And So, We Begin Again

The sky lowers and the land disappears. A turning wind blankets the moon with sea-born fog, shrouding the contours of its glittering face.  Harsh and brilliant above the fog, riding high behind fast-scudding clouds, it lights the transition between old and new, between one year and the next.

As the hours pass toward midnight, a lingering few stand silent, shrouded in a fog of thought, tangled in life’s web, caught between the Land-of-No-Longer and the Land-of-Yet-to-Be. Perhaps they glimpse a moonlit shard of truth hidden to revelers in the street – this is the way of life.  What has been passes away into forgetfulness, even as the yet-to-be stirs toward vitality. Armies rise. Nations fall. Children squall into existence, wailing for the grandparents who sigh away into death. Across the farthest reaches of the galaxies, even the least star explodes with pulsating light while on our own shy, spinning globe, rotting leaves and the stench of mud evoke a season’s final turn.

Amid these cycles and rhythms of life, against this backdrop of continual change, our torrent of words flows on, a steady sluicing of syllables. For those who read and especially for those who write, this flow of language brings solace. Like the rivers it resembles, language connects and cleaves, cleanses and comforts, nourishing the growth of creativity along its banks.

And yet we find poets, novelists and essayists – wordsmiths who have stepped into and hesitated around this stream of words – hinting at another truth. The way of life also is the way of words.  Words rise and fall as surely as armies or nations. Syllables rearrange themselves, paragraphs take on life, sentences fade away. True to their own rhythms and seasons, turned this way by time and that way by circumstance, words slip away and are lost – out of sight, out of mind, out of imagination.

Standing between last year’s language and next year’s words, T.S. Eliot’s  The Hollow Men whispers of an experience every writer knows:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow…
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow…

Within the context of The Hollow Men itself, these words carry particular meaning. But within the context of Eliot’s life and work as a whole, they perfectly communicate an imperfectly understood and uncomfortable truth. Words are not ours to manipulate. We do not own words. We are not their masters. However faded and frayed they may be, no matter how lost to consciousness, no matter how firmly consigned to out-of-the-way corners in the poor cupboards of our mind, words maintain their integrity, and words will have their way.

The shadow of wordlessness that comes upon us from time to time, our sense that language itself has grown as old and tired as the vision of our spent imaginations is rooted in our misunderstanding of words. Confronted by blank pages we fuss and fiddle, attempting to revivify narratives which refuse to be reclaimed. When the turning of the year has come, no formula, no key, no magic phrase, no sturdy discipline or aligning stars will guarantee the continued liveliness of our words. Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, the poet says, and there the matter seems to end.

But of course it does not end, for next year’s words await another voice. There are emerging words, nascent paragraphs, sentences and phrases filled with light waiting in the shadows of the coming year. Not yet written, still unclaimed, resonant as the tolling of the midnight bell and brilliant as a half-glimpsed moon they are, in fact, our New Year’s words.

Whether we will give them voice remains uncertain. Perhaps we will. Perhaps not. But among those who dared ford the swift-flowing river of words, some were willing to pass on their experience, leaving us guidance for our path.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres,
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.
And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”

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  1. Thank you for your continued commitment to dare to ford “the swift-flowing river of words,” … as you do, you inspire.

    As for me, I’m hopeful that “next year’s words await another voice,” because this year’s “shadow of wordlessness” has for certain come upon me.

    And these words I receive as a promise: “There are emerging words, nascent paragraphs, sentences and phrases filled with light waiting in the shadows of the coming year.”

    Thank you, Linda, for just the right inspiration this eve of the new year.

    • Martha,

      The “habits of being” Flannery O’Connor explored aren’t so easily changed. Even without the aggravation and challenge of something like your surgery, it’s become clear to me that moving from years of care-giving to – well, to whatever comes next – is more complicated than I’d imagined. I know you understand that.

      The past year has been rather like living in a house suddenly and completely burglarized. The empty space is disorienting, and there’s a good bit of wandering around that has to take place before the refurnishing process can begin.

      Here’s to a year of choosing those new furnishings carefully!

      Linda

  2. I love TS Eliot – Happy new year Linda.

    • Happy New Year, Julie. I’m glad I chose one of your favorites to help you begin it. I do hope your year’s a good one. How could it not be with that harp-playing angel in your midst?!

  3. Happy New Year to you, Linda. I am almost spell bound when I read your words- be they the words of someone else or your own. You choose your words so well.

