Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Comfort of Good Words

      “Writing and Reading decrease our sense of isolation.”

“Books help us understands who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; show us how to live and die.”
                                                                             Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

Okay, I’ll admit it. I am on a slide-backwards. All my goals for new beginning and new year are fighting to slip through my hands. In the chest heavings of winter and daily frustrations, I have driven through Sonic for too much drink, ate a greasy hamburger at Steak and Shake with DH, sneaked into a flea market for a fast and brief tea cup fix, ordered a used paperback online, and waved goodbye to my writing muse as she shook her head at my threatened exit.

Going to bed last night, I promised myself a fresh start this morning. But I overslept by an hour and got up to frigid floors, frosty air and dark skies out the window. I knew snow and more cold were coming. I made tea and headed for my SAD light with all intentions of leaping up and jumping into the day. Ah, and then I began to read…..

I picked up a yellowed paperback that has been around here for years. I decided I’d either read it or throw it away. It was Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and I had never read it. It had me from the first chapter. Steinbeck’s sentences have a rocking flow that lures you in like the gentle swaying of an anchored boat near a breezy shore or the easy pitching of a train rumbling down a track. His vocabulary is sharp and vivid and pokes the reader with interesting words.

Becoming lost in Steinbeck’s words, I thought about the worries that books will be come obsolete, of being replaced by digital readers. I have a bigger worry—that vocabulary is being lost by tweeting, emailing and texting. Shortcuts and lost letters take the lead now; the beautiful language, not to mention the metaphoric imagery, we used to use for speaking and writing is becoming a thing of the past too.

I took a break from Steinbeck to watch CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, always a treat with articles of arts and literature. This morning there was a profile of David Sedaris and his popularity as a writer, his great success both writhing and reading his own written words. Ah, something was lost for me. I didn’t get his charm or his vocabulary or his humor. I wish I knew what I was missing. Can someone explain my shortsightedness?

Now though I “need” to do many things, I am going to pour more tea, ignore that dryer buzzer and return to Depression Era California and “see and hear” those days through Steinbeck’s well chosen vocabulary.
The shootings in Arizona, more sorrow and heartache…more indication that we are not the people we like to think we are. How long can we be assaulted by horror and not grow numb to it, not become like characters in a sci-fi book that have lost their emotions?

I won’t rant and rave on the topic as many better qualified than I will speak. But I do have one question in my mind. Can at least some of the issues we face like bullying, hate crimes, even random acts of violence be a direct result of vocabulary or lack of it? Have we narrowed down our speech, our words to ones that are only shallow and hateful and finger pointing? Has the “right” to say what we want, to express ourselves, overpowered that old adage of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

There are no simple answers for sure, but I would like to live in a kinder, gentler world, and I think that it starts with kinder thoughts, gentler words. Yep, I know, Pollyanna at her finest here, but is there really any alternative plan right now?


noexcuses said...

I'm glad you had a day to yourself. I, too, have thought about books going by the wayside. I am not an avid reader, but when I do read, I tend to jump inside of the story and witness everything that is written.

Tuscon has hit us all like a knife in the heart! I feel so badly for the families and friends. I don't know what the answer is, but maybe if more of us paid better attention to our surroundings and the people within them, it might be a good start.

Great post!

Susan said...

Hello Bookie...As far as writers are concerned, each one is different and we like or dislike a particular book, depending on our taste. Not everyone is going to like the same authors and that's okay. You don't have to question yourself.

Like you, I am saddened by the state of affairs in our world. The only thing we really can do is aim for peace and gentleness in our own lives, in our own homes, with our own families and friends. Hopefully, that peace will spread out to others with whom we come in contact.

For me, knowing God is in charge, no matter WHAT is happening in the world, is comforting. Susan

Linda O'Connell said...

Hi Claudia,
Hope you get your groove back. I know the feeling. This fall I discovered a couple yellowed Steinbeck books and read them too. I enjoyed them as much as you did, but probably because some of those characters reminded me of my dad and his brothers. I love your description of the writing.

I too, am saddened by the state of affairs in this country. We can only do OUR part and impart kindness and teach love by example. Have a great week. Snow yet?

Rebecca said...

I, too, am struggling to get into gear. I can relate so closely to your first paragraph that it SCARES me :)

Re. your question, the Bible says that words and ultimately actions spring from deep within a person. I fear we have placed far too much value on the externals and as individuals and a society have ignored our deepest and most basic need--spiritual regeneration! NEW hearts! The Bible (still the best-seller, I believe) says,

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23, NLT

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. Matthew 12:34, NLT

Barb Hodges said...

Claudia, everything you said and the comments that followed, resonated with me. First, I believe each of us goes through dry spells. Knowing that we won't remain there, gives us hope. I think it also helps us to appreciate those fruitful times. Second, let's determine to be vessels of words that lift up, not tear down.
Words are so powerful, both for good and for evil. This doesn't mean we avoid saying what needs to be said, but we can voice words without being vindictive, ugly, rude, insensitive, etc. Once those words are out, we can't take them back. Someone said, "be careful what you say. You might have to eat your words."

BECKY said...

Hi Claudia! It appears I've been missing your blog again. How can that happen?? Yours is definitely one of my favorites, and somehow it gets lost in the shuffle! Before I forget, I have to tell you that I think of you every week when I watch CBS Sunday Morning!! The first time I read that you, too, like it, I knew we were a lot alike! A few months ago we got a cable box that tapes shows, like a TIVO, and that is one show I have set to tape every Sunday. So many times, I'd forget about it or sleep a little too late and miss some of it. My husband likes to watch it with me later in the week, too. I like David Sedaris, but some of his writings are funnier than others. Some are laugh out loud funny! The things he read on the show, were not some of his hilarious stuff! And then, again, you may not ever think he's funny and that is perfectly OK!! I've gone on much too long....Have a restful weekend, and your writing muse will return!