Saturday, February 28, 2015

Collecting Lexical Memorabilia

I own ten globes, including a chinoiserie, a gemstone, and an astronomical night sky globe.  In order to call yourself a collector of something, you must have at least three members of that class of items and then must study, organize, display, and enjoy discussing them.  I meet that criteria, so I can call myself a collector of globes.

I collect dog art.  I have framed prints of dogs, paintings of dogs, sculptures of dogs, books about dogs, and stuffed dogs.  I have two real dogs, Old Lady Dog Callie and Great Big Baby Dog Woodrow, but they don’t count. 
I do not own this painting.  It's by Charles Burton Barber, titled Special Pleader, and costs about a million dollars.  My dad loved it and had a framed postcard of it on the wall of his bedroom that Mom said was his favorite picture.  After he and Mom died, I didn't want many things from the estate, but I wanted this framed postcard.  So I took it. 

I have a music collection: some framed and unframed originals of my like-a-dad-to-me junior-high-school band director's manuscripts; twenty or thirty books about music; odds and ends of sheet music; a plastic bust of Beethoven I bought for 50 cents at a thrift shop; five harmonicas; a clarinet I play almost daily; a saxophone I don't; and a euphonium that I share with my brother but haven't a clue how to play.

I have a wall-to-wall custom-made bookshelf in my library, and I probably have 500 books on it that I study, organize, display, and like to talk about, so I'm a book collector.  I have sections for books on music; art; dogs; history; writing; fantasy; Scotland and England; Episcopaliana; children’s picture books; reference books; books I have written; and old books handed down to me.  I have a book of Plutarch’s essays that’s 200 years old.  And I have a framed single page from a Scottish Episcopal Prayer Book from 1635. 
This is one of the books I wrote.  If you're a secondary teacher, buy it.  I get a 10% royalty.  While that won't buy me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, it will buy me a cup at one of the locally-owned restaurants I frequent.
But my favorite collection is my collection (sic) of lexical memorabilia.  Words are the best thing to collect.  You don't have to give up one cubic millimeter of space in your house for them.  You don't have to insure them, or dust them, or worry about the dog knocking them off a table and breaking them.  You can discuss them endlessly.  They tell a story, either in isolation or combined in infinite ways.   They are free.  You can share them with your friends without losing them.  And they are both beautiful and useful.
You can collect words that already exist: alluring words like laurel, whimsy, or amber; delightful words like pooch, draconian, or limerence; funny words like whippersnapper, vocabularian, or adoxography; or words for things you didn’t know had names, like glabella (the space between your eyebrows), mizzle (a misty drizzling rain), cornicione (the outer part of the crust on a pizza), or barm (the foam on a beer).

Or you can make up words that need to be made up, like words my dad and I have been making up for 50 years, words like interminabominable (time that seems to pass so slowly while you’re waiting for something you’re looking forward to that you think you might die); panduckulation (the act of an aquatic bird stretching its wings); almostest (the superlative state of being almost), or eggelegant (an adjective referring to a gorgeous omelet).

Ergo, I urge you to consider collecting words if you do not already do so.  I’ll give you three of my favorites: ubiquitous, egregious, and platypus.  
Okay, fair's fair.  Now you give me three of yours...
...  ... ... ... ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lessons My Band Director Taught Me: #3 Grow a Pair

Before the fall of my eighth grade year, I believed in a lot of principles that I didn't have the courage to do anything about.  My Just-an-Old-Country-Lawyer father was committed to civil rights, and he taught me and my brother to value justice for ALL people. But he didn't teach me how to put those principles into practice. 

I don't know whether or not our father taught my brother how to actually stand up for what he believed in, but he didn't teach me how to, perhaps because I was a girl.  Girls were supposed to be seen and not heard.  Girls were supposed to be nice and not make waves.  I know this because my mother told me so.  Repeatedly.

So until the fall of my eighth grade year, I was nice.  I had principles to which I was committed, but I lacked the know how- or the courage- to do anything about them.

Then came The Day That Everything Changed.

My junior high band director, Mr. Phillip Wilson, had reserved the football field for first period so we could practice our half-time show for the game that night.  The rest of the week, we practiced on the old marching practice field north of the football field.  But we always practiced on the football field on game day.

When we marched out to the field, we were met by a large PE class with their fearsome teacher and monstrous student teacher.  Mr. Wilson politely told the PE teachers that we had reserved the field for that morning.  The fearsome teacher refused to leave and told the students not to give up the field to the band.

Mr. Wilson stormed back across the field to us like MacArthur, Montgomery, Marshall, and Patton rolled into one. Face crimson with the little patches of white he got when he was mightily riled, he shouted, "People, you are the Marshall Junior High School Band!  This field is reserved for you this morning.  Those people refuse to yield it to us.  This field is ours, and we are going to take it!"

