HOW FANTASY PARALLELS REALITY



Grusha Russian circus bear

The gift of friendship is unparalled, and I received a warm and fuzzy gift from our dear friend in Niles, singer/songwriter Michael McNevin, who gave us an impromptu performance of his new song about Grusha the Russian circus bear. Michael is a storyteller, whose songs reflect the human experience in a kind and deeply thoughtful way.

Grusha attached himself to Michael’s heart some time ago, and as fantasy bears sometimes do, he wouldn’t let up until Michael agreed to tell the world a musical rendition of his story.

It’s a smple story which some of you may remember from my previous blog of May 7, 2012, about Grusha, he was a bike riding attraction in the circus who longed to return to his home in Siberia. Going round and round, doing the same job every day, with no hope for his future, he seems familiar somehow. Michael first saw my painting of Grusha which lives in the small Haus in our garden. and then in pure serenditity, as things often do, bear mind control took over and Michael saw my blog. The result is a charming song sure to delight all ages.

As a friend of Michael’s said “Aren’t we all Grusha?” No matter what we do, or for how long, we are “all peddling our bikes to get back home”. Home is where warmth is, where love is, where family is. Gusha is readily recognizable.

Michael’s joyful song shows Grush’s excape and his journey back to his home in Siberia. His story fills us with hope and joy in the celebration of his freedom.

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JOHNSON’S DICTIONARY


dr-johnson Dr. Johnson At The Cheshire Cheese

To be honest, the first time I saw this plate hanging on the wall of my mother-in-law’s breakfast room, I thought what a glutton Dr. Johnson must have been, whoever he was. After all, how much cheese could anyone eat? And everyone knows that Cheshire, of course, was a cat.

As years passed, I became intimately acquainted with Dr. Johnson, in a literary way that is, and learned that Cheshire was the cheese we Americans call cheddar. Traipsing around the streets of London later on with Dr. A. , it all came clear; and further investigation showed that Johnson spent a good deal of time writing his dictionary whilst sitting comfortably inside the pub named Cheshire Cheese. And we found it a cozy pub to this day.

Now Johnson’s was not the first dictionary by any means, but it became his crowning achievement; it is more famous than his one novel Rasselas and, although he was also a gicfted poet, it is for his lexicography above all else that Samuel Johnson is remembered. First published in two large volumes in 1755, the book’s full title was A dictionary of the English Language; in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different English grammar. It’s no surprise that it is usually just known as ‘Johnson’s Dictionary”.

Johnson’s wasn’t the first English dictionary; before his, there had been several such works. Richard Mulcaster had compiled a list of English words in the sixteenth century, but without definitions. Lexicography was as much about borrowing and improving as about creating from scratch. Johnson’s dictionary drew heavily from Nathan Bailey’s which in turn had relied on John Kersey’s Dictionary, which had borrowed generously from John Harris’s 1704 dictionary. But none of these were on the scale of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. A far greater size and scope would be what Johnson, in 1755 brought to the table. It would take him nine years to complete, working with several assistants.

Johnson was the first lexicographer to use quotations from Shakespeare, Spencer, and other literary sources. In fact, his intention in writing the dictionary was partly to acquaint people with the language of the literary greats.

Johnson included no words beginning with X, on the bases that no words in the English language began with ‘X’. Xylophone, in case you were wondering, has only been in print since since 1866, and X-rays were another 30 years away from xylophones. Still, this was an improvement over Cawdrey’s dictionary of 150 years earlier, which had failed to include any words beginning with W, X or Y.

The famous definition supplied by Johnson for ‘oats—a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’–may have been borrowed from Pliny, who made a similar remark about the ancient Germans.

The oft-repeated exchange between Johnson and the ladies searching for improper or indecent words in Johnson’s dictionary says that when several cultivated ladies of English society congratulated him for leaving out such words he replied “Ah ladies, you were searching for them?” For one thing, Johnson did include a number of words which would have offended the proprieties of prim eighteenth century ladies, among them bum,fart, arse, piss, and turd although sexually suggestive words were left out, including penis and vagina. He defined a boghouse as a house of office, and ‘to lie with’ as ‘to converse in bed’.

