Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Sep 04th
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

 

You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Girl Gone Wild

’70s SF recalled in raw, poignant ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sushi Garden

Local sushi empire expands to Scotts Valley

 

Do you overshare online?

I don’t think so. I just post things about my life, like successful things. Sometimes I just like sharing different news that I find interesting, or favorite artists, clothes, music. I like to post photos. Natalia Delgado, Santa Cruz, Server

 

McIntyre Vineyards

I recently met up with three friends for dinner at Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort. We chose to eat outside so we could watch the sun set over the ocean, but the Aptos fog rolled in and swallowed it up.

 

Sustainable Supper

The Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper series supports its award-winning programs