Dear Final Project: An Open Letter.

posted in: Day In The Life 7
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, USA. Photo: Wikipedia.
This is sorta how I’m feeling about it. (El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, USA. Photo: Wikipedia.)


Dear Final Project For My Design For Writers Class:

It’s time we talked. Past time.

You are aware at this point that I’ve been putting you off and I apologize. It’s just that you seemed so far off and so achievable, though I knew as the weeks went by all term I should’ve been working on you or I’d face long hours (right about now) in front of a computer staring at InDesign files on my computer, drinking cup after cup of tea. Working on you just a little more here, a little more there over these months would have made such a difference, Final Project For My Design For Writer’s Class (FPFMDFWC) but instead, I did X or Y. Even Z, the ol’ caboose, got done several times over. Also, I went to Kansas City and Houston and stuff and had work.

Yes, there was always something that needed my attention just a little bit more. But the time has come to make things right. In fact, there’s zero time left to put you off longer, so here I am!

Beginning tomorrow — even though I am sick and I want to do very little but lay on this couch and have soup — I will tackle you. In case you’re not familiar with that slang term, to “tackle” a project is a good thing. It means I’m going to attack you. Okay, that doesn’t sound very good, either. You’re going to get made tomorrow. Why are you suddenly a character in Get Shorty, FPFMDFWC?

Starting in the morning, I’m going to stop thinking about you and make real progress. There are 12 pages of you to figure out and that’s not a big deal, really. I’ve worked on all kinds of magazines in my day and you’re just the latest issue — a very special issue, of course. The most special mini-magazine in the world. The most exciting, well-designed, slick n’ pretty mini-magazine that anyone ever did see. Pendennis is in it — how can it go wrong?

Please, please, please be nice to me and don’t eat my files like you did two weeks ago because that did not help the situation.

With Great Hope,
Mary (and Pendennis)

Chutzpah: If You Can’t Pronounce It …

posted in: Word Nerd 0
Matzoh ball soup. I know how to pronounce it, too! Photo: Wikipedia.
Matzoh ball soup — that’s “MOTT-zuh.” Photo: Wikipedia.


One Sunday afternoon, many years ago in Iowa City, I was trying desperately to charm my then-boyfriend’s parents.

We were all riding in his parents’ car. His dad was driving. His mother sat in front seat. Guy and I were in the back. And I did fine the majority of the trip.

The fellow I was dating at the time was a chef — a good one. When I got the job at the cafe where he cheffed, I knew nothing about food beyond Mom’s spaghetti and my young-adult version of it.* But this person, this chef, taught me how to eat. He showed me the world of fresh food beautifully prepared and it changed my life because I love my family, would die for my family, respect and value my family — but my family is not a food family. That’s okay! But when I learned how to eat (and how to cook) because of the chef, life tasted different. And I like different.

So we’re in the folks’ Beemer and Chef’s lovely, intelligent, handsome mother asks me this or that question about this or that thing. I have the occasion to use a word that I liked — liked, past tense: chutzpah. Great word. Yiddish. Means “shameless audacity, impudence.” Like, “He had the chutzpah to run for class president after pulling that stunt in gym class.” I knew how to use the word. But I didn’t know that chutzpah was pronounced “HOOTZ-pah” and ideally, one should do that Yiddish glottal cough thing with the “H” sound. I didn’t know any of that. Your hapless heroine pronounced it, “CHUTT-spa.” Hard “CHUTT.” Spa.

These people were Jewish. By the way.

Chef’s mother made this sound that was half-gasp, half-snort and turned back to look at me with kindness but great, great mirth. “Honey, you pronounce it ‘HOOTZ-pah.” I cocked my head to the side.

“Ha. Ah. I see. Well, you know, then, ha. Ha, then. It’s… She had HOOTZ-pah. For the thing. Are we close? I think we’re close.”

Over a decade! Over a decade since I said “CHUTT-spa” in a car with three Jewish people all with generous Yiddish vocabularies and I still can’t forget it. I thought about it today because I saw the word in an article and that’s a pain because the chutzpah memory starts a machine in my head that spits out all the other times I’ve mispronounced words in mixed company. I was at a fancy lunch meeting once — one example — and ordered the endive salad. I said, “I’ll have the EN-dive salad, please.” The waitress repeated back, “The ahhn-DEEVE salad?” and I wanted to stick my head under the tablecloth.

Turns out you can say “ahn-DEEVE” or “EN-dive.” Both are okay. But there’s just one chutzpah.

*Note: Both versions = amazing