Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Fart By Any Other Name

You know how much I love wordplay. And I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately (shocking, I know). Then I started thinking about how words connote so much for us. For example, the word “fart.”

What do you think of when you hear/read/say it? Does your nose wrinkle in distaste? Does your mind wander to the last time you suffocated due to someone sharing a fart with you? Do you think of well, you know? Fascinating, isn’t it, that one word immediately triggers both a sensory and/or experiential reaction, and you think of words that define/explain it?

SO: I started wondering if the same response would have happened if we suddenly swapped out words with each other. Just think if Bill (yes, Shakespeare—he and I have an understanding: He calls me Princess Hummingbird. It’s a thing we have.), had written “That which we call a fart / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Ha! We would then like the smell of farts, as the word would refer to a beautiful, pleasantly fragrant flower that symbolizes love. We would tell each other to stop and smell the farts. Bon Jovi would tell us he wanted to lay us down in a bed of farts. (OK: I have to stop, but please feel free to add your own!)

My point is simply that words immediately make us think of other words. They are powerful enough to elicit a physical response as well. We as readers, writers, thinkers, and just plain humans have the amazing ability to sift through the words presented to us, derive meaning from the context, then insert those words and meanings into our own use of language. Awesome, right?

But I still think it’s funny to play around with our vocabulary as I think about the “what-ifs” regarding the phrases we use. And c’mon, really: The next time you feel flatulent, let people know that you have to “rose” and see what they say.

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My New Favorite Word: Benign

“It’s benign,” she said. Tears. All I could offer in that moment.

“Oh, Mom . . . That is GREAT news,” I choked out.

Neither of us spoke. I heard the birds in my backyard, she listened to the traffic outside the hospital where she’d just gotten the results. She. Does. Not. Have. Cancer.

We’ve been waiting for weeks. I got the call on a Wednesday. “They found something on my ovary,” my mom said. “I’m coming over.”

She got to my house and I held her as my brain churned and I postulated about next steps. You see, I get very businesslike in situations like this. What do we need to do? Who can I call so you don’t have to? But, the most important question: Why is this happening? doesn’t come until later. Much later.

She had surgery. Both ovaries removed, with the promise of biopsy results in a week. Or ten days. The Lab, capitalized  in my mind, became a proper noun, an entity, like the Taj Mahal or the White House—and it was in no rush. I’m certain The Lab doesn’t envisage the person to whom the tumor it’s analyzing under the microscope was once attached. It must just see blood and growths and what’s right or wrong with the specimen. And I didn’t want my mom to be a specimen. She’s not. She’s my mom. I wanted The Lab to see her and know that she’s more than cells on a slide.

But I couldn’t tell it. I had no place to send my words but out into the universe. In my thoughts I urged The Lab: Hurry the fuck up.

We got the news this morning, and I now have a new favorite word: benign. Right now, that word connotes life and living and time and future. The Lab did, in fact, move faster than expected. Maybe it saw my mom somehow, in that piece of her that isn’t. Maybe it knew that she needed to know. She. Does. Not. Have. Cancer.

But I have been all business. I’m crying now as I write this. The word I get to write, the word I’ve wanted to say. To shout. Benign. My new favorite word.

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From Mechanical Pencils to the Batter’s Box: The Jessica Swift Softball Story

Sometimes the call of duty beckons and you have to step out of your comfort zone and into the strike zone. This weekend, that happened.

BF (nickname for my boyfriend, whose innocence I try to protect) plays softball during the summer. He’s on a coed slow-pitch team composed of wonderful folks who enjoy the sport, beer, and being in the sun on a Sunday. And, while this may be hard to believe, before I sat on my ass for a living (OK, OK, I do a little more than just sit there), I was athletic. An athlete. I played sports. I used to count down the days until basketball season started—the same for softball.

But as time progresses (and muscles, um, change) we sometimes find that what we once found fulfilling has somehow moved out of our lives. That was softball, for me.

So I’ve been attending BF’s games, and have been keeping the books (an oh-so-appropriate task for the editor girlfriend!). But this weekend . . . This weekend, I was needed. We got the text. “We’re down a player. Can Jess play?” BF looked at me out of the corner of his. My stomach flipped—with both excitement and anxiety. When the hell was the last time I swung a bat?

“I’m in!” I shrieked, forgetting all about the mechanical pencils stashed in my purse. Because, you see, I wasn’t happy with the layout of the book, and the way scores are kept. So, last week I decided that I would use mechanical pencils to adjust the books so that the scores and outs, etc., were more accurately reflected. (Made sense to me. A teeny-tiny little edit and the book would be perfect. Occupational hazard for an editor, I guess. Show me a book, and I want to improve it.)

But not last Sunday! I was not going be on the sidelines scribbling furiously with my red and purple pencils. I was going to be in on the action. And action it was!
I swung the bat. I caught the balls. I got out. I missed some balls. I ran (yeah, me!). I fell. I got up. I slid.

And it all felt good. Now? Not so much. Everything hurts. Everything. (OK, well, my ears don’t hurt. But everything else does.) Muscles? What muscles? But it doesn’t matter. I stretched myself (and my body) and did something I love but that I’d set aside for years and years.

So what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with writing? Well, let me tell you. An author resides inside many people. But, as a result of one thing or another, that love for writing, that drive for it, wanes and takes a backseat to more important life situations.

But I’m living proof (hobbling proof, in fact), that you can get back into the swing of things (see what I did there?) and stretch muscles you forgot you had, that have laid dormant for so long. You, too, can step up to the plate, flex your fingers (don’t forget to breathe!), and let it fly.

Write the words you’ve been meaning to. Create the character you’ve loved. And you’ll see, as I did, that sometimes it just takes that first step and a flood of passion and inspiration can sweep you away.

I put down my pencils and picked up my bat and I loved every minute of it. And now, I need to go to take some more painkillers, anti-inflammatories, wrap up an ice pack so I can ice my bruised body, and get back to editing.

(Please note: BF came up with the title for this post. Because, you know, he’s totally supportive of my writing and editing. AND, it helps that I went six for nine!)

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