Frequently Not Asked Questions: Eight

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Question: Are you what is called “a woman of a certain age”?

 

I used to be.

 

All that has changed recently. Not only have I been told that 50 is the new 30, which would make me under 40, but the Max Planck Institute says I’m still in my twenties because 72 is the new 30. So, my age is no longer certain.

 

The research institute that declared me young bears the name of Max Planck. If you’ve watched enough Jeopardy shows, you’ll remember him from the question “Who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918?” Max Planck received the award for his discovery of little bundles of energy, called quanta, sometimes known as grandchildren.

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Thanks to Planck, we know, or should, that light is both a wave and a particle (a lump of energy) at the same time. This is easily understood by considering Superman. Depending on how or when you look at him, he is either Clark Kent, the equivalent of a mild-mannered wave wearing dark-rimmed glasses, or Superman, a bundle of super-human energy flying through space in tights.

 

But what does that have to do with time slowing down, so that it now takes over two of the old years to make one of the new ones?

 

Thank you for asking. It has something to do with Einstein, the mathematical short story writer. His most famous story, E=mc2, consists of just three letters, a symbol, and a number. A close reading of the text yields the following. A hapless thirty-year-old astronaut sent on a mission just after his first child, Herminia, is born spends thirty years traveling at very high speeds here and there in the galaxy, eating irradiated beef and freeze-dried ice cream. He returns to earth on what he believes is his daughter’s 30th birthday. When he bursts through the door of the family home, expecting to surprise Herminia, he discovers “Happy 72nd Birthday!” written on the cake. He is confused because he is only 60 and his birthday is next month. Overcome by the sight of real ice cream, he consumes a bowl before learning that the old woman at the head of the table is Herminia. Yet no matter what the calendar says, in the mind of the hapless astronaut, she is his 30-year-old daughter. Hence, the idea that 72 is the new 30.

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Long ago, people my age were considered long in the tooth; now we are long in the youth because the fast pace of life is slowing time down. If I live long enough, it may take three of the old years to equal a new one. By the time I reach 90, it may be the new 30, and I’ll never be able to retire.

 

Caveat anagnóstis (Reader beware): My understanding of physics is limited to interpretative dances about the elusive quark. However, I have heard that as an object accelerates, its mass increases. This explains why as I move faster and faster through time, growing younger and younger, my fluffiness is also increasing –  a matter that weighs heavy on me at times.

Quarks courtesy of Arpad Horvath.

Quarks courtesy of Arpad Horvath.

(NOTE TO READER: This is a non-science blog and is not a substitute for a college class in theoretical physics. My expertise lies primarily in theatrical physics with a focus on musicals. Any information with a resemblance to actual science is purely coincidental and rather lucky.)

 

 

 

Writer’s laryngitis

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Definition

Writer’s laryngitis and its related condition, bloggingitis, is a painful loss of a writer’s voice, which if left untreated can lead to chronic guilt, shame, and increasingly lame excuses.

 

 Symptoms

The ailment results in an uncontrollable urge to erase words on paper or hit the delete button on a computer; a stuffed up wastebasket, oozing over with crumpled papers; and complete avoidance of blogging sites, Most cases develop into a full-blown allergy to all forms of written expression.

Courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography: D Sharon Pruitt

Courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography: D Sharon Pruitt

Causes

Most of the time, writer’s laryngitis is caused by unhealthy amounts of latent procrastination in the writer’s blood. Other times an underlying cause is narrowing of the imagination, which reduces the flow of ideas, until they are completely obstructed. Some experts, such as Dr. Frye of the Americans Who Do Research Group, and his rival Dr. Frye of the French Who Do Too Group, are currently researching the causes. The American Frye contends there is a  a link to tube tuber tubby syndrome, what is commonly known as couch potato disorder. However, the French Frye considers this a half-baked idea.

 

Risk factors and complications

In mild cases, patients have an idea but cannot find the right word and so give up. Eventually they cannot find the left word, either, or even the ones in the middle. In severe cases the patient can do little more than stare at blank screens or blank notebooks. In some cases, sufferers find they cannot string more than two or three words together on a thread of thought.

Prolonged loss of voice can lead to linguistic atrophy, flaccid brain syndrome, and over-consumption of dark chocolate. If flaccid brain syndrome is not treated, the patient may become inert, find it impossible to get up off the couch, or even change the channel.

 

Treatment and drugs

There is currently no known medically approved treatment, but of course, there are drugs.