He also left out aardvark, something which Blackadder would later observe. But, in fairness to Johnson, he could hardly be blamed for this either; the earliest defination for the word is 1785, the year after Johnson died.

One of Johnson’s more confusing suggestions: Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

AND SO IT BEGINS:


EPISODE 1:

Southern California 1928 — 1938

As in every story, mine begins at the beginning.

I sit her trying to decide what was important to my life and what was negligible, and I realize it was ALL important; every stumble or achievement, as well as all the people who contributed to it.

The grandparents who influenced my life the most were Jim Black and Nellie Kendall. Jim was a high school track star who came down from Montreal, Canada to compete in Nellie’s high school in New Hampshire. They married the day she graduated, and moved to California with their two little girls in the early 1900″s.

Young, and with no money but with the pipe dreams often associated with youth, Grandma made a bee line to Beverly Hills, where she rented a large home next door to Harold Lloyd, an early comic movie star with large horn-rimmed glasses and an acrobatic bent.

The next problem to come up was how to pay for all this posh lifestyle, so she did the only thing she felt she was good at; she rented out rooms and made hats for society ladies at premium prices. I don’t know how the celebrity neighbors felt about all this, but they didn’t live there long before they moved on to another rented house in Los Angeles, bringing their paying guests with them.

Grandma could be an overwhelming presence and she overwhelmed Jim and soon divorced him, leaving her to weather the storms of single motherhood, and Jim to love her forever after.

Nellie was an excellent seamstress and an excellent cook, the only skills she had learned as a daughter of privilege, and instead of merely renting our spare bedrooms, she elevated her paying guests to boarders.

The money Nellie made often didn’t stretch far enough, so my mother and aunt made sure the boarders ate while Nellie went out and got whatever job she could as waitress or hostess at hotel or restaurant. This was an additional skill she had, since she had often waited tables in the large resort her father owned in New Hampshire.

Plump and pretty, accompanied by a sense of humor, grandma was a magnet for the boys, and loved dancing and parties, though she allowed no drinking or smoking. No one ever dared do either in any house she lived in. She was married four times, and her last husband did both, so it was incredible to see her happily sitting at his feet with his pipe smoke drifting in swirls over her head. She had married him at the age of 76 saying she would marry “the devil himself if it would keep her from being a burden” to my mother. I guess there’s a reason behind every rhyme.

Though the two sisters were always close, Grandma and Georgia were opposite in every way. Auntie was taller and lean, and quite plain. Both Yankees, Georgia typified the usual definition of a strait-laced New Englander, though she possessed a wry sense of humor.
Auntie taught me that “Lips which touch a cigaroote shall never park beneath my snoot.” And that “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.”

Nellie’s closet was always bursting with pretty clothes, while my recollection of Auntie’s small closet contained one “nice” dress, one or two everyday dresses, a pair of dress shoes and her everyday shoes. It would never have occurred to her to want more, though by my childhood evaluation, they were the “wealthy” part of the family. Later, after the Great Depression had begun to take its toll of every family, I remember asking my grandma if we were poor. She assured me that rather than “poor”, we were broke. We were broke for a very long time.

Nellie’s sister Georgia had chosen to go to normal school and became a teacher before she married Uncle Phil and moved to California. I mention this because Auntie was one of the great influences on my life and whose home sheltered me more times than I can remember.

THE MOVING FINGER WRITES


The moving finger writes and having writ moves on–and on–and on.

Children always want to know all your secrets; when they’re little, it’s your age, where you met Daddy, why did Daddy yell at you last night? When they reach the teen years they want to know when grandma let you wear lipstick and why can’t they? Or how old were you when you got to go on your first date. The date thing can get pretty personal the older they get.

What they really want to know is your feelings on just about everything you have placed in your mental vault. What you were thinking when you were in high school, or when you got married, or had babies. They want you to revisit your childhood to compare it with their own. They want to know your life.

My mother died over thirty years ago, and several months ago it troubled me that I couldn’t remember if she used cream in her coffee; so you can see how that goes.

Several years ago our daughter gave us each a large book entitled in large letters (so that we could see them) “MY LIFE”, with instructions to fill it out. We set them aside with arbitrary intentions.

