Lineman’s Whine (audio)

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The Dry Heaves

I picked up a colored marker, a sketchpad, and sat down. I looked around the room for a shape, a blade of light, a shadow, an assonance, a blur, something to trigger a spasm in my drawing hand and stain the pristine paper. Nothing. Forget the seen, I thought; let it come from the unseen. I summoned (conjured?) a mark of any kind — straight from the head — a squiggle, a spiral, a splotch, a graphical blarp, symbolic, idiotic, with no pretense to “be” something — whatever ensued. After all, what’s the downside of touching this paper with an inky point in this privacy, this solitude? The trash can is as close as a spittoon. Still nothing. Literal paralysis. Bemused, nonplussed, verging on despondent, I simply started writing words in loopy, longhand script. “Es lo que hay,” they say here. It’s what is.

I once watched a big, long-legged bird take to the air from a swamp. It flapped wing and paddled those ungainly legs in what looked like laugh-inducing desperation for what seemed like a coon’s age, until the ostensible jury-rigged excuse for a bird finally caught flight. And then it soared tear-jerkingly. You would have thought it was built to fly. Which of course it was.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Lexicomania at the Table

ABOVE: My first vocab list for Helena (age 10) made at her mother Eva’s request. I’m on pins and needles to show it. Each time I expose Helena to my fetish for coloring the enclosed spaces of letters, I detect a glimmer of interest — a practiced eye surveying a negligible specimen of decoration — followed by a look of scorn mixed with pity.

Food is much discussed in this household. Eva is a consummate cook and Eduard an exacting trencherman much attached to his culinary traditions. Their travels in Italy, Egypt, Turkey and Morocco have influenced the pantry. Terminology from a smorgasbord of languages arises over the dining table. The prevailing gist is: “What is this [foodstuff] in [language]?”

(c) 2018 JMN.

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The Twombly Effect

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Poetic ardor can be exhausting. (As the many quotes from art critics that pepper [Joshua] Rivkin’s book demonstrate, Twombly tends to send writers into lyric overdrive.)

(Holland Carter, “A Life of Cy Twombly Brings a Poet’s Eye to the Artist’s Mythic Work,” NYTimes, 12-1-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Accents

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Nuria spent three weeks in Bristol, UK, to further her study of English. She told me one of her teachers had an especially clear manner of speaking. Asked by a student if his accent was American, he replied vigorously in the negative. “God, no!” quoth he, leaving Nuria with the impression that he had low esteem for American-inflected palaver. “Do Americans disdain the English accent also?” she asked.

I told her many Yanks think an English accent conveys superior intelligence. I said there are many accents in the Sceptered Isles (as in the Colonies), and that I love them all, personally, but that I’m a square peg seeking a round hole, so not to be trusted. (I had to explain the metaphor.)

My experience in Europe, of old and of late, is that aspiring anglophones favor the English way of speaking as the model. In their shoes, so would I. To help Nuria along, I will tell her how her Bristol teacher would expect her to say “schedule.” I’ll also advise that her car has a “boot” and a “bonnet,” not a trunk and a hood, and runs on “petrol,” not gas. These are, of course, aspects of dialect, not accent. Nuria is well versed in this distinction.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Whatchamacallits & Dingleberries

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Frank Zappa … compared his music to Calder’s sculptures, describing his cerebral, often atonal songs as “a multicolored whatchamacallit, dangling in space, that has big blobs of metal connected to pieces of wire, balanced ingeniously against little metal dingleberries on the other end.”

(Nancy Hass, “How Artists Are Challenging Alexander Calder’s Mobiles,” NYTimes, 11-29-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Hannah Arendt on W. H. Auden

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[… Auden] was blessed with that rare self-confidence which does not need admiration and the good opinion of others, and can even withstand self-criticism and self-examination without falling into the trap of self-doubt. This has nothing to do with arrogance but is easily mistaken for it. Auden was never arrogant except when he was provoked by some vulgarity; then he protected himself with the rather abrupt rudeness characteristic of English intellectual life.

(Hannah Arendt, “Remembering W. H. Auden,” The New Yorker, Jan. 20, 1975)

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