Tag Archives: dictionary

screw

lagscrewpic1lagscrewpic2lagscrewpic3

 

 

Today, we have our second series of poems for the third annual napomo at the dictionary project in honor of National Poetry Month. All month we will be posting poems written from bibliomanced dictionary project words. In an added twist, this year, two poets are writing to each word. We are discovering what happens in these pairings when two different minds and aesthetics hold space for the same word.

 

Poets Johanna Skibsrud and Matthew Schmidt have written on screw. Please enjoy their poems and feel free to write your own poem inspired by screwin the comments if you so desire. The actual piece my finger landed on when selecting the word was the image of a lagscrew below.

 

 

screw1

 

 

screw  (skro͞o), n.  [ME.  screwe; OFr. escrone, hole in which the screw turns  <  L. scrobis, vulva],  1.  a mechanical device used for fastening things together, consisting of a naillike cylinder of metal grooved in an advancing spiral, and usually having a slotted head: it penetrates only by being turned: male (or external) screw.  2.  anything like such a device.  3.  a hollow cylinder equipped with a spiral groove on its inner sufrace into which the male screw fits: female (or internal) screw.  4.  the act of turning or twisting; turn of a screw.  5.  a screw propeller.  6.  [Chiefly British], a) a stingy person; miser. b) a crafty bargainer.  7.  [Chiefly British], a bit of tobacco, etc. (in a twisted paper).  8.  [Chiefly British] a worn-out horse.  9.  {Slang], a prison guard.  10.  [British Slang], salary.  v.t.  1. to twist; turn; tighten.  2.  to fasten, make secure, tighten, press, insert, etc. with or as with a screw or screws.  3.  to contort; squeeze; twist out of natural shape: as, screw one’s face up.  4.  to force to do something; compel, as if by using screws.  5.  to extort or practice extortion on: as he screwed me out of money.  v.i.  1. to come apart or go together by being turned or twisted in the manner of a screw: as, the lid screws on. 2. to be fitted for being put together or taken apart by a screw or screws.  3.  to twist; turn; wind; have a motion like that of a screw.  4.  to practice extortion.

 

 

 

Desire Must Be Taken Literally

 

What exists?

 

Already.

 

Even in darkness.

 

If not:

 

the idea of darkness.

 

Marked, therefore,

already, by

 

the idea of light.

 

What is there but that

to grow slowly

 

toward, or away?

 

What but that

 

to propel

 

that most

uncertain element,

 

the soul,

 

slowly toward

the idea of itself?

 

To hover, as above,

or outside of itself.

 

A question.

 

Toward which

the mind also turns

 

in a deliberate spiral—.

 

The mind, the simple

lag-screw

 

according to which

 

we conjoin,

 

and therefore

establish,

 

between that most

 

uncertain element,

 

from which we came,

and the world, which is

 

most certain, some

 

relation.

 

What, then, the soul,

but the simple

 

opening, carved

by the mind—

 

as it constructs,

 

like a joist or a beam,

 

upon which the idea

holds,

 

a further idea?
As it insists, if only

by virtue of its

 

continuous effort

to do so,

 

the possibility that

 

the mind will

also hold?

 

That it will still

be possible,

 

therefore—

 

if only

very briefly—

 

to suture to the

uncertain idea

 

a single real thing?

 

 

 

Skibsrud portrait, fall 2013, 1Johanna Skibsrud is the author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists, a book of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories, and two collections of poetry, Late Nights With Wild Cowboys and I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being. A second novel, Quartet for the End of Time will be released in fall, 2014. She lives in Tucson.

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclical

Shades drawn—darkness crept scantly
scantily through slats—a cover of destiny
destination to which each day pours itself
out. Outside lined slats, thump of bass
an apartment adjacent in rhythm, enjoys
Saturday evening victuals, imbibes in whether
Sunday will ever step from shadow to show
itself, a difficult concept to grasp in utter
dark, that even through stars appear away
through several named spheres exiting the planet
seem on the verge of consummation, of consumption
in blackness which harnesses a vast swath
of earth, here, now, as somewhere else
someone else is sunning themselves by a rill
twisting grass blades, a tune upon lips
accompaniment to slow burble sluicing
submerged rock on its way to a place
any party herewith has been except tangentially
or rather mentally, in eye of idea
where a picture once seen must be
like this place where the rill—after turning
into other names, empties itself, finally
in an ever ebbing body that removes
all notion of meaning in here, now
until again a cycle is run and rain
falls on windows, behind shades
draws a party at an apartment indoors
bass fading into a dull thrum
in a different time when someone is idle
rill tricks, trickle thought into a coalescence
of sunburst over horizon, another contemplation commences.


2013-04-23 23.54.53Matthew Schmidt is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. His work has appeared in Asinine Poetry, Down in the Dirt, Eye On Life and The Missing Slate.

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sum·ma·tion

summation2014

 

 

sum·ma·tion (səˈmāSHən ) noun

1. the process of adding things together: the summation of numbers of small pieces of evidence; a sum total of things added together.

2. the process of summing something up: these will need summation in a single document ; a summary; in Law, an attorney’s closing speech at the conclusion of the giving of evidence.