A couple of months ago we met the same daughter and her husband for breakfast in San Francisco at the Delancey Street Cafe. I love presents and she gave my husband and I each a large nicely wrapped package. Naturally I ripped the paper off as quick as I could, only to find a familiar book–“MY LIFE”. Some people just don’t give up.

I started to write in it–I truly did. All the amazing ancestral forebears and their birth, marriage and death dates were duly entered with any scandalous information I could glean. Then I realized that it wasn’t that that she wanted, so I am beginning a memoir of sorts which I hope will be of interest to some readers.

Though I think my life has been quite ordinary, it has been long, and I’m counting on a lot more of it.

THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT


cropped-bird-of-paradise-painting.jpg
“Bird Of Paradise” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Did you ever stop to think how arbitrary the naming of things can be? For instance: has anyone ever really seen a bird of paradise? In the rich history of the English language a word has been invented for just about everything including things we have never seen.

Now and then words go missing when we need them and then unexpectedly pop up again in the night while in the middle of a good dream. Haven’t you wished you could think of a great word to apply to someone who does things which are particularly annoying or irritating–whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window or in tedious meetings at work?

It’s fascinating for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. There are several I’m sure, but we can avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian. Do you see how useful it could be?

Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinion to follow popular trends. It comes from a girouette another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical position according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.

Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one–ironically.

Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation, unlike the words such a person is likely to use. Many years ago I was annoyed with my father and wrote him a long pedantic and complaining letter. He immediately dashed one off to me using words I never thought he knew. It is universal to believe that we are far more brilliant than our parent, until we are once again proven wrong.

A Buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way was the one who provides us with the first recorded use of the word “bad” to mean “good”, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh. So you see, when someone says another person or musical group is “bad-ass” and means they’re good, it’s really “old-hat”.

Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. One of its root words is “humbug” or a hoax. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug. So don’t complain too loudly or people may call you a “humdudgeon”.

One of the great words featured in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth century Dictionary is bed-presser which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’.

There must be other annoying words–or rather, perfectly nice words that describe things people do–or things which get your goat.

We borrow from other languages, invent new words, combine words, and still wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t understand us.

IN RETROSPECT


PigeonPointCA

Now and then we read something which touches a nerve and makes an impact. Several years ago while immersed in Virginia Woolf’s novel “To The Lighthouse” I saw an unpleasant image of myself and set the book aside for six months. What I saw had embarrassed and even shamed me.

The story revolves around the Ramsey family, their children and guests vacationing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Told in Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’ style I recognized some dodgy traits in Mrs. Ramsey, some of which were unfortunately my own.

One of those habits, common to most of us, is what I have begun calling “staying in our own moment”. A case in point in the Woolf novel involves a stroll through the garden with Mr. Ramsey who is relating his thoughts to his wife, who is happily entangled in her own thoughts, unaware and uninterested in what Mr. R seems to find important.

Our ideas seem to take precedence over others far too often. I realized that I am guilty of this as well as being impatient for someone else to finish their opinion so that I can offer my own far superior one.

Are we all only half-listening? Will others like us more when they hear what we have to say? Are we more important than they are?

The advent of the smart phone gave people the excuse to stay in the same room with other living organisms without actually having to talk or listen to them. Whole groups can sit in silence, heads bent over their own device while a single speaker regurgitates his thoughts.

It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t know the answer, but I’m working on it.

ENERGY BEGETS ENERGY


Audrey Mabee
Painting by Audrey Mabee

I have long hoped that the amount of energy we apply to every endeavor would reward us with the same amount we spent. I should have known better. After all, we don’t receive the same amount of money back after blowing a week’s salary on a frivolous purchase. However, suppose we donated that money to a worthy charity, or helped someone achieve a goal which had been illusive? That “energy” would come flowing back.

It’s a known fact that you “use it, or lose it,” and I seem to have misplaced my muscles in the past couple of years. We like to blame other things for our shortcomings, and I have been happy to blame other things on my lack of endeavor in the exercise department. Like Audrey Mabee’s painting, I have been floating and having a great time.

There is a new book out about the value of “tidying up”, so I thought I would give it a try.

Is scrubbing the kitchen floor considered exercise? After all, it does entail energy.