I don’t write to be famous, I don’t write to be known, I write because I am and I want to be read. How sad to fill a room with paintings no one sees or play music no one hears. Writing is talking without sound, singing without score and dancing without movement and yet, it is all of them. It is a solitary art conjured from thought and expressed by the need to communicate.

HEAD SLAPS, SPEED BUMPS and LIGHTBULBS, one woman's WTF, oops and ah-ha moments of life.

They were published once, and as every writer knows, once is not enough.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just the right words

A co-worker died last week. He was the nicest, funniest guy you’d ever want to meet. Forty-seven years old. We have a condolence book at work for his family and it took me three days to come up with the right words to write to them. I still don’t feel as if what I wrote, did the relationship I had with this man, honor.

My youngest daughter lost a best friend a month ago, and my oldest lost a best friend as a result of the Newtown tragedy two years ago, and I said to both, “I don’t know what to say.”

An unmarried member of my family, a bit removed but close, is pregnant. She does not want to be. I verbally stumbled and failed when I spoke to her mother.

When my mother told me that as a teenager she had been raped, I said, “I wish you hadn’t told me.”
Why is it, that during the most pivotally emotional times of our lives, words often fail us? Words are what we do, words are what we are about.
If we were a store, we’d be Words R Us.

When I have a deadline looming, or a lead time shortened because of a holiday piece, do you think I can come up with just the right words, in just the nick of time? Actually, yes I can, and always do. But, what it takes to pull something coherently relevant out of my ass, is like searching through my junk drawer for a pill I know I accidentally dropped in there months ago, and it is the last one left which will save my life. I know I’ll find it but the search is frightening.

I have learned to trust in my abilities and the process. I’ve done it long enough to know, it’s there, open my mind, think of something else or just go quiet. The whisper of it will rustle the leaves at first, and if I do not close the window, and let it billow the curtains, it eventually will blow my writer’s inadequacy and malaise away.

But, when I do not have time to wait for breezes, muses and the words to fill my cup, when I only have seconds to react, I have to remind myself that sometimes I don’t have to say the right words, I just have to be present and listen.

Because the sensors searching for correctness are wound-round our emotional being, and often shut down because of that emotional overload, words never seem quite adequate anyway

I’ve been reading a few blogs by fiction writers lately who are struggling with their stories and searching for just the right words, beginnings, paths, twists, arcs and endings. So, for the singular searching for correctness and the collective struggling with the story I have advice, (I always seem to have advice). Go quiet, be present and trust in the process. When the leaves rustle, (and they will), let the curtains billow until the front passes through, (it always does).

When is the last time you struggled for just the right words?


  1. When is the last time you struggled for just the right words?

    Three seconds ago. I swear, I re-think everything. Even my comments on various posts.

    And I'm useless at choosing the right words during difficult times. USELESS. I lock up. It's like someone smeared my lips with super glue instead of lipstick. Case in point. My old running buddy, David. Remember him? He's in a wheelchair now. I have his old treadmill. (which really isn't old - it's really nice, but you know what I mean) I couldn't even thank him for it. How would I do that? "Hey, thanks for giving me your old treadmill since you can't use it anymore." I can find no appropriate words when I'm around him. I want to talk like we used to - and I don't know what to say. Sometimes, I just give him a quick hug and walk off. I imagine he thinks I'm weird - or that I've become weird.

    As to the new writing project. I have a great setting and working title and no story. Whatsoever. Guess I need to go quiet - I've been good at that lately.

    1. Oh Donna, I DO remember David.

      Just before our first daughter was born I had to write a thank you note to a woman who gave us a carriage, tons of newborn cloths and baby gear, because her baby died. That was thirty years ago and I can't remember what I said but I still shed tears for that little lost someone.

      I suggest telling David that every time you use the treadmill, and with every foot-slap against the blacktop, you will take him with you. Small consolation maybe but we all need to hear from time to time that our spirits still fly even if we can't.

  2. As writers, words are supposed to be our 'thing." I read somewhere (probably in ON WRITING by Stephen King--all the best writing advice is there) that a writer should never be without words. The phrase "I can't describe it" should never fall from our lips, because describing things is what we do. What kind of story would it be if our protagonist was "oh, you know, just a guy," and he woke up one morning to a sunset that was "indescribable"? As wordsmiths, we are supposed to have descriptions and good words for things on the tips of our tongues.

    But then there are times when words literally fail. When no words can convey, comfort, or help in any way. When there are no right words. At times like those, it seems actions speak louder. A hug. A listening ear. A strong shoulder. Being there, regardless of what's said.

    I'm sure your co-worker's family will hear a lot of well-intentioned words over the coming weeks. But I'm sure it's the actions that'll say the most.

    1. You are absolutely right Colin, our actions are key during difficult times. A small group of us are going to the calling hours. We don't know his family and the dynamics of our work environment make it difficult to go, but we are going. We are going for them and we are going for us too. So sad at this time of year.

    2. Indeed, sad. I also meant to tell you I'm sorry for the loss of your co-worker/friend. I think what Colin said is perfect. The trustworthy "actions speak louder than words."

  3. We had a shocking and unexpected loss at our office too, recently, but I was not so close with the person who died as you clearly were with your colleague and friend. I'm so sorry to hear about this, especially knowing you've been under the weather. May the holidays be *peaceful* for you, even if joy seems out of reach.

    I find myself at a loss with holiday cards. For one, I hand write them, which is painful, and it's difficult to keep my handwriting presentable. For two, I insist to myself each card must be unique, must be individual - and this year, I wanted to express gratitude to many people for my first year at a new job. Everything came out like a thank you note rather than holiday greetings, but at least they were all personal.

    I have found, in my thirty-some year career as someone people turn to for advice and solace, that the simple admission you DO have nothing to say is itself incredibly effective. It demonstrates you're not presuming to understand, that you're "in this" with those who depend on you, that some things deserve the respect of not even trying to contain them with words. When one of my bone-deep friends called me from the Brooklyn Bridge, walking home from Manhattan on 9/11, saying, "You don't understand, there's no Towers! There's no TOWERS!" - all I could respond was, "No. I don't understand." And yet, she still turns to me. I am able to distract people, which seems to be so much better than focusing and trying to fix the unfixable or eff the ineffable. I can make friends in the deepest mourning find a way to laugh, and deprecate the guilt for that, and breathe, and get away mentally, even if only for a little while. It's all you can do. Maybe our best connection, sometimes, means disconnection.

    1. Well Diane you certainly found just the right words today.
      Thank you, it helps.
      My condolences to you as well. Even if you weren't close to your coworker it stings.
      The joy of the season is gone this year, for many reasons, but the joy of my life, just turned 11 months old yesterday and it is this new little life, her discoveries and antics that help me realize that all of this muck will pass and the sun will eventually warm the earth again.

    2. I should apologize for going on at such length, but am glad if that did help.

      Eleven month old discoveries and antics are a beautiful thing; so happy you have her! I bet she warms the earth all on her own - imagining her on Christmas morning ... :)

    3. Yup, I sing to her, you are my sunshine, she laughs. Like a kid, I can't wait for Christmas, because of this little kid.

    4. Oh my aching heart, is there a sadder and more wonderful song in the universe than You are my Sunshine? Perfect.

  4. I'm always questioning my use of words. What I write and definitely what I say. Sometimes it depends more on who I'm talking-writing to and sometimes on the situation.

    Carolynn, you need to add the subscribe by email option on your blog so I can sign up and not miss any post! I get busy, but I always check my email!