Sunday, June 28, 2009


If anyone reading this for some reason decides to write this kind of blog--and feel free, you poor misguided fool--here's a little clue that you've hit upon a word you should write about. First, you find yourself thinking about it in the middle of the night, and second, you start finding reasons why you should not post about it. Such reasons are usually ignoble.

I've used the word polemic, of course. Well, at least I've read it, and thought I could use it in a sentence if pressed. Polemic has something to do with argument--or an argument, at any rate. If I said, "I don't mean to be polemical", as I almost did recently, before I thought better of it, I would have meant, something like, I don't mean to be divisive, or maybe argumentative. But as usual, the more I think about it, the less I know. Does polemical really mean what I think it does? And where does it come from?

The thought I had in the middle of the night was: is it related to pole? Could it really be as simple as that? Because before that, I have to admit I hadn't a clue. And maybe I still don't. Let's find out...

Well, my understanding of the word is basically right, but my etymology was, in fact, too easy. Polemic, according to the Free Dictionary, means 'a controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific position or doctrine'. Okay, so far, so good. But it has nothing to do with poles or polar, all that. It comes from through the French polemique (sorry, can't do the accent marks) from the Greek polemikos, meaning 'hostile', which in turn derives from polemos, war.

Funny, it did cross my mind that it might have something to do with the Greek polis, city, or cit-state, which I'd guess it does. But I discounted that idea.

Hmm, I guess I should apologize when I'm being polemical. Good to know.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Screaming meme!

Meme? No I don't know what the heck it means either, but I've been tagged for one by Peter Rozovsky. This one is called the 4x4.

Not that I don't know what I'm supposed to do: it's kind of like a chain letter, though presumably without the dire consequences that befall anyone who breaks it. But where the word comes from, I don't know. I don't even know how to pronounce it. I've been assuming 'meem', but it could be me-me, which, given the fact that in the blogosphere they seem to be about revealing details of your life that you would otherwise neglect to tell, I can also make a case for. I think, though, that it has something to do with copying or replicating.

A friend at work today, oddly enough, was asking me what a meme was. She had been given an order for a book called something like "Meme: Virus of the Mind". This made me remember that I'd read some article about how everything we think is just a copy of something else. Earworms, those little phrases of popular songs that you can't get out of your mind, are apparently a form of meme.

Anyway. You can stick around or just scroll on down to my findings on this subject. Meanwhile I have an assignment to do:

Four places I'd like to go or things I'd like to do:

The truth about me is that I am really not much of a planner. There are a lot of places, whole continents that I've never even gotten near. But I am very amenable to suggestion, which is how I've gone on most of the major trips in my life. So, in the meantime, let's make this four places I'd happily go again:

1.) Paris

2.) London

3.) Dublin

4.) Bangkok

and four places I, quite shockingly, have never been:

1.) Washington D.C.

2.) Mexico

3.) Canada (except for the Vancouver airport)

4.) Most of the American south, New Orleans being the very recent exception.

Four places I've lived:

1) Santa Monica, California

2) Dublin, California

3) Denver, Colorado

4) Santa Cruz, California

Yeah, you got it right--I am only allowed to live in states beginning with C. Do not ask why.

Four places I've lived in the Santa Cruz area:

1) A condo complex. Highlight: it backed upon Neary Lagoon, which had been fitted in recent memory with a wooden walkway so that anyone could walk through or wheelchair through and see lovely birds and reeds and etc. Once they even grazed goats back there, complete with kids--fantastic.

2)Another condo complex. Highlight: A great park, right outside of my window!...Okay, that was more of a lowlight, as it turns out. If you have ever wondered about the predicability of human nature, just put a child on a great slide. But please don't put her or him on one directly outside of my window.

3)A restyled boarding house near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Make that The Santa Cruz Boardwalk! I let people think I left because of the screams from the Boardwalk--trust me, this is nothing compared to having a really fun slide outside your bedroom window.

4)A studio off Bay Street, directly on the road to the university. It's good so far. Today was graduation and I left the house this morning to discover that a huge flower stand had blossomed on the neighbors front lawn across the street, and gone by the time I got home from work. Kind of cool, really.

Four places I've been on vacation:

1) Gurnee, Illinois. I must say that my parents, though having traveled much themselves, particularly my mom, did not seem to have a grasp of the idea 'vacation'. So one of the first places that I really thought of as traveling was the ancestral haunts, right off of Lake Michigan. In all truth it was one of the better vacations ever. I had five older girl cousins I had never met, who seemed to have nothing else to occupy their time but entertain their rather shy younger California cousins. I could go on and on about this, but it would bore you.

2) England. First venture abroad. We slept on our friend's floor for an unconscionably long time at her dorm associated with the London School of Economics. It was really a fantastic beginning to travel. Thank you, Mary Ellen.

