Friday, June 22, 2012
Friday, September 30, 2011
Monday, December 27, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Using my relationships of the last ten years (my so-called 'grown-up relationships') as inspiration, I found I was able to work up four pieces. If I say so myself, I think they were pretty good.
In order to set this one up, I must digress briefly into the bizarre realm of quantum mechanics. There's a famous imaginary model physicists use to explain one of the picky points of quantum physics---it is called Schrödinger's Cat, after physicist Erwin Schrödinger*.
Without delving too deeply into unnecessary esoterica, Schrödinger imagined a strange situation wherein a cat would be in box, hidden from view. There is exactly a 50% chance that the kitty in question has been killed (remember, this is imaginary, no actual felines were harmed in the making of this thought experiment). Now, in the 'real' world, it would either be a living cat or one who was pushing up daisies, but in the twilight realm of the quantum, it's actually 50% alive and 50% dead until someone opens the box and looks at the cat. Then it becomes 100% alive or 100% flown off to join the kitty choir invisible.
Clear enough? Okay, good.
Quantum Physics is full of this sort of wacky uncertainty---which makes sense because it is about tiny particles interacting in bizarre and nebulous ways. One of the most famous axioms is Dr Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It's a science of grey areas and strangeness.
So, back to poetry: at the time of the noted competition, I was in a situation where I felt approximately 50% as though I was a part of a happy relationship, and 50% like we'd be going our separate ways at any moment, pending her say-so. It was kind of confusing and disquieting. One morning, as I lay in bed pondering my strange and uncertain romance I said "it's like she's Schrödinger's Girlfriend." And, well, how are you gonna resist that?
So that's where the poem came from.
Schrödinger's Girlfriend by me
Back in the old days
Folks were so certain
A path of God's choosing
Along came the men
With their proofs
And their theorems
All of it got just a bit more confusing.
I really would like to create the equations
Define our relations
With one derivation
Here is my question on many occasions,
"What does she want me to do?"
It would be great if life weren't so complex
We'd make an index
Find a value for x
How can I calculate all the effects
of simply my being with you?
Newton defined things
In terms of equations
Took Aristotle and
Swept him away,
Einstein took Newton's work
And everything changed
In a relative way.
Part of me wants you to make up your mind
To tell me you're mine
Or leave me behind
Sometimes it feels just a little unkind
Never to know where I stand.
Sometimes I think that I'm asking too much
My questions are such:
Am I just a crutch?
I really can't tell if you're missing my touch
And nothing quite goes as we'd planned.
A teacher named Erwin
A cat in a box
Alive and yet dead
Til observing reveals
A genius named Werner
Was always uncertain
And sometimes I think
That I know how that feels.
The poem got one of the highest reputations in the contest (the highest, not counting the little awards we call "chings"). Hey, quantum mechanics and relationships, these are two things we nerds like to think about.
*To pronounce this surname correctly, one has to do something like a zombie noise there in the middle. I encourage the reader, unless s/he is a fluent speaker of German (meaning, you could order a meal at a fancy Berlin restaurant without getting more that one or two eyerolls from the picky German waiter), to anglicize the pronunciation of this to shro-ding-urr. Otherwise one runs the risk of sounding really ridiculous, not to mention pretentious.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
I realized, even at the time, that this was gonna be a dreadfully big thing to learn, but it is such a cool piece--plus, there's the whole 'challenge' factor. So I worked...hard. I think my classmates thought me quite eccentric, as I jogged down to the park reciting "...this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore, meant in croaking 'Nevermore.'" Of course, they always knew I was a little different.
Anyway, I managed to do it, and recited it for my final. The notoriously hard-to-impress teacher (Mr. Bickel) gave me an ovation. I felt pretty good about it.
After that, I just felt like learning more poetry. I learned some Robert Frost and some Shakespeare, and some Carroll and a few more by Poe. By the way, did you know that people "with taste" don't admit to liking Poe? He's supposed to be sort of 'pedestrian' or something. I'm often glad I'm not cursed with 'taste' and I can just like whatever I enjoy. But I have digressed.
So anyway, I also learned the song where Tom Lehrer puts the Periodic Table to music and the one where the Animaniacs sing the names of the nations of the world (more or less). I also learned the rather off-colour one by the new wave band the Nails, where the guy sings about the 44 women who have been in his life.
Roughly every other year, I'd go on a frenzy and see if I could remember all the pieces. I'd recite them in my car on the way to work (or doing deliveries for Dining In), and I even studied a few new ones. I learned Ozymandias by Shelley and a few pieces of drama (by Shakespeare...I think people with 'taste' are kind of divided on Billy the Bard too...but I think the old dude put some magic into the English language).
Occasionally, I'd record myself reciting them and challenge myself to see if I could get 90-95% of the poem perfectly...not missing or flubbing more than one or two words in 20. I discovered I remembered most of these pretty well.