 

 

The end of the year is a time when we tend to take stock, to think about what has happened over the past year, to make peace, to give thanks, to look forward.

As is always true for me, the holidays are a mixed bag. I am reminded of those favor bags from kids’ birthday parties. Sometimes you get something really cool like a paddleball and sometimes you get those wax lips. Anyway, most of the time, you get a mix. It’s near impossible for me to get through the holidays without feeling a pretty large amount of gratitude for all the blessings in my life: not the least of which are dear ones, family, friends. I have a job. I have a roof over my head. I don’t want for food or clothing. I am not consumed by worry about my basic needs being met. I have amazingly creative, smart, caring people in my life.

But the holidays often demand that we be perpetually cheery and grateful, that we shelve our uncertainty. This is not realistic or fair to ourselves. Our uncertainty is always there, and it is pretty friendly with fear and doubt. The holidays also bring with them the end of the year, and for many of us, the end of the year brings an appraisal. It’s as if our lives are our finances and we are working them out in an Excel spreadsheet. Was there enough personal growth? Can we tally a sizable number of accomplishments? How did we fare in love?  How many friends and family are we in touch with and how can we measure their love? It is always easier to remember the heartache and trials. Those arise readily. It seems like there can be a process of looking at the year, judging it and deciding if this year merited itself.

For some of us, this begins, albeit unconsciously, before we enter the holiday fray. We think about what it is we are going to talk about from our year. What aspect of our lives will make sense to our friends and family? How do we make our lives measurable? I find this process exhausting. Because the heart of the heart of my year doesn’t happen in these large moves, defeats or accomplishments but rather in moments of profundity and understanding and grief and joy.

A dear friend of mine told me last night that she is making a “Good Things Jar” for the new year. Next to a large mason jar, she will place scraps of different colored paper, ready and waiting to mark the good things that happen in her life. The small and the big ones. She will fill the jar with these things and next year, on New Year’s Eve, she will read them: remembering her year and all the good that was present in it. I love this idea. I love the ways we can remind ourselves of all that is good. Because we need reminding.

In The Buddha’s Brain, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson writes about how the brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones. We are hardwired that way, because for our ancient ancestors, survival depended upon it. If they didn’t remember what could kill them, they died. The way it plays out for us nowadays is that we ruminate and fixate and mull over negative experiences, not just the ones that are going to kill us but the ones that caused us pain. What once protected us from dying can now prevent us from being fully alive.

There is a term in Buddhism called “mudita.” It means joy. However, it goes beyond that. Mudita is about experiencing genuine joy for others. And while it seems like this comes from a selfless place, it doesn’t. Mudita comes from a place of recognizing our oneness with others. If we are having a hard time but are able to partake in another’s joy, if we can recognize how we are connected to this other person, we can be joyful as well. Still, joy is something we have to come into on our own.

I have known people who will ask how I am and, when I answer honestly about having a challenging day or a hard time, will say things like: “Well, you have so much be grateful for” or “Think about all your blessings” or “Look at how many people are worse off.” And that doesn’t feel honoring. It feels like they are made uncomfortable by my grief or fear and are trying to excise it. Perhaps because my grief or fear reminds them of their own. But we cannot be coaxed into joy. We must find it ourselves.

I think the way that we find it is by being more aware, by making the conscious choice to stay with our joy when we feel it. Good things jars and recalling happy memories with family and literally counting our blessings are all ways to build our own joy, which can become a kind of refuge when fear or uncertainty or envy arise. Mostly though, we need to pay attention when are feeling joyful. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, we need to water the seeds of joy in ourselves and others. Hanson writes in Buddha’s Brain a few simple steps to take throughout our days to grow our joy:

  1. Help positive events become positive experience: Pay extra attention to the good things in the world and in yourself. For example, notice things that go well, or people who treat you kindly, or when you succeed at something. As we know, it is ignorance, fundamentally, that leads to suffering – and not seeing the good that is actually present is a kind of ignorance.  As a mindfulness practice, focus on the sensations and the feelings in your positive experiences since they are the pathway to emotional memory.  Deliberately create positive experiences for yourself. Examples include acts of generosity, evoking compassion, or recalling a time when you were happy.
  2. Savor the experience as a kind of concentration practice; keep your attention on it for many seconds while letting it fill your body and mind.
  3. Sense that the experience is soaking into you, registering deeply in emotional memory. You could imagine that it’s sinking into your chest and back and brainstem, or imagine a treasure chest in your heart.

 

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Often, we will make a list of new year’s resolutions, most of which point to areas in which we feel inadequate. They point to our own sense of lack. But maybe resolutions don’t need to be about dramatic change in behavior or in circumstance. Perhaps the simplest and best new year’s resolution is to resolve to pay attention. To notice all the opportunities for joy we already have. Then our intentions for the year aren’t built on a belief in our deficiency but on a recognition of our own abundance.

Life is not a score tally for a board game. I find that the greatest pain and suffering for others and myself comes when we try to keep score with our lives. There is no way to add and subtract and compare two different lives. To do so is to pretend that we know the intimacies of someone else’s path. To do so is to pretend we know what is going to happen in our future. We simply have to honor where we are and honor that means we don’t know quite a bit.

