Monday, December 31, 2012

Pridian (j)

111.  Eleventy, for all the hobbits out there.  The last word for 2012 is...


Pridian is an adjective meaning "of or relating to a previous day or yesterday." In this case, it will so be yesteryear.  Good-bye 2012.  May 2013 spur us on to great things! 

Hermetic (j)

Day 110 of Adventures in Logophilia.


Hermetic means "airtight", difficult or impossible for one of ordinary knowledge to comprehend, and "resistant to outside forces."  In other words, like a hermit.  

Does this sound familiar to you, fellow writers?  When in the midst of crafting our respective universes, whether we're in a quiet space or a noisy high-traffic area, we are shutting ourselves off from the world in order to properly interact with new inner worlds.  There will be minor instances of leakage (more inwards than outwards), but for the most part, these worlds are self contained until they're ready to be released.  Like an egg hatching or a can opening.

This puts me in mind of Schrodinger's cat, a quantam mechanics gedankenexperiment (thought experiment) of the 1930s.  Put a cat in a sealed box with a radioactive atom and a poison.  Is the cat alive or dead?  The thought is that the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened and the cat is actually observed - the mechanism being tripped and the cat dead.  This was not a serious experiment, by the way.  It was never meant to be carried out, but was rather a discussion point Dr. Schrodinger had with his intellectual contemporaries on quantam physics, Einstein being one of them.  From a creative standpoint, we as writers are a bit like Schrodinger's poor (albeit metaphorical) cat; the outside world has no idea what is going on inside our box (our hermetically-sealed creative world) until the box is forced open or... the cat itself comes out.  I'm not saying "Stay in your box!  Be a hermit!  Reject all social interacts!"  In fact, I see this as a natural state, when we're in the midst of our craft; a story or a novel will incubate as a mystery until it comes out into the world, and all bets are off.  Stephen King uses the phrase "keeping the door shut" until a story is ready for an audience.  Until then, embrace the hermitage.  And afterwards, find your friends in the world and make them wonder what you're up to the rest of the day!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Myth: Ideal Writing Conditions (j)

Cassandra Mortmain writing in the 2003 film version of I Capture the Castle.

Last week, the weekly quote was from E. B. White who wisely said, "a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." The bare essentials to writing are a means of conveying words (paper, pen, keyboard) and a committment to fleshing out those words.  It doesn't matter where it happens and under what conditions.  Just that it happens.  "Ideal conditions" are a myth.

Stephen King wrote his stories as a full-time high school English teacher, staying up through the odd hours of the morning.  J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter and Hogwarts in cafes, taking care of her infant daughter. Stories are written on trains, on planes, on the road; in libraries, and in the back of lecture halls.  Art springs up anywhere, and thrives on adverse situations. 
Anne Frank hard at work in 1941, before the Annex.
I was an avid grade-school reader when I discovered Anne Frank's diary at the local used book store and read her for the first time.  She is one of the reasons I was first motivated to put pen to paper and seeing what I could with the words in my head.  She had a strong narrative voice, a bit sassy, but vigorous in ways i myself wasn't.  I related to her because we were the same age, because she was entering into confusing teenage years, and because she was honest about what she recorded in her diary.  She was (and is) more articulate than my friends and I were at that age, which intrigued me.

Anne is the champion of writing in adverse conditions.  Not merely because she and her family were hiding from the Gestapo, but logistics as well.  She had to share a room with the cranky, middle-aged Dr. Pfeffer (called Dussel in the published version of the diary) who monopolized the writing desk and didn't take her school work, her love of languages, history and stories seriously.  He wasn't the only one, and Anne (as a cornered teenager will naturally do) referred to herself as the misunderstood "Benjamin of the Annex." This did not stop her from writing. In fact, the diary is just one product of Anne's creativity during her time in the Annex; she wrote fairy tales and novel all while being shooed from one end of the apartment to the other, hiding in the attic, fighting horrible depression and the fear of death.  It makes my excuses of not wanting to get up early and write look awfully petty.  Anne had little space to work in, cheap (black market) exercise books to use and a plethora of daily interruptions, and she continued to write using what she had, using the time that was given her.

On 13 July 1943 Anne relates an incident with Mr. Pfeffer/Mr. Dussel over a matter of "the best little table."

Yesterday afternoon Father gave me permission to ask Mr. Dussel whether he would please be so good as to allow me (see how polite I am?) to use the table in our room two afternoons a week, from four to five-thirty. I already sit there every day from two-thirty to four while Dussel takes a nap, but the rest of the time the room and the table are off-limits to me. It's impossible to study next door in the afternoon, because there's too much going on.  Besides, Father sometimes likes to sit at the desk during the afternoon.  

