Euphemistically speaking

We will have to speak in euphemisms today, because we don’t want to set off those Internet censors, the ones that nervous parents set so their innocent children don’t tumble into dens of iniquity by choice or accident, although my den has been pretty iquitous lately. Uh oh. <<CAUTION!!! PERFECTLY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD!!!>> I haven’t even ended the first paragraph, which is supposed to be short (so you’re dragged into this blog) and already I’m into etymology. Bad sign.

So I’ll start a new paragraph and then make things jump guineain the middle of the sentence.

“Iniquity” as a word has really fallen off in usage lately, maybe because no one knows what “iquity” is. Iniquity has been around since the 1300s, so those dens have been iniquitous for a while, not mine as I said, which remains iquitous, which means, etymologically speaking,  just or equal. Iniquity means a violation of right or duty, a wicked act, or a sin, none of which has anything to do with euphemisms so let’s end this mess. <<END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

Hmm. I wonder if “euphonium” is related to “euphemism.” Give me a minute to look that up. <<insert pleasant music>>Nope. Different roots.<<end pleasant music>>Phew. No more etymology. OK. Back to business.

Oh, to heck with euphemisms.

Semi-euphemistically speaking, I sprained my br-east. I think that will get past the censors. I didn’t realize such a thing was possible, so I looked it up on the Internet, and there it was, nicely hidden under the discrete heading of Spraining Your Pectoral Muscle, which is, euphemistically speaking, of course what men would call it, because their pectoral muscles don’t support the same amount of, um, ah, avoirdupois, that most women’s pectoral muscles do.

This doesn’t feel like a pectoral muscle sprain, let me tell you. This is definitely rippling outwards towards—towards—points unknown, if you know what I mean: the avoirdupois I mentioned earlier, of which we shall not speak. The tip of the br-east, as opposed to the br-west, which I did not sprain.

I managed to do this in one of those post-stroke full-M.S. moves for which I have become notorious (and yes, I mean notorious, and here I am resisting as much as I can another etymology/usage lesson on the difference between notorious and famous…my fingernails are scraping across the keyboard…promise me you will look up their definitions if you don’t know the difference…)

For those of you who are not as copiously endowed in avoirdupois—and from here on I shall dispose of the pretentious italicization of that word, since it is acceptable to not do so (and I have saved you from a lesson in word usage there)—let me offer a method of experimentation:

First, procure for yourself a somewhat large and hungry guinea pig. I shall name mine Gina; your name may vary. Now imagine that you strap Gina to your left chest area. This is the left chest area as you observe from the neck downwards, which would be, compass-wise, br-east, nautically speaking, but to us, head-speaking, it is left chest. Anyway, imagine that you have strapped Gina there.

Now accidentally jerk yourself approximately 120 degrees to the left, exclaiming to yourself, “Oh, no!” except you actually utter some words you swore to your mother when you were 12 that you would never utter again. And now provoke Gina the somewhat large and hungry guinea pig to whirl around and take a rather vicious chomp out of your unpretentiously-italicized avoirdupois, which, deficient though it may be, in the course of jerking sadly jerked within chomping distance.

You, of course, howl in pain loudly enough to bring your mother, no matter where she is and no matter how scandalized she may be by your scandalous language and no matter how flustered she may be by your shocking choice of décolletage, to your side. She, being the perfect mother, without question, unties the terrified cavy and sends it scampering. And now you are left to explain your sprained br-east.

And Gina, the guilty gluttonous guinea pig, is gone.

Tumble into my den of iquity with my mom, why don’t you?

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Exercise? Who Needs Exercise?

I always thought it was a scam. And now I have proof. Sort of.

The New York Times devoted its entire Science section to electronic gadgetry last Tuesday, and looked at all of those gizmos some of us are tempted to fondle at the local Apple store, Best Buy, or even a well-stocked Rite Aid.

You’ll have to read the section for yourself if you want to know how the desktop treadmill works, and how the various sleep thingamabobs handle things. As you can imagine,the newsroom staff had a pretty good time with the entire project.