In November, I decided I'd take the challenge once again. The idea was to go through each piece six times to my satisfaction, then record myself doing it, to make sure I knew it as well as I thought. It took a couple of months, but I not only did all of the ones I knew, I re-learned the opening soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet and learned more of Hamlet's exchanges with the gravedigger, so I know something like two pages of Hamlet by heart. Not a lot compared to what there is, but it's fun anyway.
So, by way of bragging, I present to you the list of stuff in my head, appropriately titled
LONG, COMPLEX, or just COOL THINGS I KNOW BY HEART
(in approximate order of when I learned them)
Poe -- The Raven
Poe -- El Dorado
Carroll -- Jabberwocky
Shakespeare -- Sonnet 18
Poe -- Annibel Lee
Blake -- The Tyger
Frost -- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Shakespeare -- “If We Shadows Have Offended...” (closing soliloquy from A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Poe -- Lines on Ale
Carroll -- the Walrus and the Carpenter
the Nails -- 88 Lines About 44 Women
Poe -- Conqueror Worm
Frost -- Fire and Ice
Animaniacs-- Nations of the World
Lehrer -- The Elements
Shakespeare -- “Alas, poor Yorick ...” (graveside exchange from Hamlet, between the gravedigger, Hamlet, and Horatio--about 16 pieces of dialogue including the famous whopper that Hamlet says)
Shelley -- Ozymandias
Shakespeare --- Romeo & Juliet (Prologue --- "Two households, both alike in dignity")
That's about it. Next year maybe I'll finally get through The Bells by Poe. Don't tell the people with taste though.
Monday, January 4, 2010
It was not too long before I hit a snag in my linguistic snobbery. Some of the names of body parts can not be correctly pluralized in Latin. Well, there’s a work-around, using something called the Terminologia Anatomica, but, if you are a purist for that system, you will refer to the pituitary gland as the glandula pituitaria. And we’re trying not to sound like a doofus here.
Not sounding like a doofus is precisely what it comes down to—accuracy is important, but not sounding ridiculous is also a big priority. By way of example, we often hear very educated people refer to stadia as the plural of stadium, but how far should we take that? These same educated people may sometimes say that the plural of museum is musea (although Answers.com says, succinctly, “No, the plural in English is museums.”) but with that plural, we run merrily up to the bounds of silliness and perhaps beyond.
The danger increases with the less familiar, more bizarre plurals, such as those purists who insist on pluralizing index as indices. The urge to point and laugh becomes almost impossibly high when someone uses irregular plurals like that. As a snarky joke, a friend used to pluralize “Kleenex” (registered trade mark) as “Kleenices” and “Xerox” (also registered trade mark) as “Xeroces.” Of course, if Kleenex were Latin, I think it would pluralize as Kleeneges or something…but it has been almost three decades since I cracked the Latin books.
Some other hilarious plurals exist in the anatomy world: femur becomes femora, sternum becomes sterna, mandible’s plural is sometimes given as mandibula (I’m serious…although even the stodgiest medical dictionaries seem to have mandibles nowadays), larynx becomes larynges, and one of the all-time craziest, the male reproductive organ called the epididymus pluralizes out as epididymides. There are also people who insist on pluralizing the word penis as penes (pronounced PEE-neez), which is also screamingly funny to anyone who was ever a Junior High School student.
One very educated friend suggested that if something is a Latin word, it should get a Latin plural. Here, we can run into trouble too. Camera is in the Latin dictionary. But you will never catch me saying “We have three digital camerae in our house” … again, not to sound like a doofus is a priority here.
This begs the question: why should it only apply to Latin? I know there are some very smart folks who use chateaux as the plural of chateau, so should all words of French origin be pluralized exactly as they would be in the native language? Of course, most French words use –s or –es to make their plurals, but it’s a highly irregular language. By some accounts English derives as much as 30% of our vocabulary from French, we would have to use a few zany plurals.
If we are going to use Latin and French plurals, we really should probably show some love to Greek as well. Then you would have to say “The centauroi were the half-man, half-horse creatures of legend.” This also implies that the plural of hippopotamus would not be “hippopatomi” as many wags suggest, but “hippopotomia” (or something very like that) … try THAT one at your next gathering of Very Smart People and see who takes you seriously after that. (“Dinosaurs” comes from Greek too, so I guess you could say “the Natural History Museum has many dinosaures (said ‘dino-SAU-reez’)”…you know, if you are feeling like doing so.)*
German is practically one of our parent tongues, so we certainly need to be accurate there as well. So next time you are gonna get some sausages at the deli, make sure to order a few bratwürster for dinner.
Many Italian food names are plural. But please, in your quest for accuracy, we implore you not to say “We left no spaghetto uneaten.” Seriously…
Hebrew often takes the –im form when pluralizing. That said, I suspect that any non-Hebrew speaker who says something like “there were two Rabbanim at that synagogue today” is likely to be sound like aforementioned silly person
Speaking of derivations from that language, while researching this article, I came across a wonderful piece about the plural of the word bagel. Two people were arguing over whether the plural should be “bagels” or “bagel” (as it would be in Yiddish) … the authority responds:
“I might say, as the rest of us who say “bagels” when speaking English — is right. Simply stated, the rule is this: When a word borrowed from a foreign language has become domesticated in the borrowing language…it obeys all the borrowing language’s grammatical rules, including those governing the formation of plurals.”