Spontaneous return of voice happens in some cases when the writer gets a new spirit, such as red wine. Other times, the cure comes by way of a talisman. Some writers swear by their lucky underwear, but may suffer a recurrence of the condition when the underwear is in the wash. Failure to wash the underwear can lead to social isolation, a leading cause of inviting too many cats into the home. Others have reported success by spitting into the wind three times on a Tuesday or writing blindfolded. No one treatment has proved efficacious for all cases.

Danger of Contagion

Writer’s laryngitis is not contagious, but it is highly annoying for people around the sufferer who are subjected to excessive sighing, whining, complaining, excuse-making, to say nothing of the need to do all of the channel changing.

Sights from roads my feet have walked: the ginkgo

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Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons

 

The sidewalk wanders past the tiny shops. I notice a pharmacy its shelves lined with aspirin in antiseptic white bottles across from a Chinese medicine store with a window lined with bottles of ginseng roots floating in amber liquid, a stationery store no larger than a walk-in closet, and a coffee shop. A businessman hurries past me into shop, releasing the aroma of the freshly ground beans into the cold air.

 

Today, I say, I will be aware that I am alive. Today I will notice, I will see, I will be.

 

Ginkgo trees stand between the street and the sidewalk, each an equal distance from the one in front, stretching as far as I can see down the thoroughfare. All are completely bare of leaves. I wear layers of clothing beneath my warmest coat. It is February in Tokyo.

 

Up ahead I see one tree laden with the round, feathered fruit of sparrows. Dozens sit in that one tree, and only that one. It surprises me, and my happiness doubles when I notice two men inside a small shop noticing them, too.

 

We do not speak, the men and I. We stand, watching, filled with wonder and delight.

 

Some years have passed since that cold winter day when I stopped to see the world. Even in a world empty and barren, hope lingers. A tree bereft of leaves can blossom forth in birds.

Condiment days

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I call summer my condiment days because it’s the season of catch-up. As you know or would know if you had a copy of B. E. Gent’s A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, In its Several Tribes, of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, c. with An Addition of Some Proverbs, Phrases, Figurative Speeches, c. Useful for all sorts of People (especially Foreigners) to secure their Money and preserve their Lives; besides very Diverting and Entertaining, being wholly New, the sauce known to us as ketchup or catsup first appeared in 1690 as catchup. As far as I remember, which is not very far considering that the length of my brain in just 167 mm or 6.5 inches, I have always dipped my French fries in the condiment that starts with “k.” I attribute this to my mother’s fear of cats and their propensity to jump on the table and lick the butter. She shuddered thinking about cats up on the table, so she always bought ketchup.

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Courtesy of Iamlilbub

(Just in case you’ve mislaid your copy of the dictionary mentioned above, go here. But don’t go yet or you will never return to finish reading this post. You may have already decided not to continue reading after that remark about catsup on the table. If so, thank you for reading the first paragraph.)

From B.E. Gent's dictionary

From B.E. Gent’s dictionary

School owns me for about 10 months of the year, so I have some catching up to do on my housecleaning. For most of the year, I clean at see-level: what I can see without moving any furniture or appliances. I shorten cleaning time by removing my glasses or contacts once I’m in the house. A quick wipe here, and little dusting there, and everything looks fine. Lens-free, I see my house through a soft blur, much like a painting by Monet or Renoir. It’s only when I get down on my hands and knees that I see the luminous line along the edge of the baseboard behind the bed and nightstands is actually a collection of dust bunnies.

 

For the past two semesters I’ve had little chance to lie around the house, but my dead skin cells have made a habit of it. Cells that once served a purpose have since sloughed off and gathered in tiny cemeteries beneath the furniture, on the ledges, and atop the light fixtures. It seems almost sacrilege to disturb my dead self parts by vacuuming, but according to one of the biologists on the Arizona State University website, an hour after I’m done, I will shed about 30,000 to 40,000 more skin cells to replace them. If only there were fat cells, but I suppose that would make the floors slippery.

Feather duster courtesy of Robert E Rempher

Feather duster courtesy of Robert E Rempher

Last week I began scrubbing in the kitchen and plan to move slowly through the house, cleaning and shedding as I go. Catching up also includes gardening and preparing for the summer class I teach in July, as well as chasing after my writing projects, which keep getting away from me. I plan to complete at least one piece of writing this summer because I have fewer and fewer summers in my future. Like so many others, I want to leave behind more than just dead skin cells.

Dear Miss Spelling and her moods

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Some moods are easy to spell. Others, not so much.

