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Thinkering

September 3, 2012

Thinkering

verb (present participle of thinker)

1. To mull over, obsess over and otherwise daydream about [an idea], while (a) making changes, additions, adaptations, etc. to the idea and (b) never making any concrete or retrievable record of the object of one’s thinkering.

Example: I’ve been thinkering about a new landscape plan for my front yard.

Coined by Craig Stevenson, 2012, with Cecilia Audubon as his witness.

I wanted to claim this word before anyone else tries to.  It’s going to become all the rage.  Then it will get overused.  Beauty pageant contestants, most notably, will substitute it improperly in place of “thinking” or “tinkering” and English lexicographers will have something else causing them to pull their hair out.

“Thinkering” is basically tinkering with an idea.  It’s something more than a daydream—the idea is changing and developing.  One forms plans about how one might accomplish the idea in reality.  But it has yet to reach any form of reality—it’s not on a to-do list, it hasn’t been written on a piece of paper or typed into a computer.  Once the idea starts to be documented, then one is no longer thinkering—one is thinking.

I was talking with Cec and intended to say, “I’ve been tinkering with an idea.”  But the word came out “thinkering” instead.  And there you have it.

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, 25th Anniversary Production

April 15, 2012

+++½

National Tour, Indianapolis, April 10, 2011

Previous productions I’ve seen: 9

The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables is truly a revival—with reinvented sets, costumes and staging.  Galloping tempos and liberal editing (mostly verses and lines that casual Les Mis audiences won’t notice) cut the original running time by 40 minutes.

Some good changes included a hand-grab (one certainly can’t call it a shake) that leads Javert to remember Valjean, new antics for the Thenardiers, and a dynamic and versatile stage with projected backdrops inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings.

Bad changes were the relocation Gavroche’s climactic barricade scene off-stage (?!?) due to the new set, an absence of chairs and tables during Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and an awkward exit for the pivotal silver candlesticks during the finalé.

The rapid-fire tempos bothered me in two particular instances—the instrumental reprise of Bring Him Home with Stars after the barricades fell and the finalé reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing—both felt entirely too rushed.  But the heart of Les Misérables, the characters’ intimate solos, remained largely intact.

Ultimately, I’m glad Les Mis has been revived and reinvigorated for a new generation to enact and enjoy, but I’m not glad to see and hear 40 minutes less of my favorite musical.

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More Hope Than We Can Handle

April 7, 2012

Monsignor Francis Tuohy was the Pastor of Christ the King Church in Indianapolis from 1995 to 2004.  Father Tuohy was an inspired writer and continues to be an inspiration to me.

At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2003, Father Tuohy’s homily made me want to stand up and cheer.  But he moved quickly into the sacrament of baptism for new members of the church and I lost the moment.  I requested a copy of the homily.  I reread it every once in a while and think of it almost every Easter.  When I started writing Rubicon, this was one of the first things I wanted to share.  I’ve finally posted it below.

The monsignor’s homilies were intended to be spoken.  He had a commanding voice, strangely nasal when he spoke loudly, but soothing like a double bass when he softened it to make his most important points.  I’ve made a few adjustments in the text for readability on the page.  I hope you enjoy it.  Happy Easter.

Easter – 2003

by Monsignor Francis Tuohy

Easter and the gospel account of Jesus rising from the dead always begins in darkness.  This is always how our discovery of the risen Christ begins—in darkness.

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of the Jesus who healed her, who taught her, who accorded her respect and love when no one else did and which she never thought she was worthy of.  With his death, her hope died.  Our discovery of the risen Christ begins in darkness.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a single mom looses her job because of the brutal economy.  She cleans out her desk and packs away her hope and walks into darkness wondering what she will tell her kids.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a spouse receives devastating news from the physician about a life-threatening cancer forming in his beloved; darkness surrounds them.

Just imagine, earlier this week, someone heard the words, “I want a divorce; I no longer love you, maybe I have never loved you.”  That one’s life is plunged into darkness.

Earlier this week, someone’s hope was crucified and that person’s darkness overwhelmed them.  And they cried out with Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

No one is ready to greet Easter until he or she has spent time in the early morning darkness where hope cannot be seen.  In such darkness, Easter is the last thing we are expecting.  That is why Easter terrifies us.

