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Brief Letters to the Editor

August 23, 2004

What do Betty Paine and Salvador Dali have in common? No, not a mustache. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Betty Paine’s unique fiber art is on display at the library. At the top of the stairs, look at the piece on the easel — “Far out/far away” — and then look immediately to its left on the wall, where a Salvador Dali print hangs.

It’s just one Dali work, so we won’t stretch the point. Its juxtaposition to Betty’s work is merely an enjoyable accident. Likeness ends there. I can’t imagine Betty saying anything like this:

“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy – the joy of being Salvador Dali – and I ask myself in rapture, ‘What wonderful things this Salvador Dali is going to accomplish today?'”

She might think a similar thought, but she wouldn’t say it. A certain amount of disdesire is needed to balance such “exquisite joy.”

I’ve been waiting to use that word — disdesire. I learned it from the library’s “Forgotten English” calendar, which defines it as “the desire to be without.”

I wondered immediately about possible shades of meaning. Does its usage demand a specific object, such “I disdesire pizza” (which is an absurd example, I know), or can it be an intransitive verb, such as “I disdesire,” (which might be a philosophy of life)?

Can it be a noun? As in “The flames of disdesire burned within her.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying some newer British words: “Brief letters to the Editor.” The title pretty much says it all, but the letters are generally pithy, witty commentary on reports in The Times.

Such as: “Sir, I am eating a sandwich labelled “reformed ham.” Whatever the ham has done wrong, one presumes it is now cured. Yours faithfully, …”

Locally, our finer practitioners of this art include Mr. John Allen and Mr. Ken Gerlach. If you’ve noticed and enjoyed their occasional letters, you’ll enjoy this book.

Some of the wit is dry, some obscure, and some incomprehensible to an American, such as these two letters on successive days:

“Sir, Your Diary notes that Yorkshire Cricket Academy is sending would-be players down t’pit. Will they emerge as seam bowlers? Yours faithfully, R.J. Carlyon.”

“Sir, It is to be hoped that prospective Yorkshire cricketeers sent down t’pit don’t change their sporting allegiance and emerge as prop forwards instead of seam bowlers. Yours faithfully, Ian Liston.”

Chuckle. But not with understanding. If you understand, please advise.

I liked this one: “Sir, Is the Royal Family’s disagreement over genetically modified food a case for or against selective breeding?”

On the literary front, concerning a prolific author: “Sir, I was touched by Barbara Cartland’s concern for the environment in being buried in a cardboard coffin under her favorite oak tree. May we spare a silent moment for the many trees sacrificed to feed her writing habit?”

Apparently, these short, witty letters get published on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. At one point, a flurry of letters mused upon this tradition, both for and against, including this: “Sir, Were I to write you a letter, I would not be so unladylike as to tell you where to put it.”

I think I know why they’re there. They are filler — high quality filler perhaps — but after filling up the rest of the page with letters, there is inevitably a small space left in the lower right corner. A fine tradition was born.

And they go well with morning tea.

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