A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
10 January 1999 - The ABC of Me
I take ideas for entries where I can find them. This one is from Jan Yarnot.
A is for Aerospace. It's the industry I work for. And I work for a company with the oh so imaginative name of The Aerospace Corporation. We sometimes refer to the company as "the circle A ranch" but our logo is no longer really a straightforward A in a circle. A is also for Aurora, both borealis and australis, which I have an ardent desire to see. I am actually contemplating things like going to Lapland in winter to do so.
B is for the Biona Bards. Penny, Greg, Barry, Kane, Marsha and I have been meeting monthly to work on storytelling for several years now. We've even taught a workshop and done a couple of concerts together. What has worked particularly well is that we feel we can bring very raw material to one another, as well as the stuff that just needs a quick run through before some performance. B is also for Beatrice, my mother.
C is for California. I've lived in California for over 18 years now, not quite half my life. That always surprises me. Growing up back East, California had this weird image - we always said the country was tilted and everything loose slid into California. I tell people that in high school, I was voted most likely to move to California. It's really not that much weirder a place than many others. I still don't plan to stay here forever, primarily because it is too expensive to have the things I want (lots of land with real trees) here. And I miss real weather, though my business travel exposes me to some of that. C is also for Chelm, the city of fools in Jewish folklore.
D is for Detectives. I love to read detective fiction, a.k.a. mysteries. The major reason to read mysteries is that it is still virtually impossible to get a mystery published that has no plot at all. They may have formulaic plots, but at least something happens. My favorite mystery writers include Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Ed McBain, Edmund Crispin and Jane Langton. D is also for dancing, which I used to do a lot and have been craving to do more of again.
E is for Elliot. He is not only my favorite brother, he is my favorite sibling. He is also my only sibling. I am always surprised we did not kill each other when we were growing up, but we get along quite well in adulthood. Just don't put us in the same house for more than about 72 hours. My friends, Saori and Bob, also have a son named Elliot. E is also for Eric, my father, may he rest in peace.
F is for Frequent Flyer Miles, the true currency of the modern age. Reminding myself of the miles I am earning is a great way to ease stress associated with business travel. I also use a credit card that earns miles and pay for almost everything with it, which also has the advantage of allowing me to write just one check where I might otherwise have written several. F is also for Frugality.
G is for Game Days. The endless games of Monopoly and Careers as a child, the hours of backgammon through high school and college, Scrabble with my father and with Elliot - I can't remember a time when I didn't play games. Yesterday was a game day at Lonny and Lauren's. Lonny, John and I played Wiz Wars and Nuclear War while waiting for Gene to show up. I won Wiz Wars, largely because I had the good fortune to get some high number cards, a speedstone, and a combination of cards that let me destroy one wall and block off a passageway. I made up for it by losing Nuclear War before any of the missiles even flew, when John hit me with a card that said a super germ I was developing wiped out 25 million of my people. (Nobody won that one, but John lost last.) We started a game of Outpost, which I hadn't played before. Gene never showed up, but Lauren came home, with Larry and Lindsey in tow and the three of them played Monopoly while we finished the game of Outpost (Lonny won, mostly because he got robots, while John and I were limited in manning our plants.) and went on to a quick game of Acquire, which I won. Lindsey left and the rest of us watched the videos of a couple of episodes of Tenchi Muyo. Lauren decided she was exhausted and went to sleep, so Lonny, John, Larry and I played a game of Settlers of Catan (which Larry won). So it was a typical game day - games, junk food, anime videos - nerd socialization of the highest order. G is also for Gilbert and Sullivan.
H is for Hiking. I am not really a great hiker, being so scared of heights. But I like getting out on the trails and having quiet contemplative time. And the physical act of walking is a continuing source of pleasure. In fact, I am contemplating signing up for the Avon 3 Day Breast Cancer Walk. The idea of walking from Santa Barbara to Malibu is rather intimidating, but I think I'd have a real feeling of accomplishment if I can complete it. H is also my middle initial so it stands for my much Hated middle name, which is one of my better kept secrets.
