Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe the opposite.
A word is not static. Just one word can have hundreds of definitions and countless more connotations. A single word is loaded with sights, smells, emotions and can, in just an instance, invoke a thousand pictures.


Read a word within a sentence and it develops a context and an agenda. It is not there inadvertently but deliberately and meticulously handpicked to express a viewpoint, to exact a certain emotion, or, conversely, to spark your own, specifically personal response.  Even words that alone stand innocent and powerless in the pages of dictionary, when harnessed in the perfect phrase, have the power to shoot straight at your heart or etch the corners of your lips into a knowing smile. To me, there is something delightful about reading those delicious phrases that transport you immediately to a specific moment, those magic combinations of words that simply ooze and glisten with exquisiteness. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining,” Anton Chekhov once said, “show me the glint of light on broken glass.” I would kill to write like that.
When you read a great novel, or a short story, or a poem, you are not simply reading words from a page, but you are becoming part of an entirely interactive process of consuming and giving life to verbs, adjectives and nouns. Words are not constrained to their physical presence on paper, but leap into the complex inner workings of your mind and mingle with your experiences, emotions, hopes and dreams to inspire images and emotions. A sentence is like a new colouring book which each person shades uniquely. Some will render it gradually while others fill it in with block primary colours or stray haphazardly over the lines. The final product is a reflection of the reader's age, mood and interpretation. Your response to a piece of writing is a reflection of your own viewpoint, and yet, simultaneously what we read constantly reinforces or remoulds our perceptions of the world around us. No sentence will ever hold exactly the same meaning to any two people. So frequently I have been a participant in debates sparked by a completely different interpretation of just a few words. Never does the reader play a passive role vis-a-vis the writer but a true writer is one who inspires the artist in the reader to colour the words with the most vibrant crayons or waterpaint them with tears. The reader brings words to life and the words change (even if only minimally or subconsciously) the life of the reader.
As I child I would frequently disappear into the forts I built of flimsy sheets and sturdy imagination to rapaciously devour page after page of Enid Blyton, becoming completely enthralled in the fantastical world of The Faraway Tree for hours at a time. I would imagine myself feasting on Pop-Biscuits with Moon-face and sliding gleefully down the ‘slippery-slip’ in the centre of the Faraway tree itself.  The rhododendron in our back garden was transformed into a pirate ship, raucously teething with swarthy buccaneers on unruly seas and the hollow tree stump in our orchard became a treacherous and mysterious  smugglers’ cave from The Famous Five. In those days I wanted not Barbie dolls, computer games, or television: I had novels and a place in the countryside to let my imagination run wild.  Occasionally I would envy the children who would go home from school to sit in front of Nickelodeon, but I now know that an almost outright ban of television was the greatest gift my parents could have ever given me.
Today, I firmly believe that children are missing out on so much due to an overexposure to television. This is not to undermine photography, visual art and cinema which can be undeniably thought-provoking, intelligent and interactive, but to say, that too many children’s programmes are engineered to provide the opportunity for unimaginative and uncritical consumption. Rather than being a catalyst for our imagination they provide entirely pre-constructed settings and characters which allow us to watch passively and emptily. While some programmes are informative and valuable, I believe that no amount of government funded educational television can ever be equal to the immeasurable benefits of reading. The written word is one of the greatest sources of magic we have in this world and it is a tragedy for the world to turn away from it.
Instead of absently flicking on the tv today’s modern family could do with stopping and picking up a good book. Some of my earliest and most precious childhood memories were of reading, or being read to. And today I can still be moved to tears by Hans Christen Anderson's The Little Match Girl, or Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince. A picture may tell a thousand words, but the power of the right words is infinite.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.  Writing is a kind of double living.  The writer experiences everything twice.  Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.  ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957
A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”  ~Charles Peguy
"What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.  ~Logan Pearsall Smith, "All Trivia," Afterthoughts, 1931
"The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

1 comment:

  1. Your posts Laurel, are honestly wonderful. They simply melt into my mind.