So it seemed like a reasonable request, and I asked Dussel very politely.  What do you think the learned gentleman's reply was? "No." Just plain "No!"

I was incensed and wasn't about to let myself be put off like that.  I asked him the reason for his "No", but this didn't get me anywhere.  The gist of his reply was: "I have to study, too, you know, and if I can't do that in the afternoons, I won't be able to fit it in at all... Mythology - what kind of work is that?  Reading and knitting don't count, either.  I use that table and I'm not going to give it up... You're not the only one who can't find a quiet place to work.  You're always looking for a fight.  If your sister Margot, who has more right to work space than you do, had to come to me with this request, I'd never even have thought of refusing..."

5 April 1944: epiphany and determination

I finally realized that I must [emphasis Jillian's] do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want!  I know I can write.  I few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of diary is vivid and alive, but... it remains to be seen whether I really have talent.

11 April 1944: A break-in

"We should hide radio!' moaned Mrs. Van D.

"Sure, in the stove," answered Mr. Van D. "If they find us, they might as well find the radio!"

"Then they'll find Anne's diary," added Father.

"So burn it," suggested the most terrified of the group.

This and the police rattling on the bookcase were the moments when I was most afraid.  Oh, not my diary; if my diary goes, I go too!

Anne Frank: knew from an early age to be serious about her craft, especially in adversity.

Another recent quote I shared was from I Capture the Castle.  Dodie Smith's novel opens with Cassandra Mortmain beginning her first notebook:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.  That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and a tea cozy... I found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring.  I wrote my very best poem sitting on the henhouse.

Cassandra lives with her family in a dilapidated castle in humiliating and hilarious poverty in the late 30s.  She has the right idea: try new scenes, new places.  Living in the castle she writes in the attic, in the towers, on the hillsides... romantic setting, inspiring vistas, and while she is uncomfortable, hungry and never quite satisfied, she finds ways to find beauty and humor in everyday life.  And yet, she comes up with clever solutions - not necessarily to fix the problems she has with her writing environment but to use the resources that are available to her.  She knows she will be interrupted, cold or miserable but she writes anyway and doesn't complain about it.  I have learned a lot from her charisma.
Cassandra writes in bed, while sister Rose talks.

Places Cassandra writes:
  • kitchen sink
  • kitchen table
  • attic
  • in bed
  • tower
  • father's desk in the gatehouse
  • the mound
p. 24: writing by candlelight

I wonder if I can get a few more minutes' light by making wicks of match sticks stuck into the liquid wax.  Sometimes that will work.

It was no good - like trying to write by the light of a glow-worm.  But the moon has fought its way through the clouds at last and I can see by that.  It is rather exciting to write by moonlight.

p. 26

I don't intend to let myself become the kind of writer who can only write in seclusion - after all, Jane Austen wrote in the sitting-room and merely covered up her work when a visitor called (though I bet she thought a thing or two) - but I am not quite Jane Austen yet and there are limits to what I can stand....  it is extremely cold up here, but I am wearing my coat and my wool gloves, which have gradually become mittens all but one thumb; and Ab, our beautiful pale ginger cat is keeping my stomach warm - I am leaning over him to write on the top of the cistern.

p. 187

This is the first time I have used the beautiful manuscript book Simon gave me - and the fountain pen which came from him yesterday. A scarlet pen and a blue and gold leather-bound book - what could be more inspiring?  But I seemed to get on better with a stump of pencil and Stephen's fat, shilling exercise book.

Cassandra is also a queen of creative solutions and executes them determinedly.  She and younger brother Thomas attempt to break their writer father's creative block by imprisoning him in the old tower behind the castle.  The siblings know their father must write again to save his spirit.

p. 314

I felt dreadful, but Thomas seemed quite unconcerned.  He hauled up the basket father had filled, took out the plates and dishes, and put the dinner in.  I think he knew I was weakening, because he whispered: "we've got to go through with it now. You leave it to me." Then he lowered the basket and called down firmly:

"We'll let you out just as soon as you've written something - say fifty pages."

"I could never write fifty pages in less than three months even when I could write," said father, his voice cracking worse than ever.  Then he flopped into the arm-chair and gripped his head wth his hands.

"Just unpack your dinner, will you?" said Thomas. "You'd better take the coffee pot out first."

Father looked up and his whole face went suddenly scarlet.  Then he made a dive at the dinner basket, and the next second a plate flew past my head.  A fork whizzed through the door just before we got it closed.  Then we heard crockery breaking against it.

I sat down on the steps and burst into tears... "Please, please don't throw all your dinner dishes until you've eaten what's on them.  Oh, won't you just try to write, fatherWrite anything - write 'The cat sat on the mat' if you like.  Anything, as long as you write!"

