Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Words

I love a good To Do list.  I'm one of those people who loves the whole list thing so much that if I end up doing something that's not on my list I'll write it down just so I can cross it off. I've even perfected how to keep the list--I write it on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker.  That way I can't lose it.  I see it every time I go into the bathroom,.  I can write big and bold but still see my face in the mirror.  And it's easy to wipe off with a Kleenex.

I tried to take a picture of today's list but everyone knows that taking a picture of a mirror just never works.  You've seen enough of those pictures on Facebook.

This time last year I had a To Do list that included scheduling surgery.  My list today was a little bit more laid-back:

"Paint living room.  Mail invitations. Find camera battery.  Blog."  It certainly beat having surgery.
The invitations were for my annual fall gathering disguised this year as a bridal shower. That was easy enough to do.  I ended up painting only one wall of the living room.  I didn't find the camera battery.  And it has been a little harder to come up with the blog for this week. But that certainly wasn't the fault of my list system.  Sometimes the ideas just don't come. Especially when you live a peaceful life.  Don't get me wrong--I enjoy my peaceful life. But sometimes it's ...how do I say it?...tame.  Tame and lame.

I haven't taken the Concealed Handgun License class yet so I can't write about that. I would really love to write about stairs this week after finding yet another really great set at Presbyterian Hospital last week. Stairs are one of my favorite things on earth but I think I've already written about that. There is nothing to rival a good set of elegant stairs. Perkins Chapel and Dallas Hall at SMU are two great ones-- just in case you're in the SMU neighborhood and have the time I recommend them. The stairs at the Natural History Museum at Fair Park are pretty good, too. Don't get me started on stairs.

I've come to the bottom of the barrel and it looks like I'll have to write about the art of writing. 

There are two elements of writing. You have to have something to say first.  And the better the message you have, then the better chance you have of writing something good.  But once you have that in hand you still have to pick out some words and then put them in the right order.  That is the fun and frustration of writing. Now that we have video and YouTube on our cell phones we're not restricted to words. I have used both photos and videos here before and it always makes the message so much better. But we still use words to paint those pictures and sometimes that works out better than an actual photograph. Photos show you what is there.  Words tell you what you can't see.

One of my favorite authors has a new book out this week.  I spent a weekend with Sister Macrina Wierdekehr several months ago at a monastery in Arkansas learning how to find my inner monk.  She admitted to being distracted that weekend because she had a deadline to finish her latest book and turn it in to the publisher the following week.  It's finally here and is called "Abide."  Here's what she says in the book's foreword about the writing process:

"Long before I knew anything about the Word of God, I found words intriguing.  As a child I took delight in rearranging words into phrases and patterns, stories and poems.  Perhaps, even then, I was romancing the Word.  I was discovering that words bless.  They move and dance and sing.  They abide.  They absorb and unite.  They inspire.  Words invite us to feel included, loved, honored.  They call us to play and to work.  They teach, comfort, praise.  They forgive.  They ask us to be authentic and true.  They summon us to go deeper into the mystery of our lives..."

I have that same kind of relationship with words although not as successfully as Sister Macrina.  I love to line up a bunch of words and move them around and take them out to play.  Once in a while if you are very lucky you can get the words to dance for you.  Sometimes it's a jazzy tap dance and sometimes a ballet. 

Years ago I found a sentence so perfect that I not only cut it out of the magazine, I read and re-read it so many times I had the final sentence memorized.  If anyone were to ask me my favorite sentence out of everything I've ever read I wouldn't have to think.  For years I thought I had lost the clipping and had to console myself that I at least had the sentence memorized.  About a month ago I found the clipping.  I scanned it and made another three or four copies so that I would never lose it again.

It was written by Bill Moyers in Newsweek magazine back when he had a regular column there.  The magazine was dated October 21, 1974.  The essay was forgettable in that he talked of something as ordinary as a family visit he had had with his relatives.  There were many words of family history and vivid descriptions of personalities along with a couple of stories that gave you a flavor of what his family was like.  But there was just something about the way he arranged the last sentence that caught me.  The cadence and speed of the way he presented the words to the reader has stayed with me all these years:

"In recapturing the past last week we were not trying to do so in some idealized way, to make things what they never were, nor to escape; a 70-year-old man who has buried four of his five children doesn't extol the good old days, and I still have places to be.  We were looking, instead, for landmarks to share again after years of separate journey, and in ordinary places, while there was still time, we found them."
My vote for the best paragraph in American Writing in my limited experience.  Until next week, I remain yours truly, an unapologetic Word Nerd.

I'm not sure why this is not coming out better than this except that I was scanning one of the copies I made.  I will try to scan the original but I'll have to find it first. I'm sure I put it somewhere really safe which almost guarantees I'll never see it again.

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