps next Thursday we can check with the Intertubes and see how we did.

Something to fall back on. This is one of those phrases that just makes sense. It seems both human and basic: it's what we do -- we lean back for support, we fall back onto beds and couches and chairs. And the image of someone falling back, thinking there's someone to catch him when there isn't, makes us very uncomfortable. There is comfort in knowing you have something to fall back on. It seems almost primal. I like when expressions readily indicate their meaning. In other words, you don't need someone to explain this to you when you hear it for the first time. It makes sense. Since it's such a nice, direct phrase I'm not surprised it sees such wide use (or used to, anyway when people had, you know, language). But if it has a specific origin, tied to events or persons or institutions, I have no idea what that might be. The phrase just seems natural.

Well-heeled. I think this phrase belongs with the one above. In a sense, when you're well-heeled you literally have something to fall back on: your own supportive heels. I like that. Fresh heels make a fellow stand up sturdy and tall. Of course, the phrase origins are obvious: well-to-do people had the money to keep their shoes well-heeled. So to say one is well-heeled means well off. Shoemakers used to be a big deal, by the way, for those of you who were impertinent enough to have been born after 1980 or so. Cobblers, as they were called, were on every other corner. And jeez, did it smell strange in there. I always wondered how their lungs fared, these cobblers who spent decades working in that environment. In any case, I like the phrase well-heeled but it, like cobblers, has seen better days. I can't remember the last time I heard someone use it.

Hunker down. I really wonder about the origin of this one. I have no clue. Moving to images, somehow this phrase brings the upper back and shoulder area to mind, though I can't say why. It's as if you have to get that area down below the wall, car, or whatever else you're ducking behind. Hunker down. I like the sound of it. Perhaps the "hunk" part of hunker influences me, too. In my mind, I see soldiers or other largish men and someone is literally pushing down on their upper backs and shoulders, to get them to squat, and he's saying, "Hunker down!" I have no idea why this phrase evokes these images in my brain. Of course, the phrase also means "do nothing". When a large group wants to go in six different directions, sometimes the best thing to do is to hunker down -- in other words,  sit tight and do nothing. (Sit tight, eh? I wonder what that one's about.) But for me, you hunker down to remain safe. That's the primary thing I get from it.

Don't upset the apple-cart. This phrase popped into my mind the other day and I wondered if apple-carts were particularly rickety affairs. I don't think I've actually seen someone selling apples from a cart. That's something that was before even my time. I picture a wooden cart that has two large wheels, though this image is probably from old movies. The cart I see in my mind has handles, like a shopping cart. Perhaps when you lifted the handles, the surface would tilt and things would fall off. Is that what it's all about? On the other hand, from my very earliest days I do recall poor people selling all sorts of shoddy whatnot on stands they cobbled (there's that word again!) together with spit and rubber bands. In other words, their goods did indeed stand on a rickety house of cards. Maybe the phrase just comes from a class of vendors who, due to poverty, had to rely on substandard display carts to sell their goods -- carts that apparently tipped all the time.

That's my bunch for today. I will revisit them at a later date and at that time I'll consult the Intertube gods to see what they have to say. What I want to elicit today are your impressions and perhaps any images that these phrases bring to mind, even if the images don't seem constructively related. Sometimes there are gems in the side-knowledge and perhaps when we look these phrases up, we'll see some of our thoughts echoed in the official explanations. No cheating! Look nothing up.

Please chime in by leaving a comment. (Commenting is fun, by the way, not scary. Give it a try. I won't bite. Come out, come out, wherever you are.)

May 17, 2011

Four scenes to go

I only have four more scenes to edit/read in Xmas Carol and then it's done. You'd think I'd be happy. Not so.

It's painful to finish a book. I'm the happiest guy in the world when I'm in the middle of a story. It's comforting to be within your own creation; it really is. Coming to the end means saying goodbye to the story and the characters. I'll miss them terribly.

This is why I'm writing such inane posts lately: I'll do anything rather than complete those last four scenes. Because then it's over.

Today I console myself. "You still have four scenes to go, Keith. Things are okay right this second." But the end is coming and this seems oppressive. Mind you, I'll be thrilled again as soon as I dart back into The Worlds, my sci-fi books. They're the next volumes I have to get ready for readers. Once I'm immersed in the story of The Worlds, I'll be fine. It's that in-between state that's so scary. To be bookless: I hate it.

