Agita – agitation, acid stomach, or both?

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

In my post about website design anxiety, I really wanted to use what I thought was a Yiddish idiom to convey the sense of gut-wrenching agitation the challenge invokes in me, but the word escaped me. It turns out AGITA is the word I wanted, and my search brings up a few thoughts about the internet, Merriam-Webster, and the changing nature of research.

First, thanks to my friend and Nia instructor Richele Corbo for answering the question when I posed it on Facebook. (I also ended the last post with my query, but no one’s come up with the answer here.) “Aggitah!!” Richele wrote. I’d tried adgena, agina and other similar combinations, and consulted lists of Yiddish idioms to no avail, but no wonder I couldn’t find it – it’s of southern Italian origin.

Playing around with the spelling, I tried my huge old Webster’s Unabridged without success, but I finally found “agita” on Google. One definition came from a medical site:

Agita: heartburn, acid indigestion, an upset stomach or by extension, a general feeling of upset. Italian American slang, from Italian “agitare” meaning “to agitate.”

The online Merriam-Webster’s had the word as well, along with the date 1982, suggesting this was when the word was added. They even had an aural application giving the correct pronunciation aloud. 

Agita: S. Italian dial. pron. of Italian acido, literally heartburn, acid from Latin acidus, therefore a feeling of agitation or anxiety.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

So one source claims the word is rooted in agitation, the other in acid. But both agree on the confluence of anxiety and indigestion as well as the Italian origin. It took Richele, who’s of Jewish origin but married into an Italian family, to come up with the link I needed. Here I could wax rhapsodic about our wonderful American melting pot and how it’s enriched our language, but I’d rather focus on the word itself, and how I can now use it with confidence to describe that physical and psychological state that arises from too many hours spent trying to decipher new computer programs. (If you want a fair facsimile, try overdosing on caffeine or trying the wrong antidepressant. Or, come to think of it, those pharmaceuticals I experimented with back in the sixties – but we won’t go there.)

My exploration of agita also reinforces what my husband always says when we try unsuccessfully to prune our book collection: there’s no need to hang onto outdated research materials, because it’s easier to find what you want on line, and the paper versions simply clutter up the house. But does this mean we’ll throw out our entire collection of dictionaries and reference books? I wouldn’t bet on it.

How about you? Do you suffer from agita? And have you been pruning your collection of old-fashioned printed reference materials? Or do you think that’s meshugana?


Design my own website? In my dreams, maybe

Giorgio De Chirico

What is it about trying to design my own website that invariably triggers acute anxiety attacks? My site’s in need of a radical update, so for the past several days, I’ve been playing around with a program from Go Daddy called “WebSite Tonight.” The implication, clearly, is that one should be able to build it in a single night. So why is it taking me days?

I printed out the 17-page “Getting Started Guide,” and there was a disclaimer of sorts: “Like any new application, there is a learning curve when using WebSite Tonight.” Learning curve, hah – that’s an understatement.

Part of the problem is that my tolerance is limited to two hours max. After that, I can feel my blood pressure climb, and my thoughts drift to the liter of wine chilling in the fridge. That’s a sure sign it’s time to get away from the computer, if not to pour some wine, then to confront some housekeeping or overdue bills, or even watch American Idol – I’ll resort to anything to set my mind on a different trajectory.

Is there an insurmountable generation gap at work here? I wasn’t brought up to think along the lines these programs demand. Supposedly the more user-friendly ones operate along the lines of WYSIWYG – for those not in the know, that stands for “what you see is what you get.” But it ain’t necessarily so – after you follow a slew of inscrutable commands and consult the online help manuals, what you get rarely turns out to be what you wanted to see in the first place. Or sometimes you get lucky and see what you want, only to have it disappear again like the Cheshire cat when you try to save it.

Paul Klee

So why on earth am I doing this anyway? It comes down to pride and economics – I want to sell my books, I’m too cheap to spring for a professional website designer, and WordPress won’t let me run PayPal on my present site. Besides, I’m planning to launch my new blog, Authors Avant Garde, and the least I can do is become more savvy about the technical aspects of my ever-expanding web presence.

As a writer, I taught myself touch typing in high school – I simply learned the correct finger positioning, then typed stream-of-consciousness meanderings with the lights out until I got it right. In later years, I typed my way through endless term papers and menial jobs. I wrote in several genres, completed two novels that may never see the light of day before completing one worthy of publication.

As a visual artist, I spent countless hours in life drawing classes and workshops, countless more learning color and composition through years of trial and error. I’ve probably thrown out as many canvases as I’ve sold or saved. But there’s an immediacy to painting or pastels, the medium I used for my book cover illustrations – in the visual arts, what you see is truly what you get. (There are exceptions, like print-making, but that’s another subject.)

So I paid my dues for decades to develop my skills as an author and artist. I rarely  questioned the endless hours, the expense and aggravation. It occurs to me that web design may not be any different. Who am I to expect instant gratification and overnight success? As the I Ching so frequently says, perseverance furthers. I just need to cultivate an attitude of relaxed mindfulness and patience – and know when it’s time to get up and walk away.

