Words Matter to Me

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Words Matter to Me

I am working on another book these days (don’t tell my editor) so I am more aware than usual of just how much words matter to me. I sense in this book I will concentrate as much on how I say what I say, as on what I say.

I love books, the arrangement of words in a unique order and sequence selected by a sentient being of good and noble intent. Yet bookshelves are full of worthless books, outpourings of self-validating egoists ~ words, words and more words, flowing like brackish water from roof, to gutter to ground.

Why do certain phrases resonate more deeply with me than others?

Howard Zieff was a photographer/advertiser who decided to use real people instead of models in his ads (remember the spicy meatball Alka Seltzer commercial?) When asked why he said, For the Levy’s ad I shot many photos that failed. They weren’t the kinds of faces that gathered you up when you went on the subway. That’s what I wanted, faces that gathered you up.”

A face that “gathers you up” communicates something about his aim, but it also validates my fear about plastic surgery and today’s worried quest for the “one beautiful look.” I am connecting to an idea triggered by his phrase.

I wonder, if in eradicating our imperfections we are eliminating the very faces that “gather you up?”

Roy Blount Jr. is the new president of the Author’s Guild and is trying to get Amazon to pay fees for computer generated audio readings of Kindle books, But the introduction to his article is what caught my eye.

“Being president of too many well-meaning organizations put my father in an early grave. The lesson is not lost on me.” As a 60-year old idealist who has invested heavily in well-meaning movements and organizations, this gives me pause for thought.” I want more time with my wife. I feel ready to start taking vacations. I’m typing these words 30,000 feet in the air where I am en route to NYC to interview Nick Wolterstorff at the IAM Conference. This trip will be followed by two more weeks of nonstop tilting at windmills types of activities.

So the phrases that grab me are the ones that I connect to personally ~ they speak to something in my own life. Words are a way of understanding my own life, of trying to make sense of it, and to seek advice from others on that kinds of changes I might make when my life doesn’t make sense to me.

But to grab me it needs more than that. I connect to the rich aesthetic and flavor of certain phrases. Magic words seem to effortlessly roll off the tongue of someone like Leonard Cohen.

In describing his financial woes he explains they are the result of a “long ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation ~ I didn’t even know where the bank was.”

Or when describing the loss of copyright on some of his classic songs he quips, “My sense of ownership with these things is very weak. It’s not the result of spiritual discipline (Cohen took a break for five years in a Zen Buddhist Monastery); it’s always been that way. My sense of proprietorship has been so weak that actually I didn’t pay attention and I lost the copyrights on a lot of the songs.”

Here I love the words and whimsy, but I also connect to the spiritual dimension of the man.

Indeed, singer/songwriter Jennifer Warnes says of Cohen, “If he has one great love, it is his search for God.”

By far the deepest resonance comes when I connect to the truth. This week I came across this by Tolstoy, “One great thought lodged in the soul of a man can change his whole life.”

The truth of this simple phrase took my breath away. It made me wonder, “what is the one great thought in my soul that has changed my whole life?”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in February 26, 2009 by | No Comments »

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