    • Yvonne,

      I’ve loved T.S. Eliot for so many years I often remember his words in one situation or another. Sometimes I use them to illustrate a thought, and sometimes they kickstart my own thinking processes. In any event, his “Four Quartets” are especially dear to me, and I was pleased to find a use for them here.

      Happy New Year to you, and best wishes for health and happiness for all of your family!

      Linda

  4. Bravely onward we march to another year. I look forward to your emerging words, nascent paragraphs, sentences and phrases. It’s always a treat.

    I’m crushed that petspeopleandlife beat me to your first comment of 2013 :)

    • Bella Rum,

      You’re the brave one around here. Let’s just hope you don’t end up marching back into yon medical establishment for a while. There are too many better things to do. I actually finished needlepointing a glasses case my mom had started and gave it to a friend for Christmas. Can you imagine? Me? Needlepointing?

      Well, who knows what else is lurking out there in the shadows. We’ve got places to go and people to see in this new year – perhaps even people to create!

      Happy New Year!

      Linda

  5. Looking forward to a new year with you and your way with words, Linda.

    • nikkipolani,

      Tell you what. I’ll forego the duck, and you can forego “A Christmas Story”, and we’ll still have fun! I’m looking forward to sharing the new year with you.

      Linda

  6. Morning Linda:

    Thank you for starting the year with these eloquent and inspiring words worthy of a wordsmith as you say. I have to admit I had problems understand all you said, but I’ll keep struggling to understand the language.

    Even though my English is humble, you have contributed greatly in nurturing it and having it grow.

    We look forward for your future messages of hope, understanding and peace. It’s mandatory to close the hope gap before us.

    Happy New Year my dear blogger,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Well, as you know, idioms can be harder to understand than straightforward language, and I would think poetry could be just as difficult – even more difficult, perhaps. To be quite frank, there’s a lot of Eliot I don’t understand (or respond to), so if it’s the poetry tripping you up, it may or may not be your language skills that are at issue.

      I’ve not heard anyone speak of the “hope gap” before, but I like the phrase. We don’t seem to get very far talking about the gaps between rich and poor, conservative and liberal, and so on. Maybe a little attention paid to the gap between the hope-filled and the hopeless is in order.

      I do love the New Year. I hope you’re able to take delight in yours, healthy and happy all the way through.

      Linda

  7. “…caught between the Land-of-No-Longer and the Land-of-Yet-to-Be.”
    I loved that line, as that’s all we have – this very moment!

    How appropriate that my quiet-morning reading included your post! I spent the night at friends’ house, where the end-of-year gathering included participation in (the land of no longer-) “I Can Do This” painting project, which went well. I am about to (Land of Yet to Be) return downstairs and ‘clean up’ the areas of the painting that need a bit more attention!

    may your day be filled with inward reflection and outward anticipation of the year to come!

    • Lisa,

      As so often happens, you’re exactly right. We have the past in memory and the future in anticipation, but this day is where we live. Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.” Exactly so.

      I do love the image of you going down to “clean up” the painting a bit. I suspect you do that less for the painting than for the painters. It’s a way of helping their work to be seen in the best light possible, of increasing their pride in what they’ve done. There’s nothing wrong with big and splashy, but more often than not the quiet word and the hidden gesture are what count.

      I’ll try and remember that myself in the year to come.

      Linda

      • “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.”

        I inhale deeply and reflect on the past few days; I’ve been in a deep painting ‘trance! it’s odd that the barometer kicks up my painting energies about twice the norm. we’re on day three of subtle rains, and i am on day three of a painting binge! the painting is very strong, and everyone will smile when they see the finished product. they will surely puff our their chests and say, ‘we helped!’

        z

  8. “What has been passes away into forgetfulness, even as the yet-to-be stirs toward vitality.” It’s a futile fight and effort perhaps to resist forgetting. But I continue to write for family to remember, or if they never knew, to know.

    I have pages and pages of my grandmother’s story, written in her hand. I read and many times can only fill in between the lines and there “Falls the Shadow” too. There I have it, carefully preserved by my aunt. What will I spin of it to catch my family readers?

    I am heartened that the Netherlands, Brazil and Spain show up in my wp map. And I am heartened that they confirm for me they have read. We don’t see each other often and in some cases we have only met through words. Once again, your words inspire to make that next connection.
    Happy New Year, Linda.

