Tag Archives: bibliomancy




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:


Filed under nonfiction november

30 days, 30 words

This is a photo series I took a few years back for my 30th birthday, but I think the range of emotions is fitting for this challenge too

This is a photo series I took a few years back for my 30th birthday, but I think the range of emotions is fitting for this challenge too


The 30 days, 30 words Challenge


Greetings Dictionary Project Followers! I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the first day of September. Here in Tucson, it’s 93 degrees at 9:13 at night so the weather doesn’t feel much like fall. The season delivers in other ways though: the sharpened pencils, the full bookbags, the undergrads taking over town like army ants.


I’ve always loved September and the beginning of the new school year which brings with it new and exciting challenges. Inspired by the new academic year and month-long challenges artist friends have taken on, this month will be the first ever 30 day, 30 word challenge at the dictionary project.


For the month of September, a new word and new post will be added to the site every day.


I will write a post each day, and I invite you all to bibliomance (close your eyes, flip through dictionary, select a word) your own words (for all 30 days or for some of them) and post your words, definitions, and writing in the comments.


pre reqs:

1: a love of language

2: a curiosity about words

3: the desire to write

4: the desire to bibliomance


necessary tools:

1: a printed dictionary

2: a pen and paper or access to computer

3: an inquisitive mind


The idea for this challenge is not to strive for perfection in every post but rather to see where my mind takes me and to produce a piece every day, whether it be a few lines or a few pages long. I hope some of you will join me!



Filed under 30 days 30 words


Ellie's first bibliomanced word: escutcheon!

Ellie’s first bibliomanced word: escutcheon!


"So, what if I can't read yet? I'm into this dictionary thing."

“So, what if I can’t read yet? I’m into this dictionary thing.”



escutcheon* \is-ˈkə-chən\  n. 

1: a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms.

2: a flat piece of metal for protection and often ornamentation, around a keyhole, door handle, or light switch.

3 : the part of a ship’s stern on which the name is displayed

*My sweet little niece Ellie picked this word in her first ever bibliomancy. She just turned a year old. I got the chance to visit with her, my cousins, and my aunt and uncle in July in Atlanta.



Growing up as an only child, I spent a lot of time thinking about my proximity to others and about being alone. When I was surrounded by other people, I often wanted solitude. But when I was by myself, I worried about being alone. Sometimes, I was lonely.

It wasn’t until my twenties that I could actually enjoy time spent by myself without the fear of missing out or being left out. I learned when I wanted to spend time with others and when I wanted to be on my own.

In July and August, I had the opportunity to spend time with family. I come from a large extended family on both sides, and I know at times I have taken this family, and the warmth and connection of this family, for granted. There have definitely been moments when I have focused more on our differences than what we share. And in these times, I have felt isolated or judged, as if I didn’t belong. What I have not always realized is that often I was the one who was stepping back and creating rifts, even if this was out of a sense of protection.

Of all of my relatives, I am one of the few to move away, out of Louisiana, living outside the state for the past decade. Most of my cousins live within a mile or two of their parents and in close proximity to one another. There is a beauty to this kind of cohesion, this intimate distance. In my mid-twenties, some part of me knew that only by leaving would I be able to come into my own and discover who I wanted to be. I knew that I must separate from my family in order figure out who I was and how I wanted to build my life. Yet, I also believe that knowing that my parents and my family are there and that I can return at any time is one of things that has allowed me to have the confidence needed in moving away, in experimenting with risks, in encountering old wounds and healing them.

Traditionally, coat of arms were used as a way to identify individuals and clans and to proclaim military prestige. In heraldry, one part of the coat of arms is the escutcheon, where symbolic images are identified that often have to do with the individual wearing the shield. Another portion is the crest, which looks like a scroll, where a family surname is identified. Although typically described as “family crests,” coat of arms are not just representation of a clan or family; one portion of the coat of arms identifies the family and another part identifies the individual family member. At my grandparents’ house, there was a plaque that hung on the wall with the O’Neill coat of arms. In the escutcheon are two lions, representing the tribes of Judah and the lions are upright holding a red hand. The legend of the hand’s meaning was told to me many times growing up. When boats of ancestors were headed for Ireland, there was a promise that the first man to touch the land would rule so one of my ancestors chopped off his left hand and threw it ahead onto the land before the boat came ashore.



