Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Milestone

I like firsts. The first time I felt a Florida summer rain, I couldn't believe it: warm rain. I hadn't known that was possible. My first kiss was actually three kisses and I remember pointing out the exact placement of each one to my best friend. Lips, yes, they were all on my lips, but one was off to the side, see? It seemed important to note that.

The thing about a first is that you remember it, but you don't remember a last, since you don't really know when that is. I mean, my life isn't over yet, so I don't know if my first trip to Africa, for instance, was also my last. See?

Well, I had a first today, and if I weren't such an exhibitionist, as demonstrated by blogging, I'd say I was embarrassed by it.

I'm copyediting a woman's third novel and we're using hard copy. I've set myself up at a pretty table. I've got the Chicago Manual of Style and the dictionary. I have pens in three colors. I have coffee and water and a scratch pad. I'm ready for action.

Well, I've never been certain of the spelling of Manhattan. I really think there should be an e in there somewhere, probably at the end. Manhattan came up in the manuscript so I pushed out my chair and stood up. I went over to my computer and typed Manhatten into the Search line. It turns out that all the vowels are a's. Okay. Good. It's conceivable I'll remember that for the rest of my life. Finally.

Great, but did you notice that I actually left my workstation to go check it online instead of picking up the dictionary that was at my elbow?

Yeah. Wow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Collector

The car in front of me at the ATM had a bumper sticker: I COLLECT MATCHBOOKS! That's infinitely better than I SELL MARY KAY COSMETICS (too commercial) or MY CHILD IS CITIZEN OF THE MONTH (too boring) or McCAIN/PALIN (too damn bad).

Still, I can't even imagine where our matchbook-collecting friend bought such a bumper sticker. Do you suppose there's a matchbook collectors' association? Do they have monthly meetings and yearly conventions in Miami -- or Buffalo? What do they even talk about? Well, perhaps they trade them like baseball cards. In fact, before I step over a line here, let it be confessed that I, in fact, used to collect matchbooks, too. True, it was during my misspent youth, and they mainly came from various dirtball bars and diners in Western New York, and I often stole from my own collection when my lighter ran out of fluid, but still, it was a collection. Well, and it's also true that there was no organization to the things. I suppose the true collector has custom-made racks for displaying his or her goods. Maybe some are so precious -- from Czechoslovakia, say, before it became the Czech Republic -- that they're kept in velvet-lined boxes, safe from damaging light and the dull gazes of the ignorant.

Most of the matchbook collections I've seen are displayed in a tasteful jumble inside a dusty, over-sized brandy snifter. There's usually a stolen beer sign blinking erratically on the wall.

My new neighbor collects key chains. Now, that's not a bad collection target. Most of them are free, and once people know you're collecting, they'll give you all the key chains you can stand. What would insurance companies do without key chains with their logos and phone numbers? I've been to a couple artcar shows that give swag bags to participants. The bags are always full of key chains. Well, and baby-doll heads, too, but that's another story.

My neighbor has strung her four-hundred-plus key chains along the top of her living room walls, sort of like Christmas tinsel. She has placed a special marker at every hundred chains so she never has to count them again. The collection is twenty years old. She's only thirty-four. She's got three miniature Etch-A-Sketches which, in my tight little World of Collections, would be illegal. Duplicates aren't fair.

Besides way too many pieces of paper and unwashed dishes, I only collect blue-and-white teacups. And saucers. In another era, I wouldn't have had to say "and saucers." I had a group of women over once and, with a gesture sweeping enough for any duchess, showed them my custom-made teacup (and saucer) rack and invited them to choose their favorite for the coffee I was serving. One woman chose the cup, but not the saucer. I suppose she thought it was just a short, round mug, and what the heck, that's pretty much what it is.

I've broken many of the teacups over the years both because of the aforementioned misspent youth and because of happenstance. For a while, I made it a point of honor that I never bought my own teacups. I wanted them to be gifts and souvenirs from friends and family. But every now and then, I'm in a shop and I see a cup that I simply must have, so I have it.

The trouble with a collection, though, is that it automatically makes me a Collector, and I'm pretty sure Collectors have to know something about the items they're collecting. I know only as much as is printed on the bottom of the saucer. I have one teacup that was made in "Occupied Japan." My heart stopped when I first read that. The cup was so beautiful, but the wording screamed atom bomb! death! destruction! humiliation! remorse! Well, maybe those last two are just my own. I remember thinking it seemed so petty and nasty to make the Japanese put those words on their goods. They'd already lost, for pete's sake. Why rub it in?