    • Georgette,

      The tide of forgetfulness is hard to resist. I have an entire box of photos that may, or may not, be of family members. When we began the process of sorting them about five years ago, both my mother and aunt were unable to identify many of the people. I’m infinitely grateful that so many faces did have names put to them.

      One of my great-aunts left us a hand-written family history, too. But as you say, it’s an outline at best. The details, the connections, the stories that never, EVER would be consigned to paper (!) have to be ferreted out in other ways. Thank goodness for the internet, and the people who spend their days photographing cemeteries and posting courthouse records.

      What a joy it must be to be able to share some of your story with such widely-scattered family. It is hard to “catch” interest sometimes. Still, with your story-telling skills, I’ve no doubt you’ll do just that. And don’t forget – there are generations yet to come who one day will say, “Tell me about the family”.

      Happy New Year, and happy writing. As a friend insisted to me recently, there’s no time to waste.

      Linda

  9. The last words that you quote from T.S. Eliot remind me of the ending of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” written in 1833:

    “Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

    If that ending is iambic, so is your excellent (and alliterative) phrase “and words will have their way.”

    • Steve,

      Wouldn’t it be great to be able to transport Tennyson here to our time, allowing him to listen to Judi Dench reading his poem as a part of “Skyfall”? From Greek legend to James Bond, via a Victorian Poet Laureate – that’s quite a literary journey.

      Now that you’ve put the words in front of me, I see another connection. My phrase “turned this way by time and that way by circumstance” has a slight flavor of “made weak by time and fate”. Who knows? Perhaps Dame Judi’s declamation in the film found a home in my subconscious.

      I did enjoy that easy alliteration – and the rhythm. I’m glad you did, too.

      Linda

  10. “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

    Yes, yes, yes!

    When I write, I am like Jacob wrestling the angel: I grapple with it and say, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’ . . sometimes the blessing is a necklace of a line, strung with bead-bright words that graces an insight, or a lean prose tiger that stalks across the page and pounces on the truth. . .

    Sometimes the blessing is being able to say ‘time for you to go’ to a darling bit of wordage that does nothing but wear velvet and hair ribbons, sit in a chair and look pretty. And then there are times, that tease and frustrate with their rarity, the blessing is picking up a cold page weeks later, reading it and thinking, “Damn! That isn’t half bad, that.”

    • WOL,

      What you’ve captured is the mystery of writing. Truth to tell, we never know what’s going to happen when we pick up the pen or start tapping the keys. That’s the fun, and the anxiety, and the anguish of it all. But “on we go”, indeed – and thank goodness for the ability to do so!

      Linda

  11. This is such a nice meditation to begin a year with. Thank you. I only truly discovered TS Eliot a couple of years ago but he is now one of my favorites when it comes to words.

    • Rubye,

      I began to appreciate Eliot in the 70s. Before that, I had only a passing acquaintance with some of his better-known works, especially “The Hollow Men” and “The Naming of Cats” from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. Today, the “Four Quartets” never fail to delight, inspire or provide solace.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love the turning of the year, and the sense of possibility it brings – I can’t help writing about it in one way or another. Best wishes for a new year filled with new satisfactions!

      Linda

  12. Funny how words fall out, how they arrange on the page. The first paragraphs of this entry got me…did I read them slowly enough for them to sink in and be enjoyed, each word, each phrase? Or, did I already sense their meaning, intuit the watching of the moon, the fog between this year and the last as those mentioned, because indeed I was out there doing the same thing? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

    It always astounds me that there can always be new music despite the fact that there are only 8 notes. It is the same with words although there are 1000s of them. It’s their clarity, meaning, purpose and hoping the reader gets something from them tho’not necessarily what the writer intended.

    If there is a cut-off between last year’s writing and this new year’s, well then I wish us all renewed vigor and persistence in writing. Yet I believe the writing path has little to do with annual demarcations; it’s more a big circle combined with a long trail that we are constantly on as we write, moving forward and yet always circling back to “finish” things and then running ahead again. Love this entry for many reasons, but also, it’s kinda for “writers” and you know I am pathetically into writerly stuff. However, it also inspires me. Happy New Year to you, a wonderful, wonderful writer!

