Monday, February 28, 2022

A novel thought from a writer: Words matter

 The homily today (sermon to you non-Caths) got me thinking, which I guess is sort of the point.

It reflected on the first scripture reading from Sirach and the priest proposed that the old adage about judging a person by their actions, wasn't entirely true. He said, citing Sirach, and, unknowingly, the late Rush Limbaugh, that "words matter" too.

The topical verses from Chapter 27 are: 

When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do people’s faults when they speak.

The furnace tests the potter’s vessels; the test of a person is in conversation.

The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart.

Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.

My first thought was: consider that scripture when you listen to your favorite politician. (Especially the: "speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart" part.)

My second thought was: that explains a lot of the issues in today's toxic society, particularly with social media, but also news media, even email and texts between friends and family.

I would posit that we communicate more than ever in the history of the world - and instantaneously. So our words really do matter, because we use so many of them. 

Couple that with what I believe to be fact that we as a society are woefully informed as to meanings of words, literature, history, etc. - basically the liberal arts. Thus, we throw out all these words and absorb all these words but don't have the ability to put things into context, to see gray areas, and we certainly don't take the time to consider them.

All we often do is get these words thrown at us, gobble them up and then shoot words back at people without the education, or time, to consider them and study them before we respond.

Often, the responses are simplistic, they're vulgar, they're thoughtless. And down the rabbit hole we go.

In history, words were more difficult to transcribe and more difficult to attain with long periods of time between responses. So they were more considered and deliberate. Moses chiseled out the 10 Commandments. The words were delivered by God but those words were carefully chosen. In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 opinions on the church in Germany; they were meticulously written and thoughtful. When a printer set type one letter at a time, the words mattered because you didn't want to waste them. Not that long ago, we hand wrote letters to people, probably more well thought out, personal and nuanced than currently.

Now we fire off tweets and texts and emails with our fingers as fast as our mind can think of the words, then use auto-fill and spell-check to clean up our spelling to look smarter than we probably are, and then hit "send" often without much consideration for facts or the feelings of the recipient.

What is all to often the result is thoughtlessness, showing a thoughtless, unserious person; or meanness, showing a mean, inconsiderate person; or vulgarity, showing a vulgar, dark-hearted person.

Yes, our actions matter, but so do our words. The whole "sticks and stones" adage has proven to be false. Words do hurt people. Words do reflect our inner being. Not that we aren't allowed a dumb comment or something said in haste or anger on occasion, but the entirety of our words is a pretty good indicator of who we are. 

Now scroll through the latest Facebook comments you left for your congressman or on an article you commented on from the local newspaper, then check your Twitter feed for what you called people or commented on and tell me I'm wrong. That's who you are. Own it, for better or worse. If not for better, work on it.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Larry McMurtry - an underappreciated wordsmith

 I just finished my fifth Larry McMurtry novel, "The Last Picture Show," and am able to confidently say he is the best writer among the clan of authors I've fallen in with. (Never end a sentence with a preposition, but you can with two.) Those more famous authors include Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Lawrence Block, Lee Child, John Sandford, Daniel Silva.

Sure, some of them have better imaginations or plot twists or stumbled into a character they made a career out of (Lucas Davenport, Gabriel Allon, Jack Reacher, etc.) But when it comes to getting into the guts of a character so you feel what they feel, see what they see, I haven't run across anyone better. It can be salty. There is profanity, racism, N words, raunchy sex, lives lived and loves lost. But it's life, particularly in the plains of Texas, and he makes you feel it to the bone.

The characters he created were so good, they often ended up on screen, like "Lonesome Dove" and "Brokeback Mountain." The characters were so deep they attracted A-list actors like: Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. 

When I Wiki'd him, I was distressed to learn he died last year. This New York Times obituary is worth the read just to see his quirky life and his other career as a book collector and seller. 

He wrote 30 novels, so I have plenty more to go and look forward to them.

I gave "The Last Picture Show" a stellar 8 on the Haugenometer.