jusummerhayes

The language will not fail you

"When we are labouring up another counterintuitive, habit-violating semantic or phenomenological incline, dragging the ten ton stone of what passes for sanity in the West up the hill of habit and into the light of courteous inquiry where it belongs, I often offer this cool comfort: the language will not fail you. Think about how you think, I tell them, and talk about how you talk, and patient attention to the means by which you think and talk—the language—will serve you and the world you are desperate to care for. The language will not let you down." — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (p. 49)

Good morning from my little office in Devon.

It's the same routine as last week — and that's a good thing, right!

The light (always the light...) is drifting through my wooden blinds, and the birds are just about to unleash their fury — aka the dawn chorus — on the day.

It's no accident that I've once again prayed in aid Jenkinson's ode to language. It's positively (to me at least — always to me: who else?) oracular.

It circles...and it circles...and it circles some more.

And I see it now in everything I read and write.

Think about it.

Or rather think about your own thoughts, what you say, what you write and then look out across the world and apply the same measure of sanctity.

"The language will not fail you."

Now, of course, in spiritual circles — no, not the small 'b' Buddhist circles or the this-is-the-only-show-in-town-worth-listening-to clarion call (I'll leave my chagrin for another day) I accept that we're easily corrupted, soulfully or otherwise, if we take to heart in a literal way the Monkey Mind chatter, but it's worth paying attention to once in a while if only because it informs speech. Imagine it: your inner thoughts, feelings and emotions were turned on a sixpence; ipso facto, your outer language would follow suit.

But I'm going off track.

Look at the volcanic explosion of prognostications for the new normal or making sense of Covid19 or the lack of PPE or, frankly, whatever floats your boat. Is the language on point? Or is it missing the point — whatever that is? 

In my language and my themes (death is nearly always in the mix), my wife says I'm too heavy. I don't think I'm heavy enough. To my mind, life and death is serious juju; they're not to be taken lightly. But then again, great gobs of humour help in lightening the load — and I can be comedic at times, if only because the other option would be for me to break out either in great floods of tears or uncontrolled rage.

It was no accident that, yesterday, I found myself watching a documentary on the late Edward Abbey; I don't want to besmirch his memory, but he was an angry man by dint of our treatment of mother earth — or his corner of the earth — and he expressed at least part of that in his book, Desert Solitaire. In many ways, I found myself saying much the same thing with the same level of consternation at our past and likely treatment of Gaia (once the restrictions are lifted) — "Arghh, why have we so badly messed up this world?"

What am I really trying to say (Get to the point, Ju!)?

Language is no accident. It's deliberate. And right now, whilst it's tempting to believe that we need a lot of heat applied to the Covid19 problem, we need, in equal measure, if not more, light, and that will only be fashioned with our choice of words. 

One other thing. I love finding new words and discovering their meaning. I don't just mean the dictionary definition — propinquity is probably my favourite. These days, as geeky as it sounds, I like to look at the etymology if only to understand if the word is truly apposite to the frame of reference. I'm not suggesting you do so but we've got too used to seeing the same hackneyed phrases and whilst it's fair game to take a pot shot or two, better still go back in the historical annals and see if there isn't a better or more developed tone to what you're trying to say.

Oh, one final thing. I accept that I use some flowery, often quite legalistic language. Previously, in my slightly self-deprecating way, I'd throttle back and use simpler language. And that's fine — you must write for your audience. But then again, perhaps that's my style. It doesn't always make for something pleasing on the eye and grammatically it might be all over the shop, but there's a temptation to replace one word with another for ease of reference and that often elides the import of what you're actually trying to say. You might think me a prig in saying this — and I might be — but I'm inclined to the view that I've still not a lot to learn about the use of language and what I say now is just a passing phase whence I'm moving on to something else.

I hope this post isn't too verbose to make my simple point apropos language but I think as much as anything else, it's a good aid memoir and one I'll keep returning to more than once in a blue moon.

Take care.

Blessings,

Ju

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