Losing and finding

Here’s one of the best articles I’ve read recently. It’s about losing and finding things, starting off with losing stuff and moving on to losing people. All in all, a funny, sad, beautiful meditation.

Passwords, passports, umbrellas, scarves, earrings, earbuds, musical instruments, W-2s, that letter you meant to answer, the permission slip for your daughter’s field trip, the can of paint you scrupulously set aside three years ago for the touch-up job you knew you’d someday need: the range of things we lose and the readiness with which we do so are staggering. Data from one insurance-company survey suggest that the average person misplaces up to nine objects a day, which means that, by the time we turn sixty, we will have lost up to two hundred thousand things. (These figures seem preposterous until you reflect on all those times you holler up the stairs to ask your partner if she’s seen your jacket, or on how often you search the couch cushions for the pen you were just using, or on that daily almost-out-the-door flurry when you can’t find your kid’s lunchbox or your car keys.) Granted, you’ll get many of those items back, but you’ll never get back the time you wasted looking for them.

A defense of elevator talk

I love it. From a recent New Yorker article on Esperanto:

People are apt to make fun of other people’s habit of talking about the weather to their neighbors in the elevator. They shouldn’t make fun. By invoking the one thing that we know we have in common with others, we throw a rope across the divide, asserting that, whatever our differences, we do share something: when it rains on one of us, it’s going to rain on the other one, too.

‘A little bit uncomfortable’

This fall’s Style Issue of The New Yorker wowed me in a few ways, one of which was a profile of Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. Not only is Michele’s work in colors astounding, but he’s more humble, thoughtful and human than you might expect a global fashion leader to be.

At one point, Michele calls the cupola and oculus of the Pantheon “like a big mother.” He says: “It hugs you, with the light inside. It is a very animistic idea of God. Sometimes when you get inside there you want to cry.” But my favorite quote from Michele is a little more strange, and explains well why the Style Issue each year is always so fascinating to me:

If you think about art, art is about being made a little bit uncomfortable. When you are a kid, you always want to be in touch with something that makes you feel not comfortable. I have a machine from the seventeen-hundreds to make curly hair. You put the tip of it in the fire, and you can travel with it. It is very like a torture object. But when my nephews arrive at my apartment, they say, ‘Please, can we see the machine to make curly hair?’ There is something about discovering different things—things that make you feel curious and uncomfortable—that is very human.

The same issue offers a Ian Frazier meditation on the color of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a beautiful piece and goes to show how much detail and meaning sit under all we see. “That elusive, flickering, familiar, sea-polished shade of copper-green got into my head last year when I was standing on the roof of an apartment building in the Bronx….”

Grappling with hyphens and the rest

It takes me a while to read books. My eyes are too big for my eyes. But I finally got around to reading Between You & Me, by Mary Norris of New Yorker copy-editing fame. The book was thoroughly lovable for anyone who works or plays with words. At different points, Norris visits a pencil-sharpener museum and crashes a milk truck. She also devotes a whole chapter to hyphens.

In a story by Karen Russell, a boy is making fun of a girl who went to church, and asks, “How was it? . . . Delicious God-bread?” I was persuaded by another proofreader—another unique person with her own ideas and the brief to impose them—to remove the hyphen in “God-bread” and make it two words. But it bothered me without the hyphen, and later, walking back to the office after brooding over a sandwich, I realized that the analogy was not with, say, “raisin bread”: “God bread” was not studded with gods. It was God. First chance I got, I restored the hyphen in “God-bread.” Transubstantiation in a hyphen.

Disfawdling usage

“The other evening, Samuel Hargress, Jr., disfawdled himself from his perch outside this uptown jazz dive to greet a pair of newcomers….” –First sentence of a one-paragraph review of a bar.

Disfawdled! When I saw the word, I had to look it up. On the internet, sadly, I found a grand total of one person had remarked on this usage. But the reaction was the same.

Upon further Googling, the usage appeared to be a deep-cut reference to Jack Kerouac’s “The Railroad Earth.” Judging by the lack of any other results, Kerouac invented the word to described life in the flophouse where he lived when he worked as a railroad brakeman. The internet revealed no other results.

I put the light out on the sad dab mad grub little diving room and hustle out into the fog of the flow, descending the creak hall steps where the old men are not yet sitting with Sunday morn papers because still asleep or some of them I can now as I leave hear beginning to disfawdle to wake in their rooms with their moans and yorks and scrapings and horror sounds, I’m going down the steps to work, glance to check time of watch with clerk cage clock.

Hard to figure etymology for a near stream-of-consciousness invention. Dawdle, maybe. Says the Online Etymology Dictionary of dawdle: “1650s, perhaps a variant of daddle ‘to walk unsteadily.’ Perhaps influenced by daw, because the bird was regarded as sluggish and silly. Not in general use until c. 1775.”

Reminder to self: Anyone can invent a word.