Thursday, December 10, 2009


An online site recently asked for questions that could stimulate journal-keepers and personal-history writers to divulge or discover more about themselves. The resulting 40-odd responses ranged from inventive ("Something you'd love to do if it wouldn't get you arrested") to TMI magnets ("How you disposed of dead pets").

The thread reminded me of the questions James Lipton routinely asks at the end of his ACTORS STUDIO television interviews with movie celebrities. If readers there still be of SOUNDINGS (I have been SO derelict!), I'd be much interested in your own answers to the questions. I know that posting a comment here is as chancy as expecting logic from the Alaskan Rogue (who was in our backyard this past week, with predictable results). But if posting doesn't work, email me your responses. I'll paste 'em up for all to enjoy.

Here are Lipton's questions.

1. I'm skipping his first one ("What is your favorite curse word?") because I lack enthusiasm in this sphere, and even when I come up with something, I sound like Mark Twain's wife. Olivia, trying to shame her cussing husband, memorized some obscenity and recited it. Twain responded, "Livvy, you have the lyrics down, but you just don't know the tune!"

2. "What sound or noise do you love?"
No contest: Rain on a tin roof.

3. "What sound or noise do you hate?"
Again, no contest: Television laugh tracks.

4. "What profession other than your own would you have liked to attemp?"
Assuming the requisite talent (absent in this lifetime), a mezzo-soprano diva.

b. One intriguing occupation hardly existed when I was a-choosing, and even now I don't know its proper title. But I would have been hugely engaged raising orphaned or abandoned wildlife babies prior to their return to the wild or (more likely) their assignment to an animal park.

5. "What profession would you NOT want to participate in at any time?"
Selling. Could not sell chocolate to my own clone.

6. "What's your favorite word?"

7. "What's your least favorite word?"
No originality here: the F-word. Among other things, the irony is too sad.

8. "If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?"

a. For years, I had a ready answer to this: "Your class is waiting for you."
Then, one day in the arthritis therapy pool, a truly wise, and truly loving old woman said gently, after I'd offered that answer in our watery discussion, "What if He said, 'Your teacher is waiting'?"

All I can say is that I've ever learned the most by teaching, and that I consider the source the same in both activities.

b. "OF COURSE there's chocolate here, girl!"

Saturday, December 5, 2009


The hugely talented and insightful writer Kathleen Norris has a book (ACEDIA AND ME) in which she carefully and at length distinguishes between depression and *acedia. She knows both first-hand, and also by means of tons of research.

Yet one smug reader insists that Norris must be "in denial," because what's she describing, he asserts, is "clearly depression." Ignore this glibster's cotton-hay- and-rags brain-box. It's the psychobabble term "in denial" that interests me here.

In a brief response to the Strawman's comment, I stated that Norris was almost the perfect opposite of someone "in denial." But then I realized that our era HAS no word for the opposite of "in denial." Do we miss it?

If you're not "in denial," what are you? Cool with everything? In your dreams, pal. As a culture, we're so uncool even the palms of our feet are sweating.

Well, then "guilt-ridden." Surely that fits. Most of us feel guilty for everything from global warming to the lack of procreation among the pandas, for honest wrinkles at eighty to extra pounds on eight-year olds. And anorexia in teens.

No, not "guilt-ridden." Generalized guilt is the other swing of the pendulum, the arc of the other end of "denial." Accept everything and you take responsibility for nothing. Guilt is as far from the balance point as "It's not MY fault!"

The concepts of confession, remorse, and restitution went out of fashion the day after Bloomers came in. Those practices would seem to assure the logical balance point. With those in place, we don't deny, but neither do we cling to guilt and consider it a substitute for doing better.

But--the mythology of the human race would indicate that,"It wasn't MY fault" comes pretty naturally. Anyone who ever knew a three-year old can testify to that reality.
But outside of now rather suspect religious institutions, where do we learn, let alone practice, confession, remorse, and restitution? It is only in that tent, those many and multi-colored tents, that we can grow spiritually, or even in character?

* * * * *

*acedia is an interesting word that was almost lost to our culture, though the condition it describes has never been less than everywhere in evidence.
I recommend Norris' book on the subject. Meanwhile, a quick though unsatisfactory definition might be "spiritual torpor, a deep-seated sloth that robs one of any degree of caring, about any aspect of life."

Thursday, December 3, 2009


"The heart has its reasons that Reason does not know." (Pascal)

In the hollow of my hand lies a watch. It's not a wrist watch, a pendant watch, nor exactly a pocket watch. And I'll be jiggered if I know why I have it.

This watch is a serious but cheerful blue color, and about the size of a silver dollar. It boasts a red sweep second hand (sometimes useful); small numbers around the face that indicate 15, 30, or 45 seconds or minutes forever fled, data I can't imagine not knowing without being told; and another set of small numbers indicating that 2 o'clock has an alias (14), but for design reasons, I assume, the watch omits the aliases for 13, 23, and 24.

In the dark, the hands give off a glow. I'm of the generation made nervous by such moonshines. For many years, radium paint was used on watches and clocks, as well as on aircraft instruments, until its use was banned in the 1960's. The paint was poisonous; countless young women, working on assembly lines, died quite horrible deaths from radiation poisoning. (See the book RADIUM GIRLS, or, if you're lucky enough, an excellent play of the same name.)

What sets this watch apart, however, is not the variety of information it offers. Built into the design is a carabiner. (I thought that was the word, but looking it up, I found "a cavalry soldier armed with a carbine." Oh, come now. During the subsequent search, I was distracted by a ream of lovely words in the neighborhood: carambola, cartouche, carragheen, and one of my favorites, caryatid--
a sculpted column in the shape of a woman, with the entire pediment supported by her head. Turns out that the word for soldier was a "carabinier." Extra e.) So, carabiner: "an oblong metal ring with one spring-hinged side that is used esp. in mountain climbing as a connector. . . ."

Thus you could hook this small, sturdy watch to a loop of your belt--if you wore a belt. Or you could clip it to your backpack to see how late to class you were--if you toted a backpack. Or went to class. I have tried hard to figure out a way to clip this watch to something of mine, but my only thought would be a bra strap--if I wore. . . .well, let's move on.

The watch is sold under the aegis of the National Geographic Society, making it semi-official and semi-patriotic, I would say. Its movement is of Japan quartz though. But it's manufactured by the Dakota Watch Company, and has the side view of a bison or buffalo on the back. The buffalo is related to the model on the five-cent piece, so I think we can just call it flat-out "patriotic," with no apologies. It claims to be water resistant to "100 feet." Down or out, it doesn't say. If you press a small knob on its edge, a red light goes on, a small but useful flashlight, I guess. Don't know why it's red, but I'm sure there's a reason. Perhaps in order not to startle the fish, 90 feet down there, so far from tail-lights and stop-lights and all.

The thing is that I love this watch. I long coveted it as I paged through the National Geographic catalog, shopping for creative toys for the small adventurers on my list. It just seemed so, je ne sais quoi--perfect, complete. That's not really a logical reason. But at last I ordered it, scolding myself all the while. And it came, and it was exactly right. Its weight in the palm of my hand confirmed that it belonged there.

My cell phone gives the time; so does the computer; the car dashboard tells the time; there are clocks all over the house, and as an added pleasure, St. Monica's up the road tolls the hour with ancient assurance in its fine bass voice.

Why do I love thee, carabiner watch? Eh bien, ask M. Pascal.