The idea of trying to write while on a treadmill made me want to <<CAUTION!! DISGUSTING WRITING AHEAD!!>> lurf all over the place, and by that I mean vomit. I think that’s because I have such a poor sense of balance that the thought of trying to look at a computer monitor or a piece of paper while at the same time moving my feet rhythmically is not at all pleasant and I might lurf now just thinking about it. Let’s not think about it. <<END POSSIBLE LURFING AND DISGUSTING WRITING>>

What I thought was a scam, and what I now have proof of, sort of, and who needs exercise anyway, and I TOLD YOU SO! HAH! is found in an article in this Science section on page 2 called “Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure.”

See? Hah!

I snarl Hah! because many people have very kindly and lovingly (and I mean this kindly) (and lovingly) suggested that I try one of the many online brain workout sites to try to get back some brainpower that I have lost since the stroke I had in August 2011. And I took their suggestions seriously and I tried them, and I don’t think I got any brainpower back. But I’m not sure either.

“Almost all the marketing claims made by all the companies go beyond the data,” said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University, a neurocognitive disorders researcher quoted in the article.

Furthermore, the article noted that research has been conducted entirely on healthy individuals. One analysis of 23 studies concluded that if you practice game playing, you will get better at game playing—but only at that game, not at anything else. So much for Sudoku.

Marbled murrelet

Marbled murrelet

A study out of the University of Washington (known universally as “you-dub”)  shows that “older” “healthy” Americans can retain cognitive improvements for at least 10 years, if those improvements are attained via reasoning (listening to a lecture, for instance) or speed of processing (press the right button). The same study found that such improvements didn’t last if they were attained via sheer memorization.

And the sad news overall is that no matter how the cognitive improvement was made, the improvement didn’t carry over to any other area. So just because I listened to a talk on the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), that doesn’t mean I’m now an expert on the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica).

Atlantic puffin

Atlantic puffin

They are both very cute, as you can see. And they could both use your help. The puffins are doing better than the murrelets these days, because they’ve gotten more attention.

This is one of the few times you will hear me cheerlead for anything on the Wrong Coast, which murrelets are, so if you have a spare check or a bank card crying in your wallet, now’s your chance.

Anyway, back to brain workouts. One little side note to this overall depressing article says that a recent study found that focusing on those falling objects in Tetris could calm your food cravings. No further information was provided. Such as: how far away was the ice cream?

There are more and more of these online brain train sites every week, it seems, and more and more of them want my money. That’s when I know I’m smart enough that I don’t need their games, and I move on.

Nevertheless, all of the hopeful entrepreneurs are gathering in San Francisco in May for a NeuroGaming Conference and Expo, no matter how unclear the research, to see how many dollars they can squeeze out of a gullible public.

Hey, we’ve been pushing buttons and squeezing triggers for years, just to make fake frogs cross fake streets and fake plumbers jump over fake mushrooms and fake candy flatten other fake candy.

“I’m not convinced there is a huge difference between buying a $300 subscription to a gaming company versus you yourself doing challenging things on your own, like attending a lecture or learning an instrument,” said Dr. Doraiswamy of Duke in the article.

Let me say it again: Hah! Really, what it comes down to is this: I don’t like those brain game sites. They are all sort of rosy and cute and invigorating. They go out of their way to not offend. They aren’t trying to teach me anything. They want me to stare at a little scene of a tree and a field and wait for a bird to appear and then click on the bird before it disappears. Depending on how fast I click on the bird, and how much faster I get at clicking on the bird each time it appears supposedly tells me how much “better” my brain is getting. Really?

Does this remind anyone of developmentally disabled kids stuffing envelopes for eight hours a day?

If this is cognitive improvement science at its best, I’ll keep going to talks on marbled murrelets. Shall I save you a seat?

