Word of the Day: Lumbricoid

n. — like an earthworm.

Apropos of “On the Domestic Front” of September 3. Biomimetic worms have a lot of uses, by the way, as in being table to thread through brain blood vessels to clear up clots. This factoid comes from Nick. And clearing blocked pipes and investigating piles of rubble. This factoid comes from Nick’s brother, who shares the gene of Never. Stopping. Thinking. for one goddam moment.

Which leads me to “On the Domestic Front, Part III.”

OK, to start, a bit of personal information, in case you don’t know this already. I’m anxious. Not about anything specific right now, but just always.

So. During a rather rough episode, Nick bought me a weighted blanket. It’s supposed to make anxious people feel safer and calmer. (Probably supposed to make your spouse feel safer and calmer as well.) And I will say, it works. You pull it over you and immediately feel somehow soothed. However, a few moments under its minky soft (their words) covering, there’s a kind of sauna effect, though by no means as hearty-healthy. In summer, this means about 2 seconds of calm followed by panicked fighting your way out again (once it’s in place, it turns hostile and puts up resistance). In cooler weather, minky soft covering slithers the blanket slowly but determinedly, like a giant slug, off your person. Attempts to pull it back into place meet with hostile resistance in reverse, require waking up for a wrestling match. This inevitably results in severe cricking of trigger finger (right hand) or shoulder pain (left arm). My eventual rejection of this object may seem ungrateful, but it is really a matter of survival.

Nick understands. Recently, he has suggested making a better mousetrap by sewing washers together, like chain mail. These will be far cooler, he surmises, and less likely to slip and slide. Yes, I point out, but they’ll be even heavier than the minky soft giant slug. But Nick assures me that they won’t be. Because he’s done. the. calculations. Never. Stopping. Thinking. For one goddam moment.

I’ll try not to revisit this theme, unless a real cracker comes up. That means I won’t be sharing with you his theory of gravity.



On the domestic front

So I’m making a salad. Nick is a few yards away, pacing and gesticulating, speculating about designing giant biomimetic earthworms that could tunnel back and forth under the back lawn, so that one could install geothermal heating pipes without having to drill 50-foot deep wells for the same purpose.

Such are our evenings.







Getting better at the photos. Though I seem to have gotten one stuck in the banner. It’s ll so mysterious to me.


Strinkley: n. — A primitive wooden elephant.

One of the items I found in my emotionally charged oubliette (the one I said I’d get back to almost two months ago).

My childhood toy, made by my father for a child of his own European generation, from a time when you had wooden wheeled toys to pull about on a string. My father, who worked in a machine shop, had fitted him out with industrial wheels, awkward and toy-inappropriate, but totally dad (see below).

They were black, but this is the general effect

They were black, but this is the general effect

Anyway, Strinkley disappeared for many years, as toys do when you’ve outgrown them. Then one day, all grown up, I was visiting my parents, and there he was again. Also the way such things happen.

“Dad,” I said, “What happened to his wheels?”

He looked indignant. “What wheels?” he said. “He never had wheels.”

There I go, remembering something that never was, that never happened. As one does.

Later, though, I looked at his feet. Each one had two little holes, carefully plugged with wood filler.

Strinkley: n. — gaslighting. I don’t know why.



On the mousal front

Mouse problem eliminated.

Unless you count finding a very alive and unconcerned mouse chewing one of Milo's wooden sticks on the bathroom floor, eventually sauntering off under Milo’s dresser (Aside: This used to be a small, cheap, but useful item of furniture, but see below.). In strategic terms, this proved to be a mistake for the mouse, since there was no way out except past me, looming at the opening. But it calculated its chances, charged me, leaped over the lip, and became invisible. Because mice can do that.

Or unless you count the one wandering casually in the back hall, which I somehow got to amble out the back door. Thereby putting it to the inconvenience of reentering the house by the adjacent basement door.

