Friday, October 22, 2010

Wow! I'm back, with Roget and Daddy

Here I am again, believe it or not, after four months' silence.

Of course I haven't been silent elsewhere, but for whatever reason, I didn't feel drawn to the ruminative presence of this space. There, just in that sentence, I paused after "ruminative," because I couldn't quite come up with the word I wanted. I love the moment of trying to find the right word.

Sitting cross-legged on the brown couch -- the couch I bought when I lived in Sylvester Manor, one of the first actual pieces of furniture I acquired on my own, a semblance and reclamation of adult life after leaving my first marriage -- I breathed and sat back this Friday night and considered what would be just the right word for that sentence. I stretched one leg out onto the coffee table and looked up, letting my body and mind meander...I considered the word "posture," but that sounded too stiff. I considered the word "stance," but that sounded too rhetorical, too political.

And so I lifted the laptop off my lap and went to the bookshelf looking for my thesaurus. I considered the word "attitude," but it sounded too common, too collegiate rah-rah. But "attitude" was a good place to begin. So I looked up "attitude" in the back half, where the words are listed alphabetically in four columns per page. "attitude" is on p. 689, the page which goes from "attainment" to "auditory canal." Under "attitude" I had five choices: posture, 183.4; viewpoint, 438.7; opinion 500.4; mental ~ 523.1; and in tiny capital letters, "TAKE THE ATTITUDE, 523.6 -- that last a strange little phrase that seems alien, foreign, quaint, strange.

Now, interestingly, I find myself slipping into present tense. I select the first one, which was, after all, one of my original choices. And I'm delighted to find that 183 is labeled LOCATION....this really touches me, for reasons I'll explain later: the nouns under point one in "LOCATION" include situation, place, placement, emplacement, position, hole, stead, region, locaility, locale, locus, site, situs, spot, point, bearings latitude and longitude.

Point 2 includes where, whereabouts, here, there.

And Point 4 includes a fascinating mix, which offers many interesting angles of connection: posture, pose, position, lay, lie, set, attitude, aspect, bearing, port, carriage, air, mien, demeanor, presence, exposure, frontage...

It is the word "presence", there in the middle between "demeanor" and "exposure", that captures what I want.

To write, after all, requires presence. To write one must be present. Sometimes when I am not writing it is because I am unable to be present to the degree required; or, as in the case of my recent life, I am so fully present in some other part of life that I cannot be present enough for the rumination of language, of thought.

But coming back to it tonight, I remember with a rush the pleasure of this presence, this being present with words. Tonight, this is my whereabouts -- to be present in these quiet moments with words.

I suspect, too, that my readiness for this presence was kicked off by the startling convergence with another powerful location -- I find myself wanting to say echo-location, because when my hometown of Canton, Ohio appeared on the PBS NewsHour tonight I was jarred and touched by melancholy and nostalgia. My old hometown, where six years of my childhood in particular rolled out in a beautiful brick parsonage surrounded by leafy maples that I still write about and dream about, that old hometown is now decrepit and struggling, just like Flint. "In the Fifties, a manufacturing powerhouse," the reporter said -- those were MY Fifties, when the town was a great place for families to raise kids, the schools were great, we roller skated and sold lemonade on the sidewalks, the adults dressed up for church, tended roses on white trellises. There was a vigorous adult life there that I only observed through a child's naive lens, but something about it stuck with me -- something about the adult life I sense my parents and others were living -- that formed what I imagined my own grown up life would be.

Now the PBS New Hour featured a haunted house in an abandoned warehouse, where 84 people make scant but cherished money 20 days a year dressing up like monsters and scaring other people, who pay for the fright. And then the reporter moved out to interview struggling families, and when I saw them standing in the streets with October light behind them, I thought I recognized that light, the light of my childhood, and it made me sad. Finally, there was a shot of a shorn corn field with a bank of stiff milkweed, cracked and empty of its fluffy seeds, in the foreground, and that was a field my body understands and remembers.

Finally, I love my thesaurus. As you can see below, it was given to me by my father on my 13th birthday. And as I see his inscription, I also see the seeds of my whole life to come, where he writes: "To help you find words with which to express the thoughts of a very fine mind." What a remarkable thing for a girl to be told by her father. I feel smitten, lucky, and loved in language from my powerful past.
See my father's inscription -- My thesaurus was my 13th birthday present