On the Road Again

This has been a banner year for us with high school graduations: four trips down the aisle. Two nieces, one nephew, and one family friend. Not that we got to see them all, no, only one viewed in person by us, and that was the nephew’s, which was fitting, since we were present at his birth, and we plan to be present at as many of his life-changing events as he will let us.

There was the pomp and circumstance, the band tunes, the marching in, the speechifying, the mortar flinging, all the requisite hoopla you can imagine.

Uh oh.

<<CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD!>>Where does this word “hoopla come from anyway? Sounds vaguely Hawaiian in origin, but actually it is corrupted French, the real live etymologists think. “Houp-là!” you would say toyour child, “upsy-daisy,” or, “up you go.” Just a saying that accompanies a quick movement. The Brits turned it into a fairground game where you have to toss a hoop over something to win a prize; we Americans turned it into much ado about nothing, but in this case it was much ado about something. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

Although we loved every minute of that one graduation ceremony, especially the one minute where the principal of that high school actually mentioned our nephew by his actual name (WOW!!!) because of the great job he has done with GRuB in turning it into a national model, the two hours on exquisitely uncomfortably unpadded chairs completely ruined my partner’s back, so we had to skip the ceremony the following night in the same gymnasium (on the same chairs) for the family friend and the one the following weekend for one niece an hour away by car. The other niece lives on the other side of the country.

All right, all right, I hear you. Sorry, folks.

<caution. absolutely unnecessary etymology lesson ahead.>And I do mean unnecessary. The word “exquisite” is supposed to be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Really. Go back and watch some old M*A*S*H episodes if you don’t believe me, and listen to Charles. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

All etymology lessons out of the way, brace yourself for some timely newsworthy hoopla:

I have finished physical therapy due to rotator cuff surgery. Ta-da!

This means, in theory, that I have two functioning shoulders, free and clear to do things such as, oh, I don’t know, putting clothes in the dryer, typing, driving, stuff like that.

So I very gingerly went driving, just down to Target and back. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog entry. Except CF did turn her knuckles an ungodly shade of white when I made a rather sloppy left turn onto our road.

Therefore, she was not willing to let me drive one hour south to the niece’s graduation party. Party pooper. I drove two entire miles to Target and back, and only one tiny slip-up, and she won’t let me drive 120 miles at 65 mph! Sheesh. I mean, it’s not like we’d be driving my old wreck of a car. No, we’d be taking her nice, new car with all the groovy features on it, like a radio that works and everything.

I did notice something odd when I was driving those two miles, though. I had no idea where I was. It’s not a terribly complicated drive to Target. Down our street, turn right, go a little way, turn left, go a little way, turn right, and there you are. In its parking lot. Where you have to park.

(Did you see that cartoon in Sunday’s paper where the guy brings his own can of spray paint and just paints his own parking spot? Brilliant.)

And then you reverse your steps and go home.

But after being a passenger for over six months, my brain has scrambled the bits that held Olywa maps in place. They are gone. The maps from the town where I grew up are firmly in place. I can still count down the traffic lights on Bloomfield Ave. from the edge of town until you get to Central Ave. and you turn right to get to our house: Forest, Smull, Park. (I used to do this in the dark on the way back from my grandmother’s house.) Unless they’ve added one at Personnette St….

And the cow trail maps of Maine are emblazoned on my mind forever, especially the places where, for instance, the road to Durham from Freeport, called the Durham Road, crosses from Freeport into Durham, and becomes the Freeport Road, because there it’s the road from Durham to Freeport.

The Olympia map, however, was not to be found. I was a poor little lamb who has lost her way. Baa. Baa. Baa. Where’s my whiffenpoof? Oh, no, not another one! <<CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD!>> A whiffenpoof is not only the name of an absurd singing group of bawdy men from Yale University. It is also the name of an old-fashioned tracking gee-gaw, a big old log with a bunch of nails sticking out a few inches and a way to drag it behind you, so it rotates and leaves a trail of little holes from the nail heads. You leave the whiffenpoof in the woods and see if folks can follow the trail to find it. <<END ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY ETYMOLOGY LESSON>>

Once I made it home from Target, I rustled up my Garmin nüvi and charged it, ready for action. I can’t just plug it into my car battery, because my car is a 1997 Toyota RAV, and it has seen many better days. I remember the day that NF, still in diapers, experimented with a penny and shorted out the lighter, thus making it impossible to plug in any electronic device one might use via its handy port.

