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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Me, at 3:13 today, on text chat with my brother David.

I need a word.

Him, at 3:13 and 8 seconds.


I paused, did a double take. I thought it said libation. Or was supposed to. Then I thought it said liberation. Or was supposed to. Then I Googled it.

Because David doesn’t make typos.

My bother David is a walking tome. I don’t know where he comes up with the stuff he comes up with, or how he knows the stuff that he knows.

I asked.

It’s common vernacular in physics, he tells me, as if everyone sits around the table with a three olive martini discussing physics.

As if his career has”science” anywhere in it. He sources/distributes/supplies high end audio equipment for super tricked out cars, which I guess if you count things like transistors, is sort of science-y.

I knew when I asked him that he’d think of something unique, but I didn’t realize I was going to need to take a science class to understand it. Libration.

Not libation, which would have been a gift tied with a bow. Not liberation, which would have been a little weird but I could have gone with it. You know, like liberating myself from all the things that I shackle myself with daily.

But no. LibRation. It’s an actual thing. It has to do with how the moon appears to wobble or tilt or something, depending on where you are when you see it. It has to do with perspective.

I honestly don’t quite understand the concept except for the fact that your perspective on the moon affects what and how you see it, which… duh. Everything.

But I feel like I have to go with it now. I feel like what’s the point of challenging myself with a word project if I’m not going to challenge myself?


Who KNOWS this stuff?

One thing you can count on with David is you will never be bored. Everything he says sounds like poetry next to my adolescent rant. He is East of Eden and I’m 5o Shades of Gray.

If I need someone to explain to me how I feel in autumn when the school buses start driving around again, I can chat him up online and say Dave, sup? I can’t believe it’s fall already. All the school buses are out, you know?

This is a thing we actually discuss. Feelings and things.

And he will write an entire elegy about how fall is the endpoint of summer, a year gone by, mortality, ever constricting, the existential dread that sets in.

And I will say, totally.

Fall is akin to the feeling of it getting dark on Sunday before school on Monday and you still have a book report to do.

I literally copied and pasted that out of our chat from today. I mean, he’s right, right?

I don’t even know why we were talking about fall. It started out about spring and then sort of progressed. That’s how conversations go with him. Everywhere, meandering, wherever you want them to. He is smart and perceptive and can out-clever me every time. I’d say I got my linguistic prowess from him except he is 16 years younger than me. So clearly I taught him everything he knows.


So far I’ve used it to talk about him, which, well, why the hell not? He certainly offers a unique perspective. Just like the moon.

Here is what he told me:

You can muse about how spring blooms in Tennessee but not in New York.

We were talking about how the trees were blooming here, in big bursts of pink and white. And how he still wakes up to a dusting of snow. So it’s a matter of perspective, just like libration.

I feel like I should give this word its due, so let’s try.

Ready for your science lesson?

The moon, as you probably already know, is tidally locked to the earth. That means we only ever see one half of it. But really, we actually see 59% of it. That’s because the moon’s orbit is elliptical, and its axis is slightly tilted relative to the earth. For reasons of physics and science things, this motion manifests as a north-south sort of nodding, and an east-west sort of denial. In effect, the moon appears to wobble a bit over the course of an evening and a cycle.

These motions are called librations of the moon.

And now I know, and now you know, or maybe you knew already and I’m the only one who missed the memo about the three olive martinis for lunch.

In the end it comes down to perspective. And how it changes depending on where we are standing and what we’re looking at.

Libration as a metaphor for life.

True, right?

It has its roots in the Latin libra, meaning to balance, or weigh. It should also sound familiar as a constellation that is represented on the Zodiac by scales. If I had a week to ponder it instead of just an hour or two, or if I was David and came up with this stuff in eight seconds, I could have had a field day with all sorts of life metaphors. I tell him all the time that he should be a writer, but he usually just says, nah. And then goes on to write a lot of interesting things that I wish I had.

David and I are both Leos. I feel like maybe there is some important synergy there that could be expounded upon, too.

If I was David, I’d wax poetic about how we’re all fixed in our positions, the central point of our own perspective, observing as life moves and changes around us. And how depending on where we are, we can see the same thing very differently. Wars are fought over that. Martinis are shared during debates over that. It helps to recognize that what we see isn’t the only reality.

Alas, my poetry really stops at carrots.

By the way, this is the same brother who, you may recall, once hid in my bathroom cabinet and waited there for an hour thinking I’d eventually find him. He must have had a lot of time to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

The same brother who chased waves with me so we could collect tiny stones is now handing me words like libration and waiting for me to do something with them.

The stones are still in the glass jar. And the word, now, is immortalized on these pages.

And if the moon in the photo at the top of this page looks familiar, it should. It’s the one over Olema, the one that changed my perspective on what moons are and where I want to be in the world in relation to it.

And lest I leave you with the perspective that my brother is some pedantic nerd, he is one of the most delightfully witty people that I know. I can tell you with all the certainty in my sisterly being that he said that word in jest, never suspecting that he would play a starring role in many, many words. Some of which turned out to be his.

Photo: September 2017, from a porch in Olema, of one of the most memorable moons I have ever seen. If only a photo could have captured it.