So at the moment things seem gloomy, and the fact that it's raining heavily in NY doesn't help. But on the other hand, the book sounds just right. I swear it's like giving birth -- pain and joy.

UPDATE: Three scenes to go.

Scrivener files may become artistic relics

Will embiggen a bit, if clicked.
I use Scrivener to write. It's a Mac-centric program that's about to be released in Windows format. On the Mac it's been around for a while and it's the best program to write with, bar none.

One thing Scrivener allows you to do is collect research materials. You can include recordings, articles, video, web pages, pastes of anything, photos -- all sorts of things. You just tuck them into the "Research" area of your Scrivener files for the book.

I also toss the detritus from the cutting-room floor there. Scenes I've cut, ideas I decided in the end not to use -- they all end up in in my Scrivener book file.

One day, if a book I write (or a book by anyone who uses Scrivener) becomes hugely popular, I imagine these source files will be of interest. They might sell for a pretty penny in our money-crazed culture. I could see them being bid on at Southeby's in ten or twenty years.

Even if my files don't become sacred relics, if there is a fan base for my books I plan to release cut scenes on the blog, to give people another taste of a book they enjoyed. I see this as a real bonus. I'd love to read more of a book I thought I'd finished long ago. Extra scenes! Sounds hot.

There are no negatives with Scrivener. It's all gravy. If you haven't tried it, you might want to check it out. And if you're on a PC, hang on. I expect there will be a version for you later this year. It is so easy to write with Scrivener. Just open it up, take a sip of espresso and you're writing. It's really that simple. (Well, okay, it isn't; but when you're ready to write, Scrivener can help.)

May 16, 2011

I have decided not to run for President

My associate, Nils.
It's true. After a long talk with my associate, Nils, I have decided to remove my hat from the ring. I shan't run for President of the United States after all.

It was Nils who convinced me. He said, "You'll have to eat all sorts of sickening food on the campaign trail. You're too precious. You have important, ungodly books to write. You mustn't subject your stomach to unpalatable fare."

There is no way to argue with logical rigor of this sort. Besides, Nils is always right about everything. Therefore, I shall not run for President of the United States in 2012. There! I've said it.

I know this news will come as a shock and a disappointment to my cadre of loyal supporters. But with your -- and Nils' -- continued support I believe I will go on to write books that will make you proud! The country, alas, must go on without me. It's a bit like that scene in Evita, isn't it? Except for me not dying, and all.

Don't cry for me, my cadre! Things will work out in the end. I promise.

About that heaven idea

Professor Stephen W. Hawking.
From an interview with Stephen Hawking:
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he told the newspaper.
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

On the other hand, I liked this a lot

In my dismissive post below, I forgot Yue Minjun, the Beijing artist who produces wild images of himself. There's something very alive in this man's art. Give us more like this!

If you'd like to read about Minjun, the NY Times wrote an article about him in 2007. They have more of his work there. Once you've seen Minjun's portraits, you don't forget them. Good art is powerful.

May 15, 2011

Art and its era: a rant

Great art seemingly comes out of nowhere. Life is just bumbling along, nothing new, same old thing -- when suddenly something fresh and new springs up. It doesn't just catch everyone's attention, it beguiles. In an instant, it owns us.

The magical thing is that these huge artistic events make people see their own lives differently. It's as if contact with powerful images, words or music literally alters the quality of people's lives. Great art influences us. In the end, it takes over and colors a time, leaving a permanent brand on the era. It is the era in some intrinsic sense. Certainly when we look back at great art, it perfectly embodies a time and place.

Some of these game-changers are huge, some are small. But their influence is in their reach. Think of small but significant artistic events such as the theme from the movie "A Man and a Woman" and the look and colors of the movie "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Remember the way they made you feel? Like a door was opening?

Or take art with a greater impact like the book, "Failsafe" and the movies, "Dr. Strangelove" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". We were different people before and after this art touched our lives, and they opened new artistic doors. Art is a march; it proceeds.

Obviously there were huge artistic events in recent history: Warhol's art, Ginsberg's "Howl", the songs of Bob Dylan and the shocking genius of the Beatles. These artists burst into their era and in the end, became one with their time. They live on there in an eternal way. They are that time.

But my sense is that the gushing torrent of new art began to sputter seriously in the late 80s. After that, when I look for the flow of new art I become like a compass spinning in all directions looking for North. Where did it go? So I'm asking readers this: In the past decade or two do you think there has there been any life-changing art? Was there something so triumphant, novel, colorful and true that it rushed over the country and altered the tenor of our lives? What have I missed?

Offhand, I can't think of a thing. Sure, a song here and there, but that's it. What art has come along? The dreadful "installation" called The Gates -- where Christo and Jeanne-Claude hung ditzy saffron curtains over Central Park? Yeah, that was art. Uh-huh. Let's see, it made people see saffron for a while and wonder whatever happened to the Hare Krishnas. Sigh.

The only culturally significant art I've seen in a long while is Amanda Lear's Chinese Walk. But again, it's just one song and anyway, it won't receive wide exposure. Art has to be seen to have an effect. Still, I saw something there that I haven't seen in a long, hungry while.

Any thoughts? Am I being too harsh? After all, there was McQueen in fashion, and . . . what else?

May 14, 2011

Sunday music

"Hallelujah" sung by Tim Buckley. Lest you ask, one of the commenters on YouTube may have already answered your question:
"He's painting a picture with biblical references, and as Cohen (the songwriter) has said, 'It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.' "
Here's the video.

SSRIs and creativity

The prime suspect.
I have this notion that the back cover of every novel should include a list of the medications the author took while writing it. Full disclosure -- I love it.

So here goes. I take "sub-clinical" doses of two drugs: Effexor X/R and Neurontin. Effexor is an SSRI. Neurontin is not. The latter is a unique drug, good for all sorts of things. Go, Neurontin! 

"Sub-clinical" means the dose is less than the minimum normally prescribed. As people are placed on Effexor X/R, an SSRI anti-depressant, the initial dose is 75 mg. But typically that's just for starters. Almost everyone graduates to 150 mg. or higher.

I take the baby dose because more makes me edgy. In fact, the reason I take 300 mg. of Neurontin is to tone down the edginess of the baby dose of Effexor. And 300 mg. is a baby dose of Neurontin, which is a very cool drug sometimes referred to as a "brain hormone". Woot! Taken in larger doses, it's an anti-epileptic drug, an anticonvulsant, but just take a tiny bit and it's like oil for your brain. Double-woot!

As a result of these medications I'm sane and happy. Before a shrink put me on them I was literally crazed all the time. There was always this wild feeling inside me, so big that I never knew what to do with it. I think in large part it's what caused me to drink and drug throughout my early years. It was an attempt to tamp down the wild thing.

But the day after I was put on these drugs, the very next day, the out-of-control feeling was gone and it has never come back. There was indeed a silver bullet for me, contrary to everything I was ever told by a medical professional. This has had a miraculous effect on my life, completely altering its quality and trajectory. I'm not subject to that constant, maddening, craziness anymore. It was -- and is -- such a relief. It's like I was always in a room with screaming people -- and suddenly they fell silent. Such peace! And Effexor doesn't turn you into a contented cow like Prozac does. Dog forbid! You keep your personality with Effexor and just lose the craziness. Sweet deal.

Now, I might not have brought all this up today but it's the intro for what I really want to say. Lately, many science news stories have reported that SSRIs make the brain more "plastic". In other words, the drugs enable the brain to grow new connections and hook up new skills centers. You've probably read about the brain's plasticity. It's how people with strokes recover -- other parts of their brains learn to do the things the damaged parts used to handle. So it's no small news that SSRIs apparently make the brain more plastic.

Which brings me to my point: I started writing fiction when I was 60 after I began taking these drugs. I don't think that's a coincidence. Something new is happening in my brain and it's responsible for me becoming a fiction writer. If I wasn't put on these medications, there probably would be no Xmas Carol, no Worlds Trilogy. And chances are, the blog you're reading wouldn't exist. Poof.

Just saying. And if the first link I provided didn't convince you, have a gander at this article at physorg. SSRIs expand your brain's horizons (and make you write books). Very cool.

May 13, 2011

The language of baseball

It's been awhile, laddies and ladies, but I'm finally ready to do another post on the language of baseball. Let's begin by talking about the pervasive folksiness of the sport.

