Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Sep 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

What's In a Word?

Lisa_JensenSo, there I was, loping through the San Francisco Chronicle last week. (We may surf the web, but a more laid-back and contemplative verb is required for perusing a newspaper in print) and there I found the article, "Book lovers turn the page on a new year," about Bay Area calligrapher Georgianna Greenwood. Early in January every year, she hosts a ceremony at the Center for the Book in San Francisco; eschewing the whole notion of New Year's resolutions, she invites participants to choose a single word to express their attitude toward the coming year—hopes, dreams,  strategies, goals, coping mechanisms, whatever—and then draws or collages together a "talisman" to celebrate that idea. But the core is that word, one single word to express one's personal Zeitgeist for the new year.

As a writer, I was smitten with this challenge. "I can do that!" I gloated in my heedless zeal. Words are my beat. Surely I could find just the right one to express, well, everything.

Right off, I was reminded of Albus Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter book. "I would like to say a few words," he tells the assembly of incoming Hogwarts students. "Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak. Thank you."

OK, it's an old joke, but I have my favorite words too, words I just can't get enough of, and employ at any possible opportunity, just for the fun of bandying them about. Specious. Festive. Amok. Scintilescent. Some of them give my poor Spellcheck fits, since they are often archaic, or, ahem, made-up. (I was about to add "muchness" to this group, recently welcomed into my vocabulary via last year's Alice in Wonderland movie —"too much muchness," I scold myself, editing the early drafts of my film reviews—until I consulted my Webster's to learn it's been around since the 14th Century. D'oh!)

Anyway, it doesn't matter to me if the words I use are technically real or not, as long as the point is conveyed. As the Red Queen proclaims in the second Alice book, "When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean. No more, no less." Here, here.

In the beginning, we're told, there was The Word. "Bird" was the Word in 1963, when The Rivingtons needed a suitably nonsensical follow-up to "Papa Ooh Mow Mow." The Beatles told us to "say the Word, love." ("It's so fine/ Sunshine …") In The Graduate, the word was "Plastics." In the '70s, the Bee Gees sang, "Grease is the Word." But how to choose one from this multitude of verbiage as my shield, prayer and talisman for the new year?

What's in a word, anyway?

"A rose is a rose is a rose," Gertrude Stein nods sagely, from the comfy armchair in her atelier. To which Will Shakespeare, wiping the greasepaint from his palms, chimes in, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But as a professional wordsmith myself, I have to believe that individual words matter. My job is to select the perfectly ripe and succulent one, not too green—a word whose meaning might not yet be fully formed—nor so mellow that it's lost its verve and texture.

Unfotrunately, I'm the kind of writer who likes to just lob a lot of verbiage (see—there's another one of my faves) at the screen in hopes that somehow the right one will stick. After that, it's just a process of peeling away the excess to find it. But whatever method you prefer, nine times out of 10, choosing the right word is both critical and near impossible (especially on deadline) to any lowly scribe attempting to communicate an idea—and that's just in everyday writing, like emails, or press releases, or movie reviews. How much more formidable a task must it be to seize on the exact mot juste to carry a message to the Universe? What could it possibly be, a single word to conjure up the right juju, the alchemy, the fortitude needed to both define and navigate an entire year?

A thousand lofty candidates spring to mind. What about peace? Love? Hope? Courage? These are noble ideals all, desperately needed in our damaged, divided world. But as words, they've become greeting-card doggerel, neutered by overuse, however profound their meaning. Health? Happiness? Tolerance? Sanity? Hmmm, getting closer, but each is just a bit too general to serve as someone's personal mantra.

Since looking backward and looking forward are part of the same double-sided, Janus-headed coin, I decided to consult a recent diary entry I wrote bidding adios to 2010. It was a bittersweet year for me. I not only lost my mom, but a favorite family cousin as well, along with a girlfriend who'd been one of my best buddies in high school. I called it the year of letting go.

And that's when it came to me. If last year was for goodbyes, this should be my year for Life. Both finite and infinite; life in all its messy complexity, the life I have and the life I still want to make of it. One simple, non-fussy word that's full of possibilities. Life. Embrace it. Live it. Use it well.

This is my alchemical word for the new year. What's yours?


Spread the Word and be like This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   Read Lisa's blog on Santa Cruz arts and letters at ljo-express.blogspot.com)

Comments (1)Add Comment
Just one?
written by Wilde Words, February 01, 2011
Pick just one word for the year? For me, that would be like a mother trying to choose just one of her children. I can't do it. There are too many dichotomies to choose just one word.

But, on the subject of favorite words... one of my favorites: ennui. So not boring.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Reflecting Glass

Composer Philip Glass’ first trip to Big Sur was by motorcycle; little did he know that he’d establish a music festival there six decades later.

 

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs this year during Libra, the sign of creating right relations with all aspects life and with earth’s kingdoms. We contemplate (the Libra meditation) forgiveness, which means, “to give for another.” Forgiveness is not pardon. It’s a sacrifice (fire in the heart, giving from the heart). Forgiveness is giving up for the good of the other. This is the law of evolution (the path of return).

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 26

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Wurst Case Scenario

Venus Spirits releases agave spirit, Renee Shepherd on planting garlic, Sausagefest 2014, and wine harvest in full swing

 

Do you think you are addicted to technology?

Santa Cruz  |  Unemployed

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Apricot Wine for Dessert

Thomas Kruse Winery, a participant in the new Santa Clara Wine Trail, has been around for a long time—since 1971, to be exact. When our little group arrived to try some wine at the Kruses’ low-key tasting room, Thomas Kruse and his wife Karen were there to greet us. Theirs is a small operation, and they’re proud to offer quality wine at affordable prices. “Because we are small and low-tech, it’s easy to relate to the whole winemaking process,” says Karen—and the Kruses take pride in making wine “just like it has been made for centuries.”