O’Neill Coat of Arms


When I was visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Atlanta this July, my Uncle Danny O’Neill pulled out old family photo albums: ones my grandmother made of she and my grandfather’s courtship, older ones of my grandfather as a young boy, and his mother, my-great-grandmother. My uncle had scanned the pages and pulled them up on the TV. As we scrolled through, looking at these people we came from, I felt a sense of closeness that I don’t know if I’ve recognized before. All of us—with our individual noses, our particular way of seeing the world, our penchant for kinds of food—all of us are made up not only of the same matter as all humans but of particular matter made from shared people. Somehow remembering this grew in me a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude. We may not agree on everything, we may live in different places in different kind of houses, we may have different beliefs or priorities, but we also have in common character traits, upbringings, a shared history. It seems not to matter that this shared history has patches missing. We share both the known and the unknown and somehow the legacy of those people that came before us lives in our blood.

When my grandfather was about my age and already had a pack of mouths to feed, he began taking night classes in journalism. I have his journalism notebook and the attention he took with his notes reveals to me that this was something he deeply cared about. Writing was something he loved and wanted to be better at. My most vivid image of my grandpa is him laying on a couch with a stack of fifteen books on the coffee table in front of him. He was insatiably curious. About everything: psychology, sociology, literature, history, politics. He liked to ask what other people thought and have rousing conversations. I bet he would have made an amazing journalist. As it happened, his father had died young and he had to begin work when he was a young teenager to support his mother and his brother, seven years his junior. He worked as a porter for the Pullman Railroad, packing laundry and shining shoes, and eventually worked his way up to superintendent in New Orleans. When he had made enough money to support a family, he married my grandmother and they had five children.

Somehow, I find some sense of assurance. Because the story didn’t end with him. His second son inherited his curiosity and his love of reading and conversation. And this son’s daughter inherited this from him. I like to think that the passions and creativity of my grandfather did not die with him but rather live on in me. As I write, he is here too, in the blood coursing through my veins and the skin on my fingertips. In this way, family is about more than our individual selves or even the dynamics, both helpful and harmful, that we play out over and over again. Family is an intricate web we are a part of, a web that spans out. And when we die, our dreams and struggles and faith and beliefs are still there in the presence of those we share this link with. This web gives a sort of reassurance in a country that prizes the self above all else. We can rely on one another, and we can, if we are lucky, see the intricately woven ways in which we are connected.

I have at times felt disconnected from my Cajun family, who live in rural Louisiana, three hours and yet a world away from New Orleans. I have felt somehow different for growing up in a big city, for moving away, for loving my family and yet needing to be on my own. I was never greeted with anything but enthusiasm. I was certainly never made to feel unwelcome. This anxiety about belonging came as I aged and saw differences I didn’t know how to reconcile. Over the years, I have felt connected and disconnected in varying degrees. When, I visited family this time, my focus was not on this question of belonging. I was instead just grateful to spend time with everyone. Much of my mom’s family had gathered with very little notice to have lunch together. I saw my cousins’ kids who I remember holding when they were born. I congratulated one of them, Jada, on her recent marriage. I heard about school and sports and new jobs and new pets and recent successes and struggles. I was able to deeply hear and engage because I wasn’t stuck inside my own stories. I wasn’t concerned about whether I belonged or not, because I somehow understood that I did. I see now that we share more than we don’t and this is a gift, this deeper wisdom.


Louisiana Acadian Flag

Louisiana Acadian Flag


When we create our own families, not only by joining in marriage or procreating but by forming relationships with friends and being part of communities, we look to find people who share similar values. And these chosen families are tremendously supportive and beautiful. I have people in my lives who show up consistently and with care to celebrate and to grieve. But I also know, that if I were to call on my blood family, they would show up, too.

For those of us lucky enough to have families who enjoy each other’s company and who love one another regardless of whether we approve of every choice made, we have a refuge not to be taken for granted. I think of the image of two hands, palms up and open to form a vessel. We have a place to be held.