We dread the darkness but we fear even more what is beyond it.  Sometimes the darkness we know is preferable to the darkness we do not know—we may have learned at least to function and exist in the darkness; we find a distorted solace in the fact that darkness means nothing more can disappoint or hurt us.

In our darkness, we are not ready for Easter’s dawn, Easter’s first light.  It illuminates those dark places we have become used to; it focuses our vision and attention on what we have never seen before; it dares us to imagine possibilities beyond our limited understanding of what is possible.

Easter is not about bunnies, eggs and candy, springtime and little girls’ pretty dresses.  Easter is about more hope than we can handle.

Easter calls us out of the darkness that shrouds our lives.  Easter calls us out of the darkness into the light of possibility, of healing, of re-creation.  In his rising from the dead, Christ enables us to bring into our own lives all that he taught and lived throughout his life—the love, compassion, generosity, humility, selflessness that ultimately triumphs over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.

The empty tomb is the sign of perfect hope—that in Christ all things are possible, that we can make of our lives what we want them to be, that we can become the people God created us to become.  May we live not in fear of Easter morning’s first light but embrace that light and the hope it promises in the Risen One who is forever in our midst, dispelling the darkness.

In raising His Son from the dead, God raises us up as well, above and beyond the fears, the cynicism, the dark hopelessness that prevent us from living the life that God created us to live.  We must believe in the depths of our hearts that we are always forgiven our sins and mistakes and be willing to start over again and again.  We must embrace the hope of Easter’s empty tomb, and live our lives in the joy and faith that the Easter miracle will one day be realized in our lives as well.

Hope is stronger than memory.  Salvation is stronger than sin.  Forgiveness is stronger than bitterness.  Light is stronger than darkness.  Resurrection is stronger than crucifixion.  Life is stronger than death.  Those are the contrasts that capture the message of Easter.  Hope, salvation, forgiveness, light and life burst from the tomb as Christ is raised.  The resurrection is for us.  The good news is that Christ is raised.

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Where Loyalties Lie

March 23, 2012

I’m still in Indianapolis.  Peyton Manning isn’t.  Now who do I root for?

This is all very strange.

There was a time when Indianapolis could tell you, with relative certainty, how many laps Michael Andretti would lead in the 500 before anyone even tried to catch up.

There was a time, in 2000, when we were ecstatic about reaching the NBA Finals.  Reggie Miller’s heroics and antics finally pushed the Pacers past the Knicks.  But they couldn’t quite close the deal against the Lakers.

There was a time when Duke Tumatoe sang Lord, Help Our Colts on The (then-very-local) Bob and Tom Show.  The song lamented our sorry NFL franchise that we felt a little guilty cheering for—since we had stolen it from a heart-broken Baltimore.

Over the past fourteen years, all of that changed.  Some guy named Peyton came to town to play quarterback—and the funny guys in blue started to win more games.  I found little cause for celebration at first.  Any time the Colts won more than 50% of their games in the 80’s and 90’s, the hapless Irsay clan hurriedly canned anyone associated with the success.  I was sure the golden-boy quarterback would be sent to greener pastures and Indianapolis could return to our collective nap.

But that didn’t happen.  This guy Peyton kept plugging away.  And gathering a cadre who seemed more interested in winning games than garnering high draft picks.  Sports commentators’ associations of “football” with “Indianapolis” acquired a tone of deference rather than derision.  While in Canada in 2004, I was surprised when a waiter’s first association with Indianapolis was the Colts rather than the 500.

I had to start paying attention to football if I wasn’t going to be a complete outcast by the water cooler.  I don’t claim that my knowledge of football ever became any more than conversant.  I knew enough to have a disproportionate dislike for the Patriots.  I knew never to count the Chargers out of a playoff game.  I knew the press made every effort jinx Peyton into believing he would never go to a Super Bowl.  I knew Indianapolis was in the AFC South, which makes no geographical sense whatsoever.

And I started to identify with this guy.  Like me, he imagined he could change careers.  He moonlighted as a comedian:

By the 2006/2007 season, I was actually carving out time on Sundays for a football game.  Like the rest of Indianapolis, I watched in rapt wonder as Peyton took command of the offense, the defense, the field position, the clock, the referees and the crowd.  Oh—and he threw the ball pretty well, too.

Every week I felt bad for the poor TV commentator saddled with introducing the starters while the Colts were on their first drive—he never had time.  The score was seven-zip before you could zap the cheese dip, and it tasted better after the Peyton accolades were heaped on.

