Between the Covers

Hey, take your mind out of the gutter!

BOOK covers. I’m between the BOOK-covers of one of the hilarious social commentaries novels penned by Charles Dickens—and this particular copy of this particular book has me thinking…

I really do love the heft and the presence of a real paper book. BUT. Because I don’t have the shelf-space for a thousand books; and because a thousand books are portable on the iPad; and because I pick up all kinds of books for a couple bucks a pop from the Apple bookstore’s “sale bin;” and because I can look up, with a touch, anything I become curious about; and because I can read in bed without keeping a light on when my husband is sleeping; and… Well, because of lots of “becauses,” I do almost all my reading these days onscreen.

Still, when a mention (in another book) of this book prompted me to pick it up, I definitely went for the paper version. Because for this book I have a copy that belonged to my great-grandpa.

Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend copy printed 1897
Great-Grandpa’s copy, “Our Mutual Friend”

As I turned the pages I got to thinking (in that rabbit-trail manner with which my mind works) about what age a work of literature gets to be before it begins to merit designation as “a Classic”—and that, then, got me wondering what age this printed copy of this classic might be, given what I did know of its provenance.

An easy answer was not forthcoming. Nowhere on the book could I find a publication date, edition number, or any other reference to the year. (Fitting, I suppose, for a novel that opens, “In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise...”)

Ultimately,I ran down my answer in a history of the publishing house, which went belly-up in 1898—the year after printing its run of Dickens novels. Huh, I thought, that’s kinda cool. (I mean, I knew it was Great Grandpa’s—but age-wise, that only guaranteed its birth-year preceded mine.)

Considering the hundred-and-twenty-three-year age of the book in my hands, my mind jumped next to pondering how new the novel itself was, when this copy of it went to press. (Did I mention a propensity for looking-stuff-up?) The answer, to frame it differently, is this: when this book printed, Our Mutual Friend was the same age of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games NOW. Or Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Stephen King’s It. Fried Green Tomatoes. The Whale Rider. Mrs. Doubtfire. Where’s Waldo?

Where's Waldo joke cartoon

Imagine a Dickens novel being even a relatively recent piece of pop culture! What a shift in perspective, to think of Dickens in any light but “Historic”…

In my own mind that word—“Historic”—used to mean “before ME.” And when I was young-ish, that was a pretty decent working definition. But closing in on my own half-century mark, I acknowledge that the boundary line, the one delineating “History” from “Regular-Stuff-That’s-Familiar-to-ME”… Well, it’s moved. In fact, that line scoots right along, keeping pace behind me like a stick tied to a string tied to my belt loop, all the time converting some portion of Regular Stuff Familiar to Me into that “Other” category I think of as History. (Did I think only other people’s lives slipped into Historic rear-view? Did I think that regardless of how long I might live, my entire life would feel to me like “Now”?)

This book imparts an unexpected lesson of… Perspective.

As in… It Doesn’t End Here.

As in… I am not some grand culmination of everything History was building up to; in fact, I rank merely as “someone else” to everyone else in the world.

As in… What shall I DO with this role of “someone” in everyone else’s History?? It’s lovely to imagine, in 120 years, a great-granddaughter enjoying a book from my shelf. Better yet, from my pen. Maybe even, by then, “a Classic”?

I’m enjoying the book. Though I do miss the built-in Definitions I’m accustomed to summoning with a touch. (Because I don’t care how great your vocabulary is—Dickens requires a dictionary!! …Terpsichorean?? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? …Nah, me neither. I’m gonna go look that up.)

Victorian era dancers being funny for a photograph

“Hello My Name Is”

This morning a customer didn’t bother to tell me his name, just went straight to spelling it.

Yeah, it was one of THOSE names. Not as confounding as some, but definitely not one I would have gotten right without having him spell it out.

“My sister and I grew up with a maiden name we always had to spell,” I told him. “Now she’s a Jones and I’m a Smith!”