I read an old Charlie Brown cartoon today where Charlie tells Lucy: “Life isn’t like a textbook. The answers aren’t at the back of the book.” What if instead of this becoming a source of frustration it became an opportunity for wonder? Look at how much I don’t know! Look at how much I have the opportunity to learn!

I like watching lawyer shows where the attorneys deliver their summations in court. So often they are clear and wrapped up tightly, like the bow on a Christmas present. The decision seems so simple and easy. Life is not like that. We deliver our summation and then a few days or weeks or months later, we deliver it again. At the end of the year, we look and listen and sum our lives and then we do the same thing a year later. But the words are always changing, the verdict is malleable.

As we approach the new year, perhaps we could remember all that we have learned this past year that has prepared us for the new one. Perhaps we could remember that this new year brings not one but countless opportunities to begin again. We can choose to remember in the myriad of experiences we have that they all add up to being truly alive.

 

 

 

 

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sum

Complex mathematics

 

 

For our third post of nonfiction november, we are excited to have a piece on algebra and adding up by Molly McCloy. Please enjoy!

 

 

sum  /səm/  noun  1.  a particular amount of money: “they could not afford such a sum”  2.  the total amount resulting from the addition of two or more numbers, amounts, or items: “the sum of two prime numbers”

 

 

Sum

 

 
I liked addition. I didn’t mind carrying. It was division I hated. And subtraction. And borrowing.

In seventh grade I watched this preppy girl with a blonde ponytail just stomp all over this lesbian math teacher who was wearing an ugly vinyl coat. “You are a homosexual, aren’t you? Just admit it,” said Blonde Ponytail.

“That word doesn’t mean anything. It just means ‘same sex,’” said the math teacher, but the whole class knew that Blonde Ponytail had rattled her nerves and would rule each of their verbal exchanges for the rest of the year. I quietly removed “lesbian math teacher in vinyl coat” from my list of possible career options.

I was too slow at math anyway. I wanted to study genetics because I loved my seventh-grade science teacher, Mr. F., who taught us about dominant and recessive genes and was kind to that girl who broke down crying during her oral report about chickens.

But the bad math and science teachers added up. Freshman science teacher Mr. P. had been committed to a mental institution because he heard voices that told him he was Elvis with God living in his knee. When Mr. P. returned to teaching, he immediately did an Elvis impersonation for the school talent show, jumpsuit and all

Sophomore Biology was a madhouse because Mr. L. who was bald and had a handlebar mustache like a strongman in the circus would take attendance and then retreat to his office for the rest of the class period while we stole graduated cylinders to make into bongs.

Mrs. B. was a sour old coot who had no sense of humor and I suffered with her for two years of algebra and one of geometry. Junior year I wanted to take a chemistry class because I’d heard that class had the one good science teacher in the whole school, but on the first day I shared a table with these guys who had sexually harassed my friend, so I dropped it for study hall. I took exactly one algebra class in college taught by a guy who always ate cheap chow mein in the window of the Kung Fu Noodle Shop.

Then in 2011, a local politician demeaned my community college teaching career by saying, “You still have to teach them how to write? That’s worthless. That’s for high school.”

I wanted to say, “And who are you, lady? Some hack playing dress-up-West-Wing?”

Instead I thought, “I want to finally take that chemistry class.” Everyone seemed so happy with the STEM people. They made all the money.

To take chemistry, I had to take a math class first. Certainly working a couple of math problems would be less painful than all those years adjunct-teaching writing courses for pennies on the dollar.

It had been 23 years, so my last math class was older than some of my fellow students.  On the first day, the teacher didn’t orchestrate all the complicated icebreakers used by English teachers. She finally mentioned her own name in the last ten minutes, just tossed it in as an afterthought.

On the second day, the Iraq War vet on my right asked, “Why does it smell like formaldehyde in the college cafeteria?” and the redhead guy on my left answered, “Homeless guy smoking PCP?” It was a feasible theory for the downtown campus, so all three of us laughed. I’d already found my people, two guys half my age.

Later that class the teacher was trying to make a joke about the old Kung Fu show on TV, but when she mentioned David Carradine, Redhead said, “What a way to die,” and I said, “Yeah, Michael Hutchence from INXS went the same way,” but the teacher said, “What was the Kung Fu nickname for a young student….yes, Grasshopper, when you can solve the quadratic equation, it will be time for you to go.”

That’s when I noticed the teacher was wearing a T-shirt with the words “Hairy Potter” underneath the image of a dog wearing the little Harry Potter glasses. What had I been thinking? Of course there would be no algebra class discussion on the topic of autoerotic asphyxiation.

After a few weeks I was really hating this kind of problem, ripped up my scratch paper, almost cried actual tears over it: “Solve for x,y, and z: 3/4x -5/2y-1/3z=-14; x+3/4y +7/2z=-26; 2x-3y-4z=-4.” Eventually I realized it was my sloppiness that was screwing me up. I crammed tiny numbers into corners of scratch paper. I couldn’t read my own handwriting.

