Word games and why

I like to do crosswords and other word puzzles. I once heard another poet say he does them to keep a flow of words through his mind. I used this principle a few months ago when I wanted to write a poem to send to a competition. The word “newness” in a puzzle gave me the idea: it was just before surgery, and the poem is called “The Promised Hip.”

I would rather do my own creative work than put the required intense energy into really difficult puzzles. I prefer those of medium difficulty. My purpose is to idle, to be meditative, to take a break from serious pursuits.

My favourites are cryptograms, quotations that are printed in a code where each letter is represented by a different letter of the alphabet. For example, “book” could be printed as “akkn” or “twwd.” Most cryptogram books have really good quotations, so I find that solving them is worth the work. I recently came across one by Cardinal Richelieu that chilled my heart: “Show me six lines written by the most honourable of men and I will find something there to put him in prison.”

More on clothing

From the frightening to the more mundane: someone at a recent Mensa event, in response to my column, said it was brave of me to print what I think. She was likely referring to my comments about clothing and style. Here is more on that subject.

It is easy to think in extremes, that one’s only choice is to be either a slob or else perfectly turned out, with the time, effort, expense, and discomfort that may entail. But there are alternatives on the sloppy-slick continuum.

A slob is often a person who considers that paying any attention to personal appearance implies a lack of seriousness, a lack of anything “better” to think about. I find this attitude unfortunate. When we look good we feel good and others respond positively to us.

(I once went so far as to claim that a physical slob is a mental slob. I said that to a friend when we were leaving a poetry reading in a pub. Then on the subway I caught sight of my own rumpled clothes reflected in a window and was duly embarrassed.)

Surely the ideal is a happy medium, clothes which are reasonably neat and clean and appropriate to the occasion. Though I greatly enjoy the aesthetic aspects of clothing, I don’t trust the other extreme, slickness. In the presence of a person ostentatiously dressed to kill I am wary, assuming an intention to impress or manipulate in some other way.

Are these judgments too hasty? I refer you to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, about rapid cognition.

Feedback from readers of Adventures, Opinions, and Imaginative Forays, #6

One reader frequently uses the word “mighty” in a book he is writing about inner strength and happiness. As to the ephemeralness of e-text and tee-shirts, a second reader points out that tattoos are an attempt at permanence.

A third reader says she has always been fascinated by the relationship of literacy and power. At one time scribes and those in possession of the ability to read and write were part of an elite group associated with gods and kings. She compares that to graffiti, which she sees as a kind of secret language in which she is completely illiterate. She has taken risks to get to the sites where she can document graffiti with her camera.

Further to my trying to read the tee-shirt of a man on a bus, a fourth reader points out there are many conclusions that can be reached from this incident. For example, that buses are evil.



This article came out in the September-October, 2013 issue of Montage: The Toronto Mensa Newsletter with the announcement that it would be my last. I was surprised to find on the facing page an article by a contributor who was inspired by what I had written about tee-shirts to offer his own opinions.

I see in his article an unfortunate and unnecessary rift between the between the aesthetic and the intellectual. He mentions how carefully he chooses his tee-shirts according to their wit and appropriateness to the venue. That totally missed my point that an important purpose of clothing is to enhance the body, rather than treat it as merely the support for an overt message, no matter how clever. Wearing a tee-shirt that disregards the aesthetic and sensual aspects of clothing is, to me, the equivalent of wearing a sandwich board or carrying a sign, albeit more comfortable.

The author of the article also pointed out that the usual spelling was “T-shirt,” after the shape of the garment. I’m glad to know about this origin. I suppose I unthinkingly chose the alternative spelling because I like to save capital letters for Special Things.