    • oh,

      Words are like that, you know. They do fall out, arrange themselves, get up to tricks, grow contrary. I don’t have any trouble at all anthropomorphizing words. Some people call them building blocks. I think of them as elves, or tricksters. There’s no telling what they’re capable of.

      And as you rightly point out, the possible combinations of words are infinite. Between “once upon a time” and “they lived happily ever after”, there are at least as many stories as there are writers, and probably more.

      I’m just thinking here – it seems possible that Eliot may not have been talking about the writing process as much as about the writer in that first quotation. I have drafts that have been waiting in my files for two and even three years. Why haven’t I taken them up and worked with them? I wasn’t ready. They required a “different voice” – a voice I didn’t have.

      If I’ve learned anything through these years, it’s that while we are writing words, those words write us. That may sound just a bit too literary-mystical, but it’s a fact that I’m not the same person I was a year ago, and certainly not the person I was when I began this blog. It’s the process of writing that’s changed me – given me that different voice. Now, it’s the new year, and next year’s words are waiting!

      Here’s to a great new year of writing for both of us!

      Linda

  13. And the last line, from Eliot – I meant to add when talking about how words fall out on the page, that sometimes a piece just comes together to create balance and interest and circle back on its own excellent meaning. (I realize this usually takes a great deal of work but sometimes, a piece just organizes itself.) Anway, very enjoyable, very pointed, something to think about as I dance around my journal, wondering what to do on its first new page!

    • Yes, exactly. To refer back to my little fantasy about word-elves, it’s a fact that some pieces are “livelier” than others. Some are ready to get up and dance, and some would prefer to be home in their jammies, watching bad television. Flannery O’Connor seems to suggest the same thing when she says, “You don’t write a story because you have an idea but because you have a believable character.” I’ve had a character with a name, a town, a couple of foibles and a cobblestone street for two years. I’ll bet if I stop thinking about her and start getting to know her, I might have a story.

      But oh, my – a new journal. That’s as exciting as the first day of a new year! I wonder if our fascination with writing tools goes back to those Big Chief tablets and pencil boxes?

      • Whew! Big Chief tablets – I’d forgotten!!!! I think you’re right. I would nearly swoon at the pencil boxes, even before I could read. Gonna go look up Big Chief right now!

  14. I am connecting to this post strongly – I have felt limited in recent months both in use of language and in awareness – and of course the two are connected. Eliot often seems to speak to my condition, as the Quaker phrase goes. I am grateful for your thoughtful and beautiful writing. I hope your New Year is full of insight, that the river of language carries you far.

    • Mary Ellen,

      I’ve experienced that same sense of limitation in language and awareness.I think most of us do. One Lent, I dealt with it though my “morning porch” series. They were much like your small stones – 140 character descriptions of what I saw when I first looked out in the morning. They could have been tweeted, although I didn’t. That was the reason for the 140 character limit in the first place. What I did discover was that the exercise functioned like pump priming. After a few weeks, the words were flowing again.

      The blessing is that we have people like Eliot who can speak to us. It’s easy for their voices to get lost, so I think it’s good to remind one another now and then of the treasures we do possess.

      I’m so happy to see you – and thank you for your gracious words. My best to you and your family in this new year!

      Linda

  15. For us there is only the trying . . . . . .
    And so we too go on, trying to harness words to our will, when so often words escape us. If not the words themselves, then their meaning evaporates because our thoughts are puny and words are more powerful than anything we might try to convey with them.

    But we will continue the work . . . . .

    • friko,

      Exactly so – and I suppose part of the reason we continue the work is because it’s so enjoyable. It isn’t work/drudgery, but work/effort – gaining and honing skills for the sheer pleasure of it. If the work we do brings pleasure to others, so much the better. In Louisiana’s Cajun culture, that’s called “lagniappe” – a little something extra added, a grace note, a dollop of whipped cream with a cherry.

      Whatever the work is, I’m ready to get back to it – to routine, and the rhythms of ordinary life. All the hither-and-yon of the holiday season is lovely, but too much of a good thing, and all that.

      I hope your holidays were lovely and not as soggy as my friend’s in Wales.She says if it doesn’t stop, she’s thinking of a water garden. Which reminds me – at the end of the year, WordPress kindly gives us a list of the search terms which brought people to our blog. I laughed to see pelargonium among the terms. Our little discussion about geraniums and pelargoniums in a single comment was enough to bring in 32 people! I’m sure they were rather surprised when they found they weren’t on a garden site.

