Words

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 10:00am

I got wind of a blow.

While writing some fiction one day the aforementioned pun came out of my head, through my fingers, and onto the page. The context was just two guys discussing a nasty weather system coming up the East Coast.

These six words flew out of my head and blew me away; as a result, I actually googled said pun, and found nothing like it in cyberspace. I gob-smacked myself — hard! Subsequently, I used this phrase in a blog I wrote for The Block Island Times. (I know, you’re googling this right now — to check my veracity — or you will later, because you know it’s a cool bon mot — in the Shakespearean tradition.)

For example, after Mercutio gets stabbed by Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet,” Mercutio says to the Capulet and Montague boys, as he lays dying in the hot streets of Verona, “Tomorrow, you will find me a grave, man.” Yeah, that’s right, I’ll put my pun up against the Bard’s — with confidence — any day of the week. Furthermore, I bet Will Shakespeare would’ve given me a “Methinks thou hath twist up a cleverest pun, Scribbler,” for my take on this witticism of wind and words. I’m not bloviating; I’m just sayin’.

When we read, our brains take in words which are broken down in to eight parts of speech: Nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, interjections, and prepositions. These elements make up our language, and open our minds to all kinds of interesting input, ranging anywhere between keen observations of the human condition to incomprehensible nonsense. Writers make up poems, songs, epics, comedies, tragedies, facts (wink nod), opinions, novels, short stories, biographies, magazines, billboards, skywriting, truncated texts, emails, leaflets, newspapers, and jingles in order to persuade, inform and entertain us. Words wield power; Edward Bulwer-Lytton said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Prior to cultures and tribes using words, there must’ve been lots of grunting and harrumphing going on between folks to persuade, inform, and entertain each other.

One of the best compliments a writer of words can receive is when someone says, “I can hear your voice when I’m reading your stuff.” In writing parlance this is called a “voice on paper.” How a writer develops a voice is a mystery. I don’t think it’s a gift; it all about hard, self-absorbed, monastic work. 

Of course, there are some methods in play to help develop a voice on the page. 

For example, we can read lots of good writers, and hope some of their talent rubs off on us, sometimes they are so powerful we end up mimicking their style. 

I’ve mimicked Larry McMurtry, Melville, Tom Wolfe, E. B. White, Bob Dylan, and many others. Hell, I’ll lift anything that can help me say what I need to say. I’ve no scruples — none.

In any walk of life there are those who breathe rarefied air, and are extremely good at what they do. These folks just seem to have a leg up on the rest of us, and not only do what they do well, but they make it look easy — we all know someone like this. One day I was talking with a friend who is a very good writer, and I asked him of the how, who, and where of his voice on the page. “Go find a copy of ‘Ninety-Two In The Shade,’ by Tom McGuane, and read the first page,” he said.

I was going sailing for a few days, so I hit Barnes & Noble in Newport before going to my boat. There were two McGuane titles on the shelf. I grabbed “Ninety-Two In The Shade,” and sat on the floor to read the first page. Bingo! I saw the connection immediately — compelling, intelligent, worldly writing with a rolling, run-on feel — and bought that book, and the other one titled “Driving On The Rim.” My friend was introduced to McGuane’s work while a student in college, and it impacted his style for many years. I loved both books; however, I found McGuane required very close reading, and lots of time. I literally re-read every page of “Driving On The Rim” and was exhausted — in a good way — when I finished it. This guy can write. (He lives in Montana, but spent some time as a kid in Fall River, Massachusetts. Check out “Return to Fall River,”  in The New Yorker archive.)

These writers give us something to aspire to, and they can help us better understand the world; we need stories that act as guides and to organize our thoughts. I know a guy who has read “Moby-Dickand “War and Peace” 50 times. The guy’s not a writer; he’s an actor with a serious reading habit, and is interested in the human condition. Melville and Tolstoy are guys who wrote about the complexity of people and the world. These writers challenge our thinking. 

Writing words on the page or screen can surprise the person who is writing them. All writers are sometimes startled or amused by what comes out of their own heads. We know that Shakespeare loved a good pun, and so did playwright Oscar Wilde. In his play, “The Importance of being Earnest,” there is a line, “It is vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces false impressions.”

And a guy I know from Block Island sent me an email one day saying, “It was a great day. We caught some summer flounder, and some fluke, but enough of these fish tails.”