… you ever read, or at least that I ever wrote! Read on…

So, I found this creative writing exercise online and was intrigued enough with one of the prompts/stories to give it a shot.  One of the mandates seems to be to make it difficult to arrive at the end.. which it should have been anyway. Else why make someone do it? But for the caveat it reminds of the a word ladder game I used to play as a kid to go from one word to another changing one letter at a time. e.g. from black to white.

black to slack to stack to stalk to stale to shale to whale to while to white

Below are a couple of one-sentence stories. Each has a beginning and an end. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to insert six steps after each beginning, making it as difficult as possible for the characters to arrive at the end. Airline strikes, evil stepmothers, phobias – whatever you like. Just make them work for it.
A couple fall in love in the supermarket and adopt a tiger

I thought I try the word game for a lark by going from “adopt” to “tiger” but couldn’t think of enough words… I mean adopt can only become adept or adapt and I got stuck beyond that, and working backwards from tiger did not work either since I can’t even think of one word (Tiber? but that’s a proper noun) so on to the main task at hand…

Couple fall in love in the supermarket [I guess I don’t need to worry about flirtation since the falling in love is done already]

Step 1.

“When did you know” she asked. “When did you figure out I was the one ?”

“Sometime between the artichokes and the cheeses,” he answered.

“How did you know so quickly?” she asked.

“It was your tiger’s eye pendant,” he said. “It’s so unusual and it matches your eyes so beautifully–I figured anyone with such unique sense of style was my kind of gal. May I take a closer look?”

To his utter dismay those same beautiful eyes suddenly  filled with tears and without a word she turned and ran.

Step 2. “Hey what’s wrong” he shouted in consternation before following in hot pursuit. “That was a compliment!”

She didn’t answer.. only ran faster. But suddenly another figure appeared out of nowhere and made a grab for her neck. She tried to dodge but unsuccessfully. The assailant had clamped her neck too tightly from behind and was now determinedly trying to work the chain with the pendant off. With another shout Leon (the guy–we don’t know his name yet, so we’ll call him that for now) jumped on his back to pry the assailant away from her. They both fell backward and rolled over but when he came to his feet, there was no trace of her.

3. “Where is she?” he demanded fiercely at the same time as the assailant, yelled “Now look what you’ve done!” Without answering the question or waiting for an answer himself the assailant darted around a corner and… disappeared. Without a trace .. just like the girl, the love of his life. Though he didn’t even know her name.

Dejectedly he turned to pick up whatever meager belongings had fallen from his pockets in his scuffle,  when he noticed a small bag–the kind one gets at a jeweler’s though he wasn’t to know that–that presumably, his assailant had dropped. Pebbles, he thought feeling them, but then remembering her pendant opened the bag to see if there were more gems. What tumbled out instead was candy. Crystalline and glittery bits of sugar, that looked sort of like her mesmerizing eyes, but were leaving his fingers sticky. “Don’t..” he heard someone say the instant before he licked a sticky finger clean and also disappeared.

4. Elsa–that was her name–didn’t know his name either–and wasn’t sure  she’d be able to find out. Having made the first dash away as fast and far as possible to escape he would-be captor, she needed to make sure she hid and stayed hidden. And hiding wasn’t easy in for a tawny-eyed tigress wearing a fortune in tiger’s eye  around her neck. Going to the local zoo was not the answer–its how Sim had found her in the first place. And while he wasn’t evil.. he was a pest and needed her tiger’s eye as badly as she did. Well.. she wasn’t going to give it up … not without a fight. Especially now that she had found him. Whatever his name was. Trouble was without human help she had no way of either hiding or changing back into human form,  Baying at the moon–that was for wolves, she thought disgustedly. Even crooning to the sun, the preferred heavenly body for the leonine, had no effect. Whatever was she to do?

“Rest” she though wearily. “First I need to rest.” Furtively she slouched along the streets when near the Public library she looked up to two stone lions resplendent in their indifference to the problems of the world. “Close enough” she thought to herself and leapt up on one of them and sunk into the stone for a much needed nap.

5. When Leon–as we shall continue to call him–came to, he was in completely unfamiliar surroundings–a cross between hall of mirrors at a carnival or department store dressing room, and a cathedral with stained glass windows, except here all the windows were stained in the golden browns and deep bronzes.

“Where am I?” he wondered bewildered, and as if in response, he heard the opening chords of the Survivor’s song (what else?), The Eye of the Tiger!

“Get up, get up” he heard a voice say. “If you want to rescue yourself and your true love you need to fight your way out of this tiger’s eye chamber.”

Completely disoriented, he got to his feet and staggered into a boxing ring that had inexplicably sprung up right in the middle of the chamber. “That’s right” said the voice. “It’s like the TARDIS–bigger on the inside.”

