My husband makes fun of the English because they call most desserts “pudding.” And he is right. It is quite ridiculous that cake, pancakes, lava cakes, and cheesecake are all called pudding; but it’s also ridiculous that they’re all called cakes. Adding to the complexity is Yorkshire pudding, which is savory and eaten with the meal.
Fair point, husband. But what about America’s obsession with boxes?
I am having one of those days when I sharply and sincerely regret getting out of bed. Comprising a soaking wait at the bus stop, a tooth injury, a soggy two-hour commute into work, a setback at the office and the discovery that a leaky roof had caused rain to flood my garage, I am having a pretty awful day. And it’s only 2pm.
Usually, my style is to get angry, then determined, then break all the problems apart with my bare hands until they’re fixed. Today, though, I won’t do much about any of this. I’m enervated. I’m deflated. I’m blue.
Last weekend, my husband and I found ourselves at dusk in a park we frequent in Sunol. We were procrastinating because it was Sunday night, the park was lovely and we didn’t want to go home yet. We stopped in a clearing because a few red-breasted robin were flitting around but as we stood there, the few became many and the many became hundreds.
The next thing we knew, the birds had started to form a murmuration, an undulating wave of birds that swooped and swarmed ahead of us. Where I come from, birds are a little more raucous so I was delighted to see this display for the first time.
Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in my own head. Grieving the matriarch of the family, who died this month, and beset with some big work and personal challenges, I have retreated into my worries. A kind of everyday, pedestrian sadness has me speaking only when spoken to and avoiding connection when it is offered.
So when my friend Leah suggested I discuss insouciant as my Word of the Day, my interest was piqued. What is insouciance, really? What is it like? Have I ever had it? Is it eligible for Amazon Prime?
Today, I introduced a friend to the delightful Australian term “shithouse”. Evocative of an outdoor toilet, it’s not even considered a curse word there and is synonymous with something that is shoddy, broken or sick. It just slipped out, and she understood what I meant, but I apologized because in that one word I had conveyed much more than just the image of an outdoor dunny – I had inadvertently dragged her into the mire of Australian English.
My boss has a new project for me. The organization’s communications department, which he runs, needs a way to quantify its impact. He asks me if I would kindly develop a framework for measuring our impact and reporting on it. It’s a big job, a complex job; and one that involves a strategic mindset, a knack for puzzling out solutions and a head for numbers. Intrinsically, I have none of these things.
I grin at my boss. “Absolutely,” I say.
At its heart, English is pretty lazy. Words that mean easy are frequently conflated with those that mean good. We say good when we mean done, and things that are easy are “a joy” or “child’s play”.
The root of easy is the French word aisie, or ease, which betrays our ancestral roots as stressed-out monkeys barely one step ahead of famine and desperate to avoid becoming lion chow.
My favorite is the word cinch. Meaning easy and sure, it usually describes a task that is easy to do well – like walking or sleeping or buying a donut at the coffee shop when you already have your credit card in your hand.
It is said that my generation doesn’t believe in heroes. On the surface, it’s easy to see why: When we rejected the values of our Baby Boomer parents, we also shook off their unfaltering (and to us, inexplicable) faith in authorities – political and social.
Gen Xers side with the nerdy, the misunderstood and the maligned. We scratched Nirvana lyrics into our desks. We liked Bender in The Breakfast Club, not because he was smart but because he was right, and we wondered why Danny wound up good in Grease when naughty Sandy was so damn hot. There is some Bender-style self-sabotage at work in all of us, and some days it wins out.
But here’s the rub: Just because we don’t believe what our parents did doesn’t mean we believe in nothing. The outpouring of grief today over David Bowie’s death has me musing about our relationship with heroes and the sheer force of love and passion I see in my peers. The famously dead-inside generation has a heart after all, and it beats in 4/4 time.