We woodwind players stared wide-eyed.  The brass players squared their shoulders.  The drummers whispered, "Hot Damn!" 

Then General Wilson said, "People, you are to march straight ahead.  Do not look to the right or left.  Do not step to the right or left.  If those people don't move, you are NOT going to march around them.  You are going to march right over them.  Do you understand me?"

We understood.

Mr.Wilson signaled the drum major who counted us off.  Then the snare drums started to roll, the bass drum shook the earth, the brasses straightened the pipes, and we woodwinds shrieked until we split the heavens. The irresistible force began marching toward the immovable object. 

In an instant, I understood what I was part of.  My fear evaporated, and I realized that this was a watershed moment for me.  I not only believed in justice, but I was going to act on that belief for the first time. I was going to stand shoulder to shoulder with my band of brothers and sisters and confront the enemy.  I was brave.

As we marched across the field, the PE students scattered, and even the fierce old PE teacher headed for the sidelines.  But the monstrous, murder-in-the-eyes student teacher wasn't going to move and squared off with us. So our feisty little trombone player followed orders and plowed right into that immovable object.  Then he stomped hard on the foot that was in his path and kept moving forward.  He was the hero of the hour.

That day, Mr. Wilson taught the entire band that we could fight injustice.  That we could be brave. 

That moment was such a hallmark in my life that I have fought abusive authority ever since.  That moment was the reason that decades later a respected colleague told me, "You've got brass balls, you know that?" 

Yes, I knew that.  Because I earned those brass balls on the football field at Marshall Junior High School as part of the Marshall Junior High School Band.  I earned them because my band director, Mr. Wilson, taught us that we had brass balls by expecting us to act like we did. He taught us courage.

So I thank you, Mr. Wilson, for what you did for all of us.

But I thank you especially for what you did for me.  You took me, an eighth grader who believed in justice, but who was too scared to do anything about it.  And you gave me brass balls that have lasted for the rest of my life. 

And for that, Sir, I am eternally grateful.


Monday, February 23, 2015

On Hissy-Fitting and Lickety-Splitting

Great Big Baby Dog Woodrow, Old Lady Dog Callie, and I were lying on our bellies looking out my attic-bedroom window at 6:15 this morning.  Snuggling in bed with your dogs looking out the window together in the early morning is one of the great pleasures of life.  I commend it to you.

While we were gazing at the ice-covered woods, the dogs began throwing a hissy-fit.  If you are not from the American south, you may not know that a hissy-fit is a tantrum.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines hissy-fit as a sudden period of uncontrolled and silly anger like a child’s.  I do not think people from Cambridge throw hissy-fits. 

In addition, one does not HAVE a hissy-fit.  One THROWS a hissy-fit.  I do not know why.  

Perhaps it’s because throw is a strong verb.  A good hissy-fit is always thrown.  Most recently I threw a hissy-fit when I dropped my phone in the bath.

But back to the dogs’ hissy-fit.  They threw it because Young Red Fox was lickety-splitting down the cart path. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines lickety-split thus: as quickly as possible.  OD says lickety-split is an adverb, but I prefer it as a verb.  I know the word more intimately than the writers of OD do because I’ve been lickety-splitting all my life, and I doubt that anyone who ever worked on the Oxford Dictionary has ever lickety-splitted.  I can’t imagine a wizened don sitting in a dusty library telling another wizened don, “I need a definition of perspicacious lickety-split.”

Please note that I like verbing nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  Lickety-splitting is a more powerful verb than running lickety-split.

Lest you wonder whether verbing is a verb, it is.  Antimeria/anthimeria is the act of changing one part of speech into another, such as verbing.    If you change the word, it’s a derivation.  If you don’t change the word, it’s a conversion or a zero derivation.

Lest you think this essay is pointless, let me assure you that I have a point: life is too short to throw hissy-fits by annoyances lickety-splitting through our lives.  Like other people’s antimeria:  Yesterday I was lickety-splitting past another white-haired woman who was throwing a hissy-fit about her daughter-in-law’s use of the word cocooning, as in, “We’re staying home cocooning this weekend.” 

I wanted to say, “Lady, at our age, life is too short for throwing hissy-fits.

“Instead, we should each go home and snuggle on our beds with our dogs and gaze into the snow-filled woods.” 

Dogs who get hissyfied by foxes lickety-splitting by.

Hissyfied?  One of my favorite antimeria is making predicate adjectives by adding fied to almost any part of speech.  So I hope you have been smartified today because I taught you about antimeria/anthimeria. 

