Friday, April 27, 2012

Hush Up

Look up! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's not moving, so it can't be either of those. It's up above, and it's making sound. Let's listen in to hear what it has to say...

Speaking changes everything. The act. The words. The power. I wonder, do you know what your course words have done? Do you see how words brought up an Empire that brought down a Generation? Once we opened the gates of Auschwitz, how could we ever open our mouths again? Words are guilty of such horrors.

How can I steward them well, then? Carefully, I suppose. But, hush, can you hear? There's something lingering in the silence. Over there. Behind here. It's between the words. Listen close. It's soft; it's soothing. It cools the heat of the burning words.

Burning words, white hot words. What's the verb of that sentence fragment? Do you see how they still carry power? Did you hear the verb whispering in between the lines?

Go. Do. Think. Be. Create. Do you see how they command? I cannot command much of an audience, but what audience I do have I must speak to responsibly. I have these words, and I cannot toss them around lightly. They carry power and authority. I, the one who bears them, must do so thoughtfully. Can you imagine the ramifications if I threw words around with reckless abandon? Shirts would get printed with the word "wreckless" on them. Incidentally, this has already happened. I saw it on Wednesday. I saw a shirt that said, "Young and Wreckless." Absurdism begins to make sense in the face of these atrocities.

I wanted to cry.

Instead, I stewed on the idea that spelling is actually important. Grammar is actually important as well. When I'm tempted to use poor grammar, I think of Picasso. Have you ever seen any of his earliest works? The man was phenomenal in traditional art forms. He could paint in realism, impressionism, or pointillism  beautifully. After demonstrating proficiency in these recognized art forms, he broke free and began to paint outside the boundaries of accepted art. Virginia Woolf did something similar with the sentence. I am not Picasso or Woolf. I ought to demonstrate an exceedingly high level of proficiency with the English language before I attempt to break free from the bonds of grammar rules.

Do you know what the purpose of grammar and syntax is? The purpose of grammar and syntax is to facilitate effective communication. It's wise stewardship of words. Forming sentences well allows one to communicate most effectively. I'm not saying that every sentence should always be grammatically correct; I have a great deal of respect for Picasso and Woolf. Those great artists and writers, however, demonstrated an ability to communicate effectively inside and out of traditional boundaries. They were not breaking rules out of laziness; they created something new with intentionality.

But this blog was about silence to begin with. (Never start a sentence with a conjunction. Never end a sentence with a preposition.) Wasn't it?

Where do we go from here? Words have been abused. Grammar and syntax have been abused to the detriment of clear communication. Where do we go from here?

We go forward. We reclaim the words, and we use them responsibly. We craft our sentences with silence and intentionality. We complete our paragraphs, and we communicate thoughtfully.

Hush, did you hear something here?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Old School