How does Mr. Mortmain begin his long awaited novel?  THE CAT SAT ON THE MAT. 

Lastly: Stephen King, whose memoir on writing has been a tremendous help to me, writes about his dream desk:

For years, I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room - no more child's desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house.  In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study... For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere... A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity... I got another desk - it's handmade, beautiful and half the size of the T. rex desk.  I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave.  That eave is very much like the one I slept under in Durham [his childhood home]...

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room.  Life isn't a support system for art.  It's the other way around.
I was a teenager in the tiniest bedroom of the house and wrote a long, long sci-fi epic (alas unpublishable), four years of high school papers and massive journals.  I didn't hate my room, but it wasn't the best environment.  Until I was presented with a large wooden writing desk at age twelve, I perched on the edge of my bed and wrote my pages, front and back, on a piece of old foam board.  I did what I could to make the room better: plastering the walls with inspirations and rearranging my furniture every few months (not an easy feat when the bed takes up roughly a third of the room).  But I was happy.  I got things done.  I forced myself out of my room and into my characters' lives, and that was gold.  These days I try to put myself in this mentality in my current situation, even if I'm not completely satisfied.  I still use my old desk and don't necessarily love it, but it has loyally traveled with me to college, to my first post-college apartment, and is under my computer as I write this post in my current home. 
Writers thrive under less than ideal circumstance: in the rickety chair, at the tilting kitchen table, in the barn, in a room filled with noisy people, with a cat constantly jumping up in one's lap and walking across the desk.  These conditions flavor us and build up our carapace. The world is our office. Waiting for ideal conditions is simply an excuse not to write, even though - as proved by the sheer fact of our creative drive - we have the tools to make these conditions useful.  Granted, we're a stubborn bunch, but how awesome is it to say, "Yes, I shall write today even if this coffee shop is noisy and the coffee bitter, even if the cat jumps all over me and the dog whines on the other side of my door, even if that awesome television show is calling to me like a Siren."

I've been pondering the phraseology of "full-time writer." What is a full-time writer, anyway?  Well, you say (wondering if I've asked a trick question), it's someone who is fortunate to be able to write for a living by freelancing, writing stories, publishing novels.  Yes, a typical day in the life of a full-timer looks like heaven to us office-job-or-otherwise people.  But I don't "qualify" to have the "full-time" sticker next to my name simply because it isn't how I earn my bread?  Silly.

Writing is so much more than something to fill in those hours here at work.  Writing is a lifestyle, an attitude.  Courage and grace under fire!  It gets me out of bed and enables me to interact better with the world.  Nor does a writer ever really have the day off.  We're constantly processing, moving through our stories (if you open mail like I do, this is an ideal brain-time).  "Ideal" would be a place to myself, where I'm free from interruptions (no phones or walk-ins); but do I need ideal?  And is it really a solution or a distracting dream?

If you're fortunate enough to have a job where you can write in spurts as you work, take advantage of it... albeit discreetly. Get up early in the morning because your story means something to you.  Netflix and Redbox are not adverse conditions; they're choices.  Having trouble connecting to your story?  Try writing it by hand.  Don't like your handwriting?  There are ways you can improve it.  How much are you feeding your artist-child?  Read!  Take creative outings!  Go on quiet walks!  And give yourself more credit for weathering the storm!

Someday we might have that dream office or the quiet house, but until then, embrace the place in which you're writing now.  It's helping you more than you might think.

Happy writing!

Lickspittle (j)

Day 109.


This is a name for a fawning subordinate, or a suck-up.  Another similar term I've had on the brain is "boot-licker." It makes one giggle, doesn't it?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fleer (j)

Day 108. 


A fleer is a look or a word of derision or mockery.  This comes from a Scandinavian verb which means "to laugh or grimace derisively." I always thought fleer would be an excellent name for a villain.  Enter Mr. (or Mrs.) Fleer and his permanent scowl.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Verso (j)

Day 107.


A verso is the left-hand page of an open book, or the back of a loose document. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Silver Thaw (j)

Day 106

silver thaw

A silver thaw is a glassy coating of ice formed on the ground or an exposed surface by freezing rain or the freezing of thawed ice.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mull (j)

Day 105.  Merry Christmas!  Today's word is...


