Dictionary Therapy

Becalmed. A useful word: to render motionless for lack of wind. To make calm or still: soothe. I am becalmed, though not at all soothed, because of the heat as much as the lack of breeze. But it's deeper than that. I'm having one of those weeks; I can't get traction on anything. I woke at dawn only to find my world shrouded in a warm fog. Exactly like the fog in my heart.

I'm annoyed that tiny webs of mold seem to have bloomed overnight on the muffins I planned to eat for breakfast. They got too hot in their airless plastic bag. There must be a better way to keep them. In the refrigerator, for starters. I suppose I will have to throw them all away; the webs don't even microwave off. But maybe the mold isn't so bad. I mean, what is all over cheese? I can't bear the thought of turning on the oven and baking another batch. Weirdly, when I wandered outside with my morning tea, I noticed that similar mats of fine webbing have made a patchwork all over the garden. My plants are veiled. The garden is behind a scrim. What creature makes these things? And who works so quickly? They were not there when I said goodnight. I will have to contact Leslie Brunetta, who wrote the book about spiders, and who told me that hummingbirds actually do use spider silk in their nests.

I am going to have to build myself a better mood, word by word. I suppose the place to start is with some definitions. Some connections, words to feelings. I'm too lazy to toggle through the Internet, and I'm annoyed that I always look words up online rather than comb through actual pages, where I never know what I'm going to stumble on. Luckily, my dictionary is on a shelf right behind me; I hardly have to swivel my chair to reach it.

Becalmed. Other words hovering in my mind this morning: torpor--a state of mental or physical inactivity or insensibility. I would like to continue to blame the heat, but honestly, I have lost my daily rhythm, lost groundedness, which comes of too much time in airports and on highways. Right below torpor comes torquate, having a ringlike or collarlike band or marking about the neck. Torquate makes me sad, because my gentleman caller, Mr. Ringneck Pheasant, has completely disappeared. OK, I left first, but I left behind plenty of birdseed for his dinners. To no avail. I've come back home, but he no longer comes around. I no longer hear his creaky call. I can only hope that he hasn't met a sad end, what with all the strutting about and showing off. I miss him. The birdfeeder hangs empty, unused. More desuetude.

And lassitude--a feeling of weariness, diminished energy, or listlessness. Well, I did stay up until 2 in the morning, reading Patricia Cornwell and eating graham crackers. Then I woke at 5:30, wondering how men become murderers and torturers of women. And, I was annoyed by the sharp crumbs in my bed. No wonder I am listless, and becalmed. But there on the page before me is a picture of a white-haired gent working wood with a lathe; his concentration is admirable, and so are his glasses. This picture must be from the fifties or sixties. He looks nice, not at all like a murderer, but like the sort of guy who might make a table for his children, a table that they would pass on to their children. They would reminisce about his workbench, and how neatly organized it was, and how he took such care of his tools...and now that he is too frail to make furniture, they have no idea what to do with all that equipment, those jars of nails, the thirty different screwdrivers. Why didn't they learn more from him when he was around to teach them?

But there, hovering over the man and his lathe, is lateen, (rigged with a triangular sail), for those days during which one is not becalmed. Meaning, there's hope for me yet. But better words--and better bedtimes, and better eating habits, and better reading habits--would help. For now, the dictionary is a good start.


pve design said...

There is something about the heat and the hot pursuit of feeling as though one must be accomplishing or moving, when as my mother loves to say, "so hot, not even a leaf is stirring" -
Perhaps we shall all be inspired by the Queen's NY visit and her composure on a one hundred degree day.

Debbie Hemley said...

Hi Dominique,
I enjoyed reading the article about you in today's G Section of The Boston Globe .

While I was reading a post, the one for today was published. I'm a blogger by profession and always love seeing what people create in this medium. You have a very beautiful presence here. I love the content and the photographs.

Being a word person I found myself curious about which dictionary it is. Not that it should matter but nevertheless, I wondered!

I'm so glad to see that you have the archives of years of work at House & Garden. I look forward to reading more and of course, checking out your new book.

I hope for today you can find serenity in the inactivity on this beautiful summer day.

Debbie Hemley

Tamra said...

How nice to see someone actually opening up a real dictionary and not using the online version!

I love dictionaries. I have several vintage ones that lie around the house. I use them frequently and I find them interesting. Too many people just jump online instead of opening a book, turning the pages, letting their eyes skim the pages taking in so many other words as they search for the exact one they need.

Great post. Now, keep going through that dictionary until you find just the right word to give your brain a fresh breeze to clear that fog.

The Gilded Barn

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

That's my favourite word for these sorts of days.
I will say that, unfortunately, I am on the same late night reading schedule as you. It is incredibly difficult to be perky and bright at seven when one has stayed up reading till two. But it's just so tempting to read in bed, late at night, with a big sleeping dog at one's side.

ceecee said...

And you have made me feel better today with this marvelous post. Thank you.

Unknown said...

"If you try to avoid or remove the awkward quality, it will pursue you. The only effective way to still its unease is to transfigure it, to let it become something creative and positive that contributes to who you are.
Nietzche said that one of the best days in his life was the day when he rebaptized all his negative qualities as his best qualities. Rather than banishing what is at first glimpse unwelcome, you bring it home to unity with your life…..One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness towrd them. In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualiites"
— John O'Donohue (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Anonymous said...

a state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing

Dear sweltering hot Dominique [please say you have at least one working box fan per room], this is the loveliest reverie I've read in years, in fact you have raised the reverie bar despite your physical misery. This post resonates with the same signature kindness and generosity of heart you gave us monthly at H&G. May boils, pestilence and famine fall upon SI Newhouse!