When I was a kid, I used to both love and hate to play freeze tag. I remember the exhilaration in running around and making it back to home base, safely. I remember the terror when I was about to be caught and the visceral sense of relief when my fingers tapped the wall, or the tree bark, or the metal of the jungle gym. Although that fear was real, the stakes are not very high in freeze tag. Okay, so someone freezes you in place. Then a team member comes and unfreezes you. Maybe you are frozen again. But eventually, the recess bell rings and you go back into the classroom, you go on about your day. But in life, running around without a sense of when we might be caught—by fear, by grief, by illness, by loneliness, by scarcity—the stakes are much higher. So, it feels all the more important that we have people we feel connected to. Family can be a sort of home base. A place to rest even when resting does not mean relief. A place where we are deeply known and accepted. A place where we can gain strength to launch back out into the uncertainty of life.

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the dictionary project author interview: brent hendricks

Photo by Kate Bernheimer

Photo by Kate Bernheimer


I read Brent Hendricks memoir A Long Day At the End of the World on an airplane ride, flying from the desert where I live to the swamp where I was born. And this liminal space was a fitting and somewhat eery space for musings on death and life; on the disintegration of expectations, relationships, bodies; on the apocalypse. My friend and writer Frankie Rollins once talked about how driven we are as humans to stories and to story our existence. “Look at all the post-apocalyptic novels and films,” she said. “We can’t even imagine the ending without more story.” And when we are through with these stories, we return to ones of creation. The big questions like that of our own mortality, as individuals and as a collective, jar us into story-making. I think what I appreciate most about Brent’s book is its meditative quality, returning and returning to unanswerable questions and events to try to make sense of them, to hold them to the light in an attempt at understanding. Please enjoy his interview below.



1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


At some point in college, I think after reading Walker Percy’s The Moviegoier, I decided I’d look up every word I came across that I didn’t know. This meant lugging around a dictionary in my book bag or paging through one of those giant dictionaries propped up at the library in the old days. After a while, because it took some commitment, there was a degree of ritual to the gesture and the dictionary became a kind of sacred text for me. A monkish act, in the only way I knew how.



2. What is your current favorite word?

Dark, because it feels so ancient and old-school Anglo-Saxon. You know there’s that Auden poem, “The Wanderer,” where he explicitly employs pre-Norman invasion words to create that weird (as in “fated”) Dark Age effect: “Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle.” Doom’s a pretty good one, too, come to think of it.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Dingle, of course, because if not connected to “sea-dingle” I automatically think of dingleberry. I doubt I’m alone in this irritation. The compound word is an Americanism that, in single conflation, reveals the essential difference between the two cultures.



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?


Well, “berry” was one of then. Remember that terrific Robert Hass poem, “Meditation at Lagunitas,” ending with “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry”? “Berry” is also of Old English derivation and, at the risk of revealing too much, I’d have to say I used to love eating blueberries and blackberries. However, those innocent days are all but past due to the above corruption.



5. I have been reading your new book A Long Day at the End of the World: A Story of Desecration and Revelation in the Deep South. I remember talking to you about this book at a party at the side of a pool a few years ago when it was still in draft form and many of questions and ideas you expressed then reverberate through the book now: particularly the “whys” of death and life and our attempts as humans to reconcile our own deaths and the life and death of our world. I think we all have stories from our lives we need to write our way into and out of. What was at the root of your need to write this particular story?


Money, first, which I wanted more of. And second, fame, which I also callously desired. I’m really much more famous than I used to be. Third, though obviously an ancillary cause, I truly felt the gothic nature of the Tri-State Crematory Incident — the largest mass desecration in modern American history — deserved some storyline expansion, particularly as my father’s body was one of those left abandoned at the crematory site for five long years. There were bodies piled up in pits, bodies stuffed into metal vaults, bodies scattered through thick brush of a North Georgia crematory — blackly fantastic, all of it. And fourth, less overtly significant than the first three, I was demonically captured by Giorgio Agamben’s take on Walter Benjamin’s take on Saint Paul’s take on messianic time, or “now-time,” or “the time of the now.” My thralldom, if that’s what you call it, led me to believe I could project, contemporaneously, many different histories unto the present. That I could bring past events forward onto the page.  It’s a method really, a dark one, forcing me to cast onto my otherwise expiatory road trip (a terrific and rarely used narrative device) such unrelated and “shoehorned” events as the conquistador Hernando de Soto’s rampage through the South, the civil war and civil rights, environmental degradation and its consequences, the Book of Revelation, and some other botanical stuff about flowers. The causes, then, are many, involving most of the deadly sins and my own demonic possession.  It’s really quite disturbing.