They are not clean, and they eat anything not in sealed boxes. I swear I would use snap traps, except I visualize that one time in a thousand where the mouse is not instantly dispatched, and can’t bear it. Instead, we are soft idiots and have tiny little have-a-heart traps. We discover the mice in them in the morning, bring them groggily to the graveyard about five minutes away, and then, as Nick says, race them home. It’s all completely useless, except to the cynical have-a-heart manufacturers.



Word-of-the-Day: Phantosmia

n. — an olfactory hallucination, or a phantom odor; smelling an odor that is not actually there

Often associated with stroke. The opposite of what I had last week.

Stapelia gigantea . This baby measures 10" across. That the flower is that little dot in the center. The rest the split bud. In case you can’t tell, it’s hairy.

Stapelia gigantea. This baby measures 10" across. That the flower is that little dot in the center. The rest the split bud. In case you can’t tell, it’s hairy.

Stapeliad 1.jpg

And dammit to hell, I just lost an entire post because once again I foolishly tried to load a photo—well, I loaded it, but met my doom while trying to size it. Today’s takeaways: (a) I still don’t know how to do the most elementary things anyone with a blog should be able to do, and (b) there’s no “undo” feature. This is far worse.

OK, I’m still harping on the Mouse in the Fridge Incident. Because there are always upsides.

Upside 1: I believe I mentioned a growing skill with wet dishcloths. I am now sniper grade. When I aim, I hit. I agree with you (I know what you’re thinking)—life is so sad when this is something to write home about. But my life seems to have become very small of late.

Upside upside: I no longer have to demonstrate my skills, as with the help of my spider minions, I have eradicated the lot.

Upside 2: Putrescene and cadaverine. Such lovely words. And as amino acids, also associated, though thank God in far, far, far smaller concentrations, with my beloved stapeliads, also known as carrion flowers. So named because they are pollinated by flies and dab Eau de Putrêcin et Cadaverin liberally behind their petals to get the business done. (Ha. I got to use the words putrescene and cadaverine again.) I had a gigantea (see above) next to the window in our Brooklyn apartment—you want to have these things as close to the windows as possible when they bloom—and the screen looked like the line outside Fly Studio 54.

The ones I have now (varieties pictured here) were inherited from a friend who moved across the country. I’m nursing them anxiously, but they are still too small to flower.

The original gigantea was stolen from our porch in Warren (Bastards. I’m still furious. Clearly they also attract vermin other than flies).

Such is the nature of crime in this town. Plant stealing. Forging quarters. Scratching the word “Nerd” on a plate glass window with a diamond ring. (Last two classics from the Warren Times-Gazette police blotter.) Also erratic driving. Although how they distinguish it from everyday practice in Rhode Island, I have no idea. But that is a story for another day.



Home (Not So) Sweet Home

Ah, hell, if this were happening abroad, I’d post instead of sit on it. I need to pretend I’m traveling at all times.

Hello, my little creative writers. A little fill-in-the-blanks exercise. (Trigger warning. Absolutely disgusting. I mean it.)

Day 1—A feeling that I may be having a stroke. Perhaps I might need a shower.

Day 2—Do not need a shower. Stronger feeling that I may be having a stroke.

Day 3—Flies. Suspicion that spontaneous generation may be going on somewhere. Probably not a stroke.

Day 4

  • Putrescine.

  • Cadaverine.

  • Nothing on the floor under the fridge (that thing is heavy!); however, compressor vents seem quite large enough to allow mousal ingress.

  • Many, many flies. Many. Also lined up on the screens outside, waiting to get in.

  • Definitely not a stroke.

  • Eating out tonight.

Day 5—Breakfast in my office. Many (but not many, many) flies.

Day 6— Nice breeze. Breakfast in the kitchen. Only two flies, dispatched neatly and quickly. I have developed a professional-level skill with a wet dishcloth.


  • Flypaper is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  • Oil-free eye makeup remover is excellent for getting flypaper goo off hands, hair, clothing, etc. Clinique Bi-facil is superior to Sephora brand in this regard.

  • I am seriously interested in learning how to use a bullwhip.




