Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Feb 14th
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

 

Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 12

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

 

Pub Watch

Mega gastro pub-in-progress at the Old Sash Mill, plus the best pasta dish downtown

 

How do you know love is real?

When you feel the groove in your heart and you’re inspired to dance. Becca Bing, Boulder Creek, Teacher

 

Temple of Umami

Watsonville’s Miyuki is homestyle cooking, Japanese-style

 

How would you stop people from littering?

Teach them from the time that they’re small that it’s not an appropriate behavior. Juliet Jones, Santa Cruz, Claims Adjuster