I is for Ice. The Ice is how people who work there refer to Antarctica. Ice is also a slang word for diamonds. To ice somebody is to kill them. There's a theatrical usage of the word, too, having to do with comp tickets. I started ice skating lessons tonight, and I am feeling particularly inept, having been one of the three people who never managed to get away from the wall. Despite which, I think that, all in all, ice is nice. I is also for Island Park, New York, my home town.
J is for Judaism. Being Jewish is something I sometimes think a lot about and sometimes not at all. I've been more religious than I am now and I've been less religious than I am now, and I suppose I've settled into something of a happy medium. I'm irritated at what I see as the increasing divisiveness of the Jewish community in America. And I am frustrated that too much of what everyone else sees about Judaism has to do with either Israel or the Holocaust. But, as religions go, I think Judaism is a good one, largely because I like the emphasis on what you do vs. what you believe. And I like the feeling that I say the same prayers that generations of my ancestors have said and the connection I think that gives me to them. J is also for my friend John who is sane enough to take anti-achievement breaks.
K is for Kitsch. I love to go to kitschy attractions, all of the worst tackiest places you can find. I've been to things like the the Museum of Sponge Diving History, Gatorland (home of jumping alligators), the House on the Rock, the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, etc.. And I have a minor passion for finding really horrible souvenirs at these sorts of places. I own a mermaid shaped squirt gun, for example. Not to mention the Bermuda onion doll. K is also for Knish, a food item that cannot really be obtained outside New York.
L is for Logic Problems. I am thoroughly addicted to the sort of puzzle in which you are given a number of clues and have to figure out which person is the accountant and who ordered the chocolate cheesecake and so on. I first started doing them because we always went to the stationery store (sort of a combination newsstand and card shop) after dentist appointments and got puzzle books as treats. Along with other sorts of mathematical puzzles (and some word puzzles), they continue to be a fine diversion on airplanes. L is also for Literature, which is another excellent airplane diversion.
M is for Miriam, of course! One time I was emceeing at storytelling and I told people that M.C. really stands for "Miriam of ceremonies." I have mixed feelings about my name. I don't dislike it, per se, but I often wish I had a name that people were more likely to spell correctly. M is also for M.I.T., my alma mater.
N is for Needles. My last name, Nadel, literally means "Needle" and is a name not uncommonly chosen by Jewish tailors who were forced to adopt surnames in 19th century Eastern Europe. So it is particluarly appropriate that I love doing needlework . N is also for Notebooks and I've only recently realized that keeping lots of notebooks for various subjects is a family trait.
O is for Organizers. I love all sorts of organizing gizmos - everything from my agenda, with its assortment of Filofax, Dayrunner, Daytimer, etc. pages, to the little plastic containers for desk drawers and wire baskets in the closet to filing cabinets. I file maps in hanging file folders in alphabetical order by state. I file mail order catalogs alphabetically. I file magazines chronologically. I sort out things like beads into compartments of various plastic organizers. O is also for Obsession.
P is for Piano. I took piano lessons off and on for years, more off than on. My first piano teacher was a man named Hrant Manassian, who did two truly horrible things. First, he held a book over my hands so I couldn't look at them while playing and slapped me with the book if I tried to look. Second, and far far worse, he made me play duets with Elliot. (And Elliot always got to play the melody. I didn't learn my lesson from this, though, as I took 2 years of viola in school. Viola is a wonderful instrument, but those wimpy violins always got the melody while I had to suffer through getting all of 3 or 4 notes every 10 measures.) I briefly took lessons from a Mr. Mattson at the Oceanside Music School, who claimed to teach pop music, but who had never heard of any song that had been played on a radio within my lifetime. I quit piano for 5 or 6 years after that. When I went back to it, I took lessons from my best friend's cousin, Johanna Presti, who was a music student at Queens College. She gave me a wide mix of music - from Bach to bossa nova, Bartok to the Beatles - and, most significantly, actually told me that some things were hard. I'd always assumed that if I couldn't play something it was because I was a musical idiot; hearing that something really was hard was a revelation. I had two great years of lessons with her, until she married and moved to Brazil. P is also for Pacific Overtures, which is my favorite Sondheim score.
Q is for Quests. The quest is one of the fundamental types of folktales. The notion of having to overcome various challenges and finding ways to gain and accept help along the way is, in my opinion, a great psychological metaphor. I've discovered how good I am at sowing the seeds that become dragons and I'm trying to learn how to slay the dragons before they germinate, as it were. Q is also for Quahogs, which are a type of clam and which my friends and I used to dig when I was growing up.