What about you? Do you love computer programming challenges? Have you always loved them, or do you think it’s possible to learn to enjoy this brave new world? Are the challenges age-related? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

And by the way, there’s a Yiddish word that describes the way these computer programs make me feel – something like agina or adjena – but I haven’t been able to find it in a dictionary or glossary of common Yiddish terms. If anyone can come up with the correct word, I’d be most appreciative.

Mac Attack – Laptop Seduction at the Mall

Available from Amazon or

Available from Amazon or

“The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.” So sang Jim Morrison of The Doors in the song “Backdoor Man.” I’m not a little girl, but I believe men don’t understand the rush that overtakes women – or at least this woman – when they zero in on that “Gotta have it!” item at the mall. Endorphins kick in and there’s a sense of exhilaration. That’s what happened to me today in the Apple store at Crossgates Mall when the young guy in the turquoise tee was demonstrating all the jazzy features on a MacIntosh laptop.

“I’m going to the mall,” my husband said after lunch. My first reaction was that I couldn’t possibly go – I hadn’t even logged onto my computer today. But I quickly gave in, and an hour later we were in Best Buy, looking at laptops. Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Dell, SONY – there were plenty to choose from in a relatively reasonable price range. Taking notes, trying to decipher the features on the tags, it occurred to me that this excursion might be a topic for today’s post.

Then we strolled over to the Apple store to look at Macs. I’d never set foot inside before – some inner voice kept telling me I didn’t need or deserve one. But once inside, I was instantly seduced by the elegant displays. Then all at once we were face to face with a friend who happens to be a minister. A sign from God? I don’t think so – she’s a Unitarian Universalist. But looking unusually blissful, she told us she’d just bought a Mac yesterday, and she was about to meet with one of those guys in the turquoise tees to learn more about how to use it. As she rushed to her assignation, she had the unmistakeable glow of a woman who’s had a transcendent shopping experience. 

While our own guy demonstrated all the jazzy Mac features and my husband asked intelligent geeky questions, I came to that “Gotta have it” decision. It won’t be today or tomorrow – not till after my big high school reunion in Milwaukee at the end of June – but I’m going to get a Mac this summer. I’ll scrimp and save, and I’ve got a July birthday coming up. My PC’s working fine, but my upstairs office under the eaves gets unbearably hot, and it does double duty as the cats’ bedroom and litter box room.

I can picture myself in a month, sitting with my new laptop under the Norway maple in the back yard, or at Panera with my Blog Book  Tours colleagues Alexis Grant and K. A. Laity, blogging in air-conditioned comfort. For now, though, I’ve got to sign off. My cat Lunesta is writhing around on my desk, telling me she wants to go to bed.

Today’s illustration is my cover for my second mystery, Eldercide. Feedback over the past year has convinced me that both the title and the cover are too terrifying for general consumption. Some people love it, but more are put off by it. While trying to sell Eldercide at various events, I’ve sold more copies of Mood Swing. One bookstore owner refused to carry Eldercide because she hates the word “elder” and finds the illustration “ghastly.” I’ll be redoing the cover and retitling the book Evening Falls Early. Much cozier, don’t you think? In the meantime, you can still order Eldercide from Amazon. Who knows, some day it may be a limited-edition collector’s item.

Final exam anxiety, the B.A.D. gang, and Erika’s bipolar revelation

Have you ever had one of those “examination dreams” – the kind where you have to take a final exam in college and you’re woefully unprepared? In my dreams, sometimes I didn’t study at all. Other times it’s the wrong course, or it’s the right course but I hadn’t realized I was enrolled in it, so I’d never come to class or done any of the assignments.

Today feels like one of those dreams. Tomorrow’s the day my blog will be critiqued by the other members of the current Blog Book Tours class. In May, we participated in the Blog-A-Day challenge; hence the B.A.D. moniker. Rationally, I know there’s nothing to fear. We’ve already critiqued other members’ blogs, and the group has been uniformly kind and considerate. No one’s trashed anyone else’s site. No one’s said, “You’re a horrible writer; you might as well give up right now,” or “Yours is the ugliest blog I’ve ever seen.” (Of course, no one’s deserved comments like that, either.) It’s all about constructive critiquing and suggestions to help us improve our blogs.

Yes, I know all that. Even so, I’m planning to spend the day tweaking my site, with time out for a little gardening and a trip to the Y for Nia and weight-lifting. I know what’s good, what needs improvement. I won’t be more specific here, because I don’t want to influence my critics in advance. But this feels like putting the final touches on a term paper – proofreading it one more time, making sure the bibliography and footnotes are all in order. (Aside to folks of a certain age: how did we ever manage all this before the age of computers?)

