bananas

In a crowd of friends at our neighborhood bar tonight, The Fella and I met a friend’s beau.

Friend: These are two of the smartest people in town.
Elsa and The Fella in unison: Nooooooo. No no no. No.
Friend: This is Elsa. She knows a lot about bananas.
Elsa: [wincing] … that’s fair.

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sintering

I just learned a new word from a piece of spam: sintering, to heat a powdery material (like ceramics or metal) below its melting point until the particles adhere into a whole.

Why did I open the spam? Because my Gmail’s gone wonky and won’t let me “mark as spam” from my inbox, only from the email itself.

Why did I continue reading it?
A) They didn’t actually indicate any way for me to throw large fistsful of money at them, and I wondered where the hook was buried;
B) sintering, dude. Strange words catch my eye.

id

At a post-Thanksgiving family gathering, my almost-18-year-old niece A and I are watching 3-year-old K play tirelessly with her blanket. K lays the blanket on the floor, lies full-length in it, and rolls herself up like a little burrito. She sits in the center and folds the corners up around her, over her head. Standing, she rolls herself in it head to toe and jumps with all her wobbly might. She lays it out on the floor, climbs onto a chair, and launches herself out into space, landing with a striking thump in the center of her blanket.

I turn to A and say speculatively, “I just want to sit her in the blanket, wrap it up over her, grab it by all four corners, and swing it around over my head.”

A nods sagely and says, in a considering tone, “We learned about that in my psychology class. It’s called giving voice to the id.”

a little learning

As a reasonably bright child raised by people who valued intelligence, perhaps to a fault, I spent much of my early life thinking I was smart. The most valuable revelation of my adulthood was the simple idea that I don’t know everything… or, indeed, very much at all.
Some little things I learned this week which overturn what I thought I knew:
– It’s Sir Walter Ralegh, not Sir Walter Raleigh. Oh, I see. I learned to spell it from a children’s book at age 8 or so, and never investigated further, apparently assuming (without much thought) that all those historians and art historians were, what, making typos?
baleful means menacing or hostile, not sorrowful or miserable. Apparently, I’ve been using its obsolete meaning my entire life.
– Christopher Marlowe wrote The Passionate Shepherd to his Love, not John Donne. I suspect that, somewhere around age 12 or so, I confounded one poem with another, and never bothered to straighten it out.
In the words of The Fella, “Yay! You’re smarter now!” And he’s right… but the exposure of little-but-big lifelong misapprehensions fills me with a healthy mistrust of other things I think I’ve learned.
Which is all to the good, I think. It’s wise to be skeptical of one’s own knowledge. That much I have learned.

words

I had a nice moment in my Renaissance lit class this week.

Our professor spares his voice by asking students to read the longer passages. Sometimes it’s painful: students stumble over the unfamiliar language and the syllables accented or elided unexpectedly, or make it clear they’ve never read the assigned passage before, or simply flush at the attention.

Or maybe they don’t see that the language is the play. The words are more than information conveyed; they pack power and rich hidden meaning.

This week, the professor asked me to read a passage.

And I read it.

Silence dropped over the class, and when I finished, I looked up from the page to see eyes turned toward my corner. One girl clapped silently. Another breathed “Wow.”

I’m not pretending any dramatic gift, oh no. I think it’s simpler. I think when you hear Shakespeare read without stumbling and stammering, without embarrassed hesitation and by someone who understands the content and the context, you hear the words.

And such words:

from Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra: His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course,
And lighted the little O o’ the earth.

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear’d arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tunéd spheres — and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
The element they lived in: in his livery
Walk’d crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket….

Think you there was, or might be, such a man
As this I dream’d of?

Dolabella: Gentle madam, no.

Cleopatra: You lie, up to the hearing of the gods.
But, if there be, or ever were one such,
It’s past the size of dreaming: Nature wants stuff
To vie strange forms with Fancy; yet, to imagine
An Antony were Nature’s piece ‘gainst Fancy,
Condemning shadows quite.

According to our class custom, my reading skipped the incidental lines interrupting the speech; in their place, I have put ellipses. I include here Dolabella’s “Gentle madam, no” only because, to my surprise, the prof uttered it, prompting me to read another section.