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Thinking about language

Midnight sun, Advent Bay, Spitzbergen, Norway.

Because I am taking an intensive language & culture class in Norwegian, I not surprisingly have been giving a lot of thought to language, grammar, & the like. Part of it is why one language appeals or not. I think I am drawn to Norwegian because my dad was German & there are a lot of similarities, without some of the drawbacks; because it is illuminating my own language to me, in a way that Spanish probably wouldn't do;  because i grew up around Scandinavians & it's a somewhat familiar world; and because some unknown spark captured me.


It's making me think about how much we can learn about early people through linguistic archaeology. Is that a real thing? It has to be... yes! Although almost every NYPL title on the topic sounds like a PhD theses. Isn't there someone who can write a popular history that connects language with history? We know who we are because we figure out who we were. 

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Thinking about polar bears

We had the word "isbjørn" in class last night, which I realized meant polar bear, mostly because the sentence said you could see isbjørner in the streets of Svalbard, an island off (& belonging to) Norway that is home to many bears. Polar bears were once symbols of ferocity & adventure, and now represent a sad outcome of our assault on nature. 

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Monday Quote

It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.

~ Frank Herbert


That's pithy but comes from a longer, equally thought-provoking quote:

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.


When I lived in Maine, each of the 4 other people I lived with read Dune (the best-selling science fiction novel of all time) & got depressed, which lasted till the next person finished. That was a grim month & I skipped my turn. I know nothing about Herbert, except that it's his centennary this month, although he died in 1986. 

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I'm always excited when I remember to look at nature, although this odd tree would be hard to overlook. Except for snow, there never seems more to say about trees, sunlight, bugs. They have their world, I have mine. 


The Norwegian word for "birch" (which this isn't) is "bjørk."

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TWO Bialas

Possibly the most extravagant thing I/we have ever done is buy these two paintings. Each enhances & refers to the other, somehow. I hadn't noticed the line across the top of the one on the left (the one we bought first) until I saw a similar line on the other. 


In this photo they are flanking the Wedding Shelf. I no longer remember who gave us anything except the Welsh love spoon, a gift of my Auntie May, who lived in Cardiff. 


Janice Biala was Ford Madox Ford's last girlfriend/wife. I love that I have this tangible link to my favorite author. I love the paintings too—they are both restful and energizing. 


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The man I love

Johnny in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park a few days ago. 

I've known & loved Johnny way more than half my life. In my book about him, My Marriage A to Z, I wrote this: 


Quotidian. At a certain point, the anecdotes and highlights run out. It's the dailiness—the quotidian—that matters. It's recognizing his tread on the steps of our building, knowing his exact look in some specific situation. Once I called from the other room, "Can I read you something?"

He said, "Is it the caption of a New Yorker cartoon?"

"Oh, do I have a special voice for that?"

So it seems. His knowing this one exact thing about me seems to be as important as anything else in our whole life.


That was years ago. The other day, he said, Oh wow! I said, is there a basketball game. And there was. It seems he has a special voice for that, one I recognize. It pleased me to be heard by him & just as much to hear him. This is our life. 

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In the neighborhood: HBD to me

Near Rivington & Chrystie.

I'd like to meet the person who wrote this. The few, the birthdayers, the ridiculous. That's me (& pretty much my whole family). Our calendar is a birthday calendar. Our song the birthday song. 

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From the vault

I've probably posted this in my blog before, but in sorrow at & in honor of the passing of the Chairman of the Board, the great Whitey Ford (3rd Hall of Fame pitcher to die within a few weeks): 


I. The Five Greatest Poets of the Twentieth Century


Hank Williams

William Carlos Williams

Ted Williams

Esther Williams

Tennessee Williams


II. The Five Greatest Mechanics of the Twentieth Century


Henry Ford

Ford Madox Ford

Whitey Ford

Betty Ford

Tennessee Ernie Ford

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Monday Quote

When Mark & I went to Mexico in 1981, I wanted to buy a toy typewriter to take with me. I couldn't find one & made do with a giant notebook. Now I own that toy typewriter, an iPad that weighs a pound. In 1981, any typewriter that could do what this iPad does was unimaginable.


Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. ~ Thoreau


that's the iPad feeling, indeed.

I like it & am happy I bought it

but it distracted me for days

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The tooth of Buddha

A Buddhist wayside shrine. 

The relic of the tooth of Buddha (Pali danta dhātuya) is venerated at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy. It was completed in 1595. There are others of his teeth in various places, one of which, in California, is said to still be growing & is now 3" long.  