To mull is to cogitate over something deeply and at length.  To mull wine one warms it and adds 2 tablespoons mulling spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, etc.) and sugar.  Judging from Oxford Dictionaries, the second usage of mull seems to be a century older.  So... somehow the term for spicing Christmas wine became the term we use when deep in thought.  Mulling involves a twenty-minute simmer, letting the spices mix with the fruity elements of the wine, producing a warm, delicious aroma.  This simmer - not a hard, obvious boil - is a great metaphor for serious under-the-surface thought: it can't be (nor mustn't be) rushed; is quiet, not shouted; and the results are worth waiting for.  As writers, we're mulling over a thousand things at once, envisioning worlds at a continuous simmer.  The longer these worlds soak in the spices of inspiration, the sweeter they'll be. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Iceblink (j)

Day 104


Iceblink is the bright appearance of the sky caused by reflection from a distant ice sheet.  This puts me in mind of a Tori Amos phrase, snowblind, from her song of the same name, "SnowBlind":

Some get snowblind
with the daylight
but then with the night
for once see clearly...

We're experiencing a particular iceblink, snowblind day.  Despite the darkness that surrounds the solstice, and the unavoidable fact that our hemisphere is turned farther away from the sun, sun light is actually much brighter now on clear days like this when it reflects off the sun.  Winter can be brighter (though colder) than summer.  There is poetry here.

Dreams, Visions & Reality (Jillian)

Dreams and visions are part of the ineffable human experience - the voice of our subconscious working through problems, presenting us with improbable but not impossible challenges, worst-case scenarios.  They reveal our anxieties, force us to confront them in our waking lives.  A life line.  The red cord we follow through the Minotaur's labyrinth. Naturally, they find their way into our stories as that nebulous, unexplained but felt stuff.  Scientists still cannot fully explain the function of these workings of the subconscious, but deep down we already know what dreams are saying to us, how they're guiding us, and that we'll follow. 

It can be argued that dreams and visions are an overused device in writing and films - a short cut out of a plot tangle or tacked onto the end of a story as a sort of apology for the improbably of a scenario.  Dorothy wakes up in her own bed surrounded by her family, as if they'd been there the entire time, as if Oz didn't exist.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2


Twilight Breaking Dawn: worse case scenario.

You've heard my opinion that films and stories as a general rule are different animals.  They have to show things in different ways: images versus words.  The narrative of the book is no longer first person but completely, intimately and cosmically omniscient.

The last film of the Twilight series deviated from the book one particular note. Bella is newly a vampire, and Bella and Edward's daughter has caught the attention of the malignant Volturi coven who have come to destroy their family.  In the book, the confrontation between the Cullens and their friends and the Volturi is little more than a trial and testimonials in the snow, wrought with tensions that are eased only by frank discussions, and Bella's preparedness to protect everyone she can.  The book preps us for a battle that never comes.  The film, on the other hand, shows us the battle that would have been: a battle begins with the beheading of Carlisle Cullen. 

Gasps in the theatre.  The battle sequence was intense, the body count high with Carlisle, Jasper and others among them.  Only at the end, when Edward and Bella successfully tear Volturi leader Aro's head from his shoulders do we realize that this entire battle has taken place in Alice Cullen's head and Aro has seen it all.  Of course! Perfect sense! I thought; Alice has the ability to see the future, and Aro is a mind reader.  We breathe out our relief as we realize that Carlisle and Jasper are still alive, that Edward and Bella's daughter is safe and that the Volturi have no reason to stay.  For now.
I can see why there would be skepticism about this vision.  It does seem to lean toward a cheap gag, a way to fill in the action-vacuum left by the novel, and play Gotcha! with the filmgoers.  The temptation is to say "that entire sequence was a LIE!" But... it worked for me... because this dream-battle was already a possibility, and most certainly experienced.  Sometimes you need to see the train wreck in order to prevent it from happening.  Did it happen?  No.  Does it matter?  Yes: it's all the better for having not happened.  Is it a lie?  Nope.

Doctor Who


Worse case scenario: the Doctor in the Master's birdcage.

Doctor Who uses this quite frequently.  Series Three saw the world taken over by the Master who opens a paradox to the end of the universe, tortures the Doctor and imprisons him in a bird cage.  Martha turns the Master's psychic network against himself and time reverses back a year - back before the world completely fell apart.  Only those standing at the "eye of the storm", on the ship where the Master launched his evil plans, remember what they'd gone through.  The world is none the wiser.  Did it happen then if time reversed itself?  Just ask the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack. 

Life on Mars (UK)


Sam Tyler: Am I mad, in a coma, or have I traveled in time?
Another example - and possible SPOILER ALERT for those of you haven't seen it and want to see experience it spoiler free - involves the UK television show Life on Mars (which ended in 2005).  The question driving the series was whether Sam Tyler, a detective inspector who wakes up inexplicably in 1973 Manchester, is dead, in a coma or has actually traveled in time.  The writers do an excellent job of keeping us guessing and speculating.  Don't read the next paragraph if you're in the midst of a first-time viewing.

