A Word About...


In this age of confession, I have to admit I have lived an ordinary life.  That’s okay though.  The commonplace runs deep, harboring incredible influence beneath its placid surface.  It shapes us, steers us, gives us substance; it arms our lives with meaning.  The mundane is my muse.  Like Walt Whitman, I can get excited about a blade of grass.

Relocation shows up in my writing, too.  I lived my entire childhood in Dearborn, Michigan, but when I was eleven, my family moved to a house on the edge of town.  Instead of being surrounded by neighborhood friends, I communed with horses that grazed in the pastures across our dirt road.  I witnessed spectacular sunsets and saw my first meadowlark, one that matched the illustration in my book, Birds and Their Nests.  I was living in the same town, on same flat land of an ancient lakebed, yet life was markedly different.  I moved from my home state as an adult, first to the rolling land of upstate New York, then to the gentle hills of Connecticut and finally to rocky, woodsy New Hampshire.  In the course of these moves, I became keenly aware of the impact place has on the inner life as well as the outer one.

Perhaps because I grew up in a family of competitive talkers, I revel in words.  As the youngest in the family, it was hard for me at first to get a word in edgewise.  In time I learned to dip and dive into the choreography of conversation with ease, but I was a late talker.  I listened instead.  Even simple words enchanted me, as they still do.  “Elbow,” for instance, has such a bendy quality.  I like the fact that “gag” gets caught in the back of the throat and “pickle” hits the roof of the mouth with a quick flick of acidity.  I delight in melodious words, too, like “obsequious” and “solarium” and I’m intrigued by words that are short and to the point.  “Stop” is abrupt, as it should be, while “go” opens up with its long o.  I even like words when they are mispronounced.  In the dictionary “mischievous” has the accent on “mis” while the second and third syllables sputter to a close.  Pronounced that way, the word has an air of disapproval, the stern schoolmarm with a long nose and bony fingers.  It is commonly mispronounced though.  By adding the letter “i” before the “ous” the word gains another syllable with stress placed on the second of the newly created four-syllable word.  Transformed it has become “mis ch─ôv’ i ous.”  With that tiny adjustment the word becomes more forgiving, treating misbehavior with a twinkle in the eye.   There are other elements to word usage, of course: choice of word, word order, sentence length and so on.  I am just taking this opportunity to put in a good word for words.  They take a back seat to image these days.  A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words.  But words open the doors to our minds.  Without them, how will we ever figure out what we are thinking?