Cakewalk into Town?

What was I thinking? Had I gone over the edge? Sure, I was young – lo, those forty-plus years ago – but even then I knew that writing is difficult, time-consuming, socially questionable, and unlikely to lead to financial well-being, especially the sort of writing I was interested in producing at the time (literary fiction and Dylanesque blues songs).

Nevertheless, when I heard the call – “Jeff, this is the Muse speaking; you’re going to need to do some writing” – I was powerless to resist (not that I didn’t try) and soon set about the task of chiseling away, millimeter by crusty millimeter, my calcified sense of a chicken-hearted, tongue-tied, talentless self to find the bold writer within. I’m certain that at the time I did not understand this to be a lifelong assignment. I thought I was negotiating for something shorter term. Perhaps I wasn’t crazy but simply neglectful in reading the small print: “Should you ever abandon the practice of writing, even for years, you will return, again and again…and again….”

Cake-Walk, Leo Rauth, 1913

And so I have. But why? Writing is not a cakewalk for me. It’s often a slow crawl on hands and knees, picking through the weeds for the right word, the only word in the entire English language that will do at the given moment. The weeds can be thick, and the exactly right word may be mythical, but I suppose therein lies one source of the attraction to the craft. As a marginally autistic child, I became fascinated with words – their sounds, innards, and representational complexity. Wordplay was a significant feature of my internal monologue.

Subsequently, by the time it occurred to me to become some sort of writer, language was much more than a means of communication: it was a vast palette of finely tuned lexical colors for painting pictures of meaning, for making narrative art. In print and in song, it’s difficult for me to quickly summarize a simple story – I have to paint it.

A participant in our recent Tell Tailors introductory workshop reminded me of the old days when people wrote actual letters, sometimes long letters, on paper that they folded and put in envelopes to be mailed. This fellow said he was prompted to explore other writing possibilities after years of being told that he writes great letters. A wave of nostalgia swept over me. That’s how I started writing, too. I realized that I miss the activity of devoting as much time as necessary to turning “Went to the beach, had a good time” into a vivid comic adventure intended for a very specific audience: a personal friend.

I think I have just discovered my next writing exercise assignment. How about you? Have you dabbled in the venerable art of crafted letter writing?


My Wordless Resolution

I’ve always wanted a compilation of the forgotten words: those lost from our dictionaries and gone from our tongues. Good ones do exist, and I often wonder whether I should try and revive the sound of kexy leaves in my writing and obarmate against the loss of language, or if by so doing I would only roblet readers and possibly misqueme them.

Instead, this year, I plan to do the opposite. I’m consciously dropping a word from my spoken vocabulary.

After catching myself one too many times using the same word in recent days, I realized it had cemented itself into the shorthand crutch of my vocabulary. The word itself is not that special. It is neither vulgar nor exciting. It is neither colorful nor placid. It is nondescript if it is anything. Yet, I find that it is in its very delivery, a word utilized to convey everything, attitude and all. Or so the tone of that delivery should suggest. Somehow vague and vogue, it feels borrowed and lazy. An ordinary word whose extraordinary usage has become, well, ordinary.

So, enough of it, I say. Expunged. Here’s to using words that matter. And here’s to hoping this overt effort with my speech results in covert dexterity with my pen.

Do you use a word worth losing?

Tell Tailors Guild founded

We invite you to join our collective of writers, thinkers, and creators. Like the guilds of the Renaissance, our aim is to further the interests of our artistry, avail ourselves of mutual support, and keep an eye on one another. Writing may be a solitary act, but the act engages a community.

Meet other writers, discover interval writing, and take home some new writing tools.

Please join us Saturday, December 15, 2018 at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. We’ll see you in the Gene Albaugh Community Room from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Please bring your notebooks, pens, and imaginations.

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