Saturday, March 5, 2005

Word Jumble

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing ONE letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are some of this year's winners:

1. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people, that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

I tried a few myself. Here is what I came up with:

Contempo: The rate of speed at which disapproval turns to disgust.

Contamidation: The simultaneous act of polluting one’s body and being damned to eternal punishment for it.

Bumbilical: When two people become awkwardly joined together.

Conformite: A person of small mind who acts in accordance with prevailing social values. They can live in great numbers, infesting a community.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

My HGTV Obsession

What is it about all those decorating shows on HGTV that I find so compelling? I’ve watched Designer Guys, Design on a Dime, Holmes on Homes, Designed to Sell, Renovation Warriors, My First Place, Kitchen Renovation, Design Inc — all with intense interest. I can watch HGTV for hours at a time, while my daughter sleeps and dishes remain piled in the sink.

Pretty soon I am making plans. If we knock down this wall, freshen up the living room with a light coat of paint, then reupholster the chairs in a fun retro floral print… my husband usually cuts me off about here. “Wait, wait” he is always telling me. “We can’t knock down supporting structures, and besides, we don’t have the money to do all this.” Blah, blah, blah. He is such a downer, ruining all my fun. I’m only dreaming. But that is the thing with HGTV. The shows are designed to make you want to want more. My kitchen just isn’t up to standard. Who cares that it is functional, I want more space and more light and more expensive hardwood floors.

I have never been one to get caught up in celebrity culture, wanting the designer clothes and expensive purses that this or that actress wears. I purposely eschew such blatant materialism, and yet, when I thought about it, HGTV isn’t that different. It is like one really long commercial, broke up into half hour segments. How did I not notice this before? They, being the large conglomerate companies that sponsor these shows, are trying to convince me a need a larger kitchen and an industrial styled faucet with pull out spray function. They have fooled me.

I don’t buy beauty magazines because they make me feel that I am not pretty enough. And now, I will have to ban HGTV, because their shows are giving my house an inferiority complex. And I am not alone in this. After a few casual conversations with some friends, I realize the affect these shows are having on everyone — reno envy. Why don’t we all just take a few breaths and really look around. We are living better than our parents and considerably better than our grandparents. Thank god for washing machines and microwaves, but despite our many upgrades, we never seem to be happy with what we have. We want more and when we get it, we want even more. So I am suggesting a mantra we can all say when we are swept up in marketing mayhem: “my life is full enough.” The truth is we do not need heated tile floors in our bathrooms. These are luxuries that few can really afford, and the rest of us would have to go into debt or sacrifice our retirement savings to get them. If I watch HGTV again, I will silently repeat the mantra when I feel my mind starting to go on a whirlwind house renovation — my life is full enough.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Author Photos: You’re a Star Baby

Author photographs help sell books, or so I’ve been told. When people pick up a book and read the description on the back cover they look for an image of the author, and what they expect to see is someone who looks literary. This is where the clich├ęs start: glasses give off an intellectual air, perhaps a hand under the chin, and there should be stacks of books in the background. Poets should have loose wild hair and a bohemian style, maybe add a bangle or two. The more serious and solemn the book, the more austere and beaten down the writer should look. Attractiveness in the literary world is not necessary and may even be viewed with suspicion. Disheveled is better.

We are a visual culture, and although unconsciously we make judgments based on these visual cues, do readers really expect to learn something about the author’s private thoughts through a picture? These posed and stylized images are of the public persona. It makes no more sense to do this, than to assume the “I” in a book is really the author.

I recently picked up a book from my shelf, one I was given as a gift some years ago and kept meaning to read. When I looked at the author photo I was so shocked, and laughed so hard, I thought I might pee. Here was an esteemed professor, at New York University’s Biology Department, bare-chested with a cascading waterfall running over him like he was a Calvin Klein underwear model. How on earth did they convince this man to do something so foolish? Yes, he looks good, but the poor sucker must have gotten quite the ribbing from his colleagues.

I’m sure I am not the only one to see through this marketing ploy. He is a philosopher and one with nature, as elemental as the rocks he is leaning against, but as far as academia goes, could anyone take this guy serious after looking at that ridiculously staged photograph? Marketing gurus tell us that an author photo should exude the qualities the book itself exemplifies, but for me the more an author photo tries to convince me of its connection to the text, the more laughable the result.