We come to learn that Sam's experiences in 1973 are (supposedly) the result of a brain tumor, and that his final challenges gear him toward a successful surgery and finally waking up.  When he does, he finds the "real" world colorless and lonely.  Sam, longing for the friendships and the hirsute situations of 1973, jumps off of a building, essentially committing suicide in order to return.  He does return to 1973 as if nothing had happened, to tie up loose ends, (finally) kiss the girl and drive off into the sunset.  Is the glimpse of happiness a lie?  Well... I thought of it as Sam returning to the world that was most real to him.  Crossing the threshold does signify a death, but not of Sam.  Instead, it is the death of what he has always believed is reality.  Sam's tumor-coma-dream pointed him back to the dream itself, asking us the question: what is our reality? 

The X-Files: "Dreamland"; Harry Potter
Mulder as Morris Fletcher.

There's another example - neither vision nor dream, but reality gone completely upside down.  In Season 6 of The X-Files, Mulder switches bodies with the despicable lie-mongerer Morris Fletcher due to a time-displacement accident at Area 51.  Mulder, looking like Fletcher, has to convince Scully of his true identity, while Fletcher, looking like Mulder, takes over Mulder's life, desperate to escape his own.  In other words, the worst has happened (not so bad as the Master controlling the universe, but...).  Mulder is without Scully and the X-Files, and no matter what he does, he cannot set it right.  Fletcher, content in Mulder's shoes, ensures it stays that way. The situation - hilarious as it at times - is completely unsolvable until the time displacement errors (long story) reverse on their own.  Life resumes and no one remembers, but there are hints that things did change: a penny and dime stuck together and the new furniture in Mulder's apartment.  Did it happen?  Yes.  Do the characters need to know?  No, but we need to know. 

A function of dreams - particularly nightmares - is theorized to be how the brain works out worst-case scenarios, trains us and prepares us to face the anxieties that taunt and haunt us in our waking lives.  Sometimes it's hammy and glitchy. Other times it is profound... while being forever baffling.  Is it real?  Is it not?  Is it The Matrix or a different level of consciousness?  If you've seen Christopher Nolan's Inception, you know how entire films can make us think about this long after our minds have been blown away in the theatre.  We will never stop asking those questions.  And that's a good thing!

In Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, you may remember that Harry, after facing Voldemort for the last time, finds himself in an empty train station with Dumbledore.  Dumbledore is dead but conveying his wisdom to Harry from beyond the grave, answering what until now has been an uncertain question: will Harry live or die?  Is this heaven or some sort of waiting room?  Harry asks Dumbledore if seeing him in this empty place is a dream or if it is real.  Dumbledore says that it is both.  This has become one of my greatest fantasy-writing mantras.

Dumbledore: of course it's real.
The magic of story telling is not to ask whether or not something TRULY happened, but what said event says about the characters, their possible limits, and how they fulfill and surpass our expectations.  Dreams are real, a crucial element of the human psyche.  A dream sequence will fall flat if it fails to speak beyond "what if" and make us ask that question of our ourselves.  Did it happen?  What is reality, anyway?  What does this say about that particular character, what he's capable of, where he's going, what he could never do?  Those questions continue on, and make me want to write until my hands fall off.

Camber (j)

Day 103


A camber is the curve of a road's surface that allows water to drain off to the sides. 

True story: I once used camber as a name - a sort of modification of the name Amber with Cameron.  I had no idea Camber was an actual term until I happened across it in my lexicographical searches.  Has this ever happened to you?

Auteur (j)

Day 102


An auteur is the term for a film director who practice accords with the auteur theory, influencing a film so much to count as its (sole) author.  More broadly, this refers to an artist (especially a musician or a writer) whose style and practice make his/her work distinctive.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mirth (jillian)

I've been elbow-deep in Christmas puddings this month, hence the quiet at Daedalus.  2013 is on the horizon.  I plan to begin the year by writing the blog by hand through January.  Wish me luck!  I have longer pieces in the works, as well, including a post on visions and dreams.  Thanks for reading and writing along with me!

Adventure 101 in Logophilia is...


A Christmasy word, but perhaps one we don't hear very often outside of Dickensian stories.  Mirth (n) is, simply, gladness or gaeity accompanied with laughter; its near synonyms being glee, jollity, hilarity and merriment. 