And I hope you stop lickety-splitting for the rest of the day, get unhissyfied, and go snuggle with your dogs on your bed and stare out the window together. And thus be blessifed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Asperger's Syndrome and Personal Hygiene

Standing under the steaming shower yesterday, I thought about the years between my first brain tumor symptoms and its diagnosis: 1990-2004.  In those fourteen long years, I became irritable and tactile defensive.  Light touch hurt my skin.  I could tolerate deeper pressure, but light touch hurt.  I told my doctor, “The top sheet hurts my skin. So do my clothes, showering, and wind.”  He said I had fibromyalgia, and he put me on nortriptyline, an antidepressant.  He didn’t know I had a meningioma brain tumor, nor did he know that nortriptyline is the drug of choice for inoperable meningioma.  He heard horses; I had a zebra.  So he masked my symptoms while the tumor grew for fourteen years. 

Fortunately, my tumor was operable, and from the day I had it removed, I lost the tumor-induced aversion that I had developed to the sound of violins and to florescent light.  I became my usual imperturbable self.  And I lost my tactile defensiveness.

Then I thought about the college students with Asperger’s syndrome whom I have known.  For most of them, tactile defensiveness made personal hygiene an issue.  They hated showering, bathing, washing their hair, or brushing their teeth.  They wore the same clothes day after day.

At first, we tried hinting. “Susan, let’s put bathing twice a week on your schedule.”

“I don’t want to take a bath.”

“Okay… Then let’s put changing clothes daily and using deodorant on your schedule.”

“I don’t want to.”

Finally, we found a student who interpreted for us.  She said, “Water hurts our skin.  The shower is like little sharp needles hitting us.  The bathwater feels bad in a different way.  And when I get out of the water, the air on my wet skin hurts.”

Wow.  We had no idea.

Some students would get into the water but refuse to use soap or shampoo, and we asked her about that.   She said, “Soap and shampoo feel slimy on our skin, like rubbing the slime in a stagnant pond on your body.  Using a washcloth is like rubbing your skin with sandpaper.  And the smell of shampoo and soap makes us sick.  You have no idea how awful toothpaste feels in our mouth, or how much a toothbrush hurts us.”

We learned that the acoustics of the shower make sounds hurt, that deodorant feels gross and smells worse, and what the clothing industry has come to appreciate: that tags in clothes irritate the skin.  We learned that some clothes feel better than others, and when you are dealing with the stress of college life, you need to wear your most comfortable sweatshirt and jeans every day.  I get that.  Nothing feels as good to me as my old pjs.

We argued, “We’re so sorry!  But when you smell bad or look dirty, other people have to smell you and look at you, and they won’t want to be around you.”  That argument didn’t work because, by and large, our students weren’t interested in what other people felt or thought.  “If people don’t like the way I look, they don’t have to look at me.  If they don’t like the way I smell, they don’t have to sit by me.  Their problem, not mine.”

A more helpful argument involved discussing the overgrowth of bad bacteria colonies on unwashed skin, hair, teeth, and clothes.  We explained that soap broke the surface tension of water so bacteria could then be dislodged by friction, and that using water without soap merely resulted in wet redistributed bacteria.  We explained that water could then rinse the bacteria off the body, hair, teeth and clothes, and then down the drain.

The argument was useful, but the aversion to hygiene regimens prevailed.

So I offer some outside-the-box solutions to consider.

First, unless they are working up a sweat, people don’t need daily baths.  As long as hands, underarms, the area between the legs, and the bottoms of the feet are cleaned daily, much bacterial growth can be controlled. 

Single-use pre-moistened cleansing cloths can serve as a bathing alternative.  My ancient auntie used these daily for years and bathed only every couple of weeks.

Unscented shampoos and soaps may help. 

Bar soap may be preferable to shower gel. 

“No poo” advocates have recipes online for alternatives to shampooing.  (Honestly, it’s the “no poo” movement. Make of that what you will.) 

Chewing on and brushing with miswak sticks may be easier for people with oral sensory issues than is toothbrushing.  Miswak sticks are pieces of the Salvadora Persica (Toothbrush Tree). The chemical properties of the miswak decrease gingivitis, and at least one clinical study found miswakking more effective than toothbrushing.  You can buy miswak sticks from Amazon.  I ordered some this morning so I can tell people that I’ve been miswakking.

What works for one person with ASD may not work with another.  Ergo, ask the person who resists a typical hygiene routine what is uncomfortable about it for him.  Then look for ways to minimize or eliminate that factor.  Change one thing at a time and see what works.  Try to have the solutions in place before your child leaves for college when his world will become even more stressful.

If water hurt your body, soap and shampoo felt like slime, brushing your teeth was torture, and most clothes irritated you, wouldn’t you resist subjecting yourself to them?  I would.  So think out of the box and work with your loved one who has ASD to figure out person-centered solutions to make life better for everyone.