On Words and Wordlessness

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W

Letter W is all about words.

                                                                                                                                                       
A to Z entries:  My post for each letter of the alphabet will be anecdotes or musings based on an element from the previous letter’s post.  Names always changed, events always real.

 ~ Letter V was for Vanity and its different colors, and now for the different colors of…words. ~


 
I love words the way other people love dogs and ice cream.  Sometimes I hoard them.  I can’t part with some word combinations even if they don’t belong in a piece.  In fact, this entire post is made up of scraps and disjointed notes that at first did not belong together.

Every thought around which I form a sentence or paragraph, I collect somewhere in case it fits in future writing.  Portions of previous social media posts and blog entries lie dormant until I find a permanent, more relevant home for them among other sentences.

I treat them as if I’m an oyster and each of them, a pesky spec that took me years to make into my pearl of a phrase.

It’s as if keeping words might infuse me with their power to seal, break, play, soothe, provoke and teach.  Or pass time in a new way.

Spritely Scrabble

Little Miss Spritely beating me at Scrabble then making the words hang midair.

I used to worry about all the ideas I’d forget if I couldn’t make note of them fast enough.  But through the notes and scraps, I saw that I unknowingly repeated so many of the same thoughts.  It turned out that if a thought wasn’t restated, it probably wasn’t important enough.  Instead, soon I started worrying that I had exhausted all of my own personal recurring themes.

For example, there was a time when I wondered, why are there so many men strewn into these posts?  Since when did Gunmetal Geisha become a dating blog?  But I learned to leave myself alone.  The posts are about how I navigate through life, and a cast of characters, some of whom are men, is one way through which I’ve been shaped and marked.  “Growth” would be mostly irrelevant if there weren’t anybody in the world but you.

But letting go of words?  It still worries me.

The more you write, the more refined becomes your skill of cutting, shaping and distilling ideas.  Your feel for the rhythm and pacing of words becomes second nature.

You’re contemptuous of blatant clichés, and spend a lot of time taunting your mind to come up with an original thought to replace the fitting common cliché.  Sometimes the cliché says it irritatingly better.  Sometimes you don’t even know if “original thought” and “blatant cliché” are clichés.  At least you stay away from adages.  Instead, you make up your own and give them an obscure name like Cathartic Monkeyism.

But when you learn that you’re not the first to call each piece of your writing a birthing, you’re ruffled.  Did you resort to a cliché without even knowing it?!  You suppose you could’ve said it’s like “passing a stone.”  But let’s face it, that’s simply not the same as “birthing.”  You never stop second guessing:  Just said “let’s face it.”  At what point does expression end and cliché begin?

Maybe you should start a chart that keeps track of the gestation period of idiomatic expressions before they become full-on cliché.

You evolve past the point where every time you write a paragraph, you have to lie down for a few minutes.  You accept that there’s always a shorter way to say something.  You know that if you’re imparting information, the quicker you allow your reader to register a thought, the more of your thoughts they’ll willingly grasp.  The short route is the better route, unless of course, there’s a spectacularly scenic one.  But even then, too many adjectives are hazardous to your sentences.

Still, cutting is painful.  Essential.  Painful.  A horrid dance of the two.  When I cut, I have to create a separate document entitled “Cuttings” to serve as a graveyard for unused sentences.

If infinite songs can be composed with the same finite notes, does it mean if you don’t record a particular melody, you might lose it forever?  At some point, you hope to become enough of a writer that you don’t have to hold on so tightly to words.

There was a boy, nineteen, in Paris, when I was around twenty.  His name was Michael Lerchl, and he was Austrian.  I don’t mind saying his name, because once I returned to New York and he to Vienna, we had a yearlong exchange of letters before he disappeared into the world.  I never got over needing to find him to make sure he existed int he first place.

So I print his true name.

Ours was a platonic three-week relationship in which we ran around the quatrième and the nightclubs of Paris.