My ideal Christmas is just that: gladness and laughter.  In 2009, I was snowbound with my family over the 25th and 26th.  The roads were a mess.  We couldn't leave the house.  But we were warm.  We spent the day reading and cooking the Christmas feast.  My parents, who received Nerf guns that year from my sister, would occasionally shoot foam missiles at each other like two little kids.  I read Wives and Daughters in the window, watching the birds.  That was the year a Cooper's hawk came and gobbled up a little unsuspecting junco in the snow.  Not exactly mirth for the junco, but for us it was a testament to being safe indoors, able to watch the goings-on in the wintry world and knowing we were together and well-fed (overfed) and laughing.  It doesn't get much better than this!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

AIL Day 100: beatific

Day 100!  Today's word is


To be beatific is to have a blissful appearance; appearing to be saintly ("beatified") or angelic. This is not an approximate synonym for beautiful, although I have seen it used as if it was. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

AIL Day 99: jabberwocky

Today's adventure in logophilia is


This excellent word was invented by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Outside of Alice's adventures jabberwocky refers to meaningless speech or writing, jibberish.  I rather think of jabberwocky as one's secret creative language and individual word-choice habits.  We speak in this language when we have a brilliant epiphany about something, try to explain it to the first person who will listen and realize that said thought hasn't translated properly into English. It comes out garbled and giddy, and our listener is confused, and looks about ready to say "Are you speaking in tongues?"  Such is the essence of art: ineffable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AIL Day 98: retrousse

Today's adventure in logophilia is...


A retrousse' is the term for the way a person's nose is turned up at the tip, particularly in an attractive way. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

AIL Day 97: undertow

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Undertow is another term for a rip current, which is used in the incorrect belief that rip currents drag swimmers below the surface of the water.  This is also used abstractly to mean an implicit quality, emotions or influence lying underneath the surface aspects of something (i.e. a person's character) and leaving a certain impression.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

AIL Day 95 & 96: Yule and Noel

The words I chose for this weekend are part of the rich vocabulary of the Advent season.  They've been with us for so long I know I haven't much concept of their meanings.  So I took this opportunity to do a little digging via Oxford Dictionaries (old habits die hard, I suppose).


Yule is the (archaic) Old English/Old Norse term for Christmas.  More specifically, it refers to a pagan festival that took place around the Winter Solstice and lasted twelve days after what is now Christmas.  When Christianity spread into Europe and the solstice celebrations became celebrations of the birth of Christ, the old name lingered.  So when you hear the phrase "yuletide treasure" in the old song "Deck the Halls", it isn't necessarily a pagan or a secular reference, but a general reference to Christmastime.


A noel is a Christmas carol, particularly the refrain.  So "gloria in excelsis deo" and "come let us adore him" might count as noels.   This is a French version of the Latin word natalis, meaning birth - a birth song.  This makes sense when you think about one of the lesser known Christmas songs "Noel, A New Noel."  I always thought "You mean there were noels before Christ was born?"  Apparently so!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why Joan Didion Writes

Here's a link for you.  Joan Didion on about why she writes, on the power of grammar and visceral detail. 

Coventry Carol, a mystery play (jillian)

We've entered into the time of carols.  I'm the sort of person who most definitely gravitates towards "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and cringes from the likes of "Silver Bells."  (Although my aversion to the song might have more to do with an awful, cloying 1960s rendition of the tune of which I grew up hearing.)  I love Christmas carols for their beauty and their rich history, and in some cases their bizarreness.  Which brings me to "Coventry Carol."

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day,
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

I first sang an arrangement of this carol with my high school women's choir ten years ago.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who first heard this beautiful, haunting song and wondered what on Earth it had to do with Christmas.  This is, of course, about the massacre of the innocents, which took place after Jesus' birth; King Herod, learning that a king was born to the Jews (a king that would challenge his own kingship), ordered all the male babies in Bethlehem destroyed.  Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus into the wilderness.

The song itself is the last surviving remnant of a 16th century mystery play from Coventry, England called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.  (Ye Olde Wiky-paedia.) Mystery plays were a staple of the Middle Ages, tableau performances and songs depicting Bible stories or scenes from the lives of saints.  The shearman and the tailors were probably members of that particular trade guild, not monks or nuns... although there were such performances within monasteries.  "Mystery" in this context actually means "miracle." 

What intrigues me about this song is that it alone survived the test of time.  "Coventry Carol" is a mystery of a mystery.  What did the happier songs of the shearmen and tailors' pageant sound like?  Why did this song endure the test of time?  Was it simply the prettiest?  Or has it a mind of its own, haunting down through the ages to testify about the brutality of the age into which Christ was born?  And who had the powerful idea of making it a lullaby?  Did they have any idea, when they sat down by candlelight to plan out their guild's Christmas pageant in, say, 1530 that people would be singing it and wondering about it well into 2012 and beyond?  That my friends, is special!  Merry Christmas!

AIL Day 94: ephemera

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Ephemera is a plural noun for things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short, fleeting time.  To which she says, philosophically, are not all things ephemeral or fleeting?  Does that not make life all the more beautiful?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

AIL Day 93: congeries

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Congeries is a collective noun meaning "a disorderly collection or jumble."  This is taken from the Latin verb congerere "to heap up." 