I was quite pleased with my Garmin nüvi solution to my map-free brain, right down to the crisp British accent of the unflappable woman telling me where to go. I mean, instructing my driving. I took my Garmin into the living room to show CF and she graciously listened to my enthusiastic explanation.

“You know,” she said, “you can get maps right on your phone. And they update as you travel. Just like that thing.”

“Oh,” I said, tossing the Garmin onto the stack beside me. Not much pomp. Not much circumstance.

The Inspiration of Junk Mail

When you sit in front of a computer all day like I do, the temptation to look at interesting websites is, well, tempting. And sometimes that temptation leads me to purchase items from those websites. And once you do that, they have to mail stuff to you. That puts you on their mailing lists. Then they send you catalogs. Forever.

And they sell your email address and your snail mail address to anyone they want to. So I get some odd stuff, and I get some interesting stuff: a catalog for “goddesses,” for example, featuring “vixen” clothing, not exactly my style, arrives the same day as one from JC Penney, also not my style, but which must have given our mail carrier a bit of whiplash.

I reached for the LL Bean catalog (more my style) tucked in the middle of all this and took in the comfort of its Caslon typeface and tried to feel the nap of the chamois shirt with my cheek—maybe because I miss Maine, maybe to shake off that goddess catalog.

But yesterday’s mail also brought another catalog from that place that offers great courses, I mean Great Courses, I mean THE GREAT COURSES. You know, you send them money, they send you DVDs or CDs of lectures by leading professors on the history of European art or the joy of astronomy or argumentation: the study of effective reasoning. All for a reasonable charge, of course.

This is what inspired me. No, not the reasonable charge. We’ll deal with that later.

It was the description of the courses that inspired me.

I was fired up to learn something. Old Testament? New Testament? The Art of Critical Decision Making? Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution? These were indeed THE GREAT COURSES.

The various courses on brain matters (pun!) caught my eye. Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills. Understanding The Mysteries Of Human Behavior. Understanding The Brain. Egad. How to choose!

Then I turned the page. There was the right course, the one and only course for me, the course that would challenge me, push me beyond all reasonable limits and at the same time give me a skill I could maybe someday actually use, not to mention bragging rights, and maybe homework help for my son.

Calculus.

Or, more precisely: Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear. See, doesn’t that sound friendly? And the blurb that accompanies it compares calculus to Beethoven’s symphonies, which I understand fully.

The blurb (which is nearly a page long) also says: “…the course takes the approach that every equation is in fact also a sentence that can be understood, and solved, in English.”

Hey, that’s my language! I speak it every day! And I’m writing in it right now!

The blurb continues: “It requires only a basic acquaintance with beginning high-school-level algebra and geometry.”

O.K., stop snickering. Yes, I know I am defeated by long division, thanks to that blasted stroke, but that’s what calculators are for. And that’s not algebra anyway. That’s—that’s—fourth grade math, and dear Mrs. Monell taught it to me, and it’s gone forever, but I remember the concept at least, and I think that’s what is important here.

Algebra is a bit tricky. I had two years of algebra in high school, more or less, mostly less, because the second year was more of a social gathering than anything else. I’m trying very hard to remember what we were taught in that class, and all I can really recall is sitting around in a circle on cozy chairs and chatting about anything we wanted, but that can’t be right, can it? We were a hand-selected group of seniors, at a school that did not believe in “honors” classes.

The teacher was a tall, spectral man, given to long discourses on topics unrelated to mathematics. He had more than a passing interest in a girl a year younger than I; he ended up marrying her. If I learned anything in this class, I must assume it too was lost in the stroke explosion.

