Heaps of Words

I’m a fan of words. I used to spend time browsing the dictionary. Indeed, I don’t know what happened to that habit, though I suppose the convenience of an online version had something to do with it. Well, that and the fact the Ex took the humongous dictionary and I’ve yet to procure for myself a big, honking dictionary that weighs 50 lbs.

Someday I hope to own a complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s looking less likely – the publishers are suggesting they’re going to quit offering a print version. I suppose it’s possible to browse an electronic copy, but the aesthetics are going to be compromised. Of course, I have no idea where I’d find room to put the twenty volumes of the complete set, but I’m quite sure I’d have fun figuring it out. Less fun would be the process of trying to justify spending $995 (plus shipping).

Truly, yea verily, I do love words.

I can’t remember the first time I encountered magnetic poetry; nor can I remember if I actually squealed with delight or just remember it that way. I do remember delight turning to dismay when I looked at the price tag. A pittance in comparison to the OED, they hit the market about the time buying a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s was a major budget decision. The sets were expensive. If comparison shopping and looking at the price per word, magnetic poetry is far more expensive ($12 for 200 words) than the OED ($995 for 59,000,000 words). The magnets are sold in sets with themes – Shakespeare, haiku, erotica, food, etc. Choosing just one set was beyond my ability. After all, and is my favorite word. I wouldn’t consider owning just one or two volumes of the OED – when I want something, I want it all. It’s not likely there are enough themes to come close to 59 million words. It would be quite a feat to spend nearly a grand on magnets. While I do want it all, all does not include the Guiness Book of Records for most magnetic poetry sets.

Magnetic poetry stayed in vogue long enough for the budget to ease up. I was able to partake. In fact, the sets are still available although I’m not likely to find them in convenience stores like I could at the height of their popularity.

While I wasn’t an early adopter, I embraced the trend with fervor making up for lost time. As usual, I didn’t just wade in – I swan dived. I have hundreds of tiny magnetic pieces in stark black and white to jump start my creative engine. While I didn’t procure each and every word printed on a flexible magnet, I’m no dilettante either.

As did most folks, I placed my single-word magnets on the refrigerator. I’d wander by and move words into phrases, phrases into lines, lines skewing to Scrabble-like configurations. Eventually, I decided it would be more fun and far more comfortable to recline while wallowing in words. Ever mindful of my needs, the magnetic poetry folks manufactured a spiffy board to allow me to do just that. The refrigerator was denuded, words were arranged on a black metallic sheet and an old, pseudo-Chinese tin was used to store the excess pieces. All these accoutrements of my Inner Poet now reside on the étagère in the guestroom.

[I’m thinking of moving them back to the refrigerator. I spend more time near the refrigerator (as my hips will attest) than I do the guestroom. I miss sliding words around while waiting for water to boil or, too often these days, cherry pie to cool.]

Like every moody teenage girl (is that redundant?), I wrote poetry. With one exception it was all the purest of pure dreck. The one exception wasn’t all that good, but I labored for days to successfully fit my thoughts into the singsong, rhyming cadence I thought defined poetry. And I did so without it sounding like Dr. Seuss. It was a success of sorts and the subject meant a lot to me.

With enough reading, most former teenage poets figure out their poems were awful. The realization sometimes provokes cringing embarrassment and secretive literary bonfires. In my case, I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would carefully press them into a scrapbook to prove I was once young. I would also pull them out when I needed a good laugh. We’re talking bad – very bad. My poetry was maudlin, giddy, wistful, angry, lovesick, sentimental and jaded – sometimes all of that in just one line. Bad. Very bad.

The overriding charm of magnetic poetry is the end result isn’t supposed to be good as much as it’s supposed to be quirky. Moreover, unlike writing “real poetry”, composition is fun precisely because one doesn’t have 59 million words to sift through in search of the exact perfect word to capture the thought. Even for me, 59 million magnetic pieces is way too much to embrace. (The OED Magnetic Poetry Kit? Can you imagine? Do you think the publishers considered such a beast? Should they? Personally, I’m having a ball imagining the size of that refrigerator. Scaffolding to retrieve the ice cream?)

There’s also the Mmmmm Factor of selecting a few pieces at random and finding a word combination that doesn’t exist in nature, but should. Is that not one of the features of great poetry?

At times, times like today, I find myself wanting to sit down and write. During some of those times, including today, I find that desire be damned, I can’t render a single thought to put down on paper or in pixels. When such occurs, I dip into the Chinese tin and pull out 13 words. I don’t know why I select 13, but I do.

Today’s 13 are:

  • Universe
  • Change
  • Know
  • They
  • Those
  • Trust
  • When
  • Champagne
  • Rhythm
  • Pick
  • Question
  • Yesterday
  • Laugh

[Mmmmmm…champagne rhythm]

Champagne Rhythm

Would you laugh at the question?