This word best describes Christmas preparations - the intentions, the results, the mess in my room.  I cheer myself up by imagining that Santa's workshop is a terrible disaster (the mess!) and Christmas' best keep secret.  There's a reality television show for you: overworked elves who complain of constant foot pain due to long hours and the shoes they have to wear; piles of discarded toy parts; the floor a definite hazard with tinsel and glitter and glue everywhere; not to mention the reindeer leavings; interviews with the elves who maintain Santa's sleigh: "you wouldn't believe the mileage on this thing..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

AIL Day 92: gedankenexperiment

Today's strange, strange adventure in logophilia is


That's a thing?  Yes, indeed it is!  A gedankexperiment (literally "thought experiment") is an experiment only able to carried out in thought.  This was a term invented by Albert Einstein as he conceptualized the theory of relativity... which is only a theory and essentially can't be proven or disproven.  

This has shown me another sciencey metaphor for writing.  Here goes.  Stop me if you've heard this one before.  Ahem.  When I'm beginning the first draft of a new project - no matter what it is - I tend to create the story in my head.  Because I am a visual person, I like seeing my characters in situations, solving new problems, jumping over hurdles, battling demons, falling in love, etc.  This is particularly true when I am at the YMCA on the elliptical or walking around downtown on my breaks from work.  The images flood me, and I'm swept away. 

But as a writer, the images are really only experiments, ideas thrown together in a sort of tantalizing display.  Each possible story thread follows me, tugging me and trying to convince me that it is the thread I should choose.  It is like the quote I posted recently from Umberto Eco: "All the stories I would like to write persecute me... it seems as if they are around me, like little devils, and while one tugs at my ear, another tweaks my nose, and each says to me 'Sir, write me, I am beautiful.'" Because I can't make up my mind, I'll choose several different ideas and fly with them... wondering which idea is THE idea that will grow into the novel.  Meanwhile, as the "book" becomes the winter's next great blockbuster-in-my-head, the novel itself is nothing but a blank sheet.  Or an unsaved MS Word document.

In other words, a novel or story isn't exactly the unprovable theory, only truly tangible in the mind, but it is tempting, for me at least, to let it remain unprovable by continuing these pre-writing experiments.  The only way I will truly know where the novel is going, what is happening the characters, what they want out of life, etc is to write the story, and pull them out of the clouds and onto the paper and form them in words.  Trial and error.  Letting the images achieve tangibility on the page. 

So, note to self: your story is not the theory of relativity, but the only way to prove it to yourself is to remove it from your head and put it on the page.  Remember that gedankexperiments do not need very much work at all, but they're hard to explain and read aloud to people.  Yes, it's scary to write that naked, awful draft of that tentative story, but it will be worth it! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

AIL Day 91: orrery

Today's adventure in logophilia is


An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, or of the sun, earth and moon, used to represent their relative positions and motions.  Sort of a solar-system mobile.

Monday, December 10, 2012

AIL Day 90: funambulism

On this here 90th day of logophiliac adventures we come to...


Though it sounds like a serious medical condition (rhyming a bit with "embollism," which would make for some very strange lines of lines of verse...), funambulism is a fancy term for tightrope walking, or a show of special mental agility.  Do you feel like this at times, fellow writers?  Well, don't look down in the midst of your crafting - a bit of advice I need to take myself.  Keep looking forward, and go slowly, one step at a time. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

AIL Day 89: amaranth

Today's adventure in logophilia is


An amaranth is a flower that never fades, used as a dye that produces a color similar to magenta but redder.  Something that is amaranthine is undying, particularly in color.  This is an amaranthine season, methinks.

AIL Day 88: zeitgeist

Our fine and fabulous word for day 88 is...


Together the German terms "zeit" (time) and "geist" (spirit) mean the taste, outlook, cultural climate and/or spirit characteristic of a period or generation.  Twitter, Facebook, smartphones.

Friday, December 7, 2012

AIL Day 87: mettlesome

Day 87?  Really?  Today's adventure in logophilia is


Mettlesome is an adjective that means "full of vigor and stamina, spirited," and obviously "to have mettle".  I remember stumbling across this word and thinking of it's homonym "meddlesome", which implies mischief or sabotage.  Mettle on the other hand means courageousness, endurance, vigor of strength and temperament.  Imagine how glad I was to discover this was a virtue! 

