I love learning new words. Nearly every word I know I learned in some unremarkable, unmemorable fashion. There have been some standouts, however. I thought I’d share a few.
A popular teacher of mine in high school was preparing us for an upcoming vocabulary test. When he got to the word “voluptuous,” he blushed and stammered, clearly thinking of it in a particularly private manner. He gestured by loosely cupping his palms in front of his chest, as if he meant, but couldn’t say, “Characterized by large breasts.” In response, as if playing charades, one of my classmates called out, “Big hands!” It stuck. Since then, I know what folks think when they see a voluptuous woman: look at those hands.
In my early twenties, I fell in love for the first time. Moored by that committed relationship, I came out to my parents. My mother sent me a letter in response. In it, she said something like, “You are our daughter. You will always be welcome here. Your paramours will not.”
Okay, maybe coming out hadn’t gone over super well.
But I learned a new word. Paramour. It made me sound intriguing and dangerous, like, wow, little old me has an illicit lover! How Anna Karenina of me! And by at least one definition, my mother’s meaning was entirely accurate. My girlfriend and I weren’t married, and we were living together. Still, we weren’t being adulterous, and Mom had previously welcomed most of my boyfriends, so this edict was new. Safe to say that for my Catholic mom, I was not living the dream. Thus began a long road ahead, one filled with hurt and healing. And somehow, always: love. (I’ll be blogging separately about this.)
Fast forward two decades.
My 80+ year-old, politically conservative father has preordered my first novel, Like Jazz. I’m certain he’d have ordered my book even if he hadn’t needed something to get him over the free-super-saver-shipping threshold. He’s supporting my writing, and I’m thrilled. At the same time, I’m a little uncomfortable.
I’ve hinted to him several times about the topic of Like Jazz. “You do realize, Dad, that this is a romance, right? Where the main characters—two women, remember—you know…hug? And sometimes…kiss? And, um…you know, that sort of thing?”
“I like to think I have very catholic tastes,” he said.
I grew up Catholic. Most of my extended family is Catholic. They’re a fairly easygoing group. They don’t walk around quoting Scripture—which isn’t to say that Jesus Christ doesn’t come up a lot, particularly when the Vikings are losing. But when the conversation relates to your nuclear family, trust me, it’s different. “I know, Dad. That’s the thing. Probably not up your alley.”
“You do know what catholic means, don’t you?” he asked.
“Well, I know what I think Catholic means, and based on that, this isn’t necessarily the book for you.”
“Catholic means having wide-ranging tastes. Being broad-minded.”
Are you freaking kidding me? Well, if any being has a sense of humor, it’s God. “It does? Huh.” The capital C version I grew up with meant something vastly different from this lower case c. I immediately grabbed my dictionary. Oh my God. Dad’s definition was the first entry. Mine was last. “You’re right, Dad.”
Like I said, I love learning new words. Or new takes on old ones.
So…for all good catholic folk everywhere, I offer you Like Jazz. Enjoy!
Heather Blackmore’s debut novel, Like Jazz, will be available
from the Bold Strokes Bookstore on December 1, 2013.