The Colts’ victory at the 2007 Super Bowl was fantastic.  But for me, and I think for many Hoosiers, it was neither as dramatic nor as euphoric as the preceding AFC Championship when we defeated the Patriots.  I still get choked up when I see this Sports Illustrated Cover:

So I’ve been a bit of a quandary this week.  Peyton is going to Denver.  I’m staying here.  I like to think of myself as someone who’s loyal.  Fair-weather fanaticism is so precipitously frowned upon.  But I was loyal to a Colts team that is, essentially, no more.  Shall I be loyal to a team owner who regularly acts like a character out of a Chris Farley movie?  I’m discovering I haven’t actually been a Colts fan to begin with.  I have been a fan of the Colts players—Dallas, Marvin, Saturday, Sanders.  I’ve been a fan of Peyton Manning.

So, as it turns out, no—I don’t feel particularly disloyal or torn in continuing to root for Peyton.  I hope he wins another Super Bowl.  Maybe two.

I’ll be interested to see what happens to the Colts, of course.  It might be newsworthy if the front office could prevail upon Jim Irsay to give up tweeting—and maybe they could nominate him for What Not to Wear.  Andrew Luck seems to be a nice enough fellow; I hope he does well.  We’ll see how he fares with an NFL defense across the line of scrimmage.

But I think my gridiron attention will be elsewhere for a few years.

Go Peyton.  Go Broncos.

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Words With Meanings

March 18, 2012

Broadway lyricist Alan Lerner’s father was unable to speak later in life.  During a family weekend together, Mr. Lerner the elder wrote this note to his already-successful son:

Alan, I have counted the words you have used this weekend and you have an active vocabulary of 297 words.  I don’t see how you can make a career as a writer with an active vocabulary of 297 words.  However, I believe you have talent and if you would like to return to school and study, I would be more than happy to subsidize you.

The Street Where I Live, Alan Jay Lerner, WW Norton & Company, 1978

It was brought to my attention recently that some, perhaps many, Words with Friends and Scrabble players are unaware of the meanings of small, helpful words made with uncommon letters.  Even Scrabblefinder.com states in blissful ignorance, “No definition found – It’s still good as a Scrabble word though!”

I, like the elder Mr. Lerner, am aghast.  Playing Scrabble at my house was a vocabulary builder above all other considerations.  So much so, we almost never kept score.

If the words we use in games are not to join our active vocabulary, or at least our general knowledge base, then what is the point of playing these games?  Are we simply memorizing letter sequences in order to garner the highest point total?  Underneath the online dictionary entries for small words using k, q and z, one inevitably finds a comment that simply says “… words with friends.”  One can imagine the wide, glazed-over eyes of the automaton who’s obsession with word games has corrupted his or her ability to speak in complete sentences.

In a small effort to reverse this popular, vapid tide, here are some of those useful Scrabble words—along with their definitions.

ae

Ae rhymes with “a.”  It is a chiefly Scottish word for “one,” but used in its adjective form only.  “One moment please” becomes “Ae moment please.”

dex

Dex is short for the sulfate of dextro-amphetamine or dexamphetamine.  Dictionaries helpfully explain that this is the dextrorotatory sulfate of amphetamine.

Following the breadcrumbs further, dextrorotatory means that the plane of polarization of light is rotated toward the right. (Don’t you love definitions like those?)  Dex is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.  (“Please take your dex and pay attention.”—C.M. Stevenson)

Dex is not listed in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (OED).*

jeux

Jeux is French for “games.” I suppose when one is playing word games, jeux is à propos.

kex

A kex is a dried stem (usually hollow) of certain large herbaceous plants such as Cow Parsnip, Wild Chervil and Marsh Angelica.  (“Polishing off another apple, Eve wondered how and why Adam had woven kex into a brassiere of for her.”—C.M. Stevenson)

lo

You probably know that lo is an interjection used to call attention or to express wonder or surprise.  One uses it as “Look! See! or Behold!”  (“And lo! They came to discover that short words formed with uncommon letters do, indeed, have meaning.” – C.M. Stevenson)  One can also use it like “oh.”

What you may not know is that lo was shortened from lōke, a middle English imperative form of look.

od, odyl, and odyle

Od, odyl, and odyle are variations of the name for a hypothetical force suggested by the Baron von Reichenbach (1788 – 1869) to pervade all nature and to manifest itself in magnetism, mesmerism, chemical action, etc.