Trigger warning: If you hate spiders in bulk, there is a photo below that you may not want to be put to the trouble of unseeing. (So frustrating—as I was putting this together, I accidentally stumbled on the secret of integrating suitably sized images into text [and I repeat, I am a total idiot]. Yet for visibility purposes, I am forced to post a huge and blurry image.) Anyway…

Exciting news on the spider front, as though my previous posts on this subject have not already left you trembling and overheated. I forgot to mention that while the spider the Lady Florence Paget was crouching next to the ex-earwig, the spider Mae West was supervising a far more interesting bundle; namely, an egg sac. Today, the spider Mae West is a mother. The sac has dissolved from a smooth webby bolus into a crumbly ball of adorable little spiders (see attached image). Very exciting.

The spider Mae West is eying them closely. Sadly, I fear that this is not the eye of maternal care, but motion detecting. And that once they start to wander away, she will regard them as snacks. Perhaps, as they take their first tentative steps into the world, spiderlings are too small to be recognizable or of interest, and will thus make their escape (and so it is that spiders are allowed to continue in the world). Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so. But M&Ms are pretty damn small, and we do not disdain them. I know it’s the numbers. Only so many M&Ms you can eat at a sitting, while the rest roll frantically under the couch. I admit this will allow me to feel less of a pang than I might when, at the end of the season, the spiders inevitably fade away.

Update within update: I’m very pleased with my gory scenario, but I went online and learned that the first few days, they all stay near the ball, having their first molt and chewing their way out of the silk. Mom watches over and helps. Then “the spiderlings begin to disperse gradually away. This is necessary to avoid competition for food and prevent cannibalism among the hungry siblings.” Manners, kids. Please.




Spider update



Image apropos of nothing in the post, except that if I have to spend an embarrassing 2 days trying to learn to load an image, it might as well be something that gives me deep joy. Now that I’ve figured it out (sort of—you can see that the title font is still quite unpleasant; I’m not sure my template, “Metrosexual” or “Chelsea” or whatever it is, allows me to choose, and I haven’t got time for that now), I can report definitively that there’s nothing wrong with the platform. Something’s definitely wrong with me.

And all this fussing only for an inconsequential little update…

Alas, I was overoptimistic. The spider Mae West turns out not to be a European garden spider, but an American (not European) house (not Garden) spider (well, duh—a very tenuous basis for my optimism). Also she is a cobweb weaver, not an orb weaver, also substandard (the helpful Western Exterminator Company site confirms that cobwebs lack symmetry). Finally, she is puny; she will grow/has grown to be only the size of a fat pea, not a grape. I checked, though—Mae West was no more than 5' tall, so the spider Mae West is not inaptly named. I fed her a moth larva yesterday, much to our mutual satisfaction.

There is also, at a judicious distance from this creature, a second spider, last observed taking her ease near a neat package that I fervently hope is an ex-earwig (except that would mean that an earwig got into the house). Even though she is equally humble in looks and abilities, I have decided to name her the spider Lady Florence Paget, after a Victorian bombshell who was known as the Pocket Venus. You make do with what you have.

PS—I have put a brave face on it, but... The helpful Western Exterminator Company site also notes that other cobweb weavers include the ogre-faced stick spider. I can’t help feeling a little regretful that, if I am to be denied European garden spiders and I must have cobwebs, I cannot have ogre-faced stick spiders.




n. — dope-slap

On July 12, I sent out an email explaining why I wasn’t up to writing. To recap, in slightly edited form:

A week full of nervousness and mayhem. To wit, Nick has his first cataract surgery in Boston, Milo's boarder just cancelled (which means we—by which I mean “I”—have to drive home between surgery and follow-up to care for our special-needs parrot), and I have a 57-page article that is mostly source notes that have to be reconfigured. Business and dubious parenthood before pleasure of writing (or thinking about other things).