As for geometry, this was one class where I wish I hadn’t done so well. The teacher’s name was Mr. Sharpe, and most of the kids didn’t like him. I adored him. He was rather elfin, and strict. He would explain the topic, and we would work out the exercises, and he would wander among us, correcting our work and explaining further. Not to brag, but I excelled. I loved this class.

I did so well that Mr. Sharpe pulled me out of it and sat me in the back all by myself at a bigger table and had me compile his bowling league averages instead. Lots and lots of adding and subtracting and percentages. No geometry. I could do the geometry in five minutes, while walking down the hall.

I was too good for his class. He adored me.

See? I wasn’t always a math dolt.

So for a mere $39.95, discounted from $254.95 (wow!), I can learn, at my own pace, in 24 half-hour lectures, one of which is entitled, Owls, Rats, Waves, and Guitars, all about calculus.

Am I nuts? Maybe. Probably.

Downside: Blowing 40 bucks. Frustrating myself with something I cannot do.

Upside: Triumphing by reawakening my math brain. Learning calculus.

Inside: Fear and trembling.

Outside: Cloudy, chance of rain.

Notes on Being a Fake

There are three ways to be a Fake:

  1. Unintentional
  2. Egregious
  3. Internally painful

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall dispense with the first two types rather quickly, since it is the third type in which we are principally interested, this being my blog and me being, unfortunately, the third type. Your opinion may vary, in which case you are a second opinion and you may write your own Note on Being a Fake, which you may send to me at your own expense.

Additionally, our discussion will be limited to Fakery as it refers to recovery from a stroke and/or life with M.S. and/or other such life-challenging situations. Fakery outside of this narrow field of health issues will not be considered.

Additionally additionally, I am giving my Observer to these discussions a Fake Name. I had to think for a while to come up with a name not likely to occur in human beings, and finally settled on Nilla, as in ’Nilla Wafers.

The Unintentional Fake
The Unintentional Fake is often not a Fake at all, but appears to be one by being over-enthusiastic about gains in health recovery, such as a gain in ability to walk, or speak, or even recover consciousness. The enthusiasm can be on the part of a patient or a caregiver or a health professional (doctor, nurse, etc.). The enthusiasm is genuine; the over-enthusiasm curdles it.

The Egregious Fake
The Egregious Fake usually has absolutely nothing physically wrong with him or her but wants you to know all about it. His cold is much worse than yours. Her knee is too painful to help carry those boxes into the house. He’s worried about his terrible headache—he’s had it for days. She hasn’t slept for weeks. But wait! Who’s that strolling out of the bookstore carrying an armload of books? Why, it’s your weak-kneed friend! And she’s with her friend who has overcome his intolerance to lactose and is enjoying an ice cream cone! The Egregious Fake is worrisome to be around until you realize that he or she is in fact an Egregious Fake and not For Real.

The Internally Painful Fake
The Internally Painful Fake walks among people every day, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. Nilla sees my cane, and her eyes say, “The cane? Are you still using that cane?” Yes, the stroke was nearly two years ago, but I also have M.S., and the combination makes me stagger, makes me weak. It is internally painful for me to admit this, but whenever I leave my house I use a cane. It wards off other people, gives me balance, reminds me to be careful.

The Internally Painful Fake talks with Nilla every day, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. She hears my hesitation, and she rushes to fill in the word I cannot find in my aphasic moment. She is thinking, “It’s been almost two years. I thought she was over all of that stroke stuff.” It is internally painful for me to admit this, but when I am speaking there are times when my mind becomes completely void of words and I cannot complete a sentence.

The Internally Painful Fake parks in the disabled parking spot near Nilla very often, and she sees the judgment in Nilla’s eyes. I don’t limp enough for her satisfaction, or use a wheelchair, or have enough missing limbs, or whatever her personal definition of disabled might be. She huffs at me to let me know that she considers me an Egregious Fake (about which see above), about which I consider acting like an Unintentional Fake (about which see above) to prove her wrong, but instead I just wobble normally into the store. It is internally painful for me to admit this, but when I park in a disabled parking spot, I am glad that I will be able to find my car easily afterwards because those lights in the store scramble my brain if I stay longer than 10 minutes.

