Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Today's Word—Spelling as Distraction


Editor’s Note:

This morning, in the 6 a.m. pitchdark, I made the mistake of turning on the kitchen light before starting the coffeepot. And the radio. As a result, I began the day with news about the presidential campaign, and then happened upon the latest dire quarterly statement from my TIAA-CREF retirement fund, which I’d been avoiding. My parents bought a house in 1976 for less than this. On the up-side, if I’d known I had lost so much money in September, I’d have put a bullet in my head.

But the mail is late, my attention wavers, the market is worse, the presidential “leadership” farces on, and the latest financial debacles are already yesterday’s news. As I step out into the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, the dogs frolic in new frost, the stars are clear-eyed and bright above the mountain, and two owls hoot in the cottonwoods along the creek. Not so bad, after all. Today, on the advice of Mr. Clemens, I’ll just work on my spelling—something useful a man can do in tough times.

Extravagant Entertainments:

“Now, I’ll bet there isn't a man here who can spell ‘pterodactyl,’ not even the prisoner at the bar. I’d like to hear him try once—but not in public, for it’s too near Sunday,
when all extravagant histrionic entertainments are barred.”

—Mark Twain (1835-1910), scholar of the alphabet, author and a man
with a sharp sense of perspective in the face of tragedy and conjugation, 1907

PS: (Below) For those of you wondering about where the owls might hang out at dawn, this is why I can put the TIAA-CREF statement in a drawer and take a walk instead. TP



  1. Will writes: Thanks, Ted. A special editor's note indeed--God's way of reminding an atheist like me that she was serious about that "treasures on earth" shit. Will

    Ted replies:

    Will: My dad's a New England preacher, and I grew up among the pews, pulling the bellrope and filling the communion thimbles. My poor dad. None of us four kids ever had any use for church, except at Christmas. My mom, a granddaughter of a fearsome immigrant Swedish Lutheran pastor, who met dad when both were students at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, admitted in the 1970s that she'd always been agnostic at best. She likes church for the community, and the chorus. Dutiful sons and daughters, we always helped dad set up the church for the Christmas season and the traditional Christmas Eve carol service, which we later often attended drunk, but robustly in tune. My poor dad.

    He taught me the greatest part of his spirituality--how to take joy in a sail, how to see a hawk stoop, how to watch the weather. After I'd graduated college, he came to visit. I was stunned when he announced, joyfully, that he was an "evangelist." Whaaa??! As he defined it, that means the desire to tell the "good word"; what that "word" is may be open to interpretation.

    I'm still not sure how much of my father's religiosity is or was just philosophy--which is good enough for me, anyway. But I learned it from him not in church, but on boats, in the woods, in the winds and eating good food.

    I've decided that evangelism is good, if it means spreading the joyful Word--as I tell it online every morning or in my classes or when I walk the dogs. Churchgoers can have their own. There's a lot more on Earth than churchification to give us the kind of faith at dawn that we can touch and smell and feel (or, knowing you, academics, journalists and your chickens, shovel...), or that we hear on the fucking news.

    Amen, Brother. Keep the faith.


  2. hmmm. Hit a nerve or two. Some others reax to today's WORD (or maybe just Pease's whining....):

    From Tony:

    Frost and stars and dogs and frolic…better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
    The garbage trucks with their screeching air brakes ply the neighborhood streets before six. The fog is thick. It will be sunny and warm this afternoon.
    Likely we’ll live through the coming mess and see something better on the other side.

    . . . . .

    Anne writes:
    "...the dogs frolick in new frost, the stars are clear-eyed and bright above the mountain, and two owls hoot in the cottonwoods along the creek."

    Here in Florida, the dogs wade through thick dew, one lone star defies the urban glare, and a couple of sirens chase each other down a nearby six-lane road.

    BUT ... We lived in Pinedale, WY, for six years in the 1970's ... your words brought back a memory made more than 30 years ago. Thanks!

    P.S. I don't think there's a 'k' in 'frolic' ... but Twain probably would have argued for 'frolik.' Adding the 'k,' however, reinforces the ending of the word, onomatopoetically echoing the sounds of the dogs' nails working against the concrete driveway or gravel road. So perhaps you intended that particular spelling. Why not.

    If nothing else, you've not thought of the current monetary mess for what -- 45 seconds? :-)

    TP replies to the editors, several of whom (including one of my own students--who knew they're awake this early?): How many k's in "Oh, shit"? #$%^&*&^%$#@!!!

    . . . . .

    From Joe:
    To refresh my memory, I've been reading about the dust bowl and 1930s depression (both of which I experienced as a child).
    Similarities between Bush's statements now and those of Hoover in 1929-32 are eerie, as is the fact that FDR spurned Hoover's appeal that they put partisanship aside and work together on solutions that would take effect before the election and remain in place no matter who won.
    As for Mr. Clemens/Twain, he would find "extravagant histrionic entertainments" very much a part of America's Sundays now, even in many churches. Keep up the good work.

    . . . . .

    Bronle adds:

    "Business? It's quite simple. It's other people's money."
    --Alexandre Dumas

    On the other hand:

    "All passes. Art alone
    Enduring stays to us;
    The bust outlasts the throne,
    The coin, Tiberius."
    --Henry Austin Dobson
    (From 1856 to 1901 he was employed in the Board of Trade, so presumably he knew something about it... .)

    I do not mean merely to make flippant little literary references while Rome burns. Great good luck with rebuilding the retirement fund: may you find the next IBM-McDonald's-Qualcomm-Apple... . And may the owls keep calling at 6 a.m.

    Meanwhile, I will also be cinching my belt and working on remembering to leave that "e" out of " judgment". Neither extravagant nor histrionic, just one of the things I can change. (Pterodactyls indeed... . That's just showing off.)

    Your devoted follower, who looks forward to your daily efforts.

    . . . . .

    Thanks, friends. Good spelling and hooting owls to you all.

  3. I think Twain would make an exception for asking Sarah Palin, well away from her handlers and teleprompters, to spell pterodactyl. That would be fun to watch, especially when she whines that it's a "gotcha" question.

  4. Well, she could get back to Twain on that one for ya.

    See this (latest) great spoof of the week from Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live: http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/couric-palin-open/704042/