When tomorrow knows
yesterday’s tango love
must trust the universe
not to change the tempo
to the sharp, sticky staccato
of jack and coke.

Spurred two-step missteps
impaling tender cherries
on a midnight plastic pick.
Sweet strawberries wafting
at the bottom of a hollow flute.

Waiting for violins.
Not knowing there’s
a shot glass for every state,
a rhythm for every beat,
a crystal ice bucket littered with
souvenir corks of The Widow.

Dance with me?

And now you know why I gave up poetry.  Leonard Cohen, however, is very good at what he does.

Eat, Pray, Love – Book and Movie Review

For a couple of years, I had to push Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, out of my way. At the bookstore, a copy was invariably obscuring the book I wanted. I pushed it aside and carried on. The Amazon site, using their crazy little matrix, determined sometime ago that based on my purchases I had to be interested in the book. I didn’t click. At a friend’s house, normally freakishly neat, I had to move it off the chair seat to sit down. At the grocery store, a copy was sitting on top of the bag of spinach I was trying to buy. These instances played out against the merciless promotion of the book for the past year or so as the movie version starring Julia Roberts was filmed, edited, and just as unmercifully promoted.

I think it was the Spinach Event that provoked surrender. Soon thereafter, I was at the bookstore, the memoir was on sale and I bought it. If one wants to get all New Age-y (and at times I do), it can be said the Universe wanted me to read this book.

I settled into the coffee shop with a large mocha and began reading.

I had resisted the book after reading its description. My take was that some 30-something narcissistic chickie with a life most of us envy was wallowing in the pain of an existential hangnail. I didn’t want to read Liz Gilbert, I wanted to smack her. And, generally speaking, I’m opposed to violence.

I also do not read nonfiction for the most part. No matter how much a novel mirrors real life, my emotions are sufficiently kept in check by that fiction label.

I’m real emotional these days.

While pregnant, I was a bundle of hormonal, hair-trigger emotions. In the space of 30 seconds or so, I could go from despair and rage to sprawling on the floor, howling with laughter while banging my fists. I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was mad, because my hormones were rocketing throughout my body. There was the very memorable Spilled Coke event in which I happened upon a spilled fountain drink in a parking lot. There was a puddle of Coke. A popped lid. A mangled straw. I sobbed. Some child, I’m sure, used an entire week’s allowance to buy that Coke, stumbled and lost it all. I sobbed for nearly an hour.

The menopause hormonal imbalance is a lot like that of pregnancy. Funny is hysterical, sad is total despair, and heart-warming just annihilates me.

Nobody told me Eat, Pray Love was laugh-out-loud-in-public-until-you-snort-whipped-cream funny. People with perfectly intact hormone systems tell me it’s not just me. The book is funny. And it’s sad. And it’s heart-warming.

I read it twice. I never read anything twice.

And, yes, it’s about a near-40-something chickie with a life most of us would envy plunged into despair over an existential hangnail. Gilbert’s hangnail was a painful divorce and a painful mid-divorce love affair – a divorce she initiated for reasons she chooses not to detail.

I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her to get some perspective. But (1) I was too busy laughing because (2) she realizes how out-of-proportion her misery is and makes so much fun of herself I didn’t need to. It’s the depth of her misery that spurs her plan to travel Italy, India and Bali for a year – not the life events. And I had to hand it to her. After my life events of the past few years, if I could pull off running away from home for a year to get a grip, I’d be at the post office renewing my passport this second.

I loved the book. I want to hang out with Liz Gilbert and eat a fine meal somewhere.

I stated emphatically that I wouldn’t see the movie.

The movie arrived here on Thursday and at 6 p.m. on Friday my mother, who hadn’t read the book, and I were sitting mid-theater watching previews. Upon walking into the theater, I asked two women exiting if the movie was any good. One said it was and the other said, “It was okay.”

I neither like nor dislike Julia Roberts. I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, but don’t regard any of them as works of art. Since Hollywood doesn’t produce art that often, I don’t expect art from a movie. I go to be entertained. In the case of this movie, the reviewers were all over the place – it’s good, it’s bad, it’s okay – but all agreed the scenery was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery.

I loved the movie. I laughed through much of it. I cried through much of it. (I’m just a spectacle these days.)

The movie departs from the book in some key areas, but does so in the spirit of the book. I hadn’t been interested in the movie because I thought there’s no way to tell Liz’s story visually without losing the spirit of the book. Well. I was wrong.

Mom, who hadn’t read the book, thought the movie was wonderful.

For the past month or so, I’ve been compulsively reading reviews of the book and the movie trying to get a handle on why I liked the book so much. My best guess is because it’s funny – I’m a sucker for humor. Now, I’m going to have to puzzle the movie out. The movie provokes some laughter, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about love, but it’s not a love story.

