Thursday, July 21, 2011

Words to Eat


In this heat wave, the worst since my move to Illinois, my favorite words have started to move to cooler pastures. (That is, if words graze on pastures befitting their seasonal appetites.) Fall being my favorite season, I usually gravitate toward woody, full-bodied words that linger like a nut brown ale.  But this summer, in 100 degree misery, those words will never do. "Maritime" has wandered into the fold, as well as some food words that bring me more joy than I formerly cared to notice.  

I love consumables. Not the word, the things themselves. By that I mean ingestibles, I suppose. Food and drink.  I can't just say I love food, because then you'd think I was a foodie.  I'm certainly not.  Besides, it is my fervent love of drinks that is rather uncanny. (I love drinks in a can.)  And by that I don't mean booze alone.  Anything liquid that can be bottled, poured, canned, fountained, I'm pretty much all over it. I always have to have something to drink.  I am an iced tea fiend.  If it is in tea form I will drink it. This brings me to my first new favorite word: REFRESHMENTS.

As a kid I always thought that refreshments were supposed to be refreshing.  Not hard cookies, not room temperature juice.  Minty lady fingers or layered cookies, cucumber sandwiches, flavored iced tea...those things are refreshing. I expected these things to be there, whenever any event claimed to have "refreshments" waiting on a table somewhere.  I also thought it meant drinks, and lots of them.  Why else do they say "Can I freshen up your drink?"  And why are dry, packaged foods supposed to be refreshing? I think anyone hosting some event with "refreshments" after should change the invite to say "snacks" if all they have are snacks.  REFRESHMENTS require far more attention to detail and far more hospitality than a PTA meeting or a chess night at the library can muster.  They must refresh.  Delight and refresh.

To move into food-only territory, another word: SANDWICHES.

Doesn't it just sound like what it is?  Weird since it's named after a guy.  The word has less to do with the thing than just about any word!  And it's never troubling that "SAND" is in there.  Everyone's had a sandy sandwich at the beach, and it's quite awful.  Yet the name doesn't put us off.  The SAND is like the part of the word that represents all the stuff, and the WICH is like the mushing together.  SAAAAAND (putting on lettuce, putting on mayonnaise, putting on cheeses...) WICH! (SMOOSH! It's a sandwich!)  I eat most sandwiches on untoasted bread. I like the WICH to be extra WICHy.  And what a refreshment for a hot day!

CUCUMBER SANDWICHES and FINGER SANDWICHES are two subsets (and the latter includes the former) of SANDWICHES that I adore, both for the words and the things themselves.  There were finger sandwiches at my honors convocation reception in undergrad.  That is the last time I saw them.  Sandwich ephemera. (Isn't all food a kind of ephemera?) I pressed toward the many-tiered finger sandwich tower only to find that ham salad was all that remained.  The parents of the other honorable students had devoured my hard-earned finger sandwiches.  I was devastated. Even chocolate covered strawberries could not bring me out of my finger sandwich funk.

I never make finger sandwiches for myself at home.  Ninety-nine percent of the point is that someone had to make them for you. (Funny how sandwiches went from something for men to eat while playing cards to something with which women impress other women. But now they are universal, and so American at once!)

A broader category of food thing with a lovely word to denote it is the LUNCHEON.

LUNCHEON first appeals to me because it is old-fashioned.  Today a luncheon is only called that when it is some big lunch gathering for a cause or a seminar or something.  Red Hat ladies luncheon.  But suburban housewives just go to lunch.  Don't they know people used to luncheon just for the sake of lunching!  I adore the scene in A Room of One's Own when Mary gazes out the window, turning away from the "luncheon party" to think about whether women hummed Tennyson at luncheon parties before the war.  And her refusal to gloss over the dishes! She catalogs the fare of the luncheon -- it is as much about the food as it is about "something very witty that was said."

Lunch is my favorite meal (there's always a sandwich in it, right?), yet it is the one I get to share with others most seldom. I almost never luncheon. I would like to say witty things while gesturing with a cucumber sandwich. I'm picturing it.

So those are my food words this summer.  I have also renewed my penchant for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, because it's like chocolate milk that won't make you puke in the summer, and it's a drink so I have to drink it.  (My son calls it "Yo-Ho.") This is the first time I've noticed a real seasonal change in the words I think about, and try to use often.  I can add seasonal word disorder and seasonal food disorder (shouldn't we all eat seasonal?) to my seasonal music disorder.  All of these neuroses probably keep me out of the woods for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I'll stay over here in the cool green pasture and luncheon on my sandwiches and refreshments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Band

I may be a student of literature, and I may be about to hold in my hands the minds of 25 unsuspecting college freshmen, molding them (hopefully) into properly processing centers of language and critical thought.  But that doesn't mean I don't have a life.  I figured I'd live out my rock'n'roll persona this month, the last before I take on the frightening task of role modeling.

I'm in a band.  It's a silly thing.  A classic rock cover band that only plays bars and parties in the western suburbs of Chicagoland.  We do all right.  This band is comprised of me and four men, one of whom is about ten years my senior, and the rest even older.  So they have good taste in music.

We used to have the stupidest name. It was awful. So we changed it to something consummately awful.  We are making our debut as


this August 13 in Aurora, Illinois.

Crass! Offensive! What? These are all things one might say at the sound of that name.  I didn't choose it, but I like it. It makes no sense. And it's delightfully awful.

I am the lead singer, but I am not Dick Coyle.

Please enjoy photos of us looking very serious. We will drill your ass. Website is "under construction."

Robyn Coyle
Lead Singer, Harp, Small Cha Chas

PS: I know shorts are not rock'n'roll.  But photo shoots no one knew were about to happen are.

All photos are copyright Erica Nicksin, who also had no idea she was about to shoot photos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summertime and the Livin's Aubrey

I started copying some lady faces.
My darling friend Erica visited me this past week, and brought me treasures from the New York City. One such treasure is a yellow cloth-bound biography of Aubrey Beardsley.  The true measure of a friend is when she brings you something you never knew you wanted, yet once you see the thing, you say, "I've been wanting that."

Erica studied history, I, literature.  She usually reads the history.  I usually read the literature.  When she arrived with a thick copy of MELVILLE this visit, I got to thinking about biographies.  They are a hard thing to read sometimes, for those of us who want everything to be a story. Or more accurately, who want everything to have layers of meaning. How can this be, with biography?  Last semester I dragged through a well written, detail-filled, critical biography of Milton. The Lewalski.  Indispensable to a Milton scholar, but summer reading it is not. Erica and I talked about biographies. Turns out, few of them are summer reading. Aubrey Beardsley happens to be an exception.

Ended with creeps.
(Click for a close-up!)
I'm enjoying the read, even though there are only a few plates. Presumably if one is reading the biography of Aubrey Beardsley, one is probably already familiar with his or her drawings of men and/or women (Erica and I also discussed the silliness and the limits of gender neutral language!), and one does not need an extensive collection of Beardsley prints thickening up the bio.  So I am in the midst of it, watching little precocious Aubrey charm all his schoolmasters, when I get the urge to draw.  I have not drawn in ages.  A biography that gives one the urge to draw is indeed a good biography.

So it began with the copied lady faces (and other parts) like the illustration above, and ended with my own characters like this sleazy fin de siecle fellow on the left.

Now, back to reading about Beardsley!

My drawing of the Beardsley photograph in Weintraub's book.