Tag Archives: language

680-640x480“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John1:1, KJV))

In the original Greek, “Word” was “Logos” and it meant, among other things, reason and discourse. The writer (or writers) of the Book of John, used Logos to describe a spiritual entity, grown from the power of God’s reason. This Logos, this Word, had so much power that He came down in human form. Language in itself had power. Christians should understand this given the commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (KJV)

Today, we rarely acknowledge the power of words. They are as throw-away as used tissue. They are “just words.”

Are these just words?

TRUMP: “Yeah that’s her in the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs [breath fresheners] just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”

BUSH: “Whatever you want.”

TRUMP: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

I saw an internet meme that said that since these words were not actions, they weren’t so bad. The meme claimed, that these words expressed “what the person wants to be, not what they are.” Like, “I want to be a fireman when I grow up.” So, I guess, in this case, that means, “I want to be a rapist when I grow up.” Yes, that’s so much better.

Words, however, are not just words. Word are not separate from action for in their power they have action on us. We may not see it as physical/mechanical action, but they are not tissue or ephemeral fluff that disappears the moment they are spoken.

Those particular words spoken by the candidate create actions. Several.

  1. This is a man that many people admire. A small population could see this as tacit permission to follow his lead. “He does it, so can I.” I hear the protests, already. “That doesn’t make it Trump’s fault!” Of course not. It makes it the fault of those cheering him on as a fine, upstanding citizen worthy of representing our country rather than condemning him for his behavior. It makes it the fault of those calling it “locker room talk” when it is, instead, an assault strategy. Say, “I wish I could just grab her pussy.” Fine. You’re a sleaze and you’re desperately lonely. You’re not evil. However, say, “Just grab her pussy. You can do it. You’re a star.” That’s an assault strategy.
  2. In the population there are already perpetrators. Every one of them has just been validated by these words that were “just words” and by everyone who gives the speaker a pass.

Men like the old cowboy that molested me when I was twelve have just been validated. It’s all good. Boys will be boys. Just grab her by the… Yup. Perfectly okay to take what you want. Half the voters love him so half the country must agree with him and with me. Just words.

  1. That validation has a flip side. The victims are being re-victimized. For those of us who can stand up and spit out the gall and the absurdity of it, we will go on, even though our pain and anger remains. For those for whom it is just too much pain to bear…my heart breaks.

To those who will continue to hold that candidate up as a paragon of virtue or even say, “Yeah, he’s an ass, but he’s good for the country!” or, as I saw the other day, “Fuck your feelings!” I pray you never have a daughter or granddaughter or any loved one that is harmed in this way. I pray it is never you.

  1. Finally, let’s not forget the good guys. The men who don’t behave like people are trash they can use and throw away. The men who actually love and respect their partners. I know there are many on both sides of the aisle. They too are harmed by these “just words” and they don’t always know it. As a survivor, it becomes difficult to trust again when re-victimized in this way. We have to be able to look at the men around us and know they get it. We have to know we can trust them to protect us and that trust is damaged if they don’t get it. Especially when “every guy talks/thinks like that” rings through the air.

So, no, they aren’t just words.

A note to anyone throwing the Bill Clinton grenade. 1) Yep. He’s a dog. He’s not running for president. If he were, I wouldn’t vote for him. 2) If you’re going to point at Bill Clinton and his dog-ness (poor dogs!) then you MUST point at Donald Trump. You can’t use Bill Clinton as an excuse for Trump’s behavior. You can’t say, “Bill Clinton did this X years ago so Trump can do it now.”  By that logic you can say, “Stalin slaughtered tens of millions of people, so we can slaughter tens of millions of people now” — that’s just stupid.

As a writer, I believe it’s my job to imbue my words with compassion, integrity, and reason to the best of my ability. We humans have been given this gift, this powerful tool, Logos, reason, that can be used to lift us up as a species, rather than humiliate and harm others.

As Christians, we were given Logos, the Word, and He had a lot to say about how to treat other people. I don’t recall “grab ‘em by the pussy.”*

The Great Imagery Hunt or Walk 1.8 miles in my Brooks Trainers.

In the search for the ultimate imagery for our work, writers dredge up memory and metaphor that surprise and thrill our readers, that surpass cliché. In particular, I struggle with the language of sound and smell because I tire of the common metaphors and descriptors of these senses.

An example: In my thesis, I wrote of a storm that “mumbled” and a note appeared next to it, “grumbled?”