      Happy New Year to you – I’m looking forward to catching up.

      Linda

  16. words await another voice…. aptly put. hope this year brings you peace.

    • I’m eager for this new year. Some decisions have been made, some rearrangements of time and commitments. I have, shall we say, re-focused. I suspect the same simplicity and commitment to good design that make many of your images so memorable will work just fine for a life, too.

      Happy new year, sherri.

      Linda

  17. Happy New Year! The tides must be whispering to both of us. And the grey weather….

    “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost, And found and lost again and again.” Love this part as it seems so descriptive of what is going on with society/civilization/the world at all levels right now…and it flows like the tides.Hope Miss Dixie is keeping a close eye on you.

    (Oh, I think I saw your flock of egrets over in the field near Constellation Point Dr. What a crowd.)

    • Phil,

      Gray and cold. It’s back-to-work time, and I must say I’m less than fully enthusiastic. An extra ten degrees would be lovely, but it is January. And Happy New Year – I’ve already written my first check that had to be corrected because I wrote down the wrong year. It’s a tradition!

      The fight to recover what is lost is growing a little more concrete. The new year is bringing a substantial increase in my health insurance premiums and now a two percent increase in taxes. I’m not opposed to kicking in my part, but 15.3% for self-employed FICA felt like enough. Now, 17.3% is the new reality. Gosh – if they keep at it, pretty soon I’m going to feel like a millionaire! If I weren’t part of the “if you don’t have it, you don’t spend it” generation, I suppose I wouldn’t be so frustrated. I want to see spending cuts, and an end to the “favors” for everyone from rum producers to Hollywood. It would make me happier about my contributions to this little endeavor.

      Luckily, we have the egrets, the ibis and all that. And over at Anahuac, they have a resident Vermillion flycatcher near the visitor center. If things get too gloomy, I’ll go look for that guy!

      Linda

  18. The lines from “Little Gidding” that I know best, having learned them more than four decades ago from John Fowles’ novel The Magus, and having quoted them repeatedly since then, are:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”

    • “Little Gidding” as a whole is a marvel, but the last section, from which those lines are taken, is especially memorable. A long time ago, I began dating margin notes in my books. Going back to read twenty or thirty years of jottings in my volume of Eliot seems to verify the truth of those lines you quoted.

  19. My words seem like comic strips compared to yours, at least in my mind! You challenge yourself with each post, with obvious success of meeting each challenge. Seems I’m lucky just to get two cohesive thoughts into a blog post these days. The mind is so occupied elsewhere – not much space left for good, solid, creative composition of essay, poetry, heck, anything.

    You are rock solid, Linda, like an anchor dug in deep and dependable! Hope 2013 is full of wonderful life lessons and enjoyable adventures for you, my wordsmith friend.

    • Wendy,

      You just paid me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received – the only question is – would that be a Bruce, a Danforth, a CQR or a concrete block on a length of chain? ;)

      Pushing the metaphor just a little, it’s not enough to have the anchor. You have to have good holding ground, too. That’s where you come in, I think – you, and all the other good folks who stop by to read. Whenever I throw the anchor over, I know it’ll catch and hold. I figure my day to drag will come, but when it does, at least it should be entertaining!

      Believe me, I know how tough those preoccupations can be. When I was caring for Mom and trying to keep the business going, it could get frustrating. One of these days, things will smooth out. In the meantime, I’d rather read what you think is a so-so post than not hear from you!

      Well, it’s a new year. New goals, new frustrations, new failures, new achievements. There’s just no telling what’s going to happen. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s almost time for King Cake!

      Linda

  20. I so enjoyed this post, Linda. Throughout I found music and images and solace. And yes to this line: “The way of life also is the way of words.”

    • Emily,

      When I read your most recent, I thought to myself, “Not only children form in secret”. The way of words and the way of life do connect and intertwine so beautifully – I’m glad you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed slipping into your world for a bit.

      Linda

  21. Linda I’m really taken with your idea of words as elves…Come here you naughty things, just behave yourselves…no, no, you can’t go there, go THERE…oh alright, if you insist!

    Maybe that’s why your writing seems to have this dancing quality :)

    My mum (she was an Eng Lit teacher) often quoted T S Eliot. I can see that copy of the Four Quartets which was on our bookcase. But at the time it passed me by – probably too busy searching for the sexy bits in D H Lawrence! I love the lines

    In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
    Undisciplined squads of emotion.

