Friday, August 15, 2014

Fuck Intrepid

There are times when a word will attempt to capture your attention, much in the way of street people, living on their wits, despair, and, in some even more tragic instances, lack of noticeable ability to cope. They want your attention in order to extract at the least spare change from you, or well into the realm of folding money.

Because of their individual agendas, the street people want your attention only long enough to petition you for some kind of grant.   Once the grant is considered and perhaps awarded, the transaction is over.  One or both of you are on their ways.

Some words are cheery in their demeanor.  They cause you to forget any negative, embedded responses to them you picked up in a classroom, either a classroom where you attended as a student or one in which you presided as a teacher. Such words often appear, then reappear, in things you write, their effect on you much like being aware of your cell phone vibrating with the news of an incoming text, email, or telephone call

Some street people, in spite of their condition, strike you as equally cheerful as the words attempting to attract your intention.  Without wishing in any way to patronize these persons, you find yourself drawn by their apparent attitude toward their situation.  Right away, attitude becomes a cheery word for you.  Eye contact maters.  The degree of presence exchanged often determines the size of the grant award.

The street person who always seemed to have two or more books in his possession and was eager to talk about and recommend his choices moved quickly from spare change to folding.  Yes, you saw a connection between the two of you, and yes, you were in 
some significant way, awarding research grants on the basis of that connection.

Garrulous street persons tend to remind you of one of your favorite fictional characters, that companionable if mischievous Sir John Falstaff, chum to Prince Hal before he became Henry V.
Kinghood in Shakespeare asks for--and is given--gravitas.  Henry ultimately sends Sir John packing ("I know thee not, old man....Presume not that I am the thing I was,
For God doth know—so shall the world perceive—
That I have turned away my former self...").

Those words and subsequent banishment put you off Henry to this day, even while working on the implications of the comparison you've been pursuing here in these paragraphs.  With some frequency, you find yourself growing so fond of a word or phrase to the point where, no matter in which writing of yours you look, you find it, lurking as a habit word, which is to be banished.

Words by no means lack gravitas for you.  They help convey the tides of meaning and intent you experience when attempting to bring an idea to ground.  Some words you grew up on, liking because of their sound or their potential for conveying rather than describing a meaning, now remind you of earlier days of roistering, carousing, celebrating the joyful sense of inventing things that did not happen at all or happened in less colorful and dramatic ways than the ones you used to present them.  

Other words stuck to you like a limpet to the pilings of a pier, because you liked the bombast of its voice.  Morbid.  Propensity.  In fact, you were scarcely ten when you happened upon a sentence from Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1800-59), in which someone had "a morbid propensity to sloth and procrastination." Even now, you relive amusement at the times you dropped that bomb on unsuspecting recipients.  

You continue to identify with Sir John in that sense of knowing you inventing a truth which is different from the truth of the chaotic and meanspirited Reality surging about you.  Yet there is gravitas in your wish to portray that invented truth.

You have a list of words, including many aspects of the verb to be, which in some way adds notes of vagueness and uncertainty where no such qualities are intended.  The verb to be is in addition to being an indicator of life, acts as a shill for the passive voice, a way of undermining the foundation of a character and/or story.

You call some of the words on this list weasel words.  They introduce more vagary and uncertainty into a sentence than they help achieve clarity.  Somewhat.  Perhaps.  Suppose.  Very.  Some.  A little.  Suddenly.  Cautiously.  You wince at the memory of times you strived to get such words into a narrative.  Which reminds you of the time the actor, John Carroll, took you aside, thrusting a script you'd written at you.  "You tell me, lad, when you ever heard me use the word intrepid."

"It means--" you began.

"Fuck what it means, you understand?  It's one thing for you to put words in my mouth--"

"--fearless,"  you said.

"--then fucking write it that way.  Fearless, I can do.  Fuck intrepid.  Are we clear?"

"Fuck intrepid,"  you said, and you have been doing so ever since.

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