11 September 2008

Heinz 57

The English language is such a diverse and wonderful thing. It can distract you, confuse you and bring you to tears with laughter when arranged in one way or another. That’s why I think I love it so… and hate it so.

For instance, take the word WIND: it stands for storm, blustery weather, breeze and also coil, twist, curl and wrap around… but, wait, I’m not done yet – it can mean snake, meander, bend and curve (among others). So, if I was to say: ‘Wind the wind,’ would you take it to mean I want you to ‘twist the breeze’, or ‘storm the snake? – as you know, snake can mean reptile or curve… How confusing is that? And only I know for sure, don’t I? You can guess what I mean by that, but until I tell you what I mean - flat out or in other ways – you’ll never truly know. You can only speculate.

I love that I can write a book and each person who reads it puts a little of themselves into it. Daddy's Boots and Mama's Boots are fine examples. The main character in these picture books are non-gender specific, yet everyone who's read them, without exception, has pictured the main character as a boy if their child is a boy, or as a girl if their child is a girl. That’s the magic – the wonderment of the written word; the written story.
It can also be a detriment to a story - from any storyteller, seasoned or raw. I mean something completely innocent in writing: “He aggressively spackled his way to the end of the crowded hall.” But if you don’t really know what ‘spackled’ means, you could come up with maybe three or four actions he may be taking as he would wind (meander) down the crowded hall. (You probably do know what ‘spackled’ means now the HGTV is such a hit, along with other do-it-yourself programs… but I digress.)

I could write a story about a boy named Russy, who takes a balloon to the top of an old, gutted-out barn to release it into the breeze in the hopes that someone in Denmark will find it, and connect with him in some magical way… and you would inevitably remember yourself in a similar situation as a child (as close as you can get, anyway) and would attach the appropriate-to-you feelings associated to my words of danger, hope, expectations and wonder. But, what if someone you loved fell off a barn roof as a child and died? Would my innocent words then cause fear and anxiety, loss, anguish and discomfort? I believe they would. And, the closer you were to the accident or the deceased, the stronger those feelings would be, dontcha think? And, what if you grew up in a big city where barns are scarce? Would you picture a big, red monstrosity, or a small, rectangular horse shack? It makes a difference to the story, doesn’t it? I mean, if he climbed ten feet in the air to release a balloon, well that’s not nearly as scary as if he had to climb up the ladder, shimmy onto the broadside and make his way up a slight, but ever-so-dangerous pitch of the barn roof fifty feet from death – all with a balloon grasped tightly in his sweaty, cramping hand – he’s been holding on to that string so tightly. He doesn’t want to release it until he can attach the paper holding his identity. Which is in his… Did he remember to grab it off the table as he rushed out the door? Did he put it in his pocket?...

What feelings emit from thinking he may have gotten nearly all the way to the top of that barn roof, only to discover he’d forgotten his name? (See how I did that? He didn’t really forget his name – only the piece of paper holding his name – but still, in essence, his name.) Don’t you hate that feeling? Getting somewhere very important, like a business meeting, just at the nick-of-time, not a moment to spare, and, OOPS! Forgot the main presentation!

Did the words put those feelings into your mind/memory or did your associations to those words do the trick? If you walk into a bakery, would the counter girl with the pimply face and braces who’s handing you your biscuit remind you of your grandma’s cooking, or would the hot, melty aroma bring your memories smack dab back into the warmth of her kitchen and heart? But, what if your grandma was a meanie-boobaleenie and ate the biscuits in front of you and wouldn't share, even though the cupboards were bare? Yeah, you wouldn't be so happy in the bakery then, would you?

The same words can mean very many different things to humans – whether spoken or written. We place our assumptions and beliefs as to what we think is going on inside the mind of a storyteller. It happens all the time in books, magazine articles and in presidential speeches. Did Barack mean for his words to imply Sarah Palin is a pig in lipstick… I hope not. I doubt it, really – what I do think happened is he stumbled up to that path unawares and opened the gate before he knew what he was doing, then thought, “What the heck, I’m already here.” and ran right over the “Stay out” sign, instead of just closing the gate and leaving that unsaid. Everyone in his audience placed their perceptions of what they believed he meant by that – you could tell by their reactions, they all believed it to be a slight on Sarah. Was it? Only Barack knows for sure.

We will never know if he meant it or not, or what he really meant it to mean. Because once them-that-know got a hold of it, it went hog-wild-crazy. Mouths started screaming, words started spewing and


For every written word, probably at least five meanings can be attached. For every sentence - probably 57 ways to interpret it. For every feeling the author tries to capture and relay back to you in the written word, you attach your history, your feelings, your upbringing, your desires, your dreams, your disappointments, humiliations, fear, anger…and your feelings about the author as a person. If you pick up a book by Stephen King, you already know you're gonna get the $hit scared out of you, and more than likely are disappointed when you find out it's a romance novel - but still at every turn of the page you keep expecting the monster to come lurking from the shadows. If you feel the author is writing through hate and destruction, you feel it in the words and take it to your heart – the doors and windows of your soul slam shut. But, if you start to read with no preconceived notions about whence the author comes, the windows fling wide and the doors sweep open, allowing you the full pleasure of the taste of each and every word. In many ways, I guess, a writer is like a Chef – putting together a masterpiece for you to devour, and always hoping you take something away from the table you enjoyed and will savor until the next course.

Bon App├ętit.


James A. Bowders said...

To form and convey a concise and definitive perception of thought…who’d thunk it?

Communication, even oral communication sometimes has to stop for a few words from our sponsors.

But what do I know?

James A. Bowders said...

OH, I forgot to mention...It tastes like chicken!

But what do I know?

pass the popcorn, please!