    That’s about right.

    Happy New Year x

    • Sarah,

      I may go back and re-work a very, very early post about a poor elfin word who was – shall we say – not adjusting to modern life very well. Multi-syllabilism can be such a handicap!

      Fun to have a teacher for a mum. Mine wasn’t by training, but she raised me up right, reading to me from my first days. “Children’s lit” wasn’t quite so defined in those days – my books ranged from “The Pokey Little Puppy” to “Cannery Row”, but we survived it all.

      I think some of my favorites are the lines just above the ones you highlighted:

      “And so each venture is a raid on the inarticulate
      With shabby equipment always deteriorating…”

      Hey! If it’s good enough for Eliot, it’s good enough for us, right?

      Linda

      • And so each venture is a raid on the inarticulate
        With shabby equipment always deteriorating…

        I couldn’t agree more! Just trying to find some words, struggling today…

  22. Thanks for this. It is so very nice and reminds me of Heidegger’s assertion that language uses us more than we use language. It seems to me that writing and speech are a mystery; silence and space make mystery possible. Gift granting gift.

    • Allen,

      It’s interesting that you mention Heidegger. Apart from his views on language, his explorations of the nature of “being” and “time” find echoes all through Eliot. I’m not so sure of his view that language “uses” us – I’d more likely say language calls us into being and then shapes us. Of course, it may be that’s precisely what Heidegger meant – I confess I never had the patience to really pursue his thought.

      Wittgenstein, on the other hand, is a fellow who makes sense to me. I love what may be his most famous quotation – “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”. He’s a delight to read. A quick scroll through his quotations on Goodreads turns up every sort of gem, like this one:

      “I was thinking of using as a motto for my book a quotation from King Lear: ‘I’ll teach you differences’. ‘You’d be surprised’ wouldn’t be a bad motto either.”

      ;)

      Linda

      • Thanks Linda. Very nice this quotation from Wittgenstein! Thanks as well for your reflections on Heidegger. As I come to think of it, the actual phrase,is more akin to “Language speaks us” and so I think you interpret him correctly. I think both thinkers invite us to quit thinking about language as a “tool”. Perhaps it is more like the sun, or air, that make possible our very being, and indeed, our world as Witt. notes. The bigger your “vocabulary,” the bigger your world. The broader your colour palette, the richer creation. The more your ears are attuned to the forest, the more the forest speaks to you. But I am going on. Thanks for this opportunity to think with you! Allen

        • Exactly so. As a painter, of course you’d make the quick connection with the palette. I’ve a draft of a posting making a similar point – no one would expect an artist to use only primary colors, and the writer shouldn’t be expected to accept limitation to one-syllable words. The threat of texting, as I see it, is less the number of ankles broken by stepping off unseen curbs while glued to the screen than the diminution of language. if u lk thru cmts on sm blgs u can c wht i men ;)

          • Indeed! I look forward to this post, and am tempted interim to check out TS Eliot, of whom I only know what you have told me.

            • Oh, my. I predict enjoyment. Here’s a nice online text of “Four Quartets”.

  23. I’ve been pondering these words, “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” I’ve heard the peace activist Fr. John Dear express that sentiment, very powerfully. The truth of it is a hard thing to accept, but it can be liberating.

    Once again you have wowed me with a post. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us the gift you have with words.

    • Bill,

      “Detachment” is an old-fashioned word that carries a lot of baggage, but it’s the right one. The Benedictines and the Buddhists know something about it, and to the extent that I comprehend it, it’s enriched my life.

      About a year into this little blogging endeavor, I adopted an attitude I condensed into the motto, “Write, and let go”. I work on a piece until I think it’s worthy of being published, and that’s it. I respond to comments, and may jot down notes for the future that the conversations engender, but I don’t worry about whether people like it, or not.

      The attitude’s rooted in long-ago lessons in decision-making. Once we make any decision, it’s time to move on. If we don’t, we’re in for trouble. If the decision was right and we don’t move on, we’ll spend the rest of our lives congratulating ourselves. If it was wrong, we’ll spend too much time beating ourselves up. “Decide and move on” translates very nicely to “Write, and let go”. Or, as the good Mr. Eliot has it, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business”.

      But I’m still glad you liked the post. ;)

      Linda

  24. Linda, your posts leave me speechless. This was poignant and melancholy and I loved every swift flowing word. Being able to use language well is an art, and you are an artist.