Then there's the lingering anxiety about yesterday's post, wherein I proclaimed my bipolar diagnosis. So far, I've received a couple of positive comments, but nothing major. In fact, I'm reminded of  the scene in Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders where Erika comes out of the closet. Following a memorial service for a member of WellSpring who died mysteriously, Erika is confronted by a TV newswoman:

     Ariana’s dance segued into a final chant. As she extinguished the candles to signify the close of the service, I rose and moved quietly through the garden and out the wrought iron gates to confront the camera crews.

      Nancy Welcome was waiting front and center, wearing a suit of tangerine wool that showed an extravagant length of leg and looked far too warm for the season. Beads of sweat shone through her makeup, and she was dabbing at her forehead with a tissue. “Ready when you are, Erika,” she said. “But let’s get Stan Washington, the guy I interviewed before. He was great on camera. Maybe some of the other club members too.”

     “Unfortunately, that’s not such a good idea. People’s attendance at the club is strictly confidential. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness – ”

     “Hold it right there, Erika. That’s a good angle, but I’d like to get it on tape before we talk any more. It’ll sound fresher that way.”

     She signaled the cameraman, who aimed his lens at me and began filming. Nancy walked casually into the frame. “I’m speaking with Erika Norgren, Director of the WellSpring Club. The memorial service for Stephen Wright has just ended. Behind us, people are leaving, including many members of WellSpring, the social club for mentally ill adults. Ms. Norgren has requested that we not show these folks on camera. Why is that, Erika?”

     “People’s attendance at the club is strictly confidential, Nancy. Some members hold jobs, and they may not have told their employers about their illness, for fear of repercussions. Even if they’re upfront about their own illness, their family and friends may be embarrassed and not want it discussed.”

     “So there’s a lot of secrecy involved with WellSpring Club, how it’s run and who comes here,” Nancy stated.

     “Unfortunately, some secrecy is necessary,” I replied. “But that’s because in our society there’s still a strong stigma associated with mental illness. For that to change, we need more honesty and open communication about the subject.” I took a deep breath, then a totally unpremeditated leap off the high dive. “For example, I’ve been the Director of WellSpring Club for almost six months, yet no one at the club knows that I’m officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s well controlled with medication, and not even my boss knows about it. I guess she’ll find out on the news tonight.”

     Her eyes took on a predatory gleam. “That’s very interesting, Erika. I appreciate your sharing it with News Channel 8. Any reason you decided to go public about your illness at this particular time?”

     “I’m an honest, upfront person in general, and I’ve been feeling more and more hypocritical about keeping this important part of myself under wraps, especially since I became Director of WellSpring Club and began working alongside a lot of wonderful people who face their illness bravely and openly every day. So I’m hereby making it official – I’m one of the crazies, and proud of it.”

     Closing ranks on either side of me, Stan and Gloria began to cheer and clap. Still filming, the cameraman pulled back for a long shot as other members arrived to check out the commotion.

     “I never knew coming out of the closet would be so exciting,” I said. Then everything turned soft and swimmy, and my knees went suddenly weak. But the sensation passed in short order. I didn’t fall swooning to the ground in the wake of my revelation. No fireworks exploded, no comets streaked across the sky. The handful of club members who had gathered around gave me a round of applause and a couple of thumbs up, but that was it. At last I had made the public confession I’d dreaded for so long, and nothing had changed at all. Not yet, anyway.

From Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, Copyright 2006 by Julie Lomoe


The computer ate my blogroll

Last night my computer flashed me a message saying “Virtual memory is running low.” It claimed that Windows was working on the problem, but that in the meantime, some programs might be affected. And sure enough, it was running maddeningly slowly, so I decided to shut down for the night and give it a good eight hours’ sleep. Before I logged out, I decided to check my blog one more time.

To my dismay, my blogroll had disappeared, with its links to all my Blog Book Tours cronies! Trying not to panic, I logged off and shut down. Then, fearing I wouldn’t be able to sleep without fixing it, I booted the computer up again and checked my blog. Still no blogroll! I shut down again and tried again this morning. Nothing had changed; all my links were still missing. With admirable sangfroid, I clicked on Links. To my vast relief, all the links were still there; they just weren’t showing on my blog’s sidebar. I searched in vain for my WordPress for Dummies book. But there was no time for problem-solving anyway; I had to leave for Woodstock for a day of grandmothering.

Now here I am 12 hours later, back home and determined not to miss my Blog A Day. Alas, still no Blogroll. I’ve been extolling the virtues of WordPress, but it seems to have turned against me. Or is my computer the culprit? Maybe I should have paid more heed to those “Virtual memory” warnings. They’ve occurred a few times since I’ve been blogging, jumping heedlessly from one web page to another checking on my fellow BAD bloggers. Maybe the poor machine is just freaked out from information overload – too many images, too many diverse points of view, and I’ve been insensitive to its plight.

I’ll solve the problem tomorrow, I hope. But now, before my cats kick me out of my office (it’s also their bedroom), I need to get to my homework and critique another blog. I’m pleased with myself, though – I haven’t suffered my usual technophobic anxiety attack. I can cope, I tell myself. Yes I can . . .