Here's some irony: I only drink coffee out of my teacups. And I drink my tea out of coffee mugs.

At least my collection is practical. I use the teacups and saucers every single day. But what about the impractical collections? What happens when you're truly sick of your teddy bear collection, yet people keep giving you teddy bears because, really, losing interest in a hobby is not generally signaled with announcements and fanfare? What happens, in fact, to sentences that start out as questions and yet sort of meander off into statements so that the question mark at the end seems ridiculous?

Oh. I see.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dan, Dan, Dan (Head Sadly Shaking)

I subscribe to Merriam-Webster's online Word of the Day. It's also the hard-copy dictionary I use. Today's word is irenic which means operating toward peace. Fine. But what really caught my eye was the spelled-out pronunciation: eye-REN-ik.

Hmm ... I've never seen that kind of spelling in a dictionary before. I snatched up the book and looked it up: i-'re-nik with a horizontal mark above the first i, making it a long i, which, if Mister Google would provide a wider selection of accent marks, I wouldn't have to explain.

I don't know if the online pronunciation is done "phonetically." I'm not certain of that term, but whatever it's called, I wonder why it's not presented the same way both in the dictionary and on the line. My first thought was that they're dumbing it down for online use, but that's just fear and snobbery talking. You can actually listen to a very formal fellow speaking the Word of the Day like the narrator in film strips from the fifties, so, really, the online user isn't dependent upon the written clues to pronunciation.

Then I thought maybe they just didn't want to repeat the pronunciation key online. It's on every page of the real dictionary. Space is no object, though. Well, somebody knows why it's done this way. I'm just not the one.

There's also a Did You Know? section on the online version. I really object to this title. That's for grade school, isn't it? for barely important side-facts? Did You Know ... that the world is round? It's just too cute for the serious yet exciting history of a word. In fact, today I learned that irenic comes from Greek mythology, from the goddess of peace, Eirene. That's where our old-fashioned woman's name Irene comes from, too, and "Goodnight, Irene," was the top song in my birth year, 1950.

What more do we need to know?

Here's the Book Report:
  • Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler. I couldn't tell if I'm too depressed to feel or if the writing just doesn't move me, but there were scenes that should have been powerful, but weren't. I think this was her first novel, though, and I'm currently reading a more recent one from this Southern writer. I described one scene to Mike last night and he said, "Don't you read any happy books?"
  • The Host by Stephenie Meyer. The six hundred and nineteen pages flew by. I kept reading long past bedtime, long after my eyes were begging for moisture. She's very good at all degrees of suspense, from real Don't open that door! scenes to simple eagerness for more. I don't know that I'd read her work twice, but reading it once is sheer enjoyment. I'm smiling now, just thinking of it.
  • Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. Read it. She's good.
  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe & other stories by Carson McCullers. I liked the title story best, although it was really sad (!). Damn Rebels!
  • The End of Overeating: taking control of the insatiable American appetite by David Kessler, M.D. I fear this is fiction after all. Still, I got some good information out of it. Because it's non-fiction, it took me a long time to read it.

He said a whole lot of interesting things in that book, and here's one of them. Our culture has devolved to the point where it's pretty much okay to eat any old time at all. When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to just eat when we wanted to. There were specific, regular mealtimes. I only remember gum as snacks. He said that European business meetings don't have the bagel tray and lattes.

Yikes. And look at movie theaters. True, I've not been in one in years, but when I was a girl (admittedly a frighteningly long time ago), there were popcorn and Milk Duds. That was true even fifteen, twenty years ago. There weren't hot dogs and nachos dripping with melted processed cheese spread, which actually comes pre-melted.

A couple weeks ago, Mike and I agreed that desserts in restaurants are always disappointing. The more layered they are, the bigger they are, the more disappointing they are, even though the photos and descriptions are so very enticing. Well, but then he made the exception of that Vienna Sumpin' Sumpin' Pie he always gets at Good Times -- ice cream with strawberries in a sinful sauce, on a crusty pastry of almonds. And I made the exception of the cinnamon roll at Panera (which is as big as your face -- yes, yours) and the Apple Strudel at Good Times.

So I suppose if I wrote Kessler's book, it would be something like The End of Overeating: except for things with cinnamon; well, and pizza; ooh! and vermicelli! by Barbara Nicolazzo, 2X.