    My best wishes to you for a happy and healthy new year.

    • Becca,

      I’m so glad you like it. I predict a year of flowing words for you, too. Much of the chaos of the last year is past, you’re re-settled and from my perspective, you’re clearly ready to “take off”.

      When I started blogging, I did it with the intention of using a blogging platform to learn how to write. Nearly five years have passed, and I feel that finally (!) one of the biggest transitions I had to make has been accomplished – moving away from academic writing to whatever it is that I’m up to now.

      For that to happen, I had to change, and change takes time. Now, I feel as though I’m back at the beginning again – ready to start anew. I haven’t a clue what my “goal” is – I’ll find that out along the way.

      Happy New Year!

      Linda

  25. Beautiful, once again, Linda! I hope it’s true that “next year’s words await another voice,” for I’ve been mired in the murky middle of my novel for far too long, and I’m eager to break through to the end!

    • Debbie,

      I think it is true. At least, I’ve seen enough evidence of its truth in my own life to be willing to bet on it. I tend to respond most strongly to words that reflect and interpret my own experience – which helps to explain why some things appeal at one time, others at another.

      In any event, it’s a new year, and I love the specificity of your goals. I tend to set my goals in the first couple of weeks of the new year – there’s just too much going on during the holiday season for much reflection. January’s got a little more room.

      One thing did cross my mind – if you know you’re in the middle of your novel, you’ve got a pretty good idea of where it’s going. Enjoy getting there!

      Linda

  26. Thank you, Linda, for sharing your poetic reflections at the start of the New Year. Beautiful! Eloquent! Inspiring!

    By the way, love the excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s poems. (He’s one of my favorite poets.) His poems are beautifully and seamlessly woven to your reflections.

    Happy New Year!

    ~ Matt

    • Matt,

      When I use another person’s poetry (especially poetry, but also prose), I try to “set” it as if it were a gem. Eliot’s poems certainly are that, so your sense of them being seamlessly woven make me happy. A slightly different metaphor, but the same meaning.

      My best to you and Jojang for the New Year. May it be a healthy one, and filled with satisfactions and joys!

      Linda

  27. “Amid these cycles and rhythms of life, against this backdrop of continual change, our torrent of words flows on, a steady sluicing of syllables. For those who read and especially for those who write, this flow of language brings solace. Like the rivers it resembles, language connects and cleaves, cleanses and comforts, nourishing the growth of creativity along its banks.
    And yet we find poets, novelists and essayists – word smiths who have stepped into and hesitated around this stream of words – hinting at another truth. The way of life also is the way of words. Words rise and fall as surely as armies or nations. Syllables rearrange themselves, paragraphs take on life, sentences fade away. True to their own rhythms and seasons, turned this way by time and that way by circumstance, words slip away and are lost – out of sight, out of mind, out of imagination. “

    So beautifully written, Linda… I am awed! What can I say but thank you… What an inspiring way to start the year…

    A blessed new year to you and your loved ones.

    ~ Jojang

    • Jojang,

      I love when people come along and leave a comment a bit after I’ve originally posted. It gives me a chance to re-read what I’ve written. Sometimes, I surprise even myself.

      Not everything I do is of equal quality. All of us experience that reality, whether we’re putting together a blog post, cooking a meal or mending socks. But sometimes, everything works, and when it does, it’s such great encouragement.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this special New Year’s post. My best to you and Matt for the coming year – may we all have such moments of inspiration throughout the year.

      Linda

  28. How I love Elliot. “For us there is only the trying.” That’s so appropriate in this context, but also in the context of life itself, just as a single line. Words — how many have we said in a lifetime, and did we choose them carefully? Do we wish there were those we’d not said? Wish there were those we did? And yes, what words will be said in this year that change things? It’s well worth a thought…

    • jeanie,

      My first thought was, “Of course we don’t choose the words of our daily lives carefully.” And then I thought, “Sometimes, it’s good that we don’t.” When I was very young and so terribly shy (yes, me!) the joke was that I couldn’t read a recipe in front of my family. I was so afraid of speaking the WRONG word that I barely said a word at all!

      So there’s the other side of what I was posting about in “Goldilocks Meets T.S Eliot”. Sometimes it’s important to think about our words, to choose them very, very carefully. But sometimes it’s ok to let them fly, play with them, have fun and then let go. Words aren’t just for Serious Business – they let us do far more in life than that.

