Post #78: The Treasure Map

FullSizeRenderSo real  so beautiful  so rightly royal!  There they are, snugly enrobed in a peacocks array of colors:   apricot, cerulean, deepest mauve.  Run your hands over the nubbled cloth, tingle to the strong backbone of the spine, caress the rough edges of the  pages with the tips of your fingers.  Ah! Are you ready?  Hold them in your hands, they are mine but please oh please oh please make them yours.   Deep breath!  Time to turn the pages….

***

The Nutshell Library  by Maurice Sendak

All dressed up and a visit to the Hudson’s Department Store bookstore.  A whole stack of them pyramided  to the sky!  One little box plucked from the top. And tucked inside?

Alligators All Around

Pierre

One Was Johnny

Chicken Soup With Rice

Four small books for one small person? There they were, tightly packed into a case all their own.  The drawings dance across the pages, the words fly! 

In March the wind blows down the door,

and knocks my soup upon the floor,

Blowing once,

Blowing twice,

Blowing, chicken soup with rice.

from Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

I can hold them in my hands but my eyes fly across the pages my heart soars!

I can read.

***

The Quarreling Book by Charlotte Zolotow

“No fighting, no biting”, said Else Homelund Minerick, but shamefacedly my sisters and I did both. Bad moods were as contagious as flu, traveling  sneeze to sneeze. But in The Quarreling Book the bounce back of joy could spread just as fast! I was learning.

***

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

I have never been the same after reading this book.  I have never forgotten it.  But that, of course, was exactly the point.

***

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

A cold rainy day in my messy, book-crammed room.  I am sixteen—pretentious, insecure, intellectually snobbish and oh so full of myself. Oh a whim I pluck the book from my shelf. It’s been there ponderous and unread for years. But I turn the page and a world I didn’t know I needed, one of warmth, of gentleness, of friendship,  of kindness, blossoms before me. I thaw. It remains for me forever and always open book.

***

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher

Can you savor? Can you revel? Can you see? Can you feel? 

To truly tell a story one doesn’t necessarily have to turn oneself inside out.  Can you delicately stir acute awareness with experience?  In other words, to taste.

***

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

A chance to see the world as it was through the kaleidoscope of decades past.  The Swan, The Time Machine, Statues! Is it possible that in  remembering ourselves we create ourselves anew.?

***

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What kind of inner lives simmer and boil beneath the surface of each of us?  And if none of us are who we appear to be, how can we connect with each other?  Or can we?

***

Northern Farm by Henry Boston

See and sense the world around you.  Find joy in the simple pleasures. Choose your words with the precision of Vermeer, let the rhythms of life flow like a Mozart concerto.   More than anything, live and appreciate the sheer beauty of the world around us.

***

These are a few of my best beloved books.   With care I  move from one to the other to discover the treasure map of my whole life, of who I am and why I am.  Each book, each dot on my map stays with me always, deepening and mellowing with the patina of time.

Come and read!

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Post #77: Shall We Play?

IMG_0003Shall we play?  Say each of the following words slowly, allowing the sounds to tumble over your tongue.  Each will then  slowly dissolve in  your mouth beginning with the sharp tang of a lemon drop, melting down into a mellow sweetness.

You can do it!

fizmer

zwer

snitter

tripple

clumst

apricity

mungle-bungle

whanged

tussock

gormless

nictictating

spicules

adamantine

sibilant

sensorium

asmother

glancous

Well really. Don’t you love the tingle of a tripple on your tongue?  Can you stretch and twist to mungle-bungle?   Grind your teeth to snitter? Hold yourself close to clumst?

Want to trade a glancous for a swer?  Cozy up to apricity? Twitch to nicictating?  You’re on!

Bundle them all into an warm afghan. Knit them into sentences.  Pick and pluck them from the branches of knowledge, take a tentative bite then have your mouth filled with the most extraordinary sweetness!

mumpsimus

nugacity

Canorous

superbious

argle-bargle

paludal

wowser

Each voluptuous word, softened by a dip into afternoon tea, is allowed to casually wend its way into casual conversation, flutter into debate, soar into rhetoric!

So I’ll slap down a fugacious! You whack out a razzia!  I’ll parry with a snollygoster!  You lunge with a wabbit!

My collection of words hangs on the clothesline for all to see and hear, to roll in the wind, buffet and snap in the breeze.  Sometimes a bit wrinkled. Occasionally starched.  But meant to be proudly used and cared for, never ever just simply hung out to dry.

I am the rucksacked etymological  lepidopterist in search of The Great Spangled Fritillary, The Grizzled Skipper, The Silver-Studded Blue.  A glutton who cannot bear to leave the never-ending banquet.  The sweet taste of zenith, the sour of cacoethes, the lingering finish of a paraph! 

I want them all. But like love itself each word is incomplete unless it is shared, lofted to the sky and smartly served across the tightly pulled net. Back and forth and back and forth.   Oh the joy of a great volley!

These sought after gems are cared for and remembered by me,  jotted down on little index cards. Shuffle them, read them, consider them again and again.  Sometimes flipped into the air in a raucous game of 52 pick up.

They flit and float through my mind, they sing in my ear. Sometimes they even flow through my pen and make my fingers dance on the keyboard.

The most beautiful sounds are not a whisper, not a murmer, not a shout not a cry.  But a conversation peppered and pinged full of rhythmic and rollicking and simply exquisite words.