Three days after Father’s Day, a Tucson police officer entered the classroom and called War Vet’s name. War Vet exited the room with the officer and whispered, “He’s probably here to tell me my father finally died.”

He came back five minutes later and said, “Yeah, my dad died.” I touched his arm. The girl in the next row touched his arm. Redhead touched his arm. Other classmates out of reach extended their arms as if in an effort to touch War Vet’s arm. War Vet stared straight ahead, seemingly unmoved. “I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t feel anything at all.” The teacher came back in and we solved for x, y, and z for the rest of the hour.

Towards the end of the term, a student who had been absent due to the birth of his child asked me to teach him how to solve a complex equation with plenty of exponents and negative exponents and four full equations stacked on top of each other in the form of fractions. As he watched, I executed this elaborate drawing, flip-flopping the fractions to divide, drawing arrows to little subsidiary equations I had to create, changing negative numbers to positives and positives to negatives. “There,” I said, “that’s how you do it.”

I received a reaction I hadn’t experienced since the stoner in the back row of my writing class at DeVry saluted that “We Real Cool” poem with a standing ovation. My classmate, the twenty-something new father, looked at me and said, “That was beautiful.”

 

 

 

578548_10151786765702913_1249793942_nTucson writer and Moth storytelling slam winner Molly McCloy has published work in Nerve, Swink, and Slate. Find out more at mollymccloy.com.

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split

SplitSittingBuddha.jpg

 

Here we are: post #2 of nonfiction november. The word is split and we are delighted to have a piece by Aisha Sabatini Sloan.

 

split (split),  v.t.  [SPLIT or obs. SPLITTED (-id), SPLITTING], [MD, splitten; akin to MHG. splizen; IE. base *(s)plei-, to split, crack],  1.  to separate, cut, or divide into two or more parts; cause to separate along the grain or length; break into layers.  2.  to break or tear apart by force; burst; rend.  3.  to divide into parts or shares; portion out: as, they split the cost of the trip.  4.  to cause (a group, political party, etc.) to separate into divisions or factions; disunite.  5.  in chemistry, a) to break (a molecule) into atoms; separate the components of.  b)  to produce nuclear fission in (at atom or atoms).  v.i.  1.  to separate or divide lengthwise into two or more parts; separate along the grain or length.  2.  to break or tear apart; burst; rend.  3.  to separate or break up through failure to agree, etc.  4.  [Colloq.], to divide something with another or others, each taking a share: as, winners split.  5.  [19th –c Slang], to inform on an accomplice; peach.  n.  1.  the act or process of splitting.  2. the result of spitting; specifically, a) a break; fissure; crack; tear.  b) a breach or division in a group, between persons, etc.  3.  a splinter; sliver.  4.  a single thickness of hide split horizontally.  5.  a flexible strip of wood used in basketmaking.  6.  a confection made of a split banana or other fruit with ice cream, nuts, sauces, whipped cream, etc.  7.  often pl.  the feat of spreading the legs apart until they lie flat on the floor, the body remaining upright.  8.  [Colloq.], a) a small bottle of carbonated water, wine, etc., half the usual size, often about six ounces. b) a drink or portion half the usual size. c) a half pint.  9.  [Slang], a share, as of loot or booty. 10.  in bowling, an arrangement of pins after the first bowl, so separated as to make a spare almost impossible.  adj.  1. divided or separated along the length or grain; broken into parts.  2.  sixteenths, and not in eighths: said of a quotation smaller than the normal trading unit.—SYN. see break.

 

 

That night, I watched a woman nudge her husband, who seemed to have broken his leg. He followed her gaze and looked with horror at a man nearby, who had two metal clamps sticking out of his neck. It was hard to tell if the clamps were supposed to be there, or if he’d been impaled. When the man with the broken leg was finally called and his wife wheeled him away, the man with the clamps looked at us and muttered, “That looked bad.” Hannah held her middle and I read to her from an article about Kanye and Kim.

 

The next day, on the emergency room’s TV screen, a CNN anchor reports on the typhoon in the Philippines, about a moment when “the dust died down.”

 

When I am not craning my neck to look at the television screen, I am trying to read Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Buddha. He left home when his son was born. The Buddha was worried that his attachment to the people he loved would bind him to a life of sorrow: “Some of the monks used to compare this kind of passion and craving for perishable things to a ‘dust’ which weighed the soul down and prevented it from soaring to the pinnacle of the universe.”

 

A scream from the children’s waiting room sounds just like a parrot, irritating the woman with a swollen neck. Months ago in my notebook, I wrote, “Limbo allows for enlightenment, but if you’re not prepared, you’ll experience it as projection of all your demons.”

 

Across from us, a woman laughs at her own confusion. The sound of a bottle falling in the vending machine was just like that of a body hitting the floor in a hallway or bathroom. After absorbing the shock of the sound, our eyes meet and we giggle, a moment I’ve been craving for hours. This atmosphere is vaguely competitive. People scan one another for injury as they wait for their names to be called. Before we gave up and left last night, we had been waiting for three and a half hours. Some people had been waiting for nine.

