1. AOTW--A frightening one this week. At the coffee shop. A father with two young daughters (3-ish? 4-ish?). It starts to snow, lightly. The younger girl runs outside and begins dancing around on the sidewalk, trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue. She is only a few feet away from moving traffic--to which she pays absolutely no attention. Which is about what her father pays to her. Sometimes, his back is turned. Other times he looks outside, to check. If something happened--oh, say, if she ran into the street for a snowflake--he would have no chance of stopping her. Fortunately, nothing happens. She tires. Comes back inside. Alive.
2. I managed to finish two books this week.
* This week Colson Whitehead won the National Book Award for Fiction with his novel The Underground Railroad (which, as I've posted here, features an actual URR!). I enjoyed that book (as I posted here not all that long ago), and I realized I'd not read his previous novel, Zone One, a post-apocalyptic novel about the Walking Dead (characters in the novel call them "skels"). Our main character, called "Mark Spitz" by his teammates (because he can't swim--irony/sarcasm remain on earth!), is part of a team of "sweepers," whose job it is to work on Zone One (part of New York City), cleaning up the skels still remaining after the military has been through doing most of the slaughter. Time is fluid in the novel--flowing here, flowing there, flowing forward, reversing course--but Whitehead makes it all seem natural--which, of course, it is. (Keep track of your own thoughts for, oh, twenty minutes: see what happens.) The novel veers DARK near the end, but I will not ruin your experience by telling you that Mark Spitz faces, near the end, ...
Whitehead is a talent--fiction, nonfiction, memoir, whatever.
* I also finished what I think is one of the best books--if not the best book--about Emily Dickinson I've ever read (and I've read quite a few). Some years ago, Jerome Charyn, known principally as a novelist, wrote a novel about Dickinson, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, 2010, a novel I enjoyed quite a bit.
Anyway, as Charyn says in his Author's Note to his new book, A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century (2016), "I couldn't let go" (7). He became obsessed--reading everything, going everywhere, interviewing all sorts of folks, thinking about her in what I think are fresh and original ways.
To say that he is a fan of her poetry is an understatement. The book is chockablock with praise for her--and with wonder, even astonishment. He goes after what he calls "the myth of the reclusive" and looks closely at her dazzling use of language. Necessarily, Charyn includes more than a bit of biography (it's all connected), but his focus is on her words, on her "building her own labyrinth, with the finest silken cords" (194).
3. Friday night, we went to Kent to see Arrival, the latest aliens-are-here film, this one with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as, respectively, a world-class linguist, a world-class physicist. This casting, I fear, required much willing suspension of disbelief on our part, but I liked the premise--that language is what defines us--and our world and even time itself. Adams works to decode/translate the aliens' visual language before, you know, the H-bombs and missiles start flying. An okay film--but very predictable in some ways. (Link to trailer for the film.)
4. This week I was memorizing "The Gettysburg Address," the 191st literary passage to go into the storage vaults of my mind. I'm not quite there--but close. (After looking at Garry Wills' fine book on the speech--Lincoln at Gettysburg, 1992--I had to change some words: I'm trying to learn the text he actually delivered, a text that remains debatable--but Wills includes what he thinks is the closest).
Years ago, in a show I directed at Harmon Middle School, we included a skit that (if I remember correctly) involving a kid running for student council. At the assembly he delivers this "Address," which he had actually memorized some years before. I do remember this: The audience loved it!
As for memorizing ... I'm trying to reach #200 by New Year's, at which time I will take a break for a bit, then, probably, start heading off in the direction of 300 ... what else is there to do?
5. Some last words: words I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers ...
* from dictionary.com (with a Jack London connection!)
pleonasm \PLEE-uh-naz-uh m\ noun
1. the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy.
2. an instance of this, as free gift or true fact.
As the standard of mentality has risen, just so has the dictum of man gone forth that he must and will do his own thinking. He no longer wishes to have the thought iterated and reiterated and hammered in upon him again and again. Pleonasm is repellent to him.
-- Jack London, "Phenomena of Literary Evolution," The Bookman, Volume XII, September 1900–February 1901
Origin of pleonasm
Pleonasm stems from the Late Latin noun pleonasmus, from the Greek pleonasmós "superabundance, excess," in rhetoric "pleonasm," from the Greek adjective pleíōn meaning "more." It entered English in the early 1600s.
coulrophobia (kool-ruh-FOH-bee-uh) noun
The fear of clowns.
From Greek kolobatheron (stilt) + -phobia (fear). Earliest documented use: 1980s.
“They all share my coulrophobia with Congressional clowns and presidential hopefuls.”
Fred Pfisterer; Which Came First, Clowns or the Politicians?; The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia); Mar 6, 2016.
adjective: Clumsy with both hands.
Modeled after ambidextrous (able to use both hands with equal ease), from Latin ambi- (both) + sinister (left). Earliest documented use: 1863.
An ambisinistrous person has two left hands, literally speaking. You’d think it would be rare for such an uncommon word to have a perfect synonym, but there is one: ambilevous, from Latin laevus (left). A similar express is “to have two left feet” (to be clumsy, especially while dancing).
“When Palinuro accused him of being ambidextrous, he protested he was actually ambisinistrous which was more or less the same thing, but not quite, and went back to peeling his second orange.”
Fernando Del Paso, Elisabeth Plaister (translator); Palinuro of Mexico; Dalkey Archive Press; 1996.