So to the present. Let me add here that in complaining about business and dubious parenthood, I neatly sidestepped the distracting issues of the surgery itself and the impending, crashing tidal wave that would be the release of years of repressed…well, whatever happens with putting off a terrifying operation while eyesight interferes with physical and emotional competence. Putting it off was, to say the least, understandable. But also maddening (yeah, yeah, all about me) and a source of increasing wound-tightness within this house. I kind of promised Nick I wouldn’t “I told you so,” so I will just let him tell it in his own words (I have, without copyright permission, lifted the following from two of his emails):

  • First: “Just FYI, my cataract surgery yesterday seems to have gone well and my right eye, previously best described as "ummm*cough* do you see my finger? OK, hand?" is now about 20/20, which I count as an improvement. “

  • Second: “Eye is GREAT. it's kind of cool to see things. And be able to walk around without having to listen for cars. Monica wants very badly to dope-slap me, but she knows she'd dislodge my lens. I fear three weeks from now.”

With relief/release comes rage. We’re coming up on two weeks. Only one to go.

But as the big day approaches, the idea of the dope-slap is less and less appealing. After rage comes release/relief. Eye is GREAT. Eye is GREAT. Eye is GREAT.




I do think I may have discussed this word in the distant past, but hey-ho. No brain left to speak of (what with heat, decriptude, and the next post).

So, scribs:

n. — those disgusting things in orange juice. syn. — fish, pieces

Called “pulp” by advertisers, as if that is any more attractive.

Loathed by all normal children. Or by all children, since the ones who like this stuff are aliens. I’m embarrassed to say that I just called them “pieces.” So unimaginative, although anyone who hears the venom with which I pronounce it (yes, I still do) will realize that “pieces” is a very special, evil word indeed. The other two words are much more inventive, and “scribs” is genius. In fact, uttered without loathing, it’s quite useful; for instance, those little things that are left over when you tear pages out of a spiral-bound notebook. Those are scribs. There is no other word.

I’m going to have to qualify “all normal children.” I have grown up somewhat and find that I like fresh orange juice. But at age 8 or so, I naturally thought that other children were like me. If so, the “juice” they drank (or avoided drinking) was the reconstituted frozen (i.e., probably cooked first) stuff. Not only reconstituted, but store-brand reconstituted. And made by my mother—a cook so supernaturally bad that she could botch OJ. Of course I still have venom.

Hey—I interrupted scribbling…uh, oh—I really didn’t mean that, but the minute it was set down, there was no escaping the connection. Are scribs what I write? Just scribs? Am I going to have to change the name of my embryo blog to “Scribs”? So deflating.

Anyway, I interrupted to set up a contact page on this site, because I’m willing to bet other people have names for these repellent bits of flotsam. And it fascinates me.



the spider mae west

A little background for the uninitiated (and I’ve plagiarized freely from my previous writings to construct this history). Two years ago, we hosted a European garden spider in our kitchen. The spider Blanche Ingram, who started out perhaps the size of a lentil, soon achieved formidable proportions. Hence her name, which comes from the scene in Jane Eyre where Mr. Rochester attempts to make Jane jealous by pretending to court Lady Blanche Ingram. The lady is tall, dark, and handsome, with a "magnificent bust." Singing the praises of this formidable armful, Rochester tells the puny and delicate Jane, "She's a strapper!" As was the spider Blanche Ingram as she emerged, double in size, from her first molt. And that was only the beginning.

Blanche Ingram lived in an empty picture frame, snacking on (successively, as she grew) fruit flies, flour moth larvae, flour moths, and earwigs (hand fed with sadistic glee). Finally, we bought her mealworms as the weather grew cold and the wildlife disappeared. But any one who’s read Charlotte’s Web will know that a spider’s life ends with the coming of winter (or possibly too many mealworms), and one day, Blanche Ingram had discreetly crept off. So sad.

Fast-forward to the topic of this post. A few weeks ago, I noticed a tiny garden spider in one of my library windows. (Library. Lah-di-dah) Or rather, I noticed, on the window sill, the telltale signs of a spider who intends to stay put—little black dots, probably deliquesced fruit flies (possibly spider poo, but I don’t intend to investigate.) Sure enough, there was a tiny dot of garden spider in the window frame. And oh, yeah, there was a dead housefly. Given the relative sizes of the spider (sub-lentil) and the fly (fly), I am optimistic about her chances. Already I can spot her across the room (a tiny speck from that distance, but still enough to block light), and she has been christened The Spider Mae West. Another strapper. Next year, maybe Jane Russell.



