I have this thing about great stretches of words put together in writing. Sentences, paragraphs, pages. As with most things in life (besides cheap pizza and…)it’s not in the quantity, it’s in the quality.
As I’m lying in bed at night with a good book or sitting at my desk in the morning reading a column online, I sometimes hit one of those goldmines. I can’t just read the writing and move on. I have to sit for a second and stare at the letters that were pieced to form this lovely little adopted family of characters. Then I read it all over again. Sometimes out loud to my wife who, if I’m lucky, looks up from her book and mumbles something unintelligibly that translates roughly to “ergh” back to me. Sometimes to my dog who, if I’m lucky, gives me that tilted head and perked ears look that translates roughly to “did you say we’re going to go on a walk?”. Sometimes, I simply read out loud to myself.
Every now and then I copy these lines down on paper and tack them on a corkboard at work. Sometimes I put a special bookmark in the there or underline words and draw little stars next to them them. Sometimes I find a great line and put it as my signature underneath all my emails. No matter what I do, though, I long for there to be more to all of it. I want there to be a more tangible way of enjoying these words. With a good meal, you can eat it bite by bite and enjoy each little flavor until you stomach all of it. But with words, you simply have to move on to more. The pieces are not meant to be enjoyed just on their own. It’s the composite that we are to fully embrace.
While reading Harry Potter (which I FINALLY succumbed to recently), I came across a line that my sister-in-law absolutely loves.
“Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself.”
Who knew J.K. Rowling had it in her? It’s just a beautifully constructed line of brilliance. I wanted to really suck the marrow out of these words in a way that would’ve made Robin William’s character in Dead Poet’s Society proud. I want that with all great writing. What are we supposed to with it? Read and read on? Stop reading for the day and set the book down or close the laptop and sit in staring-at-the-wall wonder?
In Magazine Writing, arguably my favorite class at Northwestern, my professor, a wonderfully wise old man, told us that for some reason people collect magazines. They hold on to these things. They keep them on their shelves for inordinate amounts of time. National Geographic even creates leather-bound cases for you to keep your old issues in together. He asked the class why we do this? What is it about magazines that make us want to hold onto them more than we do our daily newspaper? I wish I could craft some perfect sentence that artfully articulates some sage, old advice. But I cannot. Our classroom of 21-year-old college kids couldn’t figure it out. Just like I can’t figure out what to do with words, period. I tell you what, though…it’s a good problem to have. There’s nothing like a great sentence. It’s what all writers should strive for, everytime they start off a thought that’s going to end somewhere with punctuation.
I don’t always follow every train-of-thought this guy rolls out. But when it comes to someone who knows what to do inbetween the dots, he’s as good as they come. His most recent column on Christmas actually inspired this whole article. The writing was so good there in the last few paragraphs that I just wanted to live with them a little while longer. Hope you enjoy the great bits half as much as I did. But if you find a way to really, really taste those words, a way that frames them like a painting you can throw on your wall, let me know! Maybe writing’s not meant to be boxed-in and gawked at in that manner. But if it is, I want to find out how.