Sometimes I Do Other Things

Five minutes with ballet

July 19. The word is ballet.

Nutcracker. Mikhail Baryshnikov. White Nights. These are things I think of when I hear the word ballet. I picture ranks and swirls of people moving in concert so fluidly and so gracefully they might well be a flock of birds or a school of fish. Speed and power, discipline and a severe, stripped down beauty in unison. The floofy costumes and the extremes of it have never appealed, but I confess I do love me some glitter hair gel.

I wanted to do ballet with a terrible fierce want when I was little, like oh, sixish. I didn’t want to be a dancer, exactly. Perform? NONONONONO. Did Not Want.  I especially didn’t like tutus. (Scratchy!)

But the spinning and stretching and being allowed to move? Getting to wear soft shoes and tight, smooth unitards like the people on Star Trek wore? A special place to belong, with gleaming slick floors and spicy smells, and mirrors everywhere?! (I have a fascination with reflections) All that AND the opportunity to be praised for doing things right?

Oh, how I wanted that.

Later roller skating, martial arts and gymnastics were added to the list of “things lucky other kids get to do.” Why did I never do them? I knew from Adult Talk around me that they were Expensive Distractions From School, and also (I was told later) my parents “never knew I had any interest.”

As it turns out, avoiding those activities was likely a good thing for my health. Given my body’s invisible limitations and the lack of knowledge/caution in those long-ago days before genetic testing and studies on the ways exercise affects young, developing bodies….I would have ended up  bent like a pretzel with joint injuries by college.

Still and all, when I see dancers their beauty has an added magic for me: the fantasies of a road not taken.



Word provided by Cathy Torgerson

Five minutes with conspiracy

July 17. The word is conspiracy.

I used to love a good conspiracy theory. The veils of fiction that drape themselves around real events will always draw me in. I adore a good story, and at root, that’s what every conspiracy theory is: a narrative that explains “facts”  in a way that better please the theory’s creator than boring old reality does. Like oil slicks atop the surface of a puddle or mirages on hot pavement, these confabulations are seldom pretty but often mesmerizing.

Real conspiracies are, I think more rare than the theorists would have us believe. The amount of long-term large-scale collaboration and secrecy required for conspiracies like chem-trails and the like would be inhuman.

See, humans are super-good at keeping secrets for short time periods but lousy at keeping them for long ones. As the saying goes, three people can keep a secret if two are dead…maybe. The truth will out and all that. It may take a lot of blood and sacrifice, but someone will always dig to the bottom of things. Humans are nosy, and knowledge is power. Someone will always want to spread power to the people.

Hah. How many trite saying did I get into that paragraph? Don’t know. Can’t pause to count. ONLY FIVE MINUTES.

ANYway. Conspiracy theories scare me these days. Not the confabulations themselves–those are still amazing windows into the minds of their makers and wondrous tales of weirdness. No, what terrifies me is the number of people who have lost all ability to analyze dazzle & razzle and mistake narrative polish for substance and verifiable data.  “It makes sense” is not a proof. “I can see how that would work” is not a truth test.

The way people have lost the ability to tell truth from fiction has become too widespread too quickly to be natural. I suspect a plot.


word provided by Margaret Kozlowski Jarosz

Five minutes with cromulent

July 12. The word is cromulent.

Spoiler alert: I looked this one up long, long ago, because it is a fun word, and I wanted to know why I’d never heard of it. Answer: it didn’t exist before the mid-90’s, and didn’t get into regular usage until the late 00’s.  I can see why it’s gaining in usage. Just saying it is fun. Go ahead, say it. You have to roll it around in your mouth. krom-you-lent.

It sounds serious and scholarly and important…and yet..what does it mean?

Turns out it isn’t a real word or one that has a meaning. Cromulent has no definition. As far as I can tell, it was deliberately created without one. I consider it no more  or less legitimate than any other  word, but it is (as far as I know)  the only one specifically designed to be obscure.

It was created for The Simpsons, which is to say born in humor, raised on sarcasm, steeped in facetious silliness. Nothing about the Simpsons can be taken seriously, but that’s why it’s such a seriously good humor-mirror for society.

The thing that makes cromulent most fascinating (to me, granted, and I am easily amused) is that it shows off the Emperor’s new clothes of language. It’s a grammatical white space that makes other words show up better. Even though it’s meaningless itself, meaning can be inferred from all the words around it. So really, it means everything.

That is so cromulent!

word provided by Beth Waggoner Patterson

Five minutes with custard

July 11. The word is custard.