 

Hannah said it felt like her stomach was being sliced by knives. For three and a half hours, her face switched back and forth between the way the cartoon face looks at numbers nine and ten of the pain scale. And then, the knives stopped. Everybody has heard a story of a ruptured appendix: the sudden end of pain opening out into a body full of poison. So upon waking, we get dressed, pack a lunch, and come back.

 

CNN discusses what we have to worry about next. “Disease,” somebody says, “a secondary disaster.”

 

“Suppose,” the Buddha said, “I start to look for the unborn, the unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, incorrupt and supreme freedom from this bondage?”

 

A nurse calls for a man who does not hear her. When she asks him point blank if he is who she’s looking for, he says yes. “Let me help you, my friend,” she says, her tone softening as she saunters behind his wheelchair and begins to push.

 

Earlier, CNN featured an interview with Sarah Palin. She was trying to explain why it wasn’t racist for her to use the word “slavery” to talk about Obama’s health care law. The night before in the ER, Hannah asked if she could help a woman with dyed red hair. She looked confused, facing the men’s bathroom with her temporary wheelchair and all her belongings on the floor. “I’m just trying to get away from the sound of Piers Morgan’s voice,” she said, as Hannah grabbed her purse and I picked up her steaming cup of hot chocolate, following her to the other side of the waiting room.

 

Now, they talk about women and children begging in the streets of the Philippines, though the streets are becoming increasingly dangerous. “That seems odd,” I say, looking at the footage of wood planks and discombobulated faces. “Everything is the street now,” Hannah says, finishing my thought.

 

Armstrong writes, “Adam and Eve lived in harmony, unaware of their sexual difference or of the distinction between good and evil. It is a unity that is impossible for us to imagine in our more fragmented existence, but in almost every culture, the myth of this primal concord showed that human beings continued to yearn for a peace and wholeness that they felt to be the proper state of humanity.”

 

We all gaze at the ultrasound together. It looks like we’re looking up through the ocean at the water’s surface. “Some see monsters, some see animals,” the sonographer laughs. “I only see organs.” She has an Eastern European accent. It makes me anxious to look at all these murky, unidentifiable shapes, so I sit down and hide from the screen behind the sonographer’s body.

 

“How long did it take you to you get used to the sound of screaming?” I ask the woman who pushes Hannah’s stretcher from one room to the other. She responds, unphased, “I have two kids, so.”

 

Outside, there are cop cars. I think of the little boy who was staring at us the night before. He had come in with a family flanked by policemen. He and his sister were left alone in the waiting room for close to an hour while their family disappeared behind closed doors. All of the sudden, the children stood up from their seats. As if on cue, the double doors opened. Two adults came to retrieve them.

 

As I drive to the Vietnamese restaurant for our dinner, it feels later than it is. I feel nostalgic for the ER now, and hurry to get back to it.

 

While I am not in the room, the doctor comes to check in on Hannah, and takes a phone call about another patient. “The bullet went in his back and came out of his neck,” she reports when I return.

 

I live across the street from the hospital, and often bike through the emergency room’s parking lot on my way home from work. Each time, I think with a commuter’s impatience about how long someone is pausing at the stop sign, sometimes shouting out loud.

 

Today at work, I was nicer to my students. Not on purpose, but out of exhaustion or surrender. As I traveled through the ER’s parking lot, peering into the newly arrived ambulances, I experienced the space anew. As a point of fracture. Something swollen. A kind of seam.

 

 

 

aishaAisha Sabatini Sloan grew up in an apartment building five miles from the ocean. Because the blue condo at the end of the block with porthole style windows was built around the same time that she was born, she always assumed she was going to be given one of the apartments for free.

 

 

And a little something extra: here is an oddly appropriate Volvo Ad–featuring Jean Claude Van Damme, two semis, and a soundtrack of Enya–that just came out this week:

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spy

Sherlock_holmes_pipe_hat

 

Day 29 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge

 

 

spy  v.  spied, spying  1  watch closely and secretly see –n. pl. spies one who spies, esp. to get another country’s secrets.

 

 

 

I spy with my little eye…

 

We play this game as children. Something is spied—a red shoe, a green tree, a gray button—and then must be discovered. We get a hint. We guess. We get a hint. We’re getting warmer. We’re getting oooh, ice cold. We want to get it right. We want to know what our playmate was thinking. We want to see the same thing they saw. We learn the tremendous power of observation.

 

“I Spy” is excellent training ground for our creativity. We learn how keen our notice can be. We learn how to scrutinize and select. When we are the spier, we have to pick objects that will be harder and harder to guess. When we are the guesser, we must uncover the tiny details our playmates have decided upon.

 

We learn to discern between shades of the same color (is something lemon yellow or mustard yellow?). We learn how to read those around us (what objects would he pick?). We learn to be persistent, when we have guessed and guessed and still haven’t guessed right.

 

I used to love reading mysteries when I was younger: Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes and R.L. Stine. When I was a little older, I read Mary Higgins Clark insatiably. What I loved about mysteries was how they hinged on one small detail. This detail had been there the whole time, for the detectives and the reader to see, but we hadn’t seen it, not until that dramatic moment when we did. And that tiny detail is what made everything make sense. We now knew who did it. We knew the motivation. We knew what needed to be done. Justice = served.