Lana and I were traveling through Europe together for the second time, and by then, we were expat regulars at Les Bains Douches, a Parisian nightclub on par with Studio 54 in its heyday.  One of the nights at Les Bains, Lana ran into a pretty blonde acquaintance.  The two girls hugged, and Michael Lerchl quietly stood by.

He was the brother, it turned out, and I was surprised to find myself relieved.  From the moment he introduced himself and shook my hand, we could not stay away from one another.  He would show up every morning to the hotel room I shared with Lana.  He had breakfast with us, walked around Paris all day with us, and at the end of the night, saw us back to the hotel and left until the next morning.  On the occasions we were alone, Michael and I sat forehead to forehead in cafés, monument steps, or on top of statues, wordlessly gazing at each other.  The absence of words too, have meaning.  Sometimes we touched cheeks and palms.

It’s strange to think of him now, and realize he was a teenager.  He was lean with hazel, doe-shaped eyes that were almost too large compared to the rest of his exquisitely chiseled features.

We were both angst-ridden philosophizers.  At a café, over Bordeaux served in a tea glass, I went on and on about how lost I was.  He listened intently, and I kept going on until he finally put up his hand and said gently, “Okay, stop now.”

It was the sincerest gesture I had experienced from anyone up to that point.  He only meant to listen to me as long he heard me, and once he stopped hearing, he wasn’t going to pretend.   That sort of frankness was a European trait, and I adored him for it.

This is how Michael marked me:  He asked me how I saw myself.  I said, as a writer.  He said, well then, you must have boxes and boxes of your writing at home.

I did not.  It was then that I realized you cannot be a writer in spirit.

All these years later, with all my digital “boxes” of writing, I would be able to look Michael in the eyes and call myself a writer.
 


~ Part of the A to Z Challenge ~
A post a day except Sunday for the month of April to cover topics beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

Cathartic Monkeyism returns in May.


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15 comments

  1. john dugan · · Reply

    That’s really good.

  2. It was posted just before midnight and it looks done, but there are no A-Z imprints (as there were on all others) either on the home page or on the post itself. And there are no pictures. I think maybe the writing is finished but not the pictures. But I could be wrong, so I’m going to come back later and see. Could this lack of pictures be, in fact, a signaling mechanism (like the 1,2,3 suggested but more subtle?) to indicate that more is to come? The mind of GG is ever a mystery.

    1. No, mister, in this case, I sent you a personal email instead of covert clues, and it said: Don’t read yet!

      So much for that.

    2. I have to tell you, these comments have been entertaining, Paul. I open them at random times, and they never fail to crack me up. You are one of a kind, and I love it.

  3. It sounds familiar. The doing is indeed defining. Many “occupations” are like that. Only a certain amount of learning and improving can be done intellectually, most has to be done by doing. Cliches: yeah I’ve run across a bit of that. What find (and I have much less exprience than you) is that if I am writing from the inside out, I either use few cliches or the ones I do use are right for the job. If I’m writing from the outside in, then I have to be aware for they will infest my writing. It’s kind of like whether you’re a smoker or not. Many smokers don’t smoke but they are still smokers. They quit from the outside in. Some non-smokers (even some who smoke occassionally) do not care at all about smoking, they just don’t see any point and smoke doesn’t bother or entice them – they “quit” from the inside out. I find it’s the same for me with writing. If I can get in the groove and write from the inside out, it is much higher quality. The problem is that it is hard to get to and even once I am there, it is still a constant learning process by doing.

    Anyway, all that said, your post was fascinating as usual GG. I enjoyed it immensely and it really clicked home for me. Thank you.

    1. All of that makes sense, and I completely get the concept of from “inside out” vs. “outside in.”

  4. liliandruve · · Reply

    good luck!

  5. “But I learned to leave myself alone.” That’s such a great sentence and sentiment, and such an important ongoing process.