Mumbled. That’s what I meant. I didn’t mean that it grumbled and growled like a beast overhead or an angry old man. I meant that it mumbled like an indiscernible conversation. I was trying to show that it was not imminent. Perhaps if I’d spelled it out that way, it would have worked, but I worry such labored metaphors detract and distract from the action at hand. “A distant storm mumbled, sounding like a conversation in another room.” Meh. I’ve just lost my focus on the fact that my character is lying on a hillside with possible broken bones. Do I worry about how the storm is mumbling by dragging out the metaphor? I changed it to avoid the problem, but I didn’t like going to “grumbled” because I’ve heard a hundred other writers (well, perhaps ten) use that same expression. I’m sure there are other options but at the time, I was just trying to finish a thesis. The point remains, when and how do we break free of what is expected of us in terms of imagery/description vs. what we are trying to communicate? And, of course, what are we willing to do for the critic who comes back and says, “Huh? What does this mean?” So, I keep searching for ways to express these ideas. If “mumbled” doesn’t work, what will? What gets across the idea that a storm is making noise far away without being cliché or common?

To find these ideas, we search in our everyday life, of course. For me, that can be a challenge. I am somewhat housebound. I hate to use that term. Let’s say, “restricted.” I can tolerate some sun, but not a lot. I am perfectly ambulatory; my husband and I walk a couple of miles a night. We fish early mornings and evenings when we take vacations. I’m not stuck in a bed 24/7. I just have some limitations. I can’t go jogging in a park or hiking in a canyon or the woods in midday. I can’t launch a canoe at 9 a.m. and return to shore at 3 p.m. (though I would love to do so). My ability to gather data then is limited to grabbing at bits and pieces as I move from one place to another or in the little two-hour swatches of the world fabric I get here and there.

I get a surprising amount of data from the nightly 1.8 mile walks with my husband. Often, the familiarity of it leads to a certain numbness, but now and then I awaken to the smells and sounds.

On windy nights, each street has a life of its own. This street with its oaks and north-south facing has a stiff breeze and sharp sound. The wind pours unimpeded over the rooflines and sends the odd oak leaf skittering down the street. On another street, the wind is raked fine and soft with the needles of huge loblollies. It’s a ghostly sound that takes me back to childhood every time. Along the creek, the song of the frogs and the power lines mingle with cool air even in the hottest months. And on one street, the houses seem to stack up somehow and form a barrier such that, no matter the direction of the wind, the street is always a stagnant, stifling cave. At best, the very tips of the tallest pines will sway.

On still, damp nights, neighborhood smells bloom. Gardens of sweet or sulfurous blossoms waft through privacy fencing. Hints of Indian, Korean, Filipino, Tex-Mex, BBQ, and other meals leak through kitchen windows. Perfumed laundry fresheners puff from dryer vents. Fresh mulch and lawn clippings scent the walkways. Sawdust and diesel fuel clouds drift from garages. Then there’s trash night. After all those wonderful meals, clusters of “Ew!” sit on the sidewalk every sixty feet or so.

We pass from five to twenty-five neighbors, most of whom have earned a badge for Southern Hospitality. My husband smiles, waves and says, “How are you?” to everyone he sees. He often says, “Happy Saturday!” (Or whatever day is appropriate. Be prepared for “Happy Monday!” and go with it.) His smile is contagious and his friendliness near impossible to ignore. We have won over the most hardcore grumble-and-scowl walkers in our neighborhood. While we know the names of maybe five of these good folk, I believe they think well of us (him) and we trust them in an emergency. Many have dogs and if you have a dog, you can’t be all bad, right?

In all this walking and smelling and greeting and smiling, I am writing. Not literally walking along with pen in hand and composing, of course. Not even rushing in the door to jot notes (though that’s a good idea). It’s all been stored (theoretically) so when I come back to those metaphors like the storm so distant that it sounds like an indistinct conversation, I will have more writing fuel. I will (I hope) prevent myself from slipping into the usual “grumbling storms” or “flashing eyes” or “burgeoning” whatever burgeons.

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Happy Tree!

It’s only a small piece of the collection process. I will always need more. Trips to the beach. Trips to the Hill Country, Las Cruces, Dallas, other parts of the state, the city, the bayou. Early mornings in my own backyard looking at my favorite tree (Happy Tree) and watching the hummingbirds drink from the lantanas while the blind dog tries to catch the fly that’s buzzing him. Still, it covers a lot of ground and for me, in my circumstances, I look for all the opportunities I can find.