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Foiled by a French Word

Hey y’all, I’ve emerged from the crazy place I’ve been over the last week or so, alternating between stressing, running up and down the library stairs, sleeping in/staying up too late, sneezing/sniffling/dehydrated, and seeking out random places to get work done (including 1 hour of grading last night at Hurts Donut in Middleton, and 2 hours of reading/writing in a booth at Perkins) while trying (and failing) not to have too many sugary snacks. Even though I want them.

Today was actually relatively productive. Even though I didn’t get my day really started until about 12:30, at least I was up around 9 or 10. I headed over to Colectivo to get a cappuccino (yum), a sandwich (meh), and a cup of onion soup (…nasty), and proceed to discipline myself to work. First, I decided to read a book I’ve been meaning to send out for awhile. I gave myself one hour, and by the time the hour was up, I was 5 pages from the end of the 230-ish page book, so I finished it, ordered a mocha, and steeled myself for an hour of working on some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.

So, there I am, typing away, click click click la di da di da, when all of a sudden my brain just comes to a screeching halt. I need a word that refers to an incredibly talented and versatile individual, but I cannot think of one. There is a specific word I’m looking for, but it’s in the wrong section of my brain and I can’t find it. I know it either is or sounds French, so I run through every possible French word I know. Panache? No. Savoir-faire? No. Je ne s’ai quoi? No. AUGGGHHH.

It’s. Right. There. But I can’t find it.

I call for backup. My parents are in Ocean City, and my dad and I have a several-minute long conversation about this word, which neither of us can think of. He asks my mom, who asks one of her friends who is fluent in French which is convenient because today is that friend’s birthday and she lives all by herself and my mom almost forgot to call her.

I get off the phone and start frantically writing words. Virtuoso. Au courant. Tour-de-force. One of these may or may not be the answer, I feel like I’ll know it when I see it.

I open up Google Translate and try out some French words, go to dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, make yet another call to my dad, and now twenty minutes have been spent on this one word and I’m so desperate that I open up the Wikipedia page on English words of French origin and go down the list, starting at A and getting up to C before realizing how ridiculous I’m being. After trying out a bazillion different possible words, I settle on “tour-de-force” and continue onward.

Up to now, I still have no idea what that word might have been, although tour-de-force is probably the closest I got. However, I came across some other French words that, in my opinion, should have different meanings.

Blancmange. It refers to a type of sauce, but I think it should refer to someone who is sophisticated enough to order the correct wine for the meal.

Legerdemain. It’s a lovely way to refer to trickery, but what it should means is, someone who is incredibly skilled at bookkeeping or journaling/blogging.

Demimondaine. It refers to something sordid. What it should mean: an aging leading lady (think Ms. Moore)

Peignoir. It has to do with a hairdo. It should refer to someone whose hair is so perfect that others doubt it’s natural.

Joie de vivre. Means “joy of living.” Should mean “let’s all jump around like we’re young lovers frolicking around Paris in the spring.”

And on a final, quite random note:

While I was grocery shopping today, I walked past the school supplies and for a moment, my eyes saw the word illegal pad” on a small notebook; upon closer examination, it was just an ordinary legal pad with an oddly placed logo. Who decided the legality of pads, anyway? What if I wanted an illegal pad? What would it look like? Would I have to declare it at customs? Would it be considered contraband? Would I have to throw it across the border into Mexico? So many questions.

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Spring Broken

Blleeeehhhhhhh.

I’m not sick or anything, but honestly, this Spring Break just sucks. This time last year, I was in Florida with Echo, and anticipating going to my cousin’s wedding in Baltimore, and two years before, I was also in Florida, at spring training.

And now, here I am on my couch, mind-numbingly thumbing through articles, not making a ton of progress. I need to start and finish a book, grade about 65 papers, do a lesson plan for tomorrow, and write write write.

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Flip the Script Friday: William Butler Yeats, Purgatory

Happy St. Patrick’s day, y’all! In honor of the obligatory day each year Americans become Irish in order to have an excuse to drink (and it’s a Friday this year, so of course it’s going to be a big, soggy mess), here’s a play from Ireland.

