I was going to entitle this "sick thoughts at 4:00 a.m.," but they really aren't sick, just off-kilter, which I typically am.
Most nights when I have insomnia, I just try to burrow deeper in the dark blankies, wear a sleep mask (which is almost always completely light-permeable), hold onto a security pillow and rock a little. The rocking was not original to me, but my DH does it relentlessly and despite the annoyance I glean from his rocking, I sometimes find my own small foot wiggle is rather comforting and sometimes successful as a lulling tool. I definitely don't sleep, but I do achieve a sort of comfortable repose.
Anyway, the other night I had such hopeless sleeplessness that I just decided to throw in the blanket and sit up and turn on a reading light and read a little. But my own thoughts came buzzing in, distracting me from "The Secret Life of Bees." I was thinking about words that for some reason do not look right to me.
teargas (tee-ar-gus?) (tee Argus?) Argosy . . . Wide Sargasso Sea (I am a little sleepy, just not able to go all the way to sleep.
This one has thrown me for a loop ever since I first saw it:
biopic Many people are myopic. Or even cyclopic ("I can hardly believe my eye!"). But "biopic" doesn't look to me anything like what it is. It seems to be an ocular condition that fits just dandy with the other ones. I am always surprised when I see that someone is to star in a biopic, or that a biopic is to be made about some celebrity or historical figure. My mind ALWAYS reads and pronounces it bi-OP-ic. Are you myopic? I'm biopic.
Now, a little more esoteric:
Why do I bother to examine it now? Oh, because I'm supposed to be sleeping. Well, I want to be sleeping! I don't have time for this three-letter anomaly bothering me in the middle of the night. Consider the marvelous concision of our communications if we did not use it. It makes me understand why whole languages dispense with articles. It has no identity and does not seem aware that it should have one. It's just an invisible lackey slinking its way into otherwise perfectly self-sufficient locutions. Why do we fall for it? I don't know. It feels awkward in your mouth, has no roundness or suppleness, and does not roll trippingly off the tongue.
Another hour of unproductive sleeplessness plunders by. I think, what are my favorite sounds? If I had favorite words, what would some of them be, and why?
It turns out that I had asked myself this many times before and the winners keep retaining their stations. I do not particularly like the letter "h" but find a strange consistency in the words I keep holding onto. It's just like hating the number "6," only in numbers "6" keeps never getting into the inner sanctum.
All-tiime favorites, some of which almost require a lithsp:
- helleborus niger
Then there's the mighty dicotyledon. "What color was her jacket?" "Oh, sort of an off-dicotyledon, you know, a little more yellow than chartreuse, a shadow off celadon."
"What was the cause of death?" "The autopsy report makes it clear that it was a rampant 36-hour infection by the dreaded amoebic dicotyledon." Not flesh-eating or anything, but still. Except that a dicotyledon is just a flowering plant with two cotyledons.
Plebeian. I love the order of the vowels. When I was a little kid I had a Persian calico cat who had previously been the red-light-district stray cat of the neighborhood but for some reason after spewing out about eight litters of kittens decided to become a domestic--at our house. She had a wonderful and cheerful personality and was more dog than cat. No matter how far away she was she would come running home when you called her (amazing). She put up with quite a bit of being dressed up as a Glamour Cat (Woolworth pearls, voile, crinoline, etc.) and riding around in carriages and other dumb things little girls do to "bond with" [read humiliate] their pets. I was always making up songs for Calico and one of them involved the word "plebeian" just so I could weave it into the song. It happened that Calico was ONCE plebeian but after she became part of our household she was actually royalty. One time my parents went out and my mother wore her fur stole and instead of hanging it up afterward tossed it on the sofa in the sewing room. In the morning we found Calico purring in the center of it. Plebeian? Certainly Not!
Don McLean has a wonderful song called "On the Amazon," in which preposterous words are deeply misunderstood and used in very funny incorrect contexts. I think one of the lines is, "On the Amazon, the prophylactics prowl!'
Oh, boy, here's part of the song [this is NOT my material; copyright belongs to Don McLean and whichever record company recorded it, and I do not for one minute claim this material is originally mine]:
On the Amazon, the prophylactics prowl.
On the Amazon, the hypodermics howl.
On the Amazon, you’ll hear a scarab scowl and sting
Zodiacs on the wing.
All the stalactites and vicious vertebrae
Hunt the stalagmites, while laryngitis slay
All the parasites that come from Paraguay in spring.
Snarling equinox among the rocks will seize you,
And the Fahrenheit comes out at night to freeze you.
Wild duodenum are lurking in the trees,
And the jungle swarms with green apostrophes!
Oh, the Amazon is calling me.
On the Amazon, the pax vobiscum bite.
On the Amazon, the epiglottis fight.
On the Amazon, the hemispheres at night all slink
Where the agnostics drink.
All the hippodromes that lie concealed in mud
Hunt the metronomes, that live in swamp and flood.
Then the kodachromes come out and drink their blood - poor ginks.
While velocipedes among the weeds will scare you,
And the menopause with hungry jaws ensnares you!
Frenzied adenoids infest the hills and slopes;
Everyone avoids the deadly stethoscopes.
Oh the Amazon is calling,
Yes the Amazon is calling,
Oh, the Amazon is calling me!
One of my favorite songs in the world. I believe I could SLEEP if I were in a jungle swarming with comforting green apostrophes. As long as they were in the right places. Otherwise I'd be up all night editing them. And I'm a bit worried about the pax vobiscum biting.
Then we come to another fabulous word, o-n-o-m-a-t-o-p-o-e-i-a.
Are you asleep yet? I'm not, more's the pity.
I try this:
o n o m a t o p o e i a
Only four consonants to hold this baby together! And it sounds like itself. How delightful. Do I have a vowel obsession? I dunno. Is it diagnosable?
Here it is. I think it has some merit. It might have potential to sail me off with the sandman. The word:
M O N O T O N O U S
Even though I am wearing a black sleep mask, I see its letters as if projected on the ceiling. I chant it silently to myself, slowly: mo-no-to-nous, mo-no-to-nous, mo-no-to-nous . . .
Just by thinking of it and nothing else, I envision myself falling asleep. It is so monotonous, so like itself.
But my body can feel the precise time of morning somehow, which always throws me into insomniac hyperdrive. I first slept at 12:30, first woke at 1:30 and have been up until at least 4:30; that's only a couple of hours before everyone's alarms go on, and if their alarms don't go on I have to jump up and hustle them awake on time to get to school or drive to early jazz band practice . . . two hours isn't much to sleep, but it sure would be precious . . . But if I try to sleep now I'll just worry that I'll sleep through their alarms . . . I have to be awake for them . . . Then I'll have to get up and start calling them down . . .
Every night and morning is like this. No sleep at night but worry. M-O-N-O-T-O-N-O-U-S.
But instead of easing shut for, at best, a half-hour nap, my eyelids are banging open like Colonial shutters in a hurricane.