Talk and write and listen.

A SLOW, VISCOUS SIP

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I can feel them rolling slowly over my tongue like the first slow, viscous sips of The Famous Grouse. (Katharine Hepburn’s favorite tipple.) A pause and then they melt away to a pleasant tingle.

Some caress with the warmth of a beloved companion. Others pelt with the rata tat insistence of a torrent of hail. Either way, I greedily gather them up and hold them close. I want them. Knitted together like a riotous, crazy quilt that’s remade again and again.

Treated honorably and placed with care a single one can remake the world.

They are all mine. My gems, my jewels my Kingdom. But I have been known to share. Some of us do. Everyone should, albeit carefully. Handle lovingly and with care. They are so very powerful.

I know you know what I’m talking about. . A marvelous jumble, a never-ending torrent, a luxuriant cascade of what is arguably our most valuable commodity. Fill your head and your heart and your soul with them.

Words.

They don’t have to be fancy. They just have to be the right ones at the right time.

They deserve to be used for the right reasons: to reach out, to connect, to communicate.

If they are used to obfuscate, then at least let the message behind the mask be honest and kind. Some of us have our reasons.

Long ago at school we memorized list after list of them. Daunting for sure but we were not being handed an arsenal with which to go forth into battle. Instead we were being given the keys to an overflowing treasure chest to constantly draw from and replenish for always.

“Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.”

They are my joy and my path to everything: my understanding of the world, my loves, and my whole life.

There is no greater honor than finding the right one at the right time for the right person.

They are there for the taking and they are there for all of us. They are meant to be savored and they are meant to be used

wisely.

***

Note: This post is dedicated with the greatest humility and deepest thanks to the great La Rouchefoucauld, author of MAXIMS. He spoke volumes with mere handfuls of words.

A BETTER DAY TOMORROW

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I hate the word but truly that’s what I am. At least about this. And since this essay is about words, let’s just do it, shall we? Just say it.

I’m a really awful prig. Thankfully not about everything. Really, I can even sit through most R rated movies like a big girl with hardly a raised eyebrow, good for me. But I am prig nonetheless. I am a word prig.

I’m not actually one of those tightly-wound grammarians self-righteously correcting complete strangers when they trip up on their tenses. My use of proper grammar, while decent, is what I would consider a work in progress.

But I am a lover of words. I love how they sound when spoken honestly and with conviction. I love the voices in my head when I read, which can sound like everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Ella Fitzgerald to my mother, depending on what I’m reading. I love using them, choosing just the right one with the elegance and panache of Audrey Hepburn knotting a scarf around her neck. I love how certain words have a caress, others a rumble, and still more a resonance.

And like many lovers of words I am actually not a big talker. I think this is because choosing the right words takes time. Choosing the right word can be like trying to find just the right perfectly-shaped leaf on a windy fall day.

I’m a prig too, because I hate swearing, but not because I think swearing is a bad thing. People get mad, they have a right to get mad and they certainly have a right to express it. But that’s where things have gotten sticky. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s call a word a word.

When I was a little kid at summer camp we loved to swear, we lived to swear. We could find a way to squeeze swear words into the most innocuous sentences imaginable. !@#$% pancakes for breakfast again? Is it !@#$% sunny today? Want to play !@##$% jacks with me? Over and over and over. Just saying things we weren’t supposed to say felt fantastic. Empowering. Pleasantly bad.

Everyone was doing it so everyone did. And then we stopped. We did not stop because we were evolving into polite little humans. We stopped because by the time we returned home the swear words had lost their fangs. Say @##$% enough times and it’s boring, it just loses it’s power to shock. There were so many more creative and interesting ways of doing that.

Constant swearing is like starting in a bag of stale jelly beans. They’re awful, they’re unsatisfying but you keep plowing through feeling that if you keep going you’ll be sated. Never works. You’re just left with an empty bag and a sickly-sweet coating in your mouth.

That obviously wasn’t the taste I wanted on my tongue when I had little kids at home. Or on my lips with the children I work with at school. But there was still the fear of knee-jerk swearing in front of them. And so I worked up some milder alternatives, training myself so these would be the first words I’d grab for in tense moments: “Phooey” “Dang” “Crumb” and so on. Said with appropriate fury or conviction, as is the case, they usually work just fine.

This is true except when I’m almost hit by some self-absorbed woman in an SUV, careening haphazardly out of the local gourmet store, with a latte in one hand, a cell phone in the other. I am totally off the wagon here, so to speak, and fling swear words out like useless cannon fodder. But it’s utterly frustrating. The swear words I’m spitting aren’t ugly so much as impotent. No matter the awful words I’m saying, I am not actually saying what I want to say. Not getting the reaction I want to get. That’s the worst. No wonder swearing matches so often escalate to chaos like teetery tower of Jenga.

Using exactly the right words, quietly and with dignity, can truly quash complete fury though. I’ve seen it.

Ages ago when I lived in Brooklyn I was heading into the subway station during rush hour. A woman was standing at the token booth, furiously screaming every vicious epithet imaginable at the clerk. It wasn’t clear what sparked her anger but she was completely letting loose. When she paused for breath the token clerk said calmly, “I’m sorry, madam. I hope you have a better day tomorrow.” End of conversation. Game, set, match.

We all yearn to be understood. I don’t want to carelessly use words as mindless weapons. If I do, then how is anyone going to truly believe me when I say that I care or that I love them?