Against Nudzhes

On What Not to Be


I have long used a word that I pronounced ‘noodge’ and spelt ‘nudge’ to describe difficult people. I thought it was a New Englandism.

It turns out, however, that it was the Yiddish word ‘Nudzh.’  I knew how how it sounded. I knew what it meant, but I really didn’t know much about it. I had misspelled it more than once in print.  A friend once asked about the word and I gave him a high-handed lecture on how it was a good old fashioned English word.   This should be precisely the sort of thing that I should’ve known to check  — I have always had an interest in etymology and have been a bit of a nudzh myself about it.

Now, however, I feel like a schmuck.  I may have learnt my lesson.



NOTE: This entry is featured on my old blog from July 29th, 2016.

NOTE: This entry was featured on my old blog from July 29th, 2016.

There is an old saw about raising children that says if you catch a child doing something weird but not quite criminal (setting small fires for example) not to make a big deal of it because the bigger a deal you make the more likely it will become a part of the child’s identity (thus creating an arsonist). The corollary seems to also be true — if anyone does something unusual even once that action may become transfixed in other people’s perceptions of him  — no matter how innocuous the offense. Furthermore, any change in behavior or outer appearance must correlate to some inner change or desire to be hidden.

Many years ago I shaved my beard off and a young woman of my acquaintance refused to believe that I was the same person. At first I thought she was joking but after a few months she would still insist that I was a bearded person in disguise and couldn’t really be myself until I grew it back. This wasn’t a lark or an aesthetic judgement — it was a statement of existential authenticity.  I couldn’t be the person she wanted me to be unless I was bewhiskered, and the person she wanted me to be was indeed my true self, my own opinions were entirely moot and my clean-shaven face a contemptible disguise.

That was an unusual example example of this phenomenon here is a commoner, less extreme version: I wear a jacket and tie every work-day and, for the most part, nobody notices, aside from a few old-timers who regularly remind me that neither are required and that I can wear jeans and polo shirts in the old-timer manner.

There is nothing particularly notable about the ties themselves. They are the nicest ties I can afford. Natural fibers, subdued colors  and what not — I take care to select good things but don’t make it into a fetish.

Two or three time a month I like to wear a bow tie. I still don’t think most people notice. But for a few people if they see someone once in a bow tie that person becomes that strange unwholesome deviant, ‘Mr. Bowtie.’ In their minds every other article of clothing one has worn, word spoken, or action taken, is instantly obliterated. This phenomenon is roughly akin to seeing someone eat a liverwurst sandwich and assuming that they live entirely off of liverwurst (for every meal and washed down with liverwurst juice) no matter how often they see them eat, and no matter how varied their diet objectively was. This belief would persist no matter what — even if they eat lunch everyday with the liverwurtian and only see him eat it once.

Sandwiches and beards can be ruinous to a reputation.

Recently a friend greeted me without a hug, handshake, or ‘hello’ but with a “where is your bow tie?” I didn’t have a snappy answer. I was already wearing a tie, so I thought I was covered. That wasn’t an isolated example. I get the ‘where’s the bow tie?’ question much more often than I wear bow ties. It’s not the worst thing in the world. People seem to like them.

So, reader, be warned. Whether you wear the conformists’ jeans and a t-shirt, or the rebels’ top hat and tails (or whatever it is that they are doing); whether you are clean-shaven or bearded down to your shaky hipster-knees, other people will define you often on the most fleeting and causal decisions you make. And the most you can do is fault them right back for their neckwear, or perhaps, their taste for liverwurst.


Tags: It Ain’t a Fetish, This Entry is a Rejected Magazine Article, Unwholesome Deviants, Advice, Shaky Knees, Beards

On Tags: a Metadiscussion

I recently found out that WordPress didn’t publicize most of my old blog’s posts because I had in excess of fifteen tags on many of them. Their reasons were good: they were trying to keep people from abusing the tag-system to get more hits.  When I signed up I likely saw that rule and ignored it.  I doubt very many people have searches set for ‘Disparate Liquids Bottled Together,’ or ‘This Entry is a Rejected Magazine Article,’ and that isn’t why I used them.  I used them for internal searches and a way to tease out the queer little themes, and serendipitous coincidences, that keep popping up.

I am less of an SEO-hit-type of guy than I probably should be; moreover, I like the idea of lots tags as a guide linking totally heterogeneous materials. Although this is a blog about my writing, it has (or it will have) all kinds of other things in it as well.  I liked the idea of someone clicking on the ‘In My Snot-Nosed Youth’ and coming up with a bunch of things with nothing in common, except an odd reference to the time between 1978 and 1990.

So I have decided that from now on I will only put a handful of tags on the official list and add the other tags to the bottom of the page, to be added later, if I get around to it.

Indexing is a strange art, and categories have always made me uncomfortable, and this is one of the few ways I have to impose chaos on the world.


NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog from August 5th, 2016

I don’t usually write gratis (out of principle this is one of my jobs) and I don’t usually write fast enough for commission, but I made an exception this week. I saw an open call for ‘drabbles,’  which are little hundred-word stories.  Collections of them are surprisingly common, this particular one had a Hallowe’en theme. So I gave it a try. It seemed like a challenge. It took nine seconds to write and another eleven to edit.  My home internet connection is a little slow so it took about fifteen seconds to send the submission by email.

I like the little story that I came up with, but I am not fond of the form. When laid out in textbooks the drabble looks as weird and arbitrary as the sonnet. But it isn’t — because the sonnet is not a set of arbitrary rules — poetic forms are made for the ear (and that mid-century America Literary critics couldn’t hear shows no problem with the sonnet, or any other form, but a problem with tin-eared critics).

Waltzes have value because when we hear them we have a background in waltzes, we know the dance.

The same is true with poetic forms. The cultural baggage is an aspect of the aesthetics and the meaning.  Whoever is experiencing the art provides  part of the meaning by knowing other things in the form. No one (or no one In-the-Know at least) has to count the beats to know the waltz, and no one has to count the lines to know the sonnet. They are just part of the world we live in.

The drabble, however, is just an arbitrary bit, it doesn’t have any distinction resulting from rhythm or repetition.  So a reader wouldn’t know what it is without counting the words, and there isn’t any reason  why a story with 100 words would differ in anyway from a story with 102.

Art has to have restraint, but the restraint has to have meaning for the both the one who experiences and the one who creates.  Which is to say you ought to know that you are reading a drabble, while you read the drabble, but there is nothing inherent in the drabble that would let you know this.



Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the drabble. I like what I wrote. I have read some by others that I liked. Maybe the discipline of word-counting is good practice.  And, if one is reading a book of drabbles, one is likely to acquire a drabblish sensibility.  The form does have a meaning in the context of an anthology, if not on its own.

And, reservations aside, I do look forward to seeing the other pieces by the other contributors, when the book is published.  And when it is I’ll post a link so that you may judge for yourself.

After Avalon

The long awaited After Avalon anthology got back from the printer yesterday.  This is a special joy to me because I wrote the piece Paste-Bones and Ragdolls many years ago and never thought that it would find its way into print, in spite of it being one of my favorites.

The anthology itself is about the world after the king left Camelot, and what happened to its survivors, and those who tried to find it again.

My own story is of Gawain and Bleys — an old memory of an old time far removed from the buying and selling of the world — the sort of thing that might serve on a rainy day. It is a strange piece, but perhaps a good one, at least if you are open to it — and to tales of the old days, and to the old style, and to the belief in wonders.


NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 12th, 2016

NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 12th, 2016   

I have become fascinated by a  60s TV special that you were part of  — an adaptation of John Collier’s Evening Primrose.  Collier was one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th century, and you, well I suspect that you don’t want to be flattered, but you are quite good yourself.

This should have been the first big feather in your cap.  You completely understood the story and used bits of Collier’s dialogue to great effect.  But there is a falling off after the first number.  It isn’t you of course.  The screen play is trash.  I don’t want  to spoil it for everyone else, but the brilliant sideways love story gets — well you know what happens. The very end is fine but the queer genius of the story is thrown out entirely and replaced with something barely plausible and trite.  I don’t think that the screen writer (or maybe some officious producer) knew what the story was about, and ruined it, or, if he did understand, he might have thought that  it was too edgy for viewers.

These are old complaints I am sure.  And I know that you are 86 and semi-retired.  Nineteen sixty-six must seem like a thousand years ago, but, for the sake of the rest of us, would you mind writing a few songs to go along with the proper plot of the story?  If you like, go right ahead and someone else can tidy up the script.  Certainly I want that person to be me, but anyone on earth would do it if you asked (remember though, if by any chance they do turn you down, you have a volunteer).

Collier’s story has the quality of earthy unreality that you handle so well.  You did it in Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd.  Please do it here.  I heard a rumor that you were doing another version of Road Show.  I love that production.  Leave it as it is.  The public should come around eventually.

Just give us, not the Primrose that we have, and certainly not the Primrose we deserve, but the Primrose that only you can deliver.

With great admiration,

Thomas Olivieri, August 2016



Tags: Officious Dolts, Open Letters, Road Show, Passion