Sunday, May 31, 2009
Weight of the world
Words are cheap. It's only words. Only feelings matter. How many times have we all said it and meant it?
We were wrong.
Words have heft, depth, size and weight even at a time when words are conflated and inflated, signifying nothing. Empty titles to obscure the menial nature of a job. Sanitation or domestic engineer instead of janitor and homemaker. Administrative assistant instead of secretary or girl Friday. Administrative consultant instead of temporary office worker. And the relabeling goes on as if someone with a new label maker must justify the expense and renames everything. It's a new kind of shell game played with words.
The politically correct police have outlawed, or made inappropriate, simple words: dwarf, gimp, blind, fat, skinny, stupid, idiot, vapid, ugly, plain, empty, old, young, handicapped, useless. Everything gets a new designation, a less hurtful and ego friendly name. Who are they kidding? Most of the time, simple words are best. They say what they mean and the person means what they say.
As a teenager just discovering cursing, I was hopeless, which turned out to be a good thing since I wasn't fond of the taste of soap. SOB became son of a biscuit eater. Hell was heck and damn was darn. The words that came out of my mouth were sanitized, sans soap, but the words in my head remained the same: son of a bitch, hell and damn. Some were worse. I'll bet you can guess what fudge and shucks really meant. Inside my head or out of my mouth, the words had a certain taste and considerable weight. All the really good words do: freedom, love, friendship, poverty, hatred, anger, death and life. We all forget that sometimes, the heft, and dimensions and often massive weight of words, not in their ability to inflict pain or pleasure, but in their ability to keep hope alive. That really didn't become real to me until I began corresponding with people in other countries.
I was born in America and traveled some of the world with my father who was in the Army. I was fascinated and amazed by people and cultures of everyone I saw. It never occurred to me that I was privileged. I had no frame of reference -- until now. I have pen pals and fans in more countries than I visited as a child. We are drawn together and get to know each other with words. We have not met in person, but we have a common language. Sometimes the meanings are a bit different, but at the heart of things we share a love of and need for words.
Many of the people have a simple vocabulary, but the one thing they share is a willingness to learn, to stretch their knowledge and reach for more, weight lifting words. At first, our discussions are very basic, but as we get to know each other, feeling out the territory and finding the right words, the concepts become more complex. One thing remains the same, their idea of what it's like to live in this country, to be an American.
Like the statue that stands on an island in the New York harbor holding a book and a torch, America means space and freedom to break out of the narrow confines of religion, politics and culture to embrace a future without limits. They have not been taught that words are cheap or meaningless or that they are empty and devoid of life and flavor like fat-free food. All they know is the feel of the words on their tongue and the hoarded and weighty mass of the words in their dreams and minds that is at once as light as a feature and as solid as the Statue of Liberty. Words have weight like actions have consequences. They know America isn't perfect, but they believe that only here can they dream big and work to make their dreams come true.
As I sift through the words of my novels, throwing out whatever doesn't make sense or is repetitious, I forget what those words cost, and they cost a lot. They are a distillation of my dreams and experiences, what I have seen and what I still hope to find. They are the threads of hope woven to create a tapestry of possibility. Those words carry the weight my dreams. As they move out and into the other people's hands, they are proof that dreams become flesh and blood, muscle and sinew, soul and heart. They are inspiration, the breath of the gods. Words have heft and breadth, width and weight as they connect ideas to action and dreamer to dreamer. The are not cheap and they are more than consonants, vowels and sentences. Use them wisely before they are regulated and outlawed. They are the stuff of life and reality. They carry the weight of the world.