I went outside this morning and was struck by the realization that all of my neighbors are writers. It happened again at the post office when I saw my acquaintances from around town, they were writers too, every one of them. Even people I didn’t know—I could tell they were writers. On I went to the market where, to my astonishment, everything seemed to have changed overnight. I was assaulted by a whole new battery of signs: Discount Words—The Writers Paradise! Check Our Metaphors Bin, A Cornucopia Of Verbal Images! Buy One Alliterative Triad, Get One Free! Create Your Own Words With One Of Our DIY Syllable Packs! Grab A Handful Of “2Ways,” Nouns that Double As Verbs!
My mind was spinning. I retreated to the parking lot. It had begun to drizzle, just lightly at first, just consonants, but the precipitation quickly became mixed with vowels and before I knew it words were raining upon me, pooling and streaming at my feet, forming here and there what appeared to be phrases or the beginnings of sentences, but mostly they piled up in incomprehensible clusters. My footing was becoming unsteady, but I wanted to linger, maybe put together a few words of my own, leave a comment or message for one of my friends, or maybe pocket a few to use later—but when I scooped them up they were pale and limp, as if lifeless, they came apart in my hand, and the letters slipped through my fingers and were swept away, useless. I’d experienced in the past words coming from out of the blue, but they were invariably fresh and vital and clearly articulated in concert with inspiration, or enlisted to serve an urge toward meaning. In contrast, these words were exhausted—they appeared even to have been abused—and their sheer volume, their gaudy abundance, was like nothing I’d ever seen, making me cringe and turn away from their lurid spectacle.
What was happening? Had these words been denigrated for refusing to participate in tiresome clichés? Had they been hawked to excess by the marketer’s pitch? Had they—for irony’s sake—been dangling for too long in the ambiguous space between saying and meaning? Had they suffered the indignity of the poor carpenter’s maligned tools? I sat in my car, sadly watching the words settling around me, coating the streets, running into the streams that run to the rivers that empty into the sea, and their silent message gradually surfaced in my consciousness, comforting me with the assurance that they’d be there after the storm to verify my world, just as they’d been there to verify it before it forever changed.
Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.
Polonius: "What do you read, my lord?"
Hamlet: "Words, words, words."
Great post, Carl.
What a wonderful web your words weave. Love it. Congrats!!
I enjoyed this, Carl.
I hope there will be more "outside the lines" writing from you in the future Carl. This was a successful example of what else might show up from you. Thanks for posting it here.
Lovely. Stirring. A painting in words. Thank you.
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