Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Pressing matters in other parts of the kingdom have been requiring our attention of late, so, lest you, Gentle Reader, think we’ve gone tits up in a ditch, no, we haven’t. Not yet, anyway.  

We seemed to have hit a new low; or, as a financial news commentator called the economic situation, a MULTI-DECADE LOW.  Baking bread helped, as usual: crust speckled with fermentation bubbles, yes.  Irregular holes in interior: lace-like almost this time, yes.   Still.  I am continuing to be quite struck with the Difficulties of Communication.

 I think I’m saying something, simple usually, and it turns out  the other person simply isn’t listening.  Then when it becomes necessary to research the interaction, the memory of the person who wasn’t listening is the one that sticks.  Whoever sticks to hearing whatever it is they want to hear, instead of what was really said, is generally the winner in such events.  The model for this was firmly entrenched during the past eight years, of course, leaving me  at least with an ongoing residual sense of somehow being totally lost.   Words really matter to me; I love and admire them, and when they appear to have no meaning I get confused.  REALLY confused.  And this lack of meaning? Seems quite often to be covering up something that doesn’t smell right at all.  It is as though everything was built on a non-existent foundation and quick as a flash, it’s all gone.  Except that those who live in this world are still here amidst the rubble, whether or not they believed in WMDs, Santa Claus, affordable housing, having schools for children, or a consistent income and a trustworthy place to put it.  

I listened to President Obama’s speech last night and as usual was impressed by his thought process and command of the language.  He seems to be someone whose words actually mean what..well, what those words mean when you look them up in a dictionary.  It’s refreshing indeed.  However when I listen to the parts about sacrifice and responsibility, I feel very tired.  I have already sacrificed and fought for what I believe in through all the channels this society provides.   I have assumed responsibility for my consumption, my “carbon footprint”, my attitude, and all the rest of it.  I guess I am waiting for others to truly step up and join in the work and begin to cooperate.  There are some heartening signs in this direction but also many in the opposite direction.  This is where the Words come in.  Lots of people really don’t seem to understand them at all anymore.   This, I find frightening.

It connects, somehow, to another thing that has occupied a portion of my mind that hasn’t been busy keeping dragons from torching the far ends of the kingdom, and that is an article in the New Yorker, relatively recently, on the writer Chinua Achebe.  I have  read and loved African writers, having had the good fortune in college to have a friend who read and shared them with me.   It is true that there is a phantasmagorical quality to some of the writing, but in my view it is also completely real: the words of Ben Okri or Ngugi wa Thiongo describe things as they ARE.  The words mean what they mean.  In the aforementioned article, discussion was devoted to the issue of what language an African novelist “should” write in. English or the native tongue?  This really made me stop and think.  English being the language of the colonizer, the oppressor, the foreigner: However eloquent a language it is, it is still not the language that an African writer learns life in as a child.  Yet in this case writing in one’s own language limits, at times quite drastically, the numbers of people who will read that writing.  What a horrible dilemma, I thought.  Then, I thought: What an incredible expansion it provides in a way for a writer.  One has to learn the language of someone who, for good or ill, has vanquished one’s society.  This means taking in the understanding of the world and the psychology of that language as well.  Then, to weave it into a whole that expresses one’s own reality and response to all that has gone on before. This is an extraordinary achievement and  it seems that may be what needs to be done now: relearn our “mother tongue” so that it no longer seems like a foreign language to us, and  then truly understand what we are saying.

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