As the baseball season began, a couple of times I heard announcers say of a player: "He really had a good camp." In other words, he did well in Spring training. It's all kids and camp to these guys. Same with calling the locker room the "clubhouse". Indeed. And where to we pay our dues to join? Sounds cozy.

One announcer said of a pitcher who had potential but really didn't understand his craft: "He puts his fanny right next to Buehrle's when they're not pitching -- and he's learned a lot."

Early in the season, it seemed the Mets couldn't win a game. When they finally did win one, Gary Cohen, one of the Mets announcers, said "Terry Collins finally got a chance to shake some hands and pat some rears on Sunday."

Said of a player who's always switching teams: "He's always wearing different laundry." I got a kick out of that line and it speaks to the camp-like reality of the baseball locker room, where fresh laundry is always the order of the day.

Said of a player who was just pitched tight inside: "That'll loosen up his jersey!"

As I say, it's very folksy in baseball-land. Okay, now a couple of baseball peeves:

"Nice hustle by (whoever)!" Really!? He's showing some special quality by running full out for first base while being paid millions of dollars to do so? Really?

And what's with these lawless umpires? "I think that's a little hometown scoring" said an announcer, referring to a player who was given a "hit" when he really reached on an error. And why? Because he was the hometown guy, a hero of the sport, that's why. Shifty umpiring sucks and yet it's totally accepted. This has to change. They're there to give an accurate call or they shouldn't be there at all.

And finally, just for fun, let's haul out some weird baseball names from the past. They really add to the sport, I think. I'll list more in a future post but here are just a few of these fabulous names: 

Stubby Clap
Skeeter Barnes
Firpo Marberry
Butch Husky
Johnny Dickshot
Dick Pole

It's hard to believe they're real people, but they are. Baseball seems to attract these names like honey draws flies. Kinda fun. Okay, that's it for today's baseball talk. More coming soon! I have a sea of notes to put up here -- and I guarantee you, some of them will loosen up your jersey.

Blogger's been buggy

Blogger just came back online for us, you know, bloggers. We couldn't post for over a day. Not only that, but Blogger lost some posts, notably my last post on word and phrase origins. And I'm not typing it up again. I don't even have the source material. Grrrrr. So if you missed your weekly word post, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for a new one next Thursday. Grrrrrrr again. Bad Blogger!

Does blogging take away from journaling?

Since I started blogging, I write less in my journal. Perhaps blogging cuts into my urge to write. Could be, I suppose. But I'm not sold on the idea.

My journal is most useful when I'm writing fiction. In the middle of a furious writing session, I'll "take a break" by closing Scrivener and jumping into my journal. There I have a discussion with myself about what I'm writing, how I feel about it, the problems, etc. -- and as I write, I often reach a decision that makes me jump out of the journal and back into Scrivener, to proceed with the story. Journaling is a necessary part of my writing process.

But the sad fact is that I haven't written anything new in months. This fact upsets me. It's like "what's wrong with this picture?" But I have three "completed" books to get out the door. What else can I do but continue to finalize them? If I don't, they'll never see the light of day, nor a reader. In any case, I suspect the lack of fiction writing in my life is why I write less in my journal these days. I can't blame blogging, which seems to fit easily into my spare moments.

Anyone else do both? How does blogging affect your journaling? Are they related?

The joy of a blank page

A fabulous blank page.
I've read that some people fear the blank page. They see it as threatening, a challenge they won't be able to meet. But a blank page is the most glorious thing in creation.

Just think: you can write anything! That is such an incredible fact. The whole universe is right there in front of you, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and you get to choose what you write about. And once you're done you'll realize that an incredible thing has happened. Your story exists in the world; it's real.

Painters and sculptors are necessarily limited by the availability of materials. They are only free to use what they can get their hands on: the colors, the paints they can afford, the canvas, the clay. And they're limited by size because what they create is finite. You can only build so much art from so much paint or clay.

But writing is unbounded. There are no rules to thwart you and there is nothing in your way -- except yourself, if you perversely squat in the middle of your mental roadway and gum up the works. I've said this on this blog before and I'm going to say it again: if you've never written a story, a work of fiction, you have no idea what you're missing.

