Topic Overload


Many, many topics deserve attention these days. Unfortunately my attention is on all the things that remain to be done before next week. So here’s a preview of what I will be writing about when things calm down.

  • The top Getty images of the year.
  • Connecticut health is in better shape than most of the rest of the country.
  • The conclusion of “Serial.”
  • Sony can’t stop news organizations from publishing but may be able to claim damages if copyrights are violated.
  • The “Job Description Generator” says the mogul I most resemble is Taylor Swift. Huh?
  • My Sunday routine, borrowing the format from the NYTimes.
  • The implosion at The New Republic.

The Pope and the Pooch


I updated yesterday’s post with a link to great article from Salon about why cats like treats. Still think she’s more “semi” than domesticated.

To give canines equal time, this comes from Poynter regarding a NYTimes article concerning the admissibility of animals, dogs in particular, into heaven.

An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances of Pope Francis’ remarks. He made them in a general audience at the Vatican, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. The article also misstated what Francis is known to have said. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said: “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us,” which was interpreted to mean he believes animals go to heaven. Francis is not known to have said: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.’’ (Those remarks were once made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child, and were cited in a Corriere della Sera article that concluded Francis believes animals go to heaven.) An earlier version also referred incompletely to the largest animal protection group in the United States. It is the Humane Society of the United States, not just the Humane Society.


‘Tame’ Cats

isisb copy

Feeling whiplashed, so here’s something far more lighthearted, though still serious.

Here, Kitty, Kitty: The Genetics of Tame Animals”: The scientist called them “semi-domesticated.” In connection with the late lamented feline pictured above, heavy emphasis was on the “semi.” There’s a further explanation and a difference of opinion in Salon.

Favorites: Cups and plates that say “Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” Larry was annoyed a few years ago when I sent Anna a Christmas card that said “From Isis and her staff.” Also a mug with the following painted in the bottom: “Everything tastes better with cat fur on it.” Amen to that.

And for those who enjoy a bit of agony with the laughter: How to give a cat a pill.  Anyone who has ever had the “pleasure” can relate.



To the woman at the Disabled American Veterans’ Christmas party who mistook me for a waitress:

At first I thought you were “merely” racist. After all, Larry and I were the only African Americans in the room. You smiled and beckoned to me. Since I’d just finished a conversation with two of the veterans at your table, I assumed you wanted to talk about the writing group. Then you said, “Could you bring me a root beer?” I was bewildered, just said, “I don’t work here.” You looked at me as though you didn’t believe me, or that it didn’t matter.

You may or may not have figured things out by the time the senior vice commander of the DAV, who was sitting across from you, gave me a big hug and stayed to talk. I didn’t intend it, but I noticed you looked terrified when I walked back over to your table so I could talk to another veteran.

As the afternoon progressed, I realized you are not only racist, you are unpatriotic. You had the nerve to stay in your seat and pick at the frosting on your cake, loud enough for people at other tables to hear, while everyone stood and listened to the impassioned words of the Gold Star parents who lost their son in Iraq. You disrespected two people who continue to suffer in ways the rest of us cannot imagine. Your behavior was disgusting. I would have chalked up your remaining in your seat to your age, but I saw you walk across the room to get that root beer.

Fun With ‘Trouble’


Having finally come down off the high of “Trouble Begins” on Wednesday evening at the Mark Twain House, I can now write about it. The start was not auspicious as it was raining and hovering on the edge of freezing when I set out. Evening rush-hour traffic was building. The defroster staged a work slowdown, but I arrived in good time and made my way to the café, the auditorium still being in a state of disrepair from a flood some weeks ago.

My friend and the event organizer Steve Courtney had the PowerPoint set up in no time, which gave me an opportunity to chat with some early arrivals.

Steve said fifty people had pre-registered, but he expected perhaps forty because of the rotten weather. I didn’t count, but I am pretty sure the turnout was sixty or more. So exciting!

Among those in attendance were my cousins Charlie James and Faith Thomas (descendants from the patriarch Willis James’s first marriage); and Debra Gauge and Herbert Marone (from the third marriage.) As I’m descended from the second marriage, we had the entire family represented. My friend Barbara Bergren, who is writing her own amazing family story, attended. One of the veterans from my writing workshop made the trek from Willimantic. Vassar Club members came out in force. And several of fellow hikers from the Twain-Twichell walks also put in an appearance.

The Twain house presentations feature students learning American Sign Language and who come to the events to practice. What a great service!

The only challenge was the lack of a sound system. Had it been merely addressing a roomful of people, there would have been no problem, but the noise from the refrigeration unit made for serious competition. I reached wa-a-ay back to my acting classes and projected as best I could.

I spoke about “Servants in the Family: Evolving Views,” concerning my James family’s rise from slavery and the connection to the Nook Farm neighborhood.


  • The audience found the family’s choice of names just as confusing as I did the first time out – pairs of Willises and Charleys and Harrys and a handful of Annas.
  • They loved the autographs of the Clemens family and gasped when I said later signatures included one signed “Edward R.,” who was known at the time as HRH Edward VIII.
  • I plugged Steve’s biography Joseph Hopkins Twichell, concerning the life of Mark Twain’s best friend who occupied the pulpit at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church for more than forty years.
  • The audience seemed suitably impressed that the present generation of James descendants includes an IT specialist, a veterinarian, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and a bank examiner.
  • Uncle Charley received round of applause on the one-hundred- fiftieth anniversary of his enlistment into the Lincoln Cavalry.

