A Week in May

Monday Morning Musings:

A Week in May

“If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it”
Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses

“Arise, women!” . . . “Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”
–Julia Ward Howe (quoted in Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, May 7, 2022)

Extreme–
four seasons wander
through a week, and clocks strike
thirteen, people will die

death comes, we say of all
things bright and beautiful
yes, the daffodils gone—but reborn
again in the spring,
reawakened

to minority rule
we must rise, not as flowers, but trees
with ancient wisdom and roots that delve deep to
whisper underground in mycelium connections

Reflections, Park in Collingswood, NJ

to grow
with desire,
yes, like flowers, too, with perseverance,


in freedom and love

the birds sing and soar.
Resist the woman calls
with a strum on her guitar,

Venus in the early morning.

music the gift of moon and stars—
we echo, yet–

Peonies blooming at the Whitall House

now, elaborate
on how peace reigns in the garden,
though they are always full of ghosts—
blooms arise from decay,
and time veers on hidden paths to circle back–

I see my mom backlit by flowers, sitting there
as she did once–and still does
in my dreams. She smiles.

My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!

We’ve had cool weather, warm weather, dry weather, and rainy weather this week. We went from walking in t-shirts to turning the heat back on and bundling up in fleece. Meanwhile, here in the US, the extremists are taking over. They are not conservatives; they are not the party of Lincoln; they are right-wing reactionaries and fanatics who want to set up an authoritarian state.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I thought of how my mother helped the war effort during WWII, as the US fought (eventually) against the fascists. And then later, the progress that was made for human rights in her lifetime–that the fanatics who now control the Republican party are stripping away. Meanwhile, war continues in Ukraine . . .

Stepping down from the soapbox, I did have a lovely Mother’s Day with our daughter and her husband. She put together this beautiful brunch of nibbles and home-made bagels. Our older child and their wife sent a gift and called to say, “I love you.”

We saw Janis Ian in concert this week, her final North American Tour. It was a wonderful concert, and also a beautiful evening, so we took a walk in Collingswood, NJ before the concert. Here’s a link to “Resist.”

I’m hosting dVerse today, so I’ll be back later!

Finding My Words

Monday Morning Musings:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (lines 118-119)

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

–Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I’m at a loss for them today, so I decided to write about words. Unlike Eliza Doolittle in the musical, My Fair Lady, who sings:

“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, Show me!”

–“Show Me” From My Fair Lady, Lerner and Lowe

I am never sick of words. I love words. I didn’t know—or more likely did not remember—that it was Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass who first explained that a portmanteau word was like the suitcase called a portmanteau: “Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy”. “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.” (You can read more about it here.)

One of my favorite Carroll portmanteaus is “chortle,” a word that has entered everyday vocabulary. I love it because it sounds exactly like what it is, and it makes me laugh to even hear the word in my head. You can find some new portmanteaus here. I think “Internest” is a great word because I’ve seen my daughter do it. It means “the cocoon of blankets and pillows you gather around yourself whilst spending long periods of time on the Internet.” Another favorite is “epiphanot”: “ an idea that seems like an amazing insight to the conceiver but is in fact pointless, mundane, stupid, or incorrect.” I’m not judging anyone here. I think I’ve had plenty of epiphanots myself—although I do picture Cliff Clavin from the old TV series, Cheers, when I hear the word.

This weekend my husband and I saw two very different movies—hey, it was movie catch-up weekend—Far From the Madding Crowd and Ex Machina.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdeen (isn’t that a great name?) says in a line from Hardy’s novel: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” It seems to me that it is not so much the language of the time, as it was the moral constraints imposed on women that prevented them from speaking. Bathsheba could not talk of sexual passion and desire. But the men, too, talked around it. They discussed marriage in economic terms, not in words of love. Much cannot be said, and perhaps was not even thought. Perhaps then there were no words to describe what they felt. Actions, however, have consequences in this story. Women who give in to desire are punished with death or debts. Women who use words thoughtlessly—as in sending a Valentine’s card—must also pay a price. The movie is beautiful—you will want to move to Dorset, England. The acting is wonderful, too. (I found this short article that discusses the movie and book, if you want more information.)

In Ex Machina language becomes not so much a means of defining or limiting gender, but rather, it becomes a method testing what it means to be fully alive. Reclusive billionaire and definite alpha male Nathan Bateman (a bulked-up Oscar Isaac) brings nerdy but cute programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleason) to his estate to Turing-test his A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander). We all know that computers can use words and can be programmed to talk and write, but can they do more? The movie is exciting and thought provoking in its exploration of what it means to be human. Does an A.I. have feelings? Can an A.I. pretend? Can it feel pleasure or desire? And would a human know?

Humans seem to be hardwired to use words and form languages. We like to name things. It would be an epiphanot to say that languages evolve over time. (See what I did there?) I think most people know that whatever language we speak is different from that same language spoken centuries ago. Cultural and technological changes and inventions fuel the desire to create new words.

The creativity of novelists, poets, and other artists has also led to the invention of new words. Who can forget the scary terms coined by George Orwell in 1984? Orwell deliberately invented new words, such as thoughtcrime, newspeak, and of course, doublethink. He wrote, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” English author and former spy, John Le Carré has also created words, such as mole, meaning someone who infiltrates an organization. You can find some others here. Words can bring goodness and light; they can incite evil, too. They can be used to deliberately obfuscate, or to enlighten.

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom House”

Words. I was at a loss, but now I seem to have used 939 of them. I’ve finished the job, but I don’t think it’s complete. What is a word for that?