Liberating Language

I’ve nothing against baseball, though I confess I’ve never watched a complete World Series. I enjoyed following our football and basketball teams in high school and college, but I’ve never attended a professional game in either sport. Years ago I could score a tennis match or round of golf, but those days are gone and I don’t regret them. In short, I’m a terrible sports fan.

On the other hand, I adore Super Bowl parties.  The food’s great, the crowd’s congenial and the atmosphere’s relaxed. In 2009, a friend with Pittsburgh connections sent me a Terrible Towel and I went to the party as a temporary Steelers fan. As it turned out, team allegiance mattered not a whit when it came to enjoying the highlights of the day – including the broadcasters in the booth. Everyone watching agreed Al Michaels and John Madden were a winning combination. Always humorous, their commentary was sharp and insightful, though no one paid them much attention unless there was a disputed call or an especially noteworthy play.

All that changed in the game’s second half, when a player took off on a medium-sized run of perhaps fifteen or twenty yards. At the end, Michaels said, “Well, he ran that one with alacrity”.  Silence enveloped the room as everyone turned to look at the screen and three people demanded in unison, “Alacrity?”

It was an appropriate word, properly used and perfectly in context. Still, alacrity seemed to be doing its own version of broken-field running as it forged its way through clusters of declarative sentences and monosyllabic comments, four unexpected syllables that stopped an entire party in its tracks. (more…)

Published in: on May 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm  Comments (80)  
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Until They Take the Doors Away


At the April meeting of the Houston Bay Area Writers’ League a fellow told the following story in response to my poem, The Task at Hand, and its first line, which reads, “Even the right word takes effort…”

As he told it, “A man worked at a studio in Italy where they cast huge bronze doors. His job was to perform the last step in the creative process: polishing the doors with a soft cloth.   He stood all day long, day after day, rubbing and rubbing with his cloth until the doors gleamed. A visitor to the studio watched him for nearly an hour, certain he would tire, but the man labored on.  Eventually, the watching man asked, “How do you know when you’ve completed the job?”

“It’s easy,” the man with the cloth replied.  “They take the door away from me.”

When I  heard the story, the parallels to a writer’s task were obvious.  Everyone who has written – whether a term paper, a job application, a newsletter article or a blog - knows the temptation to toil away, polishing words until they gleam.  Those who engage themselves in larger projects, such as essays, short stories or book-length fiction and non-fiction, can find themselves in the same situation as the door-polisher.  Sometimes it seems as though a finite number of words can be rearranged an infinite number of times, and in an infinite number of ways.  There are times when the effort leads to a sense of things being “right”, and times when an editor, a publisher, a deadline or simple exhaustion  puts an end to the process by “taking the writing away.”


 I experience the same dynamic in my own life.  If you have read my About Me page, you know that I varnish boats for a living.  Every profession and trade has its favorite sayings, and one of the favorites among varnishers is, “There’s no such thing as a last coat.”  No matter how diligent the varnisher, no matter how attentive or cautious, there always will be insects and pollen, humidity, wind and fog,  rain, dew, heat and manic yard crews with an assortment of mowers and blowers to bring frustration and chaos into the creative process.  So, we continue on: sanding and varnishing over again, polishing the wood until it shines – or until they take the boat away.

The same dynamic touches all of us.  In our early years, we design and cast and dream,  beginning the process of creating a self.  As time goes on, we begin to produce, expending more or less effort toward bringing that design and that dream to fulfillment.  And, in the end, when the decisions have been made, the experience lived and the responsibility accepted, wisdom stands with her cloth, polishing our lives until they fairly gleam – until those lives are taken away.


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Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 6:01 am  Comments (5)  
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