I’ll probably see the movie a second time. I never watch a movie twice.


There are cities people talk about as if they have a soul – New York, New Orleans, Paris, Budapest – collections of stone and steel that set the heart to yearning when distanced for too long.

Dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, expensive – those who have bonded with the stone and the steel love the metrapole morning breath and all. They love it not just because it is home and all the folks of home live there, but because the city itself is a member of the family.

Mumbai, I think, is one of those cities.

A few years ago I read Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram and my interest in Mumbai was piqued. Now I’m reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games and I have a full-blown crush on Mumbai. In both novels, the city is as much a character as any of the people in the thousand pages of narrative.

Shantaram idealized the city and people, yet showed both warts and all. Sacred Games has a much less heavy hand. Roberts’s is trying to seduce us with Mumbai; Chandra is coy.  Still, both portray Mumbai as the raandi with the heart of gold.

Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with places because of a book; places I’d never seen. Early on it was Cornwall and London; later St. Petersburg and Geneva. With those great cities, I fell in love with them as they were a century or two ago. This Mumbai  affair is for the Mumbai of now.

Of the cities I’ve mentioned, I did get to see London, but my time there was too short and the opportunities to explore too limited. I left astounded that I liked the modern city and not just the ancient one that lived in my head. I didn’t fall in love with New York until after I’d visited, but now I can read novels set in the city and they’re richer, fuller. 

I have a yearning to visit Mumbai – a city that will make my heart simultaneously soar and break.  I can’t foresee the when or the how of Mumbai and I meeting, but I can daydream in the vivid colors, scents and textures that are India in general, and Mumbai in particular.

The Computer, the Witch and the Closet

Oh to have a closet so grand.

When I was young I used to sit in closets.

My parents only noticed that I did so when angry or upset, but in truth I did it often. They only checked on me when I was angry or upset.

The first-time I can remember, I was about 8. The memory seems a foreshadowing of now. I was home from school with a cold, but was feeling better. Though still sick, I was restless and at loose ends. I had read all the books I had to read. I discovered that daytime television was inane. I was feeling creative.

My brother and I had a child-sized table and chair set that was beginning to be too small for us. I remember pushing aide my clothes and dragging that table into the closet. I turned on the closet light, stepped in and closed the sliding doors. I wrote my own book sitting on the floor in front of that small table. If memory serves, it was about the wonders of newborn spring animals.

The closeness of the closet was not oppressive, but comforting – a womb of sorts.

Later in junior high, when I was always upset and seldom creative, I would sit in my closet and brood. A closed bedroom door provoked too much attention, but slipping into the closet and closing the door brought me the alone time I needed. The time to think through my brooding.

My parents didn’t discover my closet hide-out until I couldn’t be found for dinner one night. I remember being very angry about something; and I remember exploding when they teased me about “hiding in the closet.” I couldn’t make them understand – indeed, I probably didn’t even try. I remember childhood as being a time when I didn’t yet have the right words to explain my thoughts and actions. Even now, anger renders me inarticulate.

I puzzled out life in my closet hideout, sitting on the shag carpeting sometimes in the dark and sometimes with a flashlight.

Some time between 8 and teenager, I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe — a story about a large wardrobe closet that is the entryway to a magical land where good struggles against evil. I loved the book and I loved the author’s description of hiding in the closet and the surprise of finding it went on and on into a forest.

It didn’t occur to me until just a few moments ago, that at the ripe-old age of 50, I’ve built a closet hideout. Without any guile, I told myself the closet office was to house the computer equipment I couldn’t bear to see sitting on my old oak library table.

Just now I finished writing a thousand words or so on that computer in that closet. As I puzzled out the right words, I would stop and admire the atmosphere of the closet – cozy and hidden. A secret place -even with the door taken off and thus open to the sounds of the forest behind me.

I have this house to myself and I don’t need to hide in a closet to be alone with my thoughts, so I’m surprised the closet office resurrected secret thoughts and feelings- the ones I wouldn’t put words to. What I intended to write is not what I wrote. The piece is raw, but honest, contemplative and strong. It is the stuff I’ve never given myself permission to set out in words; stuff I can only bear to look at if glimpsed through the safety of hands held loosely over my eyes. Tonight there was no frightened peering through fingers.

I’ve surprised myself. I’m anxious and a bit scared of what I might write in that closet. Good battling evil is far too strong a metaphor, but it will have to do for now. 

I’m puzzled that in all the weeks of painting the closet, building shelves, sorting through stuff to effect the closet, the memory of my childhood need for a closet sanctuary never burbled to the surface.

Virginia Woolf wrote of needing a room of her own.  It seems I need a closet.