A few weeks ago, hiding in a corner of one of the bookshelves at the library was a tome entitled 13 Plays of the Ghosts and Supernatural. Naturally, I was intrigued, so I picked it up. I was delighted to find that rather than a bunch of boring classics or plays by nobody I had heard of, it contained a sweet little selection that crossed borders and genres. It’s been sitting at the bottom of various book piles ever since I got it, but I decided that today would finally be the day I’d pick one, read it, and write about it. So here’s an oldie, but a goodie: Purgatory by Ireland’s own William Butler Yeats.

Undated photo of the playwright (Wikipedia)

The Basics

Purgatory was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, on 10 August 1938.

Characters

  • A Boy
  • An Old Man

Setting/Plot

Sometime, a ruined house with a bare tree in the background. The old man tells to the boy the story of his parents and this house, which was once theirs, alluding to people he sees in the windows which the boy cannot. After the old man tells of how his father was murdered in that house, and that he was the one who did it. He then demands that the boy – his son – hand over his backpack which is full of money. They struggle, breaking the bag and spilling the money on the ground. The boy threatens to kill the old man, but as he is distracted by the appearance of the silhouette of his grandfather’s ghost in the window, the old man stabs him with the same knife he used to murder his father.

My Thoughts

A short and thought-provoking piece that seems to give the reader more and more with each read. It’s written in kind of a modified rhythmic verse, which gives it a creepy edge; it doesn’t quite have a rhyme or a meter scheme, but seems to be purposeful in its pacing. The fact that the two characters are a father and son, and that rather than the perpetuation of the cycle, with the son killing the father, the father kills the son instead, thus breaking the cycle. But perhaps, in a way, sending the old man to purgatory, forever condemned to live and relive the murders of his own father and his own son.

Major Themes

Over and Over Again

OLD MAN: But there are some

That do not care what’s gone, what’s left:

The souls of Purgatory that come back

To habitations and familiar spots.

BOY: Your wits are out again.

OLD MAN: Re-live

Their transgressions, and that not once

But many times; they know at last

The consequence of those transgressions

Whether upon others or upon themselves;

Upon others, others may bring help,

For when the consequence is at an end

The dream must end; if upon themselves,

There is no help but in themselves

And in the mercy of God. (Yeats 179-180)

There’s this eerie quality about it. The old man speaks of purgatory and warns of what it entails. He seems to remember quite a lot; the type of binding of the books in the house, the exact conditions of the night when he was conceived. And when the boy starts to see the ghosts he has been denying, it’s almost as if he’s seeing into his father’s past.

After the old man stabs the boy, the stage darkens except for the only other thing on stage: the tree, surrounded by white light. Even though people have been murdered and one day the old man will die too, the tree has clearly been there since the old man was a boy and will continue to stand there after the man is gone. A bit reminiscent of The Giving Tree. But unlike the man and the boy, the tree cannot perpetuate a cycle of violence or procreate in the same way man can, just silently oversee the events in its presence.

A Horse, A Horse

Hoofbeats that are heard only by the old man, and not the boy. Horses seemed to contribute to both the birth and the undoing of the old man; his father was a groom in the stable owned by the family of the woman who would become his wife; he rode up to the house on a horse in order to sneak in and sleep with her; and he lost all her money betting on horses, sending his son, the old man, away. The old man kills his father out of rage, and the boy because he cannot bear the thought of him procreating with someone, potentially like his father and mother did. The logic is twisted – maybe it’s me – but there’s something about horses and sexuality that is really driving this old man to do these things.

How I’d Flip It

For some reason, I’m seeing black and white. Like, paper cuttings. The house is described as black and charred, after the old man’s father burnt it down while drunk, and the tree is in a white light. Purgatory itself is described as a gray area between heaven and hell, so I think my designs would incorporate that grayscale; no color at all. A lot of shadowing and dimensioning could be fun, especially with the outlines of the ghosts in the window, and possibly some sort of giant horse projection or something. For some reason I’m also thinking snow, and a lot of sharp angles, maybe even a leafless tree, one that almost looks like a tall hitching post rather than a tree.

I’ve probably had too much to drink (actually, I’ve had nothing at all to drink) but I managed to start and finish a Flip the Script in one sitting, so that’s something.

