Thursday, 24 August 2017

What's in a word?

My dear friend Briana Rayner gifted me with the book, Consolations - The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte.

In it, Whyte gives his own interpretations and meaning to 52 words. His meditations on the experience of each word are profoundly thought provoking. As a narrative writer I find the text to be an incredible resource for adding depth to a given character’s experience of language.

His musings remind me of the weight of emotion words carry for each of us. How steeped they are with memory and personal association. How subjective each word is. That we all operate within our own inner-vocabulary and that communication of any kind between individuals is a great feat unto itself. I am reminded that for each of my characters, there is a subtext. A personal thesaurus / dictionary that dictates their reaction to a given circumstance, to any and all conversation.

This filter of language, our individualized experience of words is the birthplace of conflict. Two characters may appear to be communicating successfully, with relative ease, whilst internally their chosen words are missing their mark. A gap widens between intent and interpretation, the breadth of which determines their struggle to find resolution or to even truly connect in the first place.

What does ‘honesty’ mean per se to my hero as opposed to their antagonist? How would each define this word, given their pasts? Given their values? If they are debating 'honesty' in a conversation with one another, can they both argue interpretations that are, while opposed, at the same time accurate? Absolutely. I think the best antagonists have definitions to these weighty, value-based words that resonate with most us on some level (despite ourselves). Their definitions are at least interpretations that we’ve entertained at one point or another, albeit in the private dark corners of our minds.

Whyte’s book has inspired me to take a fresh look at words I’ve assumed full knowledge of. I’ve taken them out, looked at them anew and marvelled at their infinite variations. It’s reminded me of the fluidity and deep uncertainty of words, how ever-evolving language is. It has opened up a world of potential for my writing and elevated my personal experience of language itself.

Thank you Briana. What a gift!

- J

*J, A truly beautiful gift! Let's discuss what that statement means to each of us for the rest of the day :D - M

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Maira Gall