      When we’re writing, the words stand alone, without the expression, the tone, the humanity that enriches conversation isn’t possible. I’m not sure Eliot’s words here should apply to daily life – as a writing guide, they’re great. As a guide to life – maybe not so prescriptive.

      Linda

  29. Thank you for loving the language as you do, Linda. I understand it will continue to grow and evolve, as languages must, because they are alive. But some of those changes seem to arise from laziness and a latent disrespect. I would prefer that they emerge more slowly, through a loving process, the way “children squall into existence, wailing for the grandparents who sigh away into death.” Your writing helps me believe that’s possible.

    • Charles,

      I think it is possible. It may only be possible here and there, now and then, but as long as it’s possible at all, the battle isn’t lost.

      One of the problems we face is that elevated and elevating public oratory almost has disappeared. Politicians have given themselves over to youtubes and tweets, fearful of proclaiming their values and their vision. The pulpit, which at least provided a weekly dose of literary quotations, has bought into a delight called “meeting the people where they are”.

      Unfortunately, the people very often aren’t in a very good place, and there’s not much around for them to aspire to. Even the best literature and rhetoric of the past has been dismissed from the schools as irrelevant. Of course, since words and their meaning are forever intertwined, there may be reasons for that which have nothing to do with language.

      “Jeremiad” is a very good word. I believe I’ll try to avoid one. ;)

      Linda

    • I just found this exchange in an interview with Tommy Lee Jones about his role as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln”. Looks like we agree on one thing.

      Q: “Those scenes in Congress are so heated, it seems like politics were even more inflammatory than they are now. There were so many important things at stake.”

      A: “There’s a lot of things at stake today, too. There’s always a lot of things at stake. But in those days, there were no sound bytes, no television. Politics and government was conducted with language through oratory. People had to speak their minds rather than insinuate them.”

      • One of the things I dislike about Canadian politics is the tendency for Members of Parliament to yell at each other, sometimes five or six of them at the same time. It’s possible that at least a few of the speakers may be saying something important, or demonstrating eloquence or insight, but everything gets drowned out in the cacophony. It irritates me in a way I can’t explain.

        Several years ago, I bought a book called The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. I guess it’s time I read it.

        • That kind of squabbling was a contributing reason for The Tossing of the Television from my home. I don’t need to listen to people yelling at each other. And while you’re reading the L-D Debates, I’ll be reading about Thaddeus Stevens. We could use a few like him today.

  30. I arrived late at your door because I was struggling in that dark “wordless” time between
    “last year’s language and next year’s words..”

    I don’t know why, but it comforts me to see I’m not alone and that
    “The shadow of wordlessness comes upon us from time to time, [when] we sense that language itself has grown old and tired…”

    I’m glad you’re sharing T.S. Eliot poems with us. His words help me…

    btw I enjoyed the conversations with your readers almost as much as your post. I also wonder – with Charles – how parliament runs with all that shouting. Good lord.

    • rosie,

      Around here, there is no “late”. I often lag a few days in leaving comments, as I did with your post about the too-young mother, because I want to think about it a bit. And sometimes, when I’m trying to put a new piece together, I just can’t find the time to write and leave comments both. Once I get the new post up, I can get back to reading and commenting – as I am here!

      I don’t panic about “wordlessness” in the same way that I did four years ago. I used to believe that increased focus was the answer. Now I know all those “focus” people are telling only a half-truth. There are times when changing focus, staring off into the middle distance, relaxing, allows creativity to rise again.

      Before he made me furious by unnecessary plagiarizing, Jonah Lehrer wrote a great article called “The Eureka Hunt”. Now everything from his science to his writing has been tossed into the wastebin, but I still read the article from time to time. It’s been so helpful to me. You might enjoy it, too.

      Linda

      • Interesting to see that you say taking time off to stare into the distance allows creativity to rise again. I basically did that at the end of last year. I just didn’t feel like writing or even reading…
        Thanks for the link. I only started my subscription to the New Yorker a couple of years ago so I guess that’s why I don’t know Jonah Lehrer’s writing. Your link doesn’t give access to the whole article but I haven’t registered my subscription on line yet …

        • Here you go. Now you don’t have to go through that hassle. I knew there was an online text somewhere! The Eureka Hunt


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