R is for the Red Sox. I grew up with the Mets but was converted in 1978, when I was at M.I.T. during the year that everything came down to one game against the Yankees. Just as they did in that game, the Red Sox manage year after year they to break my heart by snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. Still I remain loyal. I consider this an excellent metaphor for love. R is also for Robert, the gentleman with whom I am conducting the world's longest running brief meaningless fling.
S is for Storytelling. I stumbled across storytelling about 8 years ago and that changed my life. I always loved folktales and I had been experimenting with writing personal stories. What I found through storytelling, though, had more to do with community than with anything else. My usual tendency is to get involved in something very intensely, for a year or two. (At the extreme, I've referred to this as the obsession of the month club). For something to hold my interest for as many years as storytelling has, it has to be special. S is also for Serendipity, which is a fun word to say and which is a fun way to think about how good things happen in the world.
T is for Travel. The more places I travel, the more I find that I want to go to. This is true even after spending much of the past year on the road. I've been to every continent and to 49 of the 50 U.S. states. Places I am thinking of for upcoming vacations include Mongolia, Japan, Tristan da Cunha, Labrador, Malta, Brazil, and the Galapagos Islands. About the only places I am not interested in going to are upscale resorts and active war zones. T is also for Trains, which are one of my favorite ways to travel.
U is for the Uillean Pipes. These are Irish bagpipes and are bellows-blown. I don't know how to play them, but I would dearly love to be able to, because they look so devilishly complicated and make such wonderful sounds. Listen to one of Liam O'Flynn's orchestral suites for uillean pipes, for example. I particularly recommend his musical setting of Tim Severin's book, The Brendan Voyage. U is also for Usenet, which I've been a participant to since 1985, which is in Internet terms roughly the time at which the giant redwoods were saplings.
V is for Velcro. In my early days on Usenet, I made a passing remark about velcro sided underwear on soc.singles, leading people to associate velcro with me forever. My first stock purchase was Velcro and I did quite nicely with it. And I once went to a Halloween party doing a tandem costume with another person as velcro. (She was the loops, I was the hooks and it was very very silly.) As far as I know, the only thing I actually own that contains any velcro is a pair of Teva sandals, though. V is also for Virgo, my Zodiac sign.
W is for Wordplay. Once you get into the habit of playing with words, you can find yourself making puns unintentionally. This is an excellent way of amusing yourself and irritating everyone around you. Puns are best sent in email because in cyberspace nobody can hear you groan. W is also for West Hempstead High School, which I went to because Island Park is too small to have its own high school.
X is for Xenophilia. If xenophobia is a fear of strangers, then xenophilia must be the right term for a love of strangers. One of the things that I find so enjoyable about travel is having my expectations about how the world should work turned upside down. X is also for Xylophagous Troglodyte, which literally means "wood eating cave dweller," and is an insult that originated in a vocabulary building obsession of my undergraduate days.
Y is for Yeast. Yeast is the essential ingredient in baking bread. The whole notion of cooking with living beings is fascinating to me. The yeast eat, excrete carbon dioxide to raise your bread, multiply, and ultimately die in the heat of the oven, and you control that whole process. There's a sensual pleasure in kneading the dough, as well as in the smell of fresh-baked bread. I haven't baked any bread in this apartment yet, since I still haven't organized things well enough to, but I don't think I will feel true possession of the kitchen until I turn out shiny brown loaves. Y is also for Yoghurt, which I eat fairly frequently.
Z is for Zydeco. This term was originally applied only to black Cajun music, but the lines are blurred more nowadays. There tend to be accordions and washboards and fiddles. The word actually derives from a particular song with the lyrics "les haricots sont pas sale" (which I think translates as "the beans don't have salt"). If you sing it with the correct accent "les haricots" sounds sort of like "zydeco." If you are unfamiliar with this wondrful music which is just made to be danced to, try listening to Clifton Chenier or Queen Ida. And laissez le bon temps roulez! Z is also for Zanzibar, which is every bit as magical a place as the images the name conjures up.
Copyright 1999 Miriam H. Nadel
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