English is a language of exceptions, and of course there are some words that will always take irregular, foreign-y plurals. I’m not going to start saying “criterions” or “crisises,” for example. I’m just saying that it’s good to think before you pluralize. We must be careful not to sound like doofuses. Erm…doofi? No, doofuses…definitely doofuses.
*The delightful Miss Annie tells me that the Danish word for dinosaur is “dinosaurus” which pluralizes in Danish to “dinosaurusser.” Rather than spitting out that mess of a word, most Danes elect to say “dinosaurs.”
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Ferret Jacket Moment
An incidence of strong sadness or tearfulness inspired by a silly or seemingly humorous artifact. A ferret jacket moment is brought about by the context or juxtaposition of the funny item in question with respect to other circumstances.
Davey was our first pet ferret. We had wanted to get one for a long time, but we had to do the research, ferret-proof the house and otherwise get everything in order, like good, pet-loving nerds will do.
September 1996—our local Petco store got a big shipment of silvery-white ferret kits. They danced and squirmed as we played with them at the store, and they made that hilarious little chuckle that ferret lovers call "dooking." One little guy in particular, the friendliest and most gregarious of the whole bunch, caught our attention. He wrestled with our hands and chewed on Suzi's rings. He shoved his brothers and sisters aside as if to say, "Me! Me! You know you want me!"
That was our boy.
Susan, who has a very mild form of slight autism, can sometimes pull really perfect names out of thin air (we suspect that these two things are related). She looked at the little rascal for a very long time ... "Davidson. Davidson Fitzweasel," she said. The name was perfect for some strange reason.
Everything that we had heard from people, books and web pages came true: Davey escaped from everything, he got into seemingly impossible places. Anything and everything was a potential plaything. He stole stuff—he stole a lot of stuff. Wee Davey stole lighters, snacks, socks, just about anything he could carry. The funniest were the bagel thefts, when Suzi's brother, Carl, would bring us fresh bagels from his job. It is one of the great sights of the animal kingdom to see a tiny animal dragging a bagel that appears to be as big as he is, hoping to hide it for later. We always caught him, or so we thought.
Davidson charmed most everyone he met. Whether he was trying to steal Carl's Twizzler candy (we have a great picture of the ferret, determinedly hanging from a Twizzler), biting feet, playing with our cats (we had four felines at the time, two of which seemed to like the little guy, two of which tolerated him), or resolutely chasing ping-pong balls around our hardwood floor like a turbo-charged soccer player, he was a charismatic little mustalid.
His mischievous nature earned him the reputation of being a loveable troublemaker. We even bought him a tiny black leather jacket–obviously, he could not wear it, but it looked cute hanging next to his mirror in the two-story cage. We thought of him as a tiny, silvery-furred juvenile delinquent with eyes the colour of sapphires.
Davidson died at the age of four years, fairly young for a pet ferret. A combination punch of cardiomyopathy and kidney tumour came on fast, hitting the little guy as if some cruel, antique god had blasted our little pet with a lightning bolt. The surgery was a success, but his little system could not handle the stresses and he never recovered consciousness.
The loss of a beloved pet is an incredibly hard thing. This one hit us especially hard. Largely, it was the speed—there was scarcely a month between our first inkling that Davey was sick and the time when he was gone. There was no time to steel ourselves, no time to plan for potential outcomes, just hang on and watch the ship sink. Suzi doesn't cry much—the child of unemotional, German Lutherans and the product of the Lutheran school system, she can be eerily stoic.
She cried this time. In our near quarter-century together I've never seen her heart so thoroughly broken. I suppose I must have cried some too, it is hard for me to remember.
We could not immediately deal with the depressing chore of cleaning out Davey's home, so we let it sit for over a week. We just emptied his litter trays and food bowls and left it. The rays of perhaps a dozen sunrises slid through the windows in Susan's room and lit up the tiny hammock where our little scamp had slept while the hearts of his adoptive human "parents" mended.
One evening we finally set to the task. We opened his cage and found his toys, shredded cloth and paper and countless petrified bagels (how did he do that??)—all his humble treasures ... and there was his little leather jacket, on the tiny coat hanger that Susan made for it. Then came the tears.
After our shared catharsis, Susan smelled like grief. I don't know that I've ever encountered that before. Grief is an odd fragrance, sort of like sweat and tears and a dash of some strange musty musk.
Suzi made a little crypt for the ashes of our first ferret. A clear acrylic box holds his miniscule urn, a thoroughly fossilized bagel, a couple of toys and that little biker jacket. Carl added a Twizzler to the box later.