Thursday, March 14, 2019

Scrabbling for Words

By Cheryl Oreglia

Christian Wiman asks, "does the decay of belief among educated people in the West precede the decay of language used to define and explore belief, or do we find the fire of belief fading in us only because the words are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn?" It seems to me we need language that is not only intimate and inclusive but efficacious, words so enticing, stimulating, and moving that the reader is unable to let the narrative go long after ingesting the last morsel. Something that burns inside of us, scorching a path in our soul, embers glowing through the dark night. Our work does not have to overwhelm, it has to invite, and those who reject it will miss the celebration, the banquet, the union of all who showed up in their stead. 

Contemporary writers are not only remaking the language, but they are in the unique position to alter our understanding of the world, and the culture in which we all live. People will reach for a story that resonates with their understanding of the world but they will flock to a story that challenges their beliefs, a reformation of sorts, one that is responsive to the current situation, one that has the ability to reshape our obsolete convictions. I don't want heaven, I want a story that reaches into the agony of hell, that confronts our suffering in such a way that relief comes in the form of fusion, a new amalgamation.

I don't want to read what I know, I want to read that which will make me into something new, drag my worn out vision to the side yard, as if a dog burying a bone. I want to be recast. Wiman adds, "but it cleared the metaphysical air, so to speak; it gave us - would-be believers, haunted unbelievers, determined secularists whose very passion for the book undermined their iron exteriors - something to build on." The capacity to melt iron, this is my longing, where my passion is not only consummated, but forged into something new, something noble. 

Imagine languages that breed, a modern copulation if you will, with a lengthy gestation, eventually the work will need a bigger womb, and suddenly your water breaks on the way to the publishers. The writer gives birth to a story, in the throws of labor, it's painful to push forth a new vision, but before the emergence of this embryonic narrative, you must let everything go. The urge to fight, the resistance of both body and soul, before a gushing placenta, with blood, and amnionic fluid spills onto the floor. It's messy, but then your roman a clef takes her first breath, endowed with the ability to feel, to open ones eyes, magical, miraculous, extraordinary.

In all this glory and grandeur let us not forget our mortality and impermanence, a story has a shelf life, it's finite, but every now and then one breaks through the barriers, and lives on eternally, incorruptible. A messiah so to speak, one that draws us back to ourselves, helps us to see that what we long for is right in front of us. The forbidden fruit, one bite, and your catapulted out into the world. This is our work, earned by the sweat of our brow, painful, intense, bequeathed by those who came before us. 

I'm hopeful that in the hands of contemporary writers our language is safe, "the mystic, the poet working not simply inclined to silence but inclined to valorize it," writes Christian Wiman. We all crave the written word, not only for escape, but to articulate reality, using truth as our sacred standard. The kind of truth that resists decay, because it's got grit, "mind and matter soldered seamlessly together by pain, faith, grief, grace," writes James Wright. 

How's the labor going?  

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we'll play Scrabble.


Carrie Beckort said...

Very interesting post, Cheryl. I'll admit that I'm not a writer who is into language and words (I'll pause here for the gasps to stabilize). Growing up I always thought my brother would be the writer - not only did he have a desire for it be he loved words and language. I joke that while I was taking Physics II as a high school elective he was taking Words, Words, Words (it's not really a joke as it's true, but funny since I'm the one who ended up writing). So when I started writing I didn't think I had what was needed. What I learned was that I use language in a totally different way. I love trying to get the right combination of words to make my readers feel what I want them to feel. I love that there so much magic in words - we all just need to find our niche.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Hi Carrie! Thanks for the unstabilizing comment - a writer who is not into words. Interesting that you have a science background and strive for perfect combinations to communicate your story instead of wringing out the language. I too believe in the magic of words, how they frame and form our culture, the evolution of ideas and concepts embedded in a phrase or adage. I'm still searching for my niche so that might be part of the problem. Very curious to know what your brother ended up doing? Hopefully something creative. I suppose that's all we really need, a healthy sense of creativity, whether a writer, or scientist, or chef. Thanks again Carrie.

Karissa Laurel said...

Cheryl, I love this post. For me, words can be so transcendent. When I read a literary (or even not-so-literary) work that has used words in a particularly clever, insightful, or just plain "pretty" way, I get a buzz like drinking a glass of strong wine. And indeed, trying to arrange my own words on the page in hopes that I convey that same feeling to my readers is like giving birth in spiritual way.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

What a perfect response Karissa, “like drinking a glass of strong wine,” absolutely, and get ready for the hangover! Arranging words is what we do but finding that perfect order which elicits a response from the reader is magic! Thank you for reading and commenting!

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