6. Could you define “desecration” and “revelation”?


In ancient Greek, the original language of the New Testament, “apocalypse” means “revelation.” In this context, for me at least, a revelation reaches far beyond the realm of personal insight so as to suffuse a moment of “now time” with the fullest of  possibility, while intimating, in relation to the horizon of that moment, some inevitable end-point. Usually happens if I have a second cup of coffee.


Desecration is just everything else — all the non-illuminating instances that exist outside the glow of that second cup of coffee.



7. Please respond to the following words* and definitions, picked exclusively at random for you:



hole  (hōl),  n.  [ME.; AS. hol.  orig. neut. Of holh, adj. hollow; hence akin to G. hohl, hollow; IE. base *qaul-, *qul-, hollow, hollowed thing, as also in L. caulis, stalk, cabbage (cf. COLE, CAULIFLOWER],  1.  a hollow or hollowed-out place; cavity; specifically a) an excavation; pit: as, he dug a hole in the ground.  b)  a small bay or inlet; cove: often in place names. c) a poor or deep, relatively wide place in a stream: as, a swimming hole. d) an animal’s burrow or lair; den; hence  2.  a small dingy, squalid place; any dirty, badly lighted room, house, etc.  3.  a prison cell. 4. a) an opening in or through anything; break; gap; as, a hole in the wall.  b)  a tear or rent, as in a garment.  5.  a flaw; fault; blemish; defect: as, we found holes in his argument.  6.  [Colloq.], an embarrassing situation or position; predicament.  7.  in golf, a) a small, round hollow palce into which the ball is to be hit.  b) the tee, fairway, greens, etc. leading ot this: as, 18 holes of golf.  v.t.  [HOLED (  ), HOLING],  1.  to make a hole or holes in.  2.  to put, hit, or drive into a hole.  3. to create by making a hole: as, they holed a tunnel through the mountain.


Following the medieval practice of sortes biblicae — in which a person with a question randomly opens the Bible to seek God’s answer — I’ll do my best to seek guidance in these similarly plucked words. I’ll therefore use these offerings to assist with my primary existential question: Should I actually dig a hole in the backyard and climb in it? I wonder about this a lot. I am not kidding.



ha·bit  (ˈhabit),  n.  [ME.; OFr.; L. habitus, condition, appearance, dress; pp. of habere, to have, hold], 1.  costume; dress.  2.  a particular costume showing rank, status, etc.; specifically, a)  a distinctive religious costume; as, a monk’s habit.  b)  a costume worn for certain occasions: as, a woman’s riding habit.  3.  habitual or characteristic condition of mind or body; disposition; as, a man of healthy habit.  4.  a thing done often and hence, usually, done easily; practice, custom, act that is acquired and has become automatic; hence, 5. a tendency to perform a certain action or behave in a certain way; usual way of doing: as, he does it out of habit.  6.  an addiction: as, the alcohol habit.  7.  in biology, the tendency of a plant or animal to grow in a certain way; characteristic growth; as, a twining habit.  v.t.  1. to put a habit on; dress; clothe.  2.  [Archaic], to inhabit.


Okay, so I will dig a hole in my backyard and climb in it — because, over time and with practice, the act might be “done easily” and even lead to a certain “tendency” in the ground, “as, a twining habit.” This “twining” sounds like something pretty revelatory, too, as long at can still happen to an animate object.



ten·der·foot (ˈtendərˌfo͝ot),  n.  1.  a person who tends, or has charge of, something.  2.  a small ship for supplying a large one.  3.  a boat for carrying passengers, etc. to or from a large ship close to shore.  4.  a railroad car carrying coal and water for a steam locomotive, to the rear of which it is attached.


Okay, now I’m totally confused as to the dictionary god’s will, because I thought a tenderfoot was a “novice” or “greenhorn.” Is God (or the dictionary god) telling me that I’m a greenhorn at interpreting signs and divine wishes. Are the heavens mad at me? I guess I’ll just stand out in the backyard for a while, shovel in hand, and try to think it all through.



