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I is for Insipid (in the Bowels of February)

My Jewish grandmother had a penchant for big words that began with “I”—so much so that I often wondered if her vocabulary class stopped before the letter “J.” Imminent. Immense. Impetuous. Inimitable. Indubitable. Inimical. Her favorite was insipid. She used that word a lot, always spitting it out with so much relish that it sounded like another of the Yiddishisms she brandished, frequently at my sister’s and my expense. (Look at those goyishe noses! They look just like their shiksa mother’s! ) Lately I keep flashing on it because it’s such a perfect term for what I find irksome about our culture right now. The emoticarnage, the tremulously hyperbolic headlines, the LOLs, the fake-it-til-you-make-it selfies, the definite article-laden titles for spouses and children (The Princess! The Heir! The Hubs!), the kooky animal videos sent to me by suitors who, in another generation, might have demonstrated the good sense to send flowers or chocolate. The proliferation of fake-earnest catchphrases like “can I just say?” “I can’t lie,” and, my least favorite, “so many feelings.” Not to mention the largely accepted tendency to deliver statements in singsong or as questions?

Though I embrace the particular cuteness of any being who tries hard un-self-consciously, I’ve always eschewed preciousness; never had much patience for aw-shucksiness; and would rather people say it than spray it, as the expression used to go. All this niceyniceness is enough to make a kind girl run to snark, at least in this seemingly endless winter. My grandmother was largely regarded as a pill—always picking, never hugging (hers was a hard life)—but she had a knack for calling out, er, mishegos. More and more I catch myself donning her navy pumps, fake furs, and smeary red lipstick, figuratively and literally. Because, really, insipid is the perfect word for these times. She was insightful, nu?

No New Tricks Here

In the house where I grew up, the sports radio was always blaring, the TV too, and everyone talked over each other and through everything else at the top of their lungs. I learned to read and do my homework in that racket but promised myself I’d be a silence worshipper if I managed to grow up. And in fact these days I do insist on living alone and uphold quiet as more glamorous than champagne sipped upon a velvet divan. But the truth of the truth is that whenever I want to get any big writing done I have to work in the noisiest environment I can find: a house full of screaming kids, a bustling coffee shop, my noisy stoop. If I ever want to finish my book I probably will have to set up a desk in the middle of Times Square. Old habits don’t die hard; they don’t die at all. We just find a rhinestone-studded collar with which we may tame them.

Essential 2012 Film Term: Cinennui

cinennui \sin-on-WEE\ (noun): 1. A weariness and/or dissatisfaction related to cinema. 2. A malaise borne of viewing too many films in too short a period. Symptoms include a rare strain of Tourette Syndrome marked by involuntary sighing, snorting, smartphone-checking, and eye-rolling during screenings; a myopia that only can be corrected by big black glasses; an allergy to supersized artificial butter-flavored popcorn; an imperviousness to new works by David O. Russell; an inability to speak without arcane cinematic references and ’80s movie quotes; a protracted tendency to love or hate everything. Cures include thrice-daily sessions with Woody Allen’s psychoanalyst or (preferably) an exorcist; beat-downs from people who actually work for a living; fresh air; a viewing of Singin’ in the Rain, any movie starring Marilyn Monroe (pictured here), and/or one directed by Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder. From the snooty French-Spoonerist dialect known as Lisoise. Synonym: unmovied (adj).

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy