Stage fright.

Blog entries have been giving me stage-fright, and I have written all but published none in this packet period. Within the process of putting together this packet I have reviewed some of the drafts, and reluctantly assigned a date and pressed the “publish” button, to set them free into the world.

Absolutely all of the feedback I’ve received for my writing has been positive. My Twitter pals (I live on Twitter, right?) have been appreciative and supportive beyond any possible expectation.  There is no external reason for the bashfulness or stage fright. And yet, it is still there. I hope to have all fifteen entries up before I send out the next packet.

Learning lots of new words. Or second-hand ones, new to me

Despite my seeming eternity in content work, there are many, many words that I do not know. English seems to be full of the things! But this is not a problem, as I keep dictionaries around me at all times, and can look up words as they present themselves.

And, more to the point, I actually do this.

While reading the first 62 pages of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, here are the words I came across – and what they mean:

  • uraeus – a sacred asp on rulers’ headdress, symbols of sovereignty;
  • asp – cobra? a kind of snake, in any event, with a huge-big head. Naja haje in Egypt;
  • corselet – armor covering the trunk of the body;
  • sedge – a rushlike or grasslike plant that grows in wet places;
  • steatite – soapstone;
  • votive – item involved in making a vow;
  • epagomenal  days – the days tacked on to a year to make it match the calender year to the actual time it takes the earth go around the sun;
  • galena – bluish gray cubic mining material, a principal ore of lead. Pretty, with a blue/gray metallic luster.

Figuring these out was a great deal of fun.

Numbers, a most aptly named book

The read-through of Numbers was easier than the previous ones, perhaps because it was less full of detailed instructions on how to slaughter animals and where to spew their blood (not entirely devoid of that, just containing less of that sort of material) and rather stuffed with enumerated lists. I even found the source for the word used for percent in Modern Hebrew (אחוז – achuz – which comes from לאחוז – ” to grab hold of” – or אחד – “one”). The numbered lists had almost nothing to do with fiber, with the exception of one family, whose name was Weaver (more or less. OK, less: it was סֶ֗רֶד). But mostly, just numbers of Things-that-I-have-no-interest-in-at-allTM.

This made for easier reading.

There were only eleven entries from the entire Book of Numbers, but they were excellent ones, including this gem from Numbers 31:20 “And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood.” – which, in Hebrew, had the interesting words “מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה עִזִּ֖ים” – or “goaty goods”.

The background is unappetizing (it’s what you have to purify after – oh, never mind. The context is beyond gory), but the goatswork goods are delightful, because they tell me that that was the nature of the spinning they did. No mention of sheep as wool-bearing animals is made anywhere, so far, although the hairiness of sheep skin is used in Genesis by Isaac, to make his arms feel more like Esau’s and steel is primogeniture.

But spinning and weaving? So far, all I see are goats.

I’ll compare this with Elizabeth W. Barber’s book about Prehistoric Textiles, to see if that’s borne out. I seem to recall that sheep used to be hairier (like deer) than fleecy, and that the change of hair came about due to some careful animal husbandry. That’s something I read about in passing, but it merits deeper searching.

Onward! Tomorrow: Deuteronomy, not the nice cat from T.S. Eliot, the book of horrors from the Old Testament. I should probably write about my emotional response to the detailed deaths and mayhem and general nastiness in the O.T. – but not yet. For now, I’ll just pick words out.

Next steps for my list of words

So, what will I do to these words, to make them ready for Packet 1, whose deadline is fast approaching?

Well, at the moment I have five columns:

  1. number;
  2. specific words;
  3. full verse;
  4. citation;
  5. notes about why the words strike me as interesting.

My next step is to add two additional columns:

  1. the King James translation of the verse in question;
  2. one additional translation of the verse in question.

There may be some more work to be done in the note column (because “woot! weavers!” sounds insufficiently academic). My plan is to do this work over two days – one for the quotes, one for the notes. When I’m done I’ll probably have some thirty pages of text.

Is that too much to send to Baco? Hmm. I hope not! The notes are probably the only really important pieces, the rest of the columns are more for corroboration. Perhaps I will typeset them accordingly? The final formatting is something I’m pondering a great deal – this has to carry my excitement and fascination, but also allow at least a porthole into the actual words fascinating me. Hmm. Perhaps a much smaller font size for the Hebrew? It is, after all, basically decorative.

Hmm. Much to decide about presentation.

Building a Tabernacle – Exodus Redux

Lots of neat things happen in Exodus, but the Biblical set of instructions for building the Tabernacle (a sort of mobile-home temple) has been on my mind since before I started studying.

The Tabernacle how-tos start in Exodus 25 and gone on until they actually get the whole thing built, basically by the end of the book. There are lots of very specific instructions, going into great detail, with lists of materials (kumaz in 35:23!)  and threads and complicated garments for the high priest and his sons.

At 35:25 we see women spinning! And they seem to be spinning the goats. (I hope the goats were shorn, and not spun in person but rather by way of a metonymy!)

At 36:17 the edge of the cloth is referred to as its “lip” – שְׂפַ֣ת הַיְרִיעָ֔ה – which does kind of  look like lips, if you’re folding it…

By the end of Exodus, I am up to fiber-entry number 142 – which probably means more like 160-170 words, not all of which will make it into the glossary.

The Fear Of Doing New Things

One of the issues that keeps cropping up in this study course is that I keep having to do things I’ve never done before.

And that. is. scary!

Not that I think bad things will happen to me if I do new things. Not that I am afraid of failing or of looking like a fool, both of which are things I’ve done often enough to be quite comfortable with them, if they turn up.

No, it’s something else: it’s that I do like to be prepared and competent at what I do, and to that end I massively overthink, overplan, and overpractice before I head out to center stage.

Case in point: getting these posts out of draft mode and into the light of day.

Case in point: getting to the library and finding and summoning books about the subjects I want to read about. I’ve never done that, and it feels scary – although, realistically, what could go wrong? (OK, mind, don’t answer that. Plenty could go wrong. What BAD THING could happen? NONE.)

I’ll practice that this coming week.

Learning German – ongoing effort

What can I say about my German studies? I listen to each podcast twice, once very intently while sitting with no screen before me, the other while knitting or crocheting.

The written homework is fairly easy, I think. The lessons tell a story around Munich, which is a city I want to visit someday (but not live in; at least, right now I am not inclined to want to live there). The routine is this: I print out the written work, skim it… …then listen to the episode, do the homework – and later in the day listen to the episode again, during a knitting break.

It feels unremarkable, like walking along a paved road. I’m not confident enough to initiate conversations in German with the in-house German-competent human. Probably because most of the vocabulary has to do with hotels (and I don’t live in one), kobolds (less than fully useful in my daily life), and fussy gentlemen who don’t want me to say “du” – whereas I think my dear German coach would be most offended if I were formal with him, suddenly, after nearly sixteen years of marriage.

So far, so good. At least I learned to apologize in German. That will surely come in very handy!

Exodus – nation building among the reeds

The tone of the story changes in Exodus. There is much more of an us-and-them feel to the characters.

At the beginning there were many reeds and reed-weaving words.

Do sandals or shoes fiber count words? I think they do. The verb for “take your shoes off” is the same one that is used, in Modern Hebrew, to describe a snake’s moulting.

Further along in Exodus, there are many things done with “staffs”. Staffs? In English a “staff” relates to a “disataff” – which is used for holding wool or flax being spun.

Exodus 9:31 was the first time I saw flax or cotton, although it was not clear if it was foodstuff or fiber-goodness.

Fascinatingly, there was an echo to the creation story, at 15:18. “Tehomot” – sounds like Tiamat. In modern Hebrew, that means “abyss” or “chasm” – but the creation story uses to describe that over which the darkness hovers.

In writing these blog posts before I read the English, I feel both hesitant and extra-free. Discovering the English translations is the last bit of the work of this packet, adding them to the file of words logged. That makes it harder to discuss them with any authority. Hmm. This won’t be a problem with any texts that are not in Hebrew.

Reading Genesis

The work of reading Genesis has been slower than I expected.

At first is was a technical issue: the bible I read for solace and poetry (and the occasional fit of rage) makes for easy reading of familiar passages; it is less conducive to a cover-to-cover read-through.

I resolved this thanks to an online institution, Machon Mamre, that offers Bible downloads for interested parties. At first I worked with a Hebrew-only version, then went all out and dowloaded the fonts with the cantillation marks, and went for the parallel versions that showed both Aramaic and Hebrew.

It turns out that this gave me lots of clues about meaning.

Now, I do not speak Aramaic. If I were lost in a city where that’s the lingua franca, I’d probably have to stay lost. But I do read it. And the delightful structure of the Semitic language shone lights on words that were hard to understand, along the way. I even ended up adding notes about some of the translations to my initial list of fiber-related words.

A date with a dead king

I dedicated this entire day to a trip to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, where the grave-robbing exhibition named Treasures of King Tut is displaying the spoils of (British) empire.

Despite my disapproval of the whole way the Carter robbed graves in Egypt (you can see him do it in this 4-minute video), I wanted the chance to see the artifacts, which I am assured will be going back to Egypt, where they belong, after the exhibition closes on January 6th, 2013.

It was mind-blowing.

Let me unpack that: along with me were my daughter (who is as fascinated with mummification as I am with strings and yarns), her friend, a very fine sketcher, and my husband, who is deeply immersed in the study of human history, especially of parts of the world in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Each of us shared perspectives about the exhibits, with the sketcher seeing lines and shapes and making them apparent, the mummy-knower updating us about why particular forms are especially significant, the history-dude adding a fourth dimension and constantly perspectivizing everything we saw, and me looking for fiber and fiber-related skills.

A proper reflection about this exhibition will be on this blog (under the yet-to-be-added Reflections heading). First impressions need a word in Arabic to full encompass the opening of my heart and mind in that series of dark, over-heated, far-too-loud rooms: Alhamdulillah!

I am overwhelmed with joyous gratitude (to no specific entity, freeform gratitude goin’ on here) that I get to live in these times and see the hieroglyphics translated into languages I can speak, to see the artifacts in such great company, with my own eyes now as multi-faceted as those of a fly, to see the points of view of my fabulous companions and of students and researchers over the years.


If you, gentle reader, have a chance to see this exhibition, definitely do.