    This post gives me the chance to note for the second time in about a week what George Starbuck, the founder of the Writing Program at Boston University, used to say: “You’re only a poet when you’re writing poetry.” And to pair this with thoughts of my mentor A.R. Ammons, a great poet I learned a lot from while at Cornell. Archie never used to ask me if I was writing or if I had written anything lately; when we’d bump into each other on or off campus what he’d always ask me was, “Jeff, are you in love?” Though he never said what he meant by this, I always took it to mean that he thought being in love, with someone, with something, with anything, was more important than writing; that being intensely involved in the process of being alive was what we were transcribing when writing poetry–and that if we found a different and better way to do so that didn’t involve writing, then, well, that was okay too. A vision of Archie shuffling away, his too-tall, gangly self framed by his olive corduroy sports jacket after I answered his question in the affirmative and he’d said, “Well. Goooood!”—that image has kept me comfortable through times of writing and not-writing, of feeling comfortable with words and feeling highly uncomfortable and untrusting around them.

    I can bear that balance–the Taoist idea of the person who knows not having to say a thing, along with Po Chu-i’s remark that Lao-tzu himself felt the need to write a book of five thousand words. I’m okay in there somewhere, and I think you are too, GG. Yeah?

    Michael Lerchl, come out and play!

    1. For sure, Jeff. And I simply adore the image of gangly Archie walking away satisfied after making sure you were “in love,” with anything (writing or not). It’s perfect. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. lrconsiderer · · Reply

    A little of your process is utterly fascinating to learn about. I only have electronic boxes of writing, I think. Mostly, yet it’s all I want to do, and all I care about. I don’t know if I have an attachment to words, more a very violent aggression against sloppy construction, poor grammar and (forgive me) typos…I do them too, and it drives me CRAZY, because really, how hard is it?

    But language is to play with. To neologise with – if there isn’t a word, make one up. If the traditional spacing and standard casing (incidentally, did you know that upper and lower case letters are so called because in the original printing presses, where the letters were all added manually, there was a higher shelf for the capital letters, and a lower, more accessible one for the more frequently used non-capitals. And so they became…) is insufficient to convey a meaning, then change it RightNow.

    I also love the layer, even in words – cold and hard upon the screen, yet with the advent of instant messaging and chatrooms and the new conventions they spawned – of making them come alive; explaining layers of reality beyond pixel on pixel, to show you not only what I’m writing and thinking, but what I’m doing *smiles wryly and makes a ‘ta-dah!’ sign with hands spread wide* (even if I don’t actually do that, but would, were we sat opposite one another.)

    I have no cuttings, as you do. I have no boxes of extras or ideas. I write straight from brain to page, barely stopping to think, having already composed an idea in my mind, or otherwise just write – see what falls out.

    Michael sounds like an incredible young man. It would be perfect if somehow, the utterance of his name could bring him back into your life. Now THAT would be a thing worth writing about 🙂

    1. No, I did not know that about upper and lower cases, and I’m glad to, now!

      Lizzi, your mini-composition above is first-rate. I just love the way your mind works. For me, a brain whose whirring I can hear, is the single most charismatic feature in a human being. I admire it so much. It’s lovely to share discourse with you.

      1. lrconsiderer · ·

        Somehow your writing makes my mind spark, probably more consistently than anyone else’s, in fact. I certainly leave you novels in the comments more frequently than I leave them for anyone else…

        I’m also aware that I leave you the most narcissistic comments (as in, I quite often don’t end up really responding so much to YOUR writing, as I do then chipping in with my piece…as though we’re sitting, having coffee and a chat about these things, and it’s my turn to talk *giggling a little at the thought*).

        I thought you’d like to know about the cases, if you didn’t already. Good 🙂

  7. I have writing strewn everywhere. I have 3 notebooks in my purse, countless journals tucked into a shelf in my closet, notebooks stuffed into old boxes, and Word 97 documents tucked into old folders on my computer.
    I also repeat things… I noticed tonight that I’m pretty sure my last 3 blog posts have said exactly the same thing. I think it’s mostly for me. If I say it over and over again, maybe this time I’ll get it.
    I love this post… your writing is exquisite.

  8. Oh, the oyster and pearl comment. That struck a chord. I do this too. In little notebooks and scraps of paper all over the place. I keep a notepad by my bed because I get so many ideas in the night. This is so wonderful.

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