It's within your power. We all can write, though with differing results based on talent and education. But language is only one level of writing -- the other is the story. And anyone can tell any story. I urge you to tell yours. Afterward, if the writing needs some help, you can seek out an editor. It's amazing what they can do. But don't worry about any of that now. Just tell your tale as interestingly as you can.

Give it a try. What have you got to lose? You worry that it might not be good? Oh, boo hoo. Who cares? At least you did it (and it's a ton of fun, which you'll realize as soon as you try it). Tell your story. It will be the thing you own most in this lifetime. And remember: no one can take writing away from you. Even prisoners have access to paper and pencil, and when they write, their jail cell disappears. They're free.

Give it a shot. After all, you don't have to show it to anyone unless you want to. It can be your secret. Start telling your tale today. As I said (and this will only be clear to you once you've completed your story): it will be the thing you own most in this lifetime.

May 11, 2011

It's that fabulous day of the week

It's time for words and phrases. Today's material comes from John Ciardi's "A Browser's Dictionary: A Compendium of Curious Expressions & Intriguing Facts". You should buy one. It's great for browsing. I've pulled a few interesting terms out of Ciardi's hat for you today. Have a look.

Influence. n. An affective power; v. To affect. [Root sense: "a flowing in, to flow in upon." From the Latin in- in; fluere, to flow. Whenever this word is encountered in writing prior to circa 1800, it is reasonable to ssume an astrological reference to the influence of the stars.]
NOTE: One of the most graceful effects of poetry (or of any precise writing) occurs when the author sets a word in a context that allows a counterpoint of the root sense and the extended sense. Assume the poet to be standing on an eastward-facing beach just at dawn with the surf running high. Then assume him to have written, "And dawn is all one rosy influence." The surf, tinged red by the level rays of the new sun, flows in (root sense) rosily; and it has (extended sense) an affective power upon the beholder. Language is rarely used at this depth, but the rareness of excellence should not be made into an excuse for the failure to recognize it. In the days when the school system still taught languages (and sometimes even English), the recognition of root senses was as common as it is now rare. This book is in part an effort to reawaken an awareness of the root depths of words.

[Note from Keith: Don't you love Ciardi even more after that?]

Midwife. A woman who attends another at childbirth. (Because hospital birth has become standard in the U.S., it may be well to say that until very recently almost all births occurred at home with only a midwife in attendance. Midwife delivery is still standard in most of the world.) [Root sense: "with-wife: a woman who is with another (at childbirth)." Old English mid, with, wif, woman. Note: Latin obstetrix, midwife; from stare, to stand, prefixed ob-, before, and with agential suffix -ix: literally "she who stands before (another woman at childbirth)."]

Keep one's powder dry. Be prepared to fight. [With reference to muzzle-loading guns into which loose gunpowder was poured from a powder horn and tamped in. If the powder was allowed to become wet, it would not be fired by the spark of the flint.]

Take a powder. 1. To clear out fast. 2. As a command. Get out of here! Scram! [In the days before modern methods of pill-making and encapsulation, powder was a standard usage for "medical dosage," and medical powders were commonly folded into small paper packets to be dissolved in water or mixed with it. So a headache powder. The powder at the root of this idiom is a laxative, and by intention, a strong one, the root sense being a crude joke: "Take a (laxative) powder and clear (yourself) out."

Spitting image. An exact likeness. He is the spitting image of his father. [A corruption of spit and image, spit 'n' image, which were formulas of the most ancient practices of black magic and the casting of spells by hex dolls, in which any harm done to the doll is transferred ot the hexed person. The two basic principles of such hexing were: 1. Anything that was once part of a person, or that was intimately associated with him, retains a power over him. Hex dolls, therefore, were made as symbolic resemblances (power 2), and bits of his or her hair, spit, feces, nail parings, clothing, etc., were incorporated into the material of which the doll was made (power 1). Spit, therefore, on the first principle; image, on the second. See Rosetti's "Sister Helen" for a late hex poem; Sister Helen, in melting the wax doll she made on these principles, causes her victim to waste away.]

Spoof. A mild hoax or good-natured satire. [Spoof, name of a half-nonsensical, bluffing card game invented and popularized by English comedian Arthur Roberts (1852-1933), the name being his coinage. Give Roberts credit for an excellent ear: his coinage somehow manages to sound like what it means, and in being so accepted, it has survived to become a standard word in British and American English.