3)Bangkok. Yes, it was smoggy and crowded and hot. And you had to stop whatever you were doing in honor of the king, which I suppose could get a bit old. But so beautiful! Buddhas and gold plated temples and wonderful food, even from little hibachis out on the street.

4)the Southwest of France. This was one of the most felicitous vacations ever--and, as so often with me, not one I would have forecast as being so. Three middle-aged women and three boys from the ages of fifteen to about eight. But it was great. We stayed in a French chateau, my sister was inspired to cook fantastic things by night and drive us all through the region by day. A wonderful, wonderful place. And at least at that point, the people in that region were not so jaded with Americans as to be anything but polite to us. Even though on some levels, I'm sure we were trying. And thank you, Steph.

Four kinds of meals I like:

1) Going out to breakfast is one of my favorite things. There are lots of great restaurants in Santa Cruz, but I rarely find the time to go to any of them.

2) Dinner parties. I think this can be one of the most perfect configurations of human beings. Five to ten people sitting around a table in a private home, eating and drinking and holding forth. I feel unusually blessed on this score, considering that I am never the hostess. I like to host things, but I am not much of a cook.

3)Coffee and something sweet in the morning, and a decent newspaper, a good book review, or a great book.

4)I'm not really a foodie, but every once in awhile, I do love going out to a really great meal somewhere, preferably with many courses. Just don't ask me what I eat in between times.

Four books or movies that have taken me to places I would not have dreamed of:

1)Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. We were in Trieste. We might have gone to Rome. We might, in fact, have gone anywhere. But because I was such a huge fan of Rebecca West and in particular of this massive tome, we went into Yugoslavia before it fell apart. Thank you for that, Cicily Fairfield.

2)Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. We walked the moors on account of this book. It was not my dream, it was my aunt's. I read Wuthering Heights in the youth hostel looking over the Bronte graveyard. Because the mud kept pulling the heels of my shoes off, I was in a pretty foul temper on the entire trek up to the ruin which, as the plaque said, might have been the place that inspired the novel Wuthering Heights. I suppose in retrospect it's obvious that I wouldn't have traded a moment of it. Thank you, Kate, for putting up with me.

3)Angel's Flight, by Michael Connelly. I was reading this book when I was visiting my sister's family in L.A. once. My action-oriented brother-in-law suddenly got it into his head that I should see whereof Connelly was speaking of, so we went to downtown L.A., rode the funicular to the top of Bunker Hill, caught the beautiful building that featured in it and also in Bladerunner, and so on. The funicular failed a few months further on and killed a couple of people, and as far as I know hasn't been opened again. Thank you, Joe and Rudy, for letting me catch the experience in time.

4)I went out to the Martello tower in Sandycove while I was reading Ulysses. I did a lot of other things Joyce related during my stay in Dublin, but this may have been the best. I felt as I did it that it wasn't just for myself. Made me happy to climb up on to that roof. Thank you, Jamie Joyce.

Four works of art before which I have stood (or sat) either in deep relaxation, as close as I get to a meditative state, or with a profound sense of receptiveness:

1)As Peter knows, I could stand in front of anything by Piero della Francesca and feel simultaneously a richer and a humbler person for it.

2)Most operas. The latest being "Le Nozze de Figaro", done as the annual student performance up at UCSC. The words 'student' and 'opera' may make some people cringe, but it is always a wonderful, moving experience. For me, opera is the total package.

3)The Eiffel Tower. I know, I know--what a cliche. But it really is one of the most beautiful structures in the world.

4)Something I have not really stood in deep contemplation of, but would like to--the Ramayana murals at the Emerald Buddha temple in Bangkok. We were on the go, and couldn't really linger, but I would love to have made my way slowly around the walls and picked out all the details.

Four literary, scientific, artistic or political figures from the past whom I'd like to watch at work or meet for dinner and drinks:

You know, I don't think I could. I can't imagine the context. I'd be a sycophant or mum, or I would rise to the occasion and it would still not get me what I would want.

So here are the people I would like to give something back to, if only I could: Rebecca West, Laurens van der Post, Thomas Merton, and any of the Brontes--and that includes Branwell.

Four people I think might take it upon themselves to answer these questions (but I hope they'll do it only if they want to):

Brian O'Rourke

Liam Hoyle

Martha Silano

Gerard Brennan

Oh, yeah--almost forgot. What's a meme? It's a cultural idea or value or piece of information that is passed on between people non-genetically. It's a shortening of the Greek word mimeme (no not MiniMe, though I can't help reading it that way myself), which ultimately derives from mimeisthai, to imitate. It's called a 'meme' to correlate with 'gene'--in theory, anyway, the corresponding transmitter of genetic information.

I knew that there was a 'mimesis' root in all this! But the lack of an 'i' threw me off. Has anyone here read the great Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, by the way?