 

Look closely at the word angry. Smack dab in the middle of “any” is the growling “gr-r-r” sound you make when you’re mad. Any little denial like being told no chocolate before dinner or no tying your little brother to the ceiling fan to see if he can fly is enough to make any child angry. Denial is the river children are constantly being thrown into, so remembering how to spell angry is the orthographic equivalent of dog-paddling.

 

Courtesy of the grandchild

Grandchild Art

By the age of six or seven, a child has learned the grammar of the language, how to hide Lego pieces so cleverly only the bare foot of a parent can find them, and the delicate art of whining until one or both parents must choose between insanity or giving in to the child’s demands. These skills give a child confidence, and when you’re confident, it’s easy to remember how to spell the word. See the little “I” standing in the middle of the word flexing those tiny little biceps?

 

Courtesy of the grandchild

Grandchild Art

Then consider that birthdays know just one adjective and shout it out every chance they get. Unlike other special days like Valentine’s Day or Labor Day, which have the good sense to limit their celebrations to one time a year, birthdays happen every single day of the year. Receive enough birthday cards and you’ll never forget those five happy letters.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Even its antonym sad is memorable. It starts off with that soft “s-s-s” which is the start of a child’s every sniff and snivel. Next is the short sound of “a,” which is not only the first sound the mouth makes to bite into the word apple, but is the only vowel needed to cry out “Ack!” once the child discovers half of a worm in the part not yet eaten.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Being frustrated is something altogether different. There are levels. Maybe the small person can’t find the talking dog with the annoying bark which mommy accidentally hid in the basement. Okay, a clever child will still be able to spell the word. But what happens when the innocent goes to school and comes face to face with a language that has over half a million words. The student eagerly learns a few spelling rules, and then discovers the lie about the so-called rules. A spelling rule is like the speed limit – most words ignore it. Words disguise themselves in letters like false moustaches and ill-fitting toupés, so the child has no way of knowing who they are and what they sound like. That level of deceit could make anyone frushteraded.

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

No longer trusting the teacher, the child looks at a spelling word, saying it over and over until he or she falls down the rabbit hole, where the word turns strange, an object never seen before. And is so often the case, what the teacher calls a silent “e” or magic “e” (but what the child knows should be called sullen “e”) sits in the corner of a word saying nothing, mouth agape, staring back with a blank look. That’s makes a child feel not only werde, but also terrified of using an “e.” Once the sense of “e’s” is lost, one experiences the horror felt by the truly scard.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

At first, sound-shifting letters such as “g” and “c” may merely baffle a child. One day they speak softly to the child telling tales of giraffes and circuses. The next day it’s all goblins and cannibals. Over time, the inconsistency and inability to rely on the sounds lead to such a level of disgust that the child can only express the feeling as dicustid.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

Spelling in English is a map drawn half with comprehensible and sensible words and half in runes, or possibly ruins, with unhelpful signposts that cheerfully tell you to follow the road called “I before E, except after C.” Along that very road you notice signs for towns named Feisty Pines, Seize de Dayville, or Yurso Vein. A few children will find the map useful, follow the map, and end up in a spelling bee. The rest will end up at a crosswords with a sign in one corner marked Too, Two, and To, and a sign in another marked There, Their, and They’re. It’s enough to exhaust a grownup. Imagine a small child so spent, he or she can barely speak let along spell, too weary to know where the sullen “e” goes, so it’s pushed to the end of the word because that’s where it so often sulks, leaving just the I of the small child’s self lost in the middle of tirde.

 

Grandchild Art

Grandchild Art

 

 

Phases of the moon

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Once I was a new moon, unseen, hidden in the dark universe of my mother’s womb. As she fed on the sun, swallowing sunlight silently gathered by plants, I grew into a small sliver of a crescent moon – a mere curl of the girl I would be.

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Waxing day by day, more of me could be seen – small hands, feet, and face slowly revealed from the soft tissue, while the bones, pliable as new twigs, lengthened. Mother hid her lunate shape until I increased and she felt my orbit. When I reached the first quarter phase, her belly mirrored me.

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For some length of days, I waxed gibbous within and her universe expanded. She knew my time would come soon.

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When she could eat no more light, I shone through her, a full moon making my own self visible.

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We women belong to the moon, following her cycle through the sky, waxing and waning through our lives. In this way the world is born again and again.

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I have waxed full in my spin around the world, and despite an empty universe of a womb, I have had two full moons orbit my life.

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Now I wane, and this phase – my last quarter – is almost spent.