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In my office III

I forgot I was doing the panoramic shot of my office piece by piece. This is in front of me as i sit at my main desk. So many treasures. 


Today was one of those busy days of satisfying errands: biked over to the west village to drop off 50 postcards to Michigan votes (half of them done by my neighbor Louis), did a tech check for a little reading I'm doing on Monday for the Brooklyn Rail. My goodness, they have such lovely & competent young women, who are so reassuring. I got to step foot into my synagogue for a minute, pick up & drop off library books, buy the nice fluffy pita from Holy Land. Very early I went to Key Food, which continues to have Old People Hours, for cat litter & tricolor rotini. And baba ghanoush, which I don't think I like. How can I cover it up & still eat it? What about mixing it with cottage cheese, which Johnny bought but doesn't really like. I bought printer ink & a pair of pretty socks. I've been printing a lot of poems & a lot of text for my Norwegian class. And there's still some karate to come! Assuming I can stay awake for another hour. 

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Poem of the Week

And now for something completely different...... 



Laughing on Ice


Come with me & let the moonlight

turn to ice in our hands


Find the stars in our pockets

spend them on diamonds


Come with me & let ice turn to moonlight

& fall from our fingers

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Lefty, aka Guinness (as in stout). He'll only drink from the faucet. 

The endless fascination of trying to communicate with an alien. He kisses me with blinks so I know he loves me, but he uses his sharp little teeth & claws way too freely. His latest game is to moan to go out. He goes up a flight of stairs then calls for me. I go into the hall & he meets me on the steps, pushing his head into mine & purring loudly. Then he follows me home. He often sleeps nearby. So sweet ... & so many timeouts.

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Monday Quote

A despot doesn't fear eloquent writers preaching freedom. He fears a drunken poet who may crack a joke that will take hold. 

~ E. B. White


I had sort of thought I would go somewhere else this week, but here I am. Hopeful!

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A different roof

It wasn't any random roof, it was in the West 30s where Upstart Creatures decided to try out LIVE THEATER. Carefully. Everyone in the cast was tested a day or two before, seats were 6' apart & the actors (who unmasked only when they spoke) were 10' away from the audience. We had our temperatures taken on arrival (dang it, even though I rode my bike & was overheated, I still didn't get anywhere near 98°). 


The play was Oedipus Tyrannus—a flawed leader during a plague. Brilliant but I think I would have been happy if I were watching a play in Flemish. It was so good to be around others, communally watching theater happen. I don't suppose I've ever appreciated live theater so much. 

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Poem of the Week

Another Poem About All the Love in the World



what's wrong with being superficial, anyway?

what's under Manhattan?

rocks, roots 'n' rats


excuse me, can I have a bite of your slice?

if you were a pigeon, would you care if you died?

excuse me, how tall are you?


are pigeons more enlightened than we are?

why didn't someone tell me how awful it was

I don't expect god to tell me what to do


excuse me, why are you walking so fast?

excuse me, how are you able to walk so fast?

excuse me, who won the game?


the head it hurts

the mind it aches

the eye forgets to see



woke up, smoked a secret cigarette, had torrid sex,

ate an everything bagel (toasted) with cream cheese,

worked hard, slept well, went


to the beach, oh this life of ours,

it will go on like this

forever because why would it change when I love it so much

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Phone banking, my new favorite thing

I've committed to making an hour's worth or two dozen calls pretty much every day for as long as i'm needed. (Today it was 30 calls.) It turns out to be fun, once I got over the shyness of doing a new thing. Well, I did make calls in other elections but this time around, it's easier: there's training, lots of check-ins, organizers who quickly answer your questions, & even a counter (when it works) so I know how long & how many calls I've been doing. 


I do love chatting with people. I'm amazed how many answer the phone & are forthcoming. Today my two favorite people were the woman who said yes, she would love to volunteer, & the couple who said after the "debate" debacle, their staunchly Republican son had said he wasn't going to vote for tRump. He also wasn't going to vote for Biden but he had pulled back from tRump. 


Michigan because it's a battleground state but you can find phone banking going on wherever there's a competitive race. 

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Let's drive away from September, shall we?

My neighbor, Louis, displayed his collection of '70s & '80s GM models for me. 

What was good in September? The High Holidays, dreams of road trips, Biden leading, my mother making it through a small operation, flanken, outdoor karate, bike-riding, the roof, the roof of the Ezra Pound, the weather, mostly. The bad things we all know about & need not concern us here.

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On the roof

How'm I gonna stay up here all winter? My neighbor is going to get a little heater, so maybe I can do something like that. I have probably been outdoors more this stay-in summer than I have in years, thanks to the roof. 