“Inside of what?” he asked? Instead of an answer, what should he see but a beautiful tawny tigress facing him in the ring, the patterning of her stripes a perfect match for the light that filtered through? Elsa, for it was she, was as bewildered as he to find herself there, but she unlike him was was elated. She after all, knew who he was. Joyfully, in a single bound she leapt on top of him.

“Whoa!” he said in some consternation, and tried to roll away but she was too big and too strong and too affectionate.

6. And so began a romp the likes of which had never been seen in the tiger’s eye arena, then or since. There was shape-shifting and supernatural goings on as one might expect in a fantastical story like this one, and there was also a lot of sex, which one may not think appropriate to mention, but which both parties hugely enjoyed especially since the audience had long disappeared, and by then he too had become a tiger. Or at least sometimes. Since he was a tiger now, calling him Leon no longer seems appropriate, and we should probably reveal his name, Calvin. Which was great because Elsa’s full name was E. Hobbes. And as everyone knows, Calvin and Hobbes are a magical pair.

Enjoyable as they found their life in the tiger’s eye cave, it was also limited and soon they wanted out. But they had to pay a price. Either live in staggered shapes forever, or go in for adoption (if the alternatives seem strange, remember everything about this alternate universe was strange). Furthermore they had to pay a price for the adoption–the candy–without which they could never return to this wondrous cave again. With such agreements in place they went to collect their baby, only to find out it was a baby tiger!

So they adopted the baby tiger, although it grew quickly and didn’t stay a baby for long.Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.17.33 PM Everyday they take it for a walk. Neighbors are getting quite used to the sight of the tiger on a leash. Sometimes the couple take it out and sometimes it’s just Calvin with a tiger. On such days, but only if you look closely, you might notice something different. One cannot be quite sure, what precisely the difference is, but it is there. And if you walk by the library, you’ll notice that one of the carved lions guarding the entrance has one tiger’s eye.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.18.03 PM(#31)



A  bit of playing with the forms of two rhyming words that I have been using repeatedly over the part two months. Silly but hey I found it entertaining. Think of it as a Seuss-ian moment. Or a Nash-(via Ogden)-ly impulse:

A particle is an article, but an article may also have many particles.

One could have particular article but I am not sure if there is such a thing as an articular particle.

There are also particulate articles,  but articulate particles would be very strange indeed.

While an articulated particle is entire possible, I am not sure that an article can be particulated.

But an article might have a particularity where a particle cannot have articularity.

I could go on with this article which already has several particles (of information) but fear I am running out of my powers of articulation.

But not particulation … for it doesn’t exist!

And so ends this particularly silly article. [Full stop].


A job application that I am down to the wire on in making the deadline wants me to write, in addition to the usual suspects–cover letter, research and teaching statements–a “statement of contributions to diversity.” And because I am having trouble getting started I thought it might help to free-think some ideas here (and get my weekly quota of blog writing up as well).

The main reason for my troubles with the statement is that I am not sure how to write something that won’t come off as whiny or strident, self-glorifying, trite or any number of other pejorative adjectives that I can think of in the context of the issue of writing about diversity. First there is a Duh! factor: which is that I contribute to diversity on any number of fronts just by being–I am a woman, a “mature” candidate (would I count as “post-mature” in the jargon of my social scientist colleagues I wonder) and ethnically an Indian. Even as I’m listing these features it occurs to me to create a new acronym, OBG–for “Old Brown Gal”–which just happens to bring to mind the “woman’s” doctor in medical science, the ObGyn (As I’ve said, equally sincerely in other blog posts, this pun or whatever wasn’t planned…it just happened, I swear). I also happen to be diabetic and while it does not affect my workplace activities or needs, it is still one of the featured conditions in the disabilities section of any Equal Opportunity/Demographic questionnaire.

Of course I can’t simply make that statement- “I contribute to diversity just by being” because not only is it trite, it is also simply not enough. Just being a minority does not do much, if anything, for the betterment of the community, and to be frank, I have never been much for identifying with a community based on one aspect of who/what I am. Furthermore the categories represented in the label don’t even begin to cover the gamut of issues on which we need diversity–which label is usually used for talking about women, Ethnic/racial minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBT cluster and increasingly religion. Age, which I included in the OBG category, is asked about for demographic purposes, but seems to…


Well I petered off at that point two days ago, but did manage to get the formal statement, and hence, the application completed. In the end I began by “outing” myself as an OBG, though I did not use that term. And the diversity I focused on for the bulk of the paper was linguistic diversity. Addressing the issues of ESL/EFL student support for one, and that of linguistic impoverishment (again, though I didn’t use that word) within academia and ways to address it. I also managed to sneak in some pop culture–outdated as it might be to most–with a reference to that old Adam West Batman movies. Holy Tower of Babble Batman! you might say à la Robin.  I thought it apropos, and hope the readers get a kick out of it. (#33)

