Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

about words

Magnified Fine Print

Put words under the microscope, and they have lots of spaces and ambiguities in them.

Once I had a Summer job to hunt for lawyer advertisements in an 1820s newspaper. I do not think I did the job well--I did not make nearly enough progress in the time I spent on the job. If I were to do the job again, I'd do it better. My boss for that job was a professor who later became a federal appellate judge. I do not think that I would be a federal appellate judge if I had done the job more thoroughly. But perhaps I would not have the feeling that I handled things less well than I might have done.

I remember the most poignant thing about that job was reading the speech by the chief of the Quapaw tribe, when the government unjustly made his people move to Oklahoma. The Quapaw had been friendly, and deserved better. I wish I had photocopied the speech, as I found it moving.

The second best thing about that job was to understand how much poetry people read in those days. Poetry on the front pages. Poetry in the inner sheets. No photos. No TV listings. Lots of poetry--everywhere. The poetry still exists, in my view, but like those elves in Iceland, it only appears to people who believe in it.

When I was in college I used schematic diagrams of a television as a wall poster. I was onto something, I think--something about images and words in juxtaposition with a cork wallboard. I am not sure what--but only that I was onto something.

Now I bathe in seas of words. I draft word upon word. I read words. You could argue that the jargon of my profession robs words of their beauty--but that would not be my argument. Indeed, I would appear at the bar and argue just the opposite. Behind the words are concepts, and in the spaces between the words are truths,
and I am right there among them, as they buoy me up, rolling, like fine print on a life preserver.

If I had that Summer job again, I'd do it better, I think, but I know, deep down, that each day another set of tasks away, and I could do those, now. The words never go away. You just use them for different tasks.
You never lose a pound of excess by worrying about what you consumed. You lose it by consuming less, and doing more.

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