The Internally Painful Fake is an amalgam of half-started, half-finished, half-baked disabilities. Nothing is right, but nothing is wrong. Doctors examine me and say, “Hmm, that’s not good.” Friends look at me and say, “Hey, you look great!” Family members look at me and say, “Wow, you look wonderful!” It is internally painful for me to admit this, but I feel awful. The truth is there will be effects from the stroke present in me for years to come: how I look, how I feel, how I think, how I act, how I talk.

What’s right? Nothing. That is one truthful answer from the Internally Painful Fake. Another truthful answer would be: I can read again. I can write again. I can usually remember to scribble down notes when I think of something good. I can usually remember to scribble down notes when I remember something important.

What’s wrong? Nothing. That is one truthful answer from the Internally Painful Fake. Another truthful answer would be: my eyes, my ears, my shoulder, my brain, my mood.

What is really wrong, actually, is that the Internally Painful Fake hates being the Internally Painful Fake. I would much rather be the Egregious Fake and have everyone discover my deception so I could just stop it all and go back to riding my bicycle everywhere and playing softball like I used to and taking long walks on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine.

Except now that I am verging on old and decrepit, I probably can’t play softball anyway, and the walks would probably require at least a walking stick, and the bicycle might even require fat tires. We probably need to add a fourth kind of Fake: the Old and Decrepit Fake.

Total Brain Dump

When I was a kid (yes, I am actually starting out with New Jersey this time), we lived down the street from a dump. This is not as awful as it sounds. We were not rednecks. We did not live in some godforsaken beer-swilling rifle-cracking hog-grilling kind of place. No sir. We did not.

We lived in a respectable suburb smack dab triangulated between New York City and Newark, New Jersey, THE MOST POPULATED STRETCH OF LAND ON EARTH at the time, it seemed to me, and we had the BIGGEST MALL ON EARTH to prove it. Yes, we did, the Willowbrook Mall, built on land that once housed an amusement park, which somehow seemed appropriate to me.

Nevertheless, there was a dump up the street from us, on the land of a farm and nursery owned by the Pfitzenmayer family. They just let anybody who had anything to dump come and dump it. It was all very casual.

The nice thing about this was that the neighborhood kids—at least the ones that Mr. Pfitzenmayer approved of—could go rummage around the dump and find all kinds of neat stuff. We found old radios and magazines and dolls and just junk. Once we found $30, I think in the back of one of those radios.

Lately, my brain has been like that dump. I have been unearthing all kinds of neat stuff. No, not old radios and magazines, and certainly not dolls or $30. For one thing, as you might have been able to tell, it has been overwhelmed by details of my childhood. Vivid details of vignettes long forgotten have been sparking through my mind nonstop.

Just the other day, for instance, I remembered for the first time since the stroke a website I used to visit daily because I enjoyed it so much: Arts and Letters Daily. I recommend it if you want a good source to keep you up to date on the latest in all the arts journals we never get to read, the latest books we swear to buy, and the essays we wish we had thought to write ourselves. Plus it has an exhaustive list of columnists, online radio stations, newspapers, and so forth.

And then I had another brilliant find at the Brain Dump. This little gem is sure to come in handy for all of you folks who wear clothes, which I suspect is most of you, if I know my audience, which I suspect I do. Call me crazy, but for some reason I just picture most of you wearing clothes, and I really don’t think it has anything to do with me having brain damage. I think I would picture you that way whether or not I had had a stroke. Really. Not even kidding. Not even a little bit.