I was so delighted to read this morning (well okay, it’s now two mornings ago) that Kazuo Ishiguro is the winner of the 2017 Nobel in Literature. I’m stoked because I’ve been an admirer of his for a while now (check out this long ago post about his books). I won’t say fan because I don’t unreservedly love everything he writes, but I do whole-heartedly love the way he writes it. It reminded me too that I have a unread treat in my Kindle in the guise of the first of his books that I heard about, The Remains of the Day.

But this is not the only Nobel that I have ties of connection or affection to. There is the Physiology or Medicine award, one of the three recipients this year of which was Michael Young. The award brought back memories of my time in the information office at Rockefeller University (and which is now headed by a former colleague from another place and time) where the annual task in September was to draft out announcements in anticipation of certain  winners. Might that be taken as a conceit? Yes, but not an idle one, for that small university does have a formidable number of winners in its roster of employees past and present (and even some future). True there were not winner in the two years that I was there (1996 & 97), but then there were consecutive awards in 1999 and 2000 to Rockefeller faculty, and then in 2001 Sir Paul Nurse got it, and he later became Director at the Rock for several years. Then again in 2011. Not too shabby.

I also have a connection to this year’s prize in chemistry. It was for a technique called cryo-electron microscopy and I’ve already managed to mention it in a paper that I’m working on (my co-author was also pleased).

Three out of five ain’t half bad, to mangle a quote by Jack Nicholson in a dreadful (so bad it was good) film. Five I say, because I don’t necessarily count the Peace Prize.. but while we’re counting, this post brings me up (down?) to #34.

So, I just added a page to my food blog, titled by the neologism that’s in the title of this post as well. It is a recipe, but since it counts as a legit entry, I figured I’d claim it as my #37, which is slightly overdue. But is also an entry point into these plays on words that I delight in concocting, almost as much as I do in concocting the foods in question. More often than not, the concoctions are created in spur of the moment, rather than with any planning or forethought, the word plays even less so than the foods.

Both guac-un-mole and squashamole are derived from guacamole, that delicious avocado dip that is now quite common-place the world over or at least in North America. Guac-un-mole (named so because it’s not a mole–which is sort of a word for sauce) but has all or most ingredients that go into it, and the squashamole because it was basically a dip made of squash that vaguely resembled guac in texture. It then occured to me, given that I used nuts as well that it might just easily be compared to homous, which lead to its other name squashomous.

Then there was the whole bit about salsifying and falsifying which brought in Popper in a most satisfying way and suggested a whole new way to enjoy poppers as well.

Okay.. enough.. like I said, this post is a short way to link to a real post on another site, which gives it some free advertising and helps me fulfill a quota too. Double and triple whammies abound! (#s 37 & 36)

The thought occurred, while answering an email about my current book project, that in  that I should write about the various strategies I have adopted in the years since I conceived of this book, in order to tackle a large project  more manageable. That my title is alliterative is just a happy co-incidence.

Stepping stones: Every project has its stepping stones and they come in many forms. I am reminded as I am typing this that a formal proposal is a natural stepping stone, but the one that I was thinking of particularly when I started to write this is what I call a stepping-stone publication. Undertaking such a project eases one into the larger task so by the time one actually officially “begins” the latter, there are already bits and pieces ready and available to be patched-in, expanded or otherwise modified. Two papers that I published, in 2014 and last year, are two stepping stones of slightly different types. The first was a “preview” of sorts–call it a testing ground–where I first floated the central idea that eventually became the basis for the book. The inception of this paper goes back a few years earlier actually–but at time the “book” was yet a dim possibility. It still serves as the outline for my larger project–10 pages to the roughly 200 that my book is supposed to be. The second paper, is a far more specific, and details a specific argument based on a specific archival find. It was an actual stepping stone, the first official paper that I wrote before picking up the courage to tackle the larger, more intimidating book itself. Funny thing is that I didn’t actually get to the content of the paper until recently, almost two thirds of the way into the book. But having it there helped. A third project currently underway, is a segue from the book–a way to suss out some ideas and get into material that is less familiar to me.

Spin-offs: Such articles are exactly what the label implies. Home in on a particular aspect–one idea or something–that has already been written into the book and spin a slightly different angle or go into greater depth about it. I recently submitted my first spin-off effort. I actually began it as a stepping stone, but didn’t really get into until recently by which time the chapter had been written. But as I wrote the paper I found myself revisiting the chapter and changing details. Of course I do that at almost every reread in any case, but this time the changes were more substantive as opposed to merely cosmetic. I have more spin-offs from my dissertation (but no stepping-stones, although paradoxically, the first paper has that phrase in the title). And while it may seem repetitive, I think spin-offs are hugely useful exercises because they keep you in the game.