This word feels ugly on my tongue, slippery-slimy and gritty in the middle, which is odd given that custard is so delicious. I didn’t always feel that way. I used hate custard.

I thought it sounded gross, and I loathed the eggy taste (yes, I can taste yolk in baked goods, its why I prefer scones to muffins…ANYWAY) and I didn’t like the mouth feel of the substance any more than I liked the word.

I liked vanilla pudding though — but only the kind that gets cooked, not the instant kind. I was a picky kid.

Chocolate pudding pies will always hold a soft spot in my heart. too.  Why those nasty things? Well…partly because chocolate was a forbidden thing since it unpredictably caused hives, but mostly because that’s what came in the brown-bag lunches we ate in the bed of the pickup truck on the way back to camp after four days padding canoes sunrise to sunup and eating foods chosen more for their ability to survive dunking than their tastiness.

After four days eating rock-hard wheat bread, dense granola, salty cheese, and dried-meat dinners, that first bite of preservative-laden, sugar-rich, flavorful chocolate goop was pure tastiness. So was the first sip of caramel-colored carbonated sugar water, for that matter. And the salty blast of the chips? Nothing better.

So I have always enjoyed puddings but custard was gross, and when I was given desserts called custards I disliked them intensely.

I didn’t even know pudding and custard were (essentially) the same thing until I was given my first cookbook-of-my-very-own as a wedding present and read it cover to cover. (What? That’s weird? Pffft. It wasn’t like I would ever make 95% of the things in it, but I figured it might be entertaining and I was right. Far more informative than all the shampoo bottle labels and candy bar wrappers I have also read in full…again I digress)

The shared ancestry was noted and then ignored, as was the discovery from reading too many English mysteries that “pudding” is actually a more general term for a particular menu item/meal course–not necessarily dessert, and not necessarily sweet.  Wasn’t important to me that what I called pudding was an Americanized label for a particular type of boring custard. Pudding = yum, custard = pass.

Until I was introduced to creme brûlée. Only then did I understand that Real Custard could be GOOD.  Heavenly even. But hey. Open flame and burned ingredients are involved, so my affection for it should not be entirely surprising.

word provided by Debbie Manber Kupfer

Five minutes with gorgon

July 5. The word is gorgon.

So I cheated and looked this one up beforehand, because I didn’t trust my memory on what, exactly, a gorgon was. I recalled snakes were involved. And decapitation, perilous escapes, and being turned to stone. All entirely vague. Species or individual? Monster from birth, or transformed human(s)? No idea. I remembered Medusa was one, and Perseus killed her, and there were consequences. And a Pegasus.

I’m glad I looked into it, because the research dropped me down a long, fascinating internet rabbit hole of mythological information. So much fun. More data, please.

USEFUL information? Pfft. Not really. Or, rather, yes of course, all is fodder for the imagination, but not practically useful. I mean, I’m not banking on the likelihood of someone doing a quiz-on-the-street interview with a cash prize for the answer to, “What is a gorgon anyway?”  Or is it who is a gorgon? (Both, as it turns out)

Gorgons are at the center of a huge complex web of mythos, and their myths are connected to a vast network of other myths. Even the firmer variables — they change people to stone, snakely body parts are involved–have varied radically from place to place, age to age.

So many variations! So I guess there’s no one right  way to be a gorgon. The mutability that shines a light on the evolution of myth over time and the magical way each generation can take a story, layer on new ideas, strip away old ones, change the lessons taught, and put its own stamp on the tale.

Word provided by Luke Green 

Five minutes with armadillo

July 3. The word for today is armadillo.

A group of armadillos can be called collectively a roll or an arrangement. I am not making that up, I spent 45 seconds of my writing time verifying it through internet searches. (I grant there seems to be some disagreement on which, if either, collective noun is correct but it’s the internet, people disagree. Go figure.)


Armadillos, or as translated from Spanish “little armored ones AKA “possibly the only animals hit by cars more often than opossums” are a species I just know was created on a Friday afternoon from spare parts so everything on the workbench got used up and no one had to put anything away before the weekend.

Scaled armor, but big ol ears. Long snout, silly little tongue, and an embarrassment of a tail. Oh, and not only the ability to roll into a protective ball of nothing-but-armor, but also timid enough that considers rolling into a ball a preferable defense tactic.

They are, in a word, silly. Ridiculous, even. But they live their lives without fuss, they don’t go out of their way to bother anyone else, and they eat pests.

All great reasons to like armadillos. All great lessons human beings could collectively benefit from practicing. Like, say, on a political level.