Jute  (jo͞ot), n.  [AS, Iote, Yte: L. Iuta], a member of any of several Germanic tribes that lived long ago in Jutland: Jutes invading southeastern England in the 5th century A.D. spearheaded the Anglo-Saxon conquest.


Okay, back on track, right? Angles, Saxons, and Jutes — in naming the third Germanic peoples who originally invaded England and so helped to create all those Old English words in the first place, I think we have a winner. I should definitely dig that hole and lie in it. That’s exactly what a Jute would do.



Philemon  (fəˈlēmən), [L.; Gr. Philemon, lit., affectionate], a masculine name.  n.  1.  the Epistle to Philemon, a book in the New Testament which was a message from the Apostle Paul to his convert Philemon: abbreviated Phil.  2.  in Greek mythology, an old man who, with his wife, Baucis, shared what little he had with the disguised Zeus and Hermes.


Wait a second. What is Saint Paul (by way of the dictionary god) trying to tell me here … that I should free the slaves within me? Maybe he’s saying it doesn’t matter what I do. Dig or not dig. Lie or not lie. According to Paul — am I being directed to this? — the messianic vocation is to seek the revocation of every vocation (1 Cor 7:29-32) (Agamben, The Time That Remains), with my vocation being to wonder continually about my particular existential question. Forget about it, Paul seems to be saying. Remember there’s not much time left, which may or may not be self-evident, and which may or may not necessitate climbing in a hole. After all, and like always, there’s only the time that remains. 






Brent Hendricks is the author of A Long Day at the End of the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013).


*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955


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Photo by Francesca Woodman

Photo by Francesca Woodman



Well, here we are at the conclusion of a wonderful na·po·mo at the dictionary project! I’m grateful that poetry gets its own month and also grateful that we can continue to read and support poets, to write and share our own poetry all year. I want to thank all of our wonderful poets for the work they have written and shared with us and special thanks goes to our last poet, Danielle Vogel. 

And in the first time in the history of this literary community, a word was bibliomanced for the second time. I guess this is appropriate because it is a word we probably all need to be reminded of from time to time. The word is surrender. Those of you who have been regular followers of the dictionary project will remember that I first wrote about surrender in the fall in relationship to an Amy Goodman reading I attended. I am delighted to share with you Danielle’s gorgeous and evocative take on the word. Thanks go to Danielle for providing the image as well.

And thanks to you, today and always, for reading and being part of this process.


sur·ren·der (səˈrendər)v.t. [OFr. surrendre: sur-, upon, up + rendre, to render], 1.  to give up possession of or power over; yild to another on demand or compulsion.  2.  to give up claim to; give over or yield, especially voluntarily, as in favor of another.  3.  to give up or abandon; as, we surrendered all hope.  4.  to yield or resign (oneself) to an emotion, influence, etc.  5.  [Obs.], to give back or in return.  v.i.  to give oneself up to yield.  n.  [Anglo-Fr.  < OFr.  surrendre (see the v.); inf. used as n.],  1.  the act of surrendering, yielding, or giving up.  2.  in insurance, the voluntary abandonment of a policty by an insured person in return for a cash payment (surrender value), thus freeing the company of liability.
SYN.–surrender commonly implies the giving up of something completely after striving to keep it (to surrender a fort, one’s freedom, etc.); relinquish is the general word implying an abandoning, giving up, or letting go of something held (to relinquish one’s grasp, a claim, etc.); to yield is to concede or give way under pressure (to yield one’s consent); to submit is to give in to authority or superior force (to submit to a conqueror); resign implies a voluntary, formal relinquishment and, used reflexively, connotes submission or passive acceptance (to resign an office, to resign oneself to failure).




dv1 dv2 dv2again dv4



Vogel, Dictionary Project author photoDanielle Vogel’s textile scroll-works and ceramic book artifacts, which explore the ceremonial gestation of a manuscript as it is written, have been exhibited in galleries across the country. Her most recent collection, Narrative & Nest, is a cross-disciplinary study relating the construction of nests to the writing of books — both as complex sites of composition, habitation, instinct, and narrative. She is the author of Narrative & Nest (Abecedarian Gallery, 2012) and lit (Dancing Girl Press, 2008). She received her MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University, and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Denver. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she is writing toward the completion of her book Clasp, excerpted here. Her author photo was bibliomanced by Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster and reads: “a turning point which puts us face to face with the demand of the turning point.” Danielle wrote, ‘I often carry books alongside the books I am writing. I dip into them for messages the way one might visit the Tarot. One such book is Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster. While writing the middle section of Clasp, I asked Blanchot’s book to interrupt my writing practice with a message and this is what I received.”