This trying-to-find-an-agent-and-build-an-online-voice thing is quite the test of my mettle - or, more metaphorically speaking, testing the mettle and metal (iron?) that is in my personality and reinforces me when life seems to take me nowhere or backwards fast.  I spent the last two weeks combing through and revising my novel once again - not because I'm a masochist but to make sure this novel is the absolute best work I can offer.  I will be sending out another query (via snail-mail... or "hard mail" as they call it in my novel) next week, hoping of course, but also looking ahead to the next agent, the next set of materials I must prepare.  I'm learning to bounce back, to continue work on the sequel of this newly finished brain-child, to challenge myself in the physical art of making envelopes and other paper-goods for Christmas presents, to steam puddings and bake cookies, to build up that mettle and metal for the next day, the next week, the next month.  This winter won't be a dormant period, but it will be a waiting period, a testing period, and I must remind myself that there will be a Spring, even if the Winter is long and hard.  Thanks all of you for coming with me!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Neil Gaiman on Art

This is the reason I love Twitter.  How else would I find out about little jewels like this one? Neil Gaiman answers questions as part of a panel discussion on 1 December at the CT Youth Forum's Student-Roundtable Discussion.  A student asks how she should take the comment "there are enough artists in the world," and Mr. Gaiman gives the best advice for an artist to hear.  These words of encouragement made my day.

AIL Day 86: quaint

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Quaint is another Britishism (I do love those) meaning "attractively unusual or old-fashioned." 

Though I like to think of this as a compliment, it can also be used as an insult.  I remember venturing to the east coast to visit Michelle and observing that all the tall multistory houses were rather quaint.  Michelle turned to me and said, "You meant that in a nice way, didn't you?" If you're a fan of Sherlock, I know I've heard it in there as an insult insinuating: "Oh, isn't that quaint? Aren't you silly and simple-minded?  What a tiny brain you have."  Funny how the same word can have two faces.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

AIL Day 85: tetralogy

Today's adventure in logophilia is


A tetralogy is a series of four connected literary, artistic or musical works.  The Twilight series is a tetralogy.  I've also been tempted to make my current science fiction endeavors into a tetralogy (instead of a trilogy) just so that I can use this word in conversation.  Bad reason to write a novel or to drag out a series?  I don't know.  We'll see what the novels want to do.

AIL Day 84: ken

The adventure in logophilia for 4 December is/was


Ken is a noun meaning the range of vision, perception, understanding or knowledge; sight or view.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, this word is often seen in Northern English and Scottish dialects, meaning "know" or "identify." 

Monday, December 3, 2012

AIL Day 83: gainsay

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Gainsay is a verb meaning to deny or dispute, to speak against, to contradict or contravene, impugn or negate.  This is a skill of which I am lacking, at least aloud.  Strange how my characters can debate and quarrel on paper, however.  They're stronger than I am.  Why is that?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

AIL Day 82: advent

Today is the first day of


Advent is simply the arrival or coming of a notable person, thing or event - from the Latin adventus (arrival) and advenire (to come).  This season of Advent specifically is preparing for the coming of Christ.  Each year, I can hardly my excitement to be able to listen to Christmas music again and think of new creations to give as gifts to my loved ones.  Provided this excitement does not give way to overwhelmed despair, this looks to be a good year. 


I have to vent, as a writer just beginning to dip her toe into the waters of social media, that Twitter has been frustrating me.  I know there must be an ebb and flow to how many followers one must have, but the last few days I've seen mine dwindle.  1.) I know building a platform takes time.  I've been at it two months, so I'm imploring myself to chill out.  2.) The ebb and flow and dwindle of followers must happen to everyone.  So... is it just more noticeable because I have so few followers to begin with?  3.)  Am I saying stupid things?  I thought not tweeting if I had nothing to say was the better option.  Perhaps I'm wrong.  4.) I still have followers, and this by no means precludes gaining others.  5.) There must be a way I can use it creatively.  Shall I tell a story?  Shall I do hiakus?  I am studying my options.

What it boils down to is this: putting oneself out there is hard.  Hard for a shy introvert.  Hard for everyone.  I still feel like I'm talking in a room full of people having many brilliant conversations, unheard and hiding in a corner, but I have to tell myself it will change.  As much as I hate advertizing myself and my writing, that's how the game is played these days... but it is by no means something that is "won" or "mastered" in one go, in one tweet, in one word.  It takes practice. 

If the numbers really bother me, I'll keep away for a day or two and then get right back in.

AIL Day 81: wellspring

Sorry for the delay, my friends.  Christmas has begun, which means I've begun to while away my hours in the kitchen with steamed puddings and cookies... among other sundry projects.

Our adventure in logophilia for 1 December is/was...


A wellspring is a source of continual supply.  It's another of those awesome image-words immediately pointing us towards a spring of fresh water and well that taps into that water.  It lasts virtually forever (or at least a long time) and provides a means of quenching our thirst.  This is a good feeling.


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