Maybe I should qualify this handy little tip a bit. Now those of you who know me can testify that I have an absolutely flat-as-a-pancake stomach. I mean, from my nose to my toes, it’s a straight vertical drop, 180 degrees, bombs away, look out mama, here comes trouble. Please keep that in mind as I describe the aforementioned gem in the followingmentioned explanation:

(But before we get to that—and you suspected this was coming when you saw the parentheses, didn’t you?—we must ponder the curious absence of the opposite of a word for “aforementioned,” which means CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD! which I have never done inside parentheses before, which shall, no doubt, present interesting punctuation issues. But in fact this turns out to be a decidedly uninteresting etymology lesson, since the proper opposite of “aforementioned” is simply “later,” yes, simply “later,” and now I’ve lost my place, oh well, let’s start a new sentence. And I am tempted to wipe out this etymology lesson entirely but I’ve tormented myself this far, and “aforementioned” is, I have found out, not even included in my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary except under “afore” [unfortunately, no more recent than 1987 but I am sure this was a word by then—and I told you we would get into some interesting punctuation issues, and Merriam-Webster confirms it was, by 1587], and now I’ve lost my place again. Oh, let’s give up. END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON)

On to the followingmentioned explanation I promised a few breathless parenthetical breaths ago. Flat as pancake stomach, etc. The problem is holding up my pants. Or my shorts. Or my skirts. But I hardly ever wear skirts. I’m just not that kinda girl. And if I was, I would definitely want them to be held down.

No matter how tightly I cinch my belt or elastic, my pants have a southern mind of their own. Last week, I remembered my solution for this problem: tuck in my damn shirt. Waa-laa! Problem solved! After 18 months of pants-droopiness, I now am clam-happy. And as I’ve said before, light dawns on Marblehead. (I’m allowed to say that; I used to live there, and I’ve seen it happen.)

So that’s two very exciting finds at the Brain Dump in recent days. And then just yesterday I unearthed a third, this time from the computer pile, the long-neglected computer pile. I’d almost forgotten it was hiding there in the corner.

Now that I am no longer gainfully employed, CF and I have rearranged our house so that our computers are about six feet apart. Given my loss of software knowledge, this immediately put us at a disadvantage, networking-wise, because our cabling system was de-cabled. We would strangle each other trying to figure out cables, strangle each other trying to figure out Wi-Fi, or strangle each other paying someone to configure the whole thing. So for a couple of months, we have been emailing files back and forth six feet. Ridiculous, I know.

Then yesterday dawned light on the dump and the brain woke up again. I noticed a funny little item in my list of folders on my computer that seemed to be CF’s folder. I clicked on it, and what do you know, it was! I could copy a file directly from my computer to hers! Through the magic of my superior operating system I had complete access to her computer. At least I think that’s why. I’m not sure. I don’t understand these things anymore. Please don’t try to tell me why. Those brain cells are really gone forever. I think.

If they come back, I’ll let you know. I think.

Therefore, I am.

Stack overflow

Better tighten your shoelaces, everyone, because I am about to combine software, brain trauma, elementary school, piles of junk, and who knows what else — oh yeah, New Jersey — into the next several hundred words.

First of all, stack overflow. For those of you who are mercifully uninitiated, that is, those of you who were never forced to learn what the heck it means, it means that the computer memory got all jammed up, and it didn’t have enough room to put everything. It overflowed. Who knows why they use the word stack? I don’t.

CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD! And why do they use the word “bug” to describe a problem in computer stuff? Well, it was a moth that gummed up the works way back in the dark ages of room-sized laptops. You can find it taped to the pages of a log book on display at the Smithsonian Institute. The word “bug” was used to describe something out of whack long before computers came along, but this moth brought it to the computer world, and it also inspired the invention of the word “debugging” by computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper, a word still used today to describe the process of ridding computer software of its flaws.END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON

Now where was I? Oh yeah, stack overflow. Having gone through that stroke thing, that brain trauma incident, the grand explosion, the Brain Twister, I have a new perspective on stack overflow. Some of my stacks overflowed, all right.

I’ve muttered a bit about how I’ve lost the ability to do long division, but that never really mattered to me all that much—that’s what calculators are for. More significantly, my ability to do anything sparkling on a computer just fizzled.

