When my friend Summer asked me what I wanted for my birthday I told her I wanted a dictionary. "That's not very exciting," she told me. From this reaction I realized this was not a gift anyone would want to give me. So I took my lanky self down to Black Oak with an empty book-bag. When I called them I quizzed the salesperson about the O.E.D. I had seen one at Dog Eared Books, but it was the condensed version. Very condensed, like when you opened a page it looked like Chuck Close meets Jackson Pollack. It came with a magnifying glass the size of a graham cracker. O no, I thought, this is not for me. When I spoke with the Black Oak fellow he said that the full OED could be ordered for me. It would be $1200. I gasped! Words have become so expensive.
And words are heavy. I walked away with the second best, the Webster's New International Second Addition. He said that the 2nd addition was the one. That Webster's had messed up the third edition and it was not to be trusted. A believer of experts, I handed over my money.
When I was sitting on the dusty wood floor at Dog Eared I looked up the same word in all their dictionaries. INEFFABLE. This is when you can see that not all books with words in them are created equal. A few dictionaries completely left out this word, and others left you feeling like you might walk away misusing the word for the rest of your life. Like nonplussed. It doesn't mean what you think it does. But people like to misuse it because it sounds like it should mean something less than ambivalent.
Decadent is not a nice thing to say. Please don't ever put it near any of my desserts, even really dense chocolate ones. And once I tried to say that my pudding was unctous but I had to change it to suave when I finally believed my mama that unctous was not a compliment to my pudding. My mother is a walking OED. She knows about grammar and spelling and words like no body's business. You can count on her to find the typos on a menu in under half a nanosecond.
I recently wrote a small email to the reporter who covered the amazing work of The People's Grocery in the SF Chronicle. The subject line read, "one word's usage." But it bounced back. Too bad, I was really looking for an answer. The word healthy is constantly misused. Food is never healthy. People are healthy and food is healthful. I wanted to know if he intentionally misused the word because we lazy Americans have changed it, or if the change is official and I can stop being mad at all my food magazines.
The word that I have been thinking about a lot lately is CRAFT. I graduated from a college that recently chose to butcher its name, excluding this very word. I have been a bit forlorn about it, and sometimes downright angry. I guess that according to them craft is not very sexy, sleek, or modern enough to bring them into the next century. I take offense to this. What this stolen country needs more of is craft and the humble respect for it. In my dictionary the #1 definition is one simple brave word: STRENGTH. "2a. Art or skill; dexterity as in some manual employment; aptitude; skillfulness in planning or executing. "
In art school craft meant useful as well as pleasing aesthetically. So what does useful mean? In pottery it means that the vessel can hold water. But photography has turned out to be pretty darn useful, n'est pas? And what about dance? Or music? For me all art has proved useful. From an early age I began to think about art as language. But delving deeper, that as creatures we speak thousands of languages. In movement, voice, love, commerce, (monetary and not), touch, taste, ad infinitum. When cats and dogs meet they touch noses. They are exchanging information, this is a silent language. Elephants mourn their deceased and have entire physical rituals that they perform on their loved ones' grave sites. To me, this is language.
A chef I worked for recently said that for her it was important to get very quiet in the kitchen. So that she could hear the food, it's communications. I have a hard time putting words to my food until I feel I have completed some sort of thought process, and a joining with the ingredients. Stonemasons learn stone, electricians befriend electricity. As craftsmen we work to understand our medium, we both work to take dominion as well as let the organic nature of our substance turn around and continue to teach us. For every one question answered and supposed to be understood, a thousand more question spores bloom. Our bodies and minds become a vehicle for the transmission of inspiration, and we remain forever humble.
Craft is what I do in the kitchen. It's what I do when I knit, and write. Craft is the language from which I get my words to talk about how much I love what eggs do, how butter tastes, how salt heightens flavour, how a sharp knife is as beautiful as the most sensual caress.
Craft is being the apprentice and becoming the master. It's learning the hands teaching the mind. It's body memory.