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Tales From School: Drawn, Quartered, Nickeled, and Dimed

Another day, another tale from elementary school. As usual, all names changed.

In today’s Jewish Studies lesson, we talked about kehillah, or the concept of community. With the unusual amount of stress of the past week, I hadn’t been able to think of anything worthwhile to do today, but about an hour before class I was sitting on my couch, looking at the items on my coffee table when I came across my dish of spare change.

Then the idea came to me.

Fast forward an hour or two to school. We spent the first hour talking about what a community is, what it means to be a part of a community, and why community is important. At the start of the second hour of class, I asked them to name different members of the community. Early choices were money collector (for the poor), charity organizer, and event coordinator; all good ideas, but not exactly what I was going for. So then, I suggested, a town mayor, and along came suggestions of doctor, lawyer, dentist, fireman, and policeman. Then, Allison chimed in with “hairdresser,” which she wants to be when she grows up. I wrote it on the board, but in a separate column from the other jobs, explaining that hairdressing is a service and a luxury. Not all towns need or can afford to have a hairdresser, but a hairdresser can be a community member. Other people then chimed in with toy store owner, bookstore owner, restaurant owner, and musician. Back in the first column, we included construction worker, plumber, engineer, teacher, food seller and a few others. My co-worker Clara suggested truck driver, to transport goods in and out. I made a few final suggestions, with postal worker (in case our community has no Internet), garbage collector (somebody’s gotta take the trash out), and rabbi (because, Jewish.)

Then, I went over to my backpack and took out the dish of spare change that had been sitting on my coffee table earlier (I fished out all the pennies and foreign coins before class). I told the class that each of them (and Clara, my co-worker, who decided to play with us) would receive a coin. If they received a quarter, that would mean that they had a big job in the community, were important, were responsible for a lot of human lives. Students who got nickels would choose medium-size jobs, not too big or too small, but people who might be of value to the community. The dime would be the most difficult one: someone who is in the community but does not or cannot contribute as much as the other two.

The students closed their eyes and put their hands out, and I distributed the coins at random. Out of the group of 16, 4 ended up with quarters, 7 with nickels, and 5 with dimes. I told all the students with quarters to stand, and tell everyone what their role in the community would be. Shoshana wanted to be the community’s doctor; Mia, the nurse; William, the banker; and my co-worker Clara, as the teacher (creative choice there, partner.) Then, they sat down and the 7 nickel students stood up and chose roles. Jesse wanted to be a pilot, Tricia wanted to own a restaurant, of course, Allison wanted to be a hairdresser, and so on. Then, the 5 students with dimes stood up. Molly wanted to be a girl detective like Nancy Drew, which I thought was a good example; part of the purpose was to recognize that children can be part of the community too. Petunia wanted to be a rookie police officer, someone who was still in school. Pauline had trouble thinking of one, so I whispered in her ear “grandma,” and she announced to the rest of the class that she was going to be a grandma. The other kids laughed until I told them that just like kids, older people can be part of the community too, and made up a hypothetical situation; maybe Mia worked at the nursing home taking care of Grandma Pauline, but when Pauline was younger and still working, she was the nurse who delivered Mia! The class started understanding after that. Finally, David had trouble thinking of something, and someone suggested a student for the teacher to teach, which worked well.

Then, we sat back and looked at our community, comprised of the occupations written on the board. The class was proud of themselves, noting that they had a lot of different jobs and that it would be fun to be a part of this community. We had some time left, so I wanted to do a second round. This time around, 8 got quarters, 5 got nickels, and 3 got dimes. Shoshana got a quarter again, and even though I told her she could still be a doctor, she decided to go with mayor. Jesse chose doctor, and so on. Of the nickel group, both Molly and Mandy chose detectives, and then of the dimes, Petunia and Jillian chose girl detectives. So, this time around, we ended up with a few good choices, but 1/4 of the town was a detective. I brought up the fact that we had no one in the food industry, so Molly offered to be a detective and a food trader, and some others as well. And we had completely forgotten about the charity collector and event organizer from before. Some of the kids suggested that in addition to being a lawyer or an artist or a musician they could also organize charity work, which was a good idea.

My co-teacher was super impressed with this activity, and I didn’t think it was half-bad myself. Something to think about. What do you think?