Tuesday, February 26, 2013

on words

Truth is elusive.
Truth avoids institutional control.
Truth tugs at conventional syntax.
Truth hovers at the edge of the visual field.
Truth is relational.
Truth lives in the library and on the subway.
Truth is not two-sided; it's many-sided.
Truth burrows in the body.
Truth flickers.
Truth comes on little cat's feet, and down back alleys.
Truth doesn't always test well.
Truth invites you back for another look.

From the Hebrew proverbs: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." 

In the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which I found at my sister-in-law's house and also contains the above list describing truth, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre says
A felicitous word choice is one that so precisely names an idea or experience that it produces for the reader or hearer a shock of recognition, a surprised "Yes! That's it!" and a gratifying sense of having put two interlocking pieces of a puzzling world perfectly in place.
My father-in-law loves to do jigsaw puzzles, it's his way to unwind. And when all of the siblings go back for a visit, he loves when we join him around the card table, the pieces splayed across a felt mat. One time he packed a puzzle in his suitcase when he visited our house, and we spent our spare time over the four days of his visit assembling a picture of Mickey Mouse, a mosaic of screen shots from Disney movies.

There's a rush of satisfaction almost like adrenaline when out of thousands of pieces I find the one that perfectly fits the shape and picture. It's the same with words. My friend, who just read Nabokov for the first time -- Lolita -- described one of the reasons she loved the book: the author's turns of phrase were both surprising and perfectly apt.

A word fitly spoken is truth.

I don't always do this well, and I know in these blog entries I rarely do it well. This kind of fitness takes time. Lots of time. Fit words are a gift whenever and wherever they occur, a gift to both the one who hears or reads them and to the one through whom they pass. But they won't be found if we won't listen for them. They're just off to the side, near our blind spot. They're deft paws on dry asphalt.

There's a lot of noise today, a lot of words flying around our atmosphere, and most of them are cheap, unfit, flabby words. They're 25-piece children's puzzles. They're quick and easy. Easy to make, easy to digest. That's why good words require us to do the work, the work of taking time to listen.

I hope that today we all get a chance to hear and perhaps give a word fitly spoken, a true treasure.

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