art creativity work

day 70: sick of words words words

Hiking down to the beach, sitting in the sun and listening to the waves, watching a seal’s glistening head poke through the water, hiking back up again and feeling exultant and healthy: words words words are all I can use to capture my feelings. But what if my feelings are ordinary, just happy? The words sound arrogant, smug, self-satisfied. They smack of privilege. I bore myself. I embarrass myself. I write and write and write then delete it all. Blah!  No more words!

So I’ll sign off now and get back to working with my hands. There one can see true results. (Or not…  could the words be a form of procrastination???)

Yesterday’s production wielded no finished masks, but here’s what my studio looked like at the day’s end:

studio at work May 27 2020


art creativity nature

day 39: a little chill, a little frisky

Walking around the windy streets this morning, I thought with a big smile (in bold), “Il fait frisquet ce matin!”

Always loved that expression in French, meaning that the air is just a bit brisk. As the dictionary says, “petit froid vif et piquant” (a little chill, sharp and energizing). [Etymology: frisquet comes from the Flemish, Frisch, meaning fresh.]*  From there I wondered, “Is frisquet connected to frisky, maybe?

(Always loved that word too, ever since a beloved childhood show called “Frisky Frolics.” Anybody remember that??!  a quick search found nothing but confirmation that it existed, a children’s show at 7am on KVOS, but I found a link to a 1932 cartoon by the same name which is cute too!]

About “frisky,” our friendly Oxford English Dictionary reports**:

frisky, adjective, “given to frisking; lively, playful” and sends you to the main entry frisk

frisk, adjective, verb & noun.  [Etymology: Old French frisque, vigorous, alert, lively, merry, var. of fri(s)che, perh. rel. to Old High German frisc, fresh, lively.]

  1. adjective. Full of life; spirited, lively.
  2. verb intrans. Skip, leap, dance, in a lively playful manner; gambol, frolic.
  3. verb trans. Search (a person or place); esp. feel quickly over (a person) in search of a concealed weapon. Orig. slang.

Wow!  See why words are so interesting! It is strange to see how a light and playful concept has morphed into an action that is widely feared at least among Americans. (Hmm.  There’s another random, sort of interesting topic …)

On that note, here’s the pic of yesterday’s mask production. Back to work!

Maks made on April 26 2020

American literature conflict wisdom work

day eighteen: fast or fastidious? good must be enough

Greta's face masks April 5 2020

As I cut and sew, moving as quickly as possible to supply the demand for face masks, I am haunted by the battle between “fast” and “fastidious.” So today I looked up those words.

Fast has many meanings in the dictionary; indeed “rapid, swift, quick-moving” is only no. 8 among the ten meanings listed. The first seven meanings relate to a different concept: “Firmly fixed in place,” such as a fortress or pair of dentures.*

Fastidious, a word I have long associated with, has actually quite negative meanings. It comes from the Latin fastidium, loathing, and its first meanings signify “disagreeable,” “disgusted,” and “proud, scornful, disdainful.”  The definition I expected is no. 3 but it too is more negative than I thought: “Scrupulous or overscrupulous in matters of taste, cleanliness, propriety, etc., squeamish.”**

Speed is anathema for a person like me, whose forte has always been attention to detail, precision, and care. Hearing bad grammar makes me cringe; seeing misspelled words on menus creates personal turmoil (to mention? or not?); unaligned objects call out for a nudge into alignment. “Perfect” has always been one of my favorite words. No wonder I cannot sleep! Yet in my sane moments, I realize that even if the face masks I create these days may not be quite as perfect as I’d like them to be, the orders will be met. They will be good enough: good enough to hold fast and keep people safe.

As Yehuda Yerushalmi notes, “what we do may be only provisional. But that is all right. In the terrifying time in which we live and create, eternity is not our immediate concern.”***



* The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), vol. 1, p. 929.

**Op. cit., vol. 1, p. 928.

***Yehuda Yerushalmi, Zakhor. Jewish History and Jewish Memory, (2005, p. 103); quoted in Joyce Block, A Good Enough Life After Freud: Psychotherapy in Uncertain Times (2011, p. 24).


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day ten: this is anomie

This is what anomie feels like.
For years I’ve stumbled upon that word, especially in French anomie. People who are fascinated by decadent moments in history—and their painters and poets–people who relish accounts of wars and moments of political revolution are bound to know what I mean. Yet if you, like me never really understood that word , well now we can. This day is a perfect moment to seize the meaning of anomie. It is how we feel.
Anomie, noun.*
[French from Greek anomia, from anomos lawless: cf: ANOMY [disregard of (esp. divine) law]).
Lack of the usual social standards in a group or person.

The French definition provides a crucial precision: “Absence d’organisation ou de loi, disparition des valeurs communes à un groupe.”**  [Absence of organization or law, disappearance of values common to a group.]  The word disappearance captures why we all feel so weird; we’re still in thrall to values that no longer hold true and we’re not sure what the new ones are, or if they will endure.

Lack of the usual social standards is putting it mildly!
Even among standard-makers, the standards range wildly. From “Shelter-in-Place,” “Stay home, stay healthy,” or “Self-Quarantine,” to building “Herd Immunity” and using state sovereignty to stay open, as in Mississippi (“We ain’t China!”), our political leaders are evidently confused.
The new genre of empty isn’t helping. See the New York Times special section, “The Great Empty,” showing extraordinarily evocative images of empty streets in the world’s major cities: haunting, poetic, tragic.

But c’mon, NYT, couldn’t you have done better with Seattle???! (seen above, with regret)

For the literal-minded, anomie is a recipe for disaster. For the imaginative too. The one doesn’t know whose orders to follow, while the other creates all kinds of disastrous scenarios to fill the void.
Since I exhibit both traits, I’ve decided to try a little experiment. Since the Seattle government edict says only, “Stay home, stay healthy,” and I don’t know what that second word means anymore because I’m going stir-crazy after staying indoors for the past three days, I will follow the directions of the Paris government instead. They say, “From now on, anyone leaving their house for physical exercise is required to write down the time they left. … physical exercise must be limited to an area of one or two kilometres from home. ‘1km or 2km max.. You’re not supposed to distance yourself from your house,’ the ministry tweeted.”

OK! We have rules! Anomie can be beaten.
The Rules:
1. Before going on a walk, write down the time.
2. Walk two kilometers and then turn around and walk home.
Armed with the rules, I am now going out for a 2k (1.2 mi) walk from my house. I’ll check in again when I get back, to see if it changed my sour, bored, semi-depressed feelings into something better…


* The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), vol. 1, 85.

** Le Nouveau Petit Robert. Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française, ed. Josette Rey-Debove et Alain Rey (Paris: Dictionnaires Le Robert, 1993), p. 88.