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"What Are You Looking At?", Banksy

“What Are You Looking At?”, Banksy


Today is the last day of April and the last day of na·po·mo 2013. We have a double-decker day with one poem now and one poem later in the day. Our first poem today is by Logan Dirtyverbs. Enjoy!


sur·veil·lance,  n.  [Fr.  <  surveiller, to watch over; sur- ( < L. super), over + veiller  < L. vigilare, to watch],  1.  watch or observation kept over a person, especially one under suspicion or a prisoner.  2. supervision or inspection.



a legible surveillance disclaimer
a distinct whine in blue sky
where drones roam freely
soon drones will keep quiet
a more convenient freedom
the windchime sounds unstable
the bee conducts search flower-by-flower
a swarm of self-directing drones
an obtuse infestation of bugs
a budding nest of security cameras
the trains of thought in choreography
a gold rush of data mining geology
a twenty twenty all aerial eyesight
an officious and casual voyeurism
a vain culture easiest to surveil
a watched society most secure
social media a great diy fbi fyi
a clear evolutionary craving
knowing what others are doing
security for whom & by whom
certain cannot be used
prison regulates unemployment
war a fantastic job creator
self-surveillance smaller govt
the alibi sousveillance hobby
policing the self in private
a homegrown wet orwellian orgasm
or what do you have to hide anyway
you don’t know what you have to hide
until it has been finally found



Photo by Trish Santangelo

Photo by Trish Santangelo

logan dirtyverbs is a bilingual poet, performer and dj based in tucson, az. to see more of his work, check out: dirtyverbs.com and @dirtyverbs on twitter.

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the dictionary project author interview: andrea scher


On this fourth Wednesday of September, the dictionary project is pleased to host the musings of the inspired and inspiring Andrea Scher. I first became aware of Andrea’s creative work–among her many creative gifts, she is an amazing photographer and thoughtful writer–through her blog Superhero Journal, which has recently been transformed into the gorgeous Superhero Life. Her work is honest, compassionate, and rooted in inquiry into the big life questions we all face. Through her creativity, Andrea invites others to embrace their own artist selves. Enjoy!


by Andrea Scher


1.  Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

In college, after a long game of Balderdash over many glasses of red wine, my friends and I started asking the dictionary questions and randomly pointing to words in response.

“What should be the name of my first born child?” Drivel.

“What is the meaning of life?” Nothing.

And then, we started to get creeped out. As we passed the dictionary around, we started getting more and more accurate responses. My friend Laura, the most woo-woo in the room, asked, “Who is sending us these messages?” She got the word, magpie.

We thought this was charming, a little bird whispering in our ear. We later discovered that in Native American folklore, the magpie is the messenger between the two worlds…. I have been asking the dictionary big questions ever since.


2. What is your current favorite word?



3. What, in your opinion, is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

When people add the suffix “gasm” to other, otherwise totally harmless words.



4. What word has been your muse?




5. What word feels like coming home?


I love Yiddish words in general, but this one feels like home. I heard it for the first time in my twenties when my first-ever Jewish friend told me, “Don’t forget your schmatta!” (little sweater) Every time I hear that word or say it myself I feel like I belong to something bigger. Something bigger than religion or culture, a kind of belonging that is everyday and homespun.



6. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


Sze·chwan  (ˈsech-ˌwän; Chin. ˈsooch-ˌwän),  n.  a province of central China: area, 156,675 sq. mi.; pop., 47,108,000 (est. 1947); capital, Chengtu; chief city, Chungking.


We are Jewish and therefore spent a lot of time at Chinese restaurants on Christmas. My parents ordered the same thing every time—cashew chicken, spring rolls (extra crisp) and Mongolian beef. For many years, I didn’t know there were any other dishes. Or menus at Chinese restaurants.



da·do  (ˈdādō),  n.  [pl. DADOES (-dōz)], [It., a die, die-shaped part of pedestal, hence pedestal < L. datum, a die, lit., what is given; see DATE],  1.  part of a pedestal between the cap and the base.  2.  the lower part of the wall of a room if decorated differently from the upper part, as with panels or an ornamental order.