 

Once I was full of light, but now so much is hidden. I follow the path forward, shrinking my way home in the dark night under the starshine, In the early morning hours, curled upon my bed, a small crescent shape beneath the covers, I wait and wonder about that final phase when I am too new to be seen.

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Photos courtesy of Jay Tanner on Creative Commons

Waxing crescent: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-040.jpg
First quarter: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-088.jpg
 Waxing gibbous: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-134.jpg
 Full moon: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-168.jpg
 Waning gibbous: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-224.jpg
 Last quarter: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-265.jpg
Waning crescent:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Phase-327.jpg

My non-imaginary friend

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I never had an imaginary friend as a child because I had a non-imaginary friend that I could talk to anytime and anywhere, my very own self.

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As I’ve grown older, my inner dialog has morphed into an outer dialog. I feel the need to tell myself out loud what I’m going to do next, just in case I have forgotten. “Okay, first I’ll make coffee and eat breakfast, read the news online, and then take a walk.”

 

I also enjoy asking myself questions, especially while driving. “Can you believe that idiot cut in front of me?” I’ll ask myself. After I respond with a few choice words, I commiserate with myself and respond, “You poor thing. It’s a curse to have the unsought-for gift of turning into an idiot magnet once you get behind the wheel of a car.” I talk to myself a lot in the car because idiots from around the state are compelled to get in their cars to drive the same roads I am on just to get a glimpse, a very close glimpse, of me.

 

Home is where I talk to myself the most. While cleaning the base of the toilet, I ask myself out loud, “Who in their right mind uses toilet anchor bolt covers that pop off and require superglue to attach? Why don’t they use screw-on caps?” I ask myself that question every time I wipe the base of the toilet, knock off those little plastic covers and watch them roll behind the toilet. Only someone who never cleans a toilet could design something like that.

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On occasion I use the mirror to role-play another person who needs to be told off. I rehearse a brilliant conversation in which I use my incisive reasoning skills and devastating humor to reveal their stupidity, callousness, or delusion, leaving the person duly chastised and at a loss for words in the face of my wisdom and oratorical skills. Sometimes I wear sunglasses when I do this because my brilliance can be blinding.

 

Once I have given the person a piece of mind, I can walk away knowing that I saved another piece of my mind, which would otherwise have been lost. At my age, you need to hang onto every single piece you have. I’ve lost quite a bit of my mind over the years, so I know what I’m talking about. Or at least I think I do.

 

I even talk in public when I think I am alone. If I have already begun talking out loud and notice someone within earshot, I hum and mumble made-up words to a real or imaginary song, so the person who got shot in the ear with my self-talk will think I’m merely singing to myself. Most people feel cordial to those who sing to themselves in public, judging them to have pent-up musical talent that can’t be contained. People who talk to themselves in public, on the other hand, are more likely to have just one talent: being crazy. And they themselves need to be contained.

 

Frequently when I’m in conversation with myself in my head or out loud, I remind myself of funny things that have happened, so I start laughing. If people carry their ears within hearing range, I pretend that laughter is part of the song that I was singing, which is harder than you think.

 

My repertoire of songs that include laughter is limited to four from my youth. All appeared in the 1960s. The first one, Wipe Out by The Surfaris, is instrumental with just one word, the title. Humming, laughing, and shouting out “Wipe Out!” alarms most people, however, so I avoid that one. Another one I’m reluctant to use is They’re Coming to Take Me Away by Napoleon XIV because I think they really would. The Beatles recorded the last two that I remember: I Am the Walrus and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. Both have that LSD-authored quality of the decade. No matter how smoothly I segue into any of these songs though, the people around me get that look of panic that movie characters get when they hear a door open in the abandoned house they’ve gone to investigate alone, with no weapon or phone, because they suspect a serial killer might be hiding there, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, in spite of an entire theater full of people yelling at them to turn back.

 

I understand. I’ve been there myself. Not in an abandoned house looking for a serial killer, but walking near a person who is chatting away in a robust voice, but with phone-free hands. I’ve been convinced and alarmed that the person was deep in a self-argument until I carefully circled around and noticed the person wearing one of those Bluetooth earpieces.

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I’m not much of a phone-talker and have never wanted an earpiece, but I think I might need one. When you’re long in the tooth and have the habit of talking to yourself in an audible voice, it’s best to have at least one tooth that’s blue. Of course, I won’t connect the earpiece to my phone; I wouldn’t want anyone to call and interrupt my conversations with myself.

 

Photos: 
Painting from Sally Ann  
Anchor bolt cover from Lowes
Bluetooth earpiece from Wikimedia