 

However, the same attention to detail that can make writing come alive can be self destructive when applied to our lives. These mysteries can be so satisfying because they offer a resolution we don’t always get in life. As we grow up and become grown ups, we employ the same level of curiosity except with an intensity rooted in a desire for perfection rather than a need for play. We can look and look and look at the details of our lives: scrutinizing our choices, making pro and con lists, charting out graphs, asking friends for advice, weighing and measuring and weighing again. Sometimes, this can help. Sometimes, however, we are applying this attention to detail in an attempt to excavate ourselves from a hole of uncertainly. And it just doesn’t work. We flood ourselves with details. We guess and second guess. We don’t know which details are the most important. We have too many to measure.

 

I had a co-worker once who told me that on his Sunday, he had cleaned his house, including making sure all of the screws in the outlet covers were facing in the same direction, vertically. That detail stuck with me, I guess, because it gave me insights into him, into myself, into our differences. There are times when details are very important to me—for example, when planning what to wear for a special event, when selecting or making a gift for a friend—and there are times when I couldn’t care less, as with the direction of the screws on my outlet covers (or, as is true for me now, whether to replace a broken outlet cover). When I find myself spying all the details and becoming mired in them, I know I have lost the bigger picture.

 

The same attention to detail that serves us in making quality choices can also be our undoing if we can’t let them go. We can make sure our home is in perfect order, that our dishes are clean and stacked, that all our files are labeled and catalogued, that our clothes are put away neatly in our closets, but sometimes we do these things not for sheer tidiness but to produce an illusion of control. We will all experience discomfort. We will all suffer. We will all die someday. And our attention to detail will not save us from these things. On the contrary, they may give us a false illusion of safety that will backfire when we face obstacles.

 

I think one key is allowing ourselves to observe details in a way that makes us liberated instead of entrapped. Can we notice the details of what makes our lives rich and full at least as much if not more than we notice the details that complicate our lives or challenge us? Can we pay attention all the time instead of just when we are stressed out? Can we allow observation to be the pleasure it can be instead of a chore? Can we investigate and spy without the intensity of needing one definitive answer?

 

 

 

 

A few things I spied today:  my little black-and-white dog curled up in the comforter; the sun cascading white light through the curtains; a string of mala beads, brown joined with red thread; the red light blinking; a long row of beige tables lined up with a place-setting of papers at each seat; maple and sprinkled donuts on a platter; canary yellow pineapple and strawberries and blueberries in a bowl; a light blue dress with a white pattern; a tattoo of red roses; turquoise bangs; the round marbled body of a banjo; a blue pocket dictionary with white lettering; a blue and black hummingbird floating mid-air just beside me before skirting off to a new destination; an orange and black butterfly coasting just in front of me; two white-haired ladies, one wearing mustard jeans, chatting at a black table over two cups of coffee; a red, green, and gold box with this quote inside: “Happiness leads none of us by the same route”; blue pieces of paper folded inside the box; a white napkin holding a handful of purple grapes, a piece of dark chocolate, a tortilla chip with guacamole, and an oreo cookie; a blue sofa; the yellow and white reflection of the ceiling fan in the glass of the picture frame holding a red and orange and black painting of ships at sea.

 

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mad·cap

1-bonnie-and-clyde-faye-dunaway-1967-everett

 

Day 28 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:

 

mad·cap  (mad cap)  adj.  1.  wildly impulsive; reckless; rash; a madcap scheme  –n.  2.  a madcap person, esp. a girl [MAD + CAP1]

 

 

Character Sketch of Madcap Gal:

 

 

1. Character Functions:

The Madcap Gal is audacious. She is not afraid of women or men. She is manipulative but without others recognizing her manipulation. Her charm makes those around her want to be part of her crazy adventures, even against their better judgment. She is a (sometimes antagonistic) protagonist, love interest, a best friend (the one with more control in the relationship), a catalyst but never comic relief.

 

2. Character Emotions

Sometimes, the audience sympathizes with Madcap Gal (in the way that cops sometimes let crying women off for violating traffic laws). At best, the audience empathizes with Madcap Gal, because they see parts of themselves—the more wounded, hidden parts—in her. At worst (especially true for fuddy duddies), they view her as reckless, irresponsible, and they rejoice in her fall.

 

3. Character Components

a)     Interior – Madcap Gal was raised in home environment where she didn’t get much attention. With aloof parents, she did everything possible to command attention: acting up, acting out. When that didn’t work, she decided to take her efforts elsewhere, moving out at sixteen and traveling the country. She never stays in a place for too long. She gives the illusion of being completely open and transparent without ever actually being open and transparent. When we are introduced to her in the opening scene, she has already been in Town A for six months, as long as she’s stayed anywhere. And she is torn because for the first time in her life, she feels compelled to stay.

b)   Exterior – She dresses flashily. In loud plaids, in menswear, in tight pencil skirts. Her hair is styled in a tight bob, but she often wears wigs. Most times when we see her, she is wearing a hat. Her favorite is a beret, situated to appear tossed on when it has really been arranged just so. She imagines herself a modern day Bonnie without the Clyde. She walks rapidly, as if she is always late to the next thing (which is often true). Her small apartment is decorated with art she finds on the street. Her rooms are painted bright colors: turquoise, mustard seed, tomato. There is a sort of clutter about the shelves of knick-knacks—old skeleton keys, figurines, glasses—on the living room walls and the pans hanging in the kitchen. But every time she moves, she drags most of these possessions on the curb, taking only her white Samsonite suitcase. Over the course of the first thirty minutes, we see her working three different jobs: at a thrift store, at a coffeeshop, at a fortune cookie factory. We find out she has also worked at a rollerrink, at a record store, at a grocery store, among others. In a flashback, we see her arriving at Town A by riding the rails.

