Bienvenidos and welcome to the blog of Manda Newlin, professional writer/copyeditor, amateur pop-culture quipper and perennial observer. I’m nuts about words, grammar, bookstores, foreign accents, DVR and iTunes. I enjoy one-on-one conversations, eavesdropping in coffee shops, learning other peoples’ life stories and discovering universal truths. Here’s what I know ….

Friday, August 31, 2007

I may not be invisible after all ...

There’s a great line in “The Princess Diaries” where the main character, in all her bad-hair, bespectacled blandness, laments to her friend, “Somebody sat on me again.” (It happens early on, before she gets a makeover and turns into beautiful Anne Hathaway.)

While I’ve never been sat upon by a stranger, I have had enough similar experiences to make me feel invisible at best, not worth remembering at worst.

Two recent examples:

  1. A woman at the YMCA, with whom I shared a 40-minute conversation, looked at me with ZERO recognition the very next week — and even stuck out her hand to introduce herself to me. I could recall her name (first and last), her kids’ names and ages and how she met her husband, but she didn’t remember speaking to me face to face for 40 minutes!

  2. The chick in a small-group meeting, who, after sitting across from me every week for 18 consecutive months, asked if I was joining the group for the first time.

Is it me? If I were more dynamic in conversation or more striking, or spoke with a cool accent, I’d register enough impact so people would at least remember my name, even incorrectly. Right?!

But now there’s some relief for me — and you, if you’re a fellow invisible — in the form of an actual medical condition called prosopagnosia. People who don’t like words with more than two syllables call it “face blindness.”

Essentially, the condition impairs a person’s ability to recognize faces. Prosopag…, er, face blindness can render the afflicted unable to identify even people they’ve known for years. According to a study published by The American Journal of Medical Genetics, as many as one in 50 people have some degree of face blindness. (And it so happens many of them are clustered in my township.)

Sadly, there’s no medical treatment. Those who have it rely on cues like hairstyle, voice or context to recognize family, friends and neighbors (or perhaps fellow YMCA or small-group members).

So the next time an acquaintance flashes you that offensively blank look of non-recognition, you can chalk it up to prosopag …, uh, face blindness.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Up and at ’em – it’s boot camp time!

I’ve always had this idea that it would be ‘fun’ to go through military boot camp training: tackling relentless obstacle courses, belly-crawling through mud, shouting out “sir, yes, sir!” to spiteful drill instructors and ultimately digging deep inside myself to discover some untapped well of energy, strength and endurance.

With this in mind, I signed up in July to participate in a boot camp exercise program at a nearby church. It’s a well-run, four-day-a-week regimen of strength training, cardio workouts and distance runs/walks, topped off with a bit of prayer and praise, all between the hours of 5:15 and 6:15 a.m. For the last five weeks, I’ve sweated more before 6:30 a.m. than most people do all day.

Alas, today was my final day – and just as military recruits emerge from basic training with new perspective and insight into their physical and mental capacity, so have I:

  • Mortal people aren’t meant to be out of bed at 4:30 a.m. If the sun hasn’t bothered to get up, then neither should we.
  • The definition of a ‘heavy’ hand weight is entirely subjective.
  • It takes about 12 times longer to sweat off the calories contained in a cookie-dough Blizzard than it does to consume one.
  • I was so much better at jumping rope when I was in second grade.
  • If I can do it, anybody can.

While I didn’t come out of boot camp in the form of Jessica Alba, I do believe I’ll enlist again when the program resumes next spring. But for now, I’m going back to bed ....

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Relax, Cayman is waiting ....

The battered black suitcase had been taking up space on the bedroom floor since my husband and I returned from vacation two weeks ago. Tired of kicking, tripping and stepping over it, I decided yesterday to finally unpack the thing and return it to its rightful place in the attic. In so doing, I was rewarded with a sweet surprise. There at the bottom of the luggage, underneath some plastic bags, a pair of flip-flops and a stack of maps, was a small handful of sugary white sand I’d unwittingly imported from the pristine shores of Grand Cayman.


With sand in hand, I could practically smell the bougainvillea, taste the rum punch and feel the relentless rays we’d soaked up in July. Those crystals gave me the reminder I needed that, although my vacation (from work, from parenting, from Real Life) had ended, Cayman would continue on. The idyllic island will wait – tucked in the western end of the British West Indies, a piece of paradise on Earth – until the next vacation comes around. Until then, I’ll hang on to my sandy little souvenir.


God bless Cayman!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Dusting off my word collection

I learned a new word this week: breweriana. Say it with me now … brew-er-i-a-na. Doesn’t exactly dance off the tongue, does it?

The word is not listed at Dictionary.com, but it is on eBay, where I first discovered it. My husband found an old – I mean antique – collection of beer cans and liquor decanters in the garage and decided to list them for sale. Now our ragtag items are keeping company with some 24,313 other listings for beer-related signs, tins, drinkware and steins. 24,313 pieces of breweriana – all poised to take up space on shelves, in drawers and under beds!

I would just as soon purge my whole house of collectibles – knickknacks, sundries, tchotchkes and all. Here’s the logic: I collect collectibles. Collectibles collect dust. I hate dust. Therefore, A + B + C = I hate collectibles.

So instead I’m going to start a collection of words … perhaps with a corkboard, some pushpins and index cards with my fave words scrawled on them. I’ll choose words with a rhythmic sound and/or an intriguing meaning – words like mystery, cattywampus, bailiwick, drum, verge, covenant and, for that matter, intrigue.