Dado is what my boys sometimes call my husband. Dada. Dado.



cro·chet  (krō-ˈshā),  n.  [Fr., small hook; see CROTCHET],  a kind of knitting done with one hooked needle.  v.t. & v.i.  [CROCHETED (-shād’), CROCHETING], to knit with such a  needle.


When I was about ten I became obsessed with crocheting granny squares. Trouble is I never figured out how to weave them together into a blanket, so I had just had an ever-growing collection of squares accumulating in the closet.

This is when You Tube how–to videos would have come in handy.



ground (ground),  n.  [ME. grounde, grund; AS. Grund, sea bottom, etc. (cf. GROUND SWELL); akin to G. grund; ? IE> *ghren-to, what is touched in passing over < base *gren-, to rub against, etc.; cf. GRIND],  1.  a)  originally, the lowest part, base, or bottom of anything. b)  the bottom of the sea.  2.  the solid surface of the earth.  3.  the soil of the earth; earth; land: as, he tills the ground.  4.  any particular piece of land; especially, one set aside for a specified purpose: as, a hunting ground.  5.  any particular area of reference, discussion, work, etc.; topic; subject: as, let us go over the ground again.  6.  the distance to a goal, objective, position, etc.  7.  basis; foundation; groundwork.  8.  often pl. the logical basis of a conclusion, action, etc.; valid reason, motive, or cause.  9.  the background or surface over which other parts are spread or laid, as the main surface of a painting.  10.  in electricity, the connection of an electrical conductor with the ground: abbreviated grd.  See also grounds.  adj.  1.  of, on, or near the ground.  2.  to cause (a ship, etc.) to run aground.  3.  to found on a firm basis; establish.  4.  to base (a claim, argument, etc.) on: as, ground your claims on fact.  5.  to instruct (a person) in the elements or first principles of.  6.  to provide with a background.  7.  in aviation, to cause to remain on the ground; keep from flying: as, the plane was grounded by bad weather.  8.  in electricity, to connect (an electrical conductor) with the ground, which becomes part of the circuit.  v.i.  1.  to strike or fall to the ground.  2.  to strike the bottom or run ashore: said of a ship.  3.  in baseball, to be put out on a grounder (usually with out).


I want to be grounded. I want people to say, “She’s so grounded. I just love being with her.” Instead I am more inclined toward anxious. High strung. Vigilant. I rush to yoga. I shuttle my kids along the sidewalk quickly, for no good reason. I have to remind myself to slow down.

I get panic attacks. They crop up mysteriously at times– looking at Google maps, changing a diaper – then, post-attack, I am in for another week of anxiety. Always trying to catch my breath, afraid I’m not getting enough air. Various shades of these symptoms have plagued me for most of my adult life.

But I want to be grounded. Actually no, as I write this, I see that it’s not even grounded that I’m after. It’s light. It’s light-hearted. It’s caring a bit less. It’s trusting a bit more. It’s holding it all more lightly.



sal·ta·tion  (sal-ˈtā-shən, sȯl-),  n.  [L. saltatio, a dancing, dance < saltatus, pp. of saltare, to leap],  1.  a leaping, jumping, or dancing.  2.  sudden change, movement, or development, as if by leaping.  3.  palpitation or throbbing, as of an artery.  4.  in biology, mutation.


I have an enormous collection of jumping photos. Somehow, having my subject suspended in mid-air always has a certain magical quality — an air of celebration, of appreciating life, and aliveness. These are things that can feel hard to attain sometimes, but I am always reaching for them. These photos help.


Andrea Scher, photo by Jen Downer



Andrea Scher is an artist, photographer, and life coach. Through her award-winning blog Superhero Journal and e-courses, Mondo Beyondo, Superhero Photo and Cultivating Courage, Andrea will inspire you to find your passions, dream big and say YES to the life you’ve always wanted.

Andrea is also a supermom (no capes, just courage) to two adorable boys named Ben and Nico. She is the co-author of a wonderful book called Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters Guide to Shooting from the Heart.

*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, copyright 1955.


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