Christina opened her eyes when her alarm croaked at 6am. Thank God it's Friday, she thought as she flung the covers off and rolled out of bed towards her closet. She pulled on her workout clothes and ambled into her parents mini home gym that shared the basement with her. She usually spent her time on the treadmill mentally going over what she needed to do that day. Normally her mornings were easy going before she worked her eight hour shift from noon to 8pm at a secondhand bookstore. However, this Friday she was working from 8am to 4pm because she had dinner plans with old friends from high school.
Christina's two best friends had both gone out of state for college when they graduated while she had spent a year at the local community college before settling in to her full time job selling books. Christina was a little self-conscious about seeing her old friends who had become such big successes in the six years since high school.
At work, her mind was constantly thinking about how she could hold her own in a conversation with a lawyer and a stock broker. When she made it home she went straight to her closet to find a suitable dress for the fancy restaurant Jane had picked out. Christina didn't spend a lot of money on clothes, so her selection was limited. She decided on her simple red dress which she usually wore to weddings and hoped her black dress boots weren't too casual for the high class dining.
When she stepped into the restaurant, she didn't immediately see her friends, but before she could ask the hostess anything, she heard someone bellow from the bar, "Over here, Christina!"
She turned to see Scott waving her over. She smiled and went to join him. His supermodel grin was wider than usual, and he held an almost empty drink in his hand.
"Don't know where Janey is, but apparently the reservation isn't until 6:30. I coulda sworn she said six. I've been hear waiting for you two to show up for nearly half an hour."
Scott's grin was unwavering while he spoke, and it occurred to Christina that she hadn't ever seen him drink alcohol before. That wasn't particularly significant, though, because they were only nineteen the last time they had spent time together.
Christina realizes she didn't know where to start a conversation with Scott, so she thought to break the ice by jokingly asking, "How's the stock market these days?"
Scott laughed in response. "It's a good think I’m great at my job, otherwise I'd be out on the street like half the guys from my office. I've only been at the Auburn Hills location a short time, but a lot of the old timers at my branch lost the company a lot of money in April and then lost their jobs in May. Boy, I'm glad I moved back here because those idiots make me look brilliant. If I'd stayed in California, I'd be the one without a job."
"Why did you come back last fall, Scott? I never heard the story."
"I couldn’t stand the liberals," Scott said.
Christian wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but it was the first time his grin dimmed. She raised her eyebrows and nodded, unsure how else to response. Back in their private high school, safe within the brick walls paid for by rich conservatives, Christina and her friends made jokes about liberals all the time. In their childish slang, "liberal" was a derogatory word. Christina considered herself an adult now, though, and hadn't used namecalling since high school. She couldn't tell if Scott was referencing their old joke or still genuinely believed liberals were trying to suck life, joy, and money out of American society.
Scott finished his drink unaware of the awkwardness he had brought to the conversation. Christina picked at her fingernails trying to think of something else to say to change the subject.
"I can't believe you've been here almost six months and we haven't seen each other. What have you been up to since you moved back?"
"Work, work, work," Scott said, "Making money doesn't leave much time for hobbies. Plus I've got a load of student loans to pay off. If I can keep up with this rate, I should be free of them in eight years. But that's boring stuff. What's been going on here while I've been gone? What are you doing these days?
"Well, not a lot has changed around here. I still work at the bookstore, and I lead a couple book clubs each month. I volunteer once a week to read to kids in grade school through the "Read to Me" program.
She had more she could say, but she felt odd launching into a list of hobbies when Scott seemed to have none.
"Wow, that sounds like a lot," Scott said, "What kind of books do you read in these book clubs? I haven't read anything for fun in ages.
Before she could answer, they both heard Jane call out their names. Christina turned her head in response and was immediately thankful Jane had recognized her because there was no way Christian would have recognized Jane. In high school, Jane was a plump brunette with sparkly blue eyes; the only feature the nearly three hundred pound woman with unnaturally red hair shared with the high school version of Jane was the blue eyes.
"Janey!" Christina reminded herself to smile before walking over to her old friend.
"Janey!" Scott echoed much louder and rushed to give her a hug, "So good to see you!"
Jane laughed, "Get off, get off. Let's go to our table."
Jane led the way to the back of the restaurant and Christina wondered how she already knew where their table was. Scott wondered the same thing and voiced his question to Jane.
"Oh, I talked to them when I made the reservations. They have another one of these restaurants in Boston that I go to all the time with the same layout. I got us the back room so we can be as rambunctious as we like."
 The next two hours crept by slowly for Christina as she fumbled through a conversation that seemed much more natural for Scott and Jane. Scott downed several more drinks and told jokes about the dumb hippies he worked with in California. Jane ate two meals and told jokes about the stupid liberals she went to school with in Massachusetts. Except for the drinking and overeating, Scott and Jane were exactly the same as when they were in high school. Their maturity level was stuck at age eighteen and they spoke with the same arrogance and disrespect of a know-it-all high school student. Christina had worried that she would be the one left behind when her two friends went off to college, but over the course of their meal Christina discovered that though she had stayed the closest to home she had changed the most. Christina chewed her food carefully and hoped that she wouldn't be caught in a confession that she cared more about people than companies. In the midst of the meal, her friends jokes that seemed so mature when they were younger because so few teenagers were politically minded were exposed as the hateful rantings they really were. Christina wasn't bothered by the fact that these former friends were unchanged politically; many of her political views were the same. The quirk in their conversation that made her skin crawl was that Scott and Jane never grew up.
When their meal finally ended, Christina jumped at the first opportunity to excuse herself. Scott and Jane protested that they still had dessert and drinks, but she found a reason not to stay.
"I'm volunteering at the library in the morning, so I should really get some sleep."
"I can't believe how much of your time you give away. Do you ever do anything for yourself?" Jane said.
"Oh, sure." Christina replied.
Jane's question was hollow, and Christina decided it was unnecessary to try to explain to Jane that volunteering was for herself. She warmly embraced her two old friends before she left the restaurant, but walked off the premises as quickly as her fancy boots would let her. It wasn't a dramatic exit, but Christina recognized that it would be the last time she would ever spend time with Scott and Jane. She remained convinced an hour later when she received Jane's text, "This was fun. Let's do it again soon!" Christina smiled in response to the text, but deleted the number from her phone nonetheless. She found Scott's number and deleted it too. Tossing her phone aside, she picked out Kate Chopin's The Awakening from her bookshelf and curled up to read it in her favorite chair.