Like everyone else, I was following the Hipster Racism debate back in May.
It was dinner conversation and, especially after moving to a new location with an entirely new dialect, really heated. It gave me a chance to reaffirm and clarify, for myself, what I think about how language is used – Note: that’s the important part, language is USED. It’s employed. Language doesn’t “just happen,” the idea needs to be transmitted into sounds and into a word, possibly even a sentence. Ignoring contexts and feigning language-mistakes (or just not apologizing when you mess up) is a choice.
Now, with the Olympics’ new frenzy of quick, not-thought-out tweets, I’m back to thinking that poor choice making is a deep, cross-cultural language problem.
So, why don’t we talk about language for its ethics.
I remember, in grade school, that “word choice” was a part of rubrics. But it seemed like points were earned for “glamour grammar” instead of careful and thought out word choices; careful writing that showed the time and process of selecting the best word. I think this is a worthwhile essay: one that is maybe 100 words and shows, in that 100 words, why each word was chosen and what that word transmits.
In freelance writing, I flounder because it takes me a really long time to get the writing done. I’m thinking about the brand, the echo of each word, and the goals of each word choice. Then, I’m thinking about the movement of the writing and how syntax and punctuation is making the words move. With blogging, tweeting, and fast writing I’m pretty pumped about connectivity, the potential to open empathetic communities, and the opportunity to be conduits, but I do think it’s making language move too quickly and moving without attention to what is packed into those words.
The difference between words becomes really clear when one letter changes a word.
Yesterday, I was typing an email to my dad – to let him know my phone’s busted – and I wrote Dead Dad instead of Dear Dad. Just one letter.
I stayed up all night.
Today, he’s in the hospital.
I talk a pretty big game about language as a conscious act, as active choice making. If you decide to put a word on a page, to articulate a word, to use a word, you are making a choice and there are ethical ramifications and consequences to those choices.
No, I don’t think I made my father sick nor do I think that I’m capable of future-telling/seeing, but it’s scary when you see words become “active.”
I haven’t disappeared, I’ve just hermit crabbed until I have something to say.
I’ve said this before – in an essay awhile ago – but a mentor who wasn’t really my mentor in grad school has become a person I really admire for what he said that I maybe should have listened to better (see, words echo and echo and echo). At one point, David Trinidad said (when we were reading a poem for Columbia Poetry Review that was written by a young, hip poet), “this is what happens when someone hasn’t experienced anything and thinks he can write anyway.” At the time, I took that as an easy way to dismiss some parts of contemporary poetry that I adored, but now I get what he was saying: it takes time to have something to say and throwing words around isn’t the same thing as poetics.
To bring it closer to home, saying something just to say something isn’t the same thing as saying something.