Dominique said...

Just reading these comments makes me feel better. I'm encouraged by Pamela Terry and Edward--so glad I'm not the only one up late reading...and yes, ennui...another splendid word...I'm using the American Heritage Dictionary (third edition) and THANK YOU Debbie, for the kind remarks about the blog--I'm loving the visual challenge almost as much as the writing, and as I've never had a camera before, the learning curve has been steep. Wouldn't you know I would discover that I love taking pictures AFTER my sons have grown up and left home.... PVE design, ah, yes, the composure of a queen. I will ponder it. Meantime, treat yourself to Alan Bennett's novel about how the queen cures her ennui by reading....! Thank you all for such a lift!

Väva! Veve! said...

You capture and express what so many are trying to formulate. I am relieved to read that you are not always so positive (perky is a difficult attitude to stand beside) and that life, in the short term gets to you too. I am not happy that you are experiencing the doldrums, only relieved to read that you, like all of us, have a few of those not so good days too.

Jacqueline's quote (above)expressed it perfectly! Embrace those things in and about you that you do not consider good, and make them work for you. Nevermind the muffins! Today is a great day for making yogurt!!

Leslie Brunetta said...


Beautiful post. As an inveterate dictionary reader (who grew up on American Heritage, in a house up the road from Mike Pender's pheasant farm), I've often dug out from under, word by word.

I'm not sure taking active measures counts, but if you can coax one of the tiny spiders off the miniature sheets in your garden and onto your hand, your mood might brighten because, according to English superstition, you're sure to come in to good fortune. Your weavers are known there as money spiders. (All us writers should come and lie flat in your garden and hope for the best.) They belong to the family Linyphiidae, one of the numerically largest spider families. Webs like these are probably in your garden every morning, but the fog settling on them brought them into view. What I find most interesting about the linyphiids is that their webs evolved after the orb web, after the kind of web you posted back on June 4.

If you go out tomorrow morning and spray an ultrafine mist over your garden, the webs will probably reappear, as if from nothing. I almost guarantee that if you get out there with a blade of grass and a magnifying glass and try to tickle a linyphiid out into its web, you'll have a better day--even if all you get is a closer view of the web.

Best wishes,
Leslie Brunetta

Anonymous said...

Love the post. The last time I felt that way I was pre-diabetic:) Changed eating habits and within 2 weeks back to my energetic self. Hope it was the heat:) Great writing as always. I can see your spirit in your writing and I like what I see.

Barbara said...

I see you have succulents in your east coast garden. What do you do with them in cold weather?

Cristina said...

"Do hid the far things, you impalpable and pale fog, hid the far things that are drunken with tears"
(Giovanni Pascoli)
/hopefully it's not a too bad translation.../

Cristina said...

I was especially moved by your idea that the "white-haired gent working wood" sons were regretting that they hadn't cared enough about their dad's passion (when it wasn't too late).

mary said...

I, too become disturbed when I become "becalmed'--but have finally learned that, for me, it is simply a period of rest in preparation for a spurt of inspiration and activity. It is as if my soul says: "enough already." Thanks for sharing these intimate frustrations. Mary

Vivien said...

Thanks for expressing the occasional (hopefully!) lassitude most of us feel. Probably in hot weather nature "wants" us to do less. Here in S. England it was about 28 degrees Celsius today, less hot than in parts of the USA, but thank goodness I didn't have to rush about as in former years.

There's a wonderful dictionary - you probably know of it or have it - Roget's Thesaurus: lists of synomyms and related words - always in print. Besides being helful in a literary way, it reads as a fascinating compilation of human experience!

Dominique said...

The succulents in my garden winter over; so far, they are all hardy.

Richard Childs said...

Your becalmed, kayaking and three things learned from being caught in a current while swimming (Globe and Mail, "A job lost, a life gained", July 12, 2010) references resonated deeply. I'd like to share my Slow Love Life experience in a poem with a Canadian twist.

Kayaking Georgian Bay Canadian Shield 2006
by Richard Childs

Part 1 - Water Downer

Fully Georgian Bay exposed,
struggling against whitecaps
pounding rhythmically broadside.
Driving winds, rain darts horizontal
battering and hunkering us down.

Rudder broke, dangling - tracking arduous
- slamming tripled strokes, leeward solely.
Solely to evade shore Canadian Shield,
as forward progress scarcely perceptible.

Turbulence, rain, mono-gray, psyche
shroud rocks lurking hard by surface
- unseen menaces sharpen fear self-talk.
Flagging mentally, physically
falling further, further behind…

Part 2 - Moving Waters

Approaching point - sounds… singing?
Rounding - words blurred, still too far.
Nascoot River mouth - sheltered, calmer;
distance, emotional separation shrinking.

On shore, four distant kayak campers,
rain-lashed, saluting at attention, still,
belted heartfelt O Canada. Saluting
our adventure, country, precious nature,
the Canadian way of being we shared.

In that place, that becalmed moment
life, values and love affair re-affirmed.
Our hearts sated, paddling re-energized
overwhelmingly proud Canadians.

Canada Day, two thousand and six.