Introductory Time Series with R

The latest book by by Andrew Metcalfe and Paul S.P. Cowpertwait

What the critics are saying:

“Gorgeously written…lapidary prose…”

“A work of stunning depth and intelligence…a deep dive into the human condition”

“Metcalfe and Cowpertwait join such literary giants as Franzen and Eggers…”

“A tour de force…”

Addendum: After confused responses from intelligent people. This is a JOKE, guys. “Introductory Time Series with R” is a book about introductory time series with R, not a towering work of literature with an ironic title. It is a towering work of statistical dullness with ironic reviews. Sheesh.




n. — an oubliette

Ha! Fooled you! Well, come on, I can’t be using the same word over and over.

So here’s the latest definition:

4. oubliette: n. — the in-box

Or whatever pile substitutes for it. Duh. Of course. While they are supposedly simple instruments of procrastination, you know that’s a lie. And if you say you don’t have one, that’s a lie, too. I have many—I don’t even know where some of them are.

Anyway, I was looking through one neat little pile (neatness is the seal of forgetting) for info on a follow-up doctor’s appointment and found, among other things:

  • Info on a follow-up doctor’s appointment (2019)

  • A Jehovah’s Witness card (2015)

  • A letter from my mother’s probate lawyer appointing me administrator of her estate (2015)

  • A recipe for making a jello brain (2004? 2005? 2006?)

  • An index card with a summary (written in my former tiny, neat, terrified handwriting) of Ortega y Gasset’s observations on Modern Fiction (study for orals exam for my (abandoned) PhD) (1983)

  • A stack of Copyeditor newsletters, which contain what might have been helpful when I was still starting out. Or not. How to name files—I ask you. (2004)

Well, that’s my whole life right there. Clearly, this stack of paper represents the (polygamous) miscegenation of several different in-boxes. I’m attracted to this list because of its historical breadth—can one have a sweeping in-box, like “a sweeping historical novel that traces three generations… “? (Aside: If the book jacket mentions a “sweeping novel that traces three generations…,” I hastily put it back before my fingers are burnt). And of course the absurd combination of brain-shaped jello molds with any of the other items. But some things I’d rather not be reminded of. On the whole, it does make a powerful argument for culling or filing as preferable to in-box oubliettes.

Again, I’m leaving further commentary on items therein for later, if ever. Individually, they’re meh. Brain jello excepted. And I’ll do the commentary on brain jello here. Not only does it inject a shining absurdity into this collection, but it’s a reminder that there is always absurdity—a (or is it the?) memento vivere. I’ve always got something to look forward to.

(OK, perhaps the Jehovah’s Witness card may eventually star in its own post.)

Bye. I promise this is the last oubliette. Promise promise.



Clare Darcy

AKA Mary Deasy. I spoke too soon in my last post when I said I had no interest in opening her books again. Along with her real name, Wikipedia also informs me that Clare Darcy’s novels have all been translated into German, which means I might very well be reading them again. I will learn useful German terms for “sarcenet,” “gudgeon,” and “barouche landau” to add to “rapier,” “wand,” “robes,” and “iron filings” (YA fantasy).




  1. oubliette: n — a dungeon, often in the form of a deep and narrow well designed for the permanent incarceration of those whom it is desired to forget

Wait! you say (and by “you,” I mean you who were getting my word-a-day emails). Wait—she's already used that word! It's going to get tedious if she's going to repeat herself. To which I answer, it's been months since I wrote. Maybe you've forgotten by now.

