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Omphaloskepsis??? Omphaloskepsis!

Yep, omphaloskepsis. That’s a new word I got from jed. High-falutin’ way of saying “navel gazing.”

That’s what I’m supposed to be doing, starting Saturday and going through the end of the year. I’ve gotten several nice messages wishing me “Happy Hermitting.” I’ll be here for you if you need me. I’ll be thinking of you. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Many of the messages are tinged with envy — busy parents and full-time workers and people with a thousand other commitments wishing they, too, could have a retreat.

I agree it’s a privilege. Absolutely.

The very fact that so many people care about this and wish they could do something similar themselves inspires me to want to do it well (even as I realize that having a goal — something to do well at — might run counter to the purpose).

Two days before beginning, I’m still not sure what I’m aiming for. Or how to go about getting there. Or how to go about just “being there” as the case may be.


One friend wrote about a week he spent away from home, doing something he’s absolutely passionate about. During that week, he was not just away from home but away from what passes for the real world. Didn’t hear a bit of news. Had no idea what was happening outside the little realm he and his equally enthusiastic companions created.

He was totally immersed and totally content. Contentment faded when he returned, though. The world closed in again. “I don’t know how to ‘do’ just a little ‘world,'” he wrote. “Seems like it’s all or nothing.”

Same here, which is one reason I worry about being able to do this right.


I have to assure those who imagine I’m going to quit blogging and disappear. I’m not. I understand why someone would think that because on the face of things, that’s actually the right way to do it: total withdrawal, total immersion.

I will be here blogging. Maybe a little less often, but no disappearance. A living must be earned and (I look around at the snoozing dogs and cat and see no volunteers) it appears I’m the member of the household who’s going to do it. Besides, you guys here are vital to me.

I’ve also committed to help keep The Zelman Partisans going, and after such a great start with such great people, I’m not going to be the one who lets that effort falter. (Thank heaven for such an energetic bunch to work with!)

So my retreat won’t be my disappearance. Some might not even notice.

A part of me wishes it were otherwise. That part of me would like to close the computer tomorrow night and not open it again until New Year.

Moderating my computer time, moderating my email time, moderating my time connected to the world just isn’t something I’m good at. As my friend observed, “I don’t know how to ‘do’ just a little ‘world.'”

But then, this is precisely what I need to learn. One can walk completely away from the everyday for a weekend, a week, a month, or a year. One can practice omphaloskepsis in solemn silence on a mountaintop or in a cave or in a Sedona, Arizona New Age resort. But eventually one has to return to reality. And does a year of airy, unreal serenity impart what you need to know to deal with that?

The real trick (it seems to me, standing here at the brink with a complete lack of expertise and direction) is learning how to be in the midst of reality without succumbing to its most negative brain-eating forces.

Sometimes that trick seems harder than juggling six flaming swords, three live cats, a vat of acid, and a career all at the same time.


  1. Pat
    Pat October 30, 2014 2:56 pm

    Have you thought back to when you took your sabbatical? What did you learn from that? Were you satisfied with the results? (I THINK you went to a retreat for a while, didn’t you?)

    I think you’re trying too hard. If you want your books to be “Kindled”, work on that. If you want your house fixed up more, work on that. If you want to take more walks/improve photography-taking/jewelry-making/artwork/study yoga,etc, work on that. Or do each of those things for a week and see what relaxs you enough to keep you interested… or interests you enough to relax you.

    For I do believe that interest and (mental) relaxation work hand-in-hand. When you/anyone keeps his mind interested and productive, you WILL relax and forget the rest of the world — at least for a while. Good luck.

  2. jed
    jed October 30, 2014 7:56 pm

    “Omphaloskepsis” differentiates itself from other high-dollar words by virtue of it’s amusing character. It is an utterly cromulent word.

    I wish I could think of any last-minute sage advice. But other than just deciding to tune out the unwanted outer-world crap and focus on what’s important to yourself, I guess you know that part already, and people don’t not call me Master Po for nothin’. 🙂

  3. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal October 30, 2014 8:40 pm

    I do hope you get what you need from it.