On the other end of the phone my customer laughed with me, and then said, “Mine’s Italian. It means ‘eat goat’.”

I couldn’t help myself. “That’s awesome! EAT GOAT.”

Next time someone upsets me, that’s what I’ll say. “Hey! You. Eat goat!”

I have a tenant who has a very long name with very few vowels that ends in -wczyk. It occurs to me that he has never said his name to me either. It’s like a secret password that only the chosen can know…

In my maiden-name days, that’s how I used to screen for telemarketers: if a caller correctly pronounced the name, I didn’t immediately hang up. “Smith” doesn’t lend itself to that kind of screening…

Although there was the one time a phlebotomist labeling my blood sample asked me how to spell it. I was so taken aback I just blurted “Smith!” again, because isn’t that word self-explanatory for a native speaker of English?

I should have told her to eat goat.

Radio-Speak (Do You Copy?)

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snapshot from the British Virgin Islands, Christmas 2003… Uncle Dick at the helm, my sister (holding my son), and me (pregnant with my daughter)

My first sailing trips were under the tutelage of my uncle, who’s a stickler for doing things properly. (Best training ever! Sailing with Uncle Dick made my later “official” training a breeze. Even when the “breeze” was 18 knots!)

Uncle Dick’s pet peeve regarding the radio is when someone signs off with “Over and Out.” So okay, for the record: it’s EITHER “Over” (meaning you’re standing by for another transmission from the other party) OR “Out” (if you’re signing off entirely). We hear “over and out” on the TV, but it’s actually a mixed message—are you over or are you out?

Working at the RV park office, we use radios to communicate with our outside guys, who serve as parking guides for new arrivals and pump propane for guests. We’ve had a couple military guys who know radio-speak, and I had fun “being proper” with them, since they understood and appreciated.

I don’t break out the full-on marine-radio etiquette though, because that would be silly. An office coworker and I were giggling yesterday about what that would sound like, if I used the triplicate marine hail: “Parking Guide, Parking Guide, Parking Guide! This is Office, Office, Office, Over.” Somehow that sounds fine when you’re hailing a marina or a drawbridge with your boat-name, but pretty goofy if you’re hailing a golf cart from a desk chair!

radioStill, I guess I do take after Uncle Dick, because I prefer “affirmative” to “yeah,” and “Office receiving” to “Mic check,” and “copy that” to “okay,” and a “Bravo” designation when someone is parking in the B-row… I keep my transmissions clipped and concise (though I do add the human etiquette of “thank yous” that aren’t strictly part of radio etiquette).

And like Uncle Dick, I’ve discovered I have a radio-peeve. Mine is when someone asks “Do you have a copy?” So okay, for the record… “Copy” is the verb in that query, meaning to acknowledge receipt of the message. It’s “Do you copy?” Copy that?

And with that little note, I’m “Out.”

Advice from a Polyglot

imageYesterday I asked my co-worker Shawky where he’s from. He was born in Cairo, he answered, and grew up in Greece—and he used to work on ships, visiting 89 countries and acquiring six languages. Apparently Home Depot doesn’t have an “I speak Romanian” badge, because that’s the only one he’s missing.

I joked that he probably doesn’t have much call for that here, but wouldn’t you know—not half an hour later a customer made a beeline for his register, greeted him by name, and started chatting him up in (you guessed it) Romanian.

One of our mandates as cashiers is to get customers to sign up for the Home Depot credit card. While most cashiers got a handful, or maybe a dozen, apps in the last month, Shawky had a stunning 111 credit card applications. While I worked the register next to him yesterday, I watched him sign up three more people as smooth as you please.