 

4. Character Background

a) Where is the character from (background)?

The audience doesn’t know precisely where Madcap Girl is from, because she has a different story for each person she encounters. She is from a nondescript town in the middle of the country. She invents new places to be from because the reality of her hometown is too boring for the image she creates for herself.

 

b)     What was she doing just before this scene?

Just before the opening scene, she was sleeping.

 

c)      What does the writer say about this character?

Writer says she is running from herself. That her antics are a kind of disguise she wears for having no sense of who she really is or what she really wants.

 

d)     What do others say about this character?

Madcap Girl is either the source of admiration or of scorn. It is impossible to feel neutral about her.

 

e)      What does the character say about herself?

She doesn’t say much about herself. She is a woman of action.

 

5. Character Objectives

These are the main needs and wants of a character (what people want out of life)

 

a)  SUPER OBJECTIVE: “To Be Perceived as Madcap Gal”
What is the primal motivation of the character?  To be perceived by others as spontaneous, adventurous, the life of the party.
What are the main needs of the character? To keep moving, to distract herself, to keep her truer needs ands desires invisible to everyone, especially herself.

 

b) OBJECTIVES
What does the character want (motives)? Attention, excitement, constant movement. And, though she wouldn’t admit it, love.
What are the active choices to achieve the Super Objective? Constantly switching in and out of identities and jobs and relationships, avoiding like the plague anything that could be perceived as practical.

 

c) MAIN ACTIONS

What the character DOES…initiates schemes, stays up all night, recruits followers to be a part of adventures
to get what she WANTS…attention (feeling of worthiness)
to fulfill her NEEDS…to be hidden (to be seen)

 

6. Character Dialogue: excerpts

“A man with a record!”

“You think you’re free? I’m free! You don’t know what freedom is! I’m free. I can breathe. And you… will choke on your average fuckin’ mediocre life!”

“Forget regret.”

“I may have made a mistake but that is no reason to patronize me. It is dismaying that your expectations are based on the performance of a lesser primate, and also revelatory of a managerial style which is sadly lacking. Is it any wonder then that I’ve chosen not to learn the intricacies of an antiquated and idiotic system?”

“Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting.”

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

“I have many skills.”

“He’s dull as powder”

“You’re never gonna jump, are you?”

“Do you think I may one day escape?”

“I’ve been living my life, okay? I’ve been in good relationships and I’ve been in shitty ones… and I’ve moved alot… and I’ve been happy, and I’ve been sad… and I’ve been lonely… and that is what I’ve been doing. Which is a lot more then I can say for some freak, who thinks he’s gonna get the Ebola virus from a bowl of mixed nuts.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

*sketch format based off of formula suggested by Peter D. Marshall

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as·pen

robertholmangoldenaspens

 

Day 27 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge

 

as·pen  n. \ˈas-pən\

: a kind of tree whose leaves move easily when the wind blows

:  any of several poplars (especially Populus tremula of Europe and P. tremuloides and P. grandidentata of North America) with leaves that flutter in the lightest wind because of their flattened petioles

 

I want to tell you about aspens but I don’t know anything about aspens. Not more than you do, I’m sure. That they have gray trunks. That they are tall trees, spindly. They look like a game of pick-up sticks falling, except with leaves. That their leaves have points and thick veins. That these leaves change colors—from green in summer, to yellow and orange and red in fall. That these leaves fall dramatically, one at a time and in clumps in winter, leaving the trunks completely bare. That in spring, naked aspens grow new leaves, after the snow has begun to melt. I can tell you these things about aspens but I don’t know these things in the way you know the palm of your mother’s hand or how to drive to the drugstore in your hometown or how your love likes his or her eggs. I didn’t grow up with aspens. Aspens like cool climates with cool summers. They like high altitudes. They live on mountains. They enjoy the way the winds tussles their leaves. I grew up in Louisiana, where the air is full with hotness and humidity. Still, the landscape is made of trees. Oak trees arch themselves over long thoroughfares. Cypress trees rise out of swampy water, their knees and torsos rising up from the muck. Sweet olive trees cascade their small white flowers, covering sidewalks and yards. Magnolia trees produce waxy dark green leaves and then brown buds that will eventually open into bright white petals. But I don’t want to tell you about oaks, or cypresses, or sweet olives, or magnolias. I came here to tell you about aspens. How when wind hits them, their leaves begin to spin without falling. How these leaves appear to shimmer, as they spin, in the sunlight. How, when you look out on a forest of them, it seems as if a painter has just applied one long stroke of cadmium yellow. How, incredibly, those tall trunks lean, pitch, bend so far to the side, without falling, without breaking. I don’t know about aspens but I do know about moving easily when the wind blows. I know what it means to sway. I know that when a strong wind moves me, I find it impossible to stand still, to quiet myself, to keep myself from fluttering. I know that when the gale hits, I quake from the impact. I wonder if I will withstand the feeling of pressure and of cold. I move. I am moved. I am moving. And even as I bend, even as I swing, even as I undulate and oscillate and stagger,  even as I wobble and lurch and reel and roll, I can feel my roots extending down and down, fixed tightly in the earth, I can feel the sturdiness of my trunk as it extends up and down and I know that through this storm, I will hold.