I've been making calls to Michigan voters (through a friend in Detroit). It's pretty fun—supposed to only be calling Dems & I only rarely get a tRump supporter, but I get off the phone fast & politely if I do. I've talked to a man who hasn't been outside in 28 weeks (asthma, COPD) & did I think his ballot would be OK if he handed it to his mail carrier. A woman who wasn't sure she could make calls because she might blow her top if she got a Republican on the line. Another woman, originally from Kentucky, who said the fact that her brother-in-law died of C19 hadn't changed the mind of any of her "racist, I hate to say" relatives back home. People are mostly nice. One young woman must have thought I was selling or scamming because she charged into a long silly story about her emu egg-cotton candy sandwich & then hung up. I didn't care, how else do I get a glimpse into the wackos of the world? 


A little pitch for phonebanking: it's easy, they train you, your phone # is masked, it only takes an hour or so at a time, & I know I for one don't want to wake up on November 4 feeling I hadn't done everything I could. Click on this link! Or search for "phone bank for Dems." 

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Monday Quote

These were also in Washington Square Park but I have nothing to say about them, so I'll give 'em to the Chinese philosopher. 

Learning without thinking is useless. 

Thinking without learning is dangerous. 

~ Confucius


And as usual, I'm looking at YOU, Republican spreaders of lies. Republican avoiders of facts. 

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Social distancing, NYU-style

It was so nice in Washington Square Park yesterday, & these young people thought so too. VERY few masks & not much distance. I guess we can't retrain in a hurry without a LOT of motivation. 

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Poem of the Week

Staying Awake


Dad loved voting

first in his precinct

he let me pull the lever

to clank-close the curtain


I step into a shimmering pool

but there's no water

the concrete waves in sunlight

what I reach for isn't there


what are you,

my Welsh cousin asked

Jewish? English? white?

not quite


Dad believed in voting

as immigrants do

and in America

& what we kids could do


how pleasant to be immortal

in sunlight flipping

through plane trees

neighbors with dogs walk by


they're at home

cops get ready

some challenge the air

some relax before they start up tough


it could be a hundred years ago

or a thousand

people dream

a future & a past & perch


right here, one laugh, one hairdo.

one steel can, a pigeon,

a schoolbus, a man

the air so rich we can't stay awake


You, not-old Chinese lady with curved back,

what can you tell me about your native town

or farm? Or is that the Bronx in your mouth?

the air so rich we can't stay away


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The Assyrians & the Republicans

I came upon this in a book I'm reading, Empires of the Word: A language history of the world by Nicholas Ostler: "The Assyrian armies rolled over their neighbors to prove the greater might of their kings, and demonstrated their power through orgies of ruthlessness." What has changed in 4,000 years? The encouraging thing is that the Republicans will one day go the way of the Assyrians. Not fucking soon enough but they will. 

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Back to school....

They've got the stars six feet apart but that's the only preparation for the time being, as the schools won't be in person yet. Those small brave hopeful stars break my heart. 

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Jeg snakker litt Norsk

It's possible that I actually do belong in Norsk III, shocking as it seems. The teacher thought so & I didn't stumble every time I opened my mouth. We all introduced ourselves yesterday at the first session. Here's mine (before you pop it into Google translate, see how much you can make out. A lot I bet. This is pretty simple Norwegian):


Hei, jeg heter Elinor. Pronomenene mine er hun og henne. Jeg er halvt tysk, halvt engelsk, men jeg kommer fra Sør Dakota, så er jeg også en æres-Skandinav. Jeg bor i Manhattan i mange år, med ektemannen min og katten min. Mannen min heter Johnny, og katten min heter Lefty. Jeg jobber som redaktør og forfatter. Jeg er også en dikter and har publiserte rundt sju eller åtte bøker. Jeg liker å lese, henge med vennene mine, reise og sove—når katten min lar meg.


Denne sommeren måtte jeg være hjemme, men jeg klarte å tilbringe mye tid oppe på taket av bygningen min. Min venn og jeg hadde en hage på taket, men ekorn spiste alle grønnsakene våre unntatt en liten tomat, og den var veldig sur.


Jeg forelsket norsk for et par år siden. Jeg vet ikke hvorfor. Jeg liker lyden av det, og at det er som midt engelsk. Og Norge er veldig vakre og jeg har mange venner der.


Jeg kan lese og skrive bedre enn jeg kan snakke eller lytte og forstå. Jeg vil forbedre meg og også lære preposisjoner!


Det er alt for nå.

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