‘Od has also been used in place of God, when one is attempting to skirt the strict interpretation of the second commandment.  It would be used as a mild oath, similarly to “gad”.

om

Om actually means just what you think.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, an utterance of assent used in prayer and meditation.  But it’s Sanskrit, and that’s just so cool.  (So is loot, but I don’t get nearly as excited about that.)

op

Op is a short form of operation, optime, opus (a work of music, not the cartoon character) and optical.

oxo

Oxo, as far as I can discover, is the proprietary name of an extract of beef used as the basis of drinks (… uh … yuck) or soups.  I don’t know if this is equivalent to beef stock or not.  Regardless, it seems to me a proprietary name would be in violation of basic Scrabble rules.

qi

Qi is an equivalent for chi.  In Eastern systems of medical treatment, exercise, self-defense and philosophy, it is the vital energy believed to animate the body internally.

suq

Suq rhymes with “duke” and is a variant spelling of “souk” which is a marketplace in north Africa or a stall in such a marketplace.

Suq picture by Kazbar212

xi

Xi is the spelled name for the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet.  It makes the sound “ks,” even though it looks a lot like an epsilon.

yod

Yod—while possibly the name of an uncle of Superman back on Krypton—is rather the tenth letter of the hebrew alphabet.

In astrology, yod means “finger of God” which leads to a bevy of uncommonly-lettered astrological terms that are outside the scope of this post.

zax

Zax is a variant spelling for a sax, a tool similar to a hatchet, used for cutting and dressing roofing slates.  (I love that use of the word dressing.)  A zax is used by slaters, which gives me a reason to list Christian Slater as a tag on this post.

*I sifted through the unabridged OED at the Indianapolis Central Library for the first time while researching for this topic.  I’m counting it as a big step in crossing my Rubicon.

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The Last Word

March 3, 2012

I was a dejected soul when I walked into Starbucks this morning.

I had been to the gym.  It’s usually a great way to begin a Saturday.  But I had placed myself right in someone else’s way while doing a bizarre bench press on an exercise ball.  The guy is someone I’ve seen several times in the gym.  He let out a string of obscenities, not quite under his breath.  I didn’t recognize immediately that they were intended for me.

By the time I realized my error, my fellow gym rat had left.  I may have lost my only opportunity to apologize.  I know from experience how frustrating it is to be in the gym with only one other person and to find said person directly in your way.  This episode will likely be one of those nagging memories that crops up when I remind myself of all my bad qualities and lousy life decisions.

So I sulked to the counter at Starbucks to order my latte and oatmeal.  I started jotting notes for a blog post to publicly flog myself in hopes that it might exorcise this new demon memory before it leaves a scar on my mind.

Then the strangest thing happened.

My oatmeal was sitting on the counter, sans the fruit I had requested.  My latte was still in production.  Then a guy—a cute, young guy I had noticed glancing up at me from his computer as I walked in—appeared at the counter.  He scooped up the oatmeal and quickly returned to his seat.

I was dumbstruck.  I’ve been to Starbucks enough to know that the oatmeal is an easy thing to make.  It was highly implausible that the stud had ordered an oatmeal and coffee, sat down, spread his study materials on the table, opened up files on his computer, and waited through the three people in front of me before his oatmeal was ready.  No.  He clearly had seen the unclaimed food on the counter, made tracks with his hot-looking gray and orange shoes, and commandeered my breakfast.

I looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the grand theft that had just taken place.  One bearded gentleman in line was eyeing me.  I couldn’t tell if his expression said, “That thief stole your oatmeal! What are you going to do about it?” or, “I can’t believe I still pay more for coffee than gasoline.”

I stood there, maybe a minute.  I thought perhaps I was wrong.  Perhaps there really was an oatmeal for everyone.  Perhaps I was too quick to judge the fine young man with the just-large-enough-to-be-adorable nose.

But it wasn’t to be.  The current batch of oatmeals had all been distributed.

I’m an introvert.  I don’t like scenes.  I don’t like to be embarrassed.

So I found an empty table and sat down.

I wasn’t about to ask Starbucks to rectify the situation by making another oatmeal.  It was not their problem to remedy.

I thought this was punishment from God for my snafu at the gym.  I thought I deserved what I got.