So that’s my two bits worth on my writing life (#38)

It’s been more than two years and I still have not written about my summer residential language sojourn in two very beautiful places in France. They deserve better by me, both the wonderful people who hosted me and their beautiful homes and environs thereof. I had such a lovely time there–really it is the last time that I can remember being carefree (well, mostly).  Some might say I was in a fool’s paradise, but I’ll gladly take on the label of fool again, if the Loire Valley and Dordogne are part of the package!

A little bit of free advertising by way of a preface. I took these classes through an organisation (since it’s London based, I’ll go with the Brit spelling) called Eurolingua that arranges  residential programs for a number of languages–mostly European. Having flirted with learning French for several years now–two stints at the Alliance Francais in Philadelphia and New York and one summer course d’eté in Dijon as part of a grad program requirement are some of the formal attempts while more informally I tried (and managed all of three time! over several years) to join the French table at Yale. Then a friend in Korea mentioned her experience–very positive–and so I went hunting online as well, and Eurolingua turned up with some interesting possibilities. Then a couple of years later, opportunity in the guise of unemployment supplemented with a check for retirement from my Yonsei (Korea) job presented itself. So I wrote to the folks at Eurolingua, and Voila! And after a conversation about my goals and expectations, the co-ordinator set me up, with two different tutors.

2015-08-24 19.17.16Le premiere professeur était M. Sylvain Fremaux. A music conductor (we found out that we were both grad students from Yale, though separated by several years) who teaches French in a community college in Oregon, Sylvain owns a charming home in the village of Mer, which despite its name is nowhere near any sea. But as I learned, the name is meant to signify marshland, which being dint of being on the banks of a river is appropriate enough. (When I check the dictionary, however, the word for marsh or marshland is marais, which is a well-known neighborhood in Paris…). I spent 3 glorious weeks in Mer, where in addition to daily French lessons–which included among other readings an abridged version of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and supplementary translation sessions with me trying to work my way through Anne-Marie Moulin’s idiosyncratic prose style–and plenty of conversation in French, bicycling trips of the area, and weekend visits to some lovely chateaux, a fascinating museum (Musée du Compagnonnage) in Tours, and other sights in the famed Loire valley region. The region’s wines are famous and with good reason as I found out for myself in a visit to a wine fair in Mer where various locals came to show off their wares. I met several people thanks to Sylvain, but I cannot write about his stay and not mention Sylvain’s wonderful father, the famous conductor Louis Fremaux, who at nearly 93 (his birthday was just around the corner) was still up for driving and biking around the countryside.

2015-09-13 17.52.38La deuxième enseignante était M’mselle. Danielle Mazars, who after years of living and working abroad. With her I shared not an alma mater, but a place of past residence, Cairo. My two weeks at her home in the gorgeous Dordogne, which is part of the greater Aquitaine region and according to Wikipedia, (for I must acknowledge all my sources) roughly corresponds to the ancient country of Périgrod (a name likely more associated for us foodies with foie gras) were completely different but as enjoyable and educational as the previous. Danielle’s farm is far from any town as such–the closest is Sarlat–and sits in the heart of cave country, not far from a chateau owned by the family of the pilot-author St. Exupéry. By caves, I mean the prehistoric type with paintings. The most famous of course are les grottes de Lascaux, with the breathtaking images rendered in gorgeous hues of sunset and flame. But there were several others that I visited along with Danielle and will write about in a dedicated posts. Dordogne has its share of chateaux other than the aforementioned one and I paid some a visit, and then there was the type of medieval town called a bastide, which, if I can dig up my lessons, deserve a separate post just because they have such a fascinating history. I must also her dear and lovely friends many of whom invited us for dinners to their homes and encouraged my halting language skills and for whom in return I cooked an Indian meal at Danielle’s home.

A quick word about the photographs in this post. I included them for they are more personal reminders of the time I spent there The grapes, which might well be a symbol for all of France, are those handing in the garden area of Sylvain’s home and while not wine-worthy (said he not me) were great to pluck and nibble on days when I sat outdoors working on my lessons or translations. The sheep belong to Danielle and would come running and line up by the wall to be fed the buckets of cut up peaches when they heard her calling. Missing from the photo are a small black lamb that I named Seana (after the recently watched claymation Sean the Sheep Movie) and her friendly sweetheart of a dog, Darius.

Au revoir mes amies. Jusqu’à la prochaine fois (#39)