People whine, or more modernly "whinge," about new words. About the new ways of using old words. They want to nail down English, make it hold still. Like a dead language, like Latin. But English is alive, recklessly sprouting new words for old things, new words that meant old things but with a new twist, old words used new ways, and new words for new things.
I used to be deep in the whirlpool of new words, so close that I was one with it. I was plugged-in when plugged-in was added to the dictionary. A new word would appear in my mind seamlessly as it shot across the tongues of my friends and the pages of books and newspapers. Far out. Fab. Groovy. Outta sight. Righteous. Bummer. Gimmie some skin. Hang loose. Ecosystems. Whole systems. Spaceship Earth. Zero population. Wild edibles. Amerika. Dig it.
Later, I was there in my little suit and scarf when Materiel Management booted out the Purchasing Department and Human Resources took over the Personnel Office. I ran spritely beside adware, subfolder, brain dump, microbrew, the n-word, and biodiversity. I was hot when chill out was a thing.
But somehow, slowly, almost imperceptibly, some words started outpacing me. A new word for stealing, “gank,” (as in “you ganked my X-Box”) came and went without me. Polyamorous slipped by me unnoticed but woo-woo didn’t.
Then one day I was shocked to discover that garden ecosystems were old hat, replaced by the swankier permaculture. Gen Xer’s had axed that old-school talk and broadened the idea. By renaming it, they claimed the concept, took it away from the hippies-turned-Boomers. I resisted. I didn’t want to use that new, pretentious word. Then I realized this is how a person grows old. One step at a time out of sync as the words dance and mutate until they have all rushed ahead and left you behind with a curly old lady perm and frumpy clothes.
No longer yogurt, sourdough, and sauerkraut; it’s wild fermentation.
It’s not you are what you eat, it’s the microbiome.
New and redefined words swirl up like mosquitoes on a hot summer night from the internet, the news, movies, and conversations. Has it always been this fast? Have words always been this fleet-footed but we didn’t know how to measure?
“Are you going to temp that?”
The Oxford English Dictionary (which keeps track of a thousand years of English and some 600,000 current and obsolete words) has added more than 4,000 new words since the beginning of 2019. And I think they are behind. I know I am.
It took me forever to fully understand the ridiculously simple word, “meme.”
And “litigate” challenges me as it populates the news, mirroring the contentiousness of our society, as in this sentence from the New York Times: “Racism is litigated over and over again when another video depicting another atrocity comes to light.” Litigate in my mind has always meant to decide in a court of law. But now its archaic meaning, to dispute, has been re-embraced. Who started that?
Bitchface. Clapback. Nothingburger. Shade. Throwing shade. Meme. Tropes. Dog whistle. Salty. Troll. Dox. The singular They. Woke. Lynching. White fragility. Infodemic. Hashtag.
They rush toward me, not just as new words but as signs of seismic changes. The world shifting beneath me like the proverbial quicksand from which Lassie had to rescue Timmy on television back in my childhood.
The cheerful slant of spring sunlight is coming through the kitchen window. It plays across the covered mound of bread dough rising in my well-scratched, old Pyrex glass mixing bowl. The rest of the afternoon will be punctuated with kneading, punching down, and patiently waiting for rises. By oiled black cast iron pans. The aroma of baking bread will fill the house as the sun sets.
This sudden bout of bread making follows a week of industry. Painting, mending, cleaning, pruning, and weeding with great determination and gusto.
Now I’m trying to resuscitate my blog.
You might think it’s corona virus hunkering.
But it’s not. This is my emergence. Not hunkering at all. The tackling of chores put off after months of hunkering to do another rewrite of my new book. This version, 3.5, required eight months of hunkering.
Since I started this novel in June of 2015 (a month before Leave the Dogs at Home was published by IU Press, a year before I had surgery and radiation for breast cancer) there have been several manuscript hunkerings.
The first draft was finished in a daze from a concussion after being knocked silly by a distracted driver in a left-turning car bowled me over as I was crossing the street on an October evening in 2016. I thought that draft was magnificent, at least while I was writing it. Later I realized, thanks to some honest readers, that it was anything but. Still, all but one reader thought idea had merit; it was worth the slash and burn of total revision. Worth the hunkering.
I have loved the book. Hated it. I have put it aside. Gave up writing all together for a bit.
I have taken travel breaks. To Istanbul and Athens. To Russia, China, and Europe. To Paris twice with my daughter. Paused to help my sister when she had a couple of strokes. Sagged while saying goodbye to my dogs Lila and Diggity, my cat Cirrus.