I teased him about his “magic” but asked him in earnest what advice he would give me to help the magic rub off on me.  He answered me very seriously, in his accented but impeccable English. “Listen. I will tell you. You must have absolute confidence. Don’t say so much. Choose what you say,” Continue reading “Advice from a Polyglot”

On Vapors, and Vapers

who vs whomLast week CBS This Morning hosted a lexicographer from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, talking about the malleability of language and the ongoing task of incorporating new words into the dictionary. Although prescriptive grammarians (unlike descriptive ones) would have you believe that our language and its rules are static, nothing could be further from the truth. (Sure, I know when I’m supposed to say “whom”—and I sometimes even do it—but these days those rules are largely at odds with actual usage.)

Speaking to new words that have been recently incorporated, the Merriam-Webster editor gave examples like “photobomb” and “binge-watch.”  By this point, “selfie” has been in the dictionary so long it’s old news. I’m fascinated by the cultural commentary afforded by new words…  The one I’m interested in today has only been in the dictionary for a couple years, and won Oxford’s “word of the year” honor in 2014:

vape definition Oxford word of the year

The Merriam-Webster definition adds to the verb definition of vape: “like someone smoking a conventional cigarette.” That definition might already be outdated. Most of today’s vapes have so little in common with cigarettes that they’re not even getting called e-cigs anymore. Early models did look like cigarettes, but these days they range from boxy models to flashy pens—virtually no resemblance to the nasty originals.

Yup, I just called cigarettes nasty. I actually thought so even for the eight-or-so years that I was obsessively smoking them. And there you have the strange face of addiction. Cigarettes are nasty—but I liked them. They were my friends, They were a treat, every time I lit up, even though I hated the lingering ashtray-odor that clung to me afterward. Continue reading “On Vapors, and Vapers”

Love Languages & Chocolate Sprinkles

imageThere’s a new key on my ring that I can’t use just yet, but I’m carrying it anyway because I’m excited about this unexpected gift from my husband. I’m still sort of in a state of disbelief about it, to be honest. I can’t quite believe I really have this key, let alone what it goes to… But I’ll leave you in suspense for a moment and come back to that.

Here’s what I find kind of funny today. Jon and I have been reading The Five Love Languages, and we have determined that “receiving gifts” is not my love-language. As a writer, maybe it’s not surprising that “words of affirmation” are what speak most eloquently to my heart—and those are closely followed by the language of “physical touch.”

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Jon likes to leave me love-notes in cards… No “occasion” needed!

I feel absolutely adored when Jon leaves me a sweet card with a hand-written love note. Or when he calls me by a pet name, tells me I look cute or sexy, says he loves me. I even thrill when he calls me “Mrs. Smith,” because it’s an emphasis on the married-in-love “Mrs.”… We spend a few hours of every day on the phone, he with his Bluetooth in his ear while his head is under hoods of cars—we talk to each other while we go about our days, and I never tire of the sound of his voice. Words do it for me, no question! I’m also a hand-holder, a snuggler, a butt-grabber, and a happy recipient of reciprocal touches. When he puts his arm around me in church and holds my hand in the grocery store, I feel Capital-L-Loved.

Now don’t get me wrong, regarding gifts. It’s not that I don’t enjoy or appreciate them, they’re just not the currency that “proves love” in my emotional world. When he does give me something, I find myself floored by it, maybe because it seems like such an “extra.”   Continue reading “Love Languages & Chocolate Sprinkles”

Entering the Lists

list3My notebook is bent, battered, and buckled, every kind of abused but bruised.  The covers crease from frequent folding, and tags & stickies protrude from its pages. I’ve had it for all of three weeks.

The notebook serves as a journal, but it its pages have also filled with sketches, blog-post brainstorms, A.A. Stepwork, notes from group sessions and church sermons, quotes and definitions related to writing-topics, comparisons of health insurance plans, my checkbook register, ledgers tracking my freelance writing pay and my hotspot data-usage…  And LISTS. Lots of lists.

Some to-do lists are sprinkled through there, but those aren’t the most common denomination. The weirder ones don’t have an obvious purpose. Since I keep making them, though, I surely hope there’s something accomplished in the writing of them. I’m just not entirely sure WHAT.  Continue reading “Entering the Lists”