The return journey was slightly less nerve-wracking because there was less traffic and less rain. The temp dropped to 32 as I pulled into the driveway.

House of Myrr-th


Blog entry on  the Mark Twain House talk will be forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s a brief post on learning and laughing at the veterans’ writing group tonight.

We discussed clichés, among them the especially painful Christmas versions, which usually induce twitching.  We segued into a  discussion of the Three Kings, which brought up myrrh. No one seemed to know exactly what it was, so I ventured online.

Webmd  had the best take, saying that it could treat, among other ailments, “indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, cancer, leprosy, spasms, and syphilis.”

And “is applied directly to the mouth for soreness and swelling, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, canker sores, bad breath, and chapped lips. It is also used topically for hemorrhoids.” It is apparently also aromatic.

After the hysteria abated, I announced that I had figured out what the gifts were for. Gold was obvious. The other two were to remove or at least cover the odors of the manger.

Clichés Continued

Basking in the glow of the fabulous reception I got at the Mark Twain House. Thank you, everyone!

I should preface this entry by observing that clichés may not be the target of complete derision when spoken. They are inexcusable if one has the time to write, and hence to think.


Here’s the rest of my list.

  • It is what it is. (To which I always want to reply, “No, it’s not.”)
  • Little did he know … (This comes courtesy of Lit Reactor,  which cites Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code as a perpetrator. I regret to say I have read that one.)
  • 24/7. (with or without “365”)
  • It’s not rocket science. (Well, what is it?)
  • paradigm shift (Best use of the “p” word, stenciled on the sidewalk outside Wesleyan’s science library: “Brother, can you spare a paradigm?”)
  • thinking outside the box (Best variation: illustration of a litter box with some “product” on the floor, two cats looking at a third, one saying “Someone’s thinking outside the litter box again.”)
  • at the end of the day
  • comparing apples to oranges
  • elephant in the room
  • monkey on my back
  • to make a long story short. (Good version: “to make a long story unbearable.”)
  • the whole nine yards (I don’t know what that phrase means).
  • Keep on keeping on.
  • whole new level
  • the size of Rhode Island (Please stop picking on the poor little state.)
  • slow as molasses in January
  • (which brings up a raft of clichés used by menu creators and food writers with a nod to Grubstreet):
    • cooked to perfection
    • savor
    • melt in your mouth
    • –tastic
    • –licious



Christy Billings, my colleague at the veterans’ writing workshop,  suggested we do a session on clichés. Thank you, I think. Because my speech at the Mark Twain House is occupying most of my brain cells at present I’ll share my list today and tomorrow. I will spare you my least least favorites, which are all the Christmas-related sayings.

First the definition: an overused or hackneyed expression, usually a lazy way of writing. The term comes from the French word used to describe the sound that a mold with letters on it made when it was dropped into hot lead to make a printing plate. The plate itself was also called a cliché or stereotype.

The image comes from Urban Dictionary,  which says that the Twilight series is one multi-volume cliché. And no, I haven’t read any of the books.

Here are my least favorites, mostly culled from TV “news” people:

  • Old habits die hard.
  • Rain did not dampen …
  • Time will tell.
  • low-hanging fruit
  • Three times is the charm.
  • “… from Hell,” as in the date from, the movie, etc.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. (Aside from being a tired phrase, it’s not true, per Larry.)
  • having said that
  • herding cats (Let’s use mountain lions from now on.)
  • due diligence (unless one is complying with a contract)
  • kick the can …
  • at the end of the day
  • going forward (I actually heard “to go forward going forward.”)

To be continued…

Colbert Bio


I spent too much time involved with preparing my speech – and then fell into this “Bio” of Stephen Colbert.

If you only watch one clip, check out Caitlin Flanagan talking about rape culture at U. of Va. following publication of her March article in The Atlantic on  fraternities. If you only watch two, watch him geek out on The Lord of the Rings.


@ MoMA


This post went up in 2010 but was swallowed by the great Bluehost maw. It’s been a punctuation sort of week, so here’s the repost.

I love the idea that the Museum of Modern Art has added @ to its architecture and design department. MoMA explained what it was up to, but a substantial percentage of the commenters were upset, some vitriolic. I’m not sure why. After all the “architecture and design” area already includes a Q-tip and the chrome flush-valve from a public toilet.

Perhaps it was the fact that MoMA was adding a symbol and not an object. But the museum did this before, too, with performance art, as Paola Antonelli pointed out in her blog post. Surely it’s not because no money changed hands.

I’ll not be making a special trip to NYC to see “@” even though the museum will be featuring it in different typefaces. I can do that on my own computer. Nevertheless I think the idea is brilliant.

The tongue-in-cheek NYTimes consideration of other symbols fails. $ and & have always been in common use. One of the appealing features of @ for the curators was its ancient, neglected heritage. It is thousands of years old but did not come into daily use until Ray Tomlinson devised the convention for email messages in 1971. Then it didn’t become ubiquitous till most of the western world acquired personal computers.

Conversely, emoticons don’t stand up to the new/old test because the colon with closed parenthesis added didn’t exist until the P.C. became even more ubiquitous. I just made the upsetting discovery that when one types that colon with the closed paren, it embeds an ugly little smiley face in the text. Yuk. That little beast approaches the dreadfulness of the late unlamented Clippie.

If another symbol is going to join the section, it will probably be #. It’s old: standing for numbers. It’s also stylishly italic and new, signifying a Twitter hash-tag.

As far as I can see, there is only one major drawback for the “at” symbol. A search for @ produces almost as many hits as the word Google.