Put my all of the rest of my life aside to work on it. Gave up all of my other writing to write it. Papered my office with diagrams of the story arc and post-it note character pathways. Lived with winding stacks of books and thick files. Renewed subscriptions to newspaper archives many times.
I’m not complaining. I like myself best when I’m writing. When I’m a crazy woman up until three in the morning, wandering, writing, researching, muttering, rewriting. My head full of the story, the images, the music, the passion. Dreaming about it. Eating it. Breathing it. Writing it.
My new book is a story about the time that made this time.
It's story of a determined young woman finding personal truth in the upheaval of the hippie antiwar and counterculture movement. Years later in a 2022 America fraught with extreme social and political tension, her hard-learned stance puts her life on the line.
There were just a few short years when people truly believed they were going to change things for the better. Believed in their music as a social binder. Together they could stop the war, make abortions legal; pull communities out of poverty. bring real equality to our society. There was a real sense of optimism and hope that the country, the world, was on the cusp of a new system of love, trust, and brotherhood. We talked about eco systems, and you are what you eat.
But we all know that was a pipe dream. Life went on pretty much as it had before. A few things changed, but the big picture did not. The hippies cut their hair and got mortgages.
And today, we are so far, far away from the ideals of equality and peoplehood, from the Woodstock Nation. So polarized that we can’t even agree to hunker down together.
It makes me want to hunker down. Except, that's exactly the wrong reaction. I'm going to get out there, and listen, and let my voice be heard where it can be heard, in my own town and neighborhood. It's like Fred Hampton once said, we have to deal "with what reality is, whether we like it or not."
My mind is full.
That’s why I can’t get around to revising my book manuscript.
Every time a little space opens I stuff it with something new.
Scan the minutes of the last Historic Preservation Commission and consider going to meetings. Brush up on my French, or learn Spanish beyond the most rudimentary level. Mend a sheet. Change my mind about saturated fats. Go to Athens and Istanbul. Have a cold and binge watch a Turkish soap opera. Wash and paint the front porch. Read one or three of the gazillion books stacked around the house and the National Geographics and New Yorkers too. Make garden revisions. Write a letter to city council members about granny flats. Get my bike going and take long rides. Go to the movies. Make mayonnaise. Plan next year's trip to Paris.
Write a blog post.
Anything but revise the manuscript.
It sits in a sturdy faux leather ring binder I bought on eBay years ago. All 82,782 words spread over 331 pages that have, according to Word, already been edited 232 hours and 34 minutes (and this is a second draft, so add to that the 122 hours and 33 minutes of the first draft). But I'm whining. That's only some 44 days of full-time work.
I tell myself that when the weather gets really hot then I will be able to sit in my chair in my air conditioned office for the long hours required to get this material up to snuff. Butt In Chair.
But the truth is, I’m in a rocky relationship with this book. Foremost, I love it passionately and that causes all kinds of problems. I never loved Leave the Dogs at Home, so I could brutally beat it up, slice and dice it, no problem. But because I love this book, it scares me. I worry that my beloved is no good. That my affections are ill spent. What if I open it again, and it is terrible?
And, unlike Leave the Dogs, this book, tentatively and poorly named Counter Groove, isn’t finding its own way yet through the world of publishing. Leave the Dogs, even in its worst, most discombobulated state, was loved. It attracted mentors and grants. I had to run to keep up with it. The Dogs had a destiny from the get-go. So far, this work is searching for its path. Still, it took five years of revisions for The Dogs to get there. And I can remember that agony, that madness. Do I want to succumb? Blot out almost everything else and submerge myself? Is there any other way to do it?
Earlier this week, I was thinking about getting a cat. My last two cats have lived about 20 years. If I live 20 years to age 88, I will have outlived generations of women in my family who have all expired between the ages of 83 and 86. Would the poor cat find herself ancient and alone?
Some say I’m healthier and will live longer. My annuity company doesn't think so. Online longevity calculators put me at 95. But they don't know about my long-gone rotten appendix and gall bladder. The nasty DCIS cells dug out and radiated last year.
All this longevity thinking led me to the familiar zone of pondering how I’m spending my ever-dwindling time and my ever degenerating memory. Twenty years is 7,305 days. What's 44 days? Less than 1%.
The thick binder of pages must be opened. The pencil must get busy. The revision must begin. the papers must be stuck on the wall. The madness must be welcomed. I cannot abandon my beloved because I’m afraid it won’t get a lift under its wings. I have to open the windows and doors, let the wind in.