Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
May 28th
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

 

Ocean Odyssey

Sailing the high seas from Santa Cruz to French Polynesia, Sally-Christine Rodgers documents the trials, tribulations and joys of exploring the world by boat

 

Gemini Festival of Goodwill, World Invocation Day

This entire week is a preparation by the New Group of World Servers (NGWS) for the June full moon (Tuesday) and to welcome the Forces of Reconstruction, great outer planetary forces streaming into the Earth at the Gemini Solar Festival. The Gemini Festival at the June full moon is called the Festival of Goodwill and World Invocation Day (recitation of the Great Invocation, the mantram of direction for humanity, hourly around the world). During the (12 degrees) Gemini festival, the Wesak blessing of the will-to-good is released and radiated (Gemini distributes) to humanity. When the will-to-good is received, humanity is then able to radiate goodwill to each other and to the kingdoms. The Gemini Festival is the third of the Three Spring Festivals (triangle of Force), setting the spiritual template and resources for Earth for the rest of the year (‘til next spring). This festival recognizes the true spirit of humanity—aspiring toward and seeking the will of God, dedicated to right human relation. At the full moon, the Divine nature of humanity is recognized. Christ stands with humanity, leader of his people, “the Eldest in a great family of brothers” (Romans VIII, 29.) Each year at the Gemini festival, Christ preaches the last sermon of Buddha, His brother, a sermon calling forth human and spiritual unity, represented by an outflow of love (work of the Christ) and wisdom (work of the Buddha). The forces of reconstruction stream in during the Festival, ushering in an era of pronounced creative activity, rebuilding the tangible world on new creative lines. This necessitates the total destruction of the old forms no longer useful for the new world era. Everyone is invited. Join us everyone for this Festival of Goodwill by reciting the Great Invocation.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of May 29

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

 

The Main Avant

Jozseph Schultz caters New Music Works’ 35th annual Avant Garden Party, plus brews for a cause

 

What will Santa Cruz be like in the future?

 society that is more awakened and realizes its own value and the beauty of the stunning Earth. Marguerite Clifford, Felton, Nutrition Health Care

 

Chesebro Wines

Piedras Blancas-Roussanne 2011

 

Real Thai Kitchen

Ratana Bowden on why Thai cuisine isn’t as spicy as everyone thinks