Dorky? Of course! But I’ve got company, because at least one Web site is devoted to favorite words:
http://www.myfavoriteword.com/. According to the site, James Joyce had a soft spot for “cuspidor,” a fancy name for spittoon. For Dorothy Parker, it was “check enclosed” (to which all freelance writers can relate).

But, alas, you can’t sell antique word collections on eBay, so I’ll adjourn now to check the status of my breweriana.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

TV titles are so much pun!

June is running out of steam and summer is in full swing. Naturally, the time is ripe for TV networks to begin promoting their fall programming.

One fresh entry offers a new take on the common-as-air police procedural drama. Fox’s “New Amsterdam” chronicles the life of John Amsterdam, a New York City homicide detective “cursed with immortality because he stopped the murder of a Native Indian schoolgirl in 1642 by stepping in front of a sword.”

This show is the latest in a string wherein the main character’s name appears in the title as part of a cliché or idiom. Other prime(time) examples: “Grey’s Anatomy” (Dr. Meredith Grey), “Saving Grace” (Det. Grace Hanadarko), “Crossing Jordan” (Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh) and “King of the Hill” (Hank Hill).

I haven’t decided whether this convention is clever and catchy – or indulgent and irritating ... just like newspaper and magazine articles with gaggingly cute headlines. (So help me, if I see another environmentally friendly piece titled “It’s easy bein’ green,” I can only pray I’m close to a defibrillator.)

Nevertheless, I understand why TV scriptwriters do this, because the daily pressure to join old words in new ways can be grueling. And it’s a surprisingly easy approach to developing concepts.

Play along at home by brainstorming a list of popular phrases and then imagining how each one could play out on the small screen. Consider, if you will, my humble contributions:

  • Pike’s Peak,” with Julia Pike as an overachieving businesswoman whose just-as-she-likes-it life is upended by the arrival of her estranged sister’s precocious teenage daughter (as if there’s any other kind of teenage daughter on TV).
  • Lame Duck,” featuring James ‘The Duck’ Duckworth as a cutthroat, jerky-but-genius litigator who juggles intense career pressures while dealing with a mangled right leg. (Think “House” in a courtroom.)
  • Robert’s Rules of Order,” about U.S. Sen. Robert T. McAllister, a political heavyweight who is being groomed for the presidency – but whose personal life is secretly in shambles. (You see, the title is ironic.)

Like ’em? Have your people call my people …. We’ll do lunch.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Hyatt's kinda mellow, but Radisson totally rocks ....

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts announced this spring it will feature “unique music collections that reflect local music flavor for guests to enjoy on property and at home.” It’s something like a soundtrack – or an auditory scrapbook – of your vacation.

The firm is piloting the program in two Southwest locations, with handpicked playlists subtly transmitted in common areas, spas and eateries. The music is available online, too, so enchanted guests can download, listen and evoke fond memories of the Hyatt long after their suntans have faded.

The program makes spectacular sense considering the heavy-gauge link that connects music and memories. Research studies have demonstrated that music stimulates certain parts of the brain – most notably the tiny cranial shoebox where our memories are stored.

Consider your own experience for further evidence. Exhibit A? Your first real kiss. Ten bucks says you remember the song playing in the background (assuming you weren’t snogging in silence). For me, it was Sir Jon Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” – way, way, way before Blake Lewis reinvented it. (Sadly, the title had not even a micron of irony.)

It’s amazing, really, the way a song can evoke a memory as vividly as any photograph can:
  • Take “Swingtown” by Steve Miller Band. A couple of beats into it, and I’m on the backseat hump of my parents’ yellow Subaru, wedged between my brother and sister, on some drumstick-straight Midwestern highway, bound for adventure in the Rockies.
  • Cue up “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls, and I’m in my freshman-year dorm room with my best friends, cackling to the point of incontinence.
  • “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” by Destiny’s Child carries me to Grand Cayman Island, close enough to the Caribbean to feel its salty spray and breathe in bougainvillea. Sigh ….

Words, music, memories – all are intangible elements that, when joined, become beautifully indelible.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hour time to shine!

“Sleeping is giving in,
no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in,
so lift those heavy eyelids.”
--Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire

I’ve had this gem of a tune playing on repeat for the last ten minutes or so – and how apropos. Now, perched on the verge of June, the serotonin is flowing freely and, as the great poet Alice Cooper once said, “School’s out for summer.”

DST is keeping Old Man Sunshine up late, and we’d all be wise to follow suit. After all, one of the top perks of adulthood is choosing your own bedtime. (Other key benefits: walking around outside in socks, standing with the fridge door wide open and spoiling your dinner with cookies and/or chips).

Just imagine what you could accomplish this summer if you shaved off a nightly hour of sleep!
You could:

  1. Crawl under the sheets with a book and a flashlight. (What you do with them is totally up to you.)

  2. Watch two consecutive reruns of “Scrubs” on TBS.

  3. Write a letter to your congressman/woman. You know, just to say “hi.”

  4. Pray for world peace. And for your own peace.

  5. Read this blog six times.

  6. Learn a new language. Portuguese, Polish and Punjabi are three possibilities – and there are, like, 6797 more to choose from!

  7. Hold an uninterrupted conversation with your significant other. Or your mom. Or your kid.

  8. Listen to the above-referenced song by Arcade Fire 11.5 times.

  9. Get an aromatherapy massage (assuming you can find a salon that keeps late hours).

  10. Turn off everything electronic – and discover true silence.

If you’ve got other brilliant ideas, be sure to let me know!

Now that I’ve consumed today's extra hour with this little exercise, it’s my time to hit the sack. If I hurry, I may be able to catch the end of “Scrubs.”