 

 

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bridge sign

moored

 

bridge sign,  Naut.  a sign on a pier or quay to show where the bridge of a certain vessel should be when the vessel is moored.

 

 

We moored ourselves. The journey over water had been long and now we edged in from the sea. Places we knew before only by faint lines on a map were now vivid to us. But there was something even more thrilling than the adventure: the arriving, safely, at the quay. We pulled in to the space marked by the sign and anchored. Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ko·mo·do drag·on

Komodo dragon/ Adam Riley

Komodo dragon/ Adam Riley

 

Day 22 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:

 

Ko·mo·do drag·on  (kə-ˈmō-dō-)  a monitor lizard, Varanus komodoensis, of Komodo and adjacent Indonesian Islands that grows to a length of 10 feet: the largest lizard in the world. Also called  dragon lizard, giant lizard, Komoˈdo lizˈard.

 

 

When the dragons came, they came all at once and they were everywhere. Dragons on the sidewalks, dragons in swimming pools, dragons at the grocery. We couldn’t tell where they had come from—they simply weren’t there and then they were. It can be alarming to find oneself surrounded, suddenly, by dragons. We tried to make the best of it. We gingerly walked around them as we went down the street. We swerved to avoid hitting them while driving. We wondered what they ate and if we fed them whether they might find other things more attractive than, say, us. We found they were fans of kale but not carrots and Cheetos but not Doritos. We noticed there were less stray cats around. We began to take provisions, snacks for us and for them, when we left the house and they began to wait for us. Once we fed them, they became accustomed to it and their appetites grew insatiable. The waddled up close with their scaly short legs and licked at ankles, nibbled on calves until they were given food. Soon, there were more incidents: thick cuts and bites, infections, loss of blood. More and more people were going to the emergency room. Something had to be done. So the human that all the humans trusted went to talk to the dragon that all the dragons trusted. The trusted human said, “When you arrived, we didn’t know where you came from. We tried to be generous with you. We fed you and now you won’t leave us alone. What is your problem?” “Well, that’s the thing,” said the trusted dragon, “before you fed us, we didn’t know to be hungry.”

 

 

 

 

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rasp

insidemouthoffice

 

Day 18 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


rasp1    \rasp\  vb.  1 :  to rub with or as if with a rough file  2 :  to grate harshly on (as one’s nerves)  3 :  to speak in a grating tone

rasp2  :  a course file with cutting points instead of ridges.

 

 

Miss Mae, the eighty-year-old bar owner who’s smoked two packs a day since she was sixteen, the one who tells you in no uncertain terms to “Get off my stool,” the stool you didn’t know was hers. Your voice when you are on the cusp of losing it, but before you’ve lost it completely and before you sound like a boy going through puberty. Tom Waits, singing with his throat full of gravel. The car engine trying to turn over and then trying to turn over again. Frogs. Red foxes. That episode of Friends where Phoebe has a cold and her voice lowers and sexies itself for her gig at the coffeehouse, and then she tries to get sick again so that rasp will return. Bea Arthur as Dorothy saying to Estelle Getty over and over again in each episode: “Ma!” James Earl Jones saying, If you build it, they will come. Lauren Bacall asking, You know how to whistle, don’t you? Stevie Nicks. Rod Stewart. Bonnie Tyler. Macy Gray. Brian Adams. Louis Armstrong singing, Stars shining bright above you. Kim Carnes singing, She’s got Bette Davis eyes. Bette Davis. Linda Ronstadt has Parkinson’s and can no longer sing (she said, If there was something I could work on, I’d work on it till I could get it back. If there was a drug I could take to get it back, I would take the drug. I’d take napalm. But I’m never going to sing again). When I heard the news on the radio, I was close to crying. I knew a girl in high school, a soprano, who always refused to drink after other people, terrified of getting a cold and losing her voice.  Someone on a ventilator. Someone with a voicebox. Someone with a virus. Riff Raff. Gollum. Carface. She also wouldn’t talk on the days we had performances scheduled. She wouldn’t even whisper. Unrasping: with rest, honey, rest, apple cider, cayenne, lemon, ginger, zinc, eucalyptus, humming, using a humidifier, inhaling steam, gargling salt water, drinking tea, stopping speaking, stopping singing, quitting smoking, quitting caffeine, water, sleep.  She went to a conservatory for college, I think. Now she has four kids and lives somewhere in the South. I’m not sure if she still sings.

 

 

 

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