I sat where the attractive kleptomaniac could see me.  I had to turn if I were to see him.  He didn’t seem to have any qualms.  I presume he ate my oatmeal with a steady hand and smug satisfaction that he had gotten away with it.  I’m sure he thought the oatmeal would not be missed.  He thought everyone would assume there had been a mistake and that Starbucks would happily dole out a second bowl without a second thought.

I was distracted for a while by the oddness of the morning and the scalding temperature of my latte.  But eventually, roused by indignation and caffeine, I felt a need for vigilante justice.  Even if I wasn’t going to demand satisfaction from the villain, I wanted him to know that his transgression had not gone unnoticed, that he was not so slick a criminal as he thought, that he was imposing on the wallets and gullets of others.  I wanted the karmic ledger sheet to return to equilibrium.

I mulled the possibilities while sipping steamy foam.  I hoped that the other tables would clear out before I did anything.  But the java drinkers just kept milling around.  I considered leaving and leaving well enough alone.

But if I did nothing, I wouldn’t have let myself write it in a post.

So I assembled my trash and grabbed my unopened book from the table.  I walked calmly toward the oatmeal absconder, and leaned down in mid-step.

I said, “You’re welcome.”

I straightened up, tossed my cup into the trash, and walked to the door.

I didn’t look back.  I didn’t care to see his reaction.  But I imagined that he was watching me as I left.

I dared anyone to cross me as I strode out of Starbucks this morning.

I suppose, after the door closed behind me, a woman at the next table leaned to the dashing young man at his Apple MacBook and said, “why did that weird guy say to you, ‘you’re an uncle’?”

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What’s New Yourself? An Introvert’s Perspective

February 4, 2012

Matt Chong, an enthusiastic extrovert over at The Pinstriped Suitwrote a recent post that was featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed page.  Mr. Chong, like most enthusiastic extroverts, believes that the world would be a much better place if everyone else were enthusiastic extroverts.  The main point of his post is that we should have a ready answer for the question “What’s new?”  He suggests that if one mumbles, “not much,” in response, then one’s life needs shaken up in some fashion.

Lest Mr. Chong believe that many lead lives of quiet desperation, I would submit that introverts may see the conversation differently.  At least one introvert does.

If we’re in daily contact, I assume what’s new? is the same as how’s it going? and what’s up?  If I’ve asked someone what’s new?, I don’t rightly care about the answer—and I assume they don’t rightly care about mine.  We’re oiling the gears of human interaction; I don’t need to know about someone’s personal growth (in whatever form) while at the urinals.

If we’re not in daily contact, what’s new? trips an odd switch in my brain.  I infer that my answer should be newsworthy: births, deaths, marriages; a new job, house, or car; upcoming vacations or major weather systems.  If I have no news on any of these fronts, my mind goes completely blank.  My running shoes may be new, but they aren’t equal to the magnitude of the question.

Mr. Chong suggests that my answer to what’s new? should be drawn from my current passions in life.  I disagree—that’s not what was asked.  If I’ve been passionate about something for a year, it’s not truly new and is excluded from the category.  Thus, all the stray thoughts on the white-board of my mind are wiped clean by what’s new? and I’m left with nothing to offer.

Sadly, I lost a friend due to this quirky neuro-misfire.  We used to work together.  We talked every day.  She moved to Michigan for another job.  We kept in contact by phone for a while.  But her standard question to me was what’s new?—not just once at the beginning of the conversation, but any time there was a lull.  These were highly stressful phone calls for me—I was continually emptying the junk-drawer of my mind, sorting through the mundane daily nonsense to find something that would qualify as “new.”  My friend’s need to know what’s new was a millstone.  I dragged my feet when returning her calls.  Eventually, she stopped calling.

It is also possible that I shortchange the answer to what’s new? because I dislike the person asking.  I don’t share my thoughts with people I don’t like.  (I realize this is a bizarre concept for extroverts.)  I cannot abide the loquacious, the disingenuous, or the incompetent.  I refuse to reveal any intimate part of myself—and certainly nothing I’m passionate about—to them.

I may be writing a book, composing a new Mass setting, creating a Shutterfly travelogue, remodeling my kitchen, or just fighting interpersonal communication wars in blog posts, but one is unlikely to find out about any of these things by asking me, “What’s new?”

Many thanks to Matt Chong for his post.  It certainly gave me a lot to talk about.