To which I also answer, I left out an important secondary definition. To wit:

2. oubliette: n. — (regional) the space behind my books and the back of the bookshelf

This comprises mostly a casual sort of dungeon—though not an accidental one—used to dispose of annoyances. A framed photo I don’t have room for and don’t really care about. A roll of wrapping paper I’m too lazy to put away, not important enough to be remembered later. A second row of substandard books— including first-rate-second-rate (a term my father used to describe, in another genre, Mendelsohn and Vivaldi) romance novels by Rosemary Edghill (nom de plume of Eluki bes Shahar, if you can believe that) and Clare Darcy (nom de plume of, as it Wikipedia informs me, Mary Deasy) that I have a weird sentimental attachment to but no interest in ever opening again. (Aside: I have no shame in keeping my first-rate Georgette Heyer Regency romance novels on the front of the shelf—next to Hemingway in fact. And I have no shame in admitting I enjoy them more than Hemingway.)

Then there’s the less casual. Today (and by “today,” I mean at least a month and a half ago), I finally decided to deal with a shelf that had been sagging off its bracket for over a year. And found:

  • A quart-sized takeout container stuffed with individually packaged hypodermic syringes, including needles

  • A tiny photo album that my sixteen-year-old German mother created for her best friend, whose family left Berlin in 1941: “Please, Macky, do promise that you’ll never, never forget me. I hope to see you again in two years. I hope, we’ll be friends during our whole life!” (in English)

  • An art piece, made from an opened book. On the verso side, in a niche cut into the pages, a tassel from a piece of African (Yoruba?) fabric. On the recto, 2 niches, one with a tiny clay pot and a piece of coral; above it a space containing a pottery shard with a tiny scrap of paper making it into a candle or a hearth, and on the underside of the top edge, the words “Find out everything.”

  • Strinkley, a wooden elephant, my childhood toy, made by my father.

This oubliette means business.

I’ll end on a cliffhanger—that’s all for this entry. Curious and amusing so far (I hope). But the trove kicked off a tangle of stories long to write about in email form—and not possible to write in my genial email voice. Which is when I decided, it’s got to be a blog. Who wants to open emails, expecting an—can I say amuse cerveau?—and end up slogging through my memory lane while I train this voice? I hope you do, but I won’t make you.

Also end on a cliffhanger because I need to know how to post appropriately sized photos before I go on.

And because of a third definition of oubliette, to wit (again):

3. oubliette: n. — the backs of printed-out Guardian crossword puzzles.

I never leave the house without at least a ream stuffed into my bag. Fronts, self-explanatory. Backs, for vital (and I mean it) info like reference numbers for purchase transactions, ideas for perfect presents I can get for distant birthdays (a particularly difficult exercise the nearer an occasion gets), contact info, curious things I’ll email tonight/when I have more energy/when I start my blog/etc. Once I scribble, though, all is lost. Because I finish a puzzle and out it goes—and with it, my memory. I did that, for instance, with this entry. Or is it my brain that’s the oubliette?

Mustn’t overthink. Bye-bye.



Here we go

Hey babe, it’s the 4th of July and let’s start off with a bang.

Or not. Taking Muriel Spark’s advice (and wildly out of context), I’ll begin worse than I mean to go on. That’s not a choice. Despite all claims that this software is easy to use, I have no idea what I’m doing, on the technical side of things. No doubt, the look will change someday as I figure things out (I have managed to add an image and a serif typeface, so I’m hopeful). One day, you’ll come to the site and it will look completely different. And then different again. Pretty soon, I’ll be having a clothes crisis in type, standing in front of this mirror and wondering, “Does this font make me look fat”?

And I am also beginning worse than I mean to go on because it’s taking me two freakin’ months to get up the courage to start posting, while the words pile up in my head. I feel as though I’m about to make a phone call—something that I’m phobic about and that has occasionally (like this, and also I’m not lying) taken me more than two months to work up to. Unlike phone calls, I’m hoping that having got one awkward toe into water, I will slip back into daily writing like a released fish.

Deep breath.

Oh, and about the name. For all you Latin-speaking smartasses out there, I know it’s grammatically incorrect. I will not use expletives in this, my first outing, but for all you Latin-speaking smartasses out there…you know.