    Surprisingly, I have no desire to “hermit” any more. I spent the first part of my life that way, never thinking I might change, and now don’t wish to ever go back. (Well, unless I do it right in a cave or a wikiup, wearing buckskins, etc.) It doesn’t mean I don’t need to withdraw for private time during the day- just that I have no desire to hermit for an extended time. In fact, I hunger for more social interaction than I currently get- within limits. I can’t imagine the “me” from 15 years ago saying that!

    But, I can see why some people might feel the need; if their current lives are more pressured than mine.

  4. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty October 31, 2014 8:16 am

    I think you’ve really discovered what you need to get out of this period, Claire. Anyone can probably manage to find peace and freedom in a remote retreat from all the world, but the real challenge is to learn how to recreate that peace, or even bits of it, while one deals with the ordinary life that must accompany earning a living and interacting with the people around us. Saying a firm “no” to destructive pressures, and a hearty “yes” to those things which nurture and empower us is the way to do that.

    Sending all the warm and good “vibes” I can generate.

  5. Laird
    Laird October 31, 2014 11:16 am

    Claire, I’m sure you’ll “do it right”. Emulate Lebowski: just abide, dude! (

    Jed: “cromulent”? You sent me scurrying to the (online) dictionary. Thanks for a marvelous word!

  6. LarryA
    LarryA October 31, 2014 11:45 am

    “You can do nothing well.”
    “You can do nothing, well.”

    Big difference.

  7. R.L. Wurdack
    R.L. Wurdack November 1, 2014 8:25 am

    I’ve really got to get a better dictionary.

    What the heck is “cromulent?”

  8. Claire
    Claire November 1, 2014 8:39 am

    LOL, R.L., I wondered the same thing. According to, it means “fine” or “acceptable” or — sarcastically — not really fine or acceptable.

    But without a dictionary, just looking at the word itself, I’d be inclined to go for a definition more like:

    * Grossly overweight; beyond obese
    * Covered with crumbs, as a crumb cake
    * Covered with crumbs, as in a dirty floor
    * Oozing
    * Officious to the point of bootlicking
    * Extremely intellectually pretentious perorations by a grossly overwight person who is also oozing slime and consequently covered with sticky crumbs.

    Anybody else want to have a shot at their own dictionaryless definition?

  9. Laird
    Laird November 1, 2014 9:37 am

    The Urban Dictionary defines “cromulent” as “Used in an ironical sense to mean legitimate, and therefore, in reality, spurious and not at all legitimate. Assumes common knowledge of the inherent Simpsons reference.”

    Wiktionary calls it “a humorous neologism coined by television writer David X. Cohen” (a writer for The Simpsons). It cites the following piece of dialog:

    Mrs. Krabappel: “Embiggens”? I never heard that word before moving to Springfield.
    Ms. Hoover: I don’t know why, it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

    I intend to add it to my active lexicon (along, incidentally, with “embiggen”, which I’ve been using for some time without knowing its etymology).

  10. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty November 1, 2014 10:59 am

    cromulent: shiny like something chrome plated?

  11. Karel
    Karel November 1, 2014 5:17 pm

    cromulent: crawling on it’s belly like a reptile.

    cromulent: crusty, like eyes after a bad night’s sleep.

    cromulent: vomit inducing

  12. jed
    jed November 2, 2014 5:37 am

    Not being a Simpsons devotee, I had no idea of the word’s origin. Just from internet usage, it seems to be used not ironically, to indicate that something is good, or well suited to a purpose.

    Can’t come up with an alternate definition though. Just get hung up on Crom and I don’t know where to go with that.

  13. Claire
    Claire November 2, 2014 2:10 pm

    Well, while I’m checking in here are a couple more experimental definitions for cromulent. 🙂

    Just short of being refulgent.

    Executed with contumely.

    There, I hope that’s all nice and clear.

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