And with that, happy Independence Day! (early)

word provided by Susan Smith-Franks

Five minutes with asphyxiate

June 28. The word is asphyxiate.

This word is much more fun to say than to write. It’s a bear to write, especially compared to its synonym smother. Even the phrase “deprive of breath” is easier to type than that particular arrangement of letters. Argh. Awfulness. All over teh keyboard in finger-knotting ways.

But oh, it’s fun to say. Lots of hisses, a nice ex-ish noise in the middle and a crisp sharp tuh at the end.  Not fun to have happen, though.

Erotic asphyxiation aside (and this is not the forum for THAT discussion, oh, no) there are few more terrifying feelings than that of not being able to draw breath.  I suffer from “cryptic tonsils,” which is a fancy way of saying stuff gets stuck in my throat easily, and when something scrapes past a certain nerve trigger it sets off fits of uncontrollable coughing…which makes breathing in impossible until the nerve calms down again.

To breathe through it, I have to suck air in past the reflexive constriction (and all the coughing OUT)  and it makes this awful, whooping, growling noise…I sound like I’m dying. Because, I suppose, technically I would die if I didn’t fight to breathe.

The bad part isn’t fighting the not-breathing panic. It’s that  people inevitably ask, “Are you all right?” in the middle of things, and that causes a secondary panic.


Red-faced, whooping, usually tears going down my cheeks from the effort, coughing like a 3-pack-a-day smoker…I AM OBVIOUSLY NOT ALL RIGHT.  But I obviously cannot answer because I cannot breathe, and that means I have to worry about the questioner trying to kill me too.

See, I know they mean to ask, “Are you choking?” meaning in turn, do I require assistance like a Heimlich maneuver. But being squeezed when I’m already asphyxiating  would probably cause me to vomit and aspirate vomitus through coughing and choking and then maybe I would really die. so…scary.

In short, do not ask a coughing, possibly asphyxiating person if they are all right. Ask, “Do you need help?”

word provided by Michael Bondurant

Five minutes with doughnuts

June 26. The word is doughnut.

This is an excellent word. I had doughnuts just yesterday.  Birthday breakfast of sweet glazed goodness and hot tea in a hermos enjoyed with view of rippling water and lots of greenery.

Because nothing says celebration like caffeine and sugar-infused fat-fried yeasty dough. At a Renaissance fair many years ago,  a vendor of medieval bakery treats shared the trivia tidbit that every culture in Earth has some form of sweetened fried dough in their food repertoire. Now, it might have been sales-pitch customer-chat hyperbole. That happened long Before The Internet, and I’ve never bothered researching it because even if it’s inaccurate, I like the idea of sweet carbohydrate goodness being a Universal Truth too much to give it up.

There should always be room for something indulgent, happy, and sweet in life. Not for the everyday, for then the experience would pall — that whole “familiarity breeds contempt” thing has some small truth to it — but as a treat? Oh, YES.  To liven up a bad day or make a good one forever memorable? Yup. Doughnuts fill that niche deliciously well for m.

And the variety available to fill that particular empty hunger slot is astonishing.  Oh, my!  Sprinkles, glaze, powdered sugar or granular, frosted or filled, twisted, rounded, coiled, or stamped…the possibilities and combinations add up fast. I could go on about doughnuts for HOURS.

But I only had 5 minutes, and time is up.

Word provided by AJ Sefton

Five minutes with enlightened

21 June. The word is enlightened.  A perfect word for the solstice, in my not-so-humble opinion. Not that enlightenment and light have any direct relationship, but in the realm of nouns that connect on the concept level, yeah. Light.

Today is the day of longest light from my self-centered Northern Hemisphere perspective, and it marks the turn towards days of more light in the Southern Hemisphere. A theme of light either way.

I know, enlightened doesn’t mean light-light. It’s all about mindful awareness an increased awareness/understanding of the universe and even feeling a sense of oneness with everything. It’s seeing things as they are, (Or that’s what I have at the top of my head as its meaning. I didn’t look it up.)

But it’s considered a goal, a good thing, an aspiration. People are encouraged to aspire, to become enlightened.

But when I hear enlightened, contrarian I am, I wonder why we associate good things with light and darkness with ignorance, bad things, and even evil. Why can’t we feel at one with the dark of night as much as the light of day? Why is sight the only sense we associate with knowledge? Why can’t we seek comprehension by digging into the lightless, dense depths of spirit and thought, and soak ourselves in understanding?

Or something like that. Hey, I only had five minutes here.

Word provided by Esther Olson

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