Thursday, August 20, 2009


Now the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light... And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so.

Creationism? Not a chance. Theism of any stripe, let alone religion? Piffle. I don't believe in those things, but I include these particular Bibley bits here because little else illustrates the power of the spoken word so evocatively, and that is something I do believe in quite fervently. Verbalizing makes the intangible tangible, crystallizing concept and possibility and potential into reality with a speed that is both awesome and unsettling.

As a writer, I am eminently more comfortable churning out words in their printed form than speaking them aloud, particularly in front of groups of people. Words made material by print are securely tethered to the screen or page by pixel or ink, made harmless and theoretical by their physical status, while words pulled by breath across vocal cords are unleashed precisely by their ethereal nature and made concrete.

The incongruity is not lost on me.

It is why I can construct elaborate and perfectly rational frameworks in my head that allow me to decide that my grandfather--still quite alive, if facing an uncertain amount of time before the inevitable comes-- is probably approaching the end credits calmly and with the pragmatic mindset that saw him through the war and business ups and downs and the loss of one of his children, and not skip a beat. And it is why, when my girlfriend calls me to ask how he's doing and I speak the phrase "congestive heart failure" aloud, the words yank the breath they rode on clean out of me and push my head down to the desk and prevent any more words and any more breath from going in or out for long, long moments.

This is why I don't talk much. Material words can be wrangled. Spoken words have far too much life and intractability.

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