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where those little girls go stamping along the tops of picnic tables flinging the tops of their computers at each other, haven’t you, showing off how great Microsoft Surface is, or completely grown men in completely serious business meetings snap their laptops shut in corporate harmony while some well-paid orchestral group swells in eight-part harmony? Yeah, well, I don’t get it.

We gave NF one of those Surface things for Christmas, and I sat down with it the other night, and it sparkles, all right. Wow, does it sparkle. I mean, I wanted to play with it so much I broke a sweat. (This is the first time he has let it out of his room since paper-tearing day because he loves it so much, so it’s the first chance to play with it that I have had.)

But as I sat there watching it sparkle, I realized that I couldn’t sparkle back. I couldn’t even glimmer back. I could give off a sort of dull glow, like a flashlight about to die.

Yeah, I don’t get it. My stacks have definitely overflowed forever. I have become one of those geezers who can’t figure out new technology.

Much to CF’s dismay, I will always be a stacker. She, on the other hand, is a stuffer. I pile everything into stacks; she stuffs everything into drawers. My piles drive her crazy; her stuffed drawers drive me nuts.

I have a theory that every successful couple has one stacker and one stuffer. I don’t think two stackers or two stuffers could survive in the same house. If you are part of such a couple (stacker & stacker / stuffer & stuffer) and you are successfully sharing living quarters, please let me know, and send photographic evidence.

One of my vows for the new year was to get rid of the stack overflow from my office. That has not yet happened, and the year is nearly one-fourth gone. Therefore, in order to embarrass myself, I am posting evidence of my overflow, hoping that by next week I can post evidence of my underflow, with an affidavit from CF attesting to my honest cleanup effort (i.e., that I didn’t just stack it elsewhere).

Hmmm. I planned to post photographic evidence, really, but I have spent three days trying to do so, really, that’s why this post is so late, but my withered computer skills once again let me down. With any luck I will post before and after pix next time.

I learned to not be a stuffer the hard way in fifth grade (and, oh no, here comes the New Jersey stuff) when our teacher, Miss Coffin, asked us to rearrange our desks. These were the good old-fashioned wooden desks that had a drawer underneath the top without an end cover into which you could stuff all kinds of papers, and a groove on the top for your pencil or pen and even a hole bored in it for your bottle of ink. I know that makes it sound like the 1890s, but I think they used those desks well into the Clinton administration.

It was the first day back after winter break, and our desks were in a circle around a very bedraggled Christmas tree, which in those benighted days we were allowed to have in our classrooms. As I recall, my sister’s doll got to be the baby Jesus in the school play, and she got to play a dreidel, which offended our Catholic mother somewhat, but seemed to make everything balanced in the school’s ledger. Someone did offer an infant brother for the baby J part, but that offer was rejected,we thought because of the diaper problems, but in hindsight other issues now present themselves.

As we pushed our desks back to their normal places, out from my overstuffed desk drawer fell my brand new glasses case, which I had hastily stuffed in there as soon as I got to school that morning before anyone saw it.

“Ooh,” hissed Donna to Carol, “she got glasses.” I snatched the glasses case up as quickly as I could, but the damage was done. Donna and Carol were the trendsetters, the cool kids, the cheerleaders-in-training, soon to sprout pom-poms and rah-rahs from every pore on their body.

For some reason, I poured my fury about my imperfect eyes in the eyes of their perfect ones into stuffing. I unstuffed everything and became a stacker. I was cured of stuffing. No more stuffing for me.

Except for Thanksgiving. I was addicted to Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, especially my grandmother’s turkey stuffing. There was something unique about her stuffing.

We never figured out what made it unique, and she could never tell us what it was. We watched her every year, joked that it was her sweat, or the water in Irvington, N.J., or her well-worn bowls. The secret, whatever it was, she took to her grave.

And now I must go make short work of at least one pile